Monday, 31 March 2008

Update on my friend for life ...

Quick update on my problems with the Bank of Scotland. For those who didn't read the previous post and who can't be bothered reading it now, the summary is this:

  • Told them I was coming to Sri Lanka so their fraud team wouldn't cancel my card when I started using it out here.
  • Card worked for two weeks and then they cancelled it.
  • Phoned them from Sri Lanka to complain. They had no knowledge of me being here so took all my details, promised it would be fine and within 24 hours card was working again.
  • 6 weeks later card cancelled again.
  • Groundhog day - have identical conversation where they tell me they know nothing about me being here and take all my details again. Unfortunately, it being Easter, it's nearly a week before they can fix the problem and they've no emergency procedures in place so I'm stuck in a developing country thousands of miles from home with no money.
  • Wednesday last week - card working again. I'm frustrated but relieved it's all sorted out AGAIN.

So, the update is that on the THURSDAY, they cancelled it again!!! Once again I have no access to MY money. I cannot afford to spend yet more money phoning them and really, what is the point? If I have to hear the words "you should have told us you were going to Sri Lanka" one more time, I'll scream.

So, my "friend for life" the Bank of Scotland is doing nothing to help me but some of my fellow volunteers who I've been friends with for only a few short weeks are making sure I'm okay. It's not the point though. As far as my bank is concerned last week I was stranded in the Hill Country in Sri Lanka with no money and nobody to help me and they did nothing except "sympathise".

What they think I'm doing now I've no idea because they've not used any of the contact details I've provided over and over, to find out. Anyway, Thea has worked out a complicated but (hopefully) effective way for me to get money without leaving my friends short so I better go and sort that out before the BoS decide to suspend my online banking too!

Friday, 28 March 2008

Suba Upandinayak Waywa

That's Sinhala for "we wish you a happy birthday" and the photo shows Muna, my colleague, celebrating her 27th birthday today with Thea, my new housemate, friend and work colleague. Thea doesn't like this photo but seeing as she's passed my blog on to all her friends and family ('hello Thea's friends and family') on the basis that if we're living and working together, that's "just like being me" and there's no point in duplicating effort (no point in HER doing it that is), it's tough! Besides I like the photo and I'm sure her family will too. Anyway not had time to blog about our wonderful weekend yet but will try to write over the weekend and update on Monday. Off to say goodbye to housemate Donna at the Happy Banana in Unawatuna tonight and spending the weekend at the beach to say goodbye to Anne who'll be leaving Hambantota in a couple of weeks. Both are headed to India and shortly after I'll be going to Singapore. So it'll be a fun weekend but a little bit sad too. Ciao for now.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Bank of Scotland - a friend for life?

Some time before I came to Sri Lanka, my friend Mary warned me that her card had been stopped out here because she didn’t let the bank know she was coming. I thought it sounded a bit daft and was sure I hadn’t heard that before. However, I duly went into the Bank of Scotland in Gordon St in Glasgow, waited in the queue and informed the teller. She laughed, told me to have a nice time but said she’d no idea why I was telling her this. I explained and she said no, they had no need to know. Fine.

Two weeks after getting here my card stopped working. I called the Bank at great expense, not least because their answer message says to press one if you wish to manage your existing account – but they don’t tell you that’s only if you don’t need to speak to someone. You then find they have nothing to press for: “my card has been stopped for no particular reason and I’m stranded in Sri Lanka”, and have to start the call all over again. Anyway that’s all besides the point.

When it happened two weeks after getting here, it was sorted out pretty quickly. The explanation was that I hadn’t told them I was coming to Sri Lanka. Grrrr. So, I gave them my address out here, my mobile number, my landline number, my date of leaving SL, my date for going to Singapore, my date for arriving in Glasgow, my shoe size etc etc and was promised no more problems.

Just over a fortnight ago I was in Colombo for a weekend and couldn’t use my card. I assumed it was the ATM that had the problem and ended up borrowing money from a friend – something I hate doing.

At the weekend there I went to Kandy assuming my card was fine. I tried to use it but again, something was wrong. I phoned the bank from my mobile once again costing me a pretty rupee only to be told that it MIGHT be because I hadn’t told them I was coming to Sri Lanka. Talk about Groundhog Day! “You see, you really ought to let us know before you travel abroad” I was told. I repeated my entire story, told her not only had I done it in person but I’d already been through all this 6 weeks ago on the telephone from Sri Lanka and they had all my contact details so had there been a problem, surely someone could have called me.

I explained to her that I was in Sri Lanka, a developing country, by myself, as a volunteer with no income and I needed access to my money. This was on Friday last week and she informed me that IF it was a temporary stop because I was in Sri Lanka, they could sort it out for me but not until this THURSDAY!

