Train, beach, temple,beach and train…

October 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | 1 Comment
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A month or so ago VSO lifted the security restrictions for travel to the east and with in a few hours txt messages were flying around the vols suggesting a train trip. So a few days later 7 of us are at Fort station awaiting the arrival of the overnight to Trincomalee( or Trinco as its known here)check  it out on

Trinco has been celebrated  since antiquity allegedly for its  superlative  deep water harbour one of the finest in Asia. Sadly with the onset of civil war in 1983 the town became and remains a flashpoint for ethnic tensions, due to a population evenly divided between Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhalese communities. Its position made it the island’ s collecting point for the war displaced persons. This stretched the resources and infrastructure to breaking point, parts of the town burnt to the ground during the communal riots. Following the ceasefire thousands upon thousands   of Sri Lankans flocked from Colombo and the south some for the first time others for the first time in twenty years.

Since the conflict ended in May of this year there have been security restrictions on travelling, so like us vols once this was lifted again the Sri Lankan s made their way there  again in droves. Need less to say the train was busy but that was all part of the experience. We had booked tickets which meant we got a seat, which was cool, but  nothing like the London to Edinburgh night train by any means. Knowing this I was prepared for the journey, once we were going 20 mins or so I opened the bar! Sat back and looked out in to the night! Our travelling companions were a young family with a sleeping 2 year old, a SL chap working for a charity which funded him based in Leeds ( small world again)lots of older SL men, who were very interested in my  unlabelled plastic bottles of fluid that the other vols would come and partake of from theirseats. As the journey progressed it became apparent that we were in the wrong carriage and we would need to leave the train at a specific stop and join the front carriages or we would end up in Batticoloa( which is a place Id never been to but was not the destination I wanted )why didn’t we just walk through the carriages umm not that easy when people are sleeping in the aisles, it was packed to the gunnels! We dismounted an hour or so later some of the group got seats and 3 of us sat on the floor near the open door which was great in the absence of air conditioning!


We arrived weary about 6am jumped in a 3 wheeler to see vol C who was to be our host , we said hellos and crashed out for a couple of hours before heading to Uppuveli beach. The aches and pains of the journey were soon forgotten at the sight of the Indian Ocean …it was beautiful, the beach of fine white sand was were we stayed for the whole day and into the evening. Sunday found us venturing to the Hindu temple which was swamped by visitors, there  was a great atmosphere! Next we travelled to Nilaveli the second of Trincos popular beaches, described by the prolific novelist and journalist Carl Muller as “peach perfect, picture post card resort, with its sugar sand beach ,a creaming sea of dreamy blue, and a lagoon like a sculptured topaz” and I’d have to agree with him!


As those of you who have holidayed with me know  I’m no beach babe ,however living here being so lucky to be able to visit  and see so many beautiful beaches… I’m getting in to it! A good time was had by all catching up with Vols ,chilling out in  such magnificent settings watching the fishermen with their catch, the families who spent hours in the water, left little time to explore the town .So when we left the next morn we  promised to return.



Which was nearly sooner than I had hoped when we again pulled in to a junction stop I hopped of to use the loo with N, on returning to the platform we saw the train slowly pull away with our mates frantically waving us to make a run for it, have you seen how high those old trains are and it was gathering speed. I cant remember what was going thro my head, a jumble of oh no, bugger, no purse, no ID, this is not happening ,what to do …??? the guards were shouting ‘Madam half an hour,’ the people on the train were laughing, I breathlessly  replied I had to get on , not get a train in half an hour arggh! What he was trying to say was the train is not leaving it is just changing engines and will be back in half an hour! Oh,  ahh, Ok I see,  (Sarah stops running! ) N and I returned to the platform to the amusement of the awaiting passengers. The train did return in less then 10 mins our friends were also bemused ,as they had no idea  what was going on…hilarious!

The rest of the return journey was uneventful, apart from an hour before arriving in Colombo the carriage lights went off ! murder in the dark any one ??was that your hand being shrieked every so often! The countryside slipped by our open windows ,we played cards, ate the short eats,( street food brought on to the train in baskets by men, better than  any BR or Virgin train trolley food  and v v cheap!) we played scrabble, ate biscuits and fruit, had a snooze, listened to ipods, it was a long but a lovely journey, one I would not have missed and look forward to doing again before I leave!


All in a day…

June 4, 2008 at 11:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Thought I’d share with you the day to day stuff I get up to, the things that have now become part of my routine. I usually wake at about 5.30 to the sound of the monks chanting being broadcast through the tanoy on the post opposite my balcony. The first time I heard this I actually thought they were on the balcony as it was so loud! The volume does vary, mostly it is  tolerable,  barely audible. I equate it to the living near a railway line or under a flight path…I will get used to it I tell my self.

 So I stick the radio on tuned in to the Sri Lankan broadcasting company, they are no competition for the BBC stations 1-4 let me assure you…it is dire – it does make you get out of bed. The only thing going for them is that they are linked to the world service channel so I get the world news at ¼ past the hour.

