Thursday, 28 February 2008

"Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit." - R E Shay

The mystery from yesterday is solved - if you didn't read it and you don't want to now (it WAS kind of long) basically I was trying to establish if a woman who asked me to give her money was genuine or not. Were her family really starving or was she just a scammer? And now I have the answer.

My very sensible and lovely housemates asked around and discovered that this is not the first time the woman has done this - apparently she has a problem with gambling. So, although she was not being entirely honest with me, she is obviously not just a scammer for the sake of it. Addiction to gambling is as serious as alcoholism or drug addiction and it's a very difficult thing to overcome.

Unfortunately, like all addictions, it changes the behaviour of the person and they find themselves doing and saying things they never dreamt they would do or say. It's desperation and they can't help themselves. How do I know all this? Because I am a very knowledgeable person with an incredibly high emotional intelligence quotient lol.

You thought I was about to confess to being a compulsive gambler there didn't you? Not at all. I lived for 16 years with a gambler - not in any way a compulsive one, in fact a very successful one - and although his life's work has been dedicated to horseracing he would occasionally persuade me to go to the casino in Glasgow.

There I discovered I would be unlikely to develop a gambling problem because as soon as I lost even just five pounds, I'd be bored and want to go home. I'd watch all these (mainly) rich folk staring obsessively at the roulette wheel willing the thingummyjig to land on their number and I'd think "who cares?". The only thing I liked about the casino was that if you stayed till 4am they gave you breakfast - free!

My Auntie Maggie in Greenock LOVES the bingo - she must do as she's upped her weekly visits from 5 to 6 recently! She was dying for me to go with her so on her birthday I did just that. They wouldn't let me in till I joined so I'm now a member of the Mecca Bingo Clubs! Anyway, I went and quite honestly, I just didn't get it. I mean, I GOT it, I knew how to play it - what I couldn't figure out was why anyone would want to and how they managed to stay awake during it. And I can say that safe in the knowledge that Aunt M, lovely as she is, will never read my blog cos she'll be too busy listening out for clickety clicks!

The only time I've enjoyed bingo was when I accompanied Aileen Campbell, who I worked for at the time, as she held a surgery in a bingo hall (she is a member of the Scottish Parly). I had arranged for her to call the bingo too which was the source of great amusement for me until the manager announced that I was going to do it too!! Actually it was great fun - particularly the heckling when I got it wrong!

Anyway I'm way off the point here. The point is that people with addictions deserve our sympathy. We have to understand that the scamming is a symptom of their condition. However, we don't have to accept the behaviour, nor do we have to fund the addiction and I'm not going to. I am saddened to discover that she was not all she seemed and although I will be more careful in future, it won't colour my view of Sri Lankans who, on the whole, are lovely friendly people.

And if I do bump into her again, I'm going to ask her if I can tell her something in complete confidence - and then I'll tell her I can't help her because I'm a gambling addict, it all started down the Mecca Bingo in Greenock and now, I have no money left. Might even see if she'll lend me some. You see, I know how to get rid of people when I have to!!

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

How do you tell a scammer from someone genuinely in need?

Yesterday I talked about being on a rollercoaster where you go from being terrified to grinning and bearing it and from realising the anticipation is worse than the heading over the edge itself to actually enjoying it. And sometimes, if you're lucky, it's not just as the ride is about to stop that you discover, too late, that you love it.

Although I've been enjoying and appreciating being in Sri Lanka for quite a while now, it was only on Saturday that the turning point came and I realised I was so happy I could've floated home. That was the day when I decided I couldn't wait for the rollercoaster to get to the really exciting bit at the top where I could throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

Anyway I thought I would share with you a little event that made me realise how utterly unpredictable this entire trip has been and will continue to be. I was with my friend Anne on Saturday - she's another volunteer out here, originally from Inverness but now based in Hambantota. We met someone who completely bowled us both over. I won't go into detail because I'm hoping that my subsequent experience of her is a one off and I will be able to tell you more (positive things) about her.

She invited us back to her home for tea and we followed her. She was a very entertaining lady, very worldly with a fascinating life story and a lovely family who we met. She was also fluent in English, so much so that you could have a really good laugh with her. Her whole family - her husband, daughter and son made us so welcome that we both came away thinking "this is what Sri Lanka's all about". It wasn't just me being sentimental, Anne felt the same. We promised to visit the following weekend and thanked them for their company and their hospitality.