Apparently every single person who could normally have helped me was on holiday for Easter. Apparently there are no emergency procedures in place to deal with what this was – an emergency. Apparently there was nobody I could talk to about it. She was very sorry but I’d have to wait and she sympathised but really, I should have informed them! Can you believe that?

It’s really not a nice feeling at all to be stranded thousands of miles from home with no money and no access to any. And I think the Bank of Scotland should be ashamed to have put me through that. I cannot believe they have no emergency procedures they can use. Luckily we had paid our transport in advance but what if I hadn’t? I really could have been stuck and although I’ve never felt in danger over here, I think I certainly would have been if I’d had to rely on the Bank of Scotland as my only “friend for life”.

Anyway I was still left with the problem that the person I spoke to last Friday didn’t know if there was a temporary stop on the card or a permanent one. The latter would have meant ten working days for a new card to be made and a further 6 for it to arrive in SL. I really would be in trouble then.

So yesterday, Tuesday, when they were all back from their holidays, I called again. Had to repeat myself over and over (what is wrong with these people?) before she understood that I needed to know whether it was a temporary or permanent stop. All she could do apparently was email the “abroad” team to ask them to re-activate the card. She couldn’t speak to them, they do not have the facility to do that. She could only email.

“And if it turns out after you’ve emailed them that it’s not a temporary stop, what will happen?” I asked.

She couldn’t answer that. She eventually said she’d speak to the fraud team to see if there was any other reason for the stop. Unfortunately my mobile ran out of credit before I got the chance to find out. So they’ve cost me a fortune, spoiled some of my time out here, let me down really badly – and now, not only do I not have money, I don’t have any credit in my phone. And no, they’ve not called me back. Nice way to treat someone who’s been your customer for 23 years!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

I'm on the Top of the World ...

... looking down on creation as the song goes! I left Galle last Wednesday afternoon and I got back last night (Monday) having had the most exciting time travelling round Sri Lanka. What an amazing, stunning, wonderful place to be. Myself and three friends hired a van and driver and we were like the Famous Five traipsing round the Hill Country. We all agreed that we would find it difficult to find the words to describe our trip adequately.

Serendipitous is perhaps not quite the right word but it really felt like every corner we turned, we turned at the right time and in the right direction. We accidentally stumbled upon so many "happenings" Each one reminded me of my first impressions of Sri Lanka the day I arrived when I described it as being like "an assault on the senses". So much to see, hear, feel, smell and taste and often all at the same time.

I'll list where we went to give you some idea of how much we managed to fit in and over the next couple of days I'll post about each of them but I think my friends are right and we'll never be able to quite do it justice.

  • Wednesday 4pm - myself and new housemate, friend and colleague Thea leave Galle for Colombo.

  • Wednesday 8pm - arrive at the big city.

  • Thursday 8.30am - work meeting with Shakthi Organisation.

  • Thursday 3pm - Anne and Sally arrive from Hambantota and Tangalle and we head off to Kandy!

  • Thursday 7pm - arrive at the Expeditor guest house at Kandy.

  • Thursday 8pm - stumble upon a Hindu Festival of thousands.

  • Friday 10am - arrive at Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage.

  • Friday pm - guided tour of Dalada Maligawa, Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy.

  • Friday evening - Kandy Arts Association to watch Kandyan Dancing and back to the Temple to see the casket with the tooth.

  • Friday evening - dinner at the guest house.

  • Saturday morning - Thea and I go for a swim at another hotel and join the other two after for a wander round the markets.

  • Saturday lunchtime - we visit the hotel Helga's Folly. The owner is the inspiration for the Stereophonics song Madame Helga.

  • Saturday pm - we make our way to Nuwara Eliya further into the Hill Country, a four hour drive.

  • Saturday evening - arrive at the St Andrew's Hotel in N/Eliya and had dinner with other friends who were touring the Hill Country.

  • Saturday night - we were unhappy that the staff of St Andrew's didn't seem to know much about Scotland or even that they had any connection so we ended up having an impromput ceilidh and singalong with them till 3.30am. Fantastic night and apologies to all the other guests.

  • Sunday morning - Easter Sunday so we persuaded the hungover staff to give us boiled eggs to take away and had a picnic on the road to Ella.

  • Sunday evening - arrive at Ella and have wonderful dinner wrapped in a banana leaf!

  • Monday morning - start our 7.5 hour drive home with many stops along the way.

  • Monday evening - arrive home at 5.30 to baking sunshine, unpack, wash, dry, iron and get ready for work the next day.

As I said I'll post later about many of these things but for now, I've work to do and that, after all, is the reason I'm here. I will end by saying that the whole trip really did make me feel like I was on top of the world and the photo, much as I don't like it, sums that feeling up!