The kettle is filled and set to boil on my 3 ring gas burner (only 2 work…that’s another tale) while I then do my sit ups! Yes despite the bike I still feel the need to keep toned, so with the fan on I can manage to do about 100 before the whistle goes, put a t bag in a cup do a few stretches and I have a brew on the balcony with a bowl of fruit , curd and kitchul (palm syrup).

The temp is quite pleasant at this time, I watch the kids late for school, running down the lane ah bless they start at 6.30…oh yeah the SL ‘s are early risers up at about 4 am to do all the days cooking while it is cool. I make a salad box to take to work which always raises a few looks from the staff who can not comprehend I do not eat rice 3 times a day, sometimes not 3 times a week. For them it is their staple but it is not cheap rice prices have gone up again it is 140 rupees a kilo which apparently double what it was last year…put in context some people only earn that a day!

Tidy up the kitchen sweep the floor, wipe the surfaces –  no trace of food left about as the place would be full of ants on my return.I make my bed, tidy the mossy net away, open the windows to air the place. Put the rubbish in the big pit in the garden (burnt twice a week by the land lord.) No official refuge collection , people burn their own or take it to skips place on the road side or leave it for the cows to get!!!

Time for a shower which is quite refreshing, it is cool water (no hot water unless you stay in 5 star accomadation)I have got used to this especially in the evenings when really hot and sticky! Clothes are always ironed as at home in UK in advance (I can never iron in the morning -just one of my spinster ways) it is important here as power cuts are a frequent occurrence, ever the girl guide , be prepared!

Load my bag with water, lap top ,lunch and lock up.Obviously weather permitting un lock my bike and off I go. It is monsoon season now we have experienced some particularly heavy rain fall since Friday( today is Wed 4/6/08) there has been sever flooding locally!

 Things I see on route, the old lady who looks 190, a tiny wee thing stands at her gate smiling a toothless smile,( the SL have dreadful dental problems) over the weeks we have progressed to Morning! Next the fruit stall sells predominately Kesel (bananas) but a range of seasonal fruit and veg I usual stop at on way home she knows I Sinalen chuTTak pulawan ( speak a little sinhala)so writes the price down before I buy, then we play can I guess how much it costs. They appreciate I try they laugh at my efforts-  no offence taken ,they also ask when do I want to eat the paw paw for instance and give me the fruit ripeness to when I want it …very considerate!

When it was raining the other day I saw work men on a small building plot in flip flops,T shirt and shorts digging away, each with a plastic bag on their heads to keep the rain off …you never have a camera on you at sights like these it made me chuckle. On the corner of my road there is a little bakery with a table, a couple of chairs,  big enough for about 6 folk but they squash about 14 in have a brew and a bun and away they go. Denise asked what the traffic was like,  well there are some new cars Toyotas are popular as are 4×4, you  don’t see many old bangers, I presume the pot holes are too much for them the main vehicle on the roads is the buses, tri shaws, motor bikes and cycles not many people walk only me. The other thing is that people sell stuff bringing to your gate like the guy who has a suitcase on the back of his bike opens up the case gets out the scales and weighs the fish …only want a small piece no prob,he gets out his large knife and board puts it on the ground agree the size, weighs again-  hand over the rupees away you go! He is around on alternate days and I meet him as I am coming down the little hill just before the communal washing bathing area. This is a an area with a large concrete tank of water where people wash wearing a cheetah ( wash cloth) like a sarong. They have a good wash rinse off or if accompanied some one throws a bucket or two over you and then you set too with you laundry, giving it a good ol’ bash on the stones …you ‘re clean so are you’re clothes jobs a good ‘un!

Are you getting the picture lots of stuff going on in the neighbour hood which is filled with palm trees, butterflies, flowering plants and lush greenery…oh yeah and the monkeys swinging over head apparently this is a good time to see them about.

By the time I get to work I am a little hot, but stick the fan on in my office, have a drink and plan what my day may entail. I have learnt not too get too upset if I am not able to cross stuff off my list just transfer it to the next day… this is SL it will get done no worries…

I will leave work stuff for next time needless to say I am having some good and not so good days it remains a time of adjustment and settling in! Thoroughly enjoying the whole thing.

So home time about 4 go back the same route buy me fruit, head home some days via the internet place. Get in open up the house,to air the place, sit on the balcony drink a litre of water to rehydrate, contemplate my day, plan whats for tea, do my ironing, write a letter or read,phone or text other vols then  shower. It gets dark at 6.30pm in bed about 9ish with a couple of mossy coils burning… ooh all in a day not a bad one …what do you think?

It’s life Jim …but not as we know it!

May 15, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Travel, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Ooh where to start, the VSO welcome hand book informed me that I‘d go thro’ a cycle of emotions  


2- friendship


4- fulfilment

From my previous entries you are aware that stages one  and two are ever present in my life, they are what makes me me…may it never stop ( ever the child!) However the last few days in SL, I have felt like I’m entering  stage 3, nothing too serious, settling in, living here some things have got to me. Like the  lack of recycling and littering thro’ to basic human rights. I know it is part of the challenge I’d face by working in a developing country but some days it just gets to me. So if you get an e mail or text from me off loading-  I’m having a moan – thanks for reading.

