Pokie Tarantulas

The tropics are known for large bugs-hornets, roaches, ants-they all seem to be on some kind of miracle grow hormone.  Until now I have forgotten this is also true of spiders.  I found this tarantula in my bedroom when staying in Vavuniya.  Apparently he's a Sri Lankan ornamental tarantula nicknamed a 'Pokie'. 

I have a new found appreciation of  sleeping with a mosquito net in the security of knowing I will not wake to find this guy in my bed. 

Hopping Gates in Colombo Part Deux

It was my friend's 35th birthday party in Colombo and I made my way in for the big event...she called it her official entry into the Middle Ages.  Kind of dramatic if you ask me. 

I was happy to be able to take the train with one of the other expats in Batticaloa.  Aside from being my cycling and badminton partner she also lived in Afghanistan the same time as me and we have a ton in common.  Not only did she provide some much needed comic relief on the 10 hour overland journey, but also a place to go in the morning. My friend had sent me an SMS to warn me that there was a crowd of emergency aid workers in the process of a bender at our guesthouse. 

As much as the idea of walking into a house tired and exhausted to find a crowd of drunken expats sprawled out over the place appealed to me-I instead took my friend up on the offer of an extra bedroom in her Colombo guesthouse. We had the opportunity to go for breakfast at Cinnamon Grand hotel, where I was told by a man from the Seychelles that there's a village inside of the hotel.  I don't know if this was true...considering the man was slamming shots of vodka at the time I don't know if it's trustworthy...however, given the size of it this could very well be possible.

In the afternoon I returned to our guesthouse and then spent the day shopping with my friend before heading the posh Galle Face hotel for drinks.  It was an absolutely lovely setting.  Dim candlelight was spread across tables that sat right on the edge of the water with waves crashing down.  Many a gin and tonic was had along with wine for a crowd of about 30.  There even appeared to be some random people who somehow joined us and didn't even know my friend, but had somehow made their way to our table.  I somehow became surrounded by a group of people who had all previously worked in Afghanistan--all about the same time as me.  It seems at the moment I'm surrounded by a load of people with experiences in Afghanistan, Sudan and the DRC-it's an interesting bunch to say the least.  I also met a Brit who apparently had been rejected by MI6.  Or at least he told me he had been.  Most likely it was a pick up line, but I entertained the notion and let him chat me up for a while.  Whether true or not, he definitely had some good stories to share about it.

  At about 3am I returned to my guesthouse.  I had been told that our guard had improved dramatically since the last time I had to climb the 3 meter wall with the help of being put on the shoulders of a stoned tuk tuk driver.  Unfortunately I had a bit of an altercation with my tuk tuk driver this time as he tried to charge me a ridiculous amount of money.  I suppose it was the drinking and my past experiences fighting with Arab taxi men as I immediately yelled something at him Arabic and he responded by saying nasty in Sinhalese before driving off into the empty street.  Sometimes things are best left to be lost in translation.

The next 1.5 hours were spent attempting to yet again try to get in the gate.  I called the guard and at first it rang, but then he switched his phone off.   Unlike the last time I had to hop the gate, I was alone and in a skirt and heels which resulted in many a man driving by-turning around and driving by again.  Apparently I appeared to be a hooker of some sort.  Unfortunately for these men I immediately approached them not to tell them how much I charged, but instead to tell them I had been locked out.  There were four men who did this-one even called the police, but they never did come.  I kept banging on the gate yelling, Hello Mr. Security Guard!" But nothing. 

I was being attacked by mosquitos, I was tired, kind of drunk and actually considered taking a nap on the pavement when a truck drove up, then turned around and came back stopping where I was standing.  Again, he thought I was a hooker, however this guy proved useful.  I explained my situation and asked him if he had a ladder or something I could use to climb the gate.  He told me that he did have one in his house.  I asked him if he wouldn't mind getting it and he agreed saying he'd return in 10 minutes.  I only half believed he would do this and sat down on the sidewalk with a sense of defeat.  Just as I was beginning to think that my yelling at the tuk tuk driver was some kind of karmic retribution, the truck driver returned with a proper ladder.  He extended it out, helped me climb it then he did the same to help me down on the other side.  He then climbed back over the wall and packed up the ladder.  I asked him how I could thank him--with the tuk tuk driver I had offered him money, but he had refused. This guy asked me for my phone number and told me to stop by the Bay Leaf restaurant where he worked. And then he drove off.

And once again I'm reminded of the kindness of strangers, even if it means breaking into one's home.

Child Soldiers...the Baby Tigers of Sri Lanka

Back in 2005 I had a job working with the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.  We create a report mandated by congresss to be submitted annually on efforts made by governments to combat the trafficking in persons.  After drugs and weapons the sale of humans is the most profitable.  The stories I would hear were hearwrenching and the types of trafficking varied--sex, labor, domestic help.  Details of a trafficking victim are hard to take, but the one that I would actually get a sick feeling in my stomach over were the forced recruitment of child soldiers.  Children are often kidnapped or forced in some other way into a militant group and exposed to the grossest of atrocities in order to indoctrinate them. 

I suppose this personal history of mine is one reason why seeing this billboard as an anti-trafficking message in one of the rural villages in the east of Sri Lanka struck such a chord for me.  It serves as a reminder to what a child is and what they should be. In this case it makes reference to a child that should be carrying a cricket bat instead of the grenade launcher.

I asked a colleague of mine about this poster and she explained the above to me.  Until now I've been cautious not to push people into telling me their war stories, but am always listening attentively when they share.  This was one of those times.  My colleague told me her views of the Tamil Tigers-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). 

Yes, they stood up for Tamil (minority ethnicity in Sri Lanka) rights, but they were brutal and they were vicious.  They required every person working or living in the LTTE controlled villages of the north and east with a family with more than one child to give one up for the movement.  If you failed to do so, they would extort you for all you were worth.  In my colleague's case, her father was working in on eof these villages.  she had one sister and one brother who had passed away years earlier.  The LTTE came after her father demanding either her sister or her join.  He staunchly refused and they put him in prison as a result.  Her mother went to them, begging for them to release them and they said they would if she either give up a child or pay 150,000 rupees...this from a family that makes 6,000 rupees at the most a month.  When she asked how she could pay this, they said easily-give us your house and land and go with your children to live in one of the many IDP camps being run by ICRC and the UN.  Eventually the mother got the money from loans and the father was released.  He soon after took a job in Saudi Arabia in order to avoid further extortion and protect the family.

