Monday 14th March
I seem to have used that title quite a lot in my blogs, but my little oatcake party on Sunday evening didn’t quite go as expected.
About 1pm, the power went off: this is not an unusual occurrence out here and initially I paid it little attention. However, by 5pm it still wasn’t back on, which was less usual: “planned maintenance” power cuts are quite common, but account holders get a warning text message a day or two in advance and the time period – typically 8am to 5pm – is announced, though the actual power outage time is often shorter. Purmina’s brother, sister-in-law (both doctors) and family were visiting and I was corralled into playing badminton in the garden, where I was told it was a nation-wide blackout, the third in recent months, and the Chairman of the electricity company had resigned. It looked like being a long affair.
My planned Facebook 7pm chat with Sonia was therefore out of the question, though we managed a brief conventional phone call. The Photoshop lesson the kids had asked for also had to go by the board. When I wandered over to the house – now lit by candles – it transpired that Purmina had decided to cook a meal and invite me, in return for my offering beer and nibbles. That had not been my plan at all – I had simply wanted to make a small gesture of gratitude to them for all their kindnesses.
Sera and I sat in the garden and had a couple of beers, accompanied by some SL nibbles: this was perhaps the first time I’ve had a long chat with him and we covered a lot of ground. He told me how he’d applied for a visitor’s visa to New Zealand to see his brother who has lived there for several years and is well settled now. Despite the fact Sera’s family were going to stay behind in SL, despite a letter of support from his work saying he was a hard worker, had been employed there for some years and was being granted leave of absence for the trip with his job guaranteed on his return and despite his brother vouching for him, the NZ authorities turned him down. Although I’ve only heard his side of the story, I’ve no reason to doubt it and it seems a travesty that he wasn’t allowed a short stay. I suspect that if I – as a European with no relatives in NZ – applied for a visa, I’d have no difficulty.
Then, about 9pm the power returned and Purmina called us in to have SL omelette – spicier than back home of course, but very nice – and we tucked into my rather soft oatcakes and less than perfect “artisanal” cheddar, along with nuts, crisps etc. The kids were more into watching a “Flash” superhero movie on TV, some American thing dubbed in Sinhala and with a terrible quality of picture, all snow and horizontal lines. Again, we three adults had a longer chance to chat than we usually do. P has been being teased by Sera about being overweight – she’s certainly fuller in the figure than their wedding photo, as Sera gleefully pointed out – and she says she’d like to go for walks with me as apparently single women going out walking is just not done in the local culture. It turned out she just means a stroll around the walls of the Fort, not a day’s hike! Sera supported her in this suggestion, so I agreed that I’d happily accompany her if asked.
Round about 10pm and with the power back, Vanushka was obviously still hoping for his Photoshop lesson, though Sulakshi had gone to bed tired (she had gone for a computer class in the afternoon, been dropped off by a parent unaware the class was cancelled due to the power cut and had to wait an hour and a half to be collected, as she had no way of calling home for a lift).
A week or two back when this Photoshop business was first mentioned I had tactfully pointed out that the program is expensive to buy – probably well over £100 – and had suggested a couple of free downloads of similar programs that would fit the bill. V. proudly told me after our meal that he’d gone to an IT shop and bought Photoshop, which surprised me. It transpired he’d spent 70rupees (35p) to get two ancient versions of the program copied onto a memory stick – the older one was a 1999 issue – and neither would install and were probably riddled with malware anyway. I felt really sorry for the lad and gently pushed him to agree to a free download there and then of the software I’d suggested a fortnight ago. This worked and he was delighted that we could at least have a very brief look at the program, as I’d promised his parents we’d stop before 11pm. V kept apologising for being stupid about buying the program and I tried to reassure him that we all make silly mistakes and that 70 rupees wasn’t a lot to learn that lesson.
V and S are both super kids. Polite, friendly, cheerful, hard working: you name it. I don’t know any other SL families, so I mustn’t generalise but their parents obviously keep them on a tight leash. The wifi router is kept switched off, they attend extra classes almost every day after school and at weekends, they spend hours on homework, neither has a mobile phone and I think the loss of 70 rupees struck V hard. Though they’re not a wealthy family they don’t seem hard up. Sera holds a responsible position in a garment factory, they drive a car and scooter, have a sizeable house – admittedly rather down-market in places by UK standards, Sera is developing the apartments of which I’m the first resident and they are taking a lot of trouble (or paying someone else to take it) to landscape the garden and area around the flats. Reading between the lines, I think P comes from a moneyed family as there have been references to her aunt paying for things such as their trip, a few years ago, to Buddha’s birthplace in Northern India. Mind you, Sera’s grandfather owns/owned the land that Thomas Gall School is built on, so they can’t be short of a bob or two either.
This morning I stood and watched the simian acrobats for a while before work. I will certainly miss the free show they put on and I don’t think a rather arthritic Scottish cat will compensate.
After school there was a staff meeting, the first I’ve attended. I was interested to note, with all the staff – Rick and I the only males – that the vast majority seemed to be SL, with only about 6 of us being incomers. We celebrated a recent birth to a teacher by having samosas and chocolate cake. I embarrassed myself and alarmed some of the staff by choking on the icing sugar. Mrs Barbara Gall, founder of the school named after her late husband, was there. She is originally of Scottish descent, but hails from Adelaide and now lives in Hong Kong and it was interesting to speak to her for a few minutes. The staff meeting focussed on the forth-coming 10th anniversary of the founding of the school and Mrs Gall gave a brief “rallying the troops” speech, then suggested ways the anniversary could be marked. She had some nice ideas, such as planting a tree in a projected Botanical Garden due to be created in the Galle area. After that, Mr Rick went through the arrangements for the New Year / end of term celebrations to take place in 10 days’ time, which will also mark the end of this short stint I’ve done at the school.