Yesterday one of my housemates called me to say the woman was at the house looking for me. I had only told her the area I lived in but she found me and now wanted to know where I worked. She said it was an urgent personal matter. My housemate called me and I spoke to the woman who said she needed to borrow twenty pounds. She said she was expecting a wages cheque but it hadn't come through and her whole family were starving, hadn't eaten for days.

What do you do? My first thought was a very selfish one - "why me?". I have had much experience back home of being taken for a mug (primarily because I behaved like a mug, I appreciate) and I was so upset it was (possibly) happening again. And with this woman who had so inspired us.

My next thought was, of course, what if it was true? What if they really were starving? It's not like it's an impossibility over here. How could I turn her away? How could I not help her son and daughter not to mention the woman herself and her husband?

Whilst I'm thinking all this I'm saying to her that I can't afford to give her twenty pounds because I'm a volunteer and I have to budget. But all the time I'm thinking that yes, I may be a volunteer and I may have had to take on more debt to do this, but there's no doubt I'm a lot better off than her financially.

I felt deflated because I didn't know if she was genuine or not. It's hard for me to tell at the best of times but over here, how do you ever know? It's my history of financial muggery (or being a victim of it) that clouds my judgement and leaves me feeling very confused when this kind of thing happens.

I told her I could give her 1000 rupees which is five pounds. It might sound a bit mean but that would feed her family for a good few days over here. Rice, for example, is 50 rupees a kilo. I offered to buy her food rather than give her money (on my housemate's instructions - apparently it's a good way to tell if someone's lying and I can see why) and at first she was keen but then said the money would be better.

The strangest thing is, she then didn't turn up to where we'd agreed to meet. I went the opposite way to where I wanted to go and ended up having to fork out for tuks and she didn't show up. I think my housemate told her off for taking advantage of me (so my mum will be pleased at that) but surely if she was desperate enough she would still have come. That said, I have to admit to worrying a little about her last night. She went to a lot of trouble to find me so I wondered what had happened for her not to show.

And I'm left with the question - which would make me happier? If they were genuinely starving and desperate? Or if the woman who was the catalyst for the turning point for me in Sri Lanka, turned out to be nothing more than a scammer?

I can't answer that. All I can say is that I'm here to make the most of absolutely everything so although the rollercoaster may have dipped a little, I know to expect these peaks and troughs and if all I take from this is a lesson about trust well learnt, then at least I've learned something.

Tonight (to end on a happy note) I am heading down to Fort after work for a teatime stroll and to watch the sun as it sets. That's what the photo is - I've named it Sunset at Fort in Galle. Is there not a place in Perthshire called Fort in Galle?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Life is a Rollercoaster ...

Today I have been in Sri Lanka one month – I arrived on 26th January and it’s now 26th February. So I thought I should stop and think about what my life’s been like for the last month and how it’s affected me.

I was talking to a friend the other day and likened my trip out here to being on a rollercoaster and the more I thought about it, the more I realised what an accurate analogy that is.

I don’t go on rollercoasters anymore although when I was younger I would be first in the queue. Now, if I found myself on one, it would be by accident (you know the kind of accident where somebody blindfolds you, hits you over the head and puts earplugs in till you get to your destination!) and I have often wondered over the last few weeks how on earth I ended up out here.

It all happened very quickly – I heard about it, went to an info evening two weeks later, applied the next day and within a week or so I’d been through two interviews and been accepted. But to be honest, I didn’t allow myself to think too deeply about what I was about to do in case I chickened out. Only one friend questioned me really. At the time I felt he was being unsupportive but he wasn’t, he said he just wanted to be sure I’d thought it all through. He clearly knows me very well because of course I hadn’t.

If I found myself somehow sitting on the rollercoaster, it would take all the strength I could muster NOT to stand up and walk away and the only thing that would stop me would be the desire not to look like a fool. And again, I will be honest, when I arrived in Sri Lanka, I hated it, I wanted to run a mile. I cried the first night and started trying to work out how I could get home again without losing face. I realised I couldn’t so I stayed in my seat and closed my eyes as the rollercoaster started up.

