Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cricket, Lovely Cricket

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped watching cricket. It may have been somewhere in my sixth year shortly after daddy moved away to work, what is for sure is that by time Ambrose and Walsh hung up their hats I had long lost interest in the game. Saturday afternoons sitting on the living room floor watching matches just weren’t the same without daddy to explain the nuances of the game.

Occasionally, I could muster interest in a one day match, test matches are just far too long; and I was drawn to the world cup only because of the spectacle an event of that scale is in of itself regardless of one’s feelings on the particular sport.

I arrived in Galle three days ago on one of my field visits. I was informed by one of the residents at the office where I’d be working that the West Indies were in the area playing a test match and that I should go see if I had the time. I nodded politely, aware that my schedule would not allow for such an excursion and simultaneously glad of that fact because it is has been a long time since I have been a fan of cricket. The years of West Indies’ lack lustre performance on the international scene did little to entice me back.

I arrived to the office on Thursday, my primary contact was on leave and the person who was to assist me with my work was away at a wedding but would try to make it back to the office by 3.30 to help me. After some work on some other projects it was clear that I suddenly had a huge hole in my schedule – but what was I to do with this time.

Cricket? I was told by one friend before leaving Barbados that I had to go watch a cricket match while in Sri Lanka, and while I told myself that it would have to be a 20/20 match, an afternoon of test cricket seemed just as good.

After an early lunch back at the hotel I boarded a three-wheeler and headed for the Galle International Cricket Ground. Admission was Rs.250 (approx. $2.50CAD/$5.00BB) somehow I had expected it to cost more but that was it and I was seated in the a pretty nice covered set of seats pretty much on the boundary. Though, to be fair Galle International is a pretty small ground so all the seats seem to be right on the boundary.

The grounds are located in the shadow of the historic fort built by the Portuguese. On the other side the Indian Ocean glistens, its shore lined with colourful fishing boats. Today is Day 4 of the match and Sri Lanka is at bat – 276/7.

I have long since forgotten the fielding names of the fielding positions but the basics of the game hang vaguely in the corners of my mind. I took my seat safely out of the reach of the blistering sun and began to observe the game – first, simply as a means of killing time; a promise I had made to a friend to partake in this ritual but soon it as more than that.

It was the first time since my arrival in Sri Lanka that I had seen black people in  the flesh. It may seem a trivial thing but when one is constantly on display as some kind of novelty, every element from your odd skin colour to the texture of your hair critically examined; it’s a pleasant reminder that there are other people who look like you. That you aren’t actually an alien, people just look at you like you’re one.

But as the minutes ebbed away at the cricket ground the feeling I was experiencing was more than identifying with people of my own race. I was suddenly invested in this cricket match…amidst the rhythmic chants of "Sri Lanka" and the Sri Lankan flags and supporters I felt like the only one backing the West Indies and it was right that I should support them. Every saved run, every near miss and wicket that fell I felt it. This was my team.

A group of wide-eyed youngsters scrambled into the empty seats next to me, the area had previously been occupied by an old British couple which had since retreated from the turning sun. “Miss? Miss? You, West Indies?” A smile crossed my face…it was the first time since arriving here that my being black did not make me African. I proudly responded in the affirmative and they chattered excitedly amongst themselves in Sinhala before asking which country I was from. My limited Sinhala and their limited English meant that this would be the shortest of exchanges but it is definitely one which I will remember.

“Sri Lanka has lost their final wicket. 378 all out. They trail the West Indies by 202 runs” came the voice over the loud speaker. He repeated his announcement in Sinhala but I was no longer listening. I was the only person who applauded the catch that would bring the Sri Lankan inning to an end, beaming with pride in a team and sport that an hour and a half earlier I merely felt indifferent towards.

I’m not even sure of the present roster of players for the West Indies. There was a time I could recite the team in order and knew which batsmen were strongest in which position, but that time is long gone but today it didn’t matter. Today I was a West Indian watching a team that represented me and feeling a bit at home.


P.S. A camera man got pretty up close to me so if by any chance you see a black person with a frizzy coif in blue in any coverage of the first test match – That’s me!!

I’ll post pictures once I get back to Badulla and can get them off my camera but I just wanted to share.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This Is How we Do It


It’s strange the first time you do it. It goes against pretty much everything we’ve been taught. Eating with your hands is by definition playing with your food and some part of you expects the scolding eyes of a parent to set upon you at any time but they never come.

