A Travellerspoint blog

Old Writings1

April 2 2006 Colombo Ratmalana, Sri Lanka
so i've just left Hikky and arrived in colombo on route to Anuradhapura in the north (where I spent 6 months teaching English in 2001). I'm a bit peeved to be stuck in Colombo over night as I don't really love the city... but my camera seems to have broken (no photos folks) and a shop said they might be able to repair it and I'm to pick it up tomorrow afternoon/evening.

Last days in Hikkadua were fun.
Election passed uneventfully. Got to visit the temporary camps and see some new houses aswell. Temporary camps are actually pretty good in Hik. Not tents, but wooden contraptions with corrugated iron roofs. Also met some of the current batch of Link volunteers who are placed in Baddegamme not far away.

Good times.

March 30 2006 Hikkadua, Sri Lanka
Oh righty!
Dave is on his travels again.
As you will see from the title I'm in Hikkadua right now. This is a town which was shown on TV around christmas 2004 during the Tsunami... the one with the train that was washed off its tracks. Pretty interesting and sobering... but more on that later. What sequence of events brought me here?

Well, I started out flying to Amman in Jordan. Yup, it was great to finally get there after my last attempt was thwarted... but alas. Jordan was only to host me for 22 hours on route to Sri Lanka. Luckily they let me out the airport and I had a chance to run around. Having read nothing about Jordan (I was going to leave that bit to the ever gorgeous and book wormy Emily) I really didn't know what to do with my day. So I started by catching a bus into town from the airport hotel. Getting off the bus I was confronted by a man who wanted to take me to Jaresh or Neebu in a taxi. Not knowing what or where any of them were I thought that he probably knew that they were good and impressive, so I jumped in.
I had to make him stop as he began to head out of town to ask him where the hell we were going. Turned out Jaresh is about 45 mins out of town and was very good. "What the heck!" I thought, lets do it.

It was wierd driving through the Jordanian country side. It looks just like pictures from little childrens bible stories that my oldies used to read me. Dry landscape with sparsely scattered plants across beautiful hillsides with those square block dirty white houses (like the one a lame man was lowered down from the roof on) dotted about. Add to that a few people trotting about with T-towles on their heads and you've got the general gist.

So we arrived at Jaresh and it turned out to be quite spectacular. An old Roman city was built here, complete with straight road, pillars, circular open paved space thing (I forget its name), temples to Diana and other gods that had been rededicated to the christian one centuries later and an ampi-theatre. All cool, but the coolest thing was that the ampitheatre had some traditionally dressed guys stomping around playing traditional music. Not local music, but the pipes. Oh, how it was music to my ears. Scotland the Brave. Hey ho and a noddy no.

That evening, got back on the flight to Colombo.
Met some interesting Sri Lankans who work in the army zone of Bagdad as cooks. They were trying to persuade me that it was a great and safe place to work for $15,000 per month. They seemed to think that I would want to join them as their work mate. They were also trying to persuade me that Batticola on the east coast of Sri lanka is safe to visit and very beautiful... apparently only 1 guy gets killed per day. Safe only compared to Iraq in my reconing.

Arriving in Colombo I was tired and hot and sticky and made straight for the guest house that we volunteers used to crash at back in 2001. Yup, the YMCA. Dirty, dingy but good food and cheap. Still just as bad as it ever was. After a little sleep I gave big old Nigel (the Sri Lankan man who used to look after us volunteers when we were there last time. His family is amazing and treated us like there own... christmas, weddings or just weekend breaks away) a tinkle on the telephone. Surprisingly he was in Colombo for a couple of hours (near Mt Lavinia) so I jetted down the Galle Rd to meet him for a brief reunion, and present him with some Laphroig. After the loss of his wife Margi (and our surrogate mother) to cancer 18 months ago he looked like he'd lost some of his inner Joy... but still a top man.

While in Colombo I also met Nigels son Mark and his wife and kids for lunch. We had some helpful deep and meaningful and slightly painful chats about Margi and her last weeks. And also a blow by blow account of every funny moment in the childrens favourite dvd, Ice Age. They spoke so quickly I didn't understand at all, but it kept them out their parents feet for 45 minutes and entertained me.

A day or two later I headed up to Kegalle. This is a town half way to Kandy in the hill country where I spent a week with the other male volunteers in a boys home during an election curfew back in 2001. I was to drop some triple A batteries off on one of my friends little brothers who is teaching the boys there. Having missed a couple of busses I arrived rather late and so was invited to stay the night back in my old room. Got lots of lively banter from the little kiddies, and they enjoyed looking at my old photos of them from when they were small. It felt good to be there. Almost like I was a happy go lucky volunteer again. It never ceases to amaze me how boys with so little can be so happy. The place has had a lick of paint since last time and a new warden who doesn't abuse or beat them so it all seemed good.

At the moment there are some local council elections happening. Elections in Sri lanka are a highly energetic and charged time. Everybody is out campaigning despite not trusting any of the politicians, of which most are corrupt. Lots of transport and shops close down and during the government or presidential elections the odd bit of violence isn't uncommon. As such, I was advised to find a safe place to sit tight for a few days... so I came South to Hikkadua.

In 2002 Kai, Ayesha and myself came here for two separate weeks whilst learning to dive. A great little party town with not beautfiul beaches, but lots to do. It felt kind of eerie arriving in the town, knowing the amount of destruction that these poor people had faced during the Tsunami two christmasses ago. However, a superficial glance over the town as any visiting tourist might see it and it would be easy to think that Hikkadua didn't even get wet. Almost all the buildings (that can be seen from the road or the beach) are still there and looking shiny and new. Just a couple of building sites or desolate areas can be seen. And many tourists have commented that they are lucky not to have been destroyed.... but as I said, the buildings look shiny and new. Almost too shiny. Some conversation with the locals reveals however that they did not escape... both through what they say, and the slightly sad look in their eyes.

Infact, all the buildings have been rebuilt. And have new paint. Very little was left after three (I didn't know there were that many) huge waves pummelled them. Indeed, Hikkadua is a lucky place, the fact that it is a major tourist resort and near-ish colombo means that lots of aid and privte donations, combined with bank loans have reached here. I am not convinced that the same will be true further round to the south and east.

Also, as I said earlier, Ayesha, Kai and I spent a couple of wonderful weeks here. Wondeful, not just from the diving, but also the beautiful, kind, generous and fun people that lived here. I was a bit nervous that coming here they would not remember me... would have forgotten... would not be as nice or good or fun as my overly -perfect memory. So as I sheepishly made my way into Poseidon dive centre yesterday morning I was very delighted to be greeted by an alive and grinning Gayan shouting "Dave! You're back. I was reading your old letter yesterday. How are Mr Kai and Miss Ayesha? are they married (to eachother) yet?"

After work, Gayan with Shane and a couple of other familiar faces took me down to the beach for a little party with Extra Special Arrack (the local coconut brewed spirit, which we affectionately call 'paint stripper'). They told about good times and bad times. They said that their lives have changed now. Everything is different after the Tsunami. Friends seem so important to them after all their physical belongings were lost. Gayan was loading diving equipment onto a boat as the Tsunami hit and only a miracle can have saved him and the rest of the staff there. But they are so happy to be alive and so grateful for all the help and aid and support that they've received. They told me of terrible things they've seen. Hundreds / thousands of dead bodies decomposing. Everybody has lost a friend or relative. And, while its not clear from the tourist road or the beach, many of them are still living in temporary tent camps, while new houses are being built for them. They will show me a couple of camps tonight. Should be interesting. I think that as a materialistic westerner, I would be outraged that it has taken so long to build them new houses... but not a word of complaint from Gayan or Shane. Any house they are grateful for.

