Confluence

This is a confluence of many themes that I hold dear, something I felt compelled to share with you.

capture

Meet Wasfia Nazreen, who shares her personal story in a way that is true to her being and touches on these themes.

In this age of running and racing … try to sit still for the 13 minutes it takes to watch this and be inspired.

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Contrasting lives

Postscript:  After reading this post, my sister Maeve offered this quotation from C. Joybell C. which is an absolutely perfect accompaniment to the intention of this post.  Thanks Maeve!

“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, both at work and socially with gatherings, and of course yoga.  I feel like I have been here forever yet it’s only been two months since I arrived.

I’m like an old Pro dishing out wisdom on living and getting around Colombo to a newly arrived Land O’Lakes guy who is here for a couple of weeks doing some work for another project.  A friend we met a few weeks back, returns home to New Zealand tomorrow night.  I’m already saying farewells yet I’ve only just arrived!  It’s the nature of this kind of work methinks.

I was at a US Thanksgiving party last night out in the ‘burbs.  I have only ever been downtown Colombo or stomping through paddy fields in the far North since I arrived, so it was interesting to check out the ‘burbs with their beautiful homes, well maintained gardens with pools, walking distance to the local school etc.  Oh, and tales of finding cobras in kitchens (two stories actually – what the ****!!).  When I calmly asked what does one do when one finds a cobra in one’s kitchen, I was told (equally calmly I might add), to back out slowly and call for help.  Apparently the gardeners know what to do.  If ever I live in a house in the ‘burbs of Colombo, I will ensure to hire a gardener.

It was an interesting group of people at the party, all working in some capacity in international development – either at NGOs or with donor agencies like myself.  Given it was a US Thanksgiving party, there were mostly Americans there with a few Aussies along with me, declaring myself a Canadian in political discussions and Irish when it came to rugby.  A pity the Ireland vs Australia rugby international was on after the party, I wonder would those Aussies have been as haughty??  Ireland won you see.

But I digress!  All I am really trying to say there is a rather significant layer of Colombo society that is made up of foreigners, hence the abundance of coffee shops, high-end bars and restaurants, gyms and yoga studios that rival any in North America, and many high-end retail stores catering to the ex-pat need for foods and brands from ‘home’.

I head to the North Central Province again this week and in preparing for my trip, it has given me pause to ponder the very different lives women in Sri Lanka lead, depending on where you come from, where you live and what work you do.

My home base is Colombo (for now) and as I go about my day to day life here, I have bumped into many young Sri Lankan women who are quite exceptional.  The ladies I work with are multi-talented, many of whom are studying for degrees or masters while maintaining a job, as well as caring for their families – raising children, cooking, cleaning etc.  Not everyone has a maid here.

I am finding there’s quite the level of optimism in Colombo with a strong sense of entrepreneurship, particularly in the creative realm.

  • One such young woman has been enticed ‘home’ for a well-paying Colombo-based job in designing wearable technology for a world-known sports brand.
  • Another young women is using her business skills to market handmade clutch bags made from beautiful fabrics, some of which are sari silks and Sri Lankan batiks.
  • Yet another worked for a large juicing chain in the US and is now returned home to produce fresh juices using traditional Sri Lankan fruits and Ayurvedic principles, all nicely packaged in mason jars with rustic-looking tags tied with twine.  They would be at home in any Wholefoods.

Granted these women are educated and from monied families, not every women in Colombo has had these same experiences.  But there is certainly a growing number of young women who are gaining independence from the shackles of traditional expectations of what they do with their lives and are embracing this relatively new freedom to do so.

Once I leave the city limits of the capital, all that changes.  Almost immediately the world is transformed and life gets far more difficult.

In and around Vavuniya, the town was under tight control of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) during the civil war and therefore a target for much of the heavy fighting.  The district suffered untold damage to it’s people, farm lands, the economy and infrastructure.  Over 300,000 were classed as internally displaced persons (IDPs) who ended up being uprooted during the civil war and moved to refugee camps far from home for their safety.

Post civil war, India was one of the primary countries who set up housing projects in northern Sri Lanka, in an effort to build replacement houses and relocate IDPs to permanent homes.  Because much of the land was littered with landmines and water sources were seriously disrupted, many could not return home to the smallholder farm they had known all of their lives.  I can’t begin to understand what that would be like – losing your home, your land that your family has farmed for generations, having to start from scratch all over again without the help of many of your family members, killed or maimed in the war itself.  To this day, there are still over 12,000 IDPs who have not yet been given permanent homes – the civil war ended in 2002.  That’s a long time to be without a home.

