Archives For Kilinochchi

I wake up (as is becoming way too common) before the sun rises, before the chickens caw and before the multi-denominational morning prayers fill the air. I realise I have no cash to pay the hotel for my night’s stay. I check my wallet. Deep Breath. I check again. Deep Breath. No Visa Card. Oh Crap!

I have a meeting at 8:30 with the Colonel. Big army man, totally bald, punctual, I imagine.

I literally jog to the last place I used it (thanks Commonwealth Netbank) – an ATM. But the shop is closed. Oy vey! I know this will be an hour on the phone … lucky I have my spare green-card (key-card? its the maestro one – but no online purchases for me).

The Colonel [redux]

I get back to the hotel and jump into a trishaw. It starts monsooning. The trishaw struggles up hills and slips and slides like a mad japanese drifter. Twice I have to get out in the rain and help the driver shove it back on to the road.

We make it to the base just in time – I jog to the front, up a hill that the little tuktuk that could just couldn’t – and I hear from a soldier at the front:

“The Colonel is being expecting you” – this would have been a little more creepy but for the fragmented English and that the Colonel had made plans with me to show me his “like a baby” notebook factory.

Apparently, even though he was waiting for me, he wasn’t in too much of a hurry – as usual, I was left to stew in his office, staring at all the intelligence on the wall (was it really smart to put a civilian in a room with Army strength maps, Officer names and ranks plastered on the wall and all the rest?) left to browse the wall before he rocked up.

I heard a motorcycle stop outside the door with a choke and a metallic gargle. I heard the stomp of boots outside, and I knew it must be my old friend the leftennant saluting with all his might at the Colonel. I stood up and faced the door as he strolled in with a smile.

He downed a cup of tea (sugar-milk-sugar-with-a-spot-of-tea — the Sri Lankan staple) and offered me an Elephant House Ginger Beer (an “Eegeebee”), which I totally accepted (one of the best ginger beers ever). Literally a minute after he arrived, and after he had somehow handled 5 phone calls on his two mobiles and his semi-mobile sat-phone, he said:

“Ok. Now we go.”

Immediately, a van screeched to a halt outside, its doors rolling open. Before I could blink in surprise, the Colonel was already sitting in the van, chatting on his sat-phone, ushering me in.

A 10-15 minute drive later, we arrived at a small cluster of buildings on the outskirts of Malayalapuram, the village that we were looking to work with. There, the Army was looking to set up a sort of micro-industry centre for the town. Already up and running, as of the day before, was the notebook factory, proudly producing Malayalapuram branded notebooks, with an interfaith (apparently) hero on the front (a sort of Sri Lankan Shakespeare, I guess). Still to come was a thong shop (the shoes) and manufacturing facility, and, perhaps, more.

The notebook factory was temporarily housed in a preschool, which the army leased from the community when it wasn’t filled with bubbies. Their permanent building was built, it just required a roof (which the Colonel was looking to external donors to pay for, anyone interested?).

Walking in, it seemed like an odd scene, reminiscent of the old East German propaganda murals. The women of the village, literally working right alongside the soldiers, kids in their arms. The women were sewing together spines and gluing on covers, the army men were using their strength to pull shut the manual cutting mechanism. It was an absurd scene, but I guess, also hopeful: god knows Sri Lanka could use a little trust between the Tamil community and the SLA.

After a brief hard-sell (do you have money for the roof? no. But I will ask people, I promise) we were back off to Kilinochchi town. On the way, the Colonel and Father Praba chatted on the phone, and I was dropped off at Father Praba’s church/orphanage/asylum/home.

Father Praba – a man with seemingly infinite energy and heart

Father Praba opened the gate in a loose-fitting purple polo-shirt, slacks, and leather sandals. He was young, like he could have just finished university. To be honest, I didn’t actually think that it was him.

Embarrassingly, after he showed me a room (where I totally should have stayed, it was beautiful! – next time) I asked him when Father Praba was coming. He laughed and told me in a minute, then walked out of the room, and back in, and introduced himself. Thank god he had a sense of humour.