Toilets in Sri Lanka

I have been finding the toilet situation in Sri Lanka one of the most difficult challenges of all. Even in Scotland I do not like using public loos and I hate people talking about all matters related to it. Out here, some of my friends are staying with families and using crouch down outdoor toilets which I think is one of the things I would not have coped with at all. I have thus far managed to avoid using one on my travels which is just as well as I'm finding the Westernised toilets difficult enough to deal with as it is.

However, the next time I am screwing my nose up at the insects buzzing around the loo or the lack of loo roll (in Sri Lanka they use a "scoosher" rather than paper - it's a hand held shower attachment and no doubt much more hygienic, but I just can't!) I will remind myself just how fortunate I really am and perhaps it will put an end to my pampered princess act!

Last Thursday I met with Shakthi Organisation. It's a women's organisation in the Trincomalee District of Sri Lanka and my company is trying to get funding for them. We had to meet in Colombo as I'm not allowed to go to Trincomalee for security reasons so you know right away that it's an area with its problems.

Anyway the impressive Chief Executive, a 27 year old woman who started Shakthi when she was just 19 told me something that made me feel more than a little shamefaced at my aversion to public loos. She told me she visited one village in the area and of the 75 households, only ten percent had any form of toilet at all. That means around 68 houses don't even have an outside crouch down toilet. 'So what on earth do they do?' I asked and she told me they simply have to use the jungle.

Then she told me the reason they are so desperate to build a toilet for everyone, is because of the ongoing problem of men sexually assaulting and raping women using the jungle as a toilet. I found that really hard to hear and I understand why many people turn away from stories like that because it's too much to think about, it's too horrific and easier to pretend you never knew about it in the first place. But these women have no choice, they live with it every day and night.

I will do whatever I can to help secure funding for them but I'll do it knowing they are not the only ones. In developing countries across the world people are without the most basic things that we in the West take for granted. What I have been steadfastly avoiding using since I got here, will seem like luxury to these women and more importantly it will be safe. Yet again I am reminded of how very unfair this world can be.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Tunnock Tastic Thewliss

Sorry, couldn't think of another headline ... just had to say a huge thank you to one of my favourite people Alison Thewliss or should that be Councillor Alison Thewliss? I got home last night to a parcel which had the address written on an SNP postit and inside a birthday card, a collection of Edwin Morgan poems, some YSI badges, some Cadbury's Buttons and best of all a packet of Tunnock's Caramel Wafers "to remind me of home". You should have seen the smile on my face.

Alison is a very thoughtful person anyway but because she has lived abroad I think she knows how important it is to have contact with your friends and family back home. An email or text is great and you know you've not been forgotten. A phone call or something through the post is even better which is why I was so pleased to get this. My good friend Mary McCabe also sent me a copy of a book she'd had published some years back. It's based in Glasgow and I'm really enjoying reading it.

When I complain to my friends about their lack of contact they invariably tell me:

* they expected I'd not want to hear from them as they've nothing new to say (not so, it's good to know everything is normal back home, I once even requested a mundane email from a friend just so I knew nothing had changed),

* they read my blog so know what I'm up to on a daily basis (great, but I want to know what you're up to, too),

* they're too busy running the country (yeah right, how many folk use that old chestnut?)

So, thank you to all my friends and family who've kept in touch while I've been here and keep the emails, calls and letters coming - the odd Tunnock's Caramel Wafer is also very acceptable!

Whirlwind Romance

I'm having a whirlwind romance with Sri Lanka these days. I'm sad to realise that I've very little time left, in fact I leave 5 weeks tomorrow! And it's got me thinking about all the things I have to do before I go. So I'm very happy that there are some poya days and public holidays this week because myself and three friends are heading off on a whirlwind tour of the country.

Later today I leave for the capital city of Colombo again for a meeting first thing tomorrow morning with an organisation from the Trincomalee District. Once that's over with we're going here to see the elephants. Then we'll head to Kandy for Poya Day - Kandy is full of temples and houses the Sacred Tooth of the Buddha so we're picking the perfect day to go there. I really want to go to the Lake Club and watch the colourful Kandyan dancing with the firewalking finale!

After that we'll head further into the Hill Country, hopefully visit some tea estates and some of the towns and villages along the way where we can indulge in a bit of hillwalking. And finally, we'll end up on safari here at Uda Walawa National Park. That's the plan anyway.

So, I'll be looking for internet cafes but in case I don't get any this may be my last update till next Tuesday. Then, I'm looking forward to making the most of my final month in this amazing country before returning to my own amazing country and equally stunning views.

Don't lick your fingers Anne!

That's what my dad used to say to me and there were echoes of my dad in Sri Lanka for me last week. I decided that "anything you can do, I can do better" and thought I'd join with the Sri Lankans I was on a workshop with and eat with my fingers. Yes I know, I'm bad enough with a knife and fork but you know, it didn't look that hard and I used to do it as a baby which was not THAT long ago, so I thought I'd give it a go.

