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3 December

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 12 months ago





My laptop computer is playing up - sometimes the screen goes dark and sometimes it doesn’t seem to take the charge when I plug it in at night. Yesterday it suddenly said I had only 19 minutes remaining, when actually there should have been a good three and a half hours of power left. This is why yesterday’s diary was rather hurried, and why today’s may have to be too. Fingers crossed! If it continues to misbehave I may need to get Haggis to buy a new, cheap laptop at Heathrow in Duty Free on his way to meet me, Jo and Rooben in Bangkok on Friday.


Anyway, desperately trying to type up the diary with my computer telling me I only had a few minutes of power left made me a bit late for 7.30 breakfast. Gulp it down dangerously fast and rush upstairs to pack. Fling things into the cases and just going to have a last pee (with the bus it is really important to be like the Royal Family and use the loo whenever there is a reasonable one available!) when the laundry man arrives to hassle me again for the washing bill - “I’ll pay you donwnstairs at Reception”, I say, heading for the bathroom, but he simply stands there so I have to literally bundle him out of the room, poor man.





Get my stuff downstairs and hey, my bill, although we asked them to prepare it last night, is still not ready, and 4 men are adding it up together in a very leisurely and rather amused manner. I can see Nat in the driver’s seat of the bus with the engine running! We really need to remember that things like ordering a meal and it arriving in a reasonable time and getting your bill when you need it just don’t happen easily here - they really take forever - fine when you are on holiday and in no rush, but not fine when you are working to a timetable and keeping other people waiting.


I use this opportunity to pay the laundry man for all our washing - more than 4,000 rupees, but there are 6 of us, and we did have an awful lot of dirty washing, as we had had almost a week of one-night stays in hotels before Tissa with no clothes-washing opportunities. The clothes were all beautifully washed, and ironed, this time, glory be, which was lovely.


The hotel and food and drink bill for all our rooms eventually arrives and is right (unlike one hotel where they tried to charge us for 5 nights when we only stayed 2 nights), and we are in the bus and on the road at 8.45 - only 15 minutes later than we had planned.


The Unicef man we met at yesterday’s camp has come up trumps, and has arranged for us to do a show at a temporary housing camp in Hambantota, which is great, as Aruuni’s/Impakt’s venue didn’t work out for some reason.


The view from the top deck of the bus is beautiful - lovely countryside - huge trees, green plains, rice paddies, and lots of wildlife - ibis, egret, water buffalo wallowing in muddy water, goats, the odd monkey or two, and of course the fried bats hanging on the electricity wires (some of them humming with flies and rather too near to our faces for comfort!) This road is bigger and better than yesterday’s and the day before’s, but we still have to keep very alert and the air echoes with calls of “Branches to the left!”, “Low wires ahead”, “Fried bat” and “Bug check!”


The bus really does cause a great deal of interest - people stare in amazement, then most of them smile and some of them wave. If you concentrate on it, and really make eye contact, you can get about 90% of the people to smile and wave at you - which makes a very good and positive game if you are in the mood for it!


BUT progress is still VERY slow - even though John and Nat are gaining in confidence with their drivinfg, we are still only averaging about 35 kilometres per hour,which means that we are spending a huge amount of time in bright sun on the top deck of the bus (because the bottom deck is virtually full with the equipment and all our luggage) and risking being sun-burned - and goodness knows what will happen if and when it rains!


I realise today that people have absolutely no idea what this amazing red, open-topped, double-decker bus is doing here in Sri Lanka. They find it amusing that there are lots of white Europeans on board an attractive bus and it says clearly (in English!) Teardrop Relief - Bringing Back The Sri Lankan Smile - but the people we pass on the roads have absolutely no idea what that means. WHAT is bringing back the “Sri Lankan Smile”? Are we handing out free “goodies”? Are these white lunatics on the top deck,smiling at us, meant to make us smile? WHAT is gong on? The bus desperately needs to have written on it, in Sinhalese, something like “Play, Participation and Fun for Tsunami-affectedchildren”. Or something to that effect. There are still panels on the bus that could be used for this - I must talk to Eshan about it soon - it really is quite important. (I also notice, on a billboard, that Rotary’s byline is very similar - “Regaining the Sri Lankan Smile”.)




