Archive for May, 2009

What I’m Missing

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Well, I’ve been here for four months and am starting to realise that there are some things that I am missing.

Not a lot of things mind you. And I’m not missing them much. And I am being more than compensated for them but there are some nonetheless.

Here they are:


A toilet I can sit on (I don’t care if it is inside or outside, I don’t care if it has plumbing)

Toilet paper (the less said the better)

Being able to get completely dry before getting dressed again after bathing

Having my feet stay clean for more than about 3 seconds (see the note on carpet and getting dry before getting dressed)

Coffee shops

The Maypole (the pub in Cambridge that I go to on a Friday night with my friends)

My friends


Saturday, May 9th, 2009

On Wednesday the 6th I went to Colombo to meet some people at the Ministry of Education to talk about getting my visa extended.

We had to leave home before stupid o’clock in the morning to get a bus to Ratnapura where we stopped for breakfast. Breakfast was a plate of short eats which are basically various rolls, buns, stuffed roti etc. They bring out a platter with a selection on it. You eat what you want and pay for what you’ve eaten. They then replace what you’ve eaten and give the platter to the next people who come in. Very tasty and very cheap. Wasana and I had about 3 bun things each and a drink each. The total cost was about a pound. 🙂 I love this country!!

Then the bus to Colombo. It was three hours. It’s about 100km. It costs 93Rs each. That’s about 60 pence each. Granted it was a bus not a coach. We got seats since we’d got on at the start of the route but most people were standing. But still 60p for a three hour bus trip! Amazing! I think the reason why they can charge so little might have something to do with how many people you can get on a Sri Lankan bus. Given you can fit an infinite number of people on a bus (see one of my previous post that mentioned Hilbert) then even if the bus is only half full (what is half of infinity anyway?) and they each pay 60p for a ticket that works out at quite a lot of money!!! 😉

I had put suncream on in the morning. The windows of the bus were all open and the wind was blowing in. It was quite strong. It was also carrying a lot of dust and road fumes most of which was sticking to my suncream. So when we got to Colombo, Wasana looked at me and asked what the black stuff on my face was. I rubbed my face and my fingers came away black. We then went crazy with a tissue and some water trying to clean my face. Yuk!

We went to the Ministry of Education and spoke to some very lovely people. But they were waiting for the VESL file to reappear so we went to the Ministry of Immigration (across town) while we waited for the file to reappear. We stopped en route for smoothies from a juice bar. Mango and banana!! Gorgeous!! I love this country!!!

The woman at the juice bar thought that I was Wasana’s madame. I had to ask her quite what that meant since I was fairly sure it didn’t mean what I thought it meant. It seems it means that she thought that Wasana was my servant. Which is much better than what I had been thinking! Which Wasana thought was hilarious when I explained it to her. 🙂

The Ministry of Immigration was surprisingly useful and easy. I got copies of the forms I wanted, I got an answer to my question. (I need to leave the country and come back again if I want to get a tourist visa.) It was all very nice! So three-wheeler back to the Ministry of Education.

The file had turned up by the time we got back which was good. But it didn’t have the letter in it. Which I knew it wouldn’t since I knew the letter hadn’t been written. I was under the impression that the point of the meeting was to get the letter written but it seems that the person I was meeting was under the impression that the letter had been written. Ah well. Ranjith will write the letter and pass it on. The right people in the Ministry of Education are waiting for it and are keen to get it signed since they are keen to have me stay. So now we just wait for the bureaucracy to do it’s work.

We had KFC for lunch. Which I was quite surprised by. Their veggie burger wasn’t nearly as disgusting as I thought it might be. And the chips were pretty good (for fast food chips) and the chocolate sundae was really good!!!

Then another three-wheeler trip across town – this time through peak hour traffic to meet Ranjith for a lift home. I’ve decided that the Knight Bus from Harry Potter is modeled on three wheelers in Colombo. I did actually see the fabric of space bend as we weaved our way between buses, three wheelers, vans etc. All of which, I might add, were belching the foulest, blackest fumes you have ever seen. Three wheelers don’t exactly have side windows. Hmmmm, lovely!

I’m fairly sure the drive home was really lovely. It’s hard for me to tell since I spent most of it asleep but the times when I did manage to wrench my eyelids open, it all looked very pretty. 🙂

So the upshot is that I expect a summons back to Colombo sometime next week to collect the signed letter from the Ministry of Education that I can take to the Ministry of Immigration so that they can stamp my passport and let me stay. 🙂


Saturday, May 9th, 2009

The stuff of life. Water’s really quite important. I heard once that people can live for 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and only 3 minutes without oxygen. Not sure if it’s right, but even if the orders of magnitude are all wrong the point is that water is really crucial. Certainly more important than food!! And coming from me, that’s really saying something!! 🙂

Back in Kandy we had a rainwater tank on the roof and we also had a mains supply. Sometimes we’d run out of water (for an hour or two) and someone would have to go with a bucket (a plastic recepticle for carrying liquid rather than me (my nickname is Bucket for anyone who doesn’t know – and yes, you can actually call me Bucket and I won’t mind)) and get some.

In Karawita things are a bit different. There is a water tap outside. Actually there are three. One in the toilet. One outside near the toilet that you use for washing your hands and washing plates and clothes etc. One in the tank. There’s a tank. It is fed by rainwater but can also be fed by the tap. The tank gets used for bathing (put the empty bucket into the tank, take the full bucket out of the tank, tip the full bucket over the dry Bucket, repeat until the dry Bucket is a wet Bucket, put soap on the wet Bucket, put the empty bucket into the tank, take the full bucket out of the tank, repeat until the wet Bucket is a clean Bucket – there is then a drying stage but it doesn’t involve the tank so is of limited interest at this juncture).

