Thursday, 29 April 2010

School Visit

Yesterday was a Poya day which is the Buddhist celebration of the full moon, and reason enough for a public holiday! This is a shot of the moon rising over Tangalle Beach at about 6:20pm. You can see that my camera struggles with low light levels but the sun was going down rapidly and any later would have meant the picture was pitch black.

Today was a day for visiting a couple of schools. The first was a small rural school with five computers, two of which were broken, and the screen of another would only display half-height. The Internet had been disconnected a few months before because the school forgot to pay the bill, but no matter - the modem didn't work anyway! The IT teacher really was totally uninspiring and, so I'm told, got the job on the strength of having attended a 30-hour course. In contrast, the Geography teacher was keen and lively, spoke a little English, and had been on an exchange visit to a partner school in the UK. This is what ASL is mostly about - cultural exchange between Sri Lankan schools and English-speaking schools, usually from the UK.

The second school was this one shown above. Look carefully at the first photo - what's that in the background? The original school had been levelled by the 2004 Tsunami - literally levelled - and this fantastic new building was its solid replacement. The murals were amazing, I thought. There's a new computer lab up on the second floor, with air conditioning, sound, digital projector and everything, including ten donated computers. But only two worked. The story was that all the computers had been supplied without hard disks (a sensible data-protection policy) but, even though they'd managed to find newish hard disks, they couldn't connect to the motherboards without little adaptors, and they didn't have the money to buy them. Or the Head was waiting for a donation, or wouldn't sign a requisition. Whatever, there was some good reason for not having them.

I noticed that all the screws on the cases of the new hard disks were going rusty. Sea air, you see. But shouldn't the room's air conditioning fix that? Well, it would, if only the door wasn't left open! I suggested that they fit a door closer.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Settling In

On Monday I went into ASL's Galle office to meet the staff there and also to get my bearings in Galle. Tuesday (yesterday) I came to Tangalle where I am now, and met some of the staff here. Today is a "Poya" day which is effectively a public holiday so I've come to the office to grab an Internet connection.

I have to say that my first three Sri Lankan nights at Unawatuna, Galle, were not so great. I felt it was worse than being at Kovalam Beach (near SISP where I worked for 18 months) - a place I never felt especially at ease. Unawatuna was touristy, prices were high, people weren't so openly friendly, dress was very Western, my room was somewhat dark, and there were many flies everywhere! I stayed at Highlands Guest House, run by Romani, and its biggest virtue was that, as a concession to ASL, it was cheap. LKR600 (less than £4) a night, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much! The long sandy beach at Unawatuna was very narrow because the Tsunami had removed a lot of sand, and there were quite a few drunks and the usual number of touts.

ASL's office in Galle was dingy - it had no windows!!! And small too. Certainly donated funds are not wasted here. But the ASL staff were really nice: friendly, welcoming, encouraging, enthusiastic, especially Bec, the manager. The few parts of Galle that I saw were not so great, though the HUGE Dutch Fort area is rather interesting, with old buildings and secret courtyards. I can see myself going back and exploring.

But the place at Tangalle - WOW!!! Fantastic! Bec had arranged the accommodation in both places but Tangalle's was cheaper (about £3 a night as a very special ASL deal) and stunning! It's like a big bungalow with four self-contained en-suite rooms, each with their own front door, and each about 20 metres from the sea!!! There's a large shared kitchen which should work out just fine. And there's a covered outside raised sitting area which is perfect for relaxing in the sofas. It really is gorgeous!!! I'm trying not to be overly enthusiastic but so far it looks brilliant!

And the office at Tangalle is light and spacious too. I sit under the A/C so I reckon I've got the best seat. There's one other volunteer but she leaves today, and there are two young SL male staff. Everyone is quietly spoken so I have to strain to hear anything!

Last night I slept with the sound of the sea breaking on the shore and woke just before sunrise. I couldn't resist opening the doors, crossing the little road, getting onto the beach and taking some photos of the sun coming up. It really was gorgeous! I am so much more enthusiastic than I was a couple of days ago!