Even when I liked rollercoasters, I still found that first bit to be scary – you have all the trepidation of what’s in front of you but you know you have to keep your head. So you grin and bear it and you pretend to your friends that you’re actually really excited about it. You comfort yourself by working out how long the ride will last and how long you’ve already done. Even when I started to enjoy being in Sri Lanka, it still took me till I had 81 days left before I stopped using that as a comfort.

(Before anyone worries, I don’t count the days now because there are not enough left and I don’t want to think about that!)

So, 9 days in to my 3 month stay before I stopped counting. That’s not to say I didn’t have good, even great days before then but each night I would say “okay that was really exciting but when can I go home?”.

As everyone knows however, you reach a point on the rollercoaster where you just can’t hold it together any longer – usually just as you’re heading over your first dip. I feel sick just thinking about it. And of course I had a dip as anyone who reads regularly will know. But very very soon after that dip, I was back on the straight and narrow and I realised that often the anticipation is worse than the actual event.

So by the time the next dip comes round, you’re ready for it – you may not relish it but it doesn’t feel quite so bad. And then of course for most people, there comes a point (usually just as you’re coming to the end) where you relax and start to love it.

Luckily for me, that happened on Saturday, when I’d nine weeks left of my stay. I had the most fantastic day. It wasn’t about what I did so much as everyone I met that day. I felt like I was falling in love with the people of Sri Lanka. I realised then that I absolutely LOVE living here and I am so fortunate to have been given this opportunity.

Of course it will be great to go home and see everyone and yes, I still miss some people but I love my life here – it’s exciting, it’s worthwhile and it’s different. You never know what’s around the next corner, you never know when you’ll meet the next dip but you know that you can handle it. To be honest, traveling by tuk tuk is really no different to being on a rollercoaster – except tuks are perhaps not quite as safe!

But that’s all part of the crazy exciting country that is Sri Lanka and just like the plug and socket for your shower being IN the shower and knowing that you’re taking your life in your hands just crossing the road here, you either worry about it or you just stop worrying and love every minute. For me, after one month of living in Sri Lanka, I’ve decided that Doris Day was right when she sang “que sera sera, whatever will be will be”.

So, I’ve managed it, I’ve lasted for a month and I’ll try to make the most of every single minute of the two months or (hang on till I count it up) the 58 days I have left in Sri Lanka.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Mickey Rooney's Sri Lankan cousin

Just a quick story that I've been meaning to tell for a week or so. People in Sri Lanka are very friendly and love to chat. I am now very well used to just about everyone I pass smiling, nodding or saying hello and of course, I am always happy to chat. But last week I met a man who put the biggest smile on my face since arriving in Sri Lanka. He looked like a smaller and Sri Lankan version of Mickey Rooney and when he saw me, he stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips and proclaimed, in A PERFECT COCKNEY ACCENT:

"Well 'ello me lovely lady, 'ow you doin' then?"

And then, in case I hadn't heard the first time I presume, he repeated with much volume and greatly exaggerated intonations:

"Well, 'ello me lovely lady, 'ow you doin' then?"

I kid you not and for once, I'm not even exaggerating. I told him I was fine, thank you and asked how he was but he simply smiled, tipped the edge of his hat and walked off. So clearly, someone has taught him this one line and it's all the English he can speak but I think he must be in my top ten of favourite Sri Lankans I have met so far - and there is a lot of competition for that spot, let me tell you!

Friday, 22 February 2008

The most amazing part of the day

This is how we ended our Poya Day trip. We had visited a turtle sanctuary on the way down and they talked about how they release the babies into the ocean when they are four days old. They said for a donation to their work we could do it for them. So we went back. I was looking forward to it but had no idea just how fantastic it would be. They were all surprised enough to see me touching the babies never mind picking up this big brute :-)

My batteries went in my camera so all Poya Day pics are courtesy of my housemate Donna, as is this video which she couldn't resist playing with. These babies were smaller than our hands and as we guided them into the ocean I couldn't help but worry how they'd do. I was particularly worried about the little one at the end - Tommy his name was. And now I know how my mum feels about me being out here although I reckon my survival chances are a little higher than Tommy's! Enjoy - it was a wonderful experience for us.

Poya Day wouldn't be complete without a visit to the temple

So that's what we did when the rain calmed down a bit. We got in our Catamaran and ended up here at this temple. Some of them (no, all of them) are awe inspiring to look at. The buddha figures are so big and the temples so peaceful. There was nobody there but it was nice to visit it - the makeshift stone stairs were not for the faint hearted mind you and I was wishing my legs were twice as long as they are!

