Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Paradise Lost.

So we arrived home. Caught a taxi. This was at 2 a.m. Despite the roads being empty it was STILL a hair raising journey home. The 'taxi' had 3 warning lights for various things permanently on. We stopped for petrol because the gauge was on empty. I noticed after we had set off again it was still on empty, either a faulty petrol gauge or more likely the usual way of putting a few rupees in at a time. Often someone will own a car but not be able to afford petrol or maintaining it. Hence tuk-tuks, which have no petrol gauges at all, run out CONSTANTLY.

I have lost track of the number of times M has phoned to say he would be (even) later because his tuk-tuk ran out of petrol en route home. Oh and he told us for free his brakes had a 'problem'. The problem being they made a lot of noise but didn't slow us down much. We narrowly missed a car and a tuk-tuk, both of which pulled out in front of us to shave seconds off their journey even though the rds were completely empty at 2 a.m. It wasn't so much a question of a gap in the trafiic, we were the traffic....

And now for my rat's tale. I warn you need a strong stomach. This is room 101 stuff. We came home to find one dead rat in trap. so far so good. We also found half a pillow case. Literally only half left. With teeth marks. Also a cotton bag whose handles had been completely gnawed away. slightly more ominous. A bottle of oil had its lid chewed off. Then our house help said everything was fine while we were away, but there were 'so many rats'. (10 inches long)

Wait a minute, we thought we had caught 'it'. It turns out 'it' was 'them'. She encountered rats during the day, one in the children's bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, downstairs loo, etc etc. But we have an Amazon warrior woman for a house help, (M was seriously impressed!) She wacked one on the head and killed it. She discovered they were coming up the drain pipes into 2 bathrooms where there's a drain in the corner with a hinge top. Great design feature. The rats popped their heads up out of the drain in the bathroom and when they saw our house help, disappeared again. So she poured harpic down on them and flushed water down the drainpipe.

I also realised that they must come up AT NIGHT through these entrances. Shudder shudder. M did see, and trap, a rat one night (when I was in England last yr), and we both saw a cane squirrel in our room too once. It's the stuff of horror movies. Rats lurking in your drain pipes and coming up silently invading your house, think I should send a script to Hollywood.

I guess it's just a matter of what you're used to, a colleague of M's at work, had to kill 7 venomous snakes when he cleared his land to build his house. The thing is rats are everywhere in all countries but we are NOT used to living with them. Visibly. We have seen one in our garden at night and another sitting on our doorstep when our visitor opened the door to leave early one morning. And we live in a 'nice' ex pat house, albeit in a jungly area...

And, this is where it gets more ominous, one rat had even chewed thru our phone line so we couldnt call for help. Cunning creatures rats....

The saga continues. The next night I heard something rustling in the corner behind some toy boxes, when opening wardrobe in the spare rm. So after M had a tentative search with a cricket bat, admiration for Maheswary growing by the second, but finding nothing, we put a trap in there and closed the door. Next morning the inside of the door was all chewed and there was a hole above the window where it had chewed through mosquito netting and escaped.

Even our resident geckos have been up to tricks. In our absence they have taught themselves to open tubs. Tupperware tubs with a spring loaded lid. These were all open each morning when the maid let herself in, with a tell tale trail of little gecko poos on the work surface surrounding the tubs. Yeuch.

The roads have got worse in our absence too. The government, in their wisdom, have decided to make loads of streets one way so it's becoming very confusing, and impossible to find our way around. It also keeps changing and they haven't thought about the necessity of leaving viable routes through to places, so there's loads of doubling back, weaving etc. Official explanations include "developed countries have one-way systems so Sri Lanka should have too" and "terrorists can't do U turns if they see a rd block and the street is one way". But they could always turn off down a side street. Another stunningly brilliant war-game strategy. I'm sure that should win them the war. No wonder our friend who works for the Dept of Transport is tearing his hair out as his advice is rejected once more.

The security situation has got a lot worse as well. The LTTE seems to have stepped up a gear. There have been 2 bus bombs, one in the South, one in Kandy in the middle of the country. Neither are in the conflict areas, and both targeting civilians. This is a major departure from how the war has been fought up till now.

