Friday, 31 December 2010

Future Concerned

I'm really worried about returning to the UK in April. I won't have a job and will have nowhere to live. Yes, I do own a small property but it's rented out - it's how I've been able to sustain myself while volunteering. Unfortunately it isn't near any likely employers.  It brings in a small income which might be enough to pay for a bedsit in a cheaper town but I'll have to get a job quickly.  In the longer term I'm hoping to train to be a teacher in the Autumn via a Post Graduate Certificate of Education at a university somewhere, so I'll need work from April until September at least.

There's no chance of picking up my old job again - they're pruning staff right now. And the work I did with safety-critical programmable controllers is too specialised to be much use in many places. The employment scene in the UK has changed significantly for the worse while I've been away. Hmm. Interesting times! I'm looking into options and possibilities. At the end of the day I will survive one way or another, and I have to remember that survival is not always an option for everyone on this planet.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Collecting Blogs

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I had a little project on the go - an easy way of sharing my collection of 400 education blogs.  It took me the rest of the day just getting it into a reasonable shape and finally I announced it on Twitter. A few people have picked it up already - fantastic!

Why would anyone want 400 blogs, I hear you ask! Well, it'd be impossible to read them all, of course. I have a collection of ten Must Reads which I just about keep up with, but the rest are invaluable for searching. Because they're written by teachers and education admins the search results are very relevant if you're researching that field. And actually, just choosing to read a few randomly can often throw up nuggets of info. Great for Professional Development and inspiration!

This is one way I can give a little back for all the gems I've been given by the folk on Twitter over the last 6 months.

If you'd like to know more, see Ed Blog Collection

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas is not just for Christmas!

I've had worse Christmases but I've also had better! It was always going to be a quiet day but I hadn't planned on it being quite this quiet! I was unwell, you see, nursing a bad headache and sore throat; just feeling very run down with no energy. I had been invited along to my landlady's evening meal but, in the end, spent most of the day in my room, getting hot and cold, lying in sweat on my bed, doing not a lot. The evening thing had grown from being a sombre gathering of four to a lively gathering of twelve and I just couldn't face the noise and inevitable party games and loud people. No doubt I would have been ridiculed for being quiet and not wanting to join in. On the other hand, getting sloshed on Arrack sounded attractive!

Some of the white people here - they are not elderly and yet they may as well be! It's cheaper to live in Sri Lanka than in the West so there are a few expats around, spending six months a year here, or here permanently. And, as far as I can tell, they do virtually nothing; they're completely self-absorbed. I guess it's just a different way of living but, to me, it's such a waste.  I mean, just spend an hour a day helping in schools, or helping kids with homework, or doing something of social benefit. I guess it's just different values, and I shouldn't judge, but I can't help myself.  

Meanwhile, I've upset my landlady by saying I wasn't going to her party - she'd catered for exact numbers, she said. Maybe she thought it was just me being my usual anti-social self. Well, maybe she was partly right!

Best was phoning home and having a chat with my son and daughter for an hour. I also phoned my parents. My father was telling me that as a child he'd lived a couple of years in Ceylon when his father was stationed in Colombo, and he remembered how the monsoon season could be - heavy downpours coming at the same time each day, usually at 4pm he recalled, just as he returned home from school.  Here, they were coming regularly at 5pm for a while - perfect for drenching me on my way home from work!  But that was a month ago. We seem to be having mostly dry mornings and mostly wet afternoons at the moment.  And the mosquitoes love it!

We did have some other Christmas celebrations here - on Thursday, Adopt Sri Lanka had arranged a day in Galle having a few party games and going for a pizza. It was good fun, overall. I did spend four hours in a van with a coughing Field Officer - I reckon it's a 100% certainty he's the one to blame for what I've now got. Thanks, mate!  Actually, there seems to be a lot of it going around, so it could have come from anywhere.

Anyway, today I'm feeling a bit better. I'll probably wander up to town to the Polla, and buy some fruit and veg.  I also have a  little project on  - I've collected 400 educational blogs, partly for me, partly for the teachers I teach, and partly for the folk on Twitter. I now have to plan how to make the file available so that everyone can subscribe, should they want to. I'll tell you more tomorrow.

So, that's it. You'll notice that religion doesn't feature largely in my life. That's because I have no religious beliefs. I always feel a bit of a hypocrite wishing folk "Merry Christmas" at this time of year because of the religious connotations. But, in so far as it means goodwill to everybody, we should be wishing that all year round, really, shouldn't we? Christmas is not just for Christmas! But I guess that once a year is better than nothing.

Christmas, in so far as it means buying frivolous junk, over-eating, over-drinking, and doing everything to excess, should remain just for Christmas. Or better, never!

And, bringing it home about the over-indulgent side of Christmas, I just spotted an advert in the Washington Post "how to stop your brain from over-eating" next to an article about desperate Ethiopians risking everything so that their families have enough to survive.

Anyway, hope you all had good Christmases, and may the good bits continue for the next 12 months!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Poya Day, Lunch and Mosquitoes

Today, Monday 20th December 2010, is a Poya Day - a Full Moon day. You wouldn't know it - last night was very grey and overcast so there was no moon to be seen, but I'll take their word for it. It means today's a holiday for many workers, Buddhist or otherwise. The supermarket might be open but precious little else.

In practical terms, getting lunch will be tricky because all the little food places in town will be closed. I hesitate to call them cafés or restaurants because they're not that up-market. In fact you wouldn't want to be seen dead in most of them if they were in the West. I'd like to say that appearances are deceptive; that the hygiene standards are way better than they look, but, if I said that, I'd be lying.  I've been lucky: even in these tired, dingy and somewhat dirty places, and with water from the taps and out of hand-washed (no detergent) glasses, I've managed to survive without any stomach problems. So far. Touch wood. So perhaps the standards really are better than they appear or I have a particularly good constitution. Either way, today I'll get my 'rice packet' from the only place serving them - a place that I only ever go into at a pinch because it's more scruffy, dingy and dirty-looking than the usual places, and is unquestionably populated by more than its fair share of flies. Nice, it is not!