It is also interesting that, while mass suffering usually causes me and us in the west to question the possibility of a compassionate god, they do not seem to have done this. They never used to say "God bles you" or "Thank God for..." I've heard it several times over the last two days. I should add that they are buddhist, so presumably give 'God' the name of Buddha, but would be happy for someone else to give God a different name. Anyway, Interesting.

Ok, I best be off. Got some camps to see.

Feb 26 2006 Tioman, Malaysia
Where was I,
Oh yes, staying in the longhouse with the Kayan Orang Ulu tribespeople in the Borneon Jungle. Yeah, we had some good chats, talking about a damn that is to be built about 2 hours boat journey upriver. This damn will apparently be twice the size of the Aswan damn and is being built to generate hydroelectric power. As well as lots of prime Orang Utang forest, about 50 longhouses will be flooded. Those communities upriver will be compensated and moved on, but there is no provision and very little reassurance for the communities downstream, such as the one I was staying in. In addition to worries about the river flow and the effect on fish etc, they are very worried about what happens if Osama Bin Laden puts a bomb under the damn, or it breaks in an earthquake. The only concession made to them by the damn builders was that if they have any relatives left alive, they will be compensated. Great!
Other moments of joy in the longhouse include one of the beautiful young children, who had nestled herself into Emily’s lap, pointing at Emily’s bounteous breast and signaling that she would quite like a drink. Also, the kiddies were very interested in my book, and so I decided to read them a chapter. Emily was tickled pink by the sight of 6 kiddies all totally transfixed by me reading an English translation of the great Russian story, The Idiot, by Dostoyevsky. And when we were to leave the fisherman Joseph felt moved to sing an oldy styley Spiritual Song to give us god speed on our journey. They are apparently not supposed to sing these old songs, straight from god, now that they are Christian… but I didn’t mind.

We were very sad to leave the Longhouse, but excited about the next phase of our journey.

8 hours boat journey down river, followed by a seven hour bus ride we reached the town of Kuching, in the south of Sarawak. From this town we set out to the Semangogg Orang Utan Sanctuary. 22 Orang Utans living in a 600 hectare patch of jungle. They have generally been rescued or bred and the sanctuary is trying to rehabilitate them for the jungle. They offer food every afternoon to the Apes, serves to supplement their diet as well as attracting them down for paying tourists, like ourselves. I was rather relieved to see that they didn’t all rush to the feeding site when called, and for 20 minutes or so, it looked like none would come at all. This suggests that they are able to fend for themselves… but when two finally did come swinging through the trees it was absolutely magical. These creatures are just so beautiful…. And large… and high up in trees swinging on bendy tree trunks and vines just like you’d imagaine. So gentle and human looking and just amazing. I couldn’t help singing the jungle books “I’m the King of the Swingers” song by Louey to myself.

Next day, Emily felt like a rest, and I headed off to Bako National Park. Another patch of jungle on the coast, but with a diverse array of vegetation, and therefore animals. The tidal Mangrove swamps were beautiful, and also the main draw of the park because the are the home and food for the endangered Proboscus Monkey. These males of these cool monkeys have large noses that look as if they have been transplanted from muppets. And they make a sort of trumpeting sound like when somebody blows their nose loudly. Apparently this is very attractive to the ladies. Also got to see lots of Silver leaf monkeys and Insect eating Pitcher Plants.

After the sun had well and truly set, I went on a nightwalk, through the jungle proper, with two Japanese girls and our local guide, Wilfred. The passion and gentleness of Wilfred combined with his skill helped make this a major highlight of the trip. Walking silently through the jungle listening to the loud Cacoffony of noises, Wilfred would suddenly stop and turn out the torch and just stand still and listen for a minute or two before suddenly flicking his torch onto a bush, tree trunk or patch of ground revealing some cool animals. The Flying Lemur was definitely the most exciting… and I can now confirm that the tail I saw before was not that of a Flying Lemur. The animal does not look like a squirrel at all… but is bigger, a bit like a loth… and quite clumsey. But very cool. Especially when it glides between trees. But our guid was also able to pinpoint a stick insect from a peep, a tree frog from a churp, and a highly poisonour Viper from its smell as well as all sorts of other things.

This brings me on to another quick mini-rant. I’ve found that the national parks and the Orang Utan rehab centre have a lot of people really interested in nature and the environment, but fail completely in public education. There is either none, with not even the staff knowing basic facts… or else posters with long lists of very dryly presented information. If my twin Matt, was able to make a fascinating nature trail about a 1 mile long by 20m wide island with nothing but rocks, grass and a few nesting Terns, then something should be possible with the rainforest. I think maybe matt and his co-workers should come out of retirement and consult / volunteer for some of the national parks in the developing world.

It became time to move on from Borneo and head across the water to Singapore. I was very excited about this trip because I was to reunite with an old friend Ana Bao. She had spend 6 hilarious weeks learning Spanish with me in deepest Peru. And just meeting and sharing memories and funny stories was fab. But also, it was very nice to be able to see some of Singapore with a local host… However, the most exciting thing about Ana, was that she had hot showers and a washing machine.

Tioman Island
Just one week to go… I can’t believe that the trip is going by so quickly.
I’m now writing to you from Tioman Island off the east coast of the southern part of the Malaysion Peninsula. Staying on a beautiful beach with the purpose of relaxing, snorkeling and diving. Yesterday I saw a turtle swimming, which was brill!

Feb 18 2006 Belaga, Malaysia
Borneo Baby YEAH!
Just finished a few days in the jungle and feeling very tired but very happy. No buses go to Belaga, and barely any road to speak of, so we had to find some other transport to get here.
We took a half hour flight over the Borneo Jungle from Bintulu to Belaga... it was great. Just a little tiny baby plane with propellers, about 20 seats and two other passengers. The plane only flies twice a week, and then only when the weather is good, so we were really crossing our fingers. Swooping low over the jungle certainly gave a sense of the hugeness of it. Its hard to imagine the effect that the loggers would have on that beautiful landscape.

We landed on a tiny little airfield and walked our way up to the terminal building (a shed about the size of a large-ish kitchen) and waited for the staff to close it up and take the boat up to the town. My Footprint guide book says that Belaga is a sleepy town where the residents spend the day in coffee houses watching all the interesting types who come into town, whether they are tourists, loggers or local tribespeople who have come down river to sell there jungle wares. The guidebook is correct, and we spent almost all of the first day chilling in the aforementioned sleepy coffee houses.

Eventually we made the aquaintance of John, a local guide from the Kayan tribe of head-hunters and he agreed to take us to visit the longhouse in which he grew up. The deal being done, we bought gifts for the longhouse headman, then stepped gingerly into Joahn's longboat with two of his tribesmen, James and Joseph and made our way upriver. The ginger steps were made because these boats are not particularly stable, we all had to side dead straight in a row through the middle of the boat as a slight move to the left or right would result in water gushing over the side. Within minutes of the journey being underway a bottle of the local brandy (50 %) was passed around for guzzling.

Arriving at the longhouse, my first impression was that it was really pretty damn long. About two or three hundred people lived there. The longhouse is divided into lots of separate abodes, rather like a terrace, but with a communal balcony stretching the length of it where kids would play, old ladies would smoke the most enourmously fat rollies (or home-made cigarette mum) or men would sit about chatting. We said hi to a few kids then went into Johns abode where, after showing us how the toilet worked, he brought out another bottle of brandy to welcome us. While we were drinking and chatting, he marched up a token "poor woman" complete with hat and bag for a photo, before shuffing some brandy down her throat. Emily and I felt a little bit embarrassed by this and made an effort to ask her name and introduce ourselves.

