Archive for February, 2009

Social Life

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I’ve been asked by a couple of you about my social life here, about how I’m dealing with the lonlieness (if any) of being out here somewhat on my own, and about how I’m dealing with the lack of space associated with living with a family.

So let me explain.

Let me tell you about the people that I interact with here and the terms of those interactions as I think it will give you a good idea of what’s happening.

Alex is my volunteering partner. I work with him so see him from 7am till 1:30pm every day. We plan lessons together during our breaks, we talk about the teaching, we teach together and we talk about how we are finding things here as well as talking about our lives back home. It is really great having a native English speaker around so I can speak at speed and use my full vocabulary (or as much of my productive vocabulary as is appropriate given the context and topics covered). It is great having someone here who I can talk to about the frustrations, delights, problems, solutions and just general daily trivia of life in Sri Lanka. Alex and I don’t tend to socialise together outside of classes. There are a few guys about his age that live near him and he tends to hang out with them after school and on weekends.

Ranjith is our in-country co-ordinator. He lives 150kms away so we don’t see him on a regular basis (he has been to Kandy once since dropping us off here in the beginning), but he is on the end of the phone if I need to text or speak to him. It was with Ranjith and his family that we climbed Sri Pada. Ranjith’s English is very good and he understands a lot of what we are going through and where we have come from. He loves English, teaching and English Literature so we have a lot to talk about when we are in the same place!

My Family
There are four people in my family. Pushpa (the mother), Bandara (the father), Promodhi (the daughter) and Irantha (the son).

Promodhi’s English is probably the best of the lot, though she does ask her father for vocab help occassionally. So she is the easiest for me to talk to. She is a very bright, educated, aware person, but she is 13. So while conversations with her can be very fluid and interesting they are somewhat limited.

Bandara’s English is not too bad but it is quite stilted. He is also at work all day during the week so I don’t see too much of him. Pushpa struggles a lot more with her English so our conversations are very limited but she is very lovely and is teaching me some Sinhala.

Irantha’s English is ok for a 11 year old. But to be perfectly honest, I’m really not that interested in disc brakes (on either bicycles, motorcycles or cars). And GTA Vice City just isn’t my cup of tea either. I probably spend more time with him than any of the others.

I spend almost all my time (when not at school) with my family. My room is downstairs and so apart from the rest of the family. This means that I can just stay downstairs and read or sleep or draft emails and blog posts, or do lesson preparation. It also means that I can go upstairs and sit in the living room doing any of the above. Sometimes Irantha hangs out in my room playing games on my laptop or phone (whichever I’m not using at the time).

I try to spend time both upstairs and downstairs. I need space and I think they need space so I do spend a lot of time downstairs but I don’t want to be a complete outsider so I try to spend time upstairs as well. I am frequently to be found in the kitchen talking to Pushpa or the kids.

On Sundays I go Kandy. I leave at 8 or 9 in the morning and get back at 5 or 6 in the evening. It’s really nice having a whole day out to do whatever I want whenever I want (which mostly involves walking, eating and using the internet).

Though a few weeks back I walked around the lake in Kandy on my own and I did find that to be quite a lonely experience. It was really nice, but it would have been really nice to have someone to share it with in person. But this is part of the point of me being here. 🙂

The Staff at the school
Seethanjali is the principal’s wife and one of the teachers at the Junior school. Since the principal is Pushpa’s brother I see him and Seethanjalii outside of school about once a week. This is mostly to talk about how things are going and if there’s anything they can do to help. I have had some good conversations with both of them. The other English teachers are very nice to talk to (mostly about teaching and schools in England versus here). One of the teachers from the Senior school (Sucintha) has invited us to her house on Monday the 23rd (which is a holiday) for her father’s birthday celebration. I’m really looking forward to that.

The Students
There are a few students that I have had some very interesting conversations with. One is a grade 11 (I think) girl who gets the same van as me to the Senior school. Her English is excellent and she is interested in anything and everything! She is also teaching me Sinhala which is very nice.

The Parents
I have met some of the parents both at and outside of school. Most of these conversations have been very brief (name, age, family members, country of origin, hobbies, what I think of Sri Lanka) but it has been really fantastic to be able to talk to them, and they seem really pleased to have a native speaker to talk to. It is lovely!