Sadly, many of these children 'disappeared' following the violent end to the war in 2009.  It has been explained to me that what took place here in the final years of the war was a genocide.  To date, there are approximately 300,000 people who vanished from the northern Vanni region without a trace.  Among them are more than likely the child soldiers-robbed of their childhood and their lives taken before they even had a chance to live them.

Here is a recent article published by IRIN regarding the missing children: 

FP's 2011 Failed State Index

I find myself divided over my feelings towards Sri Lanka.  People who have traveled to Sri Lanka always say how much they love the island and how nice the people are.  It is beautiful and yes, the people are nice for the most part, however, I see a very sinister side to the society that the government goes to great lengths to cover up. 

Having been working in the post conflict areas of the east and north I have a different take on all the beauty.  Sometimes I think I'm blowing things out of proportion and then I see rankings such as Foreign Policy's Failed State Index. 

Sri Lanka has earned the dubious honor of being listed in Foreign Policy's top 30 failed list and shares the same category ranking as sunny destinations including the Rep of Congo, North Korea, Iran and Rwanda.  It's #29, coming just after Eritrea and step above Sierra Leone.

I suppose I'm not the only person who doesn't see the island with the rosy colored glasses that many visitors have the luxury of wearing. 

"You must leave the country now."

The processing for my official work permit and visa began in March.  Five months and two visits to the nearby Maldives later and it has been processed.  If everyone had gotten every piece of paper signed and chased down the official who puts the official stamp on the form--developing countries love the stamps, bureaucracy would fall to shreds without them--then I would have had my visa a couple months ago.  Instead the form that needed the appropriate official's signature on it sat collecting dust on a desk for three weeks until someone realized that my entry visa was about to expire. 

Under any other circumstance I would have had to collect my visa in my home country, but considering the US is on the other side of the globe this was not an option.  The original plan was to send me to Bangkok as I would have to depart Sri Lanka in order to gain the appropriate entry visa.  I've never been to Thailand and would love for the opportunity, but not for a 24 hour visa run.  Instead I suggested to look into the Maldives...I had already been there for a previous visa run and I have friends living in the main island of Male, not to mention it's less than an hour's flight from Colombo

The request was sent to the man known as the liaison.  Described to me as a hustler who will wear a leather jacket and jeans even if it's 40 degrees (roughtly 100 farenheit) and 100% humid.  The liaison said he'd make a few phone calls and notify me of what was to come.  A couple hours later I receive a text message stating, "you must leave the country now, check your email".  Sounded ominous to say the least.

Checked my email and received instructions that I must depart Sri Lanka as soon as possible so the liaison could work is bureaucratic magic and make my visa magically appear at the High Commission in Male.  He then said that I would have to remain in country for 4-5 working days in order for all to be processed.  My boss followed up with the message for me to follow the liason's message and get to the Maldives ASAP.  All expenses would be covered. 

I kept it professional and said that I understood the situation and if I must, then I would depart for the Maldives in the next few days.  Inside I was thinking, really?  I'm being ordered to go to a tropical paradise for a week??? I chose not to ask questions and fully comply with my orders.

There are times in my life where I sit back and say I don't deserve what I have.  This was one of them.  For the past week I have been in the gorgeous South Asian island nation soaking up rays, wakeboarding, kayaking, scuba diving with sea turtles and reef sharks, stargazing, karaoking and enjoying the azure blue waters of the Indian ocean while at the same time spending time with some amazing friends.  I even had the added bonus of my friend's mom who was visiting her from Lebanon, which involved amazing Lebanese food prepared with ingredients she had brought with her from Beirut along with my favorite past time of nargileh (hookah).  I told her that I had been dreaming of fatoush salad daily in Sri Lanka and eh made it special the day after I arrived.

The Maldives is an odd country.  Following the 2004 tsunami it has become extremely conservate and Muslim...more and more women are veiling and shops close during prayer times.  The conservative island is the main island of Male is where 150,000 of the entire 300,000 Maldivian population live.  It makes for some close quarters and near death experiences in narrow alleyways where men with slicked back hair and sunglasses drive like kamikaze fighter pilots.  Alcohol is strictly forbidden in Male, but is not on the multiple islands surrounding it-owned by various resorts.  Most tourists get off the plane and get picked up by a representative from the resort they reserved at and are jetted away by speed boat never seeing Male or knowing it's conservative nature.

I was happy to depart the Maldives on the first day of Ramadan-the holy month of Islam that involves fasting from sun up to sun down--from what I could see nearly every shop was shut.  Most definitely the restaurants were.  I met a really ignorant colleague of my friend who was a disgruntled teacher working in Male.  He kept making comments of Ramadan and then went as far as to say that babies die from being forced to fast.  This is just ridiculous and more importantly not true.  After clarifying for him that children are not required to fast until at least the age of 7 (or somewhere around there) and that there are load of exceptions so as not to harm yourself he seemed to not condemn the practice of fasting as much as he initially had been.

On the flight home I sat next to a woman in an abeya dress (black choir coat you see women in the Gulf wearing) who I discovered could not speak English when I asked her to move so I could get to the window seat.  I could tell she was not Arab but heard her say to the flight attendant that she had come from Dubai when he was handing out landing cards.  As we approached Colombo she tapped me on the shoulder and handed me her landing card and passport, giving me a worried look.  I was confused at first until I realized that she was trying to explain to me that she was illiterate and did not know how to fill out the form.  I glanced at her passport and realized that she was Sri Lankan and more than likely was returning home after having worked in the Gulf.  Knowing she did not speak English I gave a stab at her knowing Arabic and sure enough she did.  She asked if I was Egyptian and I explained no, actually I was from the US. She gave me a surprised look and then asked why I spoke like an Egyptian.  It made me smile....to date I still have the accent because of first learning to speak in Cairo. 

I helped her fill out the card and I then asked her where she was coming from.  She told me Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she had worked as a domestic servant for the past two years  I've heard horror stories and witnessed firsthand the treatment of foreign workers in the Gulf and asked her how her life had been in Saudi.  At first she bulked at saying anything, but then she started detailing what she had been through.  She repeatedly told me the men in the house were bad and kept making motion of cutting her hands and head regarding the life in Riyadh.  I did not ask for the details of either but assumed she was referring to the notorious sexual assaults that take place against domestic help and the beheadings and hand choppings that take place as a form of punishment. In the city of Jeddah-the most liberal of all cities-there is a place nicknamed, Chop-Chop Square.  It perfectly describes the public chopping of people's limbs along with executions.  After asking her if she was happy to go home she broke into a smile said wholehartedly 'na'am.'-yes.  After landing we exchanged phone numbers and parted ways. 