The aforementioned James and his family cooked us an amazing dinner, accompanied by more brandy, before being introduced to the headman, who we dutifully presented with a bottle of brandy, which he shared around. I was beginning to see a slight pattern to the our activities. In addition to alcohol, Emily got to swop cigarette with the old ladies and I got back into chewing beetle nut. I'm not quite sure what this is, but we used to use it in Sri Lanka. (The sri lankans described it as their version of chewing gum) Its a nut or some sort, wrapped in a fresh tobacco leaf that is coated with a paste from some sorts of water snails. I think there is also another ingredient... can't remember what. Anyway, when taken together, the four ingredients have a mildly narcotic effect that gives you a light head and a bit of happiness. Also lots of saliva which you have to spit out at regular intervals. Oh, and it tastes revolting. But fun. ALl this happens whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor with parafin lamps lighting our way.

We discussed with the people about how they were keep their young interested in their culture (quite successfully). What they thought of George Bush (not good). How their river has been polluted by the logging industry over the last 20 years. And their worries about a new hydroelectric damn which is to be built upriver. This damn is going to be twice the size of the Asswan damn and flood an enormous area of former jungle, that is home to lots of local tribes people as well as lots of endangered Orang Otangs. Several Longhouses and nomads are going to be displaced with only the bare minimum of care or assistance. The people in the Longhouse we were staying in wouldn't be moved, but are very apprehensive... not just abou

will write more later

Feb 14 2006 Bintulu, Malaysia
Happy Valentines Day everybody.
My only valentines day present was being given half a pineapple to eat that I'd already given to Emily. How romantic.

Yup today I went for a walk through some rainforest beside a long sandy beech where turtles are reputed to lay eggs and dolphins to frolick and crocodiles to lurk and insectivourous Pitcher Plants to lay in wait of their pray.

I saw some lizards, a frog and some termites. Not quite the same but very nice. I love the jungle and I love the beech, so having the two in the same place was amazing. Ooooh! I also saw a whole heap of hermit crabs. like everywhere I looked on the beech they were just walking around.

Thought you might be tickled by the Sunday newspaper we read in Borneo.
Frontpage news was about how the Navy was undergoing joint exercises offshore for the safety of Brunei citizens.
They had
apprehended a fishing boat that had entered Brunei waters carrying a bottle of alcohol.

2nd page news was that there had been a car crash in the capital city, nobody was injured but there was a traffic jam.

Flying to Bintulu in the jungle tomorrow. Then taking boats down river to Kapit and Sibu over the next few days

Feb 13 2006 Bintulu, Malaysia
HEllO from Borneo.
Yup, I'm currently in the Malaysian bit of Borneo. For those people like my parents who like to follow my travels on the map, I'm in the state of Sarawak. quite near the sea right now.

So, we left Indonesia on Friday night. The airport at Bali has one feature that makes a trip to the island worthwhile, even without all the surfing and volcanos. The mens toliets have got fish tanks in them, at eye level above the urinals. So as you're taking a slash you get to watch these fish opening and closing their mouths about 10 cm away. Some of the toilets had white fish... others black and yellow. ITs a very strange feeling.

We flew into Kuala Lumpur airport and slept there for the night. I needed some entertainment so got all the girls in McDonalds to flirt with me. And tried to barter with the lady at left luggage to give me a special morning price for good luck... and a good discount... and I even tried singing at her, but she wasn't having any of my charm.

We then caught a very early flight to Miri, in Borneon Malaysia.... and a bus from Miri up into the Captial city of Brunei. Brunei is a bit strange. Its the richest country per head population in the world and people have oil pumping things in their back gardens. and lots of big shiny expensive cars. And a very cool Mosque. But otherwise, fairly sterile feeling.

A night in Brunei was enough, so we headed back down the coast through Miri and to the Niah Caves National park. These are some massive caves surrounded by proper jungle. We tried looking out for wildlife on our way, but only saw the tails of what could have been Monkeys and perhaps a flying lemur... but it might just have been a squirrel.

Yup, so the caves were pretty immense. Arriving at the gaping entrance there were hundreds of what looked like bats flying in and out and around. But they turned out to be swallows. Ooops.
Anyway, thousands of swallows nests covered the top of these caves and little men collect the guano shit as fertiliser.. one day while doing this they found some skulls from 37,000 years ago. The oldest example of Homo sapiens in southeast asia... also some cave paintings which are probably only 2000 years old. But, these caves were massive..you cold probably easily fit york minster inside them.

I don't know how big, but it was a bit like walking through The Mines of Moria with Gandalf and Gimli and the rest of the fellowship, except for the fact that instead of dwarves collecting Mithril, there were little native men collected birds nests. Apparently , these are a luxory deluxy to eat.

Posted by happydaves 15:07 Comments (0)

Old Writings2

April 20 2006 Colombo Ratmalana, Sri Lanka
Hello again.
Yesterday had a great start and a frustrating end.
I woke up in the old dutch Fort at Galle. This is the city in which a bus was shown being washed along the street during the Tsunami. I had come here to track down an old english student of mine called Sanath. Sanath is an Archaeologist, an Excavation Officer to be precise. He looked slightly bewildered to see me walk into his office, but warmed up very quickly. He transferred down to Galle a couple of years ago and has been training to be a marine archaeologist and so dives down to ship wrecks for investigation and conservation. What a Brilliant Job!!! Do any of my readers know anything about this field in the UK?

Sanath and a colleague showed me bits of old anchor and coins and stuff and some videos of the ships in the harbour and then invited me to go diving down to the wrecks with them next week. Gutted that I'll be in India.

Sanath then took me back to his house for an amazing lunch with a couple of beers and laughs and memories.

Then I tried to catch the bus to colombo. I waited from 4:30 till 7:30 and saw a marvellous sunset, but no buses came. The main problem with this was that with the long bus journey ahead I was afraid to drink much water, and I got pretty thoroughly dehydrated in the cue. Eventually I jumped on a long distance bus that was overflowing at the seems... a very difficult task with a rucksack. A few more people were packed in behind me and we stood for a couple of hours before finally getting seats.

Got to Colombo Fort at about 11pm, crashed in the old colonial hotel (very not classy place next door to the "24 Hour Fun club") and then met another old student Kusumseri for breakfast.

After breakfast I headed to an International Research and Development centre called the International Centre for Under-utilised Crops ICUC and had tea with the director while we talked about saving the world with plants.


April 18 2006 Tangalle, Sri Lanka
What a wonderful 24 hours I’ve just had!
It started with me waking up in the idealic bay of Mirissa in the Mount Garden
guest house with Joel (Naomi's wee bro) and 6 other link volunteers. After an
early morning swim (in one of those perfect beaches complete with palm trees,
white sands and blue blue sea) we had an enormous western breakfast of toast jam, butter eggs coffee, pinepples, papaya.

Oooh, great.

