Archive for January, 2009


Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Well, since the point of me being here is teaching, perhaps I should talk a bit about how that is going.

I love it!!! I really do. I always have loved teaching, and this is no exception. I mean, me, teaching Grade 2 students to sing Mary had a Little Lamb (the official version, Wez: I’ll save the others for some of the older students I think)!!! How cool is that!!

I never really thought that I’d have a problem with the teaching, but not having had any previous experience with really young kids was a bit daunting. But they are gorgeous and good fun and lovely and it is all wonderful!!

We’ve done a week at the Junior School (Grades 1-5) and a week at the Senior School (Grades 6-11). I’ve been putting together ideas for lots of activities that the students can do when we’re not around that will help them with their English.

Since it’s only been a week so far at each school we are still finding our feet. We haven’t quite worked out yet what the best way of making use of our talents is (it is probably a waste for us to do grammar since they can learn that from a book). But we, and the teachers in the schools are very enthusiastic about it.

At the Senior School, one of the Grade 6 students came up to us after a class and asked for our signatures in the back of his exercise book. This opened the floodgates. Seconds later I had 40 students around me thrusting books, scraps of paper, baseball caps, hands and arms in my face wanting signatures. They were all pushing each other out of the way and as soon as I started writing in one, another would appear between it and my face. All quite hilarious and rather disconcerting. Yet another good reason not to be famous!! We’ve had 2 mad signing sessions so far. I think next time we’ll have to do signatures as a reward and spread them out during the class.

In the Junior School (and to a lesser extent in the Senior School) we have experienced the worshiping of teachers that happens here. The student comes up to you, gets down on their knees and puts their head to the ground. They put their hands on the floor then bring them up together in front of them. This is really very disconcerting. Not something I’m used to at all!!!

As with any class in any subject at any level anywhere in the world, some students are better than others, some learn faster than others, some are better behaved than others. Sri Lanka is no different. On the whole all the kids we’ve seen so far have been well-behaved and eager to learn. Some are really shy and speak incredibly quietly, so we’re trying to encourage them all to shout!

Thanks to all those of you who had given me ideas for teaching, and please do continue to pass more my way if you have any. In particular, games/songs/activities for a class of 40 Primary School students. 🙂

My Routine

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

I’ve been here for 2 weeks now. Here’s an idea of my routine:

Mon – Fri:
Get up between 5 and 5:30am. Yes, that’s right 5:30am. In the morning. Before dawn. Me, up at that time of the morning. Every day. Those who know me well will understand the inherent difficulty that this prospect presents.

Cold shower. Can’t get used to cold showers. I’m trying, but it’s just not happening. It’s one of the very few things I miss.

Cover myself with Avon Skin So Soft moisturising spray stuff. No, I haven’t started a cosmetics routine, it’s quite an effective mosquito reppellant. So I use it.

Put on sari.

Put Mossie-Guard and suncream on exposed skin. Wash all the gunk off my hands since I’m about to go and have breakfast.

Tea. White, no sugar, no Nestomalt.

Breakfast. Usually rice and 3 or 4 curries. Always incredibly tasty! Sometimes coconut sambol if I’m really lucky. 🙂

Pack lunch. Basically what we had for breakfast into a lunchbox.

Get bag ready.

Leave the house. If I’m at the Junior School I leave at about 6:45. It’s a 10 minute walk and I start teaching at 7. If I’m at the Senior School I leave at 6:30 and get the school van (10 mins) and start teaching at 7:15.

Teach! Great fun!!!! No really! Great fun!!! I am loving every second of the teaching and every age group!!!!

Interval. This is the lunch break at about 11. Eat lunch. Just as tasty as breakfast (strangely enough).

More teaching. Just as much fun!!!

Finish at about 1:30 and then it’s time to head home (walk or school van depending on which school I’m at).

Get home and get changed out of my sari. Handwash the blouse so I can wear it again the day after tomorrow.

My afternoons are then spent teaching the kids in my family English; learning Sinhala; doing lesson preparation; writing in my journal; drafting blog posts and emails; reading or napping.

Tea at about 4pm ish.

Sometimes they let me help with dinner – coconut grinding, washing lentils, winnowing rice, washing rice.

Dinner at about 8pm (incredibly tasty – roti and coconut sambol is the only way to go!!) and in bed by 9:30 or shortly thereafter.

There haven’t been enough weekends yet for me to give you a good idea of a routine, but there is a Saturday morning English programme at the Junior School from 8:30 to 11:30. My host family go to Dharma school at one of the Temples in Kandy on a Sunday morning from 8am till midday.

But my spare time is spent resting, reading, writing, lesson planning, teaching and learning.

My House and Host Family

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Photos of my house, street, room and bathroom are on my flickr page.