As part of the work I am doing, we visited one such home that was built as part of the India-sponsored housing project.  They are a rather simple design, walls of concrete with tin sheets for a roof making it exceedingly hot inside.  From what I gather, it was a rather complicated process to qualify for one of these homes and assumed there was an able-bodied male in the house to do a lot of the construction work.  Given the injuries, loss of limbs due to landmines and deaths many families suffered throughout the war, many households did not have an able-bodied man to help with construction, and the funds allocated were not enough to hire construction labour in his place.  As a result, many homes have not been fully completed.

One of the India-sponsored replacement homes I visited recently

One of the India-sponsored replacement homes I visited recently. The mother I reference below is at the entrance to the right of the photo.

Such a pity they did not follow the time-tested design of a traditional rural home such as the one pictured below.  These homes are made of mud / wattle walls with a high-pitched thatched roof to shed rainwater easily, minimal windows to keep the glare of the sun out, a pilla (verandah) to catch the cool breezes out of the heat of the sun, and separate building with half walls for the kitchen.  A house much better prepared for the heat of the tropics, far cheaper to build and could be built by all family members.

There were a handful of traditional-style homes still to be seen.

Some traditional-style homes remain but alas, not in the Vavuniya district.

Countless young men lost their lives in the civil war, decimating the population of it’s share of able-bodied young men.   Many more young men are still unaccounted for with several mass graves having been uncovered since the end of the war.  The mother pictured above at the entrance to her replacement home, thought we were from the local police when she saw the white SUV pull in.  My heart went out to her when I learned she had thought we were coming to tell her that her son’s body had been found.

Another home we visited, I counted one young man in his early 20s, the sole male of the household with 3 generations of women.  He would have been just a kid when the civil war was underway which is primarily why he is alive today.  The father and head of household plus sons in law of the daughters were all killed during the war.

I was fortunate to have these resilient women feel comfortable enough with me, to give me permission to take their photos.

 

Grandmother and granddaughter

Grandmother and granddaughter

Mother and daughter

Mother and daughter

Granny making paalchoru (milk rice) for breakfast, it being the 1st day of the month. Notice the earthen pot stand allowing for the wood to be burned underneath.

Granny making paalchoru (milk rice) for breakfast, it being the 1st day of the month. Notice the earthen pot stand allowing for the wood to be burned underneath.

I loved meeting this household of women, who proudly showed me their fields of brinjal (eggplant) and red chills, and had me, along with all the men that were with me, sit and have a cold drink and a chat.  The men said they had never been offered a cold drink before this.  I told them they needed to engage with the women the next time and listen to their stories!!

After we left the women behind, I was encouraged to hear discussion amongst the men in the vehicle, commenting on how difficult it must be for these women to feed and take care of themselves, given the conservative environment they find themselves in.  Even if these women could find a paying job, it would be frowned upon for them to work outside the home.

As we were driving through a small village, and given my clear interest in finding out how the women were doing in the district, we called into a lady who is part of an Egg Program that sells free-range eggs to to health-conscious folks in Colombo every week.  She is recognized as a community leader and has morphed into the role of team lead, responsible for the collection and readying of hundreds of eggs from her own hens and those from other women (some but not all are whom are widows).

She has also managed to get herself a microfinance loan which allowed her to purchase the tractor (see it in the background above).  She rents out this tractor to local farmers, providing her with another source of income.  And she nurtures plants and sells them to the local garden centre.  Smart lady.

She joins the ranks of many women across Sri Lanka who are breaking into the world of Entrepreneurship.  Which (again) just proves two things: do what you know best and keep it simple.  The Sri Lankan women I have met thus far, in both urban and rural environments, are doing just that.

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A few stories this time

After my recent travels to the north of the country, I have finally managed to eek out some time to download a bunch of photos of the various places I visited.

I remember it had been a real early start and after a few hours in the car, we were ready for breakfast.  We pulled over to one of the Traditional Food Centres dotted around the North.  These centres are operated by women’s co-operatives who mostly grow and always prepare the food.  Based on the traditional northern fare, they do a brisk trade with people on their way to work and school – either picking up breakfast like us, or picking up ‘rice and curry’ packets for lunch.  This particular food centre just outside of Vavuniya was set up with assistance from the EU.