We then decided to bus it for Tangalle. This is another perfect beach spot, but
more remote and possibly more beautiful... although there is debate about that
matter. Katie and I were sent off to find a guest house while the others relaxed on the beach and took in the view. I went straight for a tiny little place by the name of sunsea where I and my batch of link volunteers had passed new year four years previously. Walking along he beech was slightly eerie: unlike Hikkadua, there is still plenty of physical evidence of the Tsunami 14 monhs ago. Holes where buildings once lay and the odd skeleton of a house left.
I was therefore amazed to find that the SunSea was still intact, complete with
Zebra mural. A family reunion seemed to be going on, so they didn't have rooms
for us, but when I told them I'd stayed there before they insisted that katie and I sit down, drink tea, and eat a mountain of cakes. There was a glimmer of
recognition in one man's eye when he saw me, and when I mentioned the New Years
Party that we had there with 9 volunteers squeezed into two bedrooms he laughed
wiggled his head happily.

His first comment was "you went swimming, isn't it?"

This may seem like a fairly pointless comment to all of you who weren't there or hadn't seen the photos - but my old buddies will probably know the scandalous reasons why it was memorable. He asked after the big slightly podgy one, and the indian looking one. It felt great to be back in Tangalle where we'd spent such a brilliant night.

Not long after, we checked ouselves into a nearby guest house and headed for silent beach. I got chatting to a little 11 year old british kid who said that his dad managed he posh hotel nearby and invited us to use their pool... and it
was very posh. $700 per night... we all swung between feeling like imposters and movie stars! Apparently many of the guests are movie stars who arrive by helicopter or sea plane.

Back in our guest house we had an amazing dinner before hiring two Rickshaws to
take us to Rakama beech where turtles were laying eggs. We saw an absolutely
beautiful green turtle cover its nest over. It was amazing.

Another great nights sleep and Joel and I went for an early morning walk on he
beech. We got a litle banter going with a local who invited us to help his
friends catch fish. A little hand paddled catamaran had lain a very long net way out into the sea in a big circle, and we then helped a bunch of guys heave the net in shouting Ellawa Ellawa Ellawa ("Pull" i think) and Hutha! (Something rude

I think). After about an hour of hard work the net was tightening, a sea eagle
was circling and a couple of desperate look fish could be seen trying to jump
over the barrier. Joel and I both felt very manly, all heaving together with the guys and providing food for our women folk like in the olden days. We got our catch onto the beach and were given some to take back to the guest house to be fried for breakfast.

THe girls were impressed.

April 15 2006 Hikkadua, Sri Lanka
Happy new year!
Its party time here in sri lanka, with the local happy new year.
Lots of cake and arak, and fun and stuff.

So, I accidentally ended up back in Hikkadua.
Left Dambulla, planning to head for Anuradhapura to spend the sri lankan new year and easter there... but then I got offereda lift in a nice clean air conditioned car to colombo, and thought that it was too hot to get on a bus. So, I powered down to ... not Colombo, but Negombo, spent a night there (very missable) and then bussed down to Hikkadua to meet up with some of the former volunteers. Now hanging out with Joel from this batch (Naomi's wee brother) and Kelly from last batch. While they dive, I'm trying to rekindle my surfing prowess.
Trying and failing.

Surfing here is not as easy as it is in Kuta beach, Bali. The season is ended so the waves aren't clean, and they're pretty big and scary. And the bit of beach with nicely shaped waves, also has dead coral underfoot and The idea of being dashed to pieces on it is unappealing... I've seen injuries of the goodsurfers.
So, I'm just messing about in the broken waves and getting very tired, but enjoying it muchly. Will be in Colombo from the middle of next week to meet a few people before heading to India.

April 12 2006 Dambulla, Sri Lanka
yesterday Nigel and I took a Rickshaw all the way to Kandy and back so we could take some photos of a property. Also met a Scotland volunteer for lunch in that little chinese place - was very nice.

Its funny, I didn't plan to stop in Dambulla long but its so nice at the arboretum and hanging out with Big Ol' Nige. Also, theres public holidays on at the moment so travelling is difficult and nobody who I want to meet around the country is where they should be... ie at work.

Being in sri Lanka I have also noticed a range of changes in Sri Lanka, all the noticable ones of which represent the onward march of globalisation... and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I like them.

I mean, take food city... the nations supermarket. 4 years ago, there was a couple of food cities in Colombo and that was it. It was the only place we could buy cheese or nice stuff. Now there are food cities and another brand of supermarket, family supers, in every little backwater. Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Matale, Kurenegala, Hikkadua. And it makes life so nice. You can get good stuff from all over the place. BUt they are sri lankan companies. They do things in a sri lankan way.

Then take mobile phones, internet, 1 hour development of photos from your camera. All now at reasonble prices. 4 years ago, in the backwater of Anuradhapura internet was about 4 pounds an hour. Now its 35 pence an hour.

Its difficult to see any of this as bad. Why should the simple people of dambulla or anuradhapura be denied the privilages offered to richer people living in the capital? But I'm sure my radical friends will tell me otherwise.

April 10 2006 Dambulla, Sri Lanka

I went swimming in a big lake yesterday with Budhika (the nervous trainee scientist) and some local farmer boys yesterday evening. Beautiful... and I tried out that latest cool word
Anna Sabang!
They thought it was great, and seeing as how Dambulla is such a backwater they hadn't heard it was in fashion now to talk about soap.
I just hope the guys in Anuradhapura weren't just taking the piss

April 9 2006 Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Had a wonderful day yesterday, that finished with having a naked shower under the moonlight in the middle of a deserted forest, to the sounds of birds and insects croaking or whatever they do. I can't think of anything better.

Went to Sigyria to meet a current volunteer and her mother who are traveling around the cultural part of sri Lanka. They were planning to do 'elephant stuff' and invited me to join them. SO, in traditional Dave form, I swaggered up to the 5 Sigyria Hotel in scummy sweaty unwashed backpacer gear to meet them.... I was taken elephant riding, involving sitting on elephants as they walked about... it was great when we went throuh a big lake and getting off to swim around our lumbersome friend. Then after an enourmous lunch we hired a jeep and drove aroud a Nationl Park looking for wild ones. It is so amazing to see these gentle beasts in their natural environments with their little babies.

After that I hired a took-took (Rickshaw) to take me to Nigels place in Dambulla. He runs an Arboretum project here... the idea is that they are trying to reclaim abandonned farm land and cut back all the invasive creepers and stuff and then let whatever seeds that are still lying dormant in the soil spring up and regenerate. They have a whole woodland! Its amazing!!! And a control plot next door to show what it looks like untouched... just nasty scrub.
Nigel is particularly excited that his ebony trees are in flower at the moment.

Last night I arrived during the hours of darkness and since there's no electricity it was difficult to find. But Big Ol' Nige' was there looking happy and round and jolly. We had a quick dinner and then I was introduced to Buddhika (his rather enthusastic young M.Phil. student who is doing research there) and left to be talked to. Buddhika is lovely and very keen in a slightly anxious way (bit like Kusumseri) and was almost orgasmic when he found out I had a PhD in plant biology. Eventually I was allowed to go grab my aforementioned shower, alone, and go to bed.

April 8 2006 Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
just found out I'm terribly out of touch and old fashioned.
I've been using the phrase
"Ella Kiri!"
to say "cool" or "magic" or "pure dead brilliant man"
to the local people.
The direct translation is "cows milk" and I assume that that is because they rarely get fresh cows milk to drink... normally powdered milk.
Ella Kiri always gets a response of wow hey, how do you know that?
But I just found out it is very last season now.