When it rains, it really rains

So, we were sailing along peacefully on Kogalla Lake when the downpour started. Thunder and lightening added to the atmosphere and Donna had me convinced that having my brolly up would render me liable to be struck by lightening! So we all got soaked instead. But we stopped at the first island, Cinnamon Island, and the boatman took us to a small stone house where a woman made us cups of cinnamon tea, gave us shelter and then sold us cinnamon sticks. We were happy though because they were very hospitable, the children were delightful as you can see from the photo and let's face it they needed the money. We then set off further along the lake and stopped at another island as you will see above.

My first Poya Day in Sri Lanka

Poya Day or full moon day, is a public holiday in Sri Lanka and we decided to go to Kogalla for the day. We being housemates Donna and Julia along with Julia's dad Mike and his wife Fiona. We spent an hour and a half in a catamaran on this lake but not the kind of catamaran I had in mind. No men in sailor's suits, no G&T, no romantic music playing in the background - this looked, to me, more like two canoes nailed together. But it was lovely even when the storm started. In my next post I'll tell you what we did when the storms came.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Sci fi fish

I promised to post photos of our huge fish and in particular Sudo who is enormous. He'd feed a family of 5 for a week - no wonder he looks at me sideways. The "little" fish next to him are about 5 times as big as a normal goldfish. Been busy this week but hope to post tomorrow, Friday, and tell you all about my first "alms giving" last Sunday, an experience I had at the pool the other night and how I spent "Poya Day" yesterday. Poya Day is full moon day and it's a public holiday so we went away for the day and had an amazing time. Did something really special that I can't wait to blog about but no time right now - got to upload my pics to online album and be at the pool for 5.30. Hope you like Sudo and his pals.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Valentine's Day came a little late

I've just had such a laugh at work today. I work with an organisation that seeks to empower people with disabilities and today 3 young guys who are deaf were in the office. They must have got bored and decided to overcome the obvious communication hurdles that exist (when I speak English and they speak Sinhala but sign language Sinhala) because they just appeared at my desk and started chatting! We managed however and it was really funny.

One of them told me after ten minutes that he loved me (I was outraged it should have taken him so long lol) and then spent twenty minutes drawing me a rose and two hearts entwined. So despite spending last Valentine's Day having a candlelit dinner overlooking the Indian Ocean "all by myself" as the song goes, I still got a Valentine's card of sorts, just a little late. Actually the sitting by myself was spontaneous, accidental and nothing to do with V Day before people start singing that irritating song to me :-)

I'm amazed though and impressed with these guys. Sometimes here I get a little tired of having to make extra efforts to communicate - I don't resent it, it's just a bit tiring that's all. But these guys who must've faced communication difficulties all their lives decided to speak to the Scottish girl and we honestly did have a really good laugh. It's cheered me up anyway but I'm still not taking up his offer to marry him.

Fun house

I spoke to my 15 year old niece Christie on Sunday and I was describing the house that I live in with two other volunteers, out here in Sri Lanka. She replied that she too wanted to live in a "*fun house". It certainly is the most bizarre house I've inhabited in my 36 years on the planet - okay 36 - ish.

We have giant goldfish that would put my good friend Craig MacKay's freakishly big fish to shame. We have two ponds - inside the house. A waterfall. Trees. And an owl. Luckily it's a stone owl, not a pet owl because that would just be OTT - unlike the rest of it. I am going to take a video recording and take you all on a trip round our bizarre house but for now you'll have to make do with photos.

We're also very fortunate by Sri Lankan standards because we have an oven and hob (many homes have only the hob), a fridge freezer (silver one too!) and a washing machine. It's a very old fashioned one and it stains white things yellow but apart from that, it works. It is not unusual for women (never men of course) to wash the family's clothing in the back garden using a cold tap.

You come in the main yard and up about 8 stairs to the front door. Through the door you immediately enter a large red tiled floor space which has a kid-on beach hut to the left and facing you taking up the whole of the back wall, is the first set of trees and the pond with the sci fi fish. (I'll post photos of fish asap.) The biggest one is called Sneaker (I think) and he plays football. I know, it's weird and no I'm not imagining it - there's a ball in the pond and he is a dab hand with the headers!