The food was delicious!  Not a coffee to be had there though😦

Rice and curry is a lunchtime staple.  It’s made up of a rice base with two vegetable curries, a sambol and either fish or meat.  The outlets that serve rice and curry are usually hole-in-the-wall type places and sometimes you get a choice, other times you just get what they have made that day.

Rice and curry is a lunchtime staple.

Rice and curry is a lunchtime staple.

I’ve been sharing a rice and curry lunch with Maheshie whenever we have not got our act together to bring in our lunch from home.  At lkr 400 / $3.50 divided by 2, that’s a cheap lunch!  And no, we have never been sick.  In Jaffna, the price is even cheaper at lkr 250 and that serving could feed three people!

The heirloom rice Grantee I am working with, have introduced an additional crop to spread out the farmer’s income more evenly throughout the year.  Growing organic pomegranates is relatively easy for these farmers and as we made our way out to some paddy fields (dry and the seed paddy not yet sown because of the drought), we took a quick detour to the white pomegranate under cultivation.

White pomegranate is a different variety and much sweeter than the red ones you are used to seeing.

The sweet and delicious white pomegranate right off the bush

The sweet and delicious white pomegranate right off the bush

The farmers apply traditional methods to  control pesticides.

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Although this container is a 5L plastic water bottle, it has been re-used and filled with a concoction of water, ginger, chilli and lemons and if memory serves me right, some jaggary too (to sweeten it up).  The pests are then attracted to the concoction and stay clear of ripening fruit.

Another additional crop that farmers are growing is brinjal.  Brinjal are from the eggplant family and look more like the long Japanese eggplants than the French aubergine variety.

The farmer had just harvested the brinjal, hence the lonely brinjal on the bush.

The farmer had just harvested the brinjal, hence the lonely brinjal on the bush.

Brinjal is served at almost every meal as far as I can see, a very popular vegetable.  The farmers can sell their brinjal harvest for lkr 20 per kg but brinjal is sold to consumers in the stores for lkr 80 per kg.  Someone is making money somewhere along the supply chain, and it ain’t the farmers.  My Grantee is also looking for direct market access for their farmers’ brinjal harvest.

The brinjal farmers also practice traditional methods to manage birds.  If you look closely in this photo, you’ll see some strange looking branches with tins atop.  These are called wind ghosts.

These are branches from the palmyrah tree with a nail on top and the tin can over-hanging. When the wind blows it makes a noise, scaring away the birds.

These are branches from the palmyrah tree with a nail on top and the tin can over-hanging. When the wind blows it makes a noise, scaring away the birds.

You know, I am a city slicker.  For a long time I couldn’t tell you the difference between either end of a plant.  That is until I set up my home on Bowen Island and had a quarter of an acre to do something with.

Through online tutorials and help from my neighbours and friends on Bowen, I discovered I had a bit of a green thumb and have been growing fruit and veggies in my garden for over 10 years now.

This has given me an interest in using only indigenous seeds, growing much of my vegetables that I eat over Spring, Summer and Fall, using scarce water very efficiently, not using any form of chemicals at all, staggered planting to prolong my harvest and planting complimentary plants to facilitate good growing conditions.  The only thing I haven’t yet figured out is how to save seeds.  That’s next on my list.

Anyway, I am telling you all of this just to say, I am loving all this agriculture that I am being exposed to here in Sri Lanka!  I am surprised to realise I know more about growing than I thought.  I still have much much more to learn, but I’m at least not shaming myself in front of these small-holder farmers and agricultural technologists as I do my work out n the field.

And by the way, I have lots more photos to show you and many more stories to tell – stay tuned!

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Trying my hand at …. pottery

Maheshie my room mate and colleague is working with a women’s cooperative who make and sell ceramics.  She was keen to better understand the process and through a friend of a friend (you know how it goes), she got the name of a potter who runs small classes in pottery.  I thought why not!  I’ll take the class too. And now I am signed up for another 6 classes – I loved it!

Sabine is a Swiss national, came to Sri Lanka 17 years ago for 6 months, fell in love with a Sri Lanka, and stayed.  Now married and two kids later, she does ceramic commissions and also teaches from a small workshop at her house.  A maximum of two students at a time means we have her undivided attention, and boy did we need it.

Who knew the placing of your arms and hands, as well as the pressure applied with fingers is what makes all the difference to a lump of clay spinning on a turn wheel?  And who knew people like ourselves have a latent creativity itching to be liberated?  It was a very fun class.