The three aforementioned taps are fed by the waterline which is a pipe which comes down the hill from the spring at the top of the hill.

The neighbours also have a similar arrangement with their taps and toilets and tanks and water lines. In fact, I think they are all fed from the same spring.

We have no mains water. When the spring dries up a bit the water pressure drops. When there hasn’t been enough rain there isn’t enough water. Recently there hasn’t been enough rain. There isn’t enough water. Our supply seemed to be the first to stop. That was several days ago.

We’ve been using the water that was left in the tank. We’ve been using water from the neighbours’ tanks for bathing, washing dishes and washing clothes and for filling the bucket that lives in the toilet. We’ve been getting water from the neighbours’ taps for use with cooking and for putting into the water filter for drinking.

But the supply of water to the neighbours is also drying up. I believe more water is on it’s way (in that non-specific kind of way that essential things get done in Sri Lanka – it’ll happen sooner or later, no one seems to quite know how, but when it happens it’ll happen and it’ll all be obvious at the time).

And the whole thing has had me thinking about how crucial water is. In a country where you eat with your hands you need it for washing your hands. It is essential in the toilet for keeping that clean. It is required for washing pots and dishes so that we can use them for cooking and eating. It is essential for keeping us and our clothing clean (it’s a hot country, people sweat a lot, it’s a dusty country, keeping clean is quite important). And, we need it for drinking. Speaking of which, time for me to find another glassful from somewhere, hang on. Right. That’s better. And much as we might argue about whether tea tastes better with or without Nestomalt (without), there are unlikely to be arguments about whether tea requires water. It does!

So for all you people in Australia (where water is something we tend to be aware of but despite the problems it does in fact come out of the tap when we need it) and in England (where water tends only to be a problem because of infrastructure problems (like burst pipes) rather than a shortage of the stuff), and the rest of you (wherever you may be), please think for a second about how important it is next time you turn on your tap. We can live without electricity, we can live without indoor plumbing, we can live without gas stoves. But water is something we really do need.

On the upside, I am in Sri Lanka and this is the rainy season and I am near Ratnapura (famous for how wet it is) so I don’t imagine it’ll be long before the ‘never rains but it pours’ proverb is proved sound once again.


It turns out that there was a physical problem with the water line that had caused our supply to dry up. This has now been fixed and the wet stuff is flowing freely once again. Which is nice!


Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I think it’s worth a post. I got my haircut on the morning that I went back to Kandy. I mentioned it in my Kandy post.

I found it really interesting quite how shocked most people in Kandy were by it. Ok, it was really short. Really short! There are probably some photos of that day on my flickr page that will let you see how short.

Lots of people who know the story (because they asked me last time I cut it and they asked me when I arrived in Sri Lanka with it short) asked me again why I cut it. I did ask a few people whether I should grow it or if it was ok. A couple said it was ok but the rest said I should grow it. One student seemed quite apologetic but was adamant nonetheless that I should have long hair. One of my students seemed to like it which surprised me. Though he did choose to almost whisper this to me while a group of us were walking home from school – I don’t think he was quite brave enough to let anyone else hear. 🙂

Now that it’s a bit longer my Ratnapura siblings seem quite impressed. Wasana thinks it’s cool (though spiky if I rest my head on her shoulder and she tries to rest her head on my head) and plays with it occasionally. Raveen has had a go and he seemed surprised at how soft it is. Rashmi (the three year old) seems to love it! Plus it reminded me of the rhyme about Fuzzy Wuzzy which I have been reciting at every opportunity. Rashmi’s getting the hang of some of the words, she can almost do the first line.

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy was ‘e?


Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

If I were able to type the rudest words in the world, in any language, they would not even come close to doing justice to my feelings towards mosquitoes.

Seriously, there would need to be a slew of new rude words invented specifically to describe the annoying, little blighters (feel free to replace ‘annoying’, ‘little’ and ‘blighters’ with your favourite rude adjective, adjective and noun) and my feelings towards them.

I am from the waist down almost one single mosquito bite/scar. I am scratching in places it is impolite to scratch in (like the kitchen). I am scarred and red and sore and irritated (both senses of the word).

I am getting a lot of exercise from the “ow, slap, I’ve just been bitten” contortions that involve trying to slap bits of you just before you feel the sting by which time it’s too late. I’m also getting exercise from the “grr, itchy, don’t scratch, must scratch, how do I reach there anyway” gyrations. And the human body and mind being what they are, as soon as either dance begins, I then feel imaginary bites and itches on parts of me that were perfectly fine until I started irritating them by scratching at bites that don’t exist.

And the flies aren’t exactly high on my list of creatures towards which I feel nothing but positivity either. There is a really rather irritating one that has been flying around my head for the past two hours.

Ratnapura seems to be much worse for mosquitoes than Kandy was. And my insect repellant is about to run out (I have a new shipment that should be delivered shortly, depending on whether it has been posted yet). I may need to try buying some here and seeing if it works.

So while I love this country and everything about it (even the bits I hate). I really do just hate the mozzies. I don’t even love hating the mozzies. I just hate them. Like I said there aren’t words rude enough!!