Now the cool way to say "great" is
"Anna Sabang!".... pronounced with a delay and long sounding nnnnn in Annnna

This means
"This Soap!"
and is apparently totally with it and cool and completely counteracts any image problems I may suffer from wearing my leather fanny pack

April 7 2006 Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
It is wonderful to be back in Anuradhapura, my old home.
I spent 6 months here back in 2001/2002 teaching english, and i was a little nervous that perhaps being here would not be the same. Of course it wouldn't... it will be different. It is different but still good.
As i got off the bus and walked up the hill towards Nuwarawewa Rest House i had all these strange feelings. BUt it felt good. And not like the first time. it felt somehow normal and natural. THe cow munching on an old tyre by the side of the road and rickshaw drivers shouting at me to ask "where?" short for... "where are you going?"

Somehow none of the staff knew that i was coming so i was amazing surprise for everybody. Even the grumpy old waiters who used to hate us managed to smile. James looked really happy. All the receptionists had changed and they accidentally put me in a nice room... now i've been made to change to a less nice room by the nazi-ish Mr benni- assistant manager. The main problem seemed to be that people couldn't understand why i was here without Mr kai (my gap-year buddy teaching partner back in 2001)... i tried explaining that he had exams at university, but i don't really know if it sank in. Been having a great time hanging out with the guys though.
Went swimming in the big lake (reservoir built over 2000 years ago) with Chamile this morning. GOing off on a motor bike this evening to enjoy the sunset and drink toddy (the local alcohol syphoned as nectar from coconut flowers then left to ferment for a few hours before consumption) with Charmara this evening.
I'm not supposed to be getting free food at the hotel. just a discounted room , but its a posh hotel so food is still above my budget... however, all the waiters and kitchen staff sneak me food at every opportunity.
lots of changes.
Laddish lads now married with kids (charmara , chandana, tisa)
Other ladies pregnant (NISHANTI)
buT Seneka, A room boy who is responsible for my room, is still wierd and enthusiastic. He seems to have banned the other staff from going near me. I am now his property. BUt i ignore that.

Also, went for a cycle yesterday around my old haunts.
Blagged my way past the security guards into the sacred city which houses some ancient buddhist relics, including a cutting of the tree underwhich Buddha achieved enlightenment, some massive Stupa temples (biggest monuments in the ancient world after Sphinx and pyramids). My purpose for going there was to visit the archeologists who i used to teach English. Several of them still there and delighted to see me. Same problem about the whereabouts of kai though.
Then onto the tisawewa rest house before dropping in on the Deaf and blind school and hostel.

It was lovely being there. GOt there just in time as all the kids were going home for holidays today. Kids change a lot in 4.5 years though. Some who were tiny 5 or 6 year olds i could still recognise (HELPED by my photo album for reference). after having a tour of the place and throwing them in the air for a while I had a couple of games of Caram.... this is a game like pool but played with draughts pieces on a 2 foot square board. It was a four player game and i'm crap at it... can hardly aim and its only luck when i pot them. the problem was that the 3 other kids seemed to have decided that i had to win... and really really tried to help me win. It was a very long finish, i can tell you. Being in the deaf hostel also made me sad. THe place seems to run so foolishly and crazily that I despair. Several of the kids can hear and if they had hearing aids may not actually have to be there. Two uneducated adults look after over 70 children and give them not much love and attention... althought the new matron is better than the old battleaxe. I was about to leave and go back to the rest house to meet some of my old homies, when I was ushered into the hall for a ceremony.
All the deaf kiddies lined up in rows on seats facing a table with a seat at it... and then a semi-circle of seats round the table facing the kids. I was ushered into one of these seats beside the committee and teachers who run the school and home. What proceeded was one of the craziest things i've ever observed. Man a table stands up and addresses the deaf kids in spoken Sinhala for 10 minutes... occasionally pointing back at staff and committee and me (who can hear but don't really seem to be listening). man sits down. EVerybody claps. Second man gets up and talks to kids for 20 minutes in sinhala... all the deaf kids looking completely bored and making eyes at me throughout as of course they can't hear. The third talk, of 7 minutes, was at least signed for the kids by one of the sign-language teachers. After the 5th talk and about an hour of constant talking, i had to get up and sneak out... it was the only reaction i got from the deaf kids all the time who immediately lept up and made the "i love you" sign to me. i made it back and left... the speaker did not seem to be at all perturbed by this and kept on in his sinhala.
I still don't know what the ceremony was about.

Ok, must dash.

April 5 2006 Kandy, Sri Lanka
I do seem to be rushing about.
Nigel asked me to come to Kandy with him to photograph some stuff with my newly fixed digital camera, and then the plan was to get a lift with somebody to Dambulla and see his Arboretum. I headed up to Kandy a day early so as to escape from Colombo, expecting Nigel to meet me here this morning. But Nigel just phoned up sick and wants to see me here next week instead. So, it looks like after less than 24 hours in this gorgeous city I'll be leaving for Anuradhapura.
Really looking forwards to seeing the old guys there again, and also meeting my blind and deaf children.

Posted by happydaves 15:02 Comments (0)

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June 5 2006 Kandy, Sri Lanka
Still in Kandy,
Been hanging out with my deaf boys again. Really enjoying it.
Nigel also rocked into town yesterday so we had some good banter last night.

All's well

June 1 2006 Kandy, Sri Lanka
The home of the famous tooth relic belonging to the Lord Buddha. Surrounded by a buddhist temple and lots of militarisation. Road blocks. Heavily armed police. There has definitely been an escalation since I was last here 6 weeks ago... During the intervening time a suicide bomber alleged to be from the Tamil Tigers blew up the Army Commander and both sides have been going a bit crazy ever since.

I've been to the temple before though. My reasons for coming to Kandy were two fold. First, a priest from the Scottish Episcopal Church lives here and its his birthday on Saturday to celebrate he's holding a traditional Scottish ceilidh. Apparently he's invited the Scottish Link volunteers and the project trust volunteers, so I thought I'd crash it too. I don't have a kilt with me, so I thought I'd turn up in my Sarong.

Second reason was to visit some of my old deaf kiddies. Four and a half years ago, while Kai and I were teaching english in Anuradhapura, we used to go and visit a school and home for deaf children. We obviously didn't teach them english. But since they had very little adult attention and no positive male role models I used to go and play with them. When I re-visited the school in Anuradhapura I discovered that some of the kids had got older and were no longer there. They'd been moved to a vocational training centre in Kandy.... resourceful Dave obtained the address, written in Sinhalese script, showed it to a bus driver, and hey presto, found the vocational training centre.

As I (a scruffy white guy) walked into the compound I attracted a small amount of attention. The administrator guy came over to find out what I was there for. I explained... but he thought it was silly. If I couldn't speak Sinhalese, he said, how could I communicate with my deaf kids (who can't hear Sinhalese). I tried explaining that I was a master of banter and that the boys were experts at communicating without sound and that I was confident that we could muddle through.

He didn't seem convinced but let me through. I had brought out my photos from 4 years ago to prove that I was genuine and also help identify the boys. After a mass huddle and a bit of a rammy, a couple of the boys went off to find my old pals. Two minutes later, Big-nose and Eyebrow and Big-tooth (the only way I can describe their names in sign) came running down the hill. It was wonderful to see my wee boys again, who have all grown up (19 yrs and 21 yrs old). We remembered eachother instantly and I could feel that special bond, that we used to share, return. Administrator was not wrong. Banter was a little slow at first until they'd reminded my some sign language. But they showed me their carpentry workshop. Their dormitory. We went for lunch. It was lovely.

I'm going back to visit on Saturday.

May 28 2006 Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
back in Sri Lanka now.
Spent a few relaxing days with Nigel down in Hikkadua, chatting, catching up, eating etc.