Paradise Found.

Well we nearly didn't make it to Oz. At Col airport we were asked where our Australian visas were. Australian visas?? We had forgotten we needed them, and our sri lankan travel agent hadn't thought to tell us we needed visas. More of him later....... Thank goodness for modern technology and online visas. A hyper efficient Singaporean sorted it for us at Changi airport (the airport that makes flying seem quite civilised) though not before M's parents had applied online for us and not succeeded so we paid twice and had 2 visas each in the end.

I must say when we arrived in Australia, I felt like Borat (in awful movie of same name, only seen) arriving from Kazakhstan to this 'utopia' of clean streets, 10+ types of coffee, child friendly, fantastic play grounds, cycle tracks, pristine suburbs, beach and surf 3 min from your house, supermarkets crammed with yummy food, etc etc.Acres and acres of parkland within the city for mountain biking, hiking and even riding, absolutely stunning sports facilities. And such courteous drivers! I could be sniffy and say it was all too perfect and sanitised and unreal, but nah, been in Sri Lanka too long for that. I was lapping it up and asking for more.

It was a very laid back Christmas, lots of bbqs, swimming on Christmas day. Wonderfully relaxing and therapeutic. It's so nice when, spending a day doing everyday things, doesn't cause massive stress and frustration. In a slightly amusing twist, down at Margaret River wine area in the South, which is colder than Perth (and the sea seemed a lot colder) us Brits were shivering on the beach in 24 degrees, wearing fleeces whilst the Aussies were all stripped off, swimming etc. Obviously we're too acclimatised to 35' + humidity.

Our 6 yr old fed kangaroos out of his hand at a kids 'farm', saw koalas at Yancep National park and Quokkas (marsupial only found on Rottnest island) which are rather too much like rats with kangaroo backlegs for my liking (more of rats later.....)

He also had a great time snorkelling for 1st time, even venturing out on his own at the end. He also rediscovered biking, not having done it for 10 months and got seriously addicted again. He also enjoyed being towed round behind a motor boat in a 'sea biscuit'. My daughter metamorphed overnight into a pink and girly girl, on arrival in Oz. Aided perhaps by her aunt giving her a Barbie cup, plate, bowl and mat AND Barbie pink duvet. Suddenly everything had to be pink, she was even demanding pink medicine at one point. And insisting on wearing only pink clothes, because it's "not fair" to wear other colours........Honestly where does this pink gene come from? She is thankfully still into trains, planes and tractors (probably only pink ones) and loves climbing. She also announces at frequent intervals "I'm a lady, me" with the eloquent syntax of Eliza Doolittle, followed by one of her very unrealistic pretend burps. Needless to say the males in our family find this hilarious and egg her on with applause at having acquired this important life skill.....

We had the 1st of many what we call "Welcome back to Sri Lanka" moments, on trying to leave Australia. I know it's not very culturally sensitive, but there you go. We arrive at the airport on Thurs 4th to fly to Singapore and spend 2 days there. We had changed our flight to 2 days earlier than originally intended (or rather our travel agent had) so we could spend some time in Singapore.

We go to the airport only to be told we weren't on their list and we weren't on that flight which was oversold and went chokka block. This after M had been told by our (ex-) travel agent that our booking had been changed and so had paid the necessary fee to change our booking. M even said he needed this confirmation in writing to present to the airline staff, and was given this. But the travel agent hadn't actually booked us on the flight. It looks like he had merely wait-listed us and told us it was all confirmed. Not sure if the guy didn't want to tell us we couldn't get on that flight - Asians hate to say no and lose face etc - or whether he was just utterly incompetent and hadn't actually realised what he had to do to change a booking. Either way it's not looking good for the IATA award ceremony for him.

But every cloud has a silver lining, or not..........In December at that St Andrews Ball we went to, I won a ticket to Singapore. Except as we decided to save on 3 other fares, and spend time in Singapore on our way home from Oz, rather than making a special trip there, I gave the other ticket away. Agh!! A colleague of M's has a Singaporean girlfriend, so at least we were doing our bit in the cause of true love.....

That Was The Year That was......

