Saturday, May 12, 2007

Jaffna Cakes, Jabs and Gym Drama

Well we are well into the New year, M's parents have arrived, causing untold excitement. Our daughter wdn't let them out of her sight, and can't work out why they should want to go off and see Sri Lanka on their own whilst the main attraction (ie HER) is left in Colombo awaiting their return. We had a lovely 4 days in the hill country again with them, before work and school beckoned. Even for me as I had another day's supply on Mon.

Last week a friend and NGO colleague texted me from Jaffna, in the Tamil north (conflict zone) and said he had a challenge for me. He wanted cake recipes for colleagues up there who are cut off, and food is rationed and in short supply. They were desperate for something nice to eat! There is one UN plane a week in and out, and one commercial flight, for which there is currently a waiting list of 20, 000 people wanting to get out.

They could get flour, sugar and eggs but no butter. So I sent them a fat and flour free chocolate cake recipe, a carrot cake which uses oil , and a tea bread. An interesting challenge. And it was nice this guy thought to ask me for ideas. Such is my life, that little things like this count for a lot to me, and it was great to be able to offer small encouragement to the tenacious colleagues who are still working up there in the midst of the fighting.

Similarly I would be pleased when we get asked to a children's party or a school event because it means social contact. Going out somewhere. I could relate to 'Thewifeinthenorth' in her blog asking her London guests if they wanted to go to the village fete with her. They looked incredulous and aghast all at once... One definitely has lowered expectations in this environment. Being in a new place, new culture, knowing few people. You do what you have to do. Initially you can't afford to be choosy. Time was when I loathed children's parties....

I have two embarrassing confessions. The 1st is I have discovered we have been calling our house help by the wrong name for the last 6 1/2 months. She wrote her name on a piece of paper when we 1st employed her, as Mahes (space) Swary. So I called her Mahes. She never objected........Turns out her name is Maheswary Suppiah.

Felt like the archetypal colonialist who finds the 'servant's' name too difficult so renames them something simple and English, like Jane. I feel excruciatingly embarrassed. It cropped up because I was signing a form for her. So now I have put the children on an intensive crash REtraining course on Mahes'es new 'real' name. Think it's worked. our son adapted without so much as a flicker. Our daughter learned it too, but then she likes using long words.............Maheswary commented how 'beautifully' she said her name. Phew........

Wish potty training was this simple. Seems the nursery have 'trained' her, (so they delight in telling me) but she reverts to type when she comes home and wees all over the floor, at regular intervals, with a cheerful 'oh dear, never mind. Get me clean pants mummy.'

Second embarrassing confession:....
I fell off the treadmill today in the gym........... ( I have to say I have NEVER done that before in 16 yrs of going to gyms!) Not sure how exactly, but think I was craning my neck slightly to watch the news on the TV which is so close to the treadmills but to the left, that it must have thrown me off balance! M very kindly asked if it was sheer exhaustion, or simply a 'dizzy' blonde moment............

Anyway it created quite a frisson of excitement for the Sri Lankan gym members as it was rather noisy and spectacular. I have discovered that once 'down', there is no way of regaining oneself as the belt just kept going, buffeted me to the end, despite my frantic scrabbling, and launched me off the end, where I landed at the feet of the rather surprised gym trainer (who wanted to know what I had done exactly. I'm surprised I didnt have to fill in a form actually. I'm so glad Sir Lankans don't know blonde jokes...).

Still, apart from a few nasty friction burns, a bump on the head and a complete loss of dignity, I survived intact. I fear, however, I did nothing to dispel the notion amongst sri lankan gym users that treadmills are nasty, dangerous pieces of equipment which should be tackled at no more than a leisurely walk. I guess they thought the crazy honkie who insists on running on it, has finally had her comeuppance. After kindly checking I was ok, offering plasters etc, the 3 women carried on their sedate walk and the man resumed his conversation on his mobile as he treaded the 'mill'. Perhaps it's just that even in the gym, Asians tackle everything at a leisurely pace. (everything that is except driving.)

M is still working 14 hr days. It is a huge job, with not enough staff. He takes our 6 yr old to school at 7a.m and reappears some time after 9 p.m. So I am trying to cultivate an interest in my own company. Even people at work (apart from his bosses, of course...) tell him to go home and see his family evidently. (I'm just hoping it' s not always going to be like this in development. I'm not overly optimistic though. I am trying to view it as a short term situation, and be a supportive wife, but have to say I am struggling with it.

