Saturday, March 31, 2007

Monsoon, Mice and Machine Gun Fire?

I was rejoicing in cloudy, grey days when we first got back. August is supposed to be the driest month. Last year it was the wettest. But it makes it SOooooo cool. Only 28' Bliss! We now have a thermometer so can gasp at the temperatures our wondrously acclimatised bodies are coping with!

It really is VERY wet. The tuktuks look like little coloured beetles which have sprouted wings as they all have black plastic flapping 'curtains' which hang over the open doors of the tuktuk, to, in theory, protect you from the rain. This does have the added effect of removing peripheral vision for the drivers, but hey, what self-respecting tuk-tuk driver ever used peripheral vision anyway, you just change lane and everyone else gets out of the way. As the saying goes 'peripheral vision is for wimps' .True you wd have to be pretty fool-hardy to drive as 'bravely' as the tuktuks do.....Bearing in mind they are just sardine cans on wheels.

As a result of the rain we also have 3 leaks, 3 major damp patches and overflowing drains. But this is all quite normal. We also have mice. For the animal lover, please skip this paragraph... M killed two families of baby mice (whilst we were in England, enjoying a mouse free existence). He drowned them, but trails of mouse droppings, chewed garments, a mysterious hole in A's plastic bib, (which hadn't been there the night before), led us to believe one was still lurking.

The clincher was when my 6 yr old and I had made some farm animals out of a craft kit in which the craft items were dyed 'puffed maize' (a food stuff, silly me) which, in our case, you formed into a cow, a pig, a sheep, a donkey and a hen. We left them on the coffee table. The next morning they had ALL mysteriously disappeared. We found them stashed in an upstairs wardrobe. Well this mouse evaded the mouse trap for 4 nights, though the cheese also mysteriously disappeared. We wondered if it was the ants?

Anyway M decided to make a few technical adjustments to the mouse trap mechanism, and the next night, hey presto. We got him! I had a quick look and reported to M that we had caught the mouse, but didn't want to look closely. So I felt rather like a bit part in some bad soap opera when I said to him "Do you think he died quickly" To which M replied nonchalantly "oh yes, it didn't even have time to close its eyes. "

We realise we are used to this place, and its familiarity already has changed our perception. At church last Sunday we met an American who had just started at our son's school as a grade 5 teacher. He was having trouble settling and had never been to a developing country before..... M was espousing the virtues of the 'suburb' where we live and how it's really nice with everything you could need shops wise etc. A barely disguised look of disbelief crossed this poor guy's face. I guess we no longer 'see' the piles of litter by the rd, the tiny dilapidated buildings, the broken pavements, filthy puddles, cows wandering the streets, dogs hopping along (on the usually standard 3 legs) Instead we see the local bread shop with airy fresh baked loaves (flies notwithstanding), the little booth where you can get a key cut (manually), a picture framing place with its own 'art gallery' round the back, a place which sews cushion covers for a few rupees, the bike menders, the hairdressers where a haircut costs a dollar etc etc.

We also now have a maid/helper/housekeeper, a Tamil Christian, which we are very pleased about. I have to say I find the relationship very hard to manage, being the 'madam', having my house cleaned for me, all the ironing done (1st time in his life M has had ironed boxers and swimming trunks) She even cooks for us, though I only have that twice a week at the mo, as I don't want curry more often than that, and it's hard work teaching her how to cook other stuff, especially as she has been a housekeeper quite a few yrs so has her 'ways' of doing things. It is very weird too having someone in the house all the time. But it is a huge blessing, and having the house cleaned every day from top to bottom really helps keep the ants at bay, as well as the volumes of dust and dirt which accumulate even in a day.

It is weird being in Colombo where life pretty much carries on as normal, whilst in the north and east it really is a war zone, bombs, indiscriminate shootings, gun fights, 100s of 1000s of refugees, and displaced people. I was talking to a friend whose husband works for a Dutch refugee agency and he and several NGOs met with the president and his advisors etc yesterday. This NGO guy said the Ministers really clearly had very little idea of some of the stuff that was going on. Or what people are suffering there. As well a the story in our prayer letter about the guy who was forced by govt soldiers to drive his lorry to the East loaded up with guns, the LTTE also, I heard, stopped a guy in his Refugee Agency vehicle, commandeered it, chucking him out in the process. The leader of the refugee organisation was so incensed he wrote to the head of the LTTE demanding the car be returned on a certain date, at a certain place, and it was.

I went into Colombo centre for the 1st time (apart from church) since being back. we drove through Borella passing a cordoned off area blocked by a police car. It turns out they had just found a bomb on a bike (3rd World terrorists use bikes maybe....) and had diffused it. So there is still this sense of 'being the wrong place at the wrong time' the one slightly reassuring thing is you do know who/what the targets are and can to some extent avoid them. They are not out to cause mass murder of civilians in an indiscriminate way. Safer than London in that sense.........Targets are the military, the police and the government.

On Friday last night the south Asia Games started. At 10pm it began to thunder and I just carried on reading for 10 mins until M said 'is that thunder'? We realised there had been no break whatsoever. It carried on for 25 mins uninterrupted, extremely loud, with sounds like mortars and something just like machine gun fire. It was my husband, the ex military man who thought this.... Anyway it was slightly unnerving. We texted some friends up the road, who also wondered what it was, and then someone else told us the games opening ceremony was that night.

So fireworks.........! Certainly never heard firework like that though. We felt a bit silly but it served to make us realise how horrendous it must be for people in the north and east who hear that every night, not knowing what is happening, where it will hit etc. And of course many other parts of the world too. It did, in a very small way, bring home to us the stress of being in a war zone for weeks and months on end.

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