When M returned to work in SL for five weeks while we stayed in the UK last summer, he was told, for budget reasons, 40% of the tsunami team expats would be losing jobs early. After a lot of shenanigans, & a job offer in Sri Lanka which then never materialised, M, at the eleventh hour, with six weeks to go before unemployment loomed again, was promoted to deputy Operations Director till Sept 07, and is trying to get used to the resulting massive workload and frenzied activity of a big operational job. The family are still trying to get used to it too.

Looking back on the past year, apart from the stress of A’s illness, M’s uncertain job situation & heat/stress induced skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, impetigo & prickly heat (to name but a few), we have all been pretty healthy & avoided Dengue, Chikungunya & Typhoid so far. We have also survived the CRAZY traffic & wandering cows. However I would not like to repeat a year like last year too often, or ever again in fact!

Life here has many frustrations and stresses, some we have got used to, some not. And there’s lots we miss about home too. Here are a few things:

We Still Miss:……..
Our family & friends back home, Oxford- our church & city, seasons, biking & hiking, beautiful buildings, cold weather, country pubs, , ENERGY, our kitchen, (me), choice & variety of food, our comfy mattress(!), quality in anything and everything, Grandparents, cosy beds & fires (our son), being able to go skiing (M) and dinner with friends.

We have got used to:……..
Cockroaches, geckos & marauding ants co-habiting with us (well almost), sleeping under mozzie nets, rats in our roof, monkeys playing tag along our walls, soldiers every 100m on the street, road blocks & police checks, mangy street dogs everywhere, cows having right of way in the streets.

We haven’t got used to:…
Bureaucracy, inefficiency, power cuts, the quantity of rain in a tropical downpour, rubbish everywhere, CRAZY driving, traffic congestion, the size of the pot holes, the city grinding to a halt when the police do 100% checking, workmen wearing hard hats & flip flops, what people transport on a bicycle (e.g. bed, table, bench), the heat & humidity, big spiders, a very different work ethic, and the lying which is so much a part of everyday life.

We like:…..
Our son’s school, A’s nursery, Mike’s work, Sri Lankans’ love of children, our Christian Tamil house help, Mike’s regular tuktuk driver, blue sky days, year round open air swimming, beautiful beaches & tea plantations, tropical birds and animals, staying in lovely hotels cheaply!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Candles, Chaos and Ceilidhs

Had one of my "I hate Sri Lanka" days recently. We have regular power cuts (one whole day a week) something to do with repairs to a substation or something. I gather from people who live in our suburb, that it is a permanent feature of life here. The news papers, in a surprisingly efficient way, publish when your power cut day will be (sometimes) so you can plan your day round no fans, no a/c, no fridge, oven, iron etc. Only they published the wrong days......we knew ours was coming up on the 25th . Surprise surprise therefore when the power went off at 9.45 on the 18th. It stayed off till 9.30 pm a 12 hr one. A personal best I think. So I managed to cook by candlelight, we have 2 gas burners, and wash up by candle light.

We also discovered the cover of darkness brings out the cockroaches. I felt something run over my (bare) toes, and sure enough, not content with having a gecko fall onto my forehead from a cupboard, I now had a cockroach running over my feet whilst trying to wash up in near darkness.

Still, having had coffee with a friend in a garden the previous week only to hear the gardener found a snake in their garden that very lunchtime, (still haven't caught it) I am always thankful for any wildlife encounter that is not a snake.

Then on Sat afternoon, it was the St Andrew's church bazaar, quite a vicar of Dibley time- warp affair it has to be admitted, but nevertheless our 6 yr old was very keen to attend and pick up some bargains at the white elephant stall, hook a few ducks in the paddling pool and guess the number of sweets in the jar. I had offered to bake cookies and cakes for the Sun Schl stall so we just had to be there. However the Colombo police, in time honoured fashion, had other plans. They had decided to do one of their "100%" checks which is exactly what it sounds like .

