It's been a while.... Elephant adventure!

Trip Start Aug 11, 2013
Trip End Sep 17, 2013

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, September 2, 2013

It feels like ages since I last wrote.. That might be because it really has been ages, or it could just be because all days seem to run into each other here and I hope very little concept of time.
I'll start from where I think I left off, after last weekend - weekends are good milestones to explain things around I guess!
On the monday I taught at the girls home (sangamitta). It is so hard not to be negative about that place. The girls have never had any rules and so act like animals. They're so naughty, have little or no attention span and are just so frustrating to try and teach. We attempted to teach them different categories of things (animals, foods, vehicles) using pictures and matching the words activities - but all they want to do is colour - or infact, steal your colouring things, open your bags, pull your hair. Plus they're crawling with lice and flies. I know I sound negative but it is so hard to shine a better light on that place.
But I am approaching my lesson there this afternoon with a different plan, to try and make it more successful for both myself and them! Instead of using worksheets the majority of the lesson will be songs/dance activities to learn body parts (such as head shoulders knees and toes, okie cokie etc) followed by a group activity of creating a human body and labelling it. I hope that works out a bit better - if anything it should tire them out a bit! It would be much more helpful if the teachers/women who run the home would help out... Sometimes when we turn up there they tell us they don't want us for the day (after planning lessons and travelling an hour on 3 buses to get there) so it can be disheartening... that's where perseverance comes in I guess!

So on the Tues and Weds of last week I was ill with a really bad fever - luckily I persuaded the father in my homestay that I didn't need the hospital (although the following day his wife became ill as well and went and got some good medication) I sweated it out in my boiling hot bedroom.. To be honest it was probably just exhaustion - I slept from 9pm till 3pm the following day!

Woke up much better on Thurs and went to Koswatta in the morning - my favourite of my three teaching classes (sangamitta, koswatta and computer class - which isn't about computers, the room just has some computers in it).
Koswatta is a school for ex navy servicemen, so they are all 20 to 50 years old - keen to learn and with a good (ish) basic level of English. They are such a joy to go and see and so funny. Last Thursday we did a lesson about pronounciation (they struggle a lot with the sound of V and ph/ch/sh), we then did some tongue twisters which was really good fun and they made it into a competition - one even challenged some of us teachers - luckily I won else that would have made me look a bit silly.
They really did enjoy it though - and at the end of each lesson they bring us tea (which they make far too sweet, I literally can't swallow it) and this honey and sugar sweet thing which is quite nice. They love sugar here, and salt - you have to ask for fruit juice etc to be free of salt - they put it in everything to replace the salt they lose through sweating! It's gross.
The guys also sang the national anthem to us which was really touching.. the people of SL are so patriotic and really proud of their beautiful country. So they should be - they are truly self-sufficient and look after eachother as neighbours should. Everyone is really friendly and willing to help, it's lovely.

On Thursday afternoon I was at HWH on the intermediate womens ward - who should be 'better' (in mental state) than on the acute ward (where Bridget the singer is?) but they didn't seem that way to me. I don't know if it was because only James and I were on the ward together and so it was a little less loud and active - or the patients were just heavily sedated - but it just felt like we were in 28 Days Later. NIMH and HWH do generally feel that way on the more serious wards. Zombies.
There was a spark of action though - when a women from another ward (when I say ward, the whole place is outdoors, with open buildings counting as a ward so people/dogs/cats can wonder anywhere) came into intermediate and punched an old lady in the mouth. To be honest, the old lady is a bully she shouts at everyone (not words, just noises) and seems like a bit of a mad one... but anyway, she went made and started punching the other lady. It was all a bit dramatic! I was shouting 'eppa eppa' which means stop - I must have looked like such an idiot haha.. But soon they both just started crying and wondered off in different directions. When weird stuff like that happens, I'd love to know the language so I could gage what the hell it's all about. Sometimes I wonder whether some of the ladies aren't as mentally challenged as they appear - maybe it's a language thing too. Of course with some, it's obvious that they are not on this planet - be it in Singala or English!

On the Friday morning I was at NIMH.. I spent the morning on womens forensic.
I have been on this ward quite a few times (due to other projects being cancelled etc) so I feel like I've had a chance to get to know some of the ladies - which is lucky as most people only go to the same ward once or twice. I have now been 5 times and really love it there. There is one young women who is probably around 25 and I asked her to sing a Singhalese song for me while we made some bracelets. It was so beautiful - you know the Eastern singing you sometimes here with the wobbly notes?! I don't know how to describe it but it's so haunting and sounded so lovely, it was quite emotional. I asked her what the song was about and she told me it was about her brother who was away in the army.. It was really sweet.
I also met a new lady  on the ward.. she had good english and told me that she was there because her husband was bad. That could mean various things - he could have been bad to her (abusive I mean) and she was taken there because it affected her emotionally/mentally...or he could have been bad as in broke the law, and if he had been taken to mens forensics, it's quite likely that she was dumped on womens as she may not have been allowed to stay in the family home by herself (women have little rights here). In any case, she told me she was only there for 4 days - I'd like to see if she was correct or if she's still there when I go on Wednesday!

So that takes me to the weekend just gone I guess!
On Friday we hired a private minibus to Ella in the hill country (we just couldn't face a 10hour public bus journey!)
Ella is described as an English country village - but I'm pretty sure that's only because it was cold and rainy! It's right up in the mountains, literally in the clouds - so the views are spectacular when you can see them through the mist!