Talking of flies: mosquitoes. Damned mosquitoes!  The ones here are different from the ones in India - they are smaller and faster and almost impossible to see and swat. I wonder if the business of being smaller is an evolutionary thing - it's more breezy here by the coast so if you're small and fast perhaps you can avoid being blown off your prey... Doesn't quite explain the monster cockroaches that are around, but anyway... The mosquitoes are a bit slower when blood-satiated so they're easier to whack, but of course, by then, they are my-blood-satiated so it's a bit late to teach them a lesson. In my room I keep a can of Mortein 'Mosquito and Fly Killer' at my side, and keep the fly-screen doors shut. I suspect that the house-keeper (who cleans my room and makes my bed once a week. What luxury!) keeps the doors open while she's in here and then blasts the place with my can of spray - it's always noticeably emptier after room-cleaning days. Not that it makes any difference to the mosquitoes. They're immune to this stuff unless you actually drown them in it.

I've used those electric plug-in devices which, like the spray, permeate the air with chemicals, but all they do is give me a headache and do nothing to the flies.  Then there are the smouldering coil things which probably also contain nasty carcinogens. They certainly stink the place out for days on end - the smoke is enough to dissuade me from staying in the room, let alone the flies.

When I was little there used to be those rolls of fly-paper which you could get and dangle from a nail or light fitting. They were covered in sticky goo so were not too nice when wrapped around your head, as inevitably happened to children, and particularly unpleasant when fly-coated. But that's the point - they were fly coated! Somehow flies were drawn to them, got stuck, and died a miserable, lingering death. Perfect!  Trouble is, no one here's heard of them so that's a non-starter.

What I've found does work is Citronella Oil. You dab it onto exposed skin and the smell keeps the mosquitoes away. It's quite strong stuff and so some people mix it with olive oil to thin it a little. I don't do that because I'm too lazy to track down a suitable container. I use it neat, and, fortunately, it doesn't seem to have damaged my skin that I notice. You need to reapply it every few hours which is a bit of a nuisance, but it's cheap and doesn't smell too bad.  Spray or lotion with 'Deet' in it is the other thing that works, but I haven't found that in the local shops, and the stuff in the UK is quite expensive and short-lasting.

I could have a net above my bed but I haven't done that. And anyway, if I'm in the room writing this blog, reading or surfing the Internet, I don't want to do it under a breeze-sapping net.  The mosquitoes around here are not the malaria-bearing ones. They're probably the dengue-fever-bearing ones but I'm hoping that's not quite as bad. Do I take any prophylactic medicines? Nope - being here for such a long time, I wouldn't want to fill my body with such chemical nasties. I'll be doing quite enough of that when I eat my mouth-numbingly-spicy rice 'n' curry this lunchtime!

R-i-g-h-t! Time for a shower, shave, and then breakfast...

Later: Maybe you'll be pleased to hear that I decided to go further afield for lunch and managed to get a 'lunch packet' made in front of my eyes and in fairly wholesome conditions :)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Trumpet blowing

These are some comments from my teacher-students, published in ASL's latest newsletter.  I'm pleased that they're all positive and confirm that I'm on the right track. They are from a handful of the forty Sri Lankan teachers who come along to my classes in their own time for a spot of training in the use of computers. Of course, those teachers who don't enjoy my classes don't come and therefore won't have had the opportunity to leave comments. And any negative comments have been thrown in the bin anyway!
Yes, I am joking :)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Why Do Women Have Small Feet?

Q: Why do women have small feet?
A: So they can stand close to the kitchen sink!

In one of my morning stints at the school I help out at we were talking about careers. This was a mixed class of ten fourteen-year-olds, Muslim children, four boys and six girls. We had read a chapter about a girl who wanted to become a Textile Engineer but her parents hadn't been keen.

I asked my students what they thought of the girl's choice and was staggered to hear that not one of them thought it was sensible! Why? Engineering is not a suitable job for women. Why do you think that? The work is too heavy, only men are up to the job! I explained that engineers are professionals, work with computers, drawing-boards and at desks, go to meetings, research and design. Rarely do they get their hands dirty and by no means was it heavy labour. They still didn't accept it. The boys said that women wouldn't concentrate enough, that they'd always be thinking of their children or about cooking or shopping, and the girls agreed! When I asked what a suitable job for a woman would be, the answer was unanimously teaching or health care. Why these were better for scatty-brained women I've no idea! And this was from a class where the girls were far more academically able than the boys, certainly in English, and probably in other subjects too.

I did my best to convince them that women were easily the equal of men in engineering. They asked if there were many women engineers in the UK and I had to concede that, no, there weren't, but it wasn't because women weren't capable, it was because other jobs interested them more. I said that if engineering interested a girl then there was no reason why she shouldn't do it. I told them that I knew a few female software engineers and electrical engineers, and that they were just as good as men. The kids were surprised! If a girl wants to do engineering, is it fair that other people's opinions should prevent her? In the end I think I won a few girls around but the boys couldn't be persuaded.

I suppose that none of this should be surprising. Wind the clocks back fifty or sixty years and it would have been the same in the UK. There's modernisation all around yet culture and society are still quite traditional.

It was a great topic to debate because everyone got involved - even the shy ones were talking amongst themselves and were straining to hear my heretical views. Their views fascinated me too!