Upon arrival in Colombo I was finally able to be stamped in without fear or thoughts of deportation from the  'it's absolutely forbidden to work in Sri Lanka without permission of the controller' sign that hangs above the customs desk at the international airport.   It appears the liason will not be instructing me to depart the country anytime in the near future

Weddings and sarees

A colleague of mine was getting married-the invitation read that the wedding would take place from approximately 8:47-11:42 on a Sunday morning.  Apparently Sri Lankans visit some type of religous fortune tellers to learn when to please the Gods and special events can sometimes take place at the oddest of hours.  My favorite story was of the head of an NGO having to give an argument as to why an opening ceremony of a school was best not to take place at 2am, but rather during the day.  Her staff was not pleased by her not following religous orders.

I was unable to attend the wedding event, but was able to attend the reception that took place the following Sunday.  I was told I should go and I must wear saree-sometimes written sari.

The saree is the 3 meter piece of fabric that you always see Indian women wrapped up in.  The experience taught me there is much involved with the saree wrapping process.  First, you have to find out what the occassion is for-in my case the main question was whether it was for a Hindu or Christian wedding or reception?

Then you go to a fabric store, choose the fabric you want.  Then you spend at least a half hour haggling over the price-even more if you're a foreigner. 

After this, you take the fabric to a tailor-usually located on the second floor of where you bought the fabric or, in my case, across the street.  You wait amongst strewn pieces of fabric and men working on sewing machines while the boss negotiates styles and cuts with women having saree tops and shelvar kamis custom made for them.  There's no fan or air conditioning and everyone is covered in sweat...there's an actual truth behind the name 'sweat shop'. 

Finally the tailor comes up to you and rapidly takes multiple measurements of your body...writes it all down in a torn and  massive book that somehow is able to distinguish between the customers.  He tells you to come back tomorrow at 4pm.

You return at 4pm and are told to wait.  'My brother is bringing it from his shop-15 minutes only, have a seat.'  And so you wait 15 minutes.  Then another 15  After about an hour you ask the boss man where the top is.  'It's coming, only 10 minutes.'  At this point you get irritated and want to punch someone or kick the sewing machines.  Finally a bag shows up with my saree top and they still have to sew on some pieces.  By 6pm I am able to leave.

Then comes the day I had to wear it all.  My female coworkers came to my home to help me.  After putting on the little saree top that is more like a bra than a shirt, I have put on the underskirt that has a strong string to hold the 3 meters of fabric for the saree.  My coworkers had me stand while wrapping and pinning me to create the designs of the sarees I've seen so many other women wearing.  At first I felt like it would become unraveled or fall off of me at any given moment-but eventually I got used to it.  More than likely will never wear it again, but was happy for this experience.

Arrival of the bride and groom

The wedding itself involved driving to the home of my colleagues parents.  At least 100 of us gathered for the occassion, which was a lunch celebrating the welcoming of the newly wed couple.  We sat in plastic chairs under tarps with the massive UNHCR logo on them.  Upon arrival the sister of the colleague put a white and red marking on my forehead--same went for everyone.  I know it was for some type of blessing, but not entirely sure which one.

We sat and were then fed lunch...lots of rice and curries.  No forks or spoons.  You eat with your hands here.  I must admit I absolutely hate doing it.  I turn into a mess everytime as I don't have the skill at balling up the rice and popping it into my mouth like the locals do.  People are usually clearing their plates and I'm still playing with my rice wishing I had a spoon...I've gotten used to it now and am slowly but surely mastering it.  It just feels odd, but I suppose that goes with learning any new culture. 

After finishing everyone had an opportunity to have a professional photograph taken with the bride and groom.  You were taken into a room and you lined up and had several photos taken together.  This one is my favorite just in the fact that the little girl has a hysterical smile on her face.

Jellyfish attack in Arugam Bay

I've been wanting to go to Arugam Bay since arriving in Sri Lanka and reading about it my my Rough Guide travel guide.  According to Rough Guide it takes 5 hours to travel from Batticaloa.  This apparently holds true unless you have someone who offers to drive you-then it takes 2, depending on how fast you go.

One of the German expats here rented a van for eight of us, including my friend from Beirut.  We were told 8am we would leave.  I've grown accustomed to being culturally sensitive to concepts of time and have become extremely lax with meeting up with people due to my past in Latin America and the Middle East.  In these places 8am means more like 8:45-or 9 depending if you also want breakfast. Then it could be around 10.   Not so for the Germans.  At 8:06 I received a phone call asking why I was not at the meetup spot.  When I said we were waiting on a tuk tuk, he got a bit short and said he would come to us-better than waiting.  When the van arrived there was silence inside and I was introduced to the concept of German time. 

The drive down was gorgeous.  Lime green rice paddy fields stretched on for miles on either side of the road.  They use cow skulls for scarecrows here and there were several spread out in the fields.  In one town there were these odd looking bubble houses that are best described as Hobbit houses depicted in Lord of the Rings, but of course much larger.  It was explained to me that these homes are engineered to withstand great amounts of water pressure should another tsunami or flood strike the region. 

Whether it be the German's culture or just the fact that he really wanted a cheeseburger I'm not sure, but the mood lightened upon reaching our destination.  Arugam Bay is a sleepy surfer town on Sri Lanka's east coast.  Cheap accommodation is abundant and there are loads of strung out surfer types walking around with long boards-or just strung out. Tamils own most of the businesses right on the beach.  In post-tsunami Sri Lanka a rule has been established that all housing must lie 100 meters in from the coast and all of these places are currently in violation.  On the other side of the main road-opposite the beach side accommodation-a string of businesses are popping up owned by Sinhalese.  Yet again another reminder of the ethnic divisions that exist.  Many places have cushions you can lie on and read--or as we did play lots of UNO games and drink Lion Beer. 

There's a reason why surfers flock there in that the waves are amazingly big and strong.  I was confused by the culture on the beach in that the locals all seemed to cover up, but there were still tourists with bikinis...reminded me of the Middle East in some ways.  The waves were fun to bob around in and I really did want to try my hand at a surf lesson, but alas I suppose I'm still apprehensive due to my wave accident back in 2009 that involved my being swept up in a monster wave and thrown down on a sand bar leaving me with a Class 5 separated shoulder.  It occurred on remote Socotra Island-part of Yemen, but closer to Somalia.  I was in pain and without proper medical treatment for approximately a week's time.  Two surgeries later my left shoulder is nearly as good as it was before, though I'm left with a gnarly scar.  I'm still tossing around the idea of getting a tattoo to cover it-perhaps a wave of some sort symbolizing the incident.This accident was also the reason my shoulder is weakened and I was not able to climb the gate I describe in my 'hopping gates in Colombo' post.