EVERYONE, using every route into Colombo, is stopped and checked, bringing everything to a grinding halt. I know, because I tried all 3 routes from our suburb. M was so irate I suggested he get out of the car and get a tuk tuk home. He did. Suffice to say it took us 1 hr 45 min to get to the church. It's 8 km (5 miles away)

My son was in tears in the back saying he was going to miss everything and I was trying to explain what was going on. Not easy to get inside the mind of the Colombo police force I can tell you, and than translate it for a 6 yr old. Civil war yes, terrorism in Colombo yes, but they (so I have now been told) often do this on a Saturday (obviously haven't been trained in "the element of surprise Cato" at Inspector Cluseau's Police academy) They are SO predictable, and only checked INTO Colombo, so you could (if a terrorist with a bomb in your tuk tuk) just turn round and go home (unless you have cakes to take to a church bazaar) so I guess it IS a deterrent at least.

But it was IMMENSELY frustrating. The hours we spend sitting in traffic, encountering rd blocks, police checks etc etc.

However this week we have had a very un-Sri Lankan time, though probably what is typical for many ex-pats living a certain lifestyle. And we had a really good time! On Thurs we went to a performance by the creative arts students at OSC, followed by a reception for a former OSC creative arts teacher who died in a terrorist bomb attack in Qatar. There, the school principal came up to chat to me, and we had a long conversation where it cropped up I was a teacher, and he asked if I missed it, and invited me to do some supply teaching in the school. I then went to chat to the primary head as he is my son's principal, he also asked if I missed the teaching and suggested I do some supply there. So that was great.

Then last night we did a very-ex-pat thing and went to the St Andrews Caledonian Ball (well I AM 3/8 Scottish.) It was nice because we knew about 10 couples there from church or school, and the 'Chieftain' of the Society is our pastor (we go to a Scots Kirk) and the vice chieftain is the principal of our son's school who I talked to the night before at the play. I did, I admit, feel like Cinderella going to the ball. Only our 4th evening out in 10 mths so hardly surprising. (Yes I am still counting them) And I certainly did have a ball!

There was a pipe and drummer there (flown in from Scotland!) who were fab, we had the procession of a haggis, a toast to the haggis, a toast to St Andrew, the Queen, the president and people of Sri Lanka, I think Uncle Tom Cobbley was in there somewhere too. And a ceilidh of course. We had haggis, tatties and neeps as one of the courses, (except they had put it on the menu but then couldn't find any neeps, so it was turnip-less) and oatcakes with cheese afterwards but otherwise a 'normal' menu.

The British High commissioner gave a hilarious speech and then we found ourselves in a set with him and his wife doing the most complicated "flowers of Edinburgh" dance I've ever done, which turned out to be equally laughter inducing. I think that's what I like about country dancing, it's a lot funnier than a disco, and people dont take themselves as seriously, even if they are the British High commissioner.

All the proceeds of the ball go to Sri Lankan charities and they have a raffle and a prize based on your ball ticket number. And I won a flight to Singapore! I heard my ball ticket number and leapt up, whereupon M pulled me down again saying no it's not you, it's the raffle tickets. No one was sure and they kept calling it. SO in the end after this rather farcical push me-pull you tussle with M, I just got up and went forward , (it was My ticket.) whereupon the vice chieftain (also the principal of our son's school) said "well done J" which was nice that he remembered me. I was just So excited that I had won ANYTHING! 1st time ever. Clever marketing too, because either I go alone, or we have to buy THREE more tickets to take the family, and then pay for accommodation etc once there.

It's also been a great wk for our son. His class elected him to be their primary student council rep. He has had a training day, and his teacher who ran the training said he absolutely loved it, and is taking it very seriously. She felt he wd be great and it suited the way his mind worked. He was so chuffed and it's a good tangible reminder to him that his class mates like him, because he still struggles with the whole friendship issue and drifts from one group to the next, but that is mainly because the girls keep telling him he can't join in their games. And he gravitates towards girls more than boys.

This would explain why on his Christmas list he wrote 'girl wig' I asked why. He said so he could join in the girls' games as they keep telling him "only girls allowed"......... He was utterly serious.