It was okay apart from a few snorts of derision mainly coming from folk with knives and forks I have to say. Anyway I got through the meal eventually (great for a diet because it takes so long) and was licking my fingers clean when I heard my boss say "don't lick your fingers Anne". Apparently it's considered rude and apparently the way I was doing it - one finger in my mouth at a time is generally thought to be suggestive at best and filthy at worst. Oops, you see how easily folk can get the wrong impression of you in another culture!!! I'm back to using a knife and fork and I've stopped licking the plate in case that also means something.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Paying through the nose for nothingness

Am currently away with work on a two day business planning workshop. We're staying here at the Barberyn Hotel which they advertise as giving the "authentic Ayurvedic experience". I was very excited at the prospect but I think my excitement was something to do with the fact that it costs a fortune to stay here and I wasn't paying. Materialism rules again sadly. However again I'm learning the lesson that value has nothing to do with cost. It's nice, the rooms are lovely but if I had to stay here for a holiday, I'm quite sure I'd die of boredom. It's just yoga, massage, rest, relaxation, meditation, holistic food and no alcohol. Which is fine for a day but some people are here for 3 weeks and I've yet to see anyone smile. One woman said a member of staff threatened to report her for leaving her room when she'd been ordered to relax lol. The other thing is that being Ayurvedic they don't want to be cruel to anyone not even mosquitoes. So they don't spray the rooms and the mossies just gaily fly in the gaps in the windows. Still, if it's solitude and beautiful peaceful surroundings you want, it's perfect. I can only take so much peace and quiet!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Foreigners in Colombo

Quick story (no doubt one of many) from my weekend in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. On the Friday night we met up with some friends at the Gallery Cafe. We had a really good laugh and it was nice to be out socialising again. When we finally headed home at 2am it was in a tuk tuk. I was surprised by the number of police and soldiers around and the number of people they stopped and searched. I was wondering if we'd be searched but each time we approached a check point our driver stuck his head out and shouted "foreigners officer"! Apparently there's no need to search the "foreigners"! It's funny because it's quite non PC at home to refer to people as foreigners. Here it's almost a compliment. It stops you getting searched and judging by the number of clubs with signs outside saying "foreigners only" it's thought to be a good thing. Don't know that I'd be happy with that in Scotland and not sure how the average Sri Lankan feels about it. Anyway the constant "foreigners officer" made us laugh - or maybe that was the alcohol!!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Big Smoke!

Well, it's Sunday, nearly 12 noon and we're about to check out of our lovely hotel. My friend Anne and I decided to treat ourselves and we stayed at the Galle Face Hotel - such decadence but well worth it. It's been a non stop weekend making up for all the nightlife I've been missing in Galle. Have to say though, I'm looking forward to getting back to the peace and quiet in Galle where you don't suddenly look up as you're swimming and see a soldier complete with rifle above you. They are everywhere, they have to be but it serves as a constant reminder of the problems over here and in Galle we're largely protected from that. So it's been exciting and fun but it'll be nice to be home.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Adventure getting more and more hectic

What a week it's been. Yesterday I got picked up at 6.30am to go on 'field trips'. We travelled across the country to visit a garment factory that now employs people with disabilities. We went from there to visit a business creation organisations to hear how they'd been convinced to focus on people with disabilities and finally at night we visited a woman with a visual impairment who runs her own business. I say finally. We left her at 7pm but it took till 11pm to get home. It might not have taken so long had I not been desperate to find a bathroom (soooo polite). The driver of our minibus took us to his sister's house in the jungle and the whole family came out to greet us and feed and water us again! It was a fantastic day and even when I was half asleep staring into the black night as we drove for hours through windy narrow jungle roads, I just felt completely alive and exhilarated. Sometimes I still think "am I really here?". Well, I am and every day brings more excitement.

Today's excitement? Heading to Colombo for the weekend. They have nightlife there you know!! I love the quiet in Galle but it's time for this country girl to head to the bright lights of the big city. We're meeting up with a few of the other volunteers out here, going shopping, getting our hair done, sunset cocktails, dinner - and tonight, we're being taken out to somewhere "sophisticated" by a fellow Glaswegian. I told him he won't be allowed in but maybe if he's with us ... !

PS Remember the rat? He's a mouse, he was in our humane trap this morning munching nervously on the Snickers bar that he deprived us of. Now all I have to do is convince Donna he's not a cute pet but good news!!