There’s a special category of foods, for which this practice is reserved on our side of the Atlantic. Finger foods of course – various h’ors douevres, tacos, rotis (unless you buy them from Chefette, in which case it doesn’t really count) and the like. Other than that we are taught to eat with a variety of appropriate cutlery. At a fancy dinner, the sheer number of different forks can be overwhelming - one for each course eat from the outside in, don’t slurp the soup and tuck in your elbows in. It seems more like an exercise in mental acuity than the meeting of a biological imperative.

Here however, there’s a simple beauty in the tactile experience that is eating with your hands. Sure, if the food’s hot it can be a nuisance on your fingers, not to mention having rice under your nails and the fact that curry can and will stain anything (Tip of the day: a little toothpaste on your fingers after a curry meal will clean it right up).

But when you eat with your hands you experience food in a whole new way. You get to explore the textures and experiment with mixing them even before you begin to actually eat. And once you do begin to eat there’s something organic about the whole process. Something that part of your western upbringing tells you is wrong but which nevertheless feels terribly natural.

And besides experiencing food in a new way, we all know that when you wash dishes after any meal the worst part is having to wash the cutlery…so why not take them out of the equation all together…but that’s just an added bonus.

When first I arrived, I was always happy to be served with cutlery (which means a spoon and a fork, no knife) but this week as I had lunch with my co workers, I was a) the only person served with cutlery but I more importantly had no inclination to use it.

I think Sri Lanka got it right on this one, there’s just something about eating with your hands and the way in which it changes the way in which we share and experience food. Getting seconds is always tricky cause your right hand is dirty and if you’re like me your left serves more an aesthetic purpose and keeps you balanced than actual function but everyone is serving everyone and helping each other out. And if you’re particularly close eating off each other’s plates which looks completely different when you are actually reaching your hand into someone’s plate rather than just stealing their potatoes with your fork.

There’s just something homey about eating with your hands even if you’re thousands of miles away from home.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Past the Point of No Return


Last week an office wide email was issued indicating that the next staff meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 12th would be taking place in Hambantota (a four hour drive away) and the two vehicles would depart Badulla at 7am on that day. Several days later, one of the regional supervisors comes to collect my passport information for ID purposes as we would be visiting the new port being built in the region - tres exciting.

Anywhoosie, the rest of the week passes without event and suddenly it’s Monday the day before the staff meeting and in passing the accounts manager reminds me to collect a travel advance. Travel advance??? Why? Oh we’re staying there and coming back Wednesday…oh ho, thanks for the notice. Imagine I had turned up with just my pen and paper – I’d have been quite distressed. Well at least now I knew.

After work, packed my overnight bag including linens, mosquito repellent and crashed early in preparation for the next day’s trip. I truly dislike the long drives – yes the scenery is gorgeous but it’s difficult to appreciate as we navigate dizzying turn at break neck speeds – apparently all Sri Lanka drivers are at all times on the most important mission of life.

We made several stops on the way to Hambantota – in addition to a staff meeting it was also kind of a study trip so we visited several Vocational Training  centres and were even given a presentation re: the centre’s performance at on location (I’d give you a summary if I had a clue as to what was being said – but given that everyone was smiling I’ll go out on a limb and say that it was all good Thumbs up). The staff meeting would go similarly where I sat for 2 hours testing my limited Sinhala and the limits of my patience as plans were made for the last quarter of the year.

On this day we would visit the the construction site of the new harbour presently being built in Hambantota. it is the largest of it’s type in the southern region of the country and will when complete be able to accommodate international shipping containers of any size.




In the evening, after ordering dinner at the hotel we headed to Katuragama – one of the most sacred temples in the country. It features not only a Buddhist temple or Kovil, but also a Hindu temple and a Mosque.



Day II – The return to Badulla. The previous night I had enjoyed my first hot shower in two months and rose early this morning to do likewise. In the packing for this trip there was no talk of anything but a staff meeting so I packed a 2nd undershirt for my black ensemble (as pictured above) and on my feet I was wearing my flat sandals.

After settling the bills, around 8am we boarded the two vehicles and set off. After approximately one hour we pulled into a natural reserve…I figured we’d see some cute animals, take a couple pictures and it’d be a great story to write home. Oooh, I got a story to write about indeed but not the one I thought it’d be (although there were some cute animals involved).