Then trained/bussed up to Kurenegala on Friday arriving tired at about 8:30 pm. I had had to change from the Kandy train onto a bus at Polgahawella but there were about 150 people all trying to get busses to Kurenegala that evening and all the buses were full and my rucksack certainly didn't help matters. I had to beg a bus driver to let me on... Not meaning to be white supremist or anything, but its at times like that that I'm glad I'm white.

Then, as I wondered around Kurenegala looking for a hotel I began to curse Pete and Scott. After all it was to visit their old placement I was there and all the cheap hotels in my Footprint guidebook seemed to have closed down. After about an hour and a half I eventually found somewhere beside the wewa (lake) which was adequate.

So the next morning I wondered a long the road to the Christodia boys home where Pete and Scott used to teach. This is a home for orphans or children from families that are too poor to look after them, often with a single parent. Half the boys were away for exam time but quite a lot were still there. I told the wee mites that I was friends with Pete and Scott and showed them some photos. They all commented in typical lankan bluntness that Pete had big hair and was less strong than he used to be and that Scott looked good because he was fatter.

I was ushered through to meet Tata and Ama. Tata sat down, arranged himself, and asked who I was. Ama, who still looks like Yoda, was hunched up near by and cackled like the wicked witch of the west every time I spoke in Sinhala.

They were delighted when I said that I was friends with Pete and Scott and said they were the two boys who cried. They cried when they left and they cried all the way to the bus stand and made all the local people stop and point. He said that you and he and the boys all had a very warm connection. He demanded I stayed for lunch. After then describing all the different volunteers who had worked there (who I don't know) and describing every single financial donation that any of them had ever given he wanted to talk about why volunteers didn't come any more. As if I could be some adjudicator for Link Overseas Exchange and bring them back (I made it clear that i wasn't and couldn't). I was the first person he could tell his story to since the volunteers had been withdrawn.

He explained that cultural differences between Scotland and Sri Lanka were big and punishment was punishment and that sometimes he had to cane the boys. He said that once he'd had two very bad tamil boys who didn't respond to him. He had warned them three times. He had taken them to the anglican priest and the catholic priest for a blessing to make them good but they still hadn't responded. They were still bad, so he had caned them... but he said he never hit boys. Hitting was different. He said that one volunteer couldn't cope with the fact. And then the volunteers had been withdrawn and now they'd muddied his name around sri lanka and with the bishop. But the bishop believed him.

I tried to listen politely without condoning his abuse of children. I knew from Link and the other volunteers that he had beat the children frequently and severly... once so hard that the cane had broken and that the incident that led to the volunteers being withdrawn had been one where a boy was punished for going to an english class with a volunteer instead of doing another chore. The volunteer had apparently stepped in and held Tata's cane to stop the beating. Then when Vicky visited to discuss the situation Tata was very rude to Vicky and that was it.

It is difficult to know how to respond in these situations. I could have asserted what I understood to be the truth and insulted Tata and been sent away without getting to chat to the boys or have lunch or maintain a relationship for future visits. I could have sat quietly and let this man reinforce his delusion that he didn't do anything wrong. I also did not know the real truth but I had been told a very different version of this story. I tried to find a middle ground and said that we in scotland thought that beating children was not good practise and left it at that. Perhaps I'm a wimp.

Afterwards I was allowed to play with the kids before lunch. They were hard at work harvesting and moving coconuts. Got some good banter down. The boys were great fun. And really honest and gentle seeming. They all wanted to look at my laminated photos of Pete and Scott and my family and stuff but were very careful about returning them to me every couple of minutes. Then I met an older boy with good english, Rookshan, now 21ish. He told me that after studying commerce he had been working for Kandy Plastics. But had recently started his own company with three friends spray painting houses. It had gone well, with the first contract being worth 300,000 Rp (US$3000). However, one of his friends had run off with the money and their equipment (worth 40,000 Rp or US$400). Now they were unable to do their 2nd contract because they had no equipment. He had come back to the home for a couple of weeks to work out what to do next. The police were looking for the thief but with that amount of money he may have fled the country. Poor lad.

Then Rookshan took me swimming in the big well. Apparently Pete used to swim there with him but Scott had been too scared. Several boys watched... but they had to make sure I wouldn't tell Tata because he would get angry.

Had a fun lunch. When I told Tata that I had enjoyed the grace they sang he made all the boys sing it again and then gave a long speech about it... I felt bad for the boys who just wanted to eat their lunch. Ama (Yoda lady) had specially fried up some Tata snacks. I recognised the texture as being like the deep fried sheep brains hans had made eat me in India. They let me eat a few pieces before telling me they were bulls brains... I couldn't help thinking about BSE mad cow disease.

It began to rain as I left and two brothers (namal and chandara) took me to the bus stand as they were going home to Kekiwara which was the same bus as for my destination, Anuradhapura. Half way down the street Meneka (18ish) and Ajit (15 ish) ran after me into the rain to make sure that I would remember to send their love to Pete and Scott.

Fun day.
I annulled my curses directed at Pete and Scott from the night before and felt very happy.

May 18 2006 New Delhi, India
Got back to Delhi this morning and oh my - its hot. 45 degrees C.

The last few days were spent in the beautiful Parvati Valley... needless to say it was amazing and bathing in open air hot spring pools with stunning views was done in between lovely walks. SPent a couple of days walking 4 hours past the end of the road further up the valley to get to an even more beautiful place. Thought that this is the kind of place that my mum would love to walk in. Even hours from civilisation or roads you still get chai (or tea) shops every mile or so.

I'll just share two experiences with you.

First. I got my first ever bus that was stereotypically overflowing so much that people were sitting on the roof. The local guys all heaved me and my bags up and we bumbled along the 'road' through the valley. It was great. SInging, clapping, beautiful sunset... rumble of thunder... darkness then branches of trees smacking me in the face.

Second experience was a little bit of a shock.
One day I was wondering along the road through the valley and a car stopped and 3 police officers got out. Two wielding very big sticks in a rather threatening manner.
They were angry that I didn't have my passport with me and then one searched me really very intrusively and aggressively while the other continued to wave his big stick around. They were of course looking for drugs. But it seemed crazy to me that they would give harmless me any travel on a gentle walk through the hill when half of the cafes reek of maruana. THey didn't want to stop the drug habit... that would chase toursists away. They just wanted to fine drugs on me and then take a hefty bribe for not putting me away. I was actually kind of scared that they'd plant something in my wallet. They seemed pretty pissed off when they discovered i was clean, but then wanted to give me a lift back into town. I tried to refuse but they wouldn't let me and bundled me into the police van. Still slightly nervous I was able to make sure I sat near a door so I could make a quick getaway if necessary.

May 14 2006 Manikaran HP, India
So now I'm in Manikaran in the Parvati valley about 50 km south of Manali. The scenery could not be more different from that at the Rothang Pass. Unlike the wide massive Kullu valley of Manali, the Parvati Valley is your model V-shaped river vally (remember standard grade geography) with steep steep green slopes coming sharply down to the fast running white river in interlocking spurs.

Shiva and Parvati apparently mediatated here for 11,000 years and I can understand why - its so peacefull and tranquil. And what makes it super special is that Parvati (Shiva's wife I think) lost an ear ring and Shiva got angry so the earth demon spat it out of the bottoms of the earth... resulting in some hot springs. Now surrounded by temples pilgrims and tourists come to bathe here. Its great to have a hot bath after such a long time.