After our official meeting, we walked around the grounds, and he showed me what he did in town.

I saw the girls’ home he took charge of, for the many orphan girls of Kilinochchi.
I saw the massive kitchen on the compound for the poor.
I saw the Creche and Preschool.
I saw the facilities for the handicapped (who lived, ate and worked here).
I saw the farm where he grew everything the people on the compound (including his family) at (chickens too!).
I saw the first vineyard in all of Kilinochchi springing up from his yard.
I saw the only normal-looking cow in Sri Lanka (apparently donated by the dutch) which he milked for the children of the orphanage.
This was some of what he did in town.

His wonderful wife treated us to a delicious meal – white rice, fish curry and a freshly fried egg which we topped off with a mango from the trees outside. The place seemed a utopia, at least in the spiritual sense.

After lunch, waiting for the other members of BOLO (Brightness of Life Organisation) to arrive, we hung out in the church, which had distinctly Tamil architecture – no walls, a central shrine, it seemed identical to the hindu temples down the road. Whilst the kids played on the iPhone (AAAH Pah! a perennial favourite) Praba and I sat on the floor and leaned back on the pillars.

A parishioner came up to father and explained her hard times. A widow with children to feed. Praba, he told me later, being strapped for cash as well, gave her what he could (I think 300 rupees) in an envelope. He also pledged to loan her 3000 rupees if she were to start her own business – a food stall by the bus stand, perhaps? Praba told me that he was a little depressed in how seldom he could give these loans – some of the women just didn’t have a drive, he said.

The BOLO village

After the head of BOLO came back from work (he casts and paints cement planters, which he sells at a profit for less than five dollars each: paint is an extra dollar), we were off. Praba magically appeared in his Priestly Garb, and we sardined into a trishaw and were off.

The first stop was the village BOLO was working with (I couldn’t quite pick up the name: in Sri Lanka, if you ask someone to repeat something, they repeat it louder and faster – not the best for jotting names and notes). They had worked there for months, and Palmera’s nascent project with them (a series for the population educating them on proper poultry raising techniques) was to take place there. Our project would supplement a earlier project – the retrofitting of a preschool with solar lighting facilities to allow for evening tutelage for students from the region.

We met some families, all of them displaced, all of them recently resettled, some of them startlingly poor. The richer ones had chickens, the poorer ones survived on dry-food rations given out by the NGO’s and the “food stamps” given by the government. Hopefully, our poultry program will allow the town at least an additional source of protein (eggs, meat), and, perhaps even a source of income.

On the way back to the church, we saw that the evening school was filling up with children waiting in line to do homework alongside a tutor. I took photos of as many beneficiary children as I could – one of them, a darker girl, had haunting, sky blue eyes. Seeing these children so eager to learn showed me that Praba and BOLO had chosen a great tutor, and his successes in his “campus” showed me that he would be a great partner to work with.

The old Home for Boys

On the way back, Praba took me to Boys Home where he grew up, a massive complex of 6 or 7 buildings that everyone in town either went to, or knows of. Its previous magnificence is now reduced to a magnificence in memory, trees growing through the wreckage like a modern Angkor-Wat. The Chapel’s roof is gone, the hand-lettered motto underneath the crucifix “Ready to Serve” is pierced by shrapnel.

Oddly, the Mango and Coconut trees appeared untouched, Praba told me they were exactly as he remembers them.

“Living in this place was the time of my life” he said, slowly looking around the place he had called home for more than a decade. “There was never enough food, but when the teachers went to sleep, we jumped out of the window, crawled on the window ledge to reach the Mango tree, and we all feasted. The A level students would climb up the trees and cut coconuts down for all of us. We stayed away from the berries, they stained your hands and the teachers would always know.

“Every day we had to go to Chapel. At that time, I was still Hindu, but I didn’t mind.”

He leads me toward the dorm room where he spent his last few years doing his O levels and A levels. The wall were gone and half of the columns were bent in two. The stairs were broken in half. The top floor bent downwards like the building itself was in mourning. We scamper up the stairs, having to skip a few where they were missing.