He's not the only non human around here. I was warned not to worry about noises on the roof - it's the local wildlife playing at night!! I put the fan on so I never need imagine what's out there.

Anyway as you come in the main entrance you turn to your right and there is a set of wooden stairs which leads to main living area - you can see it in the photo although it's a bit dark so I'll try to get a lighter one later. If you imagine you have your back to the pond and trees in the photo, the room extends to include a kitchen / diner separated by a breakfast bar. We tend to sit round the glass dining table at night although I hear we're expecting a futon style sofa any day now. Not that I'll be able to sit on it being so aged these days.

The upstairs tour will be conducted another day. For now I must do some work.


*Christie's definition of a "fun house" - 'you know, one with moving staircases and funny mirrors that make you look really weird'! That's all mirrors isn't it or is that just me? In any case I've agreed that when I move back to Glasgow I will investigate the possibility of buying a fun mirror for my fun house!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

You can try to make me go to rehab and I’ll say no no no!

I used to read a lot but in recent years I’ve read one book - The Motorcycle Diaries - and apart from that I’ve maybe read bits and pieces from works of non fiction but that’s it really. I’ve been too busy to read which, I was always aware, is a sad state of affairs.

So I was very pleased that out here I have no TV, few phone calls and no SNP meetings and worknights to keep me busy. Therefore I have time to read. It takes a while to get back into it but I’m currently reading ‘Atonement’ (you may have seen the “major motion picture” that it’s now become).

It’s funny but I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about until I got to page 137 which gave me some clue as to where it was going. I am amazed that I persisted but now that I’ve reached chapter 13 and realise what it is the main character has to atone for, I am very glad I did. It’s kind of like having to climb a steep hill to finally get the most amazing view – you begin to wonder why you bothered starting the climb but all your doubts disappear when you reach the summit.

Well that’s what I feel I’ve done with this book. I am shocked and stunned by what Briony (the main character) has done – it literally took my breath away. And I feel like I’m grieving for her victim and for her - and the lives they will now each have to lead. I want to tell him that it’s okay, I know he’s innocent and was only ever guilty of loving someone. I want to urge her to go back and rectify matters, convince her it’s not too late but I know there’s no point because although she knows what she has done, she sees no way out. And my heart sinks with that realisation.

Okay, back in the real world I realise there’s actually no point because it’s not real – it’s only happening in the pages of my book. However, it means I’ve turned a corner, I am a reader again! Hoorah! I will struggle now to put this book down, just as I used to before my life became so hectic that reading the spine of a book was too much trouble. One book will lead to another and before I know it, I’ll be addicted again – so by the time I get back to my life in Scotland, there will at least ONE thing in my life other than work and the SNP.

Only thing is that tonight, after work, I’m supposed to be going swimming and then my housemate Julia and I are meeting a frog expert from the Baltic States for a few drinks and dinner – maybe he’ll be so into his frogs that he won’t notice my book on my lap!!!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Phenomenon that is the Sri Lankan Lunch Packet

In an early post (early - all of 2 weeks ago) I was telling you how brave I felt going out all by myself to buy a Lunch Packet. And I promised to post a photograph. The Lunch Packet is wrapped (as you can see) in a square of greaseproof paper and a square of chip wrapping paper (I refer to posh chippies that don't use the Daily Record and who can blame them?). Anyway, open this seemingly innocuous 35p lunch and it will reveal a full dinner of rice, curry, egg (now that I seem to have become veggie!) and a variety of accompaniments - see other pic. This was my lunch today and just to make you all really jealous, it has ZERO CALORIES. Well it does when half an hour after consuming it, you find yourself emptying it right back out again - involuntarily but gratefully all the same. I realise that's a terrible thing to say and to punish myself I'm now going to go and do 30 lengths at the pool. Ciao for now toute le monde :-)

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

All is well in Galle

Just a quick posting to say that today is another day and all is well with me. I meant to post this "happy photo" yesterday to prove I'm not in the depths of despair but ran out of time. So here it is, proof that yesterday was a one off. This was me having a rotten time at Mirissa Beach - it cost 50p to get there on the bus and 6 pounds for B&B in a beachside cabana. I'll make no political comment this time and simply appreciate how lucky I am.
PS just spotted that I HAD already uploaded it. Ah well, I'll find some more tomorrow!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Talk about speaking too soon

That is exactly what I did in my ever so positive and upbeat post yesterday - "problems are not exaggerated just because you're thousands of miles from home"! Oh no? Oh yes! Oh yes indeed!!

