Sunday, January 27, 2008

Missing You At All?

Hmm…….Apart from the friends we eventually made, (which wasn’t many), I will miss blue sky days, vivid vitamin D- rich sunshine, monsoon rains, the massive, awesome thunderstorms, wonderful warm swimming pools, putting only 5 items of clothing on every day (including shoes), the stunning hill country and tea plantations, weekends away, the beach, our son's school, Mount lavinia hotel and pool, ‘Roots’ fresh juices, the birds, water monitor and even monkeys that frequented our garden. Strangely too the chaos and madness, the unpredictability of life. It was always full of surprises.

I will miss Maheswary, our lovely Tamil house help. A few days before we left she got arrested for waiting at a bus stop too long. A soldier came over; she was bundled into an army vehicle and taken to the police station for questioning. She was allowed home two hrs later. Apparently the bus not turning up was not a good enough excuse. Her ‘waiting’ behaviour was highly suspicious. The day going about your daily business is an arrestable offence, is a day to be feared.

That’s the stuff I really hate about Sri Lanka (well the current government); victimising people because of their ethnicity. Because of the increase in bombing and the murder of a minister etc, her house raids are happening almost every night. She lives in permanent fear. Not abject terror, but on edge and fearful the whole time lest she put a foot wrong. Not a good way to live. I hope she makes it to England, as is her ambition. To date she still has no job in SL, despite the reference I wrote for her. I thought she would be snapped up….. At least she now has the wherewithal to get on a flight and seek asylum should it come to that. That’s about all we could do for her in the end. Not enough, and of course it’s only 1 person, but I am a firm believer in helping those who are put in your path. Where else do you start?

I won’t miss the humidity, the flooded roads, open sewers, rubbish everywhere, the mosquitoes, tropical diseases, the HORRENDOUS driving (though I am rather proud of having survived 2 yrs driving there in such crazy conditions, having only hit one motorcycle, 2 pedestrians and about 4 tutktuks. You have to have been there to believe me when I say they all drove, or walked, into me….)

I definitely wont miss the policeman’s white gauntlet with its two red stripes pointing aggressively out of a 4 WD vehicle window, as yet another important convoy arrogantly indicates for you to move aside, or the army escorted ministerial convoys who bear down on you, horns blaring for you to get out of the way, when you are stuck solid in traffic. Guns trained on you of course.

And I won’t miss the road closures, road blocks, or the military policemen cadging lifts.

Neither will I miss people hanging up on me when they realise they can’t answer my questions or have no one left to pass me on to. I won’t miss being ripped off because I have a white face.

Having to have exactly the right the change for everything, I won’t miss, and even a 500 rupee note being far too big for many shops to be able to change (and I’m not talking small road side shacks here). I used to go to the bank at the start of the week and get a couple of thousand rupees in 20 & 50 rupee notes.

I won’t miss our next door neighbour, but then you know that already if you have been following this blog. We will miss his son-in-law though, who was our landlord d and took u s out for a meal in our last week, in one of the most expensive restaurants in Colombo, with his wife. They were the most wonderful and charming landlords we could have hoped to have. And with such a refreshing and forward looking perspective on their country too. It was the few people like them that we met that gave you glimmers of hope for a country so entrenched in its inter-ethnic hatred (albeit it under the surface much of the time), corruption, short-sightedness, not to mention rigid adherence to so many national holidays it is hopelessly inefficient economically.

Of course I won’t miss the ants, the cockroaches, geckos falling on me or turning up dead in our rice cooker and kettle, or those huge stripey legged spiders (which seemed to plague no one else I knew in SL) and of course the rats………

But none of these are that big a deal. And actually I will miss Sri Lanka. Not my 1st love exactly but a definite soft spot for it in all it madness and mayhem. Our 1st overseas posting. Seasoned ex pats say your 1st post always retains a special place in one’s heart. It grew on me and got under my skin. Not least because it could be such a lovely country.

There are other reasons why it has a significant place in my heart. It’s not only the place where an amazing paediatric cardiologist diagnosed our (long-awaited daughter) with a heart condition requiring corrective surgery, it’s the place where we both had that ‘rite of passage’ - a 40th birthday; our son had many wonderful opportunities in an amazing international school, but it is also a place that taught me a lot about myself. And hopefully changed me too. I am also, I think, grateful (only in hind sight of course…….) for all that Sri Lanka threw at me. It made me realise I could do this, I could cope with leaving behind everything I loved so much, I could adapt and adjust, and even laugh (sometimes), and I wasn’t going to be beaten by the frustrations, loneliness and despair that she concocted for me. And I’m sure Nietzsche was right, it didn’t kill me, and it made me stronger. Of course that was, in large part, due to faith, family and friends, rather than anything much on my part……….

I am also proud of our children for adapting so well to life there. And for seizing the opportunities it gave them with apparent gusto. For our daughter perhaps the adjustment went a bit too far. One day as we were packing and sorting her room, I found a book with a badly torn page in it. I looked at her and asked how it had happened. She looked me in the eyes and said “I don’t know mummy, I think a rat did it”

Fond Farewells......?

So we have finally left Sri Lanka! I think leaving was almost as draining as arriving. I was weeping tears of frustration on many occasions, not to mention wailing and gnashing my teeth........

On our final Saturday I spent 6 1/2 hrs in Colombo mainly waiting, for all the things I had been promised would be ready, but in fact, despite giving a month’s notice in most cases, they got left till the last few days. Out of the 6 1/2 hrs, 4 ½ were spent just waiting (I had nothing better to do than tot it up as I trailed disconsolately round the city) At the tailor’s I arrived a day later than I said I would, but still sat, refusing to move for 1 1/4 hrs whilst, most of my daughter’s fancy dress outfit was sewn together in front of me, and the bit which had been finished, unpicked because, despite taking measurements, it was completely the wrong size. So actually it was good I was there with my daughter and they could give her a ‘fitting’.

I always knew Sri Lanka would have the last laugh. And that wasn’t just with the dengue. There I was thinking I was being organized checking how much notice I needed to give to fill in the inevitable paperwork, hand in my sim card in order to reclaim my $100 deposit, return our water dispenser in order to reclaim a $75 dollar deposit, (20 phone calls, and about as many promises before we gave up counting) close our bank account, collect photos, have some clothes made at a tailor’s etc; but somehow the information I was given kept changing, usually when it involved having a deposit returned. Returns, exchanges, refunds are entirely alien concepts in Sri Lanka, in our experience. In the end, getting our cash deposit back for my phone defeated us, so we gave all the paper work to our house helper, put it all in her name, and she kept badgering them. She finally got it a month later. A real coup I thought. Bu then you don’t mess with Maheswary, our ‘house’ rats knew that to their cost, and this guy at Dialog seemed to share the same DNA as them……

Then our packers mutinied. The estimate for our shipment had been 9 cubic metres, I think. It turned out to be wrong. The packers packed and stacked all our boxes on top of each other to ‘measure’ them and downed tools, saying they had done their allotted metreage. After some hard negotiating, lots of sweet tea, and profuse apologies, amidst insistence that all our stuff WAS coming with us, so it had to be packed, we finally managed to get them to pack up the last ‘3 metres’, and waved them off with a generous tip for each of them. I prefer to call it a tip, not a bribe, as it was given at this point not at the point when they downed tools………

For some reason this always happened to us when we move, movers underestimate our stuff. Don’t know why, I really don’t hide it…..