PPS Remember the b**b that they defused down the road from my house? That was the security matter I was referring to. It was a box of sand. Even better news lol.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


Ok so I know this is not really an example of true deprivation but I only have time for trivia today as I'm off on some field trips to Martara and Tangalle shortly. Yes, so, deprivation. Last night I booked myself into a nice hotel for the night where, apart from having Air Conditioning and drinking coffee, I did something I've not done since 24th January this year. I watched TV!!! Yes I have been deprived of TV for over six weeks. As someone who some years ago was a bit of a telly addict (with no desire however to appear on that daft Noel Edmonds show), I think I'm doing well. I used to record the following soaps:

Coronation Street
Home & Away
Prisoner Cell Block H

I also recorded documentaries, political programmes and dramas. And I watched them all. Countdown I found was much better when pre-recorded as you could fast forward the talking bits and just play the game. Around 3 years ago I moved house and couldn't work my VCR. At first I felt slightly panicked. How would I cope if I didn't know what Jack was up to in Corrie? But the panic passed and I soon learned to cope with watching only what happened to be on if I happened to be in!

Gradually I dropped all of the soaps except Corrie. I continued to watch a fair bit of TV or at least have the TV on in the background. And then I came here. I have no TV and it's fine. I was so busy adjusting to all the other changes that TV deprivation was the last thing on my mind. And whilst the novelty of watching it last night was great, after a while I was bored and switched off.

So, it will be interesting to see how that changes when I get back home especially as I'll be living with my soap addicted mum for the first couple of weeks!

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Halfway there and I'm livin' on a prayer!

Today I have just passed my midway point in Sri Lanka. I arrived on 26 January 2008 to stay for 90 days. Today is day 46 and I am on the home strait now. I'm not sure whether to be happy or sad about that. For the last few weeks I've been wishing I could stay for longer. My boss has asked me to stay for six months but there are things I think I probably need to go home for. When I'm loving living here and wishing I could stay on, I wonder how much of that is to do with the fact that I KNOW it's only for a fixed period. Would I feel the same if I were staying for longer. And how much of my desire to stay is due to some natural (I hope) trepidation about what I have to go back to?

The days when I am happy I'll be going home soon (well, in 6.5 weeks) sometimes just creep up on me from out of nowhere and for no particular reason other than I love Scotland, my friends and family and my life there. Other days, there are very particular reasons and the last few days has been fairly testing. Not testing in a terrible way, I'm managing to stay positive but it's taking some effort I can tell you.

I wasn't sure whether to post about this or not but this blog is about my (not too) personal journey and I think it's important to talk about this and compare to the last similar incident. I say similar (I am referring to the cockroach) but I guess I should be glad of what happened on Sunday night as I realise cockroaches are trivial in comparison to certain other things ....

.... like what I found when I opened the kitchen drawer.

Yes, as UB40 used to sing so well: "there's a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do?"!!!

Right there in the kitchen drawer. "What did you do?" asked one of my sisters. "I shut the drawer, what do you think I did?"! Like I'm going to make it some dinner!

I sat in a very high up place and watched my impossible-to-scare housemate Julia sterilise all the cutlery (which we now keep on the worktop). Last night I directed from a distance as action woman Donna tried to hunt it down! Whatever it is that's wrong with these two, I hope they're never cured of it.

I didn't cry - please be impressed by this. I may have leapt up in the air high enough to represent Scotland at the High Jump at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games but I remained calm. And I stayed in the house. Three people have now expressed their astonishment that I who, as the same sister said, go into a cold sweat if I see an earwig, reacted so rationally. In fact they all said they'd have expected me to have moved myself into the Ladyhill Hotel within half an hour.

I still don't feel happy about it, still feel sick at the thought but when you compare this to a month ago when I moved out of the guest house because there was a cockroach, I think I'm possibly toughening up. I say "possibly" as I'll reserve judgement in case of delayed shock!

As one of my friends said earlier, it's been a bit of a week - lightning, rats and today, some security issues that have unsettled us all but probably better not to talk about on the blog.

This morning I got a call from Donna to tell me she'd had a weird wiry looking black spider land on her leg while she was in a tuk tuk. She flicked it off and it landed on the driver who immediately stopped and got rid of it. He told her it was highly poisonous and had it bitten her he'd have had to take her to hospital immediately. Thankfully it hadn't.

So it's been a bit of a hair raising few days. My housemates are amused by the irony that it was me who found the rat. My friends back home will just think "of COURSE it was Anne"!

As I said these are the days when I would like to be home. Still, "would like to be" is an improvement. Six weeks ago I was desperate to go home, even four weeks ago I wished I could go home. Today, I would just like to be at home for a day and then come back. I said at the start this would be one of the most significant experiences of my life. I don't know if I realised quite how significant, quite how amazing, quite how tough but I'm beginning to now. And even on days like today, I'm very grateful for all of it.

Well, maybe not the rat but even that has a potentially positive aspect because again according to that sister, this is the Chinese Year of the Rat - although quite how that means finding one in your cutlery drawer is a good thing is beyond me!