May 13 2006 Manali, India
I'm still having a wonderful time. Went up to the Rotung pass yesterday, which at 4000m is the only road to Lei and Ladack in Kashmir. Pretty amazing, moving up through the hymalaya mountains in a jeep and seeing it all chaning so fast from beautiful green valleys with mixed, but not thick, woodland, massive cliffs with waterfalls everywhere.. and only snow peaked caps visible in the distance. Then getting up into the dry barren snowy desert of the pass. Hundreds of Jeeps with thousands of Indian tourists all stopped a couple of miles short of the pass and they all enjoyed playing in the snow and queening about in fur jackets they'd hired for the day. A finnish guy and I panted our way upwards (due to the thin air) to get to the actual proper top of the pass and oh my goodness, it was beautiful. Again totally different mountains on the other side. Pyramidal peaks and snow everywhere. Its amazing that a road was built through it at all.

Off to Manikaran today.. but might stop on the way for some white water rafting.

On the buddhism topic, I've had a couple of surprised responses. My mother wrote a more full response.. see below

Is it really to cultivate fear? I think you may have got that wrong. I
do not know very much about it by I understand it this way.....
Buddhism grew out of a culture where pain and suffering were observed
to be the reality of people's lives. The teaching is about accepting
that reality and learning the best way to find happiness in spite of
it. The philosophy of reincarnation and nirvana are a way of trying to
make sense, or meaning, of this. It is not about generating fear, but
about how to live without fear in a world where there is much to be
afraid of.

Perhaps with a western audience who are used to living with constant
music, noise, quick fixes, self indulgence, and denial of much of that
reality he has found it necessary to dwell on the fearful .... or the
reality of life and death, pain and sickness, hunger and suffering,
bereavement and loss, and the consequences of cruelty and greed.

May 11 2006 Manali, India
I was asked how the duck is.

The duck is fine... except a couple of days ago while walking up the mountain to triune I took it out for a photo at a chai shop/buddhist temple place. The owner wanted me to put the duck in the little pool beside his temple and told me sadly about how he'd tried putting real ducks in once but the leopards ate them.... then i walked off up the hill without ducky.

I was mortified when I found out... luckily ducky was still there when i got back several hours later, although partly submerged due to having been filled up with water.

Arrived in Manali this morning at 5:30 am tired and grotty.
Had a wonderful day. Walked to a beautiful waterfall and feel great.

May 10 2006 Dharamsala Gaggal, India
Tired and stiff this morning.

Went for a walk up to Triune (3000m) yesterday. 4 hours walk directly up from Dharamsala, where i'd been staying. Absolutely stunning green saddle/pass. Standing there with flat india on one side and snow peaked ridges along the other. Add a few goatherds, a chai shop and perfect temperatures and you're just about there. I, and some guys, just sat there and supped in the view for about 3 or 4 hours before coming back down... but those 3 or 4 hours could have been an eternity because it was so beautiful.

Think I'll head off on the overnight bus to Manali or Kullu or Manikaran tonight. Only about 50 miles (as the crow flies) but many hours of journey time.

May 8 2006 Dharamsala Gaggal, India
Things so often turn out well.
I was just sitting in my room this morning (much better after my recent bought of the runs) and feeling a little bit lonely. Traveling on my own is great. I can be so completely open to where the wind takes me, but it isn't without its lonesome moments. Some things are just better when shared.

Now that my strength was returning I decided to potter down the hill to the Tibetan Library (and got chatting to a Tibetan exile from a Nomad family on the way... I've never met a Yak hearder before). It turned out they were about to start a lecture on Buddhist philosphy, and Debey (a 24 year old Tibetan exile) invited me to join in. They do loads of month long courses at the library with lots of really dedicated long haired westerners.

It was funny to observe. We all sat cross legged on cushions and waited for the monk teacher to arrive (the more devoted obviously in the lotus position quietly meditating to themselves). Eventually the senior monk walked in and everybody did a complex three fold bow thing as he sat down on his elevated cushion. Folowing 15 minutes of chanting (again the devoted westerners singing the loudest) the lecture was to being.... none of the tibetans present felt the need to be as exhibitionist about their devotion as some of the westerners. The senior monk smiled and, through his translator, said how well everybody had sung the mantras and how happy that made him. This elederly man was a delight to watch. Always smiling and joyful as he talked, you could tell that the many wrinkles on his face were a result of all the smiling he'd done in his life.

I was also surprised by the content of his lecture... surprised and somewhat disappointed (although I fully accept that only attending one lecture out of a course is not enough to understand anything and I was probably taking it all out of context). Bit of inaccurate David Background first..One basic tennent of Buddhism is that life is suffering. By right action/mind/karma etc we can cultivate happiness and eventually escape the circle of re-birth and reach nirvana. So the lecture was basically one which focussed on cultivating fear. Apparently only after we really get in touch with how terrible is life, particularly for lower incarnations, can we cultivate a deep deep fear of this. Then only when we are truly afraid will we be sufficiently motivated to be super kind and get enough good karma to achieve enlightenment and escape life.

Now, forgive me, but this seems awfully like certain brands of christianity, for which I have no time whatsoever. The type which thinks that a good healthy fear of 'hell' is the right way to go on to commit to God/christ, become a 'nice christian' and go to 'heaven'. A difference was that the monk was not trying to shove it down peoples throats. He was talking to those who wanted to learn.


So after the lecture i spent a wonderful couple of hours chatting to Debey, the tibetan, about life and his experiences in tibet and how he escaped by walking for 30 days over the himalaya mountains during winter.

Feeling less lonely.
Then in the evening I got caught in an enormous thunderstorm. Just phenominal. Hailstones the size of marbles coming pelting down and a light show that was breathtaking. I sheltered with three other tourists and we all got talking and had the best evening. One was a former banker turned bearded writer and was writing books in India... very interesting guy. Next was a lady who was teaching Tibetans English and planned to go Pune and (after talking to me) wanted to volunteer at Deep Griha. Third was a british guy, my age, who was going on a trek the next day and invited me to join them.

The crazy thing is that if I hadn't been alone I'd have never met any of these people.
Wonderful day, wonderful evening and no longer lonely.

Disconnected thoughts
India is a crazy place... i've never had anybody come up to me before with a stick and a piece of cotton wool and offer to clean my ears. He even had photos of him sticking the stick into the ears of tourists to prove he was qualified.
Call me conservative, but I didn't jump at the chance.

While talking to the lady who's headed for Pune, she asked me how I coped with the suffering. And yes there's suffering. But there's also care, love and inspiration... This is life at its margins. At its edges. Where its really lived. You cannot deny life when in that presence. My friend, Peter, described my experiences as "an eye to suffering" which can in turn mobilise myself and others to do something they wouldn't normally. I liked that.

But then, I had a conversation with a middle class Indian... who said that he'd heard that some westerners come to India
"to see poverty"
He declared that he found that sick. Sick that people would treat the beggars and lepars and AIDS victims as a peep show on the poor.

Its worth thinking about. At the time agreed that if that was truly why people came to India then it was a little disturbed, but I didn't think people came for that reason. But ... have I? With my "eye to suffering" etc.
and if I have, is it sick? Or not?

May 6 2006 Dharamsala Gaggal, India
Well, it had to happen sometime... spent last night spewing and shitting water up here in Dharamsala. Feeling really really crap today. Ugg

HOwever, despite all that, I have to say that if I have to be sick , Dharamsala is perhaps one of the nicest places to do it. I got off the bus from Delhi yesterday morning after a grueling 14 hour journey. I cannot say what a relief it was to get out of busy, aggresive, 40 deg C Delhi and arrive in quiet, chilled out, peaceful, beautiful Dharamsala in the Himalayas. Picture this, from my bedroom I have a view of a flat plain 600 m below and steep snow clad mountains above. The little sleepy down is perched on tree-clad steep slopes at 1700 m.