Pointing to an alcove at the top of the stairs, he said “this is where I studied every night for my A levels, where no-one would disturb me”, pointing to the now missing left side of the building, he said, “this is where I slept”. Piercing the dorm with unnatural light, bullet-holes were scattered everywhere.

“Three times this school, this home was destroyed by air strikes” he told me, his voice breaking.

We venture back downstairs (carefully, as the stairs were creaking) and head to the main classroom. A family now squatted there, a disabled mother and her two children – the husband nowhere to be seen.


I spend the morning with LEADS looking at Diaspora Lanka and LEADS’ cooperative project, which looks very interesting. I went to visit the three villages (a christian, a hindu and a newly resettled muslim village) in the Manthai West District. These villages were on a longtime LTTE/SLA front-line, and were subject to much gunfire, aerial bombing and shelling: the towns were almost wholly destroyed.

The first village I visited was Pappamothai (excuse the spelling), a catholic fisherman’s village off the A32 (the Jaffna-Mannar road). It was resettled 2 and a bit years back, and was beginning to get back on its feet. We first went to the town centre, where there was a meeting with an Indian government representative about the construction of permanent housing.

On the way, I met a lovely Ms A Dahrmaseelee (again, excuse the spelling). She was a teacher specialising in remedial education, and had about 5 years under her belt before she was moved away from her home in late 2008. She left mannar, and headed north and east, fleeing the front-lines. When she was in the first “No fire zone,” like many others, she was injured by shelling, losing her arm at the shoulder. Three years on, she is just about to get a prosthetic, and just about to undergo rehabilitation. Until now, she hasn’t had the opportunity to work as a teacher, since no-one would hire her. It is a huge shame, since she is qualified, educated, experienced and specialised.

After meeting Ms D, we went to the ocean to visit the fishermen. All under licence from the government, they went out at night with their lanterns and cast their nets (fish nets, special conic nets for shrimp, traps for crabs) and, when dawn breaks, they go out to collect them. They sell the (delicious looking) blue crab, mud crab, shrimp and other valuables to a wholesaler, who carts them off to Colombo in an ice-truck to be exported. The rest is left to be sold in Mannar, or dried and sold inland. These fishermen sell their crab for close to nothing, to a wholesaler who sells it to an exporter, who sells it to an importer, to a processor, to a final consumer at a totally unrelated price. The well-being of these fishermen could be radically improved by organising them into cooperatives and having them cut out some of the middle men.

Next, we were off to Ter Udian, a hindu village that focussed on paddy cultivation. I met an inspiring gentleman who had sold all of his excess land to buy a tractor, which he now leases to other farmers for a massive profit. It is still on mortgage, but his entrepreneurism literally put a roof (one of the only roofs in the village) over hi families head.

The last village we visited was Kandal. This village was recently resettled and very very basic. All the housing was temporary, much of it mud-brick.

Our hope is to unite these three villages with a “road of reconciliation” that they might work together to wrench themselves out of poverty.

In the afternoon, it was a quick hop (like 5/6 hours) to Kilinochchi, and a night of rest at the familiar and homely Sela Hotel.

*Photos to come*

The day started, as I was getting used to, with a 5 hour bus ride from Kilinochchi to Mannar, via Vavunia. This time, I took a bit of a break in Vavunia to check it out. I was surprised at how developed it was, almost like Colombo! It is a metropolitan city, housing people from all over Sri Lanka. A startlingly beautiful university, a main street that rivals those in Colombo, a truly awesome place! But, I only had time for a quick sugar with tea and I was off to Mannar.

By the time I arrived, it was afternoon. I tried giving Mr. Kamal and Mr. Tomcruise a call, but both seemed busy – so I had a relaxing walk with my camera and epic lense (my 70-200 f/2.8) to the causeway to the mainland. At least, that’s where I thought I was heading. After a few K’s I realised the causeway wasn’t that far. Checked my compass on my watch and it turns out I was heading north instead of south – towards Thalaimannar. Still a beautiful walk however.