I call your attention to what I indicated I was wearing in preparation for the next part of this tale. In addition to the cute monkeys there was a Kovil at this location on top of a hill. My supervisor explained to me that most Kovils are built atop hills because of how calming that location is and how you can forget your worries there and focus on worship.

The hill was actually more of a gentle slope and it was actually not that big a deal and the view was indeed breathtaking. So perhaps I’d begun to worry prematurely.


Now if only the story had ended there…if only the hiking had ended there because as we came down the other side of the hill where the Kovil was located someone pointed to another in the distance. Also we had scaled the rock face to get up when there stairs conveniently carved into the rock on the other side but oh wells.

We began our trek up the second hill in the sweltering Sri Lankan heat.


While I suspect my friends at the No Plans Plan may have enjoyed the allure of a surprise hike, I was slightly less than amused – though from the way in which I attacked the challenge that may not have been immediately evident.

It was only as the path narrowed and became less stable looking it occurred to me that it was all fun and games going up, I could brute force my way up but I’d eventually have to come back down…whoops. I was at this point long past the point of no return. A location I’ve recently heard described as beyond where Jesus lost his sandals. Whichever terminology you use I was way off the ground and there was no convenient elevator for the way back down. 

Once at the summit, it was undeniable the beauty of the surrounding vista.

 DSC04368At that altitude, the view is amazing and the breeze almost makes you forget all the work it took to get to where you are. The breeze also has a tendency to move anything not bolted down so I’m holding on tightly to the rail.

As we prepared to descend everyone removed their shoes so they could negotiate the rocks on the way back down (to be fair no one was actually prepared for a hike) except that I never go barefoot…it hurts Sad smile so there I was preparing for the descent in my sandals. My sandals that almost caused me to slide almost immediately as I started heading back down and all I could think was “Please don’t pop, please, please, please don’t pop!”

Perhaps, I should explain the story of these sandals. They are the flattest shoes I have ever owned and when I purchased them it prompted my mom and best friend to consider taking out a full page ad. I am vertically challenged and despise flat shoes with every fibre of my being but these are the shoes that I wear to work every day. I brought work shoes with me but a) I am not promising anyone to walk twenty minutes to work up hill and through the market in heels and b) no one else wears shoes to work as in everyone else is wearing rubber slippers so I’m blending.

So I start to descend and as my slippers betray me almost immediately one of my co-workers says “Your slippers…not fit”. The very Western part of me wanted to retort “No shock!” but rather I let it pass with uncomfortable laughter and began to feel my way down the hill.

As I fumbled my way down with only a fraction of the confidence that had made me third to the summit I thought only of ensuring that my sandals didn’t pop. Every step taken carefully calculated…yes avoiding death was considered as well but I have another 8 1/2 months left I really need my shoes to survive.

I made it down in one piece eventually and even better news so did my shoes Open-mouthed smile. This was my first official sight seeing since having gotten to Badulla in August so it was a welcomed outing though a touch of warning would have been greatly appreciated.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Working 9 to 5

Have you missed me? It's been a while since my last blog post but as promised here's my blog post about my work. I've been trying to come up with thesis ideas in the weeks since I last posted a la Beautiful Mind (before you realise he's schizophrenic) so hopefully news on thesis shortly.

I am on placement with WUSC-Sri Lanka (duh?) and I'm based in the Badulla office which is located in the Southern region of the country and responsible for programming in not only Badulla but also the surrounding districts.

My official job title is Junior Program Officer - Micro-credit and Employment Services and as part of my work here I'll be working in Badulla, Hambantota, Moneragala and Matara.

A primary focus of WUSC's work here is the empowerment of women and marginalised youth thus these are the key target groups for all the developmental efforts here in country which includes the provision of Vocational Training and micro-credit. Presently there is a shift towards building the capacity of the local partners and less focus on direct implementation by WUSC.

As part of the capacity building efforts, the first task which I am working on is the design of a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system for micro-credit organisations. The system will hopefully address the deficits in reporting which presently exist as well as allow these organisations to track their performance and improve their sustainability.

Right now I'm working on visiting these organisations and assessing their present M&E structures. This part has been a bit challenging given the language barrier but I am trying. I have managed to pick up a little Sinhala. So far most of my vocabulary is limited to issues of microcredit or buying vegetables in the market and while I know how to ask the questions - understanding the responses is a different issue.

