Sunday, August 19, 2007

What a Difference a Year Makes

They say it takes a year to settle in a country. We've been here 18mths, and I guess in many ways I have. And what a difference a year makes.

After her bronchoscopy on 1st Aug, our 3 yr old has been discharged from the bronchial part of her follow ups at Great Ormond Street. They told us last yr after they un-wrapped her left pulmonary artery from around her windpipe and moved it to its proper place, that she might carrry on wheezing for a while, that her windpipe would remain soft for a long time and would always be like breathing through a snorkel compared to the 'drain' sized comparative tube in a normal person. This yr the results showed there was NO residual compression, she hasn't wheezed since the day of her heart op last year, and they said her windpipe is firm and looks as normal as any 3 yr olds. We are so thankful.

The day after I returned a mum invited me round for coffee. At school two mums greeted me like a long lost cousin. And on Friday the guy in charge of supply at school invited me in for coffee at morning break. It was great to see the staff again and be greeted so warmly. Several made a point of coming up to say hi and welcome me back. Nice considering I am a v part time supply teacher here. I guess the nature of this life in an international community is that people are always pleased to see those who are 'still around' with them.

We also got invited to 'pancakes' with friends on sat a.m. Something else I appreciate here is that people are so much less busy. You can be spontaneous and people are available to do things with you. You don't have to book weeks in advance, as you always did in Oxford..

Our daughter was so excited to be back. She greeted her flip-flops like old friends she hadn't seen in years, said 'oh look my doll's house is still here' and rushed round checking everything else was in its proper place, and 'still here'. Her new word is 'fantastic' which she applies to everything. I'm rather pleased, because she must have picked it up from me, which shows I can't be ALL melancholy and pessimism... She threw herself down on my bed and said "it's fantastic living in Colombo", then she announced our car was"fantastic". This, remember, is the 18 yr old Toyota with no suspension, only 1 wing mirror, 2 broken locks, several dents (not done by me) and an oil leak. I have been forced to come to the irrevocable conclusion that she has no idea what the word means.....

She was somewhat non-plussed to notice the "falling down man" was not in our garden. I was even more non-plussed, wondering who he was. Eventually all became clear, she said "I don't know the words, the coconut man" A man comes to our garden on a regular basis to pick the coconuts from our three trees. He ascends swiftly by means of a rope round his feet. He has, though, never 'fallen down'. It's quite a sight, one you see regularly in hotels and along beaches . Coconuts falling on innocent sunbathers is not good for tourism. But then neither is the war, but try telling that to the government.

Since being back she has insisted, most days, on wearing her princess dress (pink of course), hairband and 'clipper cloppers' (also pink) And telling everyone she is a princess. However there is a fly in the ointment. She keeps sighing and saying;

"Oh I wish I lived in high tower" Our house really doesn't cut the mustard. It's just not high or towery enough. No handsome princes in our neck of the woods either M has pointed out to her.

I think she has a point though. I would I like to live in a high tower too, not so I could 'let down my 'golden hair' but it wd always have a breeze being high up, and be pleasantly dengue free being above the mosquito line, fairly burglar proof too, and the stairs wd keep you fit. Not sure about wearing the pink flammable dress though...

Our son, however, said he didn't want to return to 'boring old Sri Lanka', and that when he grew up he wd live in England.

I asked why. He said Sri Lanka has no seasons, only hot, and that's boring; things break too easily here, and all his family and friends are in England. Well, who am I to argue with the searing logic of a 7 yr old??

He does however love being back at school, and is still at that wonderful age when he can't wait to get back and loves every minute of it. Long may it last.

M asked for roller blades for his birthday "so he could skate with our son, who got a pair for his birthday. Personally I call it a midlife crisis. M bought a pair called "aggressive". As he was reading the instructions, it said "because these our 'aggressive skates you will notice they have no brake". M hadn't noticed. He is an 'aggressive' skier, so he thinks stopping should be a cinch. Personally I think it could turn into a mid air crisis.

It's cloudy and been raining at night, so it's cooler. So we've eased back in well. Now all we have to do is find another job, another country, another life elsewhere come December.

Hurrah for Sri Lanka........?

Last year there was the thwarted major terrorist attack at Heathrow in August. We flew back to Sri Lanka 2 days later in a quiet, very subdued airport. I was rather hoping that there would be news of another thwarted attack just before we flew back this year. It would have put my mind at rest. There wasn't, which meant my mind was in overdrive wondering if there would be an attack on August 13th when we flew. I hate flying now, even more than I used to. Granted a slightly unfortunate position for the wife of a former B.A employee and then International development worker, to be in....

Terrorist attacks, or news of, now seem to punctuate our experience of summers in England. This yr a few day after we arrived in the (freezing) UK, there were the 2 car nail bombs in London which failed to detonate, (I'm sure the guy who towed the illegally parked car away is thanking his lucky stars...And looking for another job) A day later 2 terrorists drove a flaming car into the terminus building in Glasgow which they had first detonated with a bomb. It was deja vu. Oh yes it's the summer and I'm in England sort of thing.