Our 2 yr old is up to her usual 2 yr old stuff. We followed a trail of hair round the house last w/e. She had cut a huge wodge out of it from her crown, so she now has a tufty bit sticking up in the middle of her head, and a slight bald patch........... I also caught her trying to cut thru M's speaker cable, and cut a hole in the mattress, all with her v blunt (fortunately) children's scissors (now under lock and key, I keep forgetting she can climb...)

She also felt-penned on the walls, emptied her wardrobe of all its contents, licked the nozzle of the ant killer liquid, tried to remove a door lock with a screw driver, and pushed small beads up her nose. Honestly why is it always the same things? Makes you wonder if there's a two yr olds' manual on "Making Mischief". Chapter headings including Wreaking Havoc, Cutting Hair and Other Banned Materials, Drawing on Things, Consuming Poisons, Ruining Mum's Make Up, Sticking Small Objects up the Nose etc etc.

I'm just wondering what the next chapter is......... I hope there isn't a Volume Two.

Family, Friends and Frustrations

Had a fantastic time with our first set of visitors. We used them as guinea pigs for a tour of Sri Lanka. Apart from a daily mishap or two, it went swimmingly. Most of these were par for the course of living in Sri Lanka. For example the fan belt breaking 15 mins out of colombo on our 'tour' (a hire car) The 'rescue team' bringing the wrong sized part, being lent a 'substitute vehicle with NO seatbelts at all, and taking so long sorting it out that we had to drive to Nuwara Eliya in the dark. This town is at an elevation of about 6000ft . Very twisty rds, adn driving at night never a gd idea on Sri Lanka's mad, bad rds. These sort o fevents were daily bu tI won't bore youwith the details. Suffice to say it gave our friends plenty of diary fodder for the entirety of our trip. For us it was just great to have friends see where we are, and what our life is like here.

My brother in New Zealand, has just had his 1st baby, well his wife did, on 1st Oct. Called Max. He's very cute. My brother is so funny. Aged 37, a dr, but of course completely bowled over by the experience. He says he understands 'neurotic' new mums now as a GP much better.... ! I don't know when I will get to meet him, hopefully before he becomes a stroppy teenager. At least I can see him alive and wriggling on skype. 3 days later M's brother had his 2nd whom I will at least see in the summer I guess.

I also missed a friend's wedding, a guy we have waited 20 yrs to see married. And also 2 friends' 40ths (one of whom was my bridesmaid and I lived with her at uni.) Then this yr I will miss a friend's 80th birthday bash. I am rather feeling the loss of being out here and missing these events. I love gatherings/parties anyway and I find it hard missing such landmarks.

My daughter is still refusing to be potty trained though has perfectly good bladder control. When I put her in pants she just saves up till her nap time and does it all then. Nursery now reckon they have 'trained' her, but she won't do it for me! Just wets herself and says 'oh dear never mind, doesn't matter. Can you get me some clean pants mummy?'

Her current favourite expressions are "oh man!" and "I don't think so" (usually when asked to do something!) She is getting better from the Terrible Twos but instead does a lot of eye rolling in a disaffected teenage kind of way.

Our son is much better at school now, much more settled and really enjoying it, though still no best friend. In his class there are only 4 other boys (so the odds are stacked against him finding a similar boy...) and 8 girls.

He has compiled a wish list
1. To be able to fly
2. To be able to go invisible
3. For his soft toys to come alive
4. To be SuperBoy
5 To own one of those sit on snowplough/digger type things

I can relate to those, though obviously I would rather be Wonderwoman.........

M is back to working 14 hr days. He leaves the house at 7 a.m, taking our son to school, then is home between 9 and 10 most nights. It's not really what we went into development for. We are also finding that the nature of this life is that contracts are usually short term, and families are very expensive so NGOs don't want them. Also we are gathering that a lot of countries really dislike foreigners and resent the fact that they need to bring in people with expertise or experience that they don't have. This insecurity with not knowing where the next job is coming from, which country it will be in, taking ages to sort out etc, is also typical. Ho hum. I don't think I'm really cut out for this lifestyle. I conjecture too much.