During the course of the year I will also be working with micro-credit partners to expand the range of service currently provided to clients; Vocational Training partners to develop or strengthen production units, and the Regional Employment Strategy for the South.

So that's a brief over view of what I'm doing here for the next 9 months - time is flying quickly lol. And it shouldn't be so long before my next update...


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hot Food and Iced Tea

I'm a thinker. I like to theorise. After my first year in Canada I presented my hypothesis on Public Displays of Affection (PDAs) and how they are affected by the prevailing climate.

For those of you not familiar with this piece of research the theory states that PDAs are more socially accepted in cold countries as a function of the human need for body heat during the winter months. This is why one sees more couples "hugging up" in Canada than one would find in Barbados i.e. Barbados is too hot for that madness. [You may cite this study as Lubin, 2008]

I'd now like to present the preliminary findings of my time here in Sri Lanka thus far.

Hypothesis A: Hot Food and Iced Tea
I drink juice. I'm not a soda person in fact I have never really acquired a taste for it. I'm a big fan of juice and since my migration to Canada I have become a huge fan of iced tea which is usually my beverage of choice when out for dinner but I haven't had iced tea here in Sri Lanka. Only hot tea!

In Sri Lanka there is morning tea which is usually served around 10.30/11 and an afternoon tea around 2.30. Initially, I assumed this to be remnants of a colonial history and well Ceylon is the home of tea but further investigation revealed a more interesting source of this Sri Lankan affinity for hot tea.

"Come and eat while the food is hot" OR "At least have a cup of hot tea to break the air." We've all heard these admonitions, the latter especially if you grew up in the Caribbean (it's a mantra for older people). Sri Lanka however seems to have a different take on the matter of consuming hot food.

When I say a different take I mean what I can only term as an aversion to the idea. I have yet to have a hot meal other than what I have prepared on my modest stove at home. I recently spent the past week in Matara with a host family and was called each day to meals just as they were ready but they were always cold. I also visited a buffet with my supervisor and was shocked to see fans positioned directly over the food (which I assume was to chase flies) but served also to ensure that the food was room temperature at best.

I was thus led to the conclusion that given that meals apparently are never consumed hot, Sri Lankans consume multiple cups of hot tea daily to "break the air".

Hypothesis B: Flies and Spice
As noted in an earlier edition of this blog, on occasion one's meal may be thronged by flies. I have noticed however a reduction in my level of annoyance by their presence. Indeed I still have not completely over come my disdain for the creatures but have reached an uneasy tolerance for them.

I have found that one is less disgusted when one believes that it is not a fly but indeed black pepper in the food. And the movement of that piece of spice as you stretch your hand towards the food is the function only of a perfectly timed gust of wind.

Next week I'll be giving you a taste of my real research and work in Sri Lanka so stay tuned.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Month Down...

Today marks exactly four weeks since I've been here in Sri Lanka and there is something important I need to get off my chest. Not that this has only been on my mind for the past four weeks but I'm just about ready to explode now...

I think about you all the time, people say that it'll just happen when the time is right but I can't get you out of my mind.

I wish I could forget you, I wish I could just let this year happen but you haunt my every waking moment and it's only been four weeks. How much of my mind will you have consumed in four months time? Why can't you leave me alone? Why must you torment me so?

I see you everywhere. At times I swear I hear you calling my name. And your name...Your name comes whispering in the breeze; it resounds in my head, echoes on my lips, colours my dreams, holds my breath...takes me away from the here and now.

I long to find you, to know you, to have and hold you...but alas so far you are but a distant dream. A relentless fantasy

"I think I have a problem, I think I think too much" - truer words have ne'er been spoken when it comes to me and you. Perhaps if I just let it be you'd come to me, but I can't let it go. Place this in the hands of fate? Wishing for a fortunate happenstance to send you in my direction - I am the craftsman of my own fate (or so I've been told) - does that not apply to this too?

Oh, but to say your name and make it real - this thing that escapes me and simultaneously bewitches. To speak your name without fear - to know what I know, to share in your secrets and make them my own. Spending time with you is a pleasure I look forward but cannot know...not now! Not yet! I have to give it time.

And yet still I yearn to know you, to understand you, to unravel your mysteries and make them known...