My house and host family are both wonderful. The family I’m staying with have opened their home, their kitchen and their hearts to me. I am being very well looked after by all four of them – I think they are wonderful and am very grateful that they have let me share their lives and their home.

My room is really lovely, it is on the ground floor and is large and very cool (as in temperature) as well as being very cool (as in funky)! I have a mosquito net and a water filter (so I don’t get ill from either the water or the mossies). I have a nice big wardrobe to put all my stuff in with a mirror to help with the morning wrestle with the sari! I have a bathroom to myself with a western-style toilet and a shower in the same room. It’s a cold shower. (There is no hot running water here – it seems not to be needed.)

It is a really wonderful house and room and I already feel very at home here. I haven’t got used to cold showers yet (especially not first thing in the morning (5:30am) when it is still dark outside and not particularly hot). But as far as complaints go, it’s not a very major one!


Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Zykes, the English climate really has made me all pale and pastey.

The the Sri Lankan climate has restored me to my natural state of pale, pastey and freckled!!

I’d forgotten quite how many I have. Not sure if you can tell in any of the photos that are up yet – depends on what photos are up at the time that you (whoever you are) are reading this. 🙂


Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Well, the weather here is fantastic, so I haven’t worn a jumper or socks since I got off the plane! Really nice!

(Actually, I’m wearing socks right now – I walked into Kandy and felt that trainers were better than crocs for distance walking.)
I’ve bought two saris which I wear to school. I borrowed a white shirt from my host family when they took me to the temple (since black isn’t appropriate). Apart from that, I haven’t bought any clothing. As soon as I get home from school I change out of my sari and into trousers (ah, rapture) and a t-shirt.

By now there should be a photo of me on my flickr page in one (or both) of my saris. One is a dark reddish colour, the other is a bluey purpley colour – everyone here seems to love both but prefer the red one, I prefer the purple one – but that’s mostly down to the material it is made from rather than the colour, I don’t particularly mind about the colour, I think they’re both nice – as far as colours go, I suppose. The style that I wear my sari in is Kandian style, there are also Indian and Muslim styles too.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the sari. It’s the pragmatist in me. Just can’t be excited about clothing that contains that much material and no pockets; that comes all the way to the ground so you have to hold up the front of it to walk (or go up steps); that has an over-the-shoulder drapey bit that you frequently have to wrap over your other shoulder to keep it out of the way; that requires 3 safety pins and an elastic belt to put on. Plus, it seems necklaces are required and I’m not much a fan of them either to be honest. Saris don’t keep you particularly cool (my red one especially is quite hot), but you can throw the over-the-shoulder drapey bit over your head to shield you from the sun (or carry an umbrella or wear a hat) if you like. You can also use it to cover your face from the dust and/or traffic fumes which is handy.

Having said all that, I am very pleased that I have two saris to wear to school and that I can (on most days) dress myself to the satisfaction of my host family. Everyone (staff, students, my host family) seem to be very impressed that I am wearing a sari and that I am mostly able to do it myself. In a place where just being me makes me stand out (white, foreign, female, no hair), wearing a sari shows a willingness to bridge the cultural divide and it has been very warmly welcomed by all so far.

My host family have all been very wonderful at training me in how to wear it and making sure I look sufficiently neat and tidy in it before I leave the house! Thanks!!!


Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Right, time for a post about the food here.

It’s great!!

Especially if you like curry and chilli. Which fortuntely I do!! All my chilli training in England has paid off. I have found the food spicy but not too hot. I’m able to eat whatever my host family is eating (with extra coconut sambol since it’s the tastiest thing ever).

Coconut sambol is fresh ground cocount, red chillies, lime juice, garlic, onion, curry leaves, black pepper and shavings of maldive fish (a very dry and very salted fish). Mix it all together under a grinding stone (or just by hand). So it’s spicy and tasty and I think it’s my favourite food so far!!

They definitely do add chillies to everything. Even their kiri bath (milk-rice: rice cooked coconut). Kinda like rice pudding stuff, but eaten with loonu miris (red chillies, more red chillies and some onion).

I’ve found lots of the food to be quite salty (they add salt to kiri bath) and they add sugar to loads of things too. We had rice with curd the other night – the rice was still warm so the curd melted a bit, and there were spoonfuls and spoonfuls of sugar added too. Very tasty!

Tea: I’m a bit strange here since I don’t have sugar with tea and tend not to drink milk tea. Because milk tea has tea, sugar, milk and Nestomalt (which is a milky malt powder). Not bad, but quite sickly. So if I make it myself it’s usually got tea and milk powder. If someone else makes it I go for plain (i.e. black) tea.