But my real detailed communication with other people tends to be with my friends and family. Mostly email, but also through this blog (though that’s more monologue than dialogue). The emails I’ve been getting from people have been a real delight. Thank you!!

I’ve also been getting and sending text messages. These are frequently me sending a message out into the aether when I’m feeling like I need a hug. And the replies (solicited or not) are my hugs. So I’m thriving on them. Again, thank you!!!

I’ve had some Skype conversations (text-based, voice and webcam) and they have been vital. They’ve been a chance for me to talk to people about the things I love about being here and I think more importantly about the things I don’t love. And there are things that I often want to say but doing a blog post and telling the whole world about them wouldn’t be appropriate. So I’m writing some in my journal and others I’m just saving up for being able to talk through with a real live conversing human being!


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I haven’t really experienced any. I’ve certainly missed my friends/family, but since many of them aren’t at home anyway it’s not really homesickness.

I’m loving the food so much that I haven’t been missing English food. I’m not missing the weather. I’m missing my bike, but am doing quite a bit of walking here so that’s ok. And I’m toying with the idea of getting (buying, renting, borrowing) one anyway. Though getting panniers, lights and a helmet might be more difficult!

There have certainly been times when I’ve been wandering around (or teaching, or watching tv, or something) and I’ve wished that some (or all) of my friends/family were here, but I content myself with making a mental note and writing it in my journal, or on this blog, or taking a photo, or sending a text message.

I think my communication with my friends/family has helped a lot. So text messages, emails, blog comments and Skype calls have all been fantastic. Please keep them up!!

It doesn’t feel like it’s been 6 weeks. Everyday is something new and wonderful. So I’m spending so much of my time and energy assimilating all the new information and experiences that I just haven’t had time to be homesick!!!


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

There were some cultural differences that I’d been aware of before I came and some others that I’ve experienced since getting here.

Right vs Left Hand
I’d been warned (and had read) about doing things with your right hand and not your left since your left hand is the ‘unclean’ hand and your right is the ‘clean’ hand. And as a general rule this is certainly true. Though there are times when both hands are required (just think about peeling a banana for a moment, or holding a cup of tea a piece of cake and a banana). And it seems that use of the left hand there is perfectly allowable. Though I haven’t figured out if there is a specific way of peeling a banana that seperates tasks between your right and left hand.

There are also times when someone is sharing nuts or seeds or crips or Bombay mix etc. The stuff gets poured into the palm of one hand and the fingers of the other are used to eat it. I tend to follow what other people are doing in those cases. I have also seen people drinking a herb tea where they pour sugar into the palm of their left hand and lick it while they drink. So directly licking the palm of your left hand indicates to me that use of the left hand isn’t too taboo. Though I am trying to use my right as much as I can!

Blowing My Nose
Blowing one’s nose in public is not the done thing. The done thing seems to be to sniffle, snort, spit or wipe one’s nose on one’s arm or sleeve. I’ve been blowing my nose. I’ve been trying to do it discretely. But when I had my cold, it was necessary and more frequent. Sometimes hot food (hello chillies) make my nose run and I just can’t bring myself to wipe my nose on my sleeve rather than wipe it on a tissue or hanky. So this isn’t a cultural difference that I’ve been succeeding with very well, though I do try to only do it when there is no one else around.

While yawning in Britain and Australia is taken as a sign of tiredness, here it is seen as a sign of hunger. Which I found weird, but frequently it’s not a sign of being tired so the Brit and Aussie way doesn’t make that much more sense than the Sri Lankan way. Though I have certainly yawned a lot when I have been very tired I’ve never noticed myself yawning when hungry, I’ll have to pay more attention in future. Apologies to all of you reading this who have probably started yawning. It usually only takes one person to start and it spreads; even talking or reading (or writing) about yawning is usually enough to set me off. 🙂

It is not done for men and women to touch each other in public. Even married couples rarely hold hands never mind anything else. So PDAs seem to be frowned upon. That doesn’t particularly bother me at the moment since I don’t have any of my boys here. (Boys: big virtual non-public hugs to you all). Now, beween members of the same sex it’s a different story (So girls: big virtual public hugs to you all). Certainly amongst the students you very rarely see only one of them, there are usually three or four of them all attached. The girls all hold hands. The boys walk around with their arms around each others’ shoulders. In some cases in classes in the Junior school we have found it very hard to get three rows of boys with three rows of girls behind. They want to all stand in one row. And when you try to move one, all the others come too!