The turning wheel station. Sit spread-eagled, right foot on the pedal to control the speed of the turning wheel, water and clay at the ready

The turning wheel station. Sit spread-eagled, right foot on the pedal to control the speed of the turning wheel, water and clay at the ready

I missed taking a photo where a lump of clay is splodged on the wheel and we used our hands to make a smooth dome. Then we used our index finger to create the hole in the centre of the bowl as the wheel spun. This step shows how using our fingers and applying a little pressure, the clay is gently urged upwards to make the side of the bowl.

I missed taking a photo of the step where a lump of clay is splodged on the wheel and we use our hands to make a smooth dome. We then used our index finger to create the hole in the centre of the bowl as the wheel spun. No photo of that either!  This next step shows how using our fingers and applying a little pressure, the clay is gently urged upwards to make the side of the bowl.

This step cleans up the bowl a little bit, removing obvious finger marks and leveling out the clay. Notice the wheel is still spinning, controlled by Sabine's foot.

This step cleans up the bowl a little bit, removing obvious finger marks and leveling out the clay. Notice the wheel is still spinning, controlled by Sabine’s foot.

Using a scrapper-like tool, the base of the bowl is trimmed to make it easier to cut through it with the wire. The wheel is still spinning!

Using a scrapper-like tool, the base of the bowl is trimmed to make it easier to cut through it with the wire. The wheel is still spinning!

Using a wire, the bowl is spliced off the whee. But before you do that, turn off the spinning wheel - nearly learned the hard way what would happen if the wheel continued to spin while cutting!n

Using a wire, the bowl is spliced off the whee. But before you do that, turn off the spinning wheel – nearly learned the hard way what would happen if the wheel continued to spin while cutting!n

Once cut, removing the bowl from the wheel takes confidence, decisiveness and being very gentle ..... the latter is a trait I am not well known for,

Once cut, removing the bowl from the wheel takes confidence, decisiveness and being very gentle ….. the latter is a trait I am not well known for.

The results of my work! The middle one was my first attempt and is a flower pot (that's my story and I am sticking to it. I made the small plate second and the bowl on the right third 0 they did not turn out too bad!

The results of my work! The middle one was my first attempt and is a flower pot (that’s my story and I am sticking to it. I made the small plate second and the bowl on the right third 0 they did not turn out too bad!

Next step is to leave them dry before we return to decorate them.  Sabine will put them on a kiln before Christmas – I wonder who will be a lucky recipient of my creativitiy – ha ha!

In later classes, I am keen to learn how to use moulds to make mugs and the like, and also do some free-form pieces.  This is just an introductory course so I’ll get a taste of everything.

I can’t promise any commissions just yet!

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The quirks of getting from A to B

I’ve had a bit of travel lately, journeying to the far north and east of the country, working with the few Grantees that have been assigned to me.  By Grantee I mean the small to medium-sized companies (more often than not family run) that need another person’s viewpoint on what the business needs, and then help them implement whatever that is.

My Grantees range from a small garment factory in a rural setting about 45 mins east of Jaffna.  They make mens’ clothing for the domestic market (it’s actually more local market as they currently do not distribute outside their province).  The owner is a young tailor in his 30s who primarily hires women from the local village who would not otherwise have an opportunity to earn an income for themselves without this factory.  Financial independence is a good thing!

I’ve already told you about the heirloom rice guys looking to do big and exciting things for the benefit of the farmers in the north-east trying to get back on their feet after the civil war.  Vavuniya (pronunced Vow-nia) was very hard hit by the war and continues to struggle to get back on it’s feet.

The third Grantee I am working with are also a family run business making woven polybags for the dry bulk industry – like those 10kg bags of rice, flour etc that you see for sale in Costco.  They are also entering a new market – megabags – primarily used to load dry bulk into shipping containers.  They already cover the excess orders of an Indian company run by a friend of the owner and are looking for a small number of their own distinct clients.  They too hire primarily women – both young and older who are primarily war widows or their kids have left the home.  It’s a rather innovative factory using the latest technology, a staff canteen (one of the few!) and there are plans for a daycare centre for staff.  Besides being socially aware, these guys are good business people and don’t need me much to do things, but rather help them brainstorm on ideas to build this new market.

All very interesting and new to me, it’s keeping me on my toes but in a good way.  The journey north is somewhat different to the norm and has me constantly taken aback with what is considered business as usual on the flight.

