First stop - homestay!
Trip Start Aug 11, 2013
15Trip End Sep 17, 2013
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So glad I've finally found internet and can let you all know that I have survived my first few days in Sri Lanka - SOMEHOW?!
This country is unreal...The humidity bombards you as you get off the plane and is completely relentless. We arrived at 6:15pm on Monday to daytime and by 6:30 it was pitch black outside, but remained at 27 degrees. All night. ALL. NIGHT.
So my first stop was my homestay, where I live with 6 other volunteers: Emma, Sarah, Paula, George, Dafne and Joe. They're all really lovely to and so is everybody else on the trip, which is reassuring when you are in such an alien environment.
So I pulled up anyway, after an hour drive from the airport right to the outskirts of Colombo (the capital) to a town called Kotte (which used to be the capital).. It's far less rural then where I stayed in Africa. The house is just set back off the main road (imagine a typical Indian scene with tuctucs and plenty of horns blowing, dogs wandering, people in the dark) and is really big. I arrived in the minibus with the girl from my flight and was told it was my stop (just me) so I got out to be greeted by 2 stray dogs barking really angrily.I was pretty scared at this point but think I hid it pretty well ;) and went to the door. I was greeterd by the family and the other volunteers. We live with Gadne and his wife and her mother, they also have two sons around 10 and 17. Really lovely people and they were so thankful for the biscuits I took them. That night I ate my first meal (with my hands of course) and it took me bloody ages. Eating rice with your hands isn't easy. It was delicious though, rice with spiced pumpkin and some other spicey stuff - god knows what. The food is beautfil, nothing like the crappy imitations you get back home.
So yeah, had a few hours sleep (beds broken so pretty much sleeve in a hole, with a holey mosquito net - but we do have a fan!) then out to the orientation day at a neighbouring town. Just met the rest of the group, had some training, went swimming. It was great but the food was really really spicey!
OH GOD THE TOILETS! Never thought I'd say it - but give me an African long-drop anyday!!!! They are basically holes in the ground (tiled if you're lucky) and there's no such thing as toilet paper! (unless like me you have a mum who makes sure you take the whole stock-list of boots and you have some kleenex). Instead they have a small hose at the side of the toilett which you're supposed to spray your bits with - I'm not down with that I'm sorry. The toilet at our homestays flush at least, which is good!
So today (wednesday) was our first 'tour' day of some of the projects. Whilst here I will work at the national institute of mental health (NIMH), a halfway home for abandoned women who leave NIMH (HWH), a older mans english class, a computer class, a special needs hospital and another school class. The days are so full on with a lot of travelling in between.
Today I got 3 buses to NIMH. It was shocking to say the least.
There are 3 wards we work on.. Occupational therapy (basically therapy to occupy people, activites for hand eye coordination etc, keeping them alive and stopping them from basically becoming vegetables). This is especially important since the treatment in SL is pharmocological (pills pills pills sedation sedation sedation) and ECT (electro convulsive therapy). ECT is banned in most countries and used VERY rarely in the uk. They sedate patients then send electric waves through their brain (you may have seen it on The Changeling?!) The other wards are mens forensic: these are people on trials with court - some aren't even mentally 'handicapped' but are whitnesses of crimes and are held there, or are awaiting sentences. Some though are very severly 'out of it'. The top floor houses severe criminals (murderers, rapists..) it was weird to stand in a room with 30/40 of these men swarming at you and smiling and trying to talk to you (in SL'en so I couldn't understand). Their ward is just a huge empty room with lines of beds. When I say room tyhough dont picture a normal hospital with tiled floors and white walls. TIts all concrete. It stinks of piss, because its covered in it. There are stray dogs and cats everywhere. In some people's eyes it is hell on earth. But you have to separate yourself from that and remember - it's not England - they don't have the things we have or the resources or understanding. It's hard to remind yourself of that.
The other forensic wardf is for lesser criminals. They have a more open plan space for activities such as musical chairs which they love, some arts and crafts and things.
After that we watched some ECT. I'm morbid in my interests so I was keep to sit in on it. But it just didn't feel ruight. I saw 2 patients go through it. Each one comes in and voluntarily gets on the bed. Then they are sedated and as it kicks in they struggle to gett up and become distressed. Nurses hold them down (said nurses are also simultaneously texxting, talking about their weekends, laughing and joking). Then gel is placed on each temple and the curent is applied for about 15 secs. The body convulses, basically a seizure is induced. It's hard to watch. The patient is then given oxygen but is unconcious. They are then wheeled out and dumped in an outside area. For two days. They are in and out of conciousness for around 48hours and left to themselves. The next patient is wheeled in as soon as the other has left. There is no proof that this therapy works, yet every patient in that place is given it. As I walked out a women in the queue grabbed my arm. The nurses pulled her off and pushed her back into the queue. That was pretty distressing. But like I said, you have to remember it is different here and you can;'t change the world. Since then I have just thought to myself - if I can make each patient I see smile, occupy them for the time I'm with them, brighten their day even for that short space of time - then that is what I need to do.
After NIMH we got another bus to HWH |(I wasn't molested which is good as that's common for women on buses).
This place is quite frankly disgusting. Women with mental health ssues or learning diffilculties are banished from family etc - therefore after treatment at NIMH, most are abandoned and so have to live at HWH.The place is a sess-pit. Out door 'buildings' house each ward. The acute ward is a place I never want to return to, but don't have a choice. There are women crying, staring at you, open sores blededings and covered in flies. Covered in urine and feaces (the nurses couldn;t care less and these women are considered to be doomed). It stank to the point of you wanting to retch.
We moved on the the 'intermediate' ward. These were a little better and came and said hello and one even sang twinkle twinkle (good since none of them really know english). One did try to lick me though which was a little worring as a lot have aids and hepititus. I styled it out with some hand clapping and dancing to distract haha.
There is a rehab ward too - these women are fully functioning, 'cured' women who simply have nowhere to go. They are self-sufficient and clean and cook for the rest of the patients - sicnce the nurses really don't care.
I have so much more to tell but inet is running out.
Love to you all, hope you can forgive my spelling errors as this keyboard is crap and it about 46degress in this shed without a fan or aircon. I also need a wee (wish me luck).
Estoothat for lreading (thanks ;))
Hope to update soon but on jungle weekend from Fri afternoon till Sunday night.
Big love from Sri Lnka.