Thesis I will find you! But for now please leave me alone.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gastronomic Adventures

Just sharing three loosly related stories, not by any means the most skillfully written blog entry but I'm sure you'll enjoy these stories. Especially those of you who are familiar with my highly peculiar eating habits including my ability to forget to eat. In Sri Lanka almost every conversation begins with an inquiry as to whether or not you have eaten and to someone such as myself who easily has some of the worst eating habits known to man this is quite a frustrating question.

My frustration also extends to their inability to comprehend the concept of no - most of the Sinhala I have learnt thus far is just different ways of refusing food because as you are telling them no they will pour tea or take out food for you. No just doesn't mean no in South Asia.

And now without further ado - Gastronomic Adventures 1-3.

Adventure #1
On the first day to work, the driver cautions me that I should be careful not to eat everywhere and points out a good pastry shop that I should eat from. On day one, I visit the aforementioned location and get pastries to go from the display case - I take them back to work and enjoy them in the comfort of my office.

The next day however, I decided I felt like sitting and eating in the store. So after selecting my lunch at the window I was directed inside to the seating area. There were two tables and off to another side, there was living room suite and a coffee table. I was seated at the coffee table.

Instead of bringing my order, the waitress had placed an assortment of the restaurant's fare on two plates and set before me. I reached for the items I had originally ordered and stared in horror as a horde of flies began to rest on what was left on the platters. Those who know me are well aware of how scornful I can be and thus this sight immediately put an end to my appetite. I chugged the juice I had ordered and requested the bill, claiming that what I had ordered was a lot spicier than I had expected (which was also true - who puts whole chillies in an omelette?).

As I exited the restaurant I observed the waitress placing the food upon which the flies had just partied back into the display case - needless to say I won't be eating there anymore.

Adventure #2
Now, I enjoy curry as much as the next person. No, I stand corrected - given my Guyanese heritage and status as an honorary brown person I enjoy curry more than the average person but I draw the line at rice and curry three times a day.

Now, I've had occasion to warm left over curry for breakfast but never have I set out to prepare rice and curry for breakfast. I've never run down the options as cereal, toast or..oh yeah fish curry. Yet, this is common practice in Sri Lanka and daily I am asked "No rice and curry for breakfast?".

And while I am given at times to hyperbole, this is not one such example. I am genuinely asked daily about whether or not I am eating. And several people find it necessary to come into my office and ask me when I am eating, and if I am having rice and curry.

I did however have a most entertaining conversation with a colleague who noted my extremely thin size and noted that should I eat like a Sri Lankan i.e rice and curry for breakfast lunch and dinner I could easily gain a significant amount of weight over the next twelve months.

Adventure #3
At the beginning of the third year ahead of co-op we are cautioned about expectations - the high expectations that people will have of us and also to be wary of having expectations of the field.

Apparently, the caution re: expectations extends to food. Yesterday, I had occasion to visit a Chinese restaurant and ordered a vegetable fried rice. Badulla is a small town and it was the first time I had seen a food place offering something other than Sri Lankan fare.

I was terribly excited to take my fried rice home for dinner. It was the first time since move-in where I wouldn't be forced to make dinner on my one burner gas stove, and more importantly it would be a different taste.

I opened up the take out box, and the food was wrapped in the traditional way in cut-rite on the inside of the box. Unfolding the cut-rite, the disappointment that overcame me as I noticed that the rice was not so much fried as steamed and that the only vegetables in it were corn and carrots.

I broke out my frying pan to set about rectifying the situation. I diced some onions, fretted over the fact that I have yet to see bell peppers in Sri Lanka, and threw the rice into a pan with some soy sauce. Not nearly the convenient meal I had envisioned when I purchased my "fried rice" half hour earlier.


Monday, August 9, 2010

And now.. A word from our sponsors

Have you ever taken a shower to be scolded afterwards by your mother for wetting up the whole bathroom? Have you ever wondered why it was such a big deal...after all it is called the BATHroom?

Well I've got the answer to your bath related worries...with a bathroom designed as it should be.

The toilet is located in the back left corner of this reduce-sized bathroom. In front of that there is a lower tap and on the right wall is your shower head located inches away from the face basin.

But how does that solve my problem? Simple! The shower, toilet everything share a common floor space. Cleverly built on a slant for easy drainage your mom will never quarrel that you've soaked the whole bathroom again because well with this design that's what you're supposed to do.

