Sunday, June 10, 2007

Crazy Lanka

I have had a Crazy Lanka week this week. It started with a pig causing me to swerve as it ambled down the middle of one of the main routes into town. A man was half heartedly following it carrying a coconut. I am not sure if he was the owner or a curious onlooker. Even in Sri Lanka pigs in the street in Colombo is not normal. Nor do I know if pigs are 'lured' by coconuts. Not sure how they would eat them.

I regularly meet a herd of 15 or so water buffalo taking up the whole road, on the way home from collecting my son from school. Cows are, of course, frequent road users here, as are stray dogs, but I have never encountered a pig before.

This was followed on Mon by someone knocking off my wing mirror yet again, and two tuktuks overtaking me by driving up the pavement as I sat in stationary traffic.

On Tuesday a car was driving towards me on my inside because he couldn't get across the road. (And clearly didn't want to waste time waiting) I was also simultaneously over- and undertaken by vehicles using me much like a slalom post it seemed. I am not a dawdler, I hasten to add, I was on a two way street in a built up area in traffic. This fact, however, did not deter the slalom racers.

I also had to swerve off the rd twice this week to avoid oncoming buses way over on my side of the road (not even overtaking. Just playing their "I'm big and you're little" game.) Again this is quite normal. In fact on 'dual carriage ways' ALL buses, most tuktuks and a few cars always drive with their wheels straddling the white line just so they can choose whichever lane at a moment's notice, and also making it very hard for you to get past. However it's when they do it on single track roads coming towards you, that the adrenalin really kicks in.

I sometimes think the anarchy and ensuing chaos of the driving here, reflects the madness of the currrent government, which similarly seems to have no thought of the consequences of its actions, no long term perspective, scant regard for human life, and flagrant disregard for rules or laws. And a collective death wish, because let's face it, no one's going to last long with those kind of practices. As on the roads, so in the rulers...

Six people a day are killed on the roads in Sri Lanka. Goodness knows what the death toll is from the war in the north and east. It is thousands though since the peace talks broke down.

Then on Thursday 300 Tamils were forcibly evicted from their lodges in Colombo breaking; the Sri Lankan constitution, which allows citizens freedom of choice of where to reside and freedom of movement, as well as article 147 of the Geneva convention. Thank goodness there's enough of a democratic process here for the Supreme court to rule it was an illegal move, prompting the President to blame the chief of police for undertaking this without consultation or consent. Hmm. I don't think so.

On Friday I got a flat tyre. The one good thing about it being it only cost me R80 to get it fixed (40p) Considering the number of crater sized potholes I have careered through, including ones under flood water, that's not bad going in a year.

Then on my way to see my daughter's end of term nursery presentation, also on Friday, I went to drop our rubbish bag off at the place on the main rd. This was where we used to dump it, as instructed by our landlord, before house to house garbage collections were made. They now collect from houses, but because we had had another poya day (bank holiday) we hadn't had a collection for 11 days. So we have been taking the rubbish to the place at the edge of the rd where everyone dumps their rubbish. And it used to be collected from there. You have these spots all over Colombo. Looks a dreadful mess, but that was the system.....

Anyway this time a policeman came up and started shouting about not dumping rubbish there. There is a sign evidently... I was now late for my duaghter's nursery performance. He was keen to drag it out and make it as humiliating as possible. Anyway as with the garage incident (see 'Driving Me Crazy' post) a rent-a-mob of about 15 men suddenly appeared who did as before shaking heads tutting at me, glaring at this unwitting, heinous crime. This in a country where there are no puiblic bins, everyone drops litter, throws it out of car windows etc. Hypocrites! I was putting it where I had been told it was ok to put it. And I can't read Singhalese. In the end I just got so exasperated I jumped in the car with my bin bag and drove off. I knew he was angling for a bribe, and I wasn't interested. It hadn't escaped my attention that this policenman wasn't actually armed. Unusually. Not that he would have shot me, for a 'tip and run' but always reassuring nevertheless as you zoom off. It's the crowds that gather and join in, that really wind me up.

I asked my next door neighbour, who seems to run the neighbourhood, what I was supposed to do. He said "Wait till dark, then go and put it on the dump"....... However now I know the sign says no dumping, I don't know what to do.... I won't put my rubbish there. I have noticed that all the rubbish dumps by the sides of roads have this same sign above them. I wonder which came 1st. The sign or the dump....

I hope the rubbish lorry comes on Monday.

At the w/e whilst queueing at a red light, a beggar with a withered leg hobbled up to the car in front asking for money. I could see they had wound the window down and were trying to find their wallet. Then the light turned green and the car just pulled off (In true Sri Lankan fashion. You get beeped if you haven't moved when the light is still on red & amber) The beggar did a half hopping lollop to try and catch up with the car to get his money.

I couldn't believe the attitude of someone who could be about to give some money to a beggar , and then just becasue the light had chanegd, they couldn't wait and just pulled off, abandoning the intention. Does Buddha then reward the thought and intention, never mind the action??
I am pleased to say I held up the entire queue of cars behind me for all of about 30 seconds in order to give this guy some money. And you know what, Chicken Licken was wrong, the sky didn't fall down, and I even got through the green light. Not that I would have cared if I didn't.

The culmination of this week of colliding realities was the 50th anniversary ball of our son's school. A lavish charitable affair raising money for an extremely worthy cause of a rehabilitation centre for communciation impaired children. However the sums of money flying around during the live auction for hot air balloon rides, trips to the Maldives, art work, jewellery, phones, make overs etc, made me wonder if this was what one of those celebrity fund raising dinners was like. Only rather than bidding for a dinner party with Sharon Stone, it was a murder mystery with the secondary principal (went for US$450)

My son had seen the list of wonderful donated 'prizes' but decided one outstripped the rest:
"Be Primary Principal for the day in your school"
"Please bid on that mum" he pleaded. The primary principal had confidently told me no one would want that and that I'd probably get it for R500. I just about got in my bid of US$50 (the start price) whereupon it raced up into the stratosphere and went for US$500, in the space of about 4 minutes. Needless to say, that wasn't me....

But for only the second time in my life I won a prize, no actually TWO prizes in the raffle. A w/e for 2 in a lovely beach hotel. And a HUGE vase, which my husband nearly dropped on collection in true Mt Bean fashion.. So all's well that ends well?

It's very weird being in so many different 'worlds', the NGO world, the Ex-pat and International School world amongst corporate and embassy parents, the restricted and repressed world of my Tamil house help, and the daily encounters and experiences 'on the street' going about my business.

It makes my brain ache trying to process it all..........

1 comment:

Caveman said...

Hey there PLIT, nice to catch up with your blog again. Sounds like you continue to live in interesting times as the old Chinese Curse promises... not that I imagine there are many Chinamen out your way but I guess that doesn't matter too much unless you're missing a good old English Chinese takeaway. Bet the curries are good though!
Hey if you ever need to borrow my club to ward off those 15 men that keep chasing you around just let me know...! Back again soon.