By now, it was almost 7:30 (it was a really long walk) and I was getting hungry. I ordered a buryani (a really sweet fried rice with absolutely delicious fried chicken on top). Then something awkward, as the food came, so did Mr. Tomcruise and Mr. Kamal. So, I hopped on the back of Mr. Tomcruise’s scooter (I know, manly, eh?) and we scooted off to Choice hotel.

I whipped open my buryani (it was OK, I had ordered take-away from Choice Hotel anyway) and the boys ordered chicken noodles. We cracked open some ginger beers, and got to chatting about their nascent businesses. I tried to instil in them some of the ideas of social businesses – of capital rather than donations; of cross-subsidization to cut costs; etc. and tried to give them a few ideas about side-businesses that could run — outsourced photo editing, souvenir calendars for the annual (10,000 person strong) pilgrimage to the local church and more. They seemed keen on becoming tour-guides, and I can only recommend them – great English, great knowledge of the area and a sense of fun that comes from their youth.

After dinner, I showed them the minimum photo editing they would need to be outsourced image-editors (cropping using the rule of thirds, correcting curves, getting rid of highlights, etc.) and we swapped some music: Tamil classical music and pop for the Knife and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I wonder what they will think!

*Photos to come*

I am not sure what exactly the doctor gave me, but it is magic. I ate breakfast! I got out of bed without the world pirouetting around me! I feel like a new man!

And, just in time, it is eight in the morning and the people from LEADS are rapping on my door, together with the night-steward of the guesthouse. I open the door, still a bit weary eyed and they burst in behind me, enthusiastically. Breakfast was served (toast, toasted over a naked fire, and sugar tea – breakfast of champions) and eaten in a hurry. 7 tablets swished down with tea and I was ready to go.

The Colonel

Our first stop was to the Army base. Apparently we were meant to stop here the day before, but we had gotten away with it. I had thought that we didn’t need Ministry of Defence (“Emmohdee”) clearance to get anywhere, but apparently we have to let the army know when we got to Malayalapuram.

We head to the Army camp down a horrid road, thankfully, in our four-wheel-drive super-truck/ute thing. We are greeted at the door by a stern looking soldier, who calls over a stern looking leftenant, who offers us a seat and lets us stew for a little. To cool the mood, I ask the leftenant about himself, a thirty year old man from Kandy with two children, who had served in the army for thirteen years – since he was seventeen. I saw the recruits do a morning march, and may have been told off a little for taking photos of their marching (but without heart – they liked me already).

Then the leftenant looked at me sternly, as if to say I told you so, and told us to come with him into the base.
A slightly menacing glint in his eyes – “The Colonel would like to see you.”

We walk past the marching, assembled recruits, past a mess hall, a kitchen and some barracks and get to an office in a stand alone building, a Brigade Standard fluttering in front of the door. Before I had a chance to peek in, the leftenant steps past the doorframe.

A transformation, in a blink: his feet stamp violently, he slaps his hand to his cap in a stiff salute, his back jerks so straight that it looks like it is about to snap. He freezes for a second.

I wonder what I am meant to do. Before I can think it through, I kind of awkwardly hobble through the door, and nod my head, accidentally gangster-like. The Colonel ignores the leftenant, and giggles at my attempt at measured politeness. The rest of the party walks in to the room (the LEADS administrative officer and the Kilinochchi head of projects). Suddenly, a buzz of soldiers. Chairs appear. The soldiers are gone again. The Colonel smiles.

To my surprise, we begin casually chatting. We crack open a few (ginger) beers. We talk about Malayalapuram. We talk about the villagers, what they do and how they live. We talk about what people were doing to help the village: the Fathers’ packaging centre, the housing projects and the other plans. We talked about the Colonel’s personal project – his friends and him pooled together some money to buy an offset printer, a paper-cutter and an industrial binder – he built a notebook factory employing thirty villagers in his village.

As he put it in a follow-up email, though, “it is not a big one. Just like a baby.” He seemed to have taken real pride in his work in developing the town. I didn’t dare ask him details about his work before he became so interested in development.