So, instead of the hopelessly over optimistic "you know you're settling in when ..." I'm changing it to:

"I knew I was homesick when ..."

... after everything listed in yesterday's posting that I handled with grace, fortitude and dignity lol, my bank card was refused 3 times (when I'd no money) and I took it out on local traders who kept asking me to buy stuff by telling them "the eejits at the bank'll no' gie me any dosh so there's no' a lot I can buy unless youse sell bazookas at 20 rupees"! Yes, I did it in my best Glaswegian just to confuse and also, to make myself feel better which, in a strange kind of a way, it did!

... my tiny bathroom in my new guest house had another inhabitant - a giant cockroach and instead of dealing with it rationally, I locked the bathroom door, stood on a chair (for a short time only) and decided that I'd never ever need to use the bathroom for any reason whatsoever.

... my mosquito net in my new guest house had seven sizeable holes in it. Enough to let more than seven giant sci-fi type mosquitoes through. Luckily, instead of buying bazookas with my rupees, I'd bought sellotape and proceeded to tape them up. All perfectly rational I hear you say but what's normal about sitting up all night guarding the sellotaped holes?

Nothing! And that's my point. I was wrong yesterday when I said "off days" weren't exaggerated being so far from home - I clearly just wasn't having an off enough day to know. It is so much harder dealing with problems when you're this far from home. Your family and usual friends, your normal support network are too far away to help and you don't want to phone them and worry them.

All the other distractions you take for granted are missing too - turning on the TV, going online, cleaning your kitchen, going for a walk or a drive, meeting friends for a drink, letting my mum make me my tea or even just taking to my own bed are all the kind of things I'd do if I was having a bad day at home. But most of these are inaccessible to me out here.

So for a time you're forced to rely solely on yourself and your ability to think positively and find a way round your problems, your fears, even your phobias. I say all of this not to adopt a "woe is me" personna and illicit sympathy but because this blog is about my personal journey (without getting too personal) - adapting to a life where my usual support networks are not there, is going to be a big part of that journey.

I said in a previous post that whilst I knew a benefit of this experience would be the character building aspect, I sometimes think I'm quite happy, I've built it and I don't want to build any more thanks very much. And that's how I felt last night and it's how I feel right now. I suspect it will take time but I know in the back of my mind that one day I'll be glad for what I've learned even from the bad bits of the trip.

We were given advice before we came out here that if we were having a bad day, it would be a worse day than it would be at home and when it happened we should plan something nice and relaxing - a day at a spa for instance. So I'm going to think about that now.

Finally, I will end by saying that whilst my normal friends and family are so far away, I am very glad of the friends I've made out here amongst the other volunteers. We all experience it differently but we are all experiencing it and talking to them and to our country manager out here as well as my lovely colleagues in the office, has helped so much. I wouldn't be writing about it in my blog if I wasn't feeling a lot better.

I will look forward to reading this one day in the not too distant future and realising how far I've come - I know I will get there, it's just that the getting there can be a little challenging at times.

Monday, 11 February 2008

You know you're settling in when ...

... your phone breaks - and you cope ...

your sunglasses snap - but you manage, despite fearing permanent visual impairment ...

you burn your legs after using factor 50 and reapplying neurotically - but don't lose heart because at least you can't get wrinkles on your legs ...

you awake to find two mosquitoes on the outside of your net, staring at you and foaming at the mouth in anticipation of your eventual and inevitable exit - but survive the rat run to the loo ...

the tuk tuk driver you've been using because he's such a trustworthy family man with a lovely wife and children puts his hand on your thigh and tells you that you're beautiful - but you don't freak (mainly because you're so naive you think it might just be a local greeting in Galle and all perfectly *innocent) ...

your new found determination to drink 3 litres of water a day is going well but resulting in HOURLY punch ups with the mosquitoes who inhabit the office toilet - and yet, your dignity is intact (once you get outside the loo that is) ...

and you get to work to discover a button has popped off your (not at all tight) dress right at a bit that you really ought to keep covered in a conservative country like Sri Lanka - but, still, you remain stoical ...