Recently our NGO, amongst others, appeared on a Govt National Security website blacklist as supporters of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). It's complete nonsense of course, but that doesn't matter, Joe Public believes the papers. It reminds me of my time in SA during the apartheid yrs and state of emergency etc. My boyfriend, at the time, was refusing his conscription on Christian grounds, because of the nature of the war the South African Nationalist government was asking him to fight, and the smear campaign against him was equally unsubtle, outrageous, personal and underhand. In a similar way to then though it makes you laugh it is so ludicrous. Makes the tabloids back home seem positively nuanced and subtle in comparison.....

Our Day Out

We have just had another Poya long wk end. We went to the hill country, though sadly it wasn't high enough to be any cooler, though a bit less humid. we stayed in a little guesthouse next to a gorgeous waterfall,which was the local day out for Sri Lankans. On the actual Poya day it got REALLY crowded and busy, and of course everyone takes to the water, fully clothed in the case of the women, in underpants or longis in the case of the men.

I couldn't help speculating on the difference between a Sri Lankan day out in the country side and an English one. In England us Brits would be sitting by the waterfall, in our walking boots, thick socks (even in summer), Rohan trousers and probably walking poles too now, munching our sandwiches and drinking tea from a thermos. If you were from the M's family you would probably be skinny dipping too, (though only of course if no one was around) maybe skimming a few stones.

Here in Sri Lanka you bring your shampoo. This wasn't local communities, but Sri Lankan day trippers, but when confronted by a gorgeous body of water you whip out the shampoo and start soaping up. If you're a girl you do the accomplished rummage under your sarong and the blokes, well they just soap up anddive in. I should add, to get to this waterfall, you wade knee deep through a river, clamber up the boulder strewn stream bed and then balance on rocks in the water to admire the view. This feat was accomplished by women in Saris, grannies in flip flops, tiny babies were being carried in one arm, the other used to balance.
A great day out for all concerned.

Life Begins at Forty.

I think M felt well feted on his 40th. He had the day off anyway, and the children pulled out the stops, even helping him open all his presents.

We had local croissants for breakfast (along with a few surprise pieces of ham which always seem to get in them, from other dough mixture I suppose) I don't mind, though it's a bit much when you find them in the Pain au Chocolat too. Then we both took our 2 yr old to nursery so M could see the place. She cried for the 1st time in 10 days! I guess it was a bit hard having Dad-dad (as she calls him now) home midweek and then missing out on his company.

We then went to a craft fair where some of the women and guys M's NGO had trained in skills/crafts etc were displaying their wares. M wanted me to see it, and had commisioned one of the guys to do a Batik for us. Managed a quick not very nice cappucino in SL's only dept store, (a very untypical shop and tourist trap) before rushing back to do nursery and school pick up. They start at 7.30 and end at 1.30 here. Well nursery is 12 actually.

In the afternoon, we put up the bunting the children had made, they wore their special crowns, also home made (our son loves doing craft so M's birthday was the perfect excuse as far as he was concerned.) Then he put on a puppet show for M (except M fell asleep in the middle of it, though A didnt seem to notice or mind.) And I was oohing and ahhing, clapping and interacting as loudly as possible to deflect attention from the recumbent husband next to me)

Our poor son is used to me falling asleep mid story when he reads to me in the afternoon. Obviously resigned to apnea-prone parents. I blame the heat, I'm sure it's nothing to do with age. He had also made, and then performed a few magic tricks, which was very sweet, and quite hilarious, during which M, I'm glad to say, was fully awake, and suitably impressed and astonished.

We had a lime birthday cake (no lemons) which the kids had helped me make, and into which my daughter had, whilst I wa supervising my son cracking eggs, poured all the lime juice I had squeezed for the icing, so it wasn't quite as light and fluffy as I wd have liked....

Then in the evening M & I went to the most expensive restauarant in Colombo and had cocktails, wine and 3 courses for £48. An ABSOLUTE fortune here and a month's salary for a garment factory worker. Seemed very decadent, and rather nice.

Celebrations, Swimming Galas and Nursery Addicts

M's 40th and he is taking the day off, hurray! Our 6 yr old has been planning things for weeks, enlisting my help with making bunting, paper crowns, doing a painting we got framed etc. As you can see he is very into making a BIG thing of birthdays. What a great husband he'll make! We are going out for a meal ON OUR OWN, to celebrate. Only the 2nd night out ANYWHERE with or without children for 7 MONTHS!!

