Well we should probably to do the looking back, analysing, reassessing, etc, etc, etc, as we are about to leave one distinct phase of our travels and head off into another. Nah, we don't do that stuff anymore, far too much like proper work. Instead we'll just fill you in on what's been happening here in the last couple of weeks and what for us have probably been the most enjoyable occasions. So much goes on that we really aren't sure that we get it all recorded but hopefully it's enough to keep up an interest.
So what might happen on one day as a volunteer in Sri Lanka? First of all you need to know that the roads are horrendous, potholes apart there are also other dangers such as cows and buffalos not to mention a whole variety of moving and not moving vehicles
. So can you imagine Chris driving to go to visit some schools? Sudath, Blue Horizon owner had offered to take Chris to see some schools near the village where his wife came from but didn't want to drive too far as he has a false leg. So on the day in question off Chris set along with Gaelle from work, Sudath, Priyanka his wife and their two daughters Tachmi and Kithmi. Four in the back and two in the front, thank goodness their son Dulan was at his friend's house! The journey, which Sudath said would take half an hour took nearer one and half, perhaps it was something to do with the driver. On route it was like being on a family outing with Kithmi looking out for her favourite twisted coconut tree, Sudath pointing out the black tree, which turned out to be a tree hanging with fruit bats. Then the baby needed a nappy change, not to much detail here but it was pretty dire! So, no motorway services here with nappy changing facilities so you just stop at someone's house and ask to use the facilities. Can you imagine that in the UK? We stop so that Priyanka and Kithmi can collect flowers, I didn't understand why until we stop at a roadside cemetery and they go to the grave of Sanka their 14 month old son who died in the Tsunami. What do you say? When we arrived at the village we visited Priyanka's sister's house where we were given tea and fresh mango. Then off to the schools, a very poor rural area, the schools were closed for the summer holiday (summer holiday here is all of Dec). A dead cow in one of the playgrounds helps to perhaps paint a picture for you
. No water supply so no toilets, drinking water from a plastic tank in one of the classrooms. Large open rooms, no doors or windows, it would be too hot if they were enclosed. Teaching must be a challenge to say the least. We hope that Chris will be able to get some help from some where for them, they are not Tsunami affected schools so will not be part of Adopt Sri Lanka's remit. Then it's back to Priyanka's sister's for lunch, a bit scary as you are not exactly sure what you are eating but it would be rude to refuse. They rustle up a couple of forks for Gaelle and Chris to use (have we said it's customary to eat with fingers, very liberating) and then it's time for the journey back to Tangalle. What was expected to be a 2-hour trip ended up as a whole day affair, we've learned to expect the unexpected and learn so much each day. Oh and Chris didn't crash the car, not even a scratch and avoided the potholes, cows, police etc, etc.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, we had a scary invitation to go to stay with one of the builders Paul has contracted with to build houses. It started as an invite to dinner and end up as a weekend. Rather like our B & B in Delhi we had no idea what to expect and wondered whether it was wise to go. Anyway there was no way out so we went. The Badage family live in Matara and like the family in Delhi they couldn't do enough for us. We had a lovely room with a balcony, the bed I'm sure had new sheets and food was laid on from morning till night
. Something we hadn't picked up on before is that the guests eat first, whilst the hosts hover about to make sure there is enough food, they only eat once you have finished. This has been the case at all our invites, it's very strange to us but this is the way of life here. Mrs Badage is a Matron at the local hospital and on Sunday morning we were treated????to a tour of her hospital of which she is so proud. Well of course we can't begin to tell you how different it was to UK hospitals, she even tried to take us into the Intensive Care Unit to show us the equipment there, we had to insist it wasn't a good idea. We were introduced to the Hospital Director, visited the theatres, thank goodness it was cleaning day or I'm sure we'd have been looking in on an operation. In the labour ward women were sitting two or three to a bed, the children's ward was lovely (compared to the rest) The general wards were shocking, the image of a woman with at least 40% burns from a kerosene accident will haunt us for ever. The funniest although tragic scene was of 30 or so men, sitting two or three to a bed, who all had white sticking plasters on their foreheads to identify them as "casipo" patients. Casipo (spelling is probably incorrect) is the local illegal liquor, the story, which made headline news on TV here, is that a woman made a batch and to speed up the process cut a few corners. The result was 13 dead and the rest in hospital being treated with the antidote, which believe it or not is WHISKEY!!! The woman was arrested but we heard was released after she paid a "fine" (this probably means a bribe)
. Reading this at a later date, (it's now Feb 06 and we are in Bangkok) the hospital was actually pretty marvellous, just shocking by our own standards.