The food routine (at least in my house) is as follows: get up well before stupid o’clock in the morning (certainly before 5am). Cook rice and three or four curries. Breakfast is rice and curries. Lunch is the same rice and curries put into a lunchbox to take with you (plus cutlery). Lunch is at about 11am. Dinner (about 8pm) is then something quicker and easier so roti or bread with maybe one curry, sometimes just roti with coconut sambol or loonu miris. Sometimes dinner is pasta (macaroni or noodles with chilli, carrot, mustard seeds, black pepper). As part of the dinner prep rice is winnowed (to remove the dust) and washed (and the stones are removed) and then put in the fridge for the next morning.

Usually (except at lunch), food is eaten with your right hand. You put a couple of spoonfuls of everything onto your plate, then grab some bits of everything and mix them all up then delicately put into your mouth. Don’t lick your fingers. Then go back to the serving dishes for more of everything!

My family don’t have a problem with me not eating meat, in fact, the mother of my family doesn’t. So we have soya pieces sometimes. Ocassionally there has been chicken (which I’ve avoided). I’ve said I do eat fish since they seem to use quite a lot of dried fish (almost as a seasoning rather than an ingredient).

Lots more to say about the food but I’ll leave it for future posts rather than making you all too jealous all at once!!

The one thing worse than seeing a big spider in the shower

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Is not seeing the big spider that you know lives in your shower! At least if you can see it you know where it is.

I have shared my bathing and sleeping facilities with spiders, geckos and frogs so far. Scary, cute and cute (in that order). Photos of these on my flickr page.

I’ve also seen: cats, dogs, tiny squirrels (about half the size of the ones in the UK), lots of birds, cows, bats (possibly my new favourite animal), butterflies, beetles, roosters, a dragonfly, a goat and a monkey!!! It wasn’t so much buttling (Simpons: Das Bus episode – desert island – monkey butlers – I’m on the lookout in case Sri Lanka is the island of the monkey butlers) as trying to open a rubbish bag – but it was a monkey just the same!

I haven’t seen many of the animals that are on my animal sighting checklist (a few friends, a pub, a pen and my journal) but I have started a list of those that I have seen.


Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Thank you to all of you who had emailed me. I shall write some emails over the next week and hopefully get a chance to access the internet again soon to send them all off.

I am having a really wonderful time here. It is even better than I imagined it would be!!! Please do email and text me with what is happening to all of you!

Hugs 🙂

First Impressions

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Well, I’m here and I love absolutely everything about this trip and this country. I arrived early on Friday morning and met Alex (the other volunteer) in the queue for immigration. We made it through without any problems (only a lot of waiting – boy can I pick the slowest queue). Ranjith (our in-country co-ordinator) picked us up from the airport and took us to a guest house in Minuwangoda. Ranjith was lovely. The rain was lovely. The countryside was lovely (really green). The traffic was chaotic! Though since it seems to be the case that you can’t trust any other driver to do anything even remotely sensible everyone seems to drive extremely defensively and the whole thing seems to work!

After a night in Minuwangoda, Ranjith drove us to Kandy where we saw our school (the Kandy Model School) and I was handed over to the care of my host family: Pushpa, Bandara (her husband), Promodi (their daughter) and Irantha (their son). They are all really very, very lovely and are looking after me extremely well.

The school is great! The kids (who are ALL shorter than me (though we’ve only been in the primary school so far)) are really very lovely (and gorgeous)! I have a sari (several meters of material, plus an underskirt and a blouse and not a pocket to be seen anywhere!). The food is magnificient! The weather is gorgeous!

I have put a couple of photos on my flickr page of the Botanic Gardens in Kandy. Lots more photos will go up soon once I have a chance to go running around madly clicking!

It has been a really busy first week so apologies for the somewhat spartan communication. But I am writing lots of things down and will try to get net access again soon!

The Flight

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

The last most of you heard was late on Thursday night when I was getting ready to leave. I think that all the stuff that I needed to do got done. Whatever didn’t get done didn’t get done and there’s nothing I can do about it now (unless it’s stuff I can do from here). At about 4:30 on Thursday morning I ventured into the realms of blind panic for about an hour. A very big thank you goes to Geoff for looking after me! But Caroline arrived at about 5 and we left at about 5:20 for our 5:45 train. Thanks Caroline for the lift and for the muffins!! The train trip was fine, I went through the final bits of my to do list with Geoff to see what needed to be done, what he could do and what I could do while away. And I managed to finish reading my book “The Master and Margarita” which Geoff can give back to Caroline to pass on to other worthy readers. No problems getting to the airport and checking in was a breeze. My rucksack was 16.5kg and my day pack was 6.5kgs. This is a stupid amount of stuff, but at least I’ll be leaving a stack of it in Kandy.

I said goodbye to Geoff and did my first bit of serious crying – because I’ll miss him and because I’ll miss all the other people I didn’t cry on!! The flights themselves were fine. At least I presume they were fine, I slept – lots. I was awake for meals (in some cases they had to wake me up) and that was about it. On the first leg, they had to wake me to tell me to put my seatbelt on since I’d fallen asleep almost as soon as I’d sat down.