As the home of the Dalai Llama and countless Tibetan monks the town is pretty cool and peaceful and has a different atmosphere and food.
Just a shame about the shits.

May 3 2006 New Delhi, India
Now that I've left Pune you can read easily. I won't be telling any more harrowing stories.

So, I got on the train on wednesday evening and experienced the luxury of 2 tier a/c sleeper. Vetrans of India travel may sniff loudly and say I'm a total wimp for not roughing it in 3 tier non-a/c sleeper class and they may be right but I think it was good to see the different culture in the higher class. However, despite all that, I do have a good excuse. Its holiday time in India at the moment. As such, there were no seats nor even a chance of getting on the waiting list for the lower classes. And also, its bl dy hot in India right now. SOmewhere around 40 degrees and the thought of 30 hours with a/c seemed like a really nice special treat for myself.

So, a nice thing about travelling posh (apart from all the cushions and blankets they brought round) was that everybody spoke good english so I could actually chat with all the Indians instead of just doing pigeon english sign language and banter. You may not be surprised to hear that I made friends with about 1/3 of my carriage during the 30 hour journey and got home made food from about half of them. Pretty good I think. We chatted about LIfe, the universe, HIV/AIDS... you know. And I made friends with all the kiddies. Also got some good guitar playing and singing going with "I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again".

Now in hot hot hot delhi. Going to meet Sanhita's man tonight before heading off to the Himalayas on my own.

May 1 2006 Pune, India
Happy May Day.

Today I'm leaving Pune and heading to Delhi... got a grueling 25 hour train journey ahead of me. While I feel sad to leave behind the wonderful people I met at the HIV/AIDS centre, I'm excited about my forthcoming adventures into the Himalayas.

Some disconnected thoughts that have been going through my head the last few days.

I told you about my little friend Kumar, well his best mate (also 13) is an absolute sweetheart called Ammand. They're both gentle lovable lads, both very happy and both HIV . Although they are 13, they look about 10 and do not seem to be any where near puberty, except that Kumar likes to put on sunglasses and dance for the girls.

When I asked whether it was the HIV or the poverty of the slums that was delaying their growth I was told kids are totally different. Apparently, while nutrition helps, since they contracted HIV at or before birth they have had no time to develop any immunity. The staff I've spoken to said that they've never seen a kid last beyond 15 without AntiRetroViral medication. Little Imrans CD4 white blood cell count has apparently plummeted recently and the future is bleak.
Sh t
I'm feeling quite gutted about it.

Visited the Sahara care home again with all the 18 year old Link volunteers.
One of the patients that we stroked 3 days before had died that morning and was wrapped up in white sheets and lying on a table. His family had refused to collect him or even acknowledge his death. Errol, the manager, hadn't eaten that day because his food budget had been spent on buying water in since the water purifier is broken... again.

Have been very touched by a couple of responses to my last posts from friends who are sitting bored at their computers back home and have asked if they can do a sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the Sahara Care Home. This was also very important for the guys who run it. They felt pretty moved that people in Scotland are thinking about them.

But its not all doom and gloom.
Had a party at Hans' place with some of the guys who work at Sahara. It was good to see them eat, drink and smoke... RELAX. Raucus singing. Jokes. Laughs. Good times. Then later on the drunken conversation turned into a brain storming session about how these guys are going to change Pune. They're positive that with the education and awareness of Deep Griha and The care and dedication of Sahara they can really make a difference. They're in it together. Not alone. There is real hope in the air.

April 26 2006 Pune, India
Forgot to mention,
I was reading through the HIV/AIDS project quaterly report and accidentally commented to Hans that his presentation and analysis of the data available to him could be better.... that led to me spending the last couple of days making spreadsheets, graphs and entereing data like the old PhD monkey I used to be.

So I went to the Care home yesterday afternoon.
Not quite sure of what my response is to it all yet... still processing. There was an option of feeling harrowed and depressed and despondant at the sick and dy-ing people who were resident there, and the circumstances which brought them there. One woman being dropped off by a pimp only after her entire uterus had fallen out and she was too sick to provide Oral sex any more. She died 3 days after being left. The place was dark and the walls were dirty and bare.

However, the dedication, devotion and skill of the staff who worked (for peanuts) there was something that gives hope and restores faith in the goodness of people. An evangelical pastor who visited with us had clearly been very challenged by this and commented that he was amazed how despite the fact that the staff smoked and drank alchol they were reflecting the love of christ more clearly than most respectable people who follow his interpretation of the one true faith.

Hans is also a genius. He loves challenging conservative christians with the idea of an HIV positive christ... "when I was sick hungry and naked (or HIV ) and you helped me". (Apparently the church in Kerala has banned HIV people from being buried in their graveyards - largely from an incorrect fear that the virus is still infectious in a dead body).
Yup, anyway, Hans is doing wanders and has applied for Canadian funding for the care home to not only pay the staff and provide some medicines, but also buy paint, plants, pictures, maybe a music system etc to try to brighten up the place.

April 25 2006 Pune, India
Hello from India.
Came straight from Sri Lanka to Pune (a city about 4 hours away from Mumbai/Bombay). My old friend, Hans Billimoria, runs an HIV/AIDS programme (funded by the church of Scotland for two years) in the slums of Pune through the Deep Griha centre. As I got off an overnight bus from Hyderabaad and turned up at the centre on Sunday morning Hans was just heading off to give a talk on HIV/AIDS to an elite student group from the local univeristy. I decided to postpone my shower and sleep in a real bed and follow Hans to hear about HIV/AIDS in India.

He talked passionately and brilliantly about the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and how the biggest issue in India are stigma and ignorance. People are too afraid to come forward and admit to being potentially HIV because they may be cast out of their communities and assumed to be promiscuous drug users. As such too many are only identified late during their infection when not much can be done. Amazingly, if somebody is caught early they can survive and live productive and healthy lives simply by being put on a high vitamin, high protein diet. The ignorance surrounding HIV issues means that people are afraid to touch, comfort or eat with postive members of their community. Victims therefore suffer loneliness from being treated as lepers.

It has been a priviledge to learn about Hans' project over the last few days which has a threefold strategy.
First, trying to educate people, not just in the slums, but also in the city at large about the truths surrounding HIV. Thereby reducing stigma and allowing people to feel able to come forwards.
Second, trying to provide high protein healthy meals and vitamins for their HIV positive clients at their drop in centre which also gives a space in which the clients and their children can come and chat, receive counciling and hope.
Third, providing care and help to those clients in the final stages of AIDS.

I have met and played with several adults and kids in the early stages of HIV. A little boy, Kumara is pulling on my arm now. Yesterday when I was holding is hand he took pains to point out an open sore on his arm that he didn't want me to touch. Such responsibilty and love from an innocent little one. They are such wonderful people and angry tears come to my eyes when I think about those "christians" who claim that HIV is an infection sent as a curse from GOD on those with evil ways.

This afternoon Hans is taking me to the Sahara Care Home. I feel that this will be a much more difficult experience as it cares for those in the final stages of AIDS...

April 21 2006 Colombo Ratmalana, Sri Lanka
Off to India tomorrow.
Just read an amazing blog entry by a friend Stuart who's spent the last year and a half travelling the world and has just returned to UK. If you've never travelled and want to know what this feels like, or if you have travelled and want to see it written down perfectly then I suggest you check out the link


Posted by happydaves 14:57 Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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