The beginning

June 15th, 2008

Every journey starts with a single step and every blog starts with a single word. And not being one to skimp on words, I’ve started with 37 (and counting).

Welcome to my Sri Lanka blog!!

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The story so far

June 15th, 2008

The Decision

On Sunday the 11th of May I decided that now was the time for me to look at going overseas to do some volunteering. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a number of years but every other time I’ve thought about it, I’ve been more terrified than excited. It’s been something that I’ve wished I was able to do rather than something I actually wanted to do.

This time is different – this time it’s something I really want to do. And while I still have moments of being terrified, I’m so very, very excited and am convinced that now is the right time to go for it.

I did some internet research and found VESL which looked like a fabulous organisation with some really fabulous projects, and Sri Lanka seemed like a really fabulous place to go.

The Application

So I applied, and they invited me to London on Sunday the 8th of June for an Information and Selection Day.

Information and Selection Day

I went down to London on a gorgeously hot and sunny Sunday to meet some of the VESL organisers and past volunteers. The point of the day was for us potential volunteers to find out more about VESL and for VESL to find out about us and to see if they have a project that would suit our skills.

I loved it! Everything I heard made me even more excited. The people that I met impressed me and made me even more excited! The fact that the sun was shining made me even more excited! What can I say? I was excited! They told me they’d let me know on Tuesday by email whether they had a placement for me.

As you can probably guess from the fact that this blog exists, they did. And I got an email on Tuesday afternoon letting me know. (Though not before I’d completely exhausted my email checking finger!)
So now I’ve started making lists and re-writing my website and telling people and setting up this blog.

And I think that brings things pretty much up to date. 🙂

First Donation

June 15th, 2008

A big thank you to Calum who is responsible for kicking off my fund raising. He went to my Just Giving page and donated online.

Thanks Calum!!

TEFL Course

June 29th, 2008

I decided to sign up for an online TEFL course. I’ve had experience teaching Maths and some bits of computer stuff but I’ve not actually taught English before. Though I have tutored people one-to-one when English was their second language. So I figured that doing a TEFL course could be quite a useful thing: brush up on my grammar and learn some techniques for teaching English.

And I’ve now signed up for one ( It’s 20 units and I’ve done Unit 1. I’m now waiting to hear back from my tutor as to whether I’ve passed it and if she’ll let me loose on Unit 2. 🙂 I’ve got 6 months to finish it but could potentially do it in a few weeks. It will depend on how fast I can work through the units. Not that I’m in that much of a hurry. I have about 6 months before I go away so as long as I get it finished this year sometime I’ll be a happy bunny.

My First Fund Raising Activity

July 20th, 2008

I have now officially started the fund raising process!!

As some of you may know I have a habit of periodically cooking dinner for some of my friends. And yesterday I did another one of these – but with a difference. This time I asked for a donation from people coming along. And a big thank you to those who could make it. It was great fun and the food certainly seemed to go down well. Plus, I have £130 more in my Sri Lanka fund than I had this time last week!!

For those of you who couldn’t make it, here’s a list of what we had (just to make you jealous)! 😉

Homemade bread
Aubergine, garlic and chocolate dip
Beetroot, chocolate and tahini dip

Mushroom and chestnut pie
Nut and vegetable rice salad

White chocolate risotto with dark chocolate chilli sauce
White coffee, dark coffee and dark cream ganaches
Strawberry coulis
Homemade meringues (plain and chocolate)
Strawberries, raspberries and cherries
Whipped cream

Tea and coffee

For those of you who couldn’t make it, I will certainly be doing others before I go away so you will get another chance!! Leave me a comment or drop me an email if you’d like to guarantee your place on the next one.

Selling All My Stuff

July 29th, 2008

I’ve decided to sell all of my stuff (well, most of it anyway). Given that I’m not one for stuff to begin with, this is a really good feeling. Added to which I’m hoping to get some money to help with my trip. So I end up with less stuff and more money which in my book definitely counts as eating two Penguins* with one cup of tea (well, it’s a nicer image than birds, stones and killing)!!

So my website now has a list of my books and my stuff on it. Please have a look and see if there is anything you’d like. What I don’t sell to you lovely people will go to eBay and the remainder will go on Freecycle or to a charity shop.

Please remember that all the money I get from selling all these things will help me on my way to Sri Lanka. Thank you in advance. 🙂

* Note for non-UK people: a Penguin is a biscuit a bit like a Tim Tam, only not so tasty. I’m not actually eating penguins.

Fund Raising Dinner

October 20th, 2008

I did another fund raising dinner on Saturday night. There were 9 of us. I made bread, hummous, chestnut and mushroom pie, mashed potatoes, honeyed carrots, balsamic cabbage, white chocolate risotto, dark chocolate chilli sauce, strawberry chocolate ganache, coffee ganache, chilli and orange ganache, whipped cream, raspberries and failed meringues. It was all quite tasty (even the failed meringues) and was a really great night. So thank you to everyone who made it. Your presence and assistance was greatly appreciated. As was the cash! That’s me £80 closer to getting away.

VESL Sponsored Walk

October 20th, 2008

I went to the Peak District a couple of weekends ago for a sponsored walk and reunion that VESL were organising. I was the only person there who hadn’t been out yet. They had representatives of all the years they’ve sent people away including (thanks to me) 2009! It was really great to meet up again with the guys who are sending me away. I met them at the information day and will get to see them again at my training day. It was also really good to meet people who have actually been out there and volunteered.