There tends to be quite a bit of physical contact between the teachers (both male and female) and the students (both male and female). And certainly in my case at the Junior school there are some mornings when I have several of the girls holding on to my sari or touching my back or my arms or my watch or my necklace (another reason not to wear all this stuff, I think they’d find less to grab hold of if I was in trousers and a shirt 🙂 ). I don’t particularly mind it. They seem to be doing it out of genuine curiosity. Some of them may never have seem someone with skin like mine. They do hold onto the saris of the other teachers too. That isn’t just me.

There is also physical contact amongst the teachers (though not to the same extent). But it is a sign of how little physical contact there is in Britain between men that I find it very noticable here when one has his hand on the other’s shoulder or a hand on a knee etc. I certainly don’t find it disturbing, I just notice it. I also find it surprising in a country where homosexuality is illegal that there isn’t a taboo about physical contact (given the strength of the taboo against physical contact between members of the opposite sex) but maybe homosexuality is something that just doesn’t register as a possibility. I don’t know. Further investigation is required.

People’s names are interesting here. And I don’t mean the syllabic content; Kathleen Mary Margaret McGuire isn’t exactly short (or easy to pronounce). But how people are referred to here is interesting. Most people have several names. And it seems to be that one of them (the last one) is the family name. All ok so far. But when we refer to them we sometimes refer to them by their first name and sometimes by their last. In some cases it’s one of their other names. The names are frequently written out as a title followed by several initials and then a name written in full. But that name might be any of the person’s names, it isn’t always their family name. But the general rule seems to be to refer to people as aunt or uncle or madam or sir (for adults), nahn-gee (younger sister: for any girl younger than you are), mahl-lee (younger brother: for any boy younger than you), ak-kaah (older sister: for any girl older than you), ai-yaah (older brother: for any boy older than you). If you are an adult then you might also refer to boys as pu-thaah (son) and girls as dhu-wah (daughter). But you might refer to other adults as nahn-gee etc.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

My host family don’t watch much tv but they watch a bit. Mostly cartoons (Tom and Jerry, Scooby Do) which have been dubbed into Sinhala. They also watch some Sinhalese comedies. Comedies seem to be very popular here and they seem to be comedies of the people-doing-stupid-things variety. Though there may be others that I haven’t come across.

Where there are people and televisions there are soap operas. And Sri Lanka is no different. The ones here look just as dire as those everywhere else.

There is definitely a western influence on television here. Dancing Star was one of the recent big things. As are Movie Star, Kid Star, Comedy Star and probably several others. ‘Dancing Star – The Movie’ is coming soon and seems eagerly awaited. There is also another talent show thing coming up soon. So it seems that everywhere has its ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ or ‘X-Factor’.

The ads here are interesting. I particularly like the ones for skin lightening cream. They are pretty much the same as the ones in the UK for moisturisers with a hint of self-tan, just in reverse. Well, I presume they are the same. They certainly look the same!

We watched a American film (with Sinhala subtitles) a few weeks ago and I was a bit surprised since the kissing scenes were blacked out. Apparently swearing, drinking, kissing etc are all blacked out here. Alex has seen more tv than I have and tells me that there is quite a lot of censorship.

I’d love to tell you about the news coverage here, but my family doesn’t seem to watch much news. Though they were following the recent council elections avidly. So I’m not too sure what the news coverage is like. I am getting my news fixes by checking the BBC site when I’m online (so about once a week).

Oh, and Maggi 2 minute noodles are well avertised here, but Maggi is pronounced Maggie rather than Madgie. As is Milo, (advertised rather than pronounced differently).

There seems not to be too much foreign muck on tv. So I haven’t seen any of the US dramas that saturate British and Australian (and presumably American) tv. But again, I’ve seen so little tv that there may be whole swathes of it that directly contradicts my suppositions.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I’ve been to the supermarket here a few times now. Very exciting! I think supermarkets in other countries are fascinating. Ok, maybe fascinating is a bit too strong, but they are interesting.

