Last weeks projects and weekend!

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

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What I did
Galle Fort, Mirissa Beach

Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, September 9, 2013

Feels like so long since I last wrote - that's probably because last week was a strange one, a bit of an emotional roller coaster which served to remind me why I'm here doing what I'm doing.
I do just want to stress - don't think that I'm here on holiday.. I have weekends off and the beeeeautiful scenes you see in photos I get onto Facebook show that - but I can't publish project photos anywhere online, that would be wrong is so many ways (as it would if you worked in a mental institute/special needs home etc anywhere in the world). I just wanted to say that because I know it may seem that I'm holidaying it up all the time but I'm not - and I look forward to showing you the photos of projects and the hospitals etc when I'm home, to illustrate what I've been blabbering on about in these blogs! :)

Anyway... Following my entry last monday I headed off to my teaching placement at Sangamitta Girls Home. I still stand by what I said - they're so cheeky, unruly, frustrating - but I was certainly reminded of the stark differences between my life and theirs - and especially my future and theirs. When the children are so naughty and hard to control, it's easy to get annoyed with them and loose your temper, but when you stop and think about their lives  and what they've been through at such a young age - well you feel guilty about ever getting angry with them at all!
When I arrived I saw one of the girls sitting alone on the floor crying. This wasn't a particularly unusal thing to see, since (sadly)it's common for the older girls to bully the younger ones, and tears aren't a rare occurence! But I went over to her anyway and soon realised that she wasn't just crying like a child would normally cry. It sounds soppy and a bit cliche but, there was no need for language or any words at all, I could see she was in such pain and such suffering. I asked one of the other girls what was wrong with her and she just said 'mother mother',,,but that could mean many things here, including that the other girl could just have only known one english word and was calling me mother! After asking one of the 'teachers' what was wrong, she told me that the crying girls mother had visited the day before. Obviously this had really messed up this girl - imagine being taken from your family (her family may have broken down, and single parent families can't keep children here...or her father may have died and her mother couldn't afford her - anything!). It just reminded me why I am here, doing what I'm doing. However frustrating it can be some days and despite how many kilometers we travel on bloody awful buses in intense heat - I know what we're doing here is worthwhile to the people we're helping. 
I tried to cheer her up and get her involved in the lesson but she was too upset, so instead I sat with her and just stroked her arm and comforted her. I gave her a bracelet of mine when I left which made her smile but I know nothing can take away the pain she feels - I wish I could empathise but we are lucky enough to know that we will never be without someone who loves us and cares for us. Being taken to that home must feel just like that. They are fed and have a sink to wash in and a change of clothes, but you need a lot more than that don't you?

 The following day was also an emotional one in different ways.
I was on the OT ward at the HWH (occupational therapy) which I was really looking forward to because there's a lovely doctor working there who is keen to help the ladies and really try with them. The session started off fine - there was music playing when we arrived and so we danced and sang (I performed a bit of Beyonce as you do ;) which they all found very funny). It was really lovely. Until we got the nail varnish out. They go mad for it - which is fine - except that we are only allowed to paint their toenails (nurses want the finger nails free from varnish so they can check vital signs if necessary). Anyway, one women really wanted her fingers painted and didn't understand why I couldn't do it. To cut a long story short, a few minutes after I thought I'd consoled her enough, I saw her out the corner of my eye, spit at me. Like a lot of spit. 
It is so hard not to react like you would at home - especially since it's pretty clear that spitting on someone is a huge insult no matter what culture you're in. I was really annoyed and left the room to work in the second OT room in the ward. Again, it was a reminder of where I am. Although it's brilliant to go there and give these women the only interaction they EVER have with a 'non-patient' - the dangers and risks are still there.

No where is that more true than on the forensic wards at NIMH.
If you remember me telling you in my first or second blog - there are 3 forensic wards. Male acute (really bad) male forensic and female forensic. 
I was on male forensic after HWH and befriended this really sweet guy. He was really quiet and alone so I was determined to get him to join in. We played catch with a balloon which he loved, and he even plucked up the courage to show me how he plays cricket (despite not having any cricket equiptment). I really grew fond of him in the few hours I spent with him. For this reason, I wish a fellow volunteer didn't have access to his file and tell me about it afterwards. The man had raped and murdered three women. How can you spend time with and ENJOY spending time with a man who does that!? It's hard to get your head around. I guess these people need support too?! It's a difficult one, because of course you can never condoned something like that - but all I saw was a vulnerable man who I knew had no life - and who I knew would never have a life again except for during the few hours volunteer groups visited the hospital each day.. It's so difficult to get your head around. It turns out there aren't petty criminals on the wards as we first thought. They are largely rapists, murderers and peadophiles. It's not easy knowing that, but I also can't dehumanise these people. Perhaps it's easier to separate the action from the person?! Their actions were bad - but they are still people and they are people who I have given my time to support and give a shred of happiness to.. I don't know. I'm blabbering now but I think I'm still getting my head around it myself.

