Friday, December 14, 2007

My 'To do List'

If I were to make a list of all the things I wouldn't want to happen just before packing up and shipping out of a country after two yrs, I would say I would not want my car to breakdown, or my computer, I would want the CD player to work so the kids can watch DVDs whilst we pack, for us all to stay fit and healthy and not to have a million and one other things to do besides packing up.

Well you can guess where this is going already can't you? In fact it has turned into a bizarre list of near misses. Our CD has started working intermittently (ie it stops working just when we need it to work), the computer conked out after a brown out and a lot of flickering, but resurrected itself the following day. The car's A/C has broken though the car still functions. The padlock on our gate completely froze up, then started working again, after me spending 15 mins adminstering liberal helpings of cooking oil to the lock. The cake that I had ordered for our son's farewell at school didn't materialise. They had written the wrong day on my order. I was told it would be ready in 2 hrs. Too late. Then suddenly, a few mins later after checking with the chef, they discovered it would be ready in 10 mins complete with the decorations I had ordered and personalised message....? I didn't ask......... Maybe I was just that scary. Angry mothers and all that, or maybe not....That's the thing about Sri Lanka, it's always unpredictable and surprising.

I have also spent the last fortnight doing everything else, for everyone else it seems, on a mission for my friend's wedding, searching for the exact right colour silk and buying after many texts, emails and a colour card that made it through the Sri Lankan and Royal Mail post to get to me. I have been making a photo album for our househelp of our children, buying and wrapping presents for our Pakistani asylum seeker friends, fielding phone calls about our househelp, taking her to interviews, where the other person doesn't turn up, having people come to our house to interview her, as well as helping her with her arranged marriage and workign in the UK plans. Oh and not to forget making cookies to decorate for the end of term kids' party.

I know women are supposed to be good at multi tasking but quite honestly, I think I want to be a man (at this moment). Oh for a single focus. Just packing up. That's enough for me.

Oh, and did I mention my husband got dengue? There we were thinking we were (almost) home and dry......19 days to go and many bottles of insect repellent later, M came down with the classic swinging high fever and the Mother (and Father) of all headaches and pain behind the eyes, which didn't go at all for 3 days. It really is a very nasty virus. He tested negative immediately, but it show s up later. 6 days after contracting it his platelets started plummeting. He went down to 40, 000 and had to be hospitalised, put on a drip, and monitored. They threatened a blood transfusion if he dropped to 20,000. A friend (cosily ensconced in dengue free, stringent blood screening UK )told us breezily that haematologists in the UK don't worry till platelets drop to 5000. Fortunately after 3 days they were back up to 96000 and they reluctantly let him out (after 3 hrs of battling, obstinacy and eventual bellicosity). It's a private hospital you see, your platelet loss is their (financial) gain.

My husband does not have a good track record on this front. (Getting out of hospital I mean)Though really neither does the Apollo. He had one of those 'well man' checks. Can't believe he agreed to it really (I think he knew he was majorly stressed) and I must admit when the hospital told me it wd take 6 hrs, I did omit to tell that to M before he went along. SO at the end he was so fed up he just walked out. He had paid, done everything, maybe had some results to wait for. Anyway the security guard wdn't let him out of the hospital, and when M walked past and got in his car to leave, he legged it over to the barrier to warn the guy there NOT to raise it for my husband. The phrase 'Red Rag to a Bull' springs to mind. Suffice to say a manager then also came running out and M was allowed to leave........

Not sure the health check did much for his stress levels however.........

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Stress Levels II - A Tailor's Tale

I'm beginning to think I've been 'in the desert too long' In the last 3 days I have had 3 very un Asian confrontations. In other words rather than avoid them as one is supposed to here, I went all out, terrier fashion for a good ol' head to head. I just got fed up, firstly by the selfishness of the driving here, and secondly the way everyone tries to take you for a ride and rip you off. Ironic when the wealth of rich Sri Lankans is in a league way beyond most Brits, yet the assumption is we're the ones with all the cash.

People do 3 point turns in the middle of busy roads every day, they pull out in front of you forcing you to brake REALLY hard, they push in. This incident wasn't huge, but it was the straw that broke this desert camel's back.

I was in the car indicating, waiting to pull into a parking place, whilst a car pulled out of the place, whereupon once free, a guy in a huge 4WD on the outside of me pulled across and swung into the parking place. My parking place! I leapt out of my car, marched over to the car opened his driver's door, and asked him what he was doing and whether he thought I had been saving the place especially for him. You get the drift I'm sure....

He just smiled and smiled at me and said nothing, and closed his door, probably very embarrassed that I had broken the cultural taboo and was confronting him. His 'employer' in the back told him to pull out and let me in. I'm sorry but in this instance it was just selfish thoughtlessness and I'm not going to refuse to confront such anti-social behaviour just because it's un Asian to do so.

Second stressy event; I went to a tailors to get some things made because it's so cheap here. I had met the tailor several times because M had asked me to go with him for a fitting. He was very friendly, and we had had a joke together. Then it was down to business. I was first told that the 2 items were far too tricky and couldn't be copied without being simplified. This happened to me once before when I tried to get a tailor to make a bow tie. I obviously wear highly complex clothes...

Then I was told that even simplified, the designs "though they look simple, madam, are in fact very complicated" I knew then that he was angling toward discussing the price. A high price. He quoted me double what he had quoted when there before with my husband. Do I have gullible stamped on my forehead, I sometimes wonder??

I just had had enough. I told him he had been recommended, he was already more expensive than other places but we didn't mind paying a bit more because he did good quality work. But I told him I had been making my own clothes since I was 12, had made my own wedding dress, and the only reason I wasn't making these was because my sewing machine had broken. (Sounds a bit overdone, but all actually true) I explained that I really did know what was difficult and what wasn't.

To paraphrase, I said, "You make jackets, suits, women's evening dresses everyday and you try and tell me a top with no zip, no buttons, no collar etc etc will be expensive because it will be so hard to make? You're ripping me off just because I'm a Westerner. And that, as we say in Britain, is just not cricket."

I was in full sail, the spinnaker up and blasting across the stormy seas.

It leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth. you think you have struck up a good rapport and will embark on a fair and mutually agreeable transaction, when actually they just look at the colour of your skin, see dollar signs and also decide to assume you are gullible and stupid into the bargain, as they quote ridiculous prices at you. It's plain offensive.

Of course M says I should have just walked out, but by then I had spent 45 mins having measurements done etc, (because I thought I knew the prices from last time) and would need to start from square one and find somewhere else. And you know, I'm just weary. I can't face being principled or standing my ground on everything ALL the time, and marching off. So instead I haggled for all I was worth, and brought him down by almost 50%. He's still getting more than double what many tailors will charge, but I haven't had a good recommendation for a good, cheap tailor, just a long list of ones to avoid.....

As for the 3rd encounter, well I haven't even the energy to write about it, but you get the pciture I'm sure....

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stress Levels

A friend whose partner lives in Kuwait said of him recently "He needs to get out of the desert" He is evidently a very laid back, calm guy but seemed very uptight and stressed on her last visit there. Particularly when driving. I think the same is true of my husband. We have decided it's better I drive because I am used to it, and I don't get stressed by it. He sees red. M says things to me like "Boy, you have really got used to driving here, I can't believe you didn't beep that guy" or "How can you let someone cut you up like that" etc. The traffic winds him up even as a passneger. In the UK it used to be me reaching over to honk the horn because he was being too British and polite to let someone know they'd done something dangerous or stupid.