Taking a shower has never been simpler and think of the convenience when you're ill. Bath tubs and showers are the way of the past...this innovative minimalist design is the way of the future and it's standard here in Sri Lanka.

What are you waiting for, don't be there be here.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming

Monday, August 2, 2010

Who Needs Wonderland?

Who needs Wonderland when the trip to Sri Lanka was such a wild ride and we'll talk about the streets of Colombo later.

When last I posted I was sitting in Hong Kong International hoping that weather permitted a timely departure from that airport to the next port of call in Singapore before arrival in Colombo. Alas, it was not to be. We never boarded the plane until two hours after the scheduled dedparture - of course there was no announcement from the airline apologising for the delay rather the exchange between myself and the personnel at the gate went something like this:

R: Excuse me, is the flight delayed?
Airline: Yes, because of the bad weather.
R: Of course, but what does that mean for those of us continuing on to Colombo
A: Oh, that flight was already delayed. It won't be arriving in Colombo until around 5 tomorrow morning.
R: (highly dejected) Oh...thank you

Accepting now my fate I waited patiently until we did finally board the plane to leave Hong Kong only to be told once we were on board they had discovered something wrong with the plane, the part was in the hangar and it would take approximately one hour to fix the issue...of course it took closer to two hours but at least the issue was discovered on the ground rather than in the air and we could leave.

But no...that would be far too simple a resolution to this story. At this point the flight manager informs the already cranky cabin of passengers that the crew had an early start to the day (No, kidding) and that they were out of duty hours but that the standby crew was en route and as soon as they arrived to relieve the present crew we would be able to leave.

Some forty five minutes later a new pilot announces that he is speaking with the company to see if they can get clearance to leave the airport tonight because the flight has lost it's place in the departure queue. Ultimately, some five and one half hours later than scheduled we were headed to Singapore.

We landed in Singapore and were instructed to deplane as there were two hours before the scheduled flight to Colombo...the plus we were to resume our original seats once we re-boarded. The downside...the gentleman seated next to me smelt of the strangest combination of dust and spices.

Well, being the busy bee that I am, I tried to think of how I could be productive with the two hours and noting all the free wireless signs I pulled out my laptop to send mother a quick note - she must be terribly worried by now (regardless of which time zone you were in this was long past scheduled arrival time). After connecting to the wireless I was greeted with a notice that said = "Blah Blah Blah Credit Card Information. Blah Blah Blah Internet cost $6/half an hour". Now I'm not the brightest cookie in the jar but last time I checked free meant without charge.

Anywhoosie, eventually I arrive in Colombo. At 4.40 am local time - 2 hours behind Hong Kong and 10.5 ahead of Barbados and Canada. After an eternity in the line I successfully cleared immigration but you would not believe what I saw as I rounded the corner and headed towards the baggage claim.

Yes, it was duty free but rather than trinkets and alcohol there were instead washers and dryers for sale, in fact an entire laundry list of large household appliances. I quickly did a 360 and surveyed my surroundings to see if it was at all possible for me to have made a completely wrong turn in the the 6 ft between where I presently stood and the immigration desk...Uhm, nope this was the right place because 100m ahead I saw the sign pointing to baggage claim. Well, to each his own I guess.

I descended the escalator and collected my belongings the two days of travel weighing very heavily on me. I headed out of the airport and rather that the quiet that one expects of an airport arrival hall at 5.30am I was greeted by a sea of people. The airport was alive and there was not a single inch of free space as people thronged the waiting area to greet loved ones. I focused on the sign bearing my name and headed toward my driver. We embarked upon a one hour journey to Colombo that regardless of my exhaustion prevented sleep from coming in the back seat of this taxi.

Did you know that one can seat a family of four on the back of a motor cycle? I didn't. I also did not know exactly how many vehicles can sit side by side across a TWO lane road before that fateful drive into Colombo. The pedestrians tempting fate were the absolute topping on this journey as they crossed the road with nary a thought to the peril that they were in as drivers executed this ballet which involved rather than slowing down nimbly darting around them. I am convinced I saw people within inches of losing their lives several times on that short journey and somehow was more perturbed by the occurrence than they were.