I was sharing a room with 4 girls. Two of whom had been to India about a year ago, the other two had been to the same project about 6 months ago. So each pair had heard about the other pair but had not actually met before. It was really great listening to them talking about the project and comparing notes (and photos)! It was also quite amazing to see the bond between each pair. I am really looking forward to meeting my partner (whoever they are) and am quite sure I’ll end up developing a strong friendship with them.

I was also talking to some of the others who had been to Sri Lanka and to someone who had been to Thailand. They were all quite jealous of me since I have the trip ahead of me and all assured me that I will love it!!!

It was great to hear such positive things from them about their trips and about VESL too. Mind you, anyone who went and hated it isn’t exactly likely to go to the Peak District for a sponsored walk to raise money for VESL!!

Talking to the people who had been has changed my plans slightly too. Small things: I’ve decided that I need to get my camera soon so I can take photos of Cambridge and my life here to take with me. They work well as teaching materials and the kids apparently really love seeing photos of the volunteers and where they are from. I’m also going to try and get a camera that will be somewhat robust. After three months of 35 degree heat and 75% humidity and being handled, played with and generally loved but lots of small children, it’s going to take a beating. I also need to find some children’s songs that I can learn and teach the kids (singing seems to be a great thing to do as a teaching technique). Also on the shopping list are gold stars (or other equivalent stickers).

The bigger change is my thoughts about my time out there. They were all quite unanimous in telling me that I won’t want to leave. My plan had been to teach for the 3 months and then spend two weeks with Sam and Pete holidaying in Sri Lanka. I had then been planning on coming back to Cambridge. I’m now budgeting for spending an extra month or two out there and am considering popping across to India for a bit of travelling there too, since I’ll be in the vicinity. So I should be back in Cambridge sometime between April and June. Or maybe a bit later. 🙂

I’ve started trying to acclimatise myself to chilli and will be trying to eat as much of it as I can manage between now and going away. The Sri Lankan curries are apparently very hot!! But, when your only food option is curry, you apparently get used to them quite quickly. Though I have been warned that there will come a day when curry for breakfast (again) will be quite difficult to face!

But back to the walk. We did about 15 miles on the first day and about 5 miles the second day. I could tell I’ve been in Cambridge for far too long since my knees seemed to be quite concerned about the walking downhill thing. They could cope ok with going up, but going down proved quite a problem. So I did have a rather painful left knee for the best part of a week later. Oh, and my feet got rather wet. I had only brought one pair of shoes (trainers at that) and they got very soggy about a quarter of a mile into the walk on day 1. Ah well, a wet foot or two isn’t the end of the world and I had enough clean, dry socks to change into. And frankly, if I’m going to be phased by a weekend in the Peak district then I’m really not going to cope well with Sri Lanka. 🙂

I know that it is traditional to request sponsorship before one does something like this, but I’d been rather busy in the lead up to going away and had forgotten to tell enough people about it or to specifically ask for sponsorship. But if you’d like to sponsor me in retrospect (the picture on the VESL website shows me (in the white jacket) on the top of a hill – proof I’d actually done it), then please feel free. For UK tax payers, please go to my Just Giving site. For all others, please donate via my Paypal account (the link is on my website).

Peterborough Passport Office

October 20th, 2008

I’m sitting in a Cafe Nero in Peterborough with a nice cup of tea tapping away on my laptop. I came in to Peterborough today so I could get my British passport renewed quickly. It usually takes a few weeks to get it done, but I didn’t get my act together sufficiently early and am now needing to get it renewed in a day. At first glance this sounds a little odd (excuse the sensory mix-up) since I’m not going to Sri Lanka for another couple of months (in fact, my project starts exactly 12 weeks from today). But I need to get a visa for volunteering and that process takes several weeks. And I need a scan of my passport for my visa application – and will eventually need to get the visa in my passport. So my passport renewal had to happen sooner rather than later.

I was quite surprised at how easy it is. I pay a bit extra (plus train and time to come to Peterborough), but the interview isn’t onerous. I just showed up at 8am, had my bag searched and my water bottle left at the door by the security guard for me to collect on my way out. Spoke to a nice man behind a rather tall counter who took my bits of paper, photo and current passport and pointed me to another nice man behind a slightly less tall counter who took my money. 8:15 and I’m on the streets of Peterborough with 4 hours to spend before I can go pick up my new fancy (biometric) passport.

So I went for a coffee (or rather a cup of tea). I did quite well, I drank the whole thing and it only took me an hour and a half! That was at Costa. I chuckled with the barista (such a silly name for people who make coffee) when a woman wandered in and asked for a strong decaf coffee. He said: “It’s decaf, you can’t it do strong!” Though he did then concede that an extra shot of decaf was probably what was called for.

I then wandered around Waterstones and WH Smiths for ages (another hour and a bit gone) and got an English dictionary (I don’t currently own one) and a Sri Lankan Lonely Planet guide from the former and a do-it-yourself Will kit from the latter. I think writing a will is a good idea (I don’t have one yet) and now is a very good time to do it. Not that I think I’ll have any problems when I go away. I’m certainly going to do everything I can to avoid them. But wandering through Sri Lanka is probably more dangerous than Southern England (even considering the present War on Terror), so a will is probably quite wise. Just have to figure out what to do with all my squillions of squillionths of pounds. 🙂

Home again now and uploading this post. I did collect my passport. And I ran it through their fancy biometric checking device in the foyer of the passport office. So I’m all set!!

Going Away Party

October 20th, 2008

I’ll be having a going away party in Cambridge on Saturday the 3rd of January. So please put the date in your diaries and contact me if you’ll be able to make it (at which point I’ll give you further information about times and places and sleeping arrangements etc).