I explain it's a way of not developing stomach ulcers, as I deal with this every day, "you can't let yourself get wound up by it" I say rather primly all too aware that I am normally the Queen of Impatience, the Princess of Panic. I excel at uptightness and stressy reactions. But bizarrely Asia and its frustrations have chilled me out. When driving at least.....

Our 3 yr old said to me yesterday "Mummy you don't run people over do you?"

"No, I don't, it's not nice"

I don't run people over either do I?" queries my daughter

NO, you don't because you don't drive do you? I reply.

Daddy runs people over a little bit doesn't he?"

This we think, was in response to me probably yelling at M to watch out or avoid people, or BRAKE. It's terrfiying for me, never mind the pedestrians. When driving he assumes he can second guess that they WILL stop or retreat, but it seems a dicy wager. Pedestrians are mad, do step right out in front of you, at the last minute, and his mentality seems to be to show them how close they came to dying......

Having been very nearly mown down by a motor bike today because the motorcyclist drove round a car that had stopped for me, I can vouch for the fact that you can't always predict what someone will do, he didn't swerve or break. I leapt back out of the way. If I hadn't, he'd have got me.

So I drive, it's more relaxing for everyone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Love is Blind

I think it's largely the ugliness, anger and corruption in Sri Lanka which stops me being in love with it. You can't be blind to what goes on here. The war, the deep seated racism, the disappearances, brutality, the lack of concern for the North and the East of the country. The corruption in every walk of life.

It's what, for me makes Sri Lanka unloveable. The government's corruption in particular. Where to start? Some small examples: they upped all the minsters' monthly fuel allowance from $2000 - $3000 just before they had to vote on the 2nd reading of the budget, which many in Parliament want to throw out. Strange timing. (This in a country where an average salary would be $100 a month, inflation is at 19%, the cost of living for Joe Blogasinghe is rocketing) Another was a scam whereby Ministers (and I think all MPs) were exempt from paying the 400% import tax on luxury vehicles and some were then selling them on to business people at less than 400% mark up but still at a tidy profit.

Even the former Sri Lankan cricket captain, Marvin Attapathu, complained about the corrupt nepotistic system of selection, whereby favours are given in return for a place in the team for someone's son etc. Thereby also sounding the death knell to his Test career for having spoken out.

Some of the examples are simply laughable, so unsubtle are they. Our ever resourceful president bought his son an Aston Martin on a whim recently..... And not even his salary would cover such an extravagance, nor is it 'family money' To appreciate the true irony of such an unsubtly corrupt gesture, you have to live here and use the roads. There are no motorways, the rds are full of potholes, cows, carts, stray dogs and far too much traffic. I have never gone over 80km/h. Mostly you do 40km/hr. An Aston Martin in Sri Lanka, wd be like owning a race horse on one of the (smaller) Maldivian atolls. I mean the president could have made his point about his status with a Lotus Elan or maybe even an Audi TT. There are only 2 Ferraris in the whole of Sri Lanka. Still that's politics here for you....

Depsite being a democracy and having an independent press, one of the cabinet minsters recently phoned the editor of the most outspoken newspaper with a death threat. They are the stuff of life in Sri Lanka, from firing an employee upwards, it is a national past-time. I have lost count of the number of 'abusive threat' situations I have heard stories of.

The press offices of one of the other newspapers suffered an arson attack for the 2nd time in 2 yrs. Carried out by 10 masked men, who strangely, despite this occurring in a very high security area, and in a city where there are more police and military than white lines on the rd, managed to escape. Impossible unless the police and armed forces were in cahoots....

This is a government which vilifies NGOs, who are spending vast amounts of foreign money to try and sort out the country's problems for them, accuses the UN of collaborating with the LTTE when they import emergency rations for all their staff, which is standard international procedure in volatile regions, accuse Amnesty of using their cricket ball campaign solely to try and destabilise the Sri Lanka cricket team and make them lose. It's a heady mix of megolomania and paranoia all rolled into one.

After living here for a while, time and again you come up against the fact that as a foreigner you are not welcome. On Wed night a bomb was left in a busy shop at evening rush hour time. It exploded killing 17, a civilian attack. Historically and by public statement the targets of the LTTE have always been military and government, this was quite a departure. When a vehicle carrying foreigners went through the area soon after, a 4WD, white NGO vehicle, it was mobbbed by a very angry crowd. The anger you can understand, but why target foreigners? A parent at my son's school who is a security advisor, said this is very common. It doesn't matter what your logo is, UN, diplomat or NGO, you will get mobbed. Seems strange to me, when this civil war has nothing to do with the international community. If anything the latter should be paying it more attention.

Then of course there are my two friends who separately,got taken down side streets in a tuktuk and then had the driver 'demand sex' from them. Both of them dress sensitively, one often even wears Salwar Kameez. Three other people I know have woken up to find a male intruder in their bedroom, another has been stalked, many of us get repeated harassing phonecalls from people and get 'stalked' by phone.

Last week I was meeting M in Colombo for a much needed 'date' one evening and I arrived late, because I got flagged down by a policeman, so of course, in this country of road blocks and check points I stopped. he said , as they always do, "Where are you going?" I told him, he then said "me, Parliament rd" He kept saying this, it was just as I realised that he was telling me he wanted a lift that he opened the door adn got in...... What to do??

Then he said "Japan" I said "no, English" but he kept saying "Japan" I realised he wanted me to take him to Japanese Friendship Rd next to Parliamnet. So I had to go 10 mins out of my way to drop this man off for his shift at a check point opposite parliament. By the time we got there, this policeman in his 50s, was asking me for my phone number and card. I pretended not to understand so he gave me a cheery wave and off I went. I like to persuade myself that he just wanted to arrange a regular lift to his duty spot.

When I told M he was absolutely furious. I was quite surprised. Took him half an hour to calm down. He was outraged that a policeman had arrogantly flagged down a car, because he could, and made a woman alone in a car, at night, drive him to his check point. Of course in the East they do this, the army flag you down and force you to carry them with their guns. you can't refuse, but if an LTTE saw you, you'd be for it. And vice versa. The LTTE do it too. It happened to a driver in my husband's NGO even though the vehicles have stickers saying "No Guns" What are you going to do? Say no??

I must admit I didnt think I had a choice, but as M pointed out if I just drove on, they wouldn't have shot at me! He didn't have a gun, I was in a busy built up area. I guess the fact that he was in uniform lulled me into a false sense of security. And that was how I got attacked 18 yrs ago in a church in Stuttgart, the guy I thought was the caretaker assaulted me, in broad daylight, in a church with several people looking around it. I was upstairs on the balcony looking down, he had a broom and a bunch of keys..... Bingo, fooled me. We found out, having reported it, he didn't work there, he wasn't the verger.

I know, I know, not in love with the place, but still a fool.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Arranged Marriage II

Maheswary's 'arranged marriage' plan got me thinking.

I think of my time in Sri Lanka a bit like (how I perceive) an arranged marriage. When the idea was 1st mooted, I had no interest whatsoever, didn't want to even consider it. I buried my head in the sand, pretended it wasn't happening. As time went on, however, and I realised this was a serious proposal, I thought, well maybe I should look at some photos, get an idea of what I am letting myself in for. My interest was caught a little, I even began a mild flirtation, but mostly it just seemd incredibly scary, too unknown, too crazy an idea.

How could I give up all I knew and loved to launch into the unknown? Would we be compatible, would I even like Sri Lanka, would there be any degree of mutuality? After all looks aren't everything, and much of Sri Lanka's beauty is only skin deep.