I did manage to swim in the waters and encountered the one downside of the place...jelly fish.  Lots of them.  In Batticaloa we have jellyfish, but they're white and slimy and don't sting.  In Arugam Bay they're purple and sting like what I imagine the fires of Hell to be.  I should have known as luck would have it that I would get stung by one...what I did not anticipate is that I would get stung in four different places all simultaneous of each other.  I must have swam right into a school of them and I could actually feel the tentacle wrap around my wrists and ankles like a whips.  My reaction was to run like a Kenyan marathoner to the restaurant we were staying and ask for vinegar.  When you get stung you're supposed to put anything acidic on it to neutralize the venom and I wanted it pronto.

So there I was, hopping and down in pain covered in sand and my hair looking reminiscent of Medusa.  Apparently the surfers get stung a lot there because they all didn't seem too concerned with my pain.  I was told to go rinse off at this little shack next to the restaurant before getting doused with vinegar.   I quickly hopped over to the shack and a Sri Lankan surfer who had been watching the whole incident closely from the sidelines walked over to me and told me calmly that the best thing to do was to pee on my stings.  I've heard of this and people always joke about it, so I laughed-until I realized that this was actually an offer of help.  He stood there, eyebrows raised waiting for what my decision would be...as if I were going to hold out my wrists and say, oh yes please-fire away.  I politely thanked him for his generous offer, but said I much preferred the vinegar.  He just shrugged his shoulders as if to tell my, 'you're loss' and sauntered way.

Back at the restaurant the waiter I screamed at for vinegar was waiting with a bottle of red vinegar and lemons to rinse off the stings.  I told him a beer would also be needed ASAP.  As I sat pouring vingegar and lime juice all over my legs and arms the same surfer who had offered to pee on me returned.  He looked disapprovingly at my beer telling me I should be smoking a joint instead.  Again I declined his offer and this time he shook his head in disapproval and left-I did not see him again after that.

45 minutes and a liter of beer later the pain was subdued and was again able to enjoy the chilled out atmosphere that Arugam Bay has to offer.  I met up later with the Batti crowd for relaxed conversation and dinner.  It was a great crowd to spend the weekend with-two Germans, two Brits, a person from France and Holland along with my Canadian friend visiting from Beirut.  I believe it will be these memories and not the pain of the jellyfish that I'll remember most.

A visitor from Beirut

For Hala, my friend connecting everyone from Burma.
Last summer I lived in Beirut while working for the UN Relief and Works Agency.  A friend of mine named Hala, who I refer to as the tumbleweed due to her permanent status as an intrepid world traveler, introduced me to her friend Ramona living in Hamra in Beirut. I've known Hala since living in Cairo and she was the one visitor who came to Yemen to see me while I lived there.  For the past year she has been living in Burma studying Buddhism and meditation.  When she's not silent, she updates her Facebook and it was during one of these times that she put me in contact with Ramona.

Roommates at Barometre in Beirut
 I was looking for advice for places to live and Ramona brought up the idea of my staying in her guestroom...which I gladly accepted.  Later that summer Ramona traveled home to Canada and another friend of Hala's came to stay with me in her absence...Jess, a Kiwi and expatriate living in Cappadocia, Turkey.  She was and is a travel guide author and was updating the Footprints guide for Lebanon...just learned that she's been offered to be an author for Lonely Planet's updated Egypt guide. We always joked about the fact that Hala brought us all together, yet we knew her from her time in different parts of the world...hence the name the tumbleweed.  Jess owns a cavehouse in Cappadocia and we are hoping that a reunion will take place there in a few year's time.
 One of the many things I love about expats is their ability to pick up and move without much planning...especially if their friends are working or living in a place they've been wanting to visit.  A perfect example of this is my recent trip to the Maldives, where my friend from my time working in Afghanistan is working. 

This was the case with my taking a contract in Sri Lanka...Ramona was finishing up her two year contract teaching in Beirut and was planning to travel to India.  She's been to Sri Lanka before and decided to come once more.  I was beyond excited in that I remember when leaving Beirut I had told Ramona I looked forward to repaying the hospitality that she had shown me in during my time in Lebanon.  She told me I'd have to leave the Middle East for that to happen because her days were numbered there.  Therefore, my short contract in South Asia was perfect for her.

Last week Ramona arrived at 4am in Batticaloa after a 12 hour train ride from Colombo.  Coming with her were gifts of figs, olives, Younis espresso and bottles of Lebanese wine.  Cafe Younis is a coffee shop in Beirut's Hamra neighborhood and I used to frequent it...the coffee is delicious.  They also pride themselves in that they remained open for the full duration of Lebanon's Civil War.  I think I may have had overkill as I drank three shots of it after having detoxed on crappy Nescafe, but it was so worth it. 

A visa run to the Maldives

The visa run is a term synonomous with working abroad.  Depending on what country you are visiting, there is always a time limit to the visa.  Sometimes you can pay a mild fee to have it extended-sometime an exurbient amount depending on your nationality and how long you want to extend it for.   Whatever the case, you can always have the option of doing a 'visa run'.  A short holiday to a nearby country so that you can re-enter on a new visa without the hassle of the paperwork. 

I am now approaching month 4 of waiting for the appropriate visa to be stamped in my passport.  It's not a personal matter-or even a national one-it's  a matter of what mood the official is in that day and if he feels like getting fifty more signatures and rubber stamp marks before making it official.

After receiving word that I have to wait yet another 3 weeks and my visa was set to expire after 30 days upon entry, it became necessary to either file for an extension or do a visa run.  Given the time it takes for any bureacratic matter it was decided to send me to the nearest country.  The fact that the Maldives are the nearest country and that my colleague and friend from when I worked in Afghanistan made it the most unexpected and pleasant visa run to date.

I don't know if it was my lack of sleep, extensive writing or poor planning, but I made every traveler mistake aside from leaving my passport at home.  I packed in such a rush that I left virtually everything that would be useful...I only realized this after my 12 hour overnight train from Batticaloa to Colombo.  In Colombo I tried to use my credit card, only to learn I had brought an expired one with me...my others were locked in my closet at home.  Same was true for my underwear, bathing suit, laptop power chord and sunscreen.   My poor planning actually shocked me-usually I'm good at packing on the fly.