Strikes me as ironic, coming from Sri Lanka, a country fully at war (in all but name still) with soldiers and police everywhere. I actually feel safer here than I would living in London. Perhaps that's because in London it's indiscriminate, here it's targeted (at the moment still) at the military and government. The war is in the North and East (where it is pretty awful). There is a terrorist attack every 3 month or so in Colombo. The main concern is you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it's still unlikely. The biggest danger wd be being caught in a fire fight, as the Sri Lankan army and police are wantonly indiscriminate (and inadequately trained) when they get caught in the midst of an 'incident'. M thinks I'm crazy, he says it's far more dangerous here than in the UK, but then maybe he's just talking about the driving and open manholes....

Actually it's good to be back. I realise I quite missed the anarchy and chaos. It's' nice that I can make my own decisions about how to conduct my life, and I am allowed to get on with it. It struck me again , not surprisingly, what a nanny state the UK is now. (see last entry in my blog) I wasn't even allowed to buy coffee at a conference without a lid on. Health and safety regulation, I'm told. This, despite the fact I was about to burn myself in wrestling the lid off, in order to put milk in...

As for Heathrow, one wonders, what price freedom? We're always told the British carry on as usual and don't let this sort of thing affect their way of life. It affects how we travel though. I'm all for security, but really the terrorists must be having the last laugh. Airtravel is miserable. The terrorist threat has made airports even more miserable. We had to remove our jackets, put certain items in the jacket pocket, everything else in trays in a certain order, have all liquids in a SEALABLE plastic bag and remove it from your hand luggage ready for separate inspection. Then you have to remove your shoes and pass them through the x-ray machine too. You can imagine the queues....

I fell at the first hurdle. My liquids were over 100ml (presumably you can't make a bomb from only 100ml of fluids..) I only had them because M was randomly chucking stuff out of suitcases saying this will have to stay, so I kept snaffling things into my hand luggage... I must confess to having an untypical and shamefully girly moment when I pleaded with the man not to take my CLARINS shower gel which a girlfriend had bought me as a treat. I had never had such expensive shower gel before (and it smelt gorgeous) I wasn't planning on showering mid flight, it was one of the items M had lobbed out of a suitcase as unnecessary. As if to say "after all you are an NGO Wife". Clearly not roughing it enough. The customs man removed 2 other liquid items of mine, and threw them into colour coded bins. I wanted to know what would happen to them. M sympathetically whispered "best not to ask"

Next hurdle we failed to clear was our 7 year old's roller blades. These are also not allowed on as hand luggage. Believe it or not we had scoured the website the night before to check what we could take on board . In some ways I have some sympathy with this rule. The thought of our son careering Frank Spencer-like through Heathrow, on his newly acquired mini roller blades, dodging Starbucks, Sushi bar and Thomas Pink would be enough to raise the stress levels of even the most phlegmatic traveller.

The customs man admitted he had no idea why they were banned as hand luggage , but "rules were rules" (In Britain?? You don't say.....,) He said they would have to be checked in, by one of us going back 'land side' to check-in. My devious mind immediately saw a glimmer of hope. I agreed whole heartedly with him, and asked if he could also rummage in the colour coded bins for my precious shower gel, put that in the boot bag and check it all in. So M was fast tracked back through, and this NGO wife is going to enjoy a bit of Clarins indulgence. I also like to think we provided a bit of interest and variety, not to mention a challenge, for the poor customs official ploughing through his tedious regulations.

Colombo Airport was looking surprisingly un Third World-y when we arrived. It has had major 'works' done, and has now gone the way of most developing countries in the extravagant shiny, marbled modernism of its National airport. They had already done this with the airport rd, the best, almost in the country. I have to say though, the airport can only be described as a false dawn. The first clue is in the 'tank stoppers (those things you see on the beach at the start of "Saving Private Ryan") by the airport exit. It goes down hill from there really.

The roller blades didn't arrive. I knew this meant at least an hour with the lost luggage desk, scouring the laminated card of pictures of the types of luggage lost, with the official insisting we choose one of them. Somehow I just knew a roller blade bag wdn't be on it, as indeed bags with windsurfing sails weren't either when we experienced this 18 mths ago... These were impounded by customs, deemed to be banners with incendiary slogans on, which of course no self respecting NGO worker should travel without....

Still hurrah for Sri Lanka. This was a seminal moment for us. At 9.30p.m on our first day back we had a phone call to say the blades had arrived in Colombo!! And in fact they were on their way to deliver them to us. And indeed they pitched up with them at 10.15pm the SAME day that we had lost them. Wow. Humble pie, humble pie. Heathrow eat your heart out. Teach us to moan about Sri Lanka efficiency. Well actually it was all the work of Qatar Airways in truth. Pretty impressive and a pleasant experience after 18 mths of rather different experiences here.