After our conversation, we swapped “visiting cards” and I was off to meet Shyamika and her sister (from Empower, a Sydney based charity), who had apparently just been picked up by the LEADS monster-truck. The Colonel came out with me to greet them, and somewhat suavely blamed me for their not having a glass of ginger beer, “he [me, Yochi, Yohanan as the Sri Lankans call me] didn’t tell me you girls were coming, so he drank your cooldrink.”

Malayalapuram and Kilinochchi Town with the Sydney Sisters

After saying goodbye to the Colonel and the awkward leftenant (saying goodbye always seems to take a while in Sri Lanka, just a few minutes longer than what would ordinarily be comfortable) we jumped into the super-truck, and off we were to lunch.

The sisters deftly plucked at their food with their hands like locals. I shovelled away at my plain rice (because of my sickness) with a spoon. I still look like a fool when eating with my hands, I think I should just give up on it. We sipped KIK Cola, Necto and other bubbly sugar drinks (not half as sweet as the tea here though) and when lunch was over, we were off.

A bumpy road, a seriously bumpy road (it felt like I was in a paint mixer). I commented that the road felt like it was made by the devil. For some reason, the LEADS staff found this hilarious and burst out laughing – not quite sure why, but whatever, a good audience is a good audience.

Our first stop was the WRDS/RDS building. A building that, like many in the surrounding area, used to be grand. Now, its walls were riddled with holes, small ones from bullets, larger ones from shells. The back walls had collapsed, the roof replaced with Indian Government Aid provided tin. The presidents of the WRDS and RDS were husband and wife, and they were a little annoyed at their inability to serve their constituencies. Where, before, they had a flourishing agricultural co-op, and a savings club. Now, the had a broken building.

Next, we visited some houses of the villagers, each of them offering us a seat. Those families without a seat stood outside with us and offered us their bench. We visited a few woman-headed households. In one of the families, the mother’s husband died in the war, the twenty year old daughter, with a toddler child, was now a widower, forced to work hard day-labour to make ends meet. We visited the home of a land-mine victim, who’s leg had been amputated as a result of her injury, leaving her unable to make an income.

Throughout these visits though, hospitality was always shown. There was always a smile in the eyes of the families. This reminded me of a quote from the Cage:

“Despite the presence of death, fear and grief, life quickly assumed another kind of normality. ‘People still greeted each other in the morning with big smiles, and enquired after each other’s health, and told jokes,’” – Gordon Weiss at location 3763.

After the war, despite the poverty, the land-mines and the monsoon, this normality still existed: a hope.

After visiting some families, we hopped around for a quick sightseeing tour: seeing the controversial water-tower and the Government’s official memorial (the cuboid shattered by the artillery shell, a lotus growing out of it).

I had an amazing day with Shyami and her sister, and look forward to (hopefully) seeing them in Colombo!

Pictures to come

I wake up in a cold sweat, the ceiling fan and the bed spinning in opposite directions. I look at my watch – it is two in the morning. I drift back off to sleep.

I wake up shivering, to my phone ringing. It is the Kili head office asking me if I feel better from yesterday. I tell them to cancel todays plans. I fall asleep again.

I wake up boiling, It is eleven in the morning. I press the “call for service” button by my door to “call for help.” The amma of the house comes in to my room, takes my temperature, throws some paracetamol into my mouth and calls the local clinic’s doctor, Dr Siva, who promises to come on his lunch break. I doze off to sleep to the cricket.

I wake up, and it is almost two in the afternoon. Somehow, the TV changed from cricket to a home shopping network thing all in Tamil. The doctor and amma are already in my room. They must think I am crazy, watching home-shopping. The doctor takes my temperature (with an old-school mercury thermometer) which he thankfully asks me to put under my arm. He takes my pressure and listens to my breathing. He tells me he will be back.

I, surprisingly, stay awake, and I take this opportunity to catch up on missed blog writing. The doctor knocks on my door a few hours later with a bag full of pills. I need to take 7 pills three times a day (2 pinkies, 2 capsules, 2 round thingies and a bigger round thingy) which will apparently make me better. I chug them down with water, eat a piece of bread and go to sleep.