Monday, 10 March 2008

My 1st birthday in Sri Lanka

Yep, it was certainly different spending my birthday in Sri Lanka. It really did feel strange, I have to say, being so far away from my family and friends but I got some nice texts and finally my cards arrived today. Plus, my fantastic friends in SL made it a great day!

It started at 5.30am when myself, Julia and Anne (who'd come all the way from Hambantota, actually all the way from Inverness to be accurate) arose to go up the stairs at the back of the house and watch sunrise. Our landlord lives behind us and has a balcony area with tables and chairs, and Julia made a pot of tea and brought it up with a birthday cake (she's a Virgo!). It got light and we weren't sure if that WAS sunrise - it was lovely but no sun. And then, suddenly, the sun appeared. It was stunning. The views are amazing anyway but watching the sun come up was just fantastic.

Around 8am we headed to Unawatuna beach where we stayed till 5pm. I can think of worse places to go. The weather was great and I was in and out of the water like a yo yo. We had planned to go snorkelling (my first time) but the water got too choppy so we just drank Pina Coladas instead.

At night, as you can see from the photo, we went to the cinema. We saw this film Siri Raja Siri which was brilliant. It's strange how you can follow even the nuances of a film despite not understanding a word of it. It's about a little boy who wins a scholarship to a posh school in Colombo. But the posh school takes him far far away from his village and he has trouble settling in especially when he gets bullied by the fat (of course!) boy. I was getting fair carried away with the injustice of it all I can tell you!

Anyway had a fantastic time and although I missed the people I'd normally be spending my birthday with, my friends here more than made up for it. Particularly the ones who brought chocolate, jewellery and wine!

The weekend continued on Sunday (you know what I mean) and I spent Sunday learning a lot more about the Sri Lankan way of life which I'll blog about later in the week.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Friday, 7 March 2008

You look like a monkey ...

... and you live in a zoo!

That's the version of Happy Birthday that one of my sisters insists on singing to me every year - obviously on my birthday, 8th March, which is tomorrow! Another one. Not fair. However, I've decided to shock everyone and admit my age today. Despite the fact that I can't quite relate to being this age, I clearly AM this age (checked and double checked the birth certificate, made my mum take a lie detector test and it's true) and therefore it's about time I faced up to it.

Oh God, I feel about 10 now and like I'm going into the headmaster's office to admit to doing something really bad! Don't want to, don't want to. Anyway I'm not 10. I am ..... 41!! I know, it's ridiculous that I should have got to this age and tomorrow, I'm obviously going to be 41+1. It'll take me roughly 364 days to be able to say the actual number out loud.

I've been practising saying it and last night Ruk the Tuk (my name for a driver I know) asked me how old I was going to be. So I told him. His reply was (and I tried very hard to see this as a compliment): "but you are so very handsome"!!

I am not sure why it bothered me so much before. Maybe because most of my friends seem to be a lot younger than me these days. Some have advanced to my age and some are EVEN OLDER (quite substantially in some cases, you know who you are) but most are a good ten years younger. Perhaps it's because I've not achieved anything like what I thought I would by this age but that's what comes of being obsessed with politics. And a little bit of it is because there were particular people I didn't want to know.

But now, I don't care, I really don't. I'm living in Sri Lanka where the average person has many more things to worry about than their age. Someone I know over here is 28, she lives with her parents, siblings, husband and child. She's up at 5am every day cooking meals for the day ahead, cleaning, washing - all without the aid of machinery. She goes to work at 8am, she works all day, she never gets more than 3 days annual leave at a time, she goes home and cleans, looks after her child, watches an hour of the soaps, prepares for the next day and goes to bed again. She never complains and I am certain when she is 41 she will not be moaning about it - probably not even when she's 41+1!

So, even if I am starting to look like the endangered purple faced monkeys above me in the photo, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to start using platitudes like "you're only as young as you feel" because that's rubbish, you're whatever age you are - face up to it people! And the other one that drives me mad: "I don't feel any different to I did when I was 21". There is clearly something wrong with people like that and I ain't gonna be one of them.

I resolve from now on not to give my age another thought. I can hear all my friends laughing in disbelief now but it's true. Well at least I'll give it a go .... right, I'm away to practise not caring.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

I no longer want to die an interesting death - OK God?!

When my friends and family back home were fussing about me being so far from home and the potential dangers to me (they know I used* to be jinxed), I would just say: "Look, I've always wanted to die an interesting death so as long as it's not boring, don't worry about me"! I don't actually want to die yet (yet? EVER!!) but what I meant was I wouldn't mind if I got a few headlines and went out with a bang.

As one friend who's in the Polis said to me in a very stern voice: "Now listen here young lady (he did call me young, he DID!) I've watched many a person die an unusual death and not one of them looked like they were having fun"!

