Thursday, 31 January 2008

The British Way

Look, just because I'm a nat (member of Scottish National Party for anyone who's just stumbled across this blog) doesn't mean I can't enjoy Britishness. And once we're not officially British anymore, I'll still enjoy it particularly when I hear stories like this one from my friend Mary who's in Colombo. We've been discussing the situation out here and how some organisations are now not sending volunteers to Sri Lanka till things cool down (nobody tell my mum that my timing was, as always, spot on!) when she sent me this email:

"Have you ever heard Jeremy Hardy's story of being picked up by a man from the embassy when he got in to a spot of bother in Israel? The American Embassy sent a fully armed Humvee to collect their people and the British sent a car with a man armed only with driving gloves and then offered a nice cup of tea on arrival at the Embassy."

Don't you just love it?

Paradise but for who?

I have joined a gym! Last night I went to the Lighthouse Hotel and joined for a very reasonable rate. It made me feel a bit guilty I have to say - rich white Western woman thinks gym is cheap and the price I paid almost without thinking is roughly equivalent to 2 months wages for some people in Sri Lanka.

Hmmm, this started off as a happy (I'm having a great time) post and now I feel a bit crap about it all. I expect this will happen time and time again over the next few months. I want to enjoy my stay and there are things I want to do but I can't just forget how unfair it is that I can do it and most people here (in their own country) can't.

I swam last night in an outdoor pool overlooking the Indian Ocean. It was beautiful but even while I was doing it there was a strange mix of emotions - I felt happy and at peace because of the beautiful surroundings but I also felt a little bit alone. I like being on my own normally (being such great company and all!) but when you're doing something amazing it's nice to share it with someone.

And I felt guilt then too because it's a 4 or 5 star hotel and they've got guards all around it presumably to keep the locals out. Now I know when you're on holiday you expect to be able to wander about your hotel grounds without people trying to sell you things for example, but it just felt wrong. I felt like I was getting special privileges just because I happened to be born in a rich country.

And it occurred to me that if I DON'T use the gym, I'll be annoyed at myself because it's 45 pounds down the drain and I'm not earning just now. But at the end of the day it really won't affect my life too much, I will simply brush it off. What a wasteful society I belong to. Maybe the guilt I've just discovered will ensure that I actually USE this gym. It's better than not using it but it doesn't exactly do anything to address the problems of wealth inequality in the world does it?

Yours very introspectively,


Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Milestones along the way

I woke up on my second day here and I realised that every day is going to be a challenge from now on. I won't have normal days anymore. That is daunting but you really just have to make the most of it and realise that it's all good for you. I can only benefit from my experience here. To be so out of my depth (and sometimes a bit lost) but manage to overcome my daily or should that be hourly fears, has got to be character building at least. I have moments where I think 'yes but I've build my character and I'm quite happy with it thank you very much' but I obviously still feel the need to challenge myself or I wouldn't be doing it.

Mary, a friend who I only met last October and who's got me doing this, is in Colombo and she's been really good to talk to. She assures me that her first week was also marked by milestones like crossing the road. So I know I'm normal - or as normal as Mary is which I'm not sure is necessarily reassuring. (Just kidding M.) It's true though, it's like learning everything all over again. The first day I had to go out by myself (2 days ago) I can't tell you how courageous I felt walking down the dusty hot busy roads (with nutter drivers everywhere) with everyone looking at me and shouting hello, asking me if I wanted a tuk tuk, even asking if I was lost and looking for the tourist bit. "No, I live here" I replied. Well, I do!

And yesterday I went into shops to find fairly obscure things like scissors, wooden spoon. We need them in the house but it's not like you can just go to John Lewis. (Not that I have often shopped in JL, more like PS - pound shop!) So I'm going into shops where you don't know if anyone will understand you and trying not to look and sound stupid or lacking in confidence and also trying not to take out 5000 rupees instead of 50! It's quite daunting. But at least I had a laugh with a shopkeeper when I had to draw him a coat hanger. I was supposed to get receipts and the word is CHIT but of course I asked for a CHITTY CHITTY (clearly on a musical theme) and got blank looks in return.