We've had a challenging time at work since Christmas, the details of which we don't need to bore you with save to say we have resorted to working from Blue Horizon or an internet café for most of the time.
Our welcome at the Internet café leads us nicely on to what we think has been the most enjoyable part of our stay here in Sri Lanka. Looking back now it seems so obvious, but what we have really enjoyed the most have been the relationships we have struck up with so many of the local folks. Following on from our weekend with the Badage family, our next invite was really touching. On New Year's Eve Chris had been out shopping (ordering jewellery of course-very nice sapphires in Sri Lanka!!!) and had, as usual, used the services of Pathirana, our preferred tuk tuk driver. When they returned he asked if he could pick us up at 7am the following day (New Year's Day)." No way" we replied but he then explained to us that it would bring him good luck for the following year if his first passengers were 'special' or words to that effect. How could we refuse? Paul then managed to get himself challenged to a run along the beach at 6:15am with Ishan and Ajit, one of the new 'boys', from Blue Horizon
. Will he ever learn? He's old enough to be their father but a challenge is a challenge. New Years Eve we had a lovely meal at Kingfisher Guest House with, Eranda Badage, our builder friend, Dolev, an Israeli volunteer for ASL and his mom, who was in Sri Lanka on holiday and another English couple who arrived at Kingfisher on spec. Nurosh, our waiter and friend, as always made sure everything was perfect. Good food, music, beer, wine, arrack (a type of spirit) and finally the fireworks at midnight. Much merriment and a degree of danger and excitement were the order of the day as the fireworks; the majority rockets were fired from hands. Dolev seemed particularly keen to aim his rockets at a group of German revellers on the beach, fortunately, they didn't seem too bothered by the bombardment, perhaps it was the alcohol.
New Year's morning arrived, Paul had his run along the beach (even though the boys from Blue Horizon didn't manage to get up in time) and we both went for a spin with Pathirana in his tuktuk. Breakfast was eaten and by 9am we were shifting buckets of sand from the beach and spreading it out around Indika Art Gallery, next door to Blue Horizon. We had been invited to the official opening of the gallery at 10am but despite working through the night they were struggling to finish the work off in time so we lent our hands to the task. Indika is a well renowned and respected artist and sculptor in Sri Lanka and his gallery was devastated by the tsunami and 160 or so of his works were washed away
. He recovered a couple of paintings from the lagoon behind the gallery but they were extensively damaged. He hopes eventually to restore them but is currently producing new work and taking commissions to rebuild and support his family.
Duncan is a Sri Lankan guy who Chris recruited to work for ASL, his family are an old established firm of jewellers, so of course this is where Chris went to buy her sapphires on New Years Eve. This inevitably resulted in an invite to dinner, this time to the house of Duncan's brother. Gaelle another of ASL's volunteers and her boyfriend Julienne also came with us. We started with a visit to Duncan's parents house set in a beautiful plot of land complete with lake and turtles, which responded when his father called them. Tea and cake followed and we then went off to a remote temple in the jungle, not sure about getting bitten by a swarm of tiny ants as we walked bare foot through the jungle but it was certainly an experience we won't forget. Dinner was exquisite, cooked by Duncan's sister in law, probably the most delicious food in our trip so far, fragrant rice, sweet and sour prawns, delicate vegetable curries, followed by an amazing chocolate cake, yum yum.
Our next invite was from Pathirana, this time to go to dinner at his house; we arrived to find his whole family there to welcome us, wife and 2 children, 2 brothers and their wives and his mom and dad
. The brothers had taken the evening off work to cook and serve dinner to us, one worked as a Chef at a 4 star hotel the other a waiter at a 5 star. We started with omelette - 4 of them- mistakenly thinking this was dinner and freshly cooked crisps. We then discovered this was just the starter and were taken through to the dining table, which was beautifully laid with linen cloth and napkins, cutlery (Sri Lankans eat with their fingers), bottled water and the most amazing array of food. We were just astounded by their generosity towards us as we struggled to eat more food, all of which was just delicious. We were given a gift of machine-embroidered pillowcases and were relieved that we had thought to take gifts for the children. What a night! The family standing around whilst we ate, treated like royalty, all very embarrassing and humbling for us.