So once I had entered in to this 'arranged marriage' I discovered all of Sri Lanka's foibles, idiosyncracies, suppressed anger, ugliness. We have fought many battles, I have cried many tears, not just of frustration, there is much that I dislike, but also things that are endearing, and now make me smile and I think fondly 'Oh Sri Lanka'. I have settled into the familiar rhythms and routines.

It is true to say I have been changed by this partnership, but I still want to change so much in return. Too big a task for me. And perhaps that's not such a healthy attitude either.....

But am I in love? No, I cannot say I have fallen in love. However, I would say I have reached a state of contentment with my lot. And there's a lot to be said for contentment in a marriage.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Arranged Marriages 1

Our house helper, as I call her, for want of a better word wants my help. Everyone here says 'maid'. I just can't bring myself to do it. Domestic worker sounds like a euphemism to hide the fact that someone is doing a lousy, low status job (like Refuse Technicians) So house helper it is. Thanks to the Dutch community for that one.

She want sto go and live in England. She is 38, single, too poor to marry because her family can't afford a dowry, and in a boring, dead end job. She speaks and reads 3 languages, with 3 different alphabets, has A Levels, does the simultaneous translation of the service in Singhala at her church, and leads the choir. As I have always said, there's a bit more to her than the average househelp I have encountered here.

Oh, and she's Tamil. 3 yrs ago, the Danish family she worked for, offeed her the chance to go back to Denmark with them. She declined. I asked why. She said 'because things weren't so bad here then' She feels that as a Tamil, she has no future here, but certainly a whole load of insecurity and mistreatment on a daily basis. After the LTTE attack which took out ssomethign like 16 of the army's aeroplanes and then the Government's killing of the number 2 in the LTTE, security has once again increased.

So Maheswary has almost nightly visits from the police to her block of flats. Raids basically. They come between 12 and 3 in the morning. She has to get up , stand by her bed, and wait motionless whilst they go through her stuff (and her parents' and sister's whom she lives with) No they don' t have search warrants. This is a Tamil area. This is reason enough. Evidently.

So she has decided that I am her lifeline. It's a burden being the 'great white hope' but then who said 'with great wealth comes great responsibilty'? In Sri Lanka, we do have 'great wealth' comparatively. Everyone asks for help. M's tutuk driver said "Will you get me a job in England?". Our son's violin teacher said, when he heard I worked at his interantional school "Can you get me a job there please" That's how it works in this country, as long as you know the right person to pull strings, rules/laws etc are no object.

It all happened because Maheswary was entering the Green Card Lottery so I offered to pay for her flight in the (very) unlikley event that she was one of the lucky 50, 000 worldwide who won. She then said that actually she wanted to go to England where she has a cousin, and would I help with her flight?

Initially she wanted to go on a tourist visa (sh eknew she wd never get a work visa) and said that the Tamil church comunity have told her once there that they could help her get a work permit. I have spent hours explaining the immigration laws/visa requirements/work permit requirements etc. It is very hard to convince her that she's wrong, especially as she knows Sri Lankans who have, somehow, managed it. I explained that she wd be living illegally once the 3 mths were up and working illegally from the start. AND that England is hellishly expensive. We couldn't afford to sponsor her to live there for months. That's what the visa requires, to prove you won't become a 'public charge' . It really isn't that straightforward. And she would probably be considered a flight risk and refused a visa anyway.

I have scoured immigration/visa websites too looking for a way. The one way she could get in legally is to come in as our family's househelper on a domestic worker visa. If she worked continuously as a domestic worker for 5 yrs, she could apply for indefinite leave to remain. Otherwise with no sought after skills, no money to study there is no option. However we are not staying in the UK, but going to our next posting. (More of that post in another post....)

But she has not rested on her laurels. I take my hat off to her for her tenacity. She discovered a loop hole I didn't, when reading through the visa guidance forms I gave her. She is going to ask her cousin to arrnage a marriage for her. She says it has to be with a Tamil, a Christian, someone prepared to marry a 38 yr old non westernised Tamil etc. M thinks this is even more of a tenuous proposition than any of her other ideas. However she could then get into the UK legally on a tourist visa, marry and hopefully 'live happily ever after'. She would have had an arranged marriage here, and considers this the norm, even though not part of her religion. She would love to be married and has no chance here.

This has kept me awake at night. I so feel for her, and want to give her the chance of a new life. To live in peace, to be treated fairly, marry, settle down, have her own bathroom rather than sharing one with 50 others in her block. Normal aspirations. If only it were as simple as buying her a ticket....

Saturday, November 10, 2007

India for Beginners

Perspective is all. Having returned from India in more or less one piece, I see Sri Lanka with new eyes, at least from the point of view of living here. With my fresh perspective I now think it's a breeze (well only for a few wide-eyed moments) We thought, living in a 'watered down' version of India, we wouldn't find it too much of a culture shock. We did. Many things were very familiar, but we were amazed actually at the differences. Everything was so much more extreme. The poverty, pollution, traffic, dirt, roadside rubbish and congestion were SO much worse. there are far more beggars sleeping on the streets. Everywhere. Far worse disabilities. Far more persistent hassling. Every available public railing was turned into a place to dry clothes in Delhi and Jaipur. You could smell urine everywhere as you rode in tuktuks.

Yet the infrastructure, roads, trains, shopping malls were all so much better. It was a strange mix. Returning to Sri Lanka, the place seemed so calm, gentle and 'sane'. Of course we know this is so far from the truth in terms of the corruption, the war, the prejudices, the human rights abuses etc. But on the surface, the traffic is not as crazy, the pollution is less, the poverty is less extreme. I felt so thankful to live in Sri Lanka and not India. It took me a year to get used to 'here' as it was.

Our son was wowed by the Taj Mahal "I can't believe I'm here actually seeing the Taj Mahal. I must be dreaming" And for some reason he seemed to wow the India tourists.

After the 4th request for a photo of him with an Indian family he said to me

"See I told you I was famous"

"Yes all these years and I've never realised I wasliving with a celebrity " I replied.

"Well, actually I only found out myself yesterday" He admitted to me. On his arrival in India.

By the 8th request that day, and by the end of a 2 wk holiday, our 7 yr old was realising the onerous burden of fame. I don't know why Indian families wanted to pose with a complete stranger. Our daughter of course felt it was beneath her to oblige anyone.

We had a few hairy travel moments, beyond the usual travel by cycle rickshaw, camel etc. Our son flew off the 2AC bunk on one train trip ( a fall of about 5 ft) I'm glad we weren't in "3AC" which has three tiers of bunks... He nearly got run over in Delhi. A car brushed him, despite my borderline neurotic vigilance, as I yanked him out of the way. And he fell headlong on the uneven paving and gave himself an egg head. Hazards that shd have been familiar coming from Sri Lanka.

Whilst travelling in a car, we approached a level crossing as the bell was ringing and the barrier coming down. Our geriatric Dukes of Hazard taxi driver tried to 'shoot the barrier' but failed (I'm glad to say) So we sat with bonnet a little under the barrier waiting for the train to pass.. Meanwhile people continued to swarm across and motorcyclists limbo-ed under on their bikes, or got off leaning them over to crawl under. Not one of these people looked to left or right as they crossed. They obviously all knew they had a good 30 seconds in hand, after the barrier went down, before the train came.