What I'm trying to say is that you know you're settling in well when the things that would test your patience at home, test it no more over here. Problems are not exaggerated simply because you're thousands of miles away from home - this revelation I am treating with surprise and relief. Right I'm away to find out where I can buy aloe vera and a sewing kit!

* Apparently this is not an innocent greeting. As our country manager out here said to me when I emailed to ask, "not in Sri Lanka, not in any country in the world"! Apparently "some things mean the same the world over"! Some call it naivety, I call it faith in human nature :-)

Friday, 8 February 2008

Got to relax somehow

Not been feeling too hot this week. Well, I've been hot obviously (even when it rains here it's hot), but not too well last day or so. Therefore I feel it's only right that I take myself off to here for the weekend so come Saturday morning when all my Western Hemisphere based mates are tucked up in bed or falling out of Clatty Pat's, this is where I'll be headed. Whatever you're doing enjoy it. I may update over the weekend but I don't see any internet cafes in that picture do you?

Mini Beasts

One of the hardest things to adjust to over here is the mini beast situation. I call them that because when I did teacher training I discovered this is the correct term and the one I’d been using was – well, just swear words really.

Anyway I’m not a fan. To be fair, so far it’s been not too bad. I’m almost immune to the ants and the little spiders and I know my time will come but most of those other horrible things that I can’t even mention by name, have been keeping out of my way till now.

My colleague Muna was laughing at me for having a fight with a mosquito – I think perhaps it’s not very Sri Lankan to try to communicate with them (definitely not Sri Lankan to swear at them) but I was just trying to explain that I was minding my own business and it should do the same. I consider myself fortunate indeed, however, not to be living in Wisconsin!

Do you know what I’ve discovered? Apparently it’s only female mosquitoes who bite and they do it to fertilise their eggs. So basically, I’m being tricked into motherhood before I’m ready – and not even to human beings but to bloody mosquitoes. I object to that!

Plus, I could be responsible for killing my own offspring. Isn’t that infanticide? In this case I think we could call it insecticide and if ever I get done for it, I'll plead justifiable insecticide - I'd like to see them argue against that one!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

They knew I was coming

Look at this! A beachside restaurant in Unawatuna had laid out all its tables with a Saltire especially for me. It's funny here. Everyone keeps asking if I'm English or British and I say no I'm Scottish. (It's only fair to make the distinction seeing as the Scottish Government is funding us all to be out here.) Anyway, last night I was in a shoe shop buying a pair of shoes I'd managed to wreck before even trying on (which made the trying on a bit pointless but I did it anyway, I think to try and pretend that I'd MEANT to wreck them, I liked the scruffy look! Anyway ...) and the guy asked if I was from England. I said no, I'm from Scotland which is near England.

"Ah yes, I know"

says he

"Scotland is one of England's colonies"!

Thought that might amuse some people :-)

In defence of my country

I got here a week ago last Saturday with no money having taken someone's advice that I wouldn't need any till I got to Galle. So I get to Galle and the driver very kindly takes me to see his friend a local shopkeeper. He will change my Scottish notes but won't give me as much as I'd get for English ones. It's not easy explaining why you're not having that when you don't speak Sinhala.

So on the Monday I went to the bank and there was much consternation over our banknotes. Part of the confusion was that I had Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank notes and they just didn't get why there were 3 different types. I pointed to the word Sterling but they just looked at me as if I'd stamped it on myself. In the end they refused to take them.

Finally a friend very kindly offered to take them to Colombo (where she lives) and exchange them there but when I asked would she fight them to the death to get the same as English notes, she said 'fraid not. Result is that I'll be going back to Glasgow with them. There's a principle at stake and it's not often I compromise on my principles! Ah well, I'll have a good night out when I get home :-)

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Overcoming Guilt - is it possible?

I’m getting more used to living in Sri Lanka but I’m not getting more used to the guilt. It’s interesting to observe how other people deal with being asked for money or to buy something. I like to hear how they deal with it internally and I am very conscious of my own reactions and motivations. It’s great because I really need something to over-analyse and beat myself up about – not!

I knew it would be a challenge for me to deal with these kind of things and it’s something I don’t find easy to deal with in Scotland so I had it pencilled in as one of the things to “sort out”. I’m not sure however, that I will ever really be able to do that.