The bus ride from Mannar town is what I am used to already: ridiculously early morning, followed by a confused inter-language checkout, followed by a touch of panic at the bus station trying to find the right bus, followed by and awesome nap before the bus starts moving.  Then, just as sleep closes in, the engine starts, shaking the earth and rumbling like a tiny thunderstorm under my feet.  The shriek of a Bollywood superstar follows a second later, mid-song, and I am as awake as I have ever been, adrenaline dancing through me.

My eyes open, and, after the first thing I see, I wish I had just kept them shut.  A huge man, maybe 150 kg’s sitting next to me, picking a scab.  It is like there’s a competition to find the creepiest person in the whole of Sri Lanka to sit next to me.  The bus lurches forward with a burp from the engine and a puff of black smoke appearing behind us.  I am at least looking forward to driving over the causeway from Mannar to the mainland, and then, it starts raining.

I am in the back left window seat, so water is coming in from the window next to me (which I try to close, but turns out to be totally shattered, so no closing this window) and from the door, jammed shut.  At least I have a seat.

I cover my bag (with my laptop and camera in it, each in waterproof pouches) in my jacket – just to be safe.  I get drenched, my stuff is fine.  The people in the aisle seats are giggling.

Only three short hours later, and I was in Vavuniya, for a frantic minute trying to get on to my next bus heading for Jaffna via Kilinochchi (where I have to jump off).  I find the bus, and (hooray) I have a two hour bus ride standing in the door frame of this bus, about 30 centimetres off the road.  To be fair, this did afford me an awesome view.

Kilinochchi Town

When you arrive in Kilinochchi (“Kili”) the first things you see are two war memorials: the first built by the army in 2010, a “cuboid” with an artillery shell embedded in it and a lotus blossoming out of the crater; and the second, the huge water tower, built with World Bank funding, toppled over, shattered.  The plaque on the steps of the water tower states that it was destroyed by the retreating LTTE (“Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” or the “Tamil Tigers” as they were popularly known) on their retreat.  “The Cage” by Gordon Weiss (who worked with the UN mission at the time of the end of the war) states that the tower was “felled by an air strike” [in chapter five of the book, location 2114/9224 for Kindle users out there].  Ask any two people what happened and there will be a different answer.

When I arrived, I was dropped off beside the monumental water tower, in the rain with my bags.  I ducked into a jewellery shop (or, as the locals call it, a “fancy” shop) to get out of the rain until I could hail a trishaw.  The owner looks at me hopefully, and I feel bad, so I take a look at his jewellery.  Sadly, I can’t pull off the elaborate (others might even call it gaudy) jewellery from the region.  I duck back into the rain and jump into the passing trishaw, to the driver’s surprise.

I finally get to the LEADS office, and meet with Mr Jeya and his team.  Without a second to lose, I am chewing through all the questions I have for him from Palmera Projects: mainly questions on the beneficiaries, the village, the other NGO’s working in the area, the Army and the PTF.  Flying through these questions without any snags and I am feeling good about Kili, and I am ready to go.

We head for a quick pit stop (chicken fried rice, Sri Lankan style with mango chutney and a KIK Cola – “Lankan to the last drop”) and we are off to Malayalapuram.  Now, I have become familiar with bad roads, but these roads were spine shattering: dirt roads with water channels running in parallel lines, each one throwing your head forward – you feel it in all of your body.  I think these roads were meant for walking, or are in dire need of repair, because they were a joke.