Anyway after my brush with what was nearly an interesting (if not unique) death I've changed my mind. In Galle, we've just had the scariest rainstorm ever. Thunder, lightning and floods. The office is full of people today all stifling giggles at my tendency to leap out of my chair with every crack! Anyway my boss came in to tell me to switch off and unplug everything which I did. Just before I unplugged we heard a very loud crackling noise rippling through the office and everyone set off to investigate.

Half an hour later, thunderstorm over, none the wiser about the noise, I sit down to get on with work and what do you know? The hard drive's done in. Apparently the loud crackling was my hard drive being struck by lightning. Just as well I decided only minutes before to stop using it as a footrest then isn't it? Just as well my mother doesn't read this blog don't you think? And just as well I've decided I'm no longer jinxed and I no longer want to die an interesting death wouldn't you agree?

What kind of headlines would you get from that anyway?

"Volunteer catapulted by lightning into next door fruit shop"

- 'if she wanted a banana, she only had to ask' wept local shopkeeper / tuk tuk driver / translator / hotelier.

- 'if only she'd not decided to put her feet up on the computer and do her work like we're (not) paying her to' lamented her boss.

'she'd do anything for attention but I never thought she'd take it this far. Ah well' sighed all of her mates in Glasgow, collectively, before returning to their drinks.

Exactly, rotten headlines. Dead! And forgotten! Couldn't get much worse. So my message to God, or Buddha or whoever it is that created this planet and decided I could spend a bit more time here is this: thank you very much and I take it all back, I don't want to die an interesting death. I'll just be happy living an interesting life. I'm even referring to my being jinxed in the *past tense! I must mean business. Right, storm's gone and I've got work to do before I go swimming. Maybe I can swim TO the pool!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Indygal is on a Mission

I'm running a one woman campaign to get all the banks in Sri Lanka to agree to exchange Scottish notes and to give the same rate as they do for English notes. If you've been following the blog you'll have read of my annoyance when I couldn't change my notes. I started today by writing to one of the banks and I've had a reply already. They were asking for clarification only but at least they've read it and they're responding. I shall let you know how I get on ...

The advantage of being a foreigner!

By that I mean being a Glaswegian. Many fellow Scots find a Glasgow accent difficult enough to figure out so what chance does a Sri Lankan have? None, I’m pleased to say because it means I can entertain myself with it. Remember I do a lot of walking every day so I need something to amuse me.

Yesterday I’m walking along the beach road towards my gym. I don’t normally walk seeing as it’s an hour away but last night I thought it was an idea to completely knacker myself (remember it’s very hot) before I even got changed, for some reason.

Anyway this guy comes bounding across the road shouting “hello, where are you going?” so I stop to chat to him. He’s asking me lots of questions, paying me lots of compliments (always welcome), generally being a bit of a smoothie and then he asks why I’m going to the Lighthouse. I tell him to go to the gym.

“Ah yes” says the guy who sounded very much like he was chatting me up a minute ago “it will help with the fat bits of you”!!!

“So it will” say I laughing away “nae idea whit you’re gonnae dae about the ugly bits o’ you mind you, ya bleep bleep charmer”. He laughs too and says “yes, yes” so he clearly hasn’t heard Weegie before.

I say my goodbyes still smiling sweetly, promise that “of course” I’ll come to his house for dinner, gather my “fat bits” together (grateful that it’s only bits of me that are fat according to him), and have a little giggle to myself. I just hope I don’t forget where I am next time I’m in Sauchiehall Street and someone annoys me!

PS He wasn’t ugly but in any case I’m a firm believer that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and would not normally say stuff like that - he deserved it however!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

What am I doing here?

I don't think I've talked about my work on this blog. I work Monday to Friday 8.30 am to 5pm and so far, I've spent all my worktime in the office so yesterday I asked if I could go and see some of their work. The result of that was that today, I attended a workshop run by my company. The company I work for tries to break down the barriers to employment for people with disabilities, and also tries to change society's perceptions generally.

My job is to put together and start the implementation of a Communications Strategy including a website, recruit and train a Communications Officer and research various post tsunami funding options.

Today's workshop was in the Gintota district of Galle at a buddhist temple (bare feet again but monks aplenty so I coped). They invited people with disabilities and their families to come along and expected 40. They got 100. It was a really good experience for me. I didn't understand a word of course but the one thing I've realised being here is that you don't have to use words to communicate. Of course I must have known that but perhaps I didn't realise the extent to which you could build relationships without spoken language.

I fell in love with most of the children and I think they quite liked me. It was particularly easy to communicate with them because they are less inhibited about eye contact and smiling and expressing themselves. I spoke to so many people and I'm pretty tired now but it was great. It was also hard to take at times. Lots of people thought I could sort all their problems out and I'm not sure if that's because I'm white or if they thought the other staff could do the same.