A power nap at the hotel where I would stay until I made the journey to Badulla and I boarded a tuk tuk with Wagma (Program Supervisor for Students Without Borders) to the WUSC office. Did I mention I had now been travelling for almost 48hrs straight (minor details right?).

The tuk tuk ride was another experience which urges one to set things straight with the Creator. The buses drive as though they are motorcycles expecting to fit any size gap; the motorcycles drive as though they are buses in the centre of the road and expecting to be given wide berth and the right of way at all times and tuk tuk drivers alternate between embracing both views of their small three wheeled vehicles and at times manage to simultaneously entertain them.

So yeah, who needs wonderland when you never know what gap your driver is going to attempt to fit next? When you regularly share a coat of paint with a variety of vehicles as you watch the road whizz by from the open sides of this nimble tuk tuk? Behemoth is the same everyday but boarding a vehicle in Sri Lanka is everyday a brand new set of possibilities.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

Neither did I get to Sri Lanka in a day lol...

Discounting the epic tales of set backs and rescheduling turmoil that I have experienced (and thanks to everyone who supported me and stayed positive with me through that) the trip to Sri Lanka is pretty long.

I embarked upon my journey at 1.30 am on Tuesday July 27th (thankfully discovering only hours earlier that my flight was a.m and not p.m). The first leg of this journey was a 16 hr non-stop flight to Hong Kong.

OMG...16 hours is a ridiculous amount of time to be confined inside of a plane. The flight itself was not bad though and I really enjoyed the service on Air Cathay (if anyone of influence is reading this you should totally examine adding Barbados to your destinations). I arrived in Hong Kong some 16 hrs later but thanks to having traversed a gajillion (yes, that is the technical term) time zones it was 5.00 am here -the view as we flew over mainland China was breathtaking.

I had an 11-hr layover in Hong Kong to look forward to at this point. Thus after confirming that I could leave the airport I set about planning how I would take the city by storm - some four hours later, at least, because nothing is open at 5 in the morning (and my eyes shouldn't be either but that's a different story).

Fortunately, unlike Pearson, Hong Kong International (HKIA) has free wireless internet -which is actually where I'm blogging from right now - and I settled in for some updates to back home and a little time wastage until I was ready to take on Hong Kong. As I prepared to head for Hong Kong city centre and packed away my laptop etc I was approached by two gentlemen sporting identification badges.

They identified themselves as customs officers and showed me their badges (only their names were in English so the badges may as well have said "Smile, you're on candid camera"). They asked to see my passport and what my business was. To which I responded in my most pleasant voice that I was in transit en route to Colombo. After being completely dumbfounded by the blue book that I presented as my passport (pretty sure, they'd never heard of Barbados far less seen a Bajan passprt) and the exchange of a few more pleasantries they wished me a good day and handed back over my documents. Though these were the most chill customs officers I had ever met (one of them was dressed in camo shorts with a back pack on his back) the experience was still unnerving - but to be fair, as the only black person in the airport right then, I've only seen two others in all the time I've been here, I must've really stood out.

I packed my belongings and headed for immigration, I had been sitting in the area for transferring passengers up to this point. The immigrations officer too was confused by the blue book and was unsure of what to do - I knew that I was entitled to 90 days in the country without a visa but I let her look it up on her system. She stamped my passport and welcomed me to Hong Kong.

Now to get rid of the super heavy hand luggage - I asked for directions to storage lockers and either I'm really slow or people in Hong Kong are just as bad as Bajans at giving directions in addition to HKIA to being a maze. After wandering for a while I stored one of my carry-on pieces, the other was my hand-bag and I purchased for $100 HKD a round-trip ticket to Hong Kong city centre.

I boarded the express train which promised to deliver its passengers in Hong Kong within 24 mins. The train moved quickly and yet surprisingly quietly through the countryside offering views of mountains and beautiful architecture which gave way to and industrial area before reaching its ultimate destination.

The Hong Kong station is located in the lower levels of the International Financial Centre (IFC) Mall. The sights and smells of Hong Kong are everywhere upon entering the mall. The smell of ginger in particular struck me and within this mall there were a multiplicity of food stores and they all had somewhere to sit and eat even Godiva (Read Golden Arches East).