Weather is currently sunny, hot and sticky, and there are still far too many house-flies for my liking. Everywhere seems cleaner than Kovalam so I don't know what the flies are living on!

Today I saw a troupe of monkeys crossing the road in front of me, and a big (almost 1 metre long) lizard in the river. The colourful flowers and butterflies are simply stunning!

Sunday, 25 April 2010


Well, here I am in Sri Lanka. Eight days later than expected due to the Icelandic volcanic dust cloud, but here nonetheless. I arrived yesterday at around 08:45 having had next to zero sleep on the planes because of fellow passengers with their headphones set to max, or being bumped into in the aisle seat, or having little leg room or not being able to get comfy. Never mind - I arrived safe and sound. And I was able to watch Avatar. So Thank You Emirates!

After leaving the airport to find a working ATM and then re-entering to buy a SIM card, it was a case of finding the unmarked bus stand and the undecipherably marked bus to take me to the local bus station. There, I took a small vehicle to Colombo and had to pay for a seat for my luggage despite it not occupying a seat! Then I found another bus to take me south to Galle where I navigated my way by hired 3-wheeler to the guest house. The long, second bus ride was pretty crazy! The driver barged into the smallest gap at the slightest opportunity, overtook on blind bends and dived both sides of the road. That is, apparently, typical behaviour. Skilled madness! But despite the living nightmare I found my head nodding from tiredness and, once I'd got there, was pleased to get my head down for an hour.

In the room next door was Sophie, a French volunteer doing an evaluation of ASL as part of her internship. A bright and breezy girl in her mid-twenties. After I'd had a wash and brush-up, she told me a little about ASL. Bec, manager of the project, then arrived and took me on a very brief look at Unawatuna beach and environs where I'll be staying for the next three nights.

Then it was party time! Off to the leaving-do of Mary, a retired teacher of English, working for ASL and quite a character. She'd be an impossible act to follow so just as well I won't be trying! I met several of the other staff and made some useful contacts like Alan and Jo - retired English teachers volunteering in local private schools. Everyone tells me that the teaching of IT is seriously wanting in this area of SL so I'm glad there'll be something for me to do. Jo invited me to her school to observe computing classes sometime, which I look forward to doing.

Today, Sunday, was spent recovering a bit. I accompanied Sophie to the beach and met up with Mary there but I continued for a little walk to get my bearings. I think everyone here has a very odd sense of directions (especially the women!) so I'm gonna have to depend on my own observations. Lunch was a fairly good Dahl Curry and pink rice, eaten at One Love Restaurant, sitting overlooking the ocean with waves crashing under the stilt-supported floor. The owner told me that the Tsunami took away a lot of the beach's sand and that seemed true - it was now a skinny strip surrounding the large bay and it's probably only a matter of time before One Love is consumed by the sea.

A few things I've noticed so far:
  • Everyone here wears sandals or shoes unlike Kovalam (India) where at least half wore nothing. 
  • Dress here is very Western - I only spotted one solitary woman in traditional dress and all men wear trousers or shorts and not Dhotis etc. 
  • People are helpful! They relentlessly offer their 3-wheelers for hire but when you refuse they'll still help find a bus stand and even hail the correct bus without any expectations of bribes being paid! 
  • Kids and adults here are less openly friendly but perhaps that's to do with this being a very touristy area with tourists not being simply confined to accommodation near the beach as Kovalam was - the locals here are just not interested in stray Whites. 
  • Vegetation is very lush and quite varied which must be due to the high rainfall. There was a heavy downpour soon out of Colombo yesterday but thankfully it had stopped by the time I needed to leave the bus. There are fewer coconut trees and banana 'trees'. 
  • It's very humid and hot, just like Kovalam at this time of year, and darkness falls similarly quickly in the evenings.
I spotted my first chameleon today, making a poor job of looking like a bit of twig (its movement gave the game away!) and, best of all, I saw a shoal of large, sun-glinted silver fish, leaping from the water only a few metres away. Fantastic!

Then there was this odd little vehicle...