I had one guy come up to me with his mother. He was around 30 and they showed me a letter which was in Sinhala. I asked someone else what it was and apparently he'd been discharged from the army. He seemed to want me to do something about it even though it happened 6 years ago. I understand he has a mental health problem and often one of the symptoms of that kind of thing is not believing there is anything wrong. Imagine feeling so wronged for so long. I really felt for him. And of course I couldn't do anything to help.

The only thing I could think to do was salute him. He immediately stood to attention and saluted back giving me a big smile. You see what I mean about communication - I couldn't help the guy but we had a connection for a short time. There were other stories which I may share later but I consider myself extremely lucky to have been there today.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Inflicting pain on myself

A couple of days after I arrived here I joined the pool and gym at the Lighthouse Hotel. Since then I've been going maybe three times a week to swim. I started on 20 lengths, noticed Julia was doing 30 so upped it and then Anne told me 40 lengths of this pool was half a mile so that's what I now do each time I go. But until yesterday I hadn't managed to drag myself into the gym.

So, Sunday morning, off I head to the Lighthouse. I was in a bit of a day dreamy mood, mixed with a slight touch of homesickness and had not much enthusiasm for swimming never mind the gym. So at 10.30am I said to one of the trainers, "ok show me how it all works but I'm not doing it today, I'm just swimming". "No problem" he replies. Relief all round because they can be quite determined these fitness people. We begin the "demonstration" ...


he says "now you can swim"!! But guess what - I did, I still managed 40 lengths. It's true that exercise is good for the mind as well as the body. I felt so calm and my mood improved enormously.

Unfortunately, I was so chilled out that I forgot to apply sunscreen to anywhere other than my face and arms. The result is that my back and the back of my legs are scarlet. So last night I was mainly Sleepless in Sri Lanka which is ironic as I watched a bit of Sleepless in Seattle yesterday - anyway I've woken up today expecting to be in agony and I feel normal (apart from bites, stings and sunburn) which was almost disappointing, I felt like I must have been doing it wrong. However my housemate tells me not to worry, I'll definitely be in pain tomorrow. Well, I'd better ... !

PS That's my latest photo posted above, you can see it's working eh?

Sunday, 2 March 2008


Does anyone remember when a Glasgow based publishing company wanted to set up a magazine to rival Hello and called it Hiya? Didn’t last long, wonder why. Anyway as I’ve said before in this blog, wherever you go in Galle, people say hello to you all the time. On my way to and from work, I have my “regulars” that I am on nodding or grinning terms with – roughly 300 on my 40 minute walk. (Sometimes I get to work and I’m all talked out – yes, me, can you believe that?)

Anyway, anyway (must learn not to digress so much) some I say “hello” to, some “good morning”, some “sooboow desenak” (no that’s not how you spell it) and some, the ones I feel more familiar with, I’ll just wave and shout “hiya”! Very *Weegie of me I appreciate.

The thing is “hiya” is the Sinhala word for the number 6. So it only occurred to me the other day after weeks of this that I’ve been walking to work calling out the number “six” to all and sundry! They’re very polite the Sri Lankans, if someone did that to me I’d shout “seven” back at them but then I’ve always had a very contrary side to me!

*Weegie - means Glaswegian.

A rude awakening

Saturday morning, 1st March, St David’s Day and I awoke to machine guns, canons and explosions. The initial gunshots I thought were in the next street but apparently when I hear that (and I do frequently) it’s people firing firecrackers to scare off the monkeys who descend on a garden and bring chaos to bear.

Anyway no it wasn’t firecrackers, it was obviously explosions and it went on for an hour. Julia was away for the day and she's much more level headed than myself and Donna put together so we of course hid undercover reckoning we were under siege. It has happened here before apparently. Anyway eventually we phoned our country manager who investigated and discovered it was simply the navy base carrying out maneouvres! You'd think they might've asked first lol.

I would of course have said no, have it another time as we had a party at our house on Friday night - yes, it's true, I will not let the fact that I am away from all my friends family and fellow party animals stop me. The party was great, it's the best party house I've ever lived in and I can't wait to share the "Hello" magazine style pics with you all!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Some images to share with you

I normally send out an invitation to my online photo album every week when I've uploaded my pics but I know I leave people out because I get bored putting in email addresses. If you want to see them let me know but for now here's a *few images. First, this is Olcott Mawatha (Road) which links my street to the main street. It's very smelly due to the open drains and dried fish and it's loud, colourful, dusty, dirty and dangerous but only if you try to cross the street. It's an experience and here it is (courtesy of Anne from Inverness, another volunteer out here), on a quieter than normal moment.


* PS when I said a few I was forgetting how slow dial up is - that's what we have at home - so I think we'll stick with the one for now in case I fall asleep waiting for something to happen!