 Now what else has been going on, well Stanley from VSO transport dept…sorry programme office support (checked the welcome folder!)more like Stan laurel! delivered my wheels on Friday. Yep Barbie has a bike she is pleased to report it is not pink, it’s silver actually, a ladies bog standard bike, 3 gears, basket and the all important BELL! A test ride on Sunday saw me ,to the amusement of the locals negotiating the pot holes ( road maintenance not a Gov priority at the moment or ever it would appear)in first gear to shout s of “sudu”  = whitey. The ride to work is 15 mins I do manage to get in to 3rd but 2nd is ok. It is a fairly quiet stretch of road not too many buses, I have used the bell but it appears the cows are deeff!  Sadly they are not the healthiest specimens; even as a “vegetable” I can see that!

On Saturday 10th I visited Kurunegala hospital and the rehabilitation facilities in its district north east of Colombo. It was a 3 hour drive heading on the A1 towards Kandy. My   12 colleagues were social workers, nurses, support staff and a doctor. I was collected an hour and ¾’s  later than arranged…umm a few phone calls and text after an hour I found out the transport had not turned up hey ho Sri Lankan organisation not… so after lots of apologies we were on the way ,out came breakfast ,so they were all forgiven . My family will know my love of eating on journeys, as a child heard to ask “can we eat yet” havin’ not even gone a mile! There was loads of small eats really tasty veg rolls, roti – spicy stuffed chapati, and sandwiches, as my porridge had been well and truly digested whilst waiting, I tucked in.

I really enjoyed the drive the time to contemplate (as they were all talking SL) my situation in comparison to UK it had been a long time since I had worked a Saturday, being here I had done 2(no worries I get the time back) the SL tend to work a 6 day week, nurses do many long stretches to gain days off so they can travel back to their family homes. The social workers get over time to supplement their low salaries. Talking to one of the docs the other day about working terms and conditions, he gets 26,000 rupees plus 12,000 for on call etc  = 36,000 (remember I get 30,000 which is  £142)  4 weeks holiday which they usually work to get extra money as they cant really afford to go anywhere they do take the odd day off for weddings and some of the many festival/bank holidays (26 of them ) I thought about the privileged life  and choices I, or should I say “us” westerners have. Don’t worry I’m not going to get all philosophical, but just sharing my thoughts with you.

Every body was chattering away, laughing, I did not feel excluded, quite the opposite they made every effort to include me telling me bits of history or sharing a joke, they are such a generous race of people despite the war torn country, its political situation,  lack of funding to health services and development, they get on with living. It has to be more than just the weather, I  digress to thoughts of my travels around Australia with Stephen my bro in 1988, I drove him to distraction (and to drink I’m sure) with my daily “Ooh its looks like its going to be another nice day, makes you feel good when the sunshine’s  don’t  it ! As we approached Kurunegela I spied a huge Buddha sitting atop of the hill side, I pondered upon religious beliefs, mental note to read about Buddhism, I’m here for 2 years, I need to understand what makes these folk tick…

The sights you see, back at the bus stop ( flat tyre after one day) I mused about road safety the number of people that can be squashed in to a tri shaw, 6  is the most I’ve seen so far ,plus the weekly shopping. Then on a motorbike, a family of 4, youngest child, the dad driving with an infant sandwiched between him and mum at the back…amazing. Cycling  well that’s another thing  no wonder I was stared at, there was only me on the bike ,usually its 2 ,one on the cross bar or handle bars, plus what ever you need for the days work –  6ft pieces of plastic piping, a large bundle of some crop or other…brilliant !

So that’s been my week fairly quiet, went to the laundrette (got bitten by the mossies, so now taking piriton and using hydrocortisone as I have reacted to them badly … (the sensitive girly that I am!) to be met by the LL and wife who kindly informed me they had taken my bike to have it repaired and that they had a washing machine I could use at anytime…bless ‘em!

Had a lovely evening of hospitality yesterday at the home of Mike (Vol of 5 months) and wife Natasha (2 kids, in bed 9 and 11) in Colombo. Very civilised, great food and conversation went with Podi, Jo Anne, and Jesse.

 That was after we had been to visit Riza who in hospital in Colombo been investigated for a “fever”. Thankfully she is ok feeling much better; they think it is viral, but needed to rule out Malaria and Dengue fever! She made us laugh at her experienced of being seen by a local Dr. who asked her questions looked at her ,no pulse ,temp or BP taken, did not examine her in anyway, then proceeded to prescribe 6 different types of medication. This is apparently standard practise, go to the Dr’s; you usually come away with 3 types of meds, some white ones, a couple of blue ones and 3 days of anti biotics!

Work not too bad, saw the boss today got a bit of clarity, (I think I’m missing supervision – it just does not exist here) anyway we seem to be talking about the same issues and priorities which is tickety boo! Then we went to a ceremony he opened a Buddhist place of worship in the hospital grounds.

So its all good, as I e mailed to Alistair the other day I wouldn’t change it for Rotherham that’s for sure… the weekend beckons ,we are heading off to the coast don’t you know, details next week.

Best wishes to all, I believe you are having some fine weather at the moment – ENJOY!

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