"You should get out more" takes on a whole new literal meaning for me. I know, if only.

Our daughter is loving nursery and now bullies me to get in the car and take her there. So that is a major leap forward. (the loving nursery, not the bullying me part. She's always done that.....)

Our son came 3rd in his 2 races at the swimming gala last week (they only have 4 houses/teams.........) The 1st race was before I arrived. He came up to me and said "mummy mummy, I came 3rd in the freestyle race!"
"Well done" , I say then,
"mummy, what's freestyle?" Still, didnt seem to impede his swimming, not knowing what on earth he was supposed to be doing.

The relay race was hilarious. The 1st girl in his team was the only girl in grade one to have a floatation device round her middle. She was starting at the deep end. She jumped in and then a look of sheer panic crossed her face as it suddenly dawned on her that she was in 7 ft of water and had to swim 25m to the other end. Meanwhile at the other end, was a little boy with a very large float (not an encouraging sign) waiting to swim his length. My son, back at the deep end was in earnest conversation with one of the students behind him, oblivious to the fact that he was next, then he started passing the time of day with the coach (and let's face it, he had the time.......)

It was agonising watching the progress of the kids trying to get to the other end. It did have, though, the bonus effect of making my son look like a mini Olympian in contrast as he took off with a racing dive and swam crawl for all he was worth down the other end. It was great fun though, everyone participating, everyone being cheered on, even the kindergarten had races.

No mums race though........And no I didn't have my swimsuit and goggles in the bag just in case. Had pushed the unruly ol' competitive instinct back into its box earlier that day.

The Highway Code?

We have power cuts 3 or 4 times a week, but at least not for long, and once a week we have no power from 9-6pm cos they are repairing the substation. They have been doing this one day a week, every week for 2 mths now......... it's beginning to wear a bit thin. At least we don't have air conditioning to 'miss' on these days.......... That would be truly awful...

On a more positive note, we have just come back from one of our short trips away. Another poya (full moon) day...
And coming after M had been travelling for 9 days, it came as a welcome
time together.

It's only ever on these trips that I think, well I quite like being here because you can
get to see some interesting places. However day to day life is somewhat different.......

One highlight was the elephant orphanage. 100+ elephants wander down to the river and bathe for 2 hrs, all sorts and sizes. One baby must have been a few days or wks old, very wobbly, stayed under its mother all the time, kept slipping over, and had such a tiny trunk it didn't even touch the ground.

On the walk back to their park, they walk past you up a road which has some rocky steps on it. This partic baby got grounded on the step by its tummy and its legs were too short to heave it up over the step. Surprisingly none of the other elephants helped it.

The driving on the way home was the worst I have ever encountered. M is more used to it from his travelling, but we both agreed, at times it was terrifying and utterly crazy. It is exhausting too because it takes so much concentration.

You come up behind a bus, which is stuck behind a lorry. Just when the road clears, you pull out only to discover the bus is pulling out too, and the guy behind you is trying to overtake you overtaking the bus, overtaking the lorry. I have to say I always lose at this variation of chicken, and pull meekly back in again! No one uses their mirrors to see what is happening behind, they just beep and go for it. The whole driving principle here seems to be, "I will do what I like, and you just get out of my way"

Seems Sri Lankans have a collective death wish when they get behind a wheel. People overtake you when you have had to stop because someone in front is doing something. Doesn't seem to occur to people this might be why you have stopped. Overtaking carries on wildly through towns and built up areas. People drive down the middle of the road, into oncoming traffic, overtake on blind bends, hills, with buses coming towards them etc. I have been over- and under-taken at the same time in a built up area, when I was doing 40 kph. Clearly I was in the 'granny crawler' category.

Pedestrians walk down the rd never into oncoming traffic, but there are no pavements so they just walk along the edge of the rd, in the dark, or on a bike with no lights. No pedestrians move over when you come up behind them. We came up behind a bus with no lights driving. We also got stuck at a rd block for an hr becasue the police were pulling all the buses over, but in a place where there WAS no where to pull over, so we just sat in a queue! And they were only pulling buses over, but it didn't occur to the police to wave on the car drivers....