The flight to Jaffna is with a civilian operator, but is based on an airforce base on condition they provide free flights to airforce members and their families.  I’m not sure they thought this through very carefully as each flight I have been on, it’s been at least 70% full of airforce staff and their families on day trips!  Now I see why it can be difficult to get a seat on these flights.

I’ve been to many towns and rural locations in the north and north-east by now, and it seems to me the military have the prime property in every community – the most fertile land, the closest to the ocean etc.  The grounds are immaculately maintained and it’s not hard to see why.  The military are overstaffed post conflict but the government are not keen to release them from their service as yet.  For instance in Jaffna last week there were two young men killed by the police which resulted in much unrest and then a day-long boycott within the town where everything ground to a halt.  I waited to hear until Monday to assess if things had settled down over the weekend before confirming my Wednesday flight.  Because of this unrest, the military has kept it’s forces active but keeps them busy with property maintenance, running quasi tourist attractions close to the beach as well as growing heirloom rice.  Believe it or not the military are one of my Grantee’s competitors – they have an unfair advantage as they do not charge for the cost of labour, undercutting the price of this heirloom rice by about 50%.  Sheesh!

The security at the base is a little different to a regular airport.  In Colombo, a taxi can drive up to the front entrance but in Jaffna, that’s not allowed  Instead, there’s a bus that ferries passengers to and from Jaffna.  Sometimes a private car can get through but it sounds to me like it depends who is guarding the gate at the time.

I was madly finishing off water in my water bottle before going through security, but that did not bother them.  All the airforce security are looking for is weapons.  Aerosols, liquids over 100mls etc are all allowed on board as carry on.  Once through security, you are handed off to the civilians where everyone is weighed with their bags (the weight display is turned away from the public thankfully), your seat is allocated and the boarding card is handwritten.  The plane seats about 40 people.

We wait in an air-conditioned room with a whole bunch of excited kids racing around (airforce kids), the odd high-ranking military guy or government minister with his entourage and a handful of westerners who are either vacationing or working like me. Rain, monsoon or shine, you walk out to the airplane on the tarmac while military helicopters buzz and other military looking planes take off and land around you.  Up the back stairs of the plane and into your seat.

The first flight I took, no one told me the flight to Jaffna first stops in Trinco so you can imagine my panic when after 35 mins flight time, the pilot confidently announces we will be landing in Trinco shortly.  I thought I had walked out to the wrong plane!  It’s a further 35 mins  flight to Jaffna, but with all the take off and landing procedures, all in, it takes about 2 hours.  It seems the snack is only served between Trino and Colombo, and the hot drinks are only served between Trinco and Jaffna.  That is unless there’s a lineup to visit the cockpit.

Yes  you read right!  I thought visits to the cockpit were done away with after 9/11!  Not here it seems.  If there is no VIP on board, then every child of an airforce member is taken up to the cockpit to meet the pilot and have a look around.  I got to sit in row 1 on Friday only to realise the door to the cockpit is unlocked and I could probably walk right in for a tour myself.  I didn’t … only because there was  a Government Minister who boarded in Trinco and his security detail were fully armed.  For some reason the number of weapons on board did not make me feel any safer.

On arrival you walk off the plane with your hand luggage.  You can check in a few bags but this type of plane has no cargo belly so instead, the checked-in bags are loaded up at that unlocked door by the cockpit.  Most people don’t check in a bag as a result, it’s definitely discouraged to do so.

In and around Jaffna, the main mode of transport is bicycles, High Nellies to be precise. If you don’t know what I am talking about, then click the link and you’ll get the picture.  Women have little baskets in the front, all riders have an umbrella at the ready so when it rains you’ll see a sea of colours meandering along the streets.  If it’s a monsoon deluge, they head for the nearest tree for shelter and continue on their journey when the rain eases.

Once school is out, the roads are jammed with schoolkids on high nellies, all dressed in white making their way home.  Sometimes there are 3 to 4 on one bike.  No helmets of course.  The narrow two-lane roads are swarming with these kids between 2pm – 3pm and there is nothing for it but to pull in and let them go by.  A few weeks ago as Rukman and I were returning to Colombo from Polonnaruwa, we skipped lunch so we would make it through a particularly congested town before school was out.  It’s that bad.