Moving on!
The rest of my week went much smoother.. I went saree shopping on wednesday during my lunch break and bought a gorgeous purple number! Not sure I'll get much wear out of it back home, but we have a nice dinner planned this wednesday at the house of the local deputy mayor (I did want to remind the others I was more used to socialising with relatives of the ACTUAL mayor - but I didn;t ;) haha)... so I will get to wear it then!

Thursday is a full teaching day for me - Koswatta (the navy guys) followed by Computer Class (kids aged 4-12 ish).
Koswatta is so lovely and a lot more rewarding that working on the mental health placements most of the time.. They are so eager to learn and love having us there - no spitting under any circumstances!
We did a lesson on punctuation and grammar which went well - and during activities to practice this, we got them to write sentences about their own lives and learnt a bit more about them. I also showed them the photos I brought with me - of my dog, family etc.. They were very impressed haha naomi and meg they say you're lasanai (beautiful) and mum and dad are apparently very very lovely. Bless them!

Computer class is really tiring - they're not naughty like the sangamitta girls - but there is a real range in ability and I am determined not to let the less able children get lost amongst the louder ones with better English.. They probably think I am such a tyrant, but I like to pick on the quiet class members to get them up and talking and practicing their english - we always have a good laugh!

That takes me through to Friday where I had an...interesting experience at ward 3 in NIMH. I'm not really sure what ward 3 means - all I know is they are all men and they're a very strange bunch!
They all have mental health problems (obviously) but are so amusing!
We were sitting around a table doing some drawing and speaking some english with a small group of them, when one guy who had been speaking Singhala to us the whole time suddenly started rapping Eminem in prefect english! It was hilarious! He also rapped the whole of 'zim zimmer' (the younger readers will know what I mean ;) haha) it was so funny and so random!
After that he opened up and had great english - turns out he was there because of mental health problems due to smoking too much weed (ironic considering his choice of music). It was quite sad though, because he clearly loves music so much I asked him if he gets to listen to it in the hospital and he said he hasn't heard music since he got there. I asked how long and he said 3 weeks and ten years - so I guess he's been there for some duration of time between that! God knows... you just accept things that get said here - smile and nod haha.
So that was all fun and games. But weird and horrific things are never far away. In fact, about 2 metres away in an isolation cell we were unfortunate enough to spot a man watching us doing something that he really shouldn't have been doing. I won't go into detail but it wasn't nice and when we told the doctors to stop him, we were told the behaviour was normal and 'no problem no problem'. 
We have to put up with pretty crap conditions to be fair. Sometimes you have to laugh or else you'd cry.

But after that session it meant the weekend was here!
Me and some of the girls took the 2 hour express bus (where you are guarenteed a seat!!!) to Galle. The fort area is so beautiful - the buildings from the Dutch colonial period have been really well preserved so the town is stunning - cobbled streets and gorgeous guesthouses and restaurants.
We went out for a lovely dinner (western food!) on the friday night and then explored the fort the following morning.
Despite the cool and drizzly weather, we walked around the fort wall which runs along the coast which was really lovely. We saw a few small areas of tsunami destruction which were not refurbished - which was a stark reminder of yet more trauma this tiny island has been through!
How have the people here come through a horrific three decade civil war, and also been at the epicentre of the huge tsunami - and are yet so happy and friendly. Resilience! 

After looking around Galle we got another bus to Mirissa - absolute paradise!
It's a small beach town, a lot like Unawatunna but smaller and quieter.
Picture palm trees, hammocks, coconuts - that sort of thing!
It was great to just lounge around (and snooze off our hangovers from saturday night ;) ).. Many of the volunteers leave this friday and so the weekend just gone was their last - so the whole group was there which was nice!

I think I've blabbed on for long enough - probably too long!
I must read all my blogs when I get home, they probably make no sense so I apologise!

I hope all is well at home :)

Missing home comforts a little, but glad I am lucky enough to see this fantastic place!

Lots of love x


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