The driving is so crazy it becomes an obsessive topic of conversation. Therapy almost. You simply can't believe the things people do. M asked the retired chief of police here once, what Highway code they use here, he said, the same as the one you use in the UK, of course. Don't know why we didn't recognise it as such.......

At traffic lights they even have signs saying "Obey the traffic lights" Perhaps for those who haven't read the Highway Code, or can't remember.

Fair Cop, Guv, It's The Lap of Luxury

The government is constantly criticising all the NGOs and accusing NGO workers of being on a gravy train, living luxurious lives, trying to spin out their time in SL and living off the donor money. You didn't realise did you that all my writings about the humidity, the wild life here, the bureacracy, were all just a cover and really I am living it up, in the lap of luxury, LOVING being here because it is simply SO wonderful.... The papers are full of it, it's very tedious, and soul destroying the way they say the NGOs have achieved so little etc. One of the reasons many NGOs have achieved less than they wd wish is because of the bureaucracy and the obstructiveness of the govt, who is very keen to be seen to be doing better than any NGO or foreign aid organisation.

Also the Govt won't let lorries, goods etc into the north and east, so effectively the NGOs are being forced to work only with the Singalese in the south, which is very unfair. A friend who works for the German 'DIFD' who has offices in one of the Sri Lankan banks here, has been ousted by the govt, who say they need his offices for the President to use (suddenly..) They got one day's notice! So they reminded the gov't that the agreement if they worked in SL was that the govt provide offices, so to find them alternative accom. The govt just said "No sorry, we've changed our mind" The German govt was thinking of pulling all German NGOs etc out as a protest , that and the fact that they can't work in the north and east anymore. In the end they didn't. This happens ALL the time. In several instances of things happening the govt has simply said, when called to account, that they don't recognise International Law.

Meanwhile back in the domestic bliss of my world; still contending with monkeys dancing on our roof in the middle of the night, (or similar heavy footed mammal), rats in the kitchen (yes I discovered house mice aren't 7 inches long........) and a gravy train to catch somewhere........

Old Banger, New Mobile and Amnesia.

Since arriving back in Sri Lanka, we have hired a really clapped out old banger. Old even by Sri Lankan standards. I am quite pleased with it actually, (inverse snobbery) because everyone rolls up to the School in massive SUVs, with huge chrome Roo bars etc, tinted class, and then we bumble along in an old station wagon with zero suspension, wobbly wing mirrors and a rear view mirror which keeps altering its position, locks with a mind of their own, a leaky radiator, inadequate air con and no power steering, the latter at least means my upper body has a good work out driving it. Might as well burn my bra now... It reminds me of the cars I used to drive when living in South Africa. Still it's half the cost of a normal hire car.

I lost my phone on Saturday. Another example of my scatterbrained-ness, when looking after the children. I put it on the car roof whilst buckling our daughter in her seat and answering my 6 yr old's questions about dinosaurs, and drove off up our very steep drive and off to our son's swimming lesson at school. Worse than that, I have absolutely NO recollection of doing this. It was only M saying I had done so and he hoped I had got my phone off the roof before leaving, ha ha, that I knew I'd done it. Worrying. Anyway it was a pleasant surprise after the 6hrs or so it took M to set it all up in the 1st place, it was remarkably painless to sort out, AND I got a new £30 phone out of it (yes, you can tell I didn't buy a state of the art one can't you, despite the salesman's desperate pitch. I always fee,l as a "rich" foreigner, I am a disappointment on the shopping front to most shop assistants) Anyway it was good really as my old phone had 2 keypads which only worked intermittently, one of which was the one to change predictive text words, so quite important. Now people will be able to understand my texts again, in theory.

AND of course some lucky Sri Lankan, walking along the very populated route to school, must have made a special trip to Buddha's shrine with an extra large basket of petals to thank providence for the mobile phone which flew through the air into his waiting arms. I still can't work out how it managed to stay on the roof as we drove up our drive and through the gate, it's so steep.....