Ishan we've mentioned before works all hours at Blue Horizon, up at 6am to get breakfast ready and awake until the last guests go to bed. He gets paid 5500 rupees a month (around £30) and gets 2 days off a month. He is married but only sees his wife, Priyanthika, on his days off, as their home is a 2-hour bus journey away. We are really touched that he invited us to go to his house when he had his day off in January, something we had to keep secret from the owner at Blue Horizon, as staff are not encouraged to fraternise with the guests
. We arranged with Pathirana that he would give us a lift in his tuc tuc but didn't really think about the distance. We've learned to accept that things will never be quite as you expect and so much gets lost in translation. So off we set for Ishans house, Pathirana decided to take us on a detour to see a beautiful temple to make sure we made the best of the day and all told we ended up doing a round trip of 200 kilometres - 6 hours in a tuc tuc what fun especially as it poured with rain for some of the way. We arrived at Ishan's, he lives with his in-laws and as we had now come to expect the whole family met us, around 12 people in total. They have a beautiful plot of land with tomatoes and chillies growing in plentiful supply as well as fruit trees including pomegranate (Chris even got to try the pomegranate). They are in the process of building a new house, which Ishan thinks will take at least 5 years to complete, for now they live in a small 2 roomed house with kitchen on the back, little more than a shack really. Priyanthika and Ishan share a single bed in one room, another single bed in what doubles as the lounge cum dining room is, we think where Priyanthika's parents sleep. The welcome we received was overwhelming, Ishan dancing from one foot to the other he was so excited we had agreed to go to dinner. Fantastic rice and curry including chicken, which was so tender, followed by curd and honey, bananas, papaya and mango. Later they set up a table and chairs in the garden for us and we had tea and home made sweets
. We were so sad to leave them and cannot begin to explain what a privilege it was for us to have been invited, they have so little and give us so much and expect nothing in return. It was yet again a very humbling experience for us.
January is an auspicious time for weddings and we discovered that Blue Horizon is popular with Honeymoon couples. They arrive with all the guests in tow, the women help the bride prepare for the wedding night and the men, well the men do what men do, presumably offer advise. As a result of all the weddings we managed to get invited to 3, what are referred to as "homecomings" This is when the couple return to the family after the honeymoon night and a party is held. What fun, we actually only went to one, as we really did have to work sometimes. We were made so welcome, lots to eat and drink, Paul had great fun in the arrack drinking competition!
Our final week in Tangalle saw us with more invites, Samanthika another ASL employee who Chris has worked closely with struggled to contain her excitement when we agreed to have dinner and meet her parents. She gave Chris a beautiful sari which she had had secretly made and Paul a sarong. (Wonderful food again, green peas and cashew nuts were yum) Kingfisher guesthouse, one of our regular haunts for dinner, invited us for a free nosh and cooked our favourite "ugly" fish (our name for what we think is actually a rock fish, it's a real ugly looking brute but tastes delicious)
. On our final night at Blue Horizon Sudath and his wife Priyanka put on the most amazing party for us, helped of course by the "boys" - Ishan, Ajit and the very cheery Chaminder. We were joined by 25 locals and ASL staff for yet more fab food, bonfire on the beach, fairy lights on the balcony and, best of all, Sudat and 2 friends played traditional Sri Lankan music to us. They used to play every week but since the Tsunami have only played twice as they don't have the heart for it any more, how special to us then, that they should play for us. The Blue Horizon boys and some other locals acted as an impromptu backing group, whilst Julienne (boyfriend of Gaelle, ASL volunteer) played mouth organ and jammed with the drummers. Ishan told us it was the first time since he had been at Blue Horizon that he they had had such fun. We hope that in some small way we have them helped them along towards recovery. Hopefully Sudath and his friends may play together more frequently.
We were so sad to leave them all and will truly miss the friendship we have been given so readily and in such a short time; we know we will have to return, even if only as tourists. We were touched to receive a number of gifts from our friends, which will serve to remind us of their generosity, we now have to find a way to get them home as we don't' want to risk losing them on our travels. Does anyone fancy a trip out to meet us?????Or shall we look for a DHL/FedEx office?
You will have read about our time at Yala in the previous blog and we were sad when we had to leave as it signalled the end of our stay in Sri Lanka
. Albert (by the way, he is Sri Lankan, just has an English name) picked us up and took us to his house for lunch with the family and they insist that when we return we must stay with them and not in a guesthouse. Eranda, his son drove us the rest of the way to the airport and we were sad to say "goodbye" as we had become such good friends. We've said it before but the Sri Lankan hospitality we have received has far exceeded anything we have ever experienced before.
So now just in case you are wondering, our next destination is Bangkok having decided against Nepal on the advice of the Foreign Office, far too dodgy at the moment, even for us. (Sorry John we were really looking forward to meeting up with you, maybe next year?).
Well what kind of place do we think Bangkok will be?...........more to follow! later................