Today's big milestone? I bought myself lunch. I walked along by myself to the lunch shop and asked for an egg lunch packet. It's rice, curry, egg, and various other things like coconut, dahl, vegetables in a square paper packet. I'll take a photo later because it's hard to describe. Anyway it was a meal and I bought it myself. And it was only 70 rupees, that's 35p. When you have to take a deep breath just to get the courage to go and buy lunch, you know you're on an adventure!

Working in Sri Lanka

Worklife is probably the only thing that doesn't seem completely different here. Office life at least. I am working in a ground floor office suite with clean cool tiled floors and lemon walls. It's not air conditioned but we have fans. the furniture is modern and simple and the computers are no different to back home really. We don't have broadband but we do have ADSL and I can't really tell the difference. The keys on the keyboard are sometimes in a different place but apart from that it's much the same.

Their way of working, the formality with which they approach things however, reminds me of the voluntary sector in Scotland about 12 years ago. The need to overstate everything in reports, to use very formal language, to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's. I worked for Sense Scotland in the mid 90s and they were very much like that. Perhaps it's still the same, I don't know. It will be a challenge for me in the work that I'm doing because I like to simplify language and keep it as informal / user friendly as possible.

It will be a challenge but that, after all, is what I'm here for. One other thing that's slightly different here - in this office at least, we're asked to leave our shoes at the door. Seeing as you'd die if you wore socks in this heat, we're all barefoot. As someone who waits until December in Scotland to wear socks or tights, I like it - very liberating. The first time a gecko runs across my bare foot however, I'm afraid the shoes will be going back on and not leaving me till I go to bed!

Been to the dentist, must be settling in!

Last night after work I went to the dentist. She was great. Took out my stitches for me, nudged me after quite a while to say I could open my eyes now cos it was all over and then charged me a mere 50p for the work. Compare that to my experience with the Dennistoun dentist who told me he wouldn't take the risk of using a Sri Lankan one. It was quick, painless and approximately 7,920 pence cheaper than he was!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Icey's here!

No he's not - as with the mobile ringtone / real life parrot mix up, I'm still experiencing a little local difficulty in forgetting that I'm not in Glasgow. And last night I heard this bing bonging about 7pm and I honestly thought it was the ice cream van! How mad is that? I mean they do have static ice cream vans round here but silly me, I should've known it was the temple starting its nightly service. It's just round the corner and for some reason it all has to be amplified so if you thought you'd have a night in watching Corrie or the SL equivalent (and they are apparently soap mad here), you can forget it because coming live in a living room near you are the latest thoughts of Bhudda. It's quite nice really but was equally nice for a brief moment to think I was back in Glasgow. And of course, when I get home I'll be looking for the temple every time I hear the icey! Such is life.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

I made it!

Very quick posting just to say I made it here in one piece. It was a 3 hour wait at Glasgow airport, a 6.5 hour flight to Dubai, 1.5 hours to wait there, 3hrs 45 min flight to Colombo, 1 hr to get through customs and baggage and a 4.5 hour drive to Galle so when I got here I was filthy and hot and sticky and hadn't slept for a day nor eaten for 16 hours (yep I was counting). All I wanted to do at that stage was turn on my heels and flee. But I didn't obviously and today is a new day. Arriving at Colombo airport and waiting for the driver to pick me up was amazing - mind blowing in fact. The cacophony of sights, sounds and aromas that hit you is immediate and intense. The air is so stiflingly hot you can smell it along with the petrol fumes that permeate the atmosphere. The noise is incredible too - from the whistling policemen (not tunes, orders!) in brown uniforms to the sound of monkeys outside your bedroom window, it's all new and all exciting.

Before I go, one quick aside to demonstrate how we all get stuck in one groove. I was lying in bed under my mosquito net and lovely cool fan today and I heard a weird noise which I identified as some idiot with a parrot like mobile ringtone. Obviously it wasn't, it was a parrot or something similar. I'll be back in Glasgow in April looking for parrots!!!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Going to Sri Lanka

This is my new blog and the reason for a new one is because as I said in the title, I'm going to Sri Lanka. Whoo hoo. I leave on Friday 25th January and I'll be there for 3 months. I'd like to keep this separate from my normal blog because my life is going to be so different to everything I've known before. Meantime my IndyPals are updating that blog for me. I don't know how often this blog will be updated until I'm actually out there and figure out how to get internet access. Once I get it, I'll be blogging away.