It wasn't such a big issue until reaching the airport-which by the way took a ridiculous amount of time.  I had called for a taxi because I knew it would take an hour to get to the airport.  Instead, a tuk tuk driver shows up and not that this has anything to do with it, but he was albino.  I've never actually spoken to an albino before.  His tuk tuk broke down four times on the way to the airport and once he actually broke down in the middle of traffic.  He had to get out, pull the tuk tuk through the traffic lanes and then do repairs on the side of the road.  While waiting on the third break down a herd of cattle walked on either side of us, Michael Jackson's Thriller was playing and the albino driver was pulling a chord trying to start the tuk tuk like  a lawnmower...and oddly this all seemed normal to me. 

An hour later arrived at the airport.  Had given myself a two hour cushion not realizing I was now actually approaching the cut off time for check in.  Albino driver did not have change, I was angry and made him feel bad.  I just can't help it when I'm tired. 

Go to the Emirates check in counter.  Give my passport and itinerary.  The clerk looks at it, types in my name, then gives the screen a funny look.  'Do you have the credit card you used to purchase this flight?'  Any other time I would say yes, but I had only the expired card with me.  After I told him I didn't, his manager came over and explained I needed to show the card.  Then I became a bit angry.  I asked why-they said it was stated in the instructions when I bought the ticket-which by the way I have yet to find.  Then they stared at me blinking.  I told them that I was up to a Silver status with the airline so why was I having this issue.  They said it happens everywhere...I assured them this was not the case.  

So the solution was I had to carry all my things and follow a man like a criminal to the third floor office in order to log on to the computer and show my credit card account online for verification purposes.  The Internet was beyond slow and he just stood over me watching.  After nearly 15 minutes the screen finally loaded and I was able to get my boarding pass. On the way out I asked him what the deal was with the flights and he told me there was a ton of fraud in the area.  Usually men from India buy tickets with fraudulent credit cards and then try to bribe their way onto the flights.  I stared blankly at him and told him I wasn't Indian and I was a frequent flier, so I really didn't appreciate the treatment.  He told me that the same thing would happen in the Maldives.  For the record, it did not.

And on to the Maldives I went.  It's a tiny set of islands-the smallest country in Asia.  Sea leves are rising and threaten the future of the country.  The coasts are already shrinking and looking at the main island of Male looks like a series of buildings sitting on top of water-they quite literally are.  It's predicted the country will eventually be underwater...yet they still continue to build on the island. 

Following the 2004 tsunami the country has experienced a radical wave of conservative Islam and nearly all the women are now wearing hijaab.  On the landing card I had to complete was a list of forbidden items...numbers 3-7 include the prohibition of anything contradicting Islam, idols for worship, pork and/pork products and dogs...all directly related to Islam, though it's not an Islamic state.  My theory is that the Saudis have a hand in doing some behind the scenes funding.

I spent three days on the islands and they are gorgeous.  Did not get to do diving as I had planned-mainly due to my lack of credit- but did do some snorkelling and saw more marine life than I have ever seen in my life...including a series of black tip reef sharks.  At one point a shard was swimming towards me and a freaked out and crashed my leg into some coral...I still have a funky rash a result.  Apparently the sharks don't go after humans, but they sure do make you believe they will. 

Nearly all the workers in the Maldives are Sri Lankan...I began distinguishing the Maldivian men from the Sri Lankans based on their long wavy beach hair or afros, which there were many.  Maldivian men also take pride in using copious amunts of hair gel and wear designer sunglasses, so very Lebanese of them. 

When speaking with the Sri Lankans I would tell them that I am working in Batticaloa and everyone had the same reaction.  Their eyes got wide and they would repeat as if I were joking...'Batticaloa?  Are you playing with Tigers?' Referring to the Tamil Tigers no longer in the area.  One man got very emotional and thanked me for working in the area.  He condemned the Sri Lankan government and the discrimination against the Tamils that has gone on too long.  He really looked shaken.  It's sad but refreshing to learn that a country has a divide between what their government does and what the citizens believe. Sadly, their voices are usually never heard.

Learning Tamil

If there is one recommendation I can give to anyone planning to live abroad (aside from being patient) it would be to learn the local language.  The benefits that come from taking the time to learn the language are countless.  I'm not talking about mastering the language and then writing a thesis on the correct grammatical usage.  What I'm referring to is learning what I refer to as 'traveler talk'...how to buy things, asking directions, describing yourself...the basics.  Nothing is more frustrating when you are surrounded by ten people all with the same confused look on their face while you try to explain slowly what you need.  And no, repeating the same phrase louder does not work.  I've seen that method used by many a foreigner-only perpetuates the image of being rude.

Locals appreciate you taking the time to learn it-they know it's difficult.  By speaking to someone in their language it shows that you're not the typical tourist-or expat for that matter.  I knew a British expat in Cairo boasting that he has managed not to learn one word of Egyptian Arabic in the 15 years he lived there.   Knowing a few phrases and familiarizing yourself with the pattern of speech eases the anxiety of thinking people are talking about you.  It gives you independence and a sense of accomplishement.   It also opens lines of communication that allow you see a part of the culture along with understand it. 

The biggest perk is most likely that you begin receiving the 'local price'.  Nearly every developing country mildly, or more often blatantly, charges foreigners a higher price based on the fact that they know you had to throw down a lot of money to even get there...so the idea is that paying an extra dollar for your meal isn't such big deal.  Depending on how long you live in a place will indicate how lenient you are to this institutionalized inflation for foreigners.  After a year in Cairo I was cutthroat with the cab drivers to the point where, when my mother visited me there, she actually told me she would disown me if I continued to argue with people over $2 USD.

Last night I got my first price as a local when I ended my Tamil lesson and received a massive discount in my tuk tuk ride home.  Apparently my yelling random phrases from my notebook seemed to strike a chord with the driver.  He even gave me his number should I ever want a driver in the future.  This is another recommendation I have for language  learners-practice with the taxi drivers. My Arabic professor at the American Univeristy in Cairo encouraged me to do this and it was the best bit of advice she gave in that it is how I gained fluency in Arabic. The drivers were bored out of their minds and appreciated the fact that a white girl would sit in the back of the cab saying things like, 'the book is red'.  My methodolgy was to throw everything against the wall and saw what stuck.   Eventually those sentences began to make sense and I built confidence.  

I am lucky to have found a teacher within a week of arriving, thanks to my amazing boss who also began studying.  My teacher's name is Ragis and she is a retired Tamil and English language teacher.  She is proud of the fact that she used to teach American diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo.   Her teaching style is old school in that she expects you to come to the class prepared and drills you.  The lessons are to be an hour, but she often goes for an hour and half, still only charging 500 rupees regardless.  This is the equivalent to about $6. 