GS for Malayalapuram

GS for Malayalapuram

Our first stop was to the local GS (an appointed government official responsible for a village or two, here, Mr Chandrabalan, who had been GS for the past 5 years).  He produced for us the maps we had asked for – they were literally hand drawn, and to dubious scale.  They plotted the location of houses, temples, tanks and paddy fields, but left out the locations of wells and toilets (a mystery why).  However, the shoddiness of the maps was no representation of the GS, who was amazing, and knew absolutely everything about the village we were looking at, his Malayalapuram:

The government, official map of the area

The government, official map of the area

Including the paddy fields

Including the overlay showing paddy fields

  • 2000 persons;
  • 90 women headed households (40 of these female heads of households are less than 30 years old);
  • 70 toilets;
  • 1 well for 5 families, most incomplete and not suitable for drinking, but drunk form anyway;
  • Dry rations given by the WFP have been exhausted;
  • 400 persons in the village will start recieving 100 rupees a week (about .85 AUD) in food aid from the government:
    • Estimated cost of nutritional food for a month is 15 thousand SLR (about 130 AUD); and,
    • Recent Government Health Department study showed 60 malnourished children, and approximately 20 severely malnourished children;
  • There is some skilled labour – in the village of two thousand, there are:
    • 5 skilled masons;
    • 5 carpenters;
    • 3 skilled electricians; and,
    • 25 students training in computer works.
  • All of these persons got their training in Kilinochchi Town, there are 2-3 persons in training currently.

So, the GS knew his town back to front.  But what he knew wasn’t good news, this town really needed help.

A widow and her daughter in Malayalapuram

A widow and her daughter in Malayalapuram

We jumped back into the truck to meet some families.  The first few families I met were all women headed households: the first because of divorce; the second because her husband was incarcerated; the third because her husband passed in the war.  All these women had children less than 4 years old, and they were taking care of them themselves.  All of these women were less than thirty years old.  They worked day-labour for the rich Town land-owners, either as domestic help, or tending the massive paddy fields these persons owned.  Their children were dependant on health-department vitamin supplements for their micro-nutritional balance.  They worked all day, with their aunties or mothers taking care of their children, and then worked all evening in their home-garden, trying to grow some food, first to eat, and, then, if possible, to sell.

A better-than-average house in Malayalapuram

A better-than-average house in Malayalapuram

I asked a women here to show me her well.  She led me to a dug hole in the ground with milky white water in it, littered with tadpoles, twigs and garbage.

A home and the attached well in Malayalapuram

A home and the attached well in Malayalapuram

“Do you drink from this?” I ask her. “This, this is good clean water” she replies.

I am not sure what to think.

I ask her, “where is your toilet?” She points behind the house and says “Jungle”.

Afterwards, we met a few women in a spice-packing shop built by a priest (they call them “Christian Fathers” here).  Four young women were working: sitting on the floor, cross-legged, with piles of spices on one side of them, piles of plastic wrapping on the other side, a kerosene flame between them.  Each women packed a bag full of spices, then ran it across the flame to seal the bag.  Each women’s fingers were scorched, blackened.  But these women were the lucky ones, the employed ones.

A woman sealing a spice packet with a kerosene flame in Malayalapuram

A woman sealing a spice packet with a kerosene flame in Malayalapuram

By this time, I was beginning to feel ill, with that feeling where you are acutely aware of your bones when you know you are going  to have a fever imminently.  So we head home, to the “Hotel Sela” – a lovely little guesthouse with, I am not joking, a cement diorama in front of it of a Godzilla ripping the head off a chicken.  No idea why.  But, why not?

It is four in the afternoon when I collapse on to my bed in my “Ehh See” room (an air-conditioned room), not to wake up until the next day.

A hindu shrine to a local snake's nest

A hindu shrine to a local snake's nest

To see more photos – check out my flickr album!

Yesterday’s work was quite draining, and I got back to the hotel room exhausted. Before I could even have dinner, I collapsed onto my bed and was asleep within minutes. It was only about seven in the evening. I woke up the next morning at about eight: I guess it turned out that I really needed that sleep. As soon as I woke, I ordered a milk tea (or, as it should more appropriately be called, a glass of sugar with a spot of tea and milk in it) which is more effective than Red Bull at keeping my eyes open. Then I started to write all the stories from the day before, and all the progress reports that were to be written.

About four thousand words later, I hear a knock on my door. I am still in my pyjamas. It was my friend from Colombo here to pick me up. It was eleven in the morning. Time flies when writing!