This was a bustling city, droves of people bustling in and out of the mall, the trains and the ferries which adjoined this mall and yet it was somehow different to the daily jostle of Toronto. Determined to find an authentic restaurant in which to have breakfast I made my way out of the mall and towards Exchange Square where a Jollibee caught my eye but the restaurant was crowded and I moved on. The smell of food and various spices hung thickly in the humid air in Hong Kong such that one believed that gastronomic delight awaited on every corner but alas each hope was met with a clothing or electronic store rather than the sight of food.

Eventually I found a small restaurant and after reviewing the menu decided upon the soy sauce chicken and rice. It was an interesting experience. The meal was served with a glass of warm water and some type of garlic preserve on the side. This garlic preserve it should be noted came to very good use as the seasonings in the food are far less than accustomed to and the garlic preserve aided significantly in the palatibility of the ordered dish.

As would be my luck, once I had finished the meal I was greeted by a torrential downpour - did I mention my umbrella was in the bag at the storage locker back at the airport? - I scurried through the rain back to the IFC. I figured that no sight seeing could get done in this weather so I might as well explore the mall. After some aimless wandering and window shopping, I realized I should be shopping in Asia - all the clothes are my size. I headed back to the airport as it seemed large enough to keep me occupied. So around 12.30 I boarded the airport express and headed back to the mall collected by bag from the locker and began to look around.

Remembering that this airport made no boarding calls I decided that the closer I made myself to the departure area the better off I would be and after clearing immigration I began to look around inside the departure lounge. HKIA is not an airport - it is an epic mall with planes. It is an endless expanse of high end stores and even more food options and it is ridiculous the ease with which one can walk in circles and not even realize what has happened until you are back at your point of origin.

I`ve given up by this time on exploring I have been travelling for eons and missed a whole day I want to head to my gate and wait out the rest of my time in Hong Kong. After staring at the information board and waiting for the English to appear I discover I am boarding at gate 43 and start to make my way there.

So I walk in circles for a bit...before making it to the escalators that lead to gates 33-80. At the end of these two long flights of escalators must be the gates right? Wrong. These escalators lead to the train that takes you to the escalators that take you to the gates. And that is where am now sitting on the floor writing my blog. The bright flashes of lightning and the roll of thunder mingled with the bustle of people conversing in a variety of languages form the soundtrack to this scene.

I left Toronto 26hrs ago (38 if you count the twelve lost to changing time zones) and I still have another 9 hrs before I arrive in Colombo (weather permitting). Jet lag is starting to kick in and I would kill for a shower.

Rome wasn't built in a day but I kind of wish this journey had been made in one.


Monday, June 14, 2010


The most annoying part about anything is the wait...waiting for water to boil; for Christmas; for paint to dry lol

So that's where I am right now...waiting. Don't get me wrong - I'm in a better place that I was a month ago and a lot of stuff is in place and ready to go but there's still waiting to be done. I still don't have a departure date and well I'm waiting to go.

I received my job description just over a week ago and I'm waiting to see how I'll be at that. The job description has me terribly excited and simultaneously terrified. It's incredible that they hired me and think that I'll be able to do all that's listed in the job description - which is also what's so scary. They expect me to know things - but maybe I'll be good at knowing things. We'll wait and see.

I'm waiting to have an epiphany - I need a topic for That which shall not be named. Apparently, it'll come to me when I'm in country but I like to get a head start on things like these but guess this is something else to add to the list of things I'm waiting for.

I also have to get another vaccination, which is going to add to my waiting time. It's a course of two vaccines given a month apart. However, following this shot I should be able to officially say that I am vaccinated against everything under the sun (that's not hyperbole, I promise).

Want to know more? Guess you'll just have to wait for the next post...


Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Blog - Finally


I finally got my blog up and I hope that you will join me for my whirlwind adventure.

For those of you who I've spoken to recently you are well aware that I will be completing placement in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, I know many of you are confused as to why this blog is Richelle in Sri Lanka rather than India lol.

The short version of the story re: the change in location is that Indian immigration is super ridiculous AND I got this amazing job offer so really 2+2=4 and Badulla Sri Lanka here I come.

This has all happened in really the last week or so... so there's still a lot of details to be sorted out but I will be working with World University Services Canada (WUSC) as the Junior Program Officer - Employment Services and Microenterprise Development (I'll tell you what that all means once I figure it out).

Right now I'm in Barbados trying to fit four months of summer into three weeks - wish me luck!!

That's it for my first post; stay tuned for more details.