On saturday morning we visited Rawana Ella Falls - a beautiful 90m waterfall. An old story claims that one of the ancient kings brought Sita (you know the story of Rama and Sita?!) here and hid her in a cave in the falls.. It was really impressive to see - but a bit strange to see groups of men bathing in the pools on the way down - shampoo and shower gel out! Still, it was a nice visit.

We then got a taxi to Kandy - a city it turns out I wish I could have spent more time in! When I say we got a taxi.... we broke down halfway up a mountain and had to get out and push for a while in 40degree heat - but that's Sri Lankan transport for you!!
Kandy is known as Sri Lanka's 2nd city (after the capital Colombo) but is far more beautiful and worth visiting! It's definitely the cultural capital, is less built up and is home to the Temple of the Tooth - the most famous religious site in the country. Basically an old legend says that when Buddha was cremated in like 600BC, people ran into the fire to rescue his remains - one of which was a tooth! So across many years of political and social turbulence, the tooth became really important to the people of Sri Lanka, and whoever (whichever party) owned the tooth, ruled the country.
Luckily it is now kept as a religious shrine - no more wars over it nowadays - altough less that 8 years ago it was the target for suicide Tamil bombers!\

AAAAAAANYWAY - on Saturday night, our group went out for dinner and drinks to a stunning Chinese restaurant (there is a small chinese population in Kandy). It was amazing - utter luxury in comparison to what we are used to. I even had a few gin and tonics - it was so nice to relax and socialise with my new friends :)

Sunday morning we were up early to see the elephants!
I was so nervous on my way to Millenium Elephant Foundation - I don't know why really.. I think I find like wild animals so humbling, like they make you feel insignificant when you see them. Like on safari in Uganda it was just amazing. Anyway - I'm sounding really weird so I'll move on..
We arrived at the site and at first I was a bit wary of it all. The elephants each had a chain necklace around their neck which I wasn't comfortable seeing. But then it was explained that, although we see them as these mystical, exotic creatures - in SL they are just used as we would use horses. They are working animals - they carry heavy loads, they are symbolic in festivals - it's hard to see them as anything other than amazing though!
In fairness they were very well treated, the men working with them each had a special bond with their elephant.. They celebrate their birthdays with huge cakes and lots of nice fruit!
Excluding Pooja (the only elephant who was born at the site - and the one I rode and washed!!) the other elephants are rescued worker elephants and also some rescued from the wild. Because elephants are located in jungle areas, they have to be controlled - unlike in Africa where they are poached, in this buddhist country, they are rescued and bought to live at such foundations - to control numbers in the wild.

So Lora, Amy and I rode Pooja. It was a strange experience - one which I enjoyed but didn't feel completely comfortable doing. I don't think it was the elephants size particularly...but I just felt like if he wanted to, he could have bolted at any minute and I wasn't about to throw myself off the side of him! They are all trained for at least 3 years before taking riders though. And the small trek through the jungle was beautiful. My legs are killing me today though!

After the ride, we all bathed Pooja in the river. It was such a lovely experience, seeing how much he enjoyed it. He lay down and caused a mini tidal wave! We used halved coconut shells to scoop water onto his back and rub him with, so he could feel like he was being stroked through his thick skin. It was such a great thing to do and we all felt really privileged to have the experience.

From Millennium we went on to a tea plantation and factory. The plantation was just how you'd imagine, rows of shrubby tea plants in lines on the hillside. It was very pretty but there wasn't much to see as the women were not working (although 2 were there he kept asking us for money) so we quickly moved on to the factory.
It was really interesting to see the process of making all the HUNDREDS of different kinds of tea. The strong and sweet smell was quite overpowering though, as well as the heat from the huge drying systems they use. We tasted some Pure Ceylon Tea which was delicious - and yes I have bought some samples to bring home!

After the factory we headed to precious and semi-precious stone factory. In the mountains of Sri Lanka, they find many precious stones. The most valued are sapphires - which I didn't know came in so many beautiful colours! Not just the classic blue, but green, yellow, pink. They are stunning and the detail and intricacy that goes into creating pieces from the raw stones is really interesting to see. I may have made a small purchase. Sorry mum. Let's just say the price was like 1% compared to the price in England... ;)

To finish off our time in Kandy (the evening was drawing in and our last supplies of energy were running out) we visited the local market. The things they sold there were gorgeous - but the prices were ridiculous! Far more than at Maharagama market or in Colombo - but I've developed quite a skill for haggling and fought my corner on a few purchases! They have beautiful silk here, and leather, and of course the teas and spices and herbal things. The smells around the market were lovely.

So that ended my weekend really!!
Except for a 4 hour bus home in the rain, squished into a row of seats at the back, being constantly stared out, spoken to, quizzed and questioned.
Everyone is really friendly, and the questions are purely curiosity (SL people are really gossipy and like to know who you are, where you're going, who you're going with, what you're going to do)... it gets rather tiring especially after days and days of non-stop work and traveling!

Can't complain too much though - aren't I lucky to be here and not in rainy, boring old England ;)

That may be why I'm staying a bit longer than originally planned, to do a bit more travelling!

I hope all is well at home.. Although I sometimes miss comforts, I'm used to the customs here and the ways of life. I don't even search my bed for cockroaches anymore! Haha..

Lots of love


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