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.


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!

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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6 Responses to A few stories this time

  1. ASB says:

    Wow. I always get hungry reading your food comments. Keep well, my friend. Am still living vicariously through your experiences…!

  2. Stan says:

    Hope all is going well.

  3. Carolyn Stuart says:

    So interesting to read your info. A very welcome hiatus from other news. Take care.

  4. Mick Canning says:

    Staying tuned, Kate. Fascinating stuff.

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