So I'm learning Tamil now.  It marks my sixth language for which I've formally studied.  Tamil is a Dravidian language originating from Sanskrit and one of the 22 languages spoken in India and is an official langauge in Sri Lanka and Singapore. All of the signs in Sri Lanka are marked in three languages all with different characters for their alphabets-English, Sinhalese and Tamil. 

When I was in Colombo, a Sinhalese part of the island, I went to a bookshop trying to find a Tamil phrase book.  Despite multiple books for Sinhalese, not one book was offered for Tamil at any of the three bookshiops I visited.  I didn't find it all that surprising, but did believe it showed the feelings toward the Tamil speakers...I mean it is an official language spoken here.  Even in Afghanistan you could find Pashtu books, albeit difficult, in Kabul where most speak Dari. 

As I mentioned above, learning a language can teach you a lot about a culture.  It can also highlight the indirect discrimination towards those that speak it, which is the case here.

Dahab vs. Batti Diving

Blue Hole Dive Site-Dahab
I first began Scuba diving back in 2006 when I was living in Egypt.  I would try and escape the craziness of my base in Cairo and would head towards what has now become my favorite place in the world-Dahab. The nearest city to Dahab is Sharm el Sheikh, where Ex-President Hosni Mubarak's residence is and where he's been hiding out since getting the boot this past spring. I really do not like Sharm-it's a jaded over-the-top beach resort city that does not represent Egypt.  You're better off speaking Italian or Russian because that is who the Sharm tourist market caters to.

Dahab is different-it's a sleepy bedouin town on Sinai.  Its name is Arabic for gold and it describes the color of the rolling hills of the Sinai Peninsula that crash into turquoise waters of the Sea of Aqaba...from the shores of Dahab you can see the red sands of Saudi Arabia.  Two hours drive away is Mt Sinai where you can hike to the top to where Moses supposedly received the ten commandments.  Dahab is notorious for people going for  weekend and then staying for a month.  That happened to me twice.  In those times I would dive in the mornings and then experience the 'chill factor' of the place which consists of laying around, being lazy, drinking Sakaras and smoking sheesha (Egyptian for narghila and hookah for all of my friends in the States).
Saudi Arabia in the distance

I was warned when I was certified for diving in Egypt that I would be spoiled for the rest of my life due to the amazing dive conditions in the Red Sea.  The water is crystal clear, the reefs are full of marine life and schools of fish are everywhere.  It's like the cast of the Little Mermaid dancing around every time you dive.

So I wasn't entirely surprised that the diving in Sri Lanka is not up to par with Dahab...nowhere else I've been ever has.  I went with a Canadian woman working with an NGO that de-mines areas of conflict. She too, had been to Dahab in the past when she was working in Oman.  Our dive master was an ex-sailor named Fernandez who has been diving since 1983.  He was probably the most professional dive master I've been with in that he actually verified our certifications--you can seriously walk into dive locations around the world and pretend you're certified without anyone questioning it. Dahab is one of these places that don't really care.   This is no good because people can and have die as a result of not knowing what to do.

The boat used for diving did not represent the same caliber as the instructor.    It was a little, rickety boat that can fit four people at most.  We had to gear up, prop ourselves up on the side and then do a back flip off while making sure we didn't bang our head off the side of the boat.  We stayed down for nearly an hour.  When we surfaced there appeared to be a storm out at sea with five foot waves making us bob around.  We were supposed to do another dive to a ship wreck, but the wave were too rough.  Instead we went back to the dive center and do the ship wreck tomorrow.  The ride back had us going up with each wave and then crashing down sharply.  It's a good thing none of us got seasick.

And then I was introduced to the docking methods used by Sri Lankans.  Instead of slowly approaching shore and tying the boat to something-the captain kicked up the motor to full gear and went full throttle onto the beach...seriously we hit ground and after a huge bump were on land.  We stayed for lunch and Fernandez asked my friend about the demining situation in Sri Lanka.  It seems everyone keeps comparing the mines here to the situation in Cambodia.  It is predicted that it will take another 20 years before Cambodia is free of mines.  In Sri Lanka it remains unknown.

Fernandez then shared with us some stories from war times and was saying how much happier he is now that it's over.  It also became apparent that he is not Tamil, but Sinhalese.  Until 2009, if he tried to run his dive shop the LTTE-Tamil Tigers-would harass him and demand money for him to run the business.  He described them as 'pistol gangs' that would shoot anyone who didn't pay up.  Despite being Sinhalese, he said he didn't like the label of terrorist being put on the Tigers.  He said as a result the Sinhalese government always looks at the Tamils with a suspicious eye. 

We finished up lunch and then some of his staff drove us across the lagoon to show us where we were to meet them for our dive tomorrow.  The landmark we chose was a bent palm tree.  My friend and I decided if we ever open a bar then that is going to be the name of it.

grieving is a process

Back in 1999 there was a hit song by Baz Luhrman that came out  called, 'wear sunscreen'.  It's actually not so much a song but a speech with background music.  The speech is written for a graudating class of seniors in the US.  Every sentence is piece of advice he has learned from his experience at life with the only scientifically proven fact being that you should wear sunscreen-which I do daily...not so much because of the song but just because it's common knowledge. 

I remember many of the lines including the one that says that you should know that, 'worrying is about as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.  The real troubles in our lives are the ones that blind side you on some idle Tuesday.'  And true enough, on an idle Tuesday I received news that my Aunt Trudy passed away.

There's no one set way to deal with a loss of loved one-especially when you're abroad for it.  Even more so when it's someone you really cared for and it kills you to know your family is back home hurting, too.  It's times such as these when the importance of your family becomes blazingly clear.  Not that I ever take them for granted, but in the end its your support system that gets you through it all and are the people that are there for you when all the dust settles.  My father's family is large and of Italian descent and I know it sounds cliche but family was and still is everything.  As much as I've traveled through the years I have to say that I could not do it without knowing of their support.

I've been overseas before when shocking news such as this and I think the worst thing about it is that you can't do anything.  You're helpless and you don't want to burden others with what you're going through.  I usually go into a state of denial until I return home and it hits me that I will never see that person again.  It's true regardless-if you're gone you're gone whether you're in the next room or next continent.  I have noticed that I've become hardened as a result of having to go through the grieving process alone.  Though I guess there's some truth that what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. 

If there's one thing that will carry on in my memory of Aunt Trudy it will be her laugh.  She had this energy and loud voice and hearty laugh that would project through the whole house when she was around.  You always knew when she arrived for a visit.  Lord how I already miss that laugh.