Colombo is quite the cosmopolitan city, it’s got everything any big city usually has and is more western than I had anticipated.  So western I had to buy some western office clothes while I work in the city here.  My shalwar khameez are great for any place outside of Colombo so I’m covered up adequately for every eventuality.  It helps too keeping the mosquitoes at bay.

Although malaria free, Colombo in particular has a high instance of dengue fever – these mosquitoes come out by day, whilst the other kind come out at dawn ad dusk.  Either way, they are a little different to what I am used to.  They do not whine like those in Canada or Europe so you have no idea they are buzzing around until they pierce you unmercifully and you feel a sharp pain for maybe 40 seconds before it decreases to  dull ache.  There are so many of them, they find their way into your sleeves and down the collars of loose shirts … and oh the ankles get eaten alive!  So now I spray my whole body rather than just the exposed areas and this seems to work.  I may well be growing a 3rd ear by the time I return to Canada with all these chemicals.  We re told anything citron which works well in other places, does not work well here.  At least in Colombo there are not too many mosquitoes in buildings and such, but I’m afraid the same cannot be said elsewhere.  And most hotels do not have little hooks for me to hang my own mosquito net, so I end up spraying myself fully and sleeping with head covered under the sheets.  Even with this approach, I still manage to get bitten.  Sigh.  Maybe soon they will just get sick of me and leave me alone??

Up north, the available foods is “rice and curry” … for all three meals a day.  Rice and curry is a collective description for a huge serving of rice and about 3 or 4 spicy curries (vegetarian, chicken, shellfish (prawn or crab) or fish). Prices for rice and curry are half what they are in Colombo, and the servings are greater.  Even the smaller Colombo serving size is still big enough for Maheshie and I to share.  The Jaffna version can easily feed three people.  All very delicious flavours but I am always happy to get home so I can have curd & fruit for breakfast plus a relatively decent coffee.   Jaffna is famed for it’s crab curry and despite the messiness with cracking claws and sucking shells, it’s worth it for it’s very delicious flavours.  I haven’t yet tried to cook a crab curry …. maybe one day soon.

I’ll be back to the north again week after next, and will be heading east also in the next two weeks – it’s a long way by car to combine the trips and flight or train is not possible between these two destinations …… so we shall see.  I’m liking the travel these days, it’s still a bit of a novelty.  And seeing the promotional shots using staff for HeliTours adverts and then meeting those same staff in person as I check in, gives me a bit of a thrill.  The airforce passengers are all keen to chat and practice their English with me.  Some are recently back from overseas assignments in the South Sudan, others tell stories of life on the bases, waiting for something to happen in Sri Lanka, and one wife whispered a question to me – if Canada’s new good-looking prime minister would be relaxing the immigration rules anytime soon. Young Mr Trudeau has indeed captured the imaginations of many a Sri Lankan!

It’s probably the same world wide, but Sri Lankans are as anxious to see the outcome of next Tuesday’s US election (Wednesday morning for us) and worry if it’s going to be Trump.  Aren’t we all!!

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Time is flying …..

I can hardly believe I have been already one month in Sri Lanka, it feels like I have been longer, I think it’s because I have settled into life so well.  My Residence Visa came through yesterday!!  I can safely live and volunteer here as well as travel outside Sri Lanka and more importantly return with ease, all before June 30, 2017.  Yahoo!  It’s all thanks to my colleague Firasa and her excellent knowledge on how to navigate through the visa process.

Life is very good here in Colombo.  The apartment is lovely (you saw the photos) with great facilities (gym and pool) and it’s about a 20 mins walk from the office.  For the first few days I walked to work in the morning, but ended up a Puddly Mess, so now I take a three-wheeler to work and walk home.

When I arrived, I received dire warnings on using three-wheelers:  under no circumstances was I to use them at night because the drivers are usually drunk, always negotiate the price if it’s not metered, have some idea of the direction you are going so you can let a roar out of you if he’s heading the wrong way.  All good advice.  You can tell they are not really trusted.

Fortunately for us, Ansel has ended up being our quasi-personal three-wheeler driver.  I spell his name like this as the only other Ansel I know is Ansel Adams, but I bet I have the spelling wrong.  Ansel brought us to work a few times at a reasonable price.  He works 7am to 10pm with a break in the middle to pick his daughter up from school but is available at all other times.  As we got to know him and he got to know us, we got comfortable with one another.  So now we book him ahead of time or call him when we need him which works out perfect for us, and gives everyone who worries about us in three-wheelers, some peace of mind.  I think one has ‘arrived’ when one has a personal three-wheeler😉

Our location is perfect.  We have a choice of three supermarkets (Arpico, Keells and Cargills) all within walking distance and we now have got to know which one has good fresh produce on what days.  The local Arpico has a beer store with a small selection of wine, and there is a fully-stocked wine store across the road from where we live.  It’s important that we have our priorities straight.