There is quite a big Aussie influence here. Not too surprising I guess. But you can get grapes from Australia. And Just Juice and SPC tinned fruit.

They also have Milo (though I think it is that Asian Milo that is darker and sweeter and with bigger granules – like the Fillipino Milo you can get from the Chinese supermarket in Cambridge). I haven’t actually seen the granualar Milo (I’ve seen the tins, but not bought one). But I did buy one of the UHT tetra-pak things. And that was very sweet. I was thinking of getting some granular stuff to check it out, but cow’s milk isn’t easily obtainable here. My family only have the powdered variety here. And I think Milo made with powdered milk would just not be quite right.

There’s also a very big Kraft cheese representation here (including macaroni cheese!!!). They seem to be quite excited about processed cheese. I taught my family how to make pizza last week and the whole project nearly had to be abandoned. I found flour (penguin branded, how cool is that?), and yeast (with a kangaroo on it). But cheese turned out to be difficult. In amongst the 20 or so different types of processed cheese (including Kraft cheese in a jar and blocks of cheddar that weren’t refrigerated) there was only one type of real cheese and it was an edam-style ball of cheese with a red wax cover. So not ideal for pizza but at least it wasn’t plastic. Maybe processed cheese has progressed since my sister and I used to have grilled plastic cheese on toast, but back then it just didn’t melt properly, and I didn’t want to risk it. Though my family did ask if they used plastic cheese at Pizza Hut (I’m guessing since mozzarella goes stringy when melted).

The big supermarket in Kandy has vegemite and the smaller one closer to me has marmite. I have avoided both (the marmite because it’s not vegemite) and the vegemite because the only way (in my opinion) to eat vegemite is on freshly toasted, freshly baked white bread with lashings of butter (not margarine). And while white bread and butter can be obtained we don’t seem to have a toaster here and I’m not sure if introducing this to my family is a good idea. Maybe on one of my Saturday cooking sprees we might go for vegemite on toast.

Last Saturday I did pizza which seems to have convinced my family that I can actually cook. I’m hoping that I will be able to convince them to let me cook each Saturday. I say me, I actually mean me and the two kids. (I’m also hoping I can get them interested in cooking enough that they might cook sometimes and give Pushpa a bit of a rest.) My plan was to try rice and curry this week. I mentioned it and they didn’t seem opposed, but it just didn’t seem to happen.

Anyway, back to the supermarket. Mostly everything else that you might imagine was there, chocolate (including Cadbury and toblerone – I haven’t had either yet – some of the local chocolate isn’t bad, though some is), biscuits, soft drinks, juice, veg, meat, fish, dried fish, more dried fish and some extra packets of other varieties of dried fish. There are also some Sri Lankan convenience items, like flakes of dried Maldive fish and lunu miris sauce (red chilli, onion, lime juice, black pepper, Maldive fish). In my host family, the lunu miris is made fresh (and I’m hoping to learn to make some soon) and the Maldive fish is flaked (or rather, whitled) when required.

They have Cream Soda here. Which is green but tastes the same as Creamy Soda in Australia (which I think was pink). It’s the greatest thing ever! I’m slightly glad they don’t have it in England, as I’d drink the stuff by the gallon at the pub and turn into a far more expensive date than I currently am. 🙂


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I experience rubbish disposal here for the first time last week. I had a plastic bag in my room of rubbish. I asked my host family what I needed to do with it. They said to take it to one of the dumping sites on the road in to Kandy.

Basically, on the side of the main road (this one is a B road) there are dumping sites every so often. They involve three concrete walls that make an open square. The walls are about .5m tall, the square is about 2m each side. Given this is Kath-estimating, each of these numbers may be out by quite a bit, but it at least gives you an idea of order of magnitude!

This dumping site has no lid or anything. Anyway, you go to it and drop your plastic bag of rubbish (flamable or otherwise) into it. It seems that every so often someone comes along and sets fire to them. I’m not sure if this is vandalism, sanitation or to scare of the dogs that scavenge in them. But the rubbish and the ash end up spread over quite an area.

I’ll try and remember to take a photo of one to show you.

