Apart from the Germans, who have now moved on of course, there have been some more French folk, four Italians and a young English woman travelling alone. Of course; one would like to think that it is just as safe for a female to travel alone as it is for a male, and assaults on tourists in Sri Lanka are relatively uncommon (I was about to say “rare” but didn’t want to tempt fate), but it must take some extra courage for a young female to head off for a month or so alone to exotic parts. I think, as a fairly experienced traveller and rock climber, the young woman in question – sorry, I don’t know her name – would be pretty capable of holding her own in difficult circumstances. Though her broken and strapped-up wrist from a climbing accident might inhibit her a bit! Nadia the Irish teacher at TGS is another young woman who has travelled out here alone. She has been here since last summer or thereabouts, has invested in a motorbike for getting around and obviously intends staying a while at least.
It is Nadia who is organising tomorrow’s trip to the Wickramsinghe Museum and the Koggala area. We leave on the newly acquired school bus, which I’m yet to see, about 8am and should be back for 1:30. I’m looking forward to the trip: there will be 3 staff, 7 kids and me as token adult male. I’ll tell you all about it in a day or two.
The other day Nethumi, whom I was sitting next to and who was supposedly being shown something on the computer, was actually taking more interest in my skin tone. She gently poked my arm and kneaded the skin a bit before asking why my skin didn’t go brown like hers. I had been reasonably happy with the way my tan was developing up to then but – hiding my disappointment – I tried to explain about skin colour. It can’t be a strange concept to her: most of the older kids at TGS are non-local and both Nadia and Rick are white as well. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t really register when you’re younger, maybe she was just confirming something she’d been told before.
Yesterday I was doing some playground supervision at break as Rick was away on business. It basically involved wandering round with a cup of tea in my hand, chatting to some of the tiny Kindergarten kids and keeping an eye on the Primary ones. Zakhar, Fedor and Ibrahim were shooting hoops at the basketball net and I watched as they efficiently took turns: one scoring, one counting the number of throws and one throwing the ball. As I stood and watched them, pondering life as a globe-trotting kid, monkeys crashed through the trees above us, probably having as much fun as the boys below them.
Readers as long in the tooth as me may well remember the Goon Show on the Home Service (later Radio 4). I’ve been trying to decide who the voice of one of the wee Bridge Year girls resmbles and it’s Bluebottle from The Goons. Just for fun, I dug out a link to a Goons extract on YouTube. It’s been given rather a good wee animation and I highly recommend following this link, if you promise to come back afterwards, as I’m not finished with you yet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tjHlFPTwVk
Burns’ Night went fairly well. I wanted to get a couple of things after school so I nipped into town in my first proper tuk-tuk trip of the visit, not counting the friend of Sera’s who collected me when I first arrived. The traffic – not specifically my driver’s performance – was terrible as I’d chosen to go more or less straight after school, so every child in Galle was travelling home, some in tuk-tuks, some on the back of a parent’s motorbike etc. We took a route that involved a level crossing and had to wait for the train from Kandy to pass: it’s a chaotic spot at the best of times, often manned by a policeman who is lucky not to get squished. Visualise a busy four-way junction of narrow roads that struggle to cope with the volume of traffic, but add into that that one of the arms of the cross right at the junction is traversed by the railway line, which serves as a walkway for people if there’s not a train coming. When the barriers go down, the traffic immediately builds up and all drivers – particularly those in tuk-tuks or on motorbikes – are determined to get within touching distance of the barriers: it’s an excellent example of funnelling and must be very inefficient.
Much the same happens at the bus station as people try to mount a newly-arrived bus. I suppose queues only work by convention: in the UK, jumping the queue is frowned on and sufficiently unpopular that most folk don’t do it and trust that others won’t either. It’s my impression that here, people do push forward just because everyone else does. The last time I went to an ATM, there were a couple of other folk waiting and I was just moving to take my turn when a smartly dressed guy who had arrived after me tried to push through the glass door ahead of me. I said something along the lines of: “Sorry, but I think I was here first”, and kept going. He had the grace to reply “Oh, yes” and abandoned his attempt but with no appearance of embarrassment at being caught out. But back to Burns: it didn’t rain and Rick, Kris and I sat outside. We ate oatcakes and Brie (for the sake of the Auld Alliance!), peanuts, cashews and some nibbles called “Tasty Mukurukku” or something. They were horrid extruded twisty things with a stomach-churning artificial garlic taste and a single mouthful was enough for me: apart from that they were OK. A few pieces of Whisky Fudge helped mask the taste.
After a few attempts, I gave up trying to get Sera to join us: whilst he seemed quite happy for us to be there at his garden table – I had asked! – for some reason he seemed ill at ease. I wondered whether sitting having a drink with a woman (and her husband) was the problem, or if it was the landlord (Sera) / tenant (Rick & TGS) relationship. Another light was thrown on this today: I bumped into Poornima who was about to prepare a room for guests and she was fulsome in her apologies for not having joined us last night. I had of course invited her and hoped she would be there, but hadn’t really expected – unlike Sera – that she’d turn up. She told me she is suffering from stress brought about by her brother’s wedding on Monday: she wants to help and be involved in the preparations for the big day, but is so busy with everything else that she can’t. I sympathised and took the “it’ll all be the same in a hundred years” line. She admitted her brother understands and doesn’t expect her to get too involved but maintained she wants to and feels upset and guilty that she can’t do as much as she wants. I felt when we were talking that she was close to tears. I don’t know why she was preparing a room today: perhaps Amjit has been allowed a day off. I was particularly glad that I had stressed several times to Sera that Poornima was not to go making omelettes etc. for our evening and that I had all we needed.
I spotted some Mimosa Pudica growing weed-like in semi-waste ground at the end of the apartment. I used to have some as a houseplant years ago but, if you’re not familiar with it, its distinguishing feature and the reason for its name is the way it folds up its leaves and droops its smaller stalks when touched. I think the British “Sensitive Plant” is a more attractive name than the American equivalent “Shameplant”, though the latter does remain faithful to the Latin.
I hadn’t really decided whether today was to be a fast day or not. True, I had a bowl of Kellogg’s Mango flavour Corn Flakes with added “Iron Shakti”* this morning, but was looking on that as an aberration rather than a statement of intent. However, today was Cooking day at TGS and a few of the teachers – they’re all female – had organised that all the kids from Bridge Year to P7/8 would be involved in doing some traditional Sri Lankan cookery. The result was a very enjoyable Rice and Curry consisting of rice, dhal, a peppery green-leaf salad, hard-boiled eggs, runner beans and various other bits and bobs, including mini-poppadoms which were cooked in a pan over an open fire in the grounds. Break was informally extended and we all – staff and pupils – tucked into lunch about midday. Of course, my carefully crafted lessons will have to be mothballed until next week now as I ended up with only one class today, which gave me some time to try and standardise the computers, which looks like being a longish and rather tedious job as a couple seem less than keen to connect to the Internet.
That’s probably it for just now: I’ll need to go and brush up my English before tonight’s tutorial with Vanushka.
*To save you looking it up, I’ve taken the trouble of doing it for you. Wikipaedia explains “Shakti is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe. Shakti is the concept or personification of divine feminine creative power…” I hope it’s the mango pulp on the corn flakes that’s colouring the milk orange: I don’t think I could handle that much shakti without gender realignment!