There’s no decent coffee shop closeby (sigh) but maybe that is a good thing to better manage my daily caffeine intake. And the good coffee Nikita gave me as a gift from Bhaktapur is gone.  We have a day off today in lieu of Diwali on Saturday but most stores remain open.  I am currently sitting in Hansa Cafe where they serve Sri Lanka’s first specialty coffee. It’s good stuff!  I got the double espresso (no half measures when it comes to coffee).  And I’ve bought some arabica beans to french press later.  I’m raring for the day and hope the hairdresser I’ll be going to later, has also had a good coffee to hone his cutting skills.

During one of my weekend walkabouts while Maheshie was visiting family, I discovered an area with many restaurants and bars relatively close to our apartment.  So with great excitement, we went ‘out’ last Friday night after we got home from our respective work trips.  We had some delicious small plates and even got to try the local arrack, a fermented drink made from unripe coconut flowers.  It’s rather lethal with a high proof and tastes harsh the first sip, but then it gets nicer … oh dear.  I actually like the stuff!  With a little drop of water it is perfect.

Although I am not usually a beer consumer, I am enjoying a Lion Beer – a mild beer that some do not consider a ‘real’ beer, but that is probably why I like it about once a week when I can’t take the heat & humidity for one second longer.  The Lion Brewery is part of the Carlsberg family – they are everywhere.

It’s not all bad-ass living.  We go to yoga classes twice a week (actually Maheshie goes up to four times a week), I like my sleep in you see.  And we make good use of the apartment complex’s gym and pool.  We’ve also been eating very healthy thanks to our culinary skills.

Maheshie’s Mum back in the US has been giving us lots of Sri Lankan recipes, as have a few of my colleagues at work.  Although Sri Lankan by birth, Maheshie has not cooked much of her native cuisine, so it’s been a time of discovery for both of us.  We have been cooking up a storm, here’s our latest meals that have even impressed some of our sharpest critics at work!

The Polos we are told is particularly difficult to get right, and the general consensus by our colleagues was that it tasted great but the colour could be a little darker.  We then realised we had not roasted the thunapaha (which is an unroasted spice mixture) – shock and horror!  We will get it right next time, we promise.

We have a few social events planned this weekend, attend a documentary, a choral performance and Sunday Jazz Brunch (it’s a hard life).  And somewhere in between our yoga class and exploring more of Colombo, finish my 3rd assignment for a Storytelling course I am taking.  I’m enjoying it not only for the writing aspect, but also getting to know the Land O’Lakes global team that has come together for the course.

Team members are based in the US, Lebanon, Bangladesh and there are three of us in Sri Lanka, everyone with diverse and very interesting life experiences.  We connect via good ol’ GoToMeeting, phone only though as internet connections are not broadband enough for videoconferencing for most of us.  I’m really enjoying the course.  This writing lark might be a thing for me.

I’ve been travelling quite a bit of late and am heading north again next week.  Life is very different outside the city in many ways, and I welcome the break from the city lights openly.  Stay tuned for that post as I gather my thoughts.

In the meantime, Happy Diwali!

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VEGA recognizing King Ice and the BIZ+ Team in Sri Lanka

This is a pretty neat coincidence.  In a recent blog post, I talked about visiting an ice manufacturer in Trinco  and we discovered today it’s story has been chosen to be featured by VEGA Innovation as making an example of making a difference in people’s lives.  Check out the video (2 mins).

Kudos to the BIZ+ team here in Sri Lanka for being instrumental in the set up of this ice factory, and helping making it the success it is today!

Message from VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance)

This video tells the powerful story of extraordinary impact being made by skilled volunteers in Sri Lanka after the devastating war that derailed the economy. Our goal is to raise awareness of how skilled volunteers help combat global poverty and promote prosperity for disadvantaged communities around the world.

Working together with VEGA Member Land O’Lakes International Development and local partner King Ice Manufacturers, we’re helping local fishermen grow their businesses and support their families.

For more stories like this one, explore VolunteerImpact360.org.

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