However on the positive side, his 2 bosses here really like him (and his work...) He has also met some key people in the organisation, as M's boss told them they ought to meet him. So that's at least a big relief. I don't think it will ever be as hard to get a job again in development as it has been these last 4 yrs. I feel like we have finally made a break through.

One of the many things he is currently working on, is devising the process for getting rid of his NGO's assets when the Tsunami team leaves. I thought it was simple, the government just claims everything...... But hopefully that can be avoided. The gov't HAVE said with his NGO's 12 land cruisers that either they pay 100% import tax or, as a way of avoiding this, donate them to the govt (which just happens to be bankrupt and is devising ways, left, right and centre, of squeezing any revenue it can out of it foreign workers, companies and NGOs.)

I took the children for Rabies, Hep B boosters last week. Total tally of jabs since 2005 for our 2 yr old 27, our 6 yr old 19. I am trying to buy into the theory that actually immunisations act as a workout for the immune system keeping it limbered up and fit, rather than the more pessimistic view that one's immune system is compromised and assaulted by having so many vaccinations.....

Don't know what logic to use when breathing in the noxious fumes from our next door neighbours' gardener burning plastics every night or the pollution we breathe in on a daily basis. Or what wearing 50% deet insect repellent every day does to your skin. or what catching chikungunya does to your body. Such are a few of the non-western anxieties of a trailing spouse/mother in a developing country. And yes, I have plenty more...........

A couple of weeks ago M's NGO had two of their staff abducted in full day light in the East, from a logo-ed vehicle. They were carrying their NGO ID too.
Previously NGOs have always been protected and allowed freedom of mvt to work etc here. These were two women. Fortunately M's boss was 'on the ground' in Mullativu and could negotiate and they were released after the w/e. but the LTTE is also saying they no longer respect the neutrality of the NGOs so each Tamil NGO worker has to send one of his family to help the war effort. Everyone who's a Tamil has to do this. Previously NGO workers & their families were exempt. So NGOs attacked from both sides/camps now. Government and LTTE.

In fact both M's NGO and another Dutch NGO, both of whom have been specifically targetted in the press, have had drivers and local workers dragged out of their cars and roughed up by govt soldiers and been accused of supporting the LTTE, in fairly nasty incidents. We have also heard first hand from a colleague visiting Jaffna that a headteacher told him she lost 1 or 2 girls a week, to Govt soldiers who come and take them away, rape them, slit their throats and throw them down wells.

It's becoming a very dirty war. Increasingly civilians caught up in it and even targetted. govt guilty of human rights abuses. Somewhere between 400 and 1000 Tamils just 'disappeared' last yr in COLOMBO (acc to AI). The LTTE are abducting children to fight etc. The govt is waging a war agst NGOs too, slandering what they have achieved, accusing them of supporting the LTTE etc. Recently M's NGO amongst other NGOs, appeared on a Govt National Security website blacklist as supporters of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). And have been named in the papers as supporting the LTTE. It's complete nonsense of course but that doesn't matter, Joe Public believes the papers.

The day to day stresses of living in a frustrating, developing country don't help either. And one which is at war, so security is paramount making for ridiculous traffic situs. You can't park anywhere, rd blocks everywhere, suddenly introduced one way systems, (which don't work) you get stopped all the time to be checked by the army or police. I got quite shaken a few weeks ago because a convoy, probably with a politician in, was coming through Colombo and I didn't realise what was going on so got caught in the middle of a junction. Before I knew it all these landrovers were shooting past, horns blaring at me because I was in the way. All the soldiers were leaning out yelling at me with their guns trained on me. They were so aggressive and they are obviously very tense. But they don't think to close the rd or clear it ahead of time.

The good private hospital here is one of an Indian 'chain' of hospitals. Before Christmas it was sold to a Sri Lankan business man. And all the Indian consultants are leaving. In ours, and many people's experience here, we have found the Indian doctors to be excellent. So far we have heard of a friend's oncologist, another's gynaecologist and our very own Dr Kumar, paediatric cardiologist, who diagnosed our daughter, have all left and gone back to India. So another blessing is the timing of that. Dr Kumar, who Great Ormond Street were so impressed by, that he had managed to diagnose her condition, left in November.

Enjoying cooler weather and sunshine. For once happy not to be in UK at this time of yr. Blue skies and sunny days very welcome. And I am much more settled now. So it's true it does take a year.......I'm getting tougher and hardly cry at all now. I don't even go to my son's parties very often anymore.....

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