What lies beneath Sri Lanka's pretty face

Sri Lanka is a strikingly beautiful country.  Sadly its human rights record is anything but.  Some parts of the country remind me of a shiny Christmas package with a big red bow on it...then you tear it open and find a lump of coal inside.

The contrast of natural beauty paired with a history of gross atrocities is not something new for me.  Afghanistan,Yemen, Lebanon, Peru-all places making headlines in Western news outlets for some type of danger...all are places I have lived or visited and  have found two truths in all...the people are friendly and the landscape is gorgeous.  All juxtaposed with hidden images and histories tucked away just under the surface.

On Friday I traveled for a meeting to Trincomale (more commonly called Trinco) on the eastern coast of the island.  White sand beaches were met with turquoise blue waters then stretching into the dark blue sea.  Balmy breezes swept through lush palm trees bringing relief from the tropical sun and heat.  People walked along the beaches near dive shops.  It's a beach bum's Shangri La paradise.

Flashback to two years ago and it was better described as hell on earth.  The LTTE were battling Sri Lankan forces for control of the north and east of the country.  Those caught in the crossfire and who were unable to flee either by force or circumstance suffered unspeakable horror.  Ethnic tensions in town resulted in the killing and maiming of civilians.  Their bodies, both whole and dismembered, were dumped in the streets.The LTTE actively recruited militants by kidnapping children.  There is an educational disparity in the country due to a generation of children who were kept at home by their parents from fear they would be abducted en route to school.  LTTE guerrillas forced each family to give a family member for the cause. To be sure the LTTE got a member as ordered, they required each family to hang a family photo on the wall of their home. Men not in the photo were shot dead if by chance the LTTE did a surprise check on the house and found a man at the home not in the picture.

Simultaneously the Sri Lankan army shelled the areas of LTTE control-the same areas where innocent families were being terrorized for recruitment.  There's an unwritten and undocumented history that goes with the counter offensive to the LTTE.  One which has left entire villages of fatherless and with only single mother households.   The census of the northern Vanni region prior to the conflict was roughly 50,000 males.  Today, it's 30,000.  Yet the official record here indicates that not one civilian was killed in the conflict between government forces and the LTTE. The discrepancy of 20,000 raises alarm bells as to how this could be true.  My guess is the answer is waiting to be dug up in the north.  Until then, 20,000 people can just 'disappear'-vanish into thin air overnight.

It all sounds so eerily familiar to tales told to me by Peruvians when I studied there in 2003.  During the 1980's there had been a hunt for left wing Maoist guerrillas in Peru.  The name of the organization was Sendero Luminoso or the Shining Path.  They too, forced recruitment, more often by calling a community together, shooting the mayor and then saying men were to join or be shot as well.  The Peruvian government responded by ransacking homes looking for anything that could indict a person as being a leftist--like books with Communist themes.  As a result, many people disappeared and were never seen again.  Even in 2003, nearly twenty years after the scare, my host mother was apprehensive to talk about Sendero for fear of being labeled a supporter.

Don't get me wrong in that Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and wonderful place to visit-it truly is and you should.  It depends what you want to get out of it.   You could come and visit the tourist areas and have an amazing beach holiday.  I wish I could, but that's not my purpose for being here..It depends on how far you want to go to know the history. Some choose to ignore it and that's their choice.  Others come an try to change it.  I myself have come to learn from it and transfer the lessons learnt so that it hopefully doesn't happen again--here or elsewhere.

It's just that uncovering the country's dark history takes a bit of the joy out of the good food, white sand beaches, emerald tea fields, massive Buddha statues and stupas--along with the delight of seeing elephants roam free. This is precisely what I thought to myself when I experienced my first elephant sighting while driving home from Trinco to Batti this past Sunday.  My driver was so excited for me he nearly caused an accident by swerving off the road so that I could watch the elephant standing on the side of the road chowing down on some ferns.  My driver is named Arul and he is Sri Lankan of Tamil descent.  He lived through the war, lived as an IDP and experienced more than I believe I could ever endure.  Seeing him so excited about that damn elephant despite his having seen them so many times before made me smile.  It drove home the fact that even though life can be so cruel to us we need to focus on the small things that can make us happy.  And so I do. 

Hopping Gates in Colombo

My colleague and I arrived in Colombo following a 6 hour journey from Vavuniya just in time to hit the after work rush hour.  My colleague had a meeting to attend at 7pm and she suggested I attend in order to learn the background on a project she will be working on.  We would have been precisely on time had the driver known where our house was, but unfortunately this was not the case.  Our driver is Tamil and the ethnic makeup of Colombo is Sinhalese.  He was clearly uncomfortable asking directions using his Sinhala and I’ve been told that this happens often with the two ethnicities being divided and even more so after the war.  I was recently informed one of the greatest fears of a Tamil driver would be to hit a Sinhalese child with a car in that more than likely the driver would be dragged out and killed in the street.

So this is the background to why we drove in circles for some time.  Finally we found the house dropped our bags and then jumped in a tuk tuk taxi for the meeting.  We met with a German man and Scottish woman, both the heads of two other NGOs.  It was a working dinner meeting  in a posh dinner spot called the Park Street Mew-high ceilings, plush leather couches, trendy paintings and everyone wearing black.  I stuck out like sore thumb in just having come from the field-sweaty, hair unkempt and dressed in a flowing pale blue skirt and loose cotton top.  They seemed not to notice my scruffiness-or perhaps this is expected from field workers.  We sat for a two hour discussion on an upcoming proposal for monitoring food security in the northern Jaffna area-still under control of the LTTE.  Development buzzword lingo was flying around the table and I felt like I was back in my Human Security class only these topics were relevant and interesting.

Following the meeting we went to a nice Italian restaurant to get some pizza and wine.  Our waiters were clearly ready for us to be finished and had a taxi waiting for us to take us home.  After leaving the gate, we could smell the marijuana before we could see anyone smoking it.  As it turns out, the source of the weed was our fearless taxi driver behind a tree having a midnight toke while waiting to drive us home.  I think that his being stoned helped with the events that were about to unfold.

Around 1am we returned to the house and to our surprise our guard had locked the gate from the inside.  My colleague called the three numbers the guard had left with her just in case any event of this nature should take place.  Unfortunately every time she dialed there was no answer.  Except for one when a person answered and informed us that it was not the number of a guard.