A quick, maybe 5 minute motorbike ride and I am at the office. I eat my usual Mannar breakfast: slightly stale bread and coconut sambal, and then its back to work. More writing. Lots of photo editing (I had to get from about 1300 photos down to less than a hundred, and edit those 100 photos), a touch of video editing. In a blink, everyone had left the office for lunch. Having just eaten breakfast, I kept editing and writing.

When the crew came back from their lunch, I had a few meetings planned, so I had to tear myself away from the keyboard and monitor and get questioning.

My first meeting was with OfERR (Ceylon)’s Mannar Office general council, the absolutely lovely Ms S. Sivalingam. She sat opposite my desk in her pink sari and her long, platted black hair that was frizzy at its ends (made me think it had never been cut) and asked what I wanted. I asked her to try to explain to me the land title system (woohoo, Real Property!) of Sri Lanka and its implications for our Mannar projects.

The Bore Well and Toilets were on the private land of the beneficiary (who had their interests registered [thank you Ms Dorsett]); their interest was protected. The Rice mill was a little more complex: it was on the commons, but had been granted to the local Women’s Rural Development Service (WRDS) by the local Assistant Government Agent (AGA) and Environmental Agency. They had title over the land, and, thus, as beneficiaries of our Mill, our project was safe.

Afterwards, Ms Sivalingam and I chatted about Sri Lanka’s Legal system – it turns out she is an active barrister! She invited me to see one of her cases (which, thankfully, are mostly in English) when I next come to Mannar. How exciting!

I had my lunch at about three in the afternoon (plastic bag of rice and curry, two plastic bags accompanying, “gravy” and “soup”) and began to type again.

The rest of my afternoon was spent planning the rest of my Sri Lanka trip (prospective itinerary goes something like Mannar to Kilinochchi to Mannar to Jaffna to Mannar to Vavunia to Trincomalee back to Colombo). It seemed that I needed to travel all over the country a bit, but that was fine, because even the horrible bus rides are exciting!

Sri Lanka Travel Map

My proposed traipse through Sri Lanka

I also planned to meet with a few other Australian volunteers from different organisations (Diaspora Lanka, Empower, and more) and I am excited to meet Jeremy, Shanil and Shyamika over the course of my trip!

By this time, it was ridiculously late (almost midnight), and the videos I was trying to upload were still uploading, so I left my laptop in the office, hopped on the motorbike and got back home to my lovely hotel room.

Since today was almost solely an office day, and, thus, there weren’t any photos, here are a few of my photos from the last couple of days that didn’t fit into the stories I was telling, but I still loved.

A gang of schoolchildren with their Unicef Backpacks

A gang of schoolchildren with their Unicef Backpacks

The son of a beneficiary outside his house (2)

The son of a beneficiary outside his house

A water-lilly in a pond supplying water to the paddy fields

A water-lilly in a pond supplying water to the paddy fields

A strange oasis in the rice field

A strange oasis in the rice field

Out trishaw driver "Driver Master"

Out trishaw driver "Driver Master"

A soldier (shot this photo so he would let me through his checkpoint -- a vanity bribe)

A soldier at a checkpoint who didn't want to let me through until he saw my camera and asked me to take a new "Facebook Name Picture" for him - a vanity bribe

A kid resting in his field

A kid resting in his field

The road home, over the bridge and on to Mannar island

Mannar Causeway

English lessons

English lessons

A cute baby in the village we are building a bore well in

A cute baby in the village we are building a bore well in

A man in Nedunkandal

A man in Nedunkandal

A boy and his akka

A boy and his akka


A beautiful flower in a beneficiary's garden

A beautiful flower in a beneficiary's garden

A kid who is getting access to fresh water through our bore well project

A kid who is getting access to fresh water through our bore well project

A boy and his father in the village where our well is being built

A boy and his father in the village where our well is being built

The orphan nephew of one of our beneficiaries (3)

The orphan nephew of one of our beneficiaries of the toilet construction project

The morning commute

The morning commute