At the airport I got stopped at security and discovered that I had left my Swiss Army Penknife in my rucksack which I was using as hand luggage. It was, of course, confiscated. This made my Clarins shower gel moment at Heathrow pale into insignificance. I have no idea why it was in the bag I was carrying round Delhi. Not such an Alpha mum that I was carrying it as a weapon to protect my children. Nor did I require the use of the corkscrew or hoof pick whilst shopping in Delhi. I think it was just one of those Girl Guide moments, a nebulous 'useful' thing to have in an emergencyto lull you into a false sense of security. "It'll be ok, I have my Swiss army penknife with me" Must be a product of my Famous Five reading childhood (as I never quite made it into the Girl Guides, actually).

Speaking of which our son consumed 6 Enid Blyton books whilst on holdiay which was very admirable, but I'm sure very bad for the digestion. He will no doubt now assume criminal tendencies in any person he sees who was unfortunate enough to be born with eyes 'too close together', not to mention telling his sister she can't help 'because this is boys' work and you're a girl'

Still just as well he had a few books, as everytime we waited at a station there were announcements saying a train was delayed. One announcement cited no less than 4 trains being late, the first 4 hrs, then 5 hours, one 7 hours, and the last, I kid you not, 9 hours late. The blow was softened by the announcer stating with pronounced sincerity and emphatic sorrow "The late arrival of this train is deeply regretted" Maybe she was speaking for the passengers rather than the Rail company....... Puts that ol' perspective on the lateness of British late trains though.

It did cross my mind to wonder what could possibly make a train 9 hours late, but then I remembered I was in India, and as we were beginning to find out. Anything can happen in India.....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Absence, Aeroplanes and Alternative Careers

The children seem to have taken M being away for a week in their stride. It's not that different from a normal week I guess. Last time M was away for a week, just after his return, at bed-time I asked our 3 yr old if she would like to pray for Daddy in her prayers that night. She stopped, looked at me quizzically and said "Is Daddy coming to my house tonight?"

So far with this trip she has said everyday since Sunday "daddy's on the plane isn't he?" I reply "No he's in Albania" It was a long trip and 3 flights but it didn't take 3 days. By supper this evening she seemed to have it sorted "Daddy's not here, he's gone on a plane" she said triumphantly. That's right I encourage.
"He's in India" She adds. I guess it is confusing for a three year old. Her father spends a week away in Europe, we all fly to India on holiday on Saturday (only 3 hrs away) . He meets us in Delhi. Such is the life of an ex-pat child. She talks about going to Diggerland 'on Sunday' (in Devon), seeing her grandparents next week, (random adverbial time phrases), in the same breath as going to India. A plane is no more than a bus to a 3 yr old.

Our son is remaining rather more local. He is off on a field trip tomorrow to a Buddhist temple and a Dairy factory, (interesting combo I mused) They are doing a unit of work called "Here, There and Everywhere". Maybe they figure these two locations just about cover it. Milk and meditation.

At supper he said "Maybe dad could work in a dairy factory then he could come home at 5 o' clock, or better still 4.30p.m and we would get to see him and play."

I explained there weren't many jobs that would allow him to finish this early. Then he said what about being a teacher? (being a teacher myself, I resisted the urge to whip out my soap box and clamber on, at the erroneous connection he was making)
But he continued "Then I could go to the same school as him and see him during the day. I love seeing my family at school." (I teach at his school doing supply sometimes)

Poor boy, I hope he is not so deprived of his father's company that he is still saying this as a teenager. Well it would be nice, just a bit unusual........

I echo the sentiment, I would quite like to have my husband back too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cricket Bats and Rugby Balls

That was a great weekend. A real sportfest. Just what my husband needed after a particularly manic week of work. Part of the reason I enjoyed it was because it reminded me of several positives of being out here. (Ironic how one notices these just when one is about to leave....) One was being able to pay R1500 (£7.50) to go and watch England play Sri Lanka in the 5th One Day International. Despite winning the series, England lost this match, and I have to say they did so very convincingly. I got to see a typical England 'collapse' in the flesh. It wasn't the most exciting of matches. The trumpet and drum playing of the Sri Lankan supporters was a spectacle in itself. Whole bands of impromptu musicians. The fans were conscientiously tireless in their support: music making, flag waving and whistling. I felt a bit lacklustre, not to say British, with my polite applause. Perhaps I should have waved a can of lager. But I didn't have one on me. The cricket ground is an alcohol free zone.

I had got there only for the last 3 hrs, (quite enough I felt) which meant arriving alone, in the dusk, in a not very salubrious area, safe but hassly, and consequently having about 4 men and 3 policemen telling me where I could and couldn't park, and guiding me into parking places, (and out of them) so that the former could then demand money for their unsolicited parking assistance. One guy said I owed him R200 for parking on the side of a bit of dirt/unmade up rd. I laughed and carried on. He kept pace with me, prodding me and saying I owed him money. It was a real pain, I received more hassle that evening than I had in the past 18 mths here put together. People mostly leave you alone. Sri Lanka is, I have found, very unusual in this. Even hawkers on beaches usually just walk past holding up stuff, or waft a few sarongs apologetically at you from a safe distance away. I feel almost bad for them thinking they will never get a sale if they don't hassle a bit more. Still I guess it was good preparation fro our trip to India next week, Sri Lanka being what I consider a very 'diluted' version of India.

The second reason was that M & I got to have a meal together at one of the 5* restaurants in Colombo, at 'greasy spoon prices' as a friend of mine puts it. I realise I have been living in Sri Lanka too long when I felt completely overwhelmed by the choice in this new restaurant, something I have become totally unused to here.

The final thing was watching our England Rugby team in the semi final of the World Cup playing France, in the company of our England Cricket team. A trifle surreal. I mean they were in the bar, having got back from the cricket (perhaps the 'collapse' was deliberately engineered so as not to miss the rugby.......) the bar was in the hotel where they were staying. I still hadn't thought of a witty comment, since our last encounter, but it didn't matter, they were well oiled by the time we got there and pretty soon were making more noise than the rest of the room put together, singing Swing Low, the National Anthem, pogo-ing and air punching.

I have to say it was the best atmosphere for a rugby match I have ever been in, full of this eclectic mix of British, Sri Lankan, Australian, French you name it, the British High Commissioner, the England cricket team. Quite a festive occasion. I couldn't imagine this happening in the UK. Despite being majority British, or perhaps because of that, no one took any notice of the cricketers at all. Just let them get on it. And perhaps, because we are so far from home, we felt a heightened surge of patriotism, and pride in our rugby team gaining a place once more in the Final. It felt quite nice, I'm not used to feeling patriotic, despite my homesickness.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Green Fingers and Lemon Grass.

It's official we have no gardener! I know, I know. Colonial outpost. Yes, gardeners are the stuff of ex-pat life. Job creation. In developing countries where lablour is cheap there is someone to do everything for you. This, in a supermarket includes, someone to unpack your trolley onto the belt, someone to pack the bags the other end, someone else again, to push the trolley to the car, and load i tintoyour car. And there's me, interfering, unpacking all the bags to reduce the number of plastic bags that are being used so wantonly, pushing my own trolley, loading the car, generally 'unjobbing' everyone.

In a clothes shops it can mean someone handing you a basket, someone else removing the hanger from the item you have picked up, then there will be about 3 people round the till to help too. And at least one assistant close on your heels (very different perameter of personal space here) as you browse. I find myself, increasingly irritated, playing childish games, like stopping suddenly, or changing direction. trying to outwit them. I know job creation is good, but I also don't want to get used to having someone do everything for me....