No recycling seems to happen, though some composting seems to happen in some homes. Many homes seem to set fire to their rubbish in their gardens on a regular basis. So it is quite common to see or smell smoke from several homes around wherever you are.

Not sure what to do with my dead batteries (I don’t have a charger so can’t use rechargable batteries). I wasn’t game to put them into the rubbish since I’m fairly sure setting fire to them isn’t a good idea. Mind you, I don’t think any way of disposing of batteries is particularly nice. I’ll ask my host family.

It seems that in some places (e.g. within the Kandy municipal limits) there is some rubbish collection that goes on. And it seems this will end up in landfill though the teacher who was telling me about this wasn’t sure about what happens to the rubbish left in dumping sites. It seems to vanish so I think something happens to it.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Some of you have asked about the weather.

It’s hot. The times I’ve actually seen a thermometer have been inside darkened, cool offices and they’ve shown between 25 and 29 C. So my guess is it’s around 30-35 most days. Apparently, it’s much hotter than usual here and many of the locals have been complaining about it.

It hasn’t been nearly as humid as I feared it might be. I’m not sure exactly how humid it has been though. The internet will probably know for anyone interested.

I’m not usually out in the heat of the sun (at least not during the week) except to get home from school. But my 10 min walk home from the Junior school at about 1:30 is enough to get the sweat dripping off my sunglasses. Oh, one of the funniest things ever does appear to be a freaky white woman in a sari with a cap and sunglasses and a rucksack on her back. 🙂

Once I’m home, that’s usually me indoors for the rest of the afternoon, which I am both very pleased about and I think is a bit of a waste.

When we teach at the Junior school, we usually have the classes out in the playground but it is under a big roof thing (the pictures of me teaching and the playground probably make that clearer).

I do try to drink a lot (though some days I’m better at this than others). I don’t seem to be too drained or exhausted by the heat (I do seem to be coping better than Alex). This might be down to my Aussie childhood or the fact that it has only been 6 weeks so far, or the fact that I’m so excited about everything that I just haven’t noticed getting tired!

On Sundays I do go out in the sun but I love the walk so much I think I’d do it in weather far hotter than this!! Today in fact, I nearly did it in the rain. It was absolutely bucketing down first thing this morning, though had stopped by the time I left the house. But I did get to splash in lots of puddles. 🙂

At night though it tends to be cool. So I am sleeping in trousers and a long sleeve top (I don’t have pjs) with my duvet cover over me and another sheet doubled over on top of that. Though the night in Ratnapura before the Sri Pada trip was very hot and the night on top of Sri Pada was very cold. 🙂

Thanks to Ranjith

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

On my way home from the internet cafe I realised (to my chagrin) that I had not properly thanked Ranjith in my Sri Pada post. A mistake I am hoping to rectify now.

He and his family welcomed us and looked after us for the weekend as well us sharing this very special event with us.

And I am very grateful to them for that.

So Ranjith (and all your family), thank you for welcoming me and including me and looking after me.



Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Thought I’d better update you all on my health. Mostly because there hasn’t been much to report.

I’ve had no stomach problems (or digestive problems of any kind). The food seems to agree with me – and apart from bitter gourd and nestomalt I agree with it.

I’ve had a couple of colds – very nearly lost my voice for a few days – too much yelling with Grade 2 (not at them, with them – we were counting down from 10 to 1).

I got sunburnt sitting in the shade at the sports ground the other day. I didn’t realise we’d be out all day and I’d forgotten to put on cream. I won’t forget that again. Sunburn is so unpleasant!!

Contrary to popular local belief my freckles aren’t a problem and I don’t need a cream to make them go away, though I do need to put cream on my sunburn, since it is a burn. 🙂

I got some athlete’s foot cream today since I seem to need it. Which is slightly strange given that I spend most of my time barefoot or in flipflops/thongs/slippers.

I’ve had a few mossie bites but seem to be ok. So I’m still trying to fend them off and trying not to scratch the bloody bites when I can’t fend off the silly mossies.

So all in all, a happy and healthy bunny!

Wildlife Update

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

The spiders that live in my bathroom seem to have gone away. I still see the frog and the geckos occassionally, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a spider – well, a big one anyway.

I’ve had several more mossie bites, but since I seem to be symptom-free I assume they didn’t have anything too nasty.