Meanwhile our stoned taxi driver sat waiting for us to go in the gate.  When he realized something was wrong he came and asked us what was going on.  After about 20 minutes of trying to call and clanking on the iron gate to try an wake someone up it was decided that we would need to go to a hotel or somehow get over the 8 foot wall-avoiding the sharp points at the main gate. The taxi driver was happy to assist.  My colleague was first-she stood on his shoulders and then managed to pull herself up the wall and got really scared at the top because she was afraid as to how to get down on the other side.  The taxi driver jumped the wall and helped her down on the other side.  They checked the guard station, which had all the lights turned on, but no guard to be found.  The taxi driver returned and jumped back over to help me.

So it was my turn.  I was wearing a skirt, and he told me to tie it so it was more like trousers.  He then once again put me on his shoulders and boosted me up so that I could jump the wall-unfortunately I could not manage to pull myself up on the left side due to a shoulder  injury circa 2009 when I had surgery.  So we were back to square one.  

My colleague at this point was trying to break the lock with a hammer.  I began running to neighboring gates to see if any other guards actually did their job unlike ours and may have a ladder.  The guard next door was indeed at his post along with an incredibly cute little dog.  The taxi driver had not left and came with me to ask the guard if he had a ladder.  The conversation took place in Sinhala and I had assumed there was no ladder.  I walked back to the gate with a sense of defeat. 

Back at the gate, my colleague was still trying unsuccessfully to break the lock.  Then I noticed the guard and taxi driver dragging a large metal frame for a gate with them.  They came to our gate and put the frame against the wall holding it in place so that I could use it as a ladder to get me to the top.  I managed to quickly get to the top and then once again our taxi driver jumped the wall and put me on his shoulders to lower me down on the other side. 

Following this he made his final jump over the wall in order to return to his taxi.  My colleague and I attempted to pay him extra and he refused-instead he gave us his number and said to call if we ever needed a taxi driver in Colombo.  Somehow I think I shall be giving him a call considering he did all that for $2. 

As for the guard, when confronted in the morning where he was the night before, he denied not being at his post.  He also said he had his phone with him at all times.  A blank stare was his reply when we said if all that was true, then why the hell we had to try for an hour to break the lock and jump the fence. 

 I believe it may be time to hire a new guard.  I’m going to suggest the taxi driver fill the post.

Bikes, guns, speeding and snakes

Woke at 5am today to make a 6 hour journey north.  The van had AC and I think I must be getting used to the heat here because the cold air hurt my skin..actually had to turn it off as a result.  The radio station had an eclectic mix of Beatles and Eminem music playing.  We saw a truck completely flipped on the side of the road-evidence of the insane driving here.  Just the other day I realized how used to erratic driving I've become.  Same goes for really big guns. 

The other day I was in a bike shop and these military guys wearing what appeared to be grass in their helmets had kalashnikovs or some other semi-automatic weapons on their backs.  You would think  a normal reaction would maybe be to question why they were wearing the hats or let alone show up ready for war in a bike shop-though this could be a guaranteed way of lowering a price. No, instead my reaction is to continue to bargain on the price of my bike basket and then give the armed guard a dirty look for standing in my way.  I clearly have to work on my bartering skills in South Asia as the shop owner wouldn't budge on his price...or maybe I didn't get the memo to come to the shop with a grass helmet and gun.  In the end, I'm still without a bike, which doesn't really matter since I'm traveling for the next week.

 My driver managed to not go above 80km/hour which I was thankful for.  On my previous journey the normal 6 hour ride was shortened to 4 due to extreme speeding to the point that the van went up on two wheels when we went around a bend.  To my surprise, law enforcement does ticket for speeding here-my speedy driver got fined 500 rupees for his attempt at race car driving on Sri Lankan highways.  What was strange was how he got the ticket-it appeared that there had been no signal to pull over, but then all of a sudden he pulled off the road, grabbed his wallet and ran off into the bushes.  Moments later a soldier appeared in full uniform and I saw him writing the ticket.  Then the driver paid the fine and returned to the car.  The apparent honor system is something I've never witnessed before.  However odd the procedure of ticketing may seeem, I am happy because the driver finally slowed down to only a moderate speeding pace. 

 I'm inVavuniya till Friday.  Interesting to see people out on the streets after 8pm.  In Batti where I'm normally based it's a ghost town after 8.  I was told it's due to the routine of war times.  Today was the first time I saw long tailed wild monkeys running across the street.  Still waiting to see the elephants and hoping that I never have the chance to see one of the vairous snakes sliterhing around the island.  My colleague said there was a massive one in the office the other day-about 4 feet, though thankfully not poisonous.  Sri Lanka is the daunting leader for the highest rate of venemous snakebites in the world.  Aside from all the various others reasons why someone may purchase traveler's insurance, the thought of paralysis from a big ass snake was enough for me to purchase a plan.

My insurance purchase was further reinforced when I drove past the local hospital-still very glad to not need stitches!

Avoiding the hospital

I'm going to blame the fact that I had a bit too much of the local Lion beer at an expat dinner party last night as to I was so groggy this morning and ended up slicing my finger open while cutting a tomato.  It happened so quick it took me a moment to realize it was cut, though the sight of my own blood quickly made the alarm bells ring.  And there was A LOT of it.  The first bandage I put on appeared to work well enough and I carried on cooking until I looked down at the kitchen floor and it was literally covered in blood...I hadn't noticed that the bandage was leaking and it happened all so quickly.  That's when I started thinking that I may have to visit the hospital here and I just became exhausted thinking of the idea. 

I've been racking up some quality time in hospitals overt the years in facilities ranging from what appeared to makeshift clinics in Afghanistan and shacks on Socotra Island to modern royal health services in Bahrain for a whole load of various reasons...but I still became nervous thinking about being jabbed with a needle here.  I could be wrong, but I think the doctors and nurses who have witnessed gross atrocities including natural disaster and war would not understand my whining over a chopped finger.    Luckily the house I live in had a well stocked first aid kit so I could patch together a bandage to keep my finger from dripping blood everywhere and eventually it stopped.  The difficult thing about it was making sure it stayed clean...which isn't the easiest thing to do one handed, surrounded by kamikaze grasshoppers, sweating and having to find and use bottled water. 

But it wad a success and I wad impressed at my MacGyver-like ingenuity.  In the end I even made it to the beach and tied a plastic bag around it to prevent it from getting wet.  My friends thought it would be good to put it in the sea water, but I staunchly refused.  Glad all is in the clear as I travel to Vavuniya in the morning and REALLY don't want to have to think of going to the hospital there.  My friend and roommate from back when I lived in Cairo is here and lives there...recently she chopped her hand accidentally on a ceiling fan and decided against seeking medical treatment--I think that in itself gives an idea of the medical facilities here.  A little first aid training apparently goes a long way in the field.