Housekeepers are the norm, many Sri Lankans and ex pats also have drivers, a security guard, a gardener, a cook or nanny. It's unbelievable. But affordable for many with each one's salary about US$100-130, a 'good' wage here. A garment factory worker here would earn US$80 a month, and could live on that.

Anyway Our Next Door Neighbour (ONDN) has refused to let us use his gardener anymore after my polite note (see post 'Tropical Fatigue'). Furthermore he has broken off all diplomatic relations with us. He has banned his gardener and 'cook' and cleaner, from talking to Maheswary, our househelp, or to us (even though they only speak Singhalese. so presumably hand gestures are banned too.......). He has also complained that he has to receive all our post at his house. It is not a conspiracy with the post office, they just choose to deliver our mail to him. (our house is at the bottom of his garden. He built it there) The gardener now comes to deliver our bank statement under cover of darkness, in case he should incense his boss at this flagrant breach of the rules of engagement.

Our landlord, Our Next Door Neighbour's son-in-law, who is utterly charming, gave us the number of a gardener. Turned out to be a gardening business by tuktuk. Lawn mower, brushes, spades, shears, you name it, all stuffed in the back of the little trishaw. This guy charged us 2 1/2 times what we used to pay, even Maheswary couldn't beat him down, but the grass was reaching snake-habitable height. It had to be cut, we have no mower, we have no gardening implements at all. As they say here (a lot) "What to do?"

I miss the 5 previous gardeners. (live-in gardeners of ONDN, who 'allowed' us to use him so he could then dock our payment to the gardener out of his monthly wages) The longest serving one came to say goodbye and shake our hand, the day before he slipped off in the middle of the night to go and till his own patch of soil back in Kurenagula. He exerted tremendous effort in his bid to communicate with us. We had the longest conversation we had ever had with him. He thanked us and said we were a 'good man, good lady'. Not really gratfiying, more sad really, when all we had ever done to gain this accolade was thank him for his work, pay him the going rate with a bonus at Christmas and Singhala New Year, as is traditional, and a glass of cold water while he worked.

Then there was the one who had run away from the army. Strictly Winston didn't drive him away, the army caught up with him and took him back. He didn't seem to think this such a hardship though strangely after a few months in ONDN's boot camp.

One of my favourites was the perpetually smiling guy who I found bent double pushing the lawn mower along on his knees under our trampoline because he didn't know it could move. He had evidently asked our househelp what it was. Must have thought us very strange to have this enormous circualr launch pad in our garden. M offered him a go on it. He wasn't at all keen.

All of these gardeners used to bring me lemon grass from ONDN's garden. I guess technically this was receiving stolen goods, as it came from ONDN's garden, next door just didnt use it. I didn't realise it was a clandestine gift until Maheswary told me. Still ONDN solved that dilemma for me. No gardener, no lemon grass.

Leave Taking

We said farewell to some good friends on Tuesday. They're heading back to the UK for a job in London. Such is the nature of the NGO life/ex-pat life. People come and go. Everyone's first question is 'how long are you here for?' Everyone is weighing up whether it's worth getting to know you. I hate that. I have, unfortunately, found myself doing the same thing. If you meet someone and they're leaving in 6 mths time, you do wonder a bit if it's worth the investment of time and energy. I try really hard not to get into that mindset. I don't want to regard people in that way.

But with friends leaving, and thoughts of the UK, it has made me think about the things here which I have whinged about. Rats, geckos, cockroaches, ants, traffic, humidity, large spiders, mad drivers, things breaking, things not working, power cuts, pollution, nasty diseases, poor quality workmanship, endless bureaucracy etc. I realise that they're not that big a deal. Or maybe I have just learned to cope with things better. A lot of frustrations and stresses but I can laugh about them more now, and don't let things get to me quite so much. Maybe I have finally acculturised.........??

There are huge benefits to the children (particularly at this young age) of living in another culture, learning tolerance, an outward looking perspective, having friends from so many different countries, seeing new, different places, 'celebrating diversity' as our son's school puts it.
I also realise I am quite enjoying this as an experience now. I even agree with the Director of A's school who, a year ago, told me he quite liked the chaos and madness in this country. I looked at him in astonishment. But I do too, in many ways, now. Rules are flexible, you are left to your own devices, it's certainly not a nanny state, it feels much more free, bizarrely than the UK. Of course that's partly what causes the mayhem. Everyone does their own thing. I know, of course, that for the Tamils, and anyone getting on the wrong side of the State, life is not so good. And of course the country is rotten to the core, high up on the World Corruption Index, soaring inflation, high cost of living, a full blown civil war, 3 meglomaniacal brothers running the country, or rather ruining the country.

I don't even miss the seasons as much as I used to. I don't like the humidity, but summer clothes make life very easy and nice, and blue skies and sunshine do wonders for one's mental health.

I guess being here has taught me not to take anything for granted (health, clean environment, the Highway code, choice of food, friends, safety etc) And as a jaded old Westerner, I have learned to appreciate everything so much more, particularly simple pleasures. Treats, a nice cup of coffee, having good quality food in a restaurant, sleeping on a sprung mattress when staying in a hotel (ours is a foam slab), a week with no cockroaches (or big spiders).... I am much, much better at focussing on the positives I think. And that can't be a bad thing. I do, though, still blog and email madly, a sign of someone still needing solace and catharsis, not to mention companionship. It makes me feel a bit pathetic, whilst all my busy, fulfilled, sociable friends/harrassed parents in the West, have little time for such cyber activity.

Of course all this positivity may be because the end of the contract is in sight. We leave at the end of the year. Ironically M is more ready to leave than I am though. He's exhausted and in danger of burning out. Whilst I have just begun to get used to things.......

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

True Love's Kiss

The 'Prince Charming and Princesses' theme continues in our home. Our daughter asked me recently "But which handsome prince will marry me?" Knowing her delightful, but nevertheless, determined and diva-like qualities at times, my immediate thought was a "A very brave one......" I didn't tell her this.

Yesterday she was singing her song about Sleeping Beauty. She loves acting it out. She is always Sleeping Beauty. Of course. She knows most of it off by heart. It goes "The princess slept for a hundred years, a hundred years, a hundred years " etc. Then "A handsome prince came riding by, riding by, riding by " etc. She then adds what she thinks is the next verse "He woke her up for 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes". My daughter is a realist. She has obviously modelled her prince on an accurate appraisal of herself, accepting that any handsome prince could only cope with her for that cluster of minutes, before breathing a sigh of relief, as she slipped into another centennial slumber.

My son, meanwhile told me he is playing the Prince in his 'group's' version of Cindarella in Performing Arts at school.

"Wow!" I said "Great!"

He said "it's funny whenever we have a prince in stories, I usually have to play him. I don't know why."

I, of course, being his mother, know this is because he is impossibly handsome and extraordinarily charming. I don't tell him this.

He then confides in me at bath time, "It's a bit embarrassing actually."

"Why?" I ask, "Do you have to kiss Cindarella?"

"No", he says "but I nearly have to. We do a near kiss."

Ah. 'A miss is as good as a mile' to a seven year old.

He says he wishes I could come and watch it. He wants me there, even though the near miss-kiss is a trifle embarrassing.