At the weekend I went to Unawatuna, a beautiful beach resort that was wrecked by the tsunami. I met with other volunteers but at one point I went to the beach by myself for a couple of hours. In a 15 minute period I was approached by 5 people, one after the other. All were selling, none begging, although I did give one guy money rather than buy from him.

If this kind of thing would put you off coming to Sri Lanka on holiday, don’t let it. It’s very easy to say no and you don’t get pestered. Most tourists seemed to pretend that they’re not there and they just move on. My trouble is I don’t want to just say no and I definitely don’t want to ignore them. I'm not criticising those who do because who knows how I will deal with it once I've been here a while. But right now, I want to explain why I can’t buy from everyone. I don’t want them thinking I’m some rich white Westerner who couldn’t care less that they have no money. That, I suppose, is about making ME feel better but it’s not just about that.

I think I’m going to do separate postings about the different people I met on the beach because they were all interesting. Everyone has different views on how you deal with it all. A Sri Lankan told me to just ignore all of them. One volunteer told me it gets easier as time goes on and you come to realise that you can’t help everybody. And another said that I should stop trying to overcome the guilt because I won’t be able to. I think what she meant was that I am right to feel guilt about this massive gulf between rich and poor in the world. I think I agree with her. It will be interesting to see how my thinking develops on this one but for now I think I’ll have to accept that this is how I feel and I just have to live with it until I figure out some other way. My life will still be a lot easier than some of theirs, guilt or no guilt.

I'm a comedienne!

Laughter is the best medicine they say and I think I’m making a lot of people healthy out here because they keep laughing at me! Who needs Merci Corps or The Red Cross when there’s me? I asked my boss’s daughter if she wanted to come for a walk to the lunch shop today and she did. Well, she probably didn’t (she’s only 16) but was too polite to say no. She laughed all the way – first when the bush hit me in the face, then when I nearly fell down a drain (tried to explain we don’t play Dodge the Drains in Scotland) and when we got to the lunch shop you’d have thought I was the funniest person alive.

The girl in the lunch shop asked my new friend (in Sinhala) what she was doing with me and she duly translated. So I said I’d spotted her in an office, hit her over the head and dragged her out so I didn’t have to walk alone. Once she’d translated the two of them dissolved into a fit of the giggles – maybe I’m funnier than I thought or maybe it was a duff translation. And now we’re back in the office and both she and her sister are laughing at my attempts to speak Sinhala. They are lovely girls but to get my own back I’m going to teach them Weegie. Seeing as I appear to be entertaining them, I think returning the compliment is the least they can do!

I knew it'd be the fault of a Glaswegian!

Have just read an email from a friend who was responding to my post comparing Glasgow buses (and drivers) to Sri Lankan ones and he tells me the following:

"In actual fact, many of the Sri Lankan buses, ARE Glasgow buses! Many of the old Leyland buses and Lorries you see in Sri Lanka were made in the old Albion / Leyland plant in Scotstoun."

He then admits that "this comment betrays too much knowledge of vintage commercial vehicles than is healthy!" but isn't it a small world. Maybe I'll feel a bit safer on the buses here in future. Nah, thought about that for a second and I'd say the chances of that are zilch. I will explain later when I tell you about my second bus experience which was not quite as successful!

Quick Update

I've been away for the weekend and come back to a couple of messages from people asking if I'm okay. They were mainly from people who keep up to date with international news and it's probably best to say no more than that here. The answer is yes, we're all absolutely fine and following all the advice we're being given. I'm sure we'll all continue to do that. Anyway Indygal's invincible don't you know that? Will post later today with continuation of the adventure ... for now, though, better do what I'm here for and work!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Worse than Glasgow buses

The other day when I was going on about how pleased I was to have been able to go out and buy my lunch "all by myself" I must've been feeling brave because I did something else, altogether much braver in my view. I got on a bus! Now I am not a fan of buses at the best of times but this was scary because it was packed. It was packed in a way that if we did it in Glasgow the driver would get sacked. And I've already told you about Sri Lankan driving, it's mad!!! The nicest thing though? An old lady got up to give me her seat. "Why thank you" said I. It was a huge relief to be sitting down I can tell you. Nah, only kidding, I politely refused and profusely thanked. I told Muna who I work with and she said it was because "you are visitor to Sri Lanka". Isn't that really nice? We think we're friendly in Scotland but I'm not sure I've seen that happen terribly often. Correct me if I'm wrong ...