He's made my day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dengue Drama

We had a dengue scare this week. A nasty mosquito borne virus. We got back from our wk/end away with our daughter suffering from a fever, a headache and an 'eye headache' as she called it. Dengue has a few classic symptoms such as headache, sore or headachey eyes and a rash appearing on about day 3, all with a high fever. Our daughter had a headache for 2 days and a very high fever. We waited anxiously for a day 3 rash to appear. Her next symptom was a stiff neck. Oh no. Now another horrible virus to worry about, though at least with this one I know about folding the child up to get them to touch their chin on their chest. And I know you don't dance and sing with Meningitis..... No rash was forthcoming and by the morning of the third day her fever had gone down. She bounced into our room in the morning. full of beans, accompanied by more singing, and new dance moves. And I marvelled again enviously, but with relief, at how incredibly quickly children bounce back from illness.

You have to have a blood test to confirm dengue. You also have to be hospitalised to keep a careful watch on your platelets as dengue, for some reason, causes a drastic drop in your platelet levels. A friend was in hospital with Dengue a week ago. Her platelets went down to 50, 000 (normally around 250-400, 000) If it gets really bad they transfuse you. They also put you on a drip and test your blood twice a day. The scenario made me feel weak, as I contemplated battling my daughter in hospital, yet again (with paediatrically unsympathetic nurses), until her platelets went up again, and as they tried to extract blood from her, and inflicting yet another week in hospital on her three year old life.

This friend, who was in hospital with dengue, had got it for the second time. It suddenly brings it to the fore again. You get blase about it, as months go by and you evade it. Suddenly we were all putting insect repellent on everyday again. Not that it works. My daughter comes home from nursery covered in bites every day and I apply repellent to her religiously every morning.

Anyway this friend was told rather unhelpfully by another 'friend' on hearing her news, "You can't get dengue twice, you die!" This would have reduced me to a neurotic wreck, and in fact we have heard of several locals who have died from it. But my friend, a survivor of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and an amazing and joyful woman, said matter of factly, "Well, I'm still walking around and so is my husband, 4 yrs after having it twice". And then calmly explained that there are about 7 strains of dengue. It's dangerous when you get the SAME strain twice. Don't know why. Still sounds a bit of a lottery. And then there's Dengue Haemorraghic Fever, much rarer (in the lottery stakes) but 50% fatal. Ho hum.

Pesky Critters

The spiders are back. 3 in this last week. Not the huge stripey legged ones we had 3 of in our bedroom a while ago (complete with egg sack and baby spiders running everywhere. See blog "Life's Wild in Colombo" March 20th) but these new ones have a bulbous body about 3 cm long, 1.5cm thick, legs 7 cm. They are dove grey and almost downy. You can even see their little fangs and eyes at the front. A bit like Charlotte in Charlotte's Web, but markedly less cute than even that uncuddly creature. We had one outside our bedroom on the wall, one on the trampoline cushions which our son had unwittingly carried outside. When they saw it later on the wall, they both screamed and had to be 'airlifted' off the trampoline and carried inside for 'safety'. So much for life in a tropical country hardening our children to such things. The third spider was another type again. Even longer thicker legs, black with a black and white marking on its body.

I must say though, the children take the 'rat exploits' with amazing nonchalance. We had the pest control here again today, as the rat poison we have in little trays in every room, doesn't seem to work. Tell tale chewed tea towels, plastic containers with teeth marks, scufflings etc suggested they were back. I just don't know how they are getting in, that's what bothers me. The gullies are all weighted down now.

Anyway I told the children. Not a flicker of concern, or even interest. They were interested in why I had put peanut butter in the mousetrap however......The pest guys pour some noxious, and no doubt highly toxic, substance down all our loos, all the 'gullies' in the bathroom floors (drains with hinged covers in the corner of each bathroom, which the rats use to pop in of an evening, or quiet moment, if you don't put a heavy weight on them) It smells awful. I dread to think what all the chemical waste is doing to the waterways here. They spray in all the drains and holes outside too. I imagine it just deters the rats, it can't kill them surely? I have refused to have the house fumigated to deter ants, geckos and cockroaches (even though lots of people do this) because I don't want poisonous fumes being inhaled by my children. It is supposed to last up to 6 months. If it kills all those things and lasts that long, what is it doing to us? I prefer to fight those battles in single combat.

A teacher at our son's school asked to see the list of chemicals the maintenance guys were spraying the school with everyday. He looked them up on the Internet and found at least 2 of them had been banned in the States for 20 yrs. So you can't be too careful. In fact it is pretty impossible to BE careful in this country. So many hazards. I try. One of the guys dug out a hole he found near our outside tap. He said he saw a huge black rat in there.

I prefer the low tech method of pest elimination. But then there's low tech and low tech........ For example the glue method (Our house-help highly recommends this method. The pest guys agree. Sounds a bit messy. You literally put glue stuff down, and the rat sticks to it. Alive. Then all you have to do is kill it. Sounds even more messy.....

Antd then there's another gecko story. Not content with falling into our kettle, drowning, and decomposing undetected in there, a fellow curious gecko crawled into the tiny steamhole in our rice cooker the other day. (A 1cm max hole) It was one night when M was home alone and cooking for himself. He swore it was empty when he filled the rice cooker with water, poured the rice in, and turned it on. However, when he came to turn it off, lifted the lid, and the steam cleared, there lying in a bed of fluffy basmati was a boiled gecko.

Monday, October 1, 2007

It's an Ex-Pat Life for me........

It's been a bit of an 'ex-pat lifestyle' week this week. On Wed it was M's birthday and also a Poya day, so we decided to go to our favourite hotel for a swim. It's the old Governor's residence from the days when the British 'ruled' Ceylon. It certainly looks the colonial part, white pillars, doorman in pith helmets (no, really), afternoon tea, complete with tiered cake stand etc. And as members of the Association of British Residents we swim for free, and get 10% off food. (Who said the Empire was dead?) That was a joke by the way. I like it because it's where I had my 1st 'happy day' in Sri Lanka. I thought, if we can come somewhere like this to 'escape' then I can survive. How wimpy is that?

Our son said to me "Is daddy really 41?" Yes really, I replied. He sighed and said
"I wish you were both 30 again" (YOU wish, I thought....) I asked why and he replied
"I just don't like you growing up so fast"
A man after my own heart.

On Fri, M's NGO hosted a Farewell and Thank You Celebration for the completion of the Tsunami work. In the speech by the Regional Director, he thanked us spouses for our support in 'allowing our spouses to work at the start 7 days a week' (that wasn't us thankfully, as we arrived a year later) and for being so gracious and understanding about 'our spouses working 14 hrs days'. This whingy old bag felt very ungracious, thinking, when did I or the children ever agree to that? It is a sad truth that in the time we have been here, we have seen people succumb to stress, burn out, quit, marriages break up and children seeing very little of their working parent. It doesn't feel a very family friendly career. But that is Emergency Response more than Development. She said optimistically, with an ever so slightly hysterical laugh.

At this do they had party games. I had not been to a very Sri Lankan party before. The Sri Lankans were SO into the party games. One of which I remember from my childhood; making an outfit from newspaper. They were superb at it. They made a Kandyan dancer, a Sri Lankan traditional bride, a soldier, incredibly intricate designs. It left us Westerners in the shade. Also the Sri Lankans loved dancing. But the cultural difference was the band struck up a song, and all the........MEN.... raced to the dance floor and were, let's say, uninhibited in their grooving and jiving compared to the soft shoe shuffle of the Western men.

One of the night's unexpected highlights. Despite being the NON-Hello reader that I am, nevertheless I always enjoy spotting a celebrity and thinking 'wow they seem quite normal. No second head'. Our party was at the same hotel as the England cricket team were staying in, and as we came out of the door of our function room, who should be peering in to get a piece of the action, but Kevin Pieterson, and Ryan Sidebottom. Strangely Pieterson was much taller than he appears on tv. I thought the reverse was true of TV. It was one of those situations where you want to say something (preferably cool and witty) but of course can think of nothing to say. At the time. My husband also refused to ask for an autograph for our son (who loves cricket), because he didn't want them to think it was for him! Being 41 he now considers himself far too grown up to collect autographs. So our son was right. If he'd been 30 perhaps he'd have done it.

Finally this weekend we spent in the nicest hotel we've stayed in, in Sri Lanka. I had won a prize to stay there in a raffle in June. I have to say this is what I will miss most about Sri Lanka when we leave; being able to stay in lovely places cheaply, by palm fringed tropical beaches. The trips we have done with the childen all over Sri Lanka have been a wonderful experience, and one I hope they will remember a bit of.

This week wasn't all gins slings and lunch on the verandah though. I spent 5 and a half hours in hospital with my daughter on Tues having a scan of her kidneys to check her repeated urine infections hadn't scarred her kidneys. I received very Sri Lankan intsructions. As if perfectly simple and straight forward. "Wake your 'baby' at 5,30 so she will be sleepy because she must sleep during the scan". I said she doesn't sleep during the day. They said "She must. We will give her 'syrup'". Last time they did this, they said it took 20 mins to work. She fell asleep immediately. They came to fetch her 20 mins later despite me telling them she was already asleep. She woke up the minute they started to scan her. So I wasn't brimming with confidence. Neverthelss I was taken to a darkened room, told to remove my shoes, turn my phone off and 'make your baby go to sleep'. Right then, no problem. We lay on the bed, she danced, she bounced on the bed, she fidgeted, I pleaded, she giggled. No sign of said syrup inducing drowsiness. After 47 minutes she suddenly fell asleep. She woke up 15 minutes into the scan but seemed curiously unfazed by the velcro-ed blanket binding her to the bed under a giant 'camera' which rotated. The dr then told me the scan was 'no good' because she had been moving. ever so slightly. I nearly wept. It is amazing how often my daughter can reduce me to tears of frustration and defeat. So he did 10 mins more and seemed satisfied. Hari hari. O.K, O.K. Head wobble. Head wobbled back. Must remember to lose this habit once departed from Asia.

On Thurs my husband came home in despair, having opted out of a work do that night and told me how he had been on the verge of tears all day with so much to do, and so many demands on him, many un-solveable. I was utterly amazed and not a little worried. I have been married 16 yrs and NEVER once seen my husband cry, or even admit to needing to or being close to it. (whether this is normal or not, is material for another day) He just doesn't. Not even when our children were born. I'm not sure he actually knows how to. Probably just as well, I do enough for both of us. He is so stressed and under pressure, that I wonder if he is on the edge of a breakdown. He is very different in himself too. I remember a very conscientious colleague of mine at my old school who had a nervous breakdown, and a term off. One of his symptoms, apart from feeling utterly unable to cope, was crying 'for no reason' and not being able to stop, so he told me. The Director didn't mention anything about this in his Thank You speech. Thank you for being willing to subject yourself to a nervous breakdown. Your contribution was very gratefully received. Your family can have you back now. Maybe they will provide the sticking plaster and glue............

Two sides of the ex-pat coin.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tropical Fatigue

It's been a tiring sort of day. One the Tropics are all too good at. I must remember to choose my battles. Though actually I think I would choose these two again.

I took 18 beer bottles back to the shop today. These have been building up for months I hasten to add. You get money back for returned bottles. You also get money off your next carton of beers. However, I confused the issue by bringing back 18 bottles but only purchasing 12 more. I asked the cashier to give me the extra as money off the bill. This created consternation. A lady in a sari was summoned. This indicated she was more important than the girl on the till who wore a uniform of trousers. Then a man in a tie was called over. A few bag packers came over just to join in the fun.

I kept explaining that the money back was for the empty bottles, and wasn't dependent on me buying more beer. The newly bought beer in my trolley was counted and recounted, my till receipt was studied and passed round. One more person came over and was consulted. Eventually it was grudgingly agreed that indeed I was owed cash back for 6 bottles. Oh victory was sweet. I have never succeeded at this before. I have always backed down and just bought more beer! And it only took 4 people to make that decision....

In general In Sri Lanka, a few shops seem to have cottoned on to the idea that vouchers are a good marketing device, but you feel like a petty criminal actually producing one of these and claiming the discount. they are minutely examined (for forgeries I assume??)It always involves summoning several other shop assistants and invariably the manager to ok it. When I did this with a voucher for 50% off a hair cut, they came back, and raised the original quote by 2oo Rupees before knocking half off!

It is also well nigh impossible to get an exchange and certainly you don't get a refund anywhere for anything in Sri Lanka. Unheard of, even if, as happened to us, a book was faulty and had pages missing. It was our own silly fault I imagine for not checking every page in the book before purchasing.

I also had a run in with our next door neighbour, our landlord's father-in-law. He is possibly the most objectionable man I have ever met. He treats anyone who works for him as sub-human. he is rude to everyone, shouts at everyone, is mean spirited, even shout s at OUR househelp, Maheswary, and scolds her for things that are nothing to do with him. She is very good though and just says "I feel sorry for him, there is something wrong in his head"

His 'live-in' gardener does our garden for us, but he docks what we pay the gardener out of his monthly salary. Even though the gardener does it in his own time. In the 18mths we have been here, he has got through 5 gardeners, and the current one says he wants to leave. It is irresistible not to draw Oscar Wilde's conclusion (in paraphrase): to lose one gardener is unfortunate, but to lose 5 is certainly careless. And that's just it he couldn't care less. About anyone.

He came round once when I was out (it's always when I am out, to intimidate Maheswary) and announced to her that as he had fertilised and watered our rambutan tree, (ie the gardener had when doing our garden) he was entitled to the fruit. He then ordered her to pick him 30. This was my househelper, on my time, in my garden! The problem is he gave the house to his daughter as her dowry. But he has never really let go of it. He wanders into our garden to check things sometimes. He accused me of complaining when I enquired of our landlord where our curry bush had gone. It had been uprooted when we were away. He told me it was dead. Maheswary had picked curry leaves the morning before it was pulled up....

When we go away he phones Maheswary every day asking her where we are, what she is doing. He tells her to leave the gate open so he can get into the garden etc. He tells her off for opening the gate too fast, for arriving too late to put the rubbish out. etc . She is a feisty Tamil. She stands up to him. His response is "These people, think they are all superior because they are working for ex-pats" he describes any of his gardeners or staff as 'these people'. Nice.

On this occasion he asked her why we always kept the gate closed, and complained the gardener couldn't get in. He wanted the gardener to come in and fertilise a tree. I have always said he could knock on the gate. and he does. He said to Maheswary, "it's not as if they have any gold or jewellery to steal is it?" So I wrote him a very polite note back explaining that we kept it closed to keep out unwanted vistors... explaining we have all our french windows open, I am not alway sin, adn Maheswary may be upstairs. We have also had a lot of people begging or selling things, or sussing out the house, then running away. He of course was livid that Maheswary had told us what he had said. She always does, it's very enlightening.

He phoned me up, told me to be quiet and listen, to let him finish . I did, then I put my case clearly. He accused me of behaving in a way unfitting to Sri Lanka. Well it's true I used no form of bribery, exercised my freedom of speech, I didn't lie, I didn't threaten and I certainly didn't use personal abuse as a weapon of attack. So no place for me in the government then. Many of these are common in everyday life here too. You only have to read the Sri Lankan independent paper. They bewail it too, so I'm not being xenophobic.

I was reading in a book about Asia about a condition called 'tropical fatigue', in long term ex-pats in the Tropics, caused by lack of mental rest, the climate, the demands of daily life in a different culture, and excessive alcohol intake. All I need to do is drink a bit more and there, I have a diagnosis.

Peace and Love, Man

School seems to be consuming a lot of my time at the moment. I have been teaching several days each week. Added to which I am a 'support parent' again for my son's class. It's a straight forward 'intermediary' role between parent and teacher. Not too demanding. Also a friendly face for newcomers. However the two parents for the other Grade 2 class are 'girly swots' in the keenness stakes, and churn out emails, and action plans with a frenzy worthy of a domestic goddess producing cakes for the school fete. I feel exhausted just reading them. I think the list will frighten off potential volunteer parents, who are needed to 1.) hear children read 2.) paint wolves faces on the children for the musical 3.) accompany children to a local temple 4.) complete a form detailing all their skills and interests and areas of expertise in order to be able to give a talk to the children on a topic of interest. I prefer to work on the 'drip feed' need to know basis, rather than panicking them from the outset with too many requests.....

Last Friday was Founders day. Lots of Kandyan dancers as usual. These are essentially more exotic, flamboyant versions of Morris Dancers. equally bizarre, with as many tassels and bells as the latter. A few more flic flacs though. The Principal stood up to give his address and said "good morning everyone" This to the whole school. 3-18 yrs. A lone voice chimed back "Good MORRRRRNING Mister McClellan. The whole school laughed. I thought fleetingly 'how sweet, one of the pre-schooler is doing what they do every morning to their teacher'. At break time I discovered the truth. It had evidently been my SEVEN yr old replying. His teacher told him he was very polite to answer. I trust both my son, and his teacher were being sincere.

This week is "Show your Spirit" week, which always occurs in the run up to some sporting activity at the school. it's the South Asia Swimming Meet this w/e at school. So each day the children have to dress up in fancy dress. As directed. this causes the ex-pat household not a little stress as one simply doesn't have a dressing up box full of clothes to suit each occasion.

Tonight saw me making a CND medallion, a headband, sewing flowers on a waistcoat and tie dyeing an old P.E shirt. For Hippie Day, in case it wasn't clear....I'm dreading Gangster day. Don't even know if it's Gangster day or Gangsta day. There's a difference I believe, mainly musical.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dancing, With Wolves

Well it's been quite a heavy couple of blogs, but I can always rely on my childen to provide some light relief.

I had to take our 3 yr old for a hospital appoinmtent last week. It was a long old wait. She had decided to go dressed for the occasion in one of her many fairy dresses (most of which I am ashamed to admit have been donated to her by anxious friends we have visited, to try and quell my daughter's noisy devastation at not only leaving their house, but also leaving the fairy dress behind, I now realise it was all a ploy and mourning was probably exclusively for the dresses and not the friends, being the shaollow toddler she is) Anyway this particular little number was white with a very frothy layered skirt. She chose to wear this over her shorts and t-shirt. Personally in this humidity and heat I find one layer too much, the thought of having another, POLYESTER layer over the top is enough to turn me naturist. Doesn't seem to bother her though.

Anyway she decided during our 2 hr wait that she would dance. The chairs were arranged round the room in a square. The waiting room was full of Sri Lankans. Little did they know what they were in for. My daughter chose to take up position in the centre of the room whereupon she embarked upon a series of cossack style leg kicks complete with claps under the leg, and a flamenco swishing of the skirts. To top off her "fusion footwork", she added a few traditional arabesques and pirouettes. In between 'sets' she would stop and scratch her bottom vigorously. I made a mental note to buy more worm tablets.... She would also add rather coyly, "I don't like people watching me dance". I suggested, in that case, she find a slightly less public place than a waiting room full of bored patients with no posters even on the walls to read. I think she secretly realised the advatnages of a captive audience.

My husband meanwhile has been visiting the hospital on a fairly regular basis to have his ears 'cleaned'. He has a fungal infection in them. Fungal infections are the bane of our life here. So easy to get, not so easy to get rid of, particularly in the ears evidently. Anyway his consultant is Indian and takes a metal probe, wraps it in cotton wool and cleans his, presumably, eardrum with a liquid. M says it is sheer unadulterated agony. He said it also made him realise how he would be useless under torture and would buckle immediately. My husband is very 'no nonsense' and never makes a fuss about anything. He has a high pain threshold too..... which made me realise it must have been quite an ordeal. And it's not even working. I had read in Lonely Planet India that India is I think the only country in the world where 'professional ear cleaners' work on the street. You can rock up and have your ears cleaned for you. Not exactly sure why this is such a booming industry on th estreets of India. Maybe they all have fungal infections too. Well if the worst comes to the worst we can always try one of them when we go to India in October (not really). So that's where M' s consultant got the idea from. In the UK I had always been taught the maxim "never put anything smaller than your grandma's elbow in your ear" But M seems quite happy that because this guy is a consultant, he must know what he's doing. Personally I think the ear probe has unbalanced him......

Menawhile our son has been auditioning for the part of Mowgli in the school's production of The Jungle Book musical. He didn't get the part but he was told by both his teacher and the music teacher that he came 'this close', indicating a tiny space between thumb and forefinger, to getting the part. Personally I wonder if that is the 'primary school version' of "Don't call us, we'll call you".

I had tried to prepare him for tha fact that positive discrimination might have to be at play here. That a Caucasian boy with blonde, curly hair is unlikely to get the part of a 'man cub' from an Indian village in the middle of a jungle, especially as there are plenty of asians in the school. The other clincher for me was that he can't sing in tune. Very well. It's also quite a relief as it's a big part for a 7 yr old. He had learned 4 lines for the audition and a song . When I explained that Mowgli would be in every scene pretty much and with a lot of lines, he said he had thought the bit he learned was the whole part.....

Still he was as philosophical as ever, and said he actually was rather pleased to be a wolf instead, and get to wear a (fake) fur wolf's costume. What is it with my children and synthetic fabrics??

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tsunami Warning

Sri Lanka has just breathed a collective sigh of relief last night. Despite official, very high tsunami warnings, the Indian Ocean earthquake last night, which registered 7.9 or 8.4 on the Richter scale, (depending which website you read), did not cause a tsunami. It was the most severe since The 'quake' causing the devastating Tsunami of 2004. We were told to wait 2 hrs, then if nothing materialised the danger would be over. I was getting text messages from NGO wives, passing on info from spouses, and stupidly feeling glad I had passed up the opportunity for a birthday drink at the Galle Face, a hotel overlooking the sea! Such is the irrationality engendered by the word Tsunami. Colombo got flooded right on the beach by about 6 ft in places, but it wasn't a 'life or death' situation here, it was too far round to the south west of the quake zone.

At least there's an early warning system now, but it doesn't bear thinking about, even without loss of life, the devastation that could so easily be wreaked again, at any time, on all the reconstruction and rebuilding of lives, livelihoods and schools etc that my husband, amongst many others, has been involved with these last few yrs. Life does just carry on as normal again, but this warning, I think the 1st since the 2004 Tsunami, is a reminder that it might not.

Still you can't live like that. And I should know, I win medals for my worrying...