We arrive in Hambantota (which was very badly affected by the Tsunami) and ask for directions (it’s obviously incredibly important in this huge bus not to go even an inch in the wrong direction if you can possibly help it, as turning round can be a dreadful kerfuffle and general nightmare). We stop to ask the way, and suddenly there is a man in front of the bus, refusing to move. I can’t see this from the top deck, but we can hear Nat on the walkie-talkie, getting furious. I go down to have a quick cigarette (we are not allowed to smoke on the bus) and see what’s going on, and Nat stomps up and says there’s a man who wants to talk to me, and that he won’t move from the front of the bus - so I go to the front and wow, there’s Mohan, looking very snazzy in holiday gear!


(It was Mohan Samarasinhe, a Sri Lankan who lives in London, who was instrumental in gettingCWI to Sri Lanka in March this year. After the Tsunami, Children’s World International had already decided that we wanted to take performance, participation and fun to camps to work with tsunami-affected children, and we were trying to work out how best to do it - we didn’t know the price of transport, accommodation, food, and we couldn’t even start to budget the Tour and see how much money we had to raise until we had more information. Then one Thursday I read in our local newspaper, the Central Somerset Gazette, that the Head Boy and Head Girl of Millfield School (which is just 2 miles down the road from our Glastonbury office) were heading to Sri Lanka in the February half-term on a fact-finding mission for Millfield, which was supporting a school in Sri Lanka.




I immediately sent a letter to the Head Boy and Head Girl saying that CWI was hoping to go out there soon to work in the camps and that I needed masses of information, and please, while they were there, could they try and find the answers to various questions for me. I got a very nice letter back from the mother of the Head Boy saying that they were only going to be in Sri Lanka for 5 days and would probably be travelling too much to find out many answers for me, but why didn’t I get in touch with Mohan Samarisinhe, who was accompanying them.


So I did, and Mohan was very helpful. He then convinced me that the best way of assessing the need and the possibilities of helping was to actually go out there myself, and that he was going out again in March and would be delighted to accompany me. So I contacted a performer friend, Peat, and he and I visited Sri Lanka to undertake a Mini Performance and Play Tour/Reconnaissance Visit on behalf of CWI with Mohan in March.


We wanted to work in as many camps as possible and would just arrive and ask if we could set up and do a show and run some parachute games. It went really well. I stayed for 10 days in the West and South, and then when I had to return to England, Peat went on to the East and made lots of useful contacts for CWI there. Peat returned in May to Sri Lanka on behalf of Children’s World to work with IOM (the International Office of Migration) on the East Coast at a Children’s Festival they were putting on, and also worked in several of their camps.


CWI then continued planning and fundraising for our far bigger current Tour in November/December. So Mohan was crucially instrumental in getting CWI to Sri Lanka in the first place, and it was he who put us in touch with Teardrop Relief who had just purchased the Playbus and were shipping it out to Sri Lanka.


This seemed an ideal opportunity for the 2 charities to work together and, with the help of Impakt, a Sri Lankan based NGO, in setting up a tour for us, so that CWI could work with as many children as possible during our 3 weeks in November/December, while at the same time training up the future playbus team.


As those of you who have read this diary from the start will know, things have not worked out as we had planned - the Playbus and all the equipment did not become available to us until more than half-way through our Tour and no permanent future team members,save the wonderful Shane, have been hired for us to train up. The day we got the bus and equipment was also the last day we had any Impakt volunteers working with us, so we have had considerable personnel shortages and have not been able to undertake many of the activities we had planned with the children. The big red bus is also a bit of a big red herring, and is really not an ideal vehicle for undertaking play workshops in camps.


The saving grace has been that all the children we have worked with have absolutely adored the performances and limited workshop activities we have been able to run, and our work has done much to cheer up both children and adults in the camps and raise morale.


Anyway none of these problems were Mohan’s fault, and I was delighted to meet him on the road in Hambantota, and catch him up with all our news. He was just returning from the East Coast, and said that CWI must really go there when we can, as our work is much needed there.


I tell Mohan that we don’t have a proper gig for tomorrow, Sunday, as Impakt had planned one east of Tangalle, which simply wouldn’t have worked as we need to be heading back to Colombo for our last gigs in that area on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and covering the distance takes an age in the lumbering bus. We really need somewhere between Tangalle and Waduwa where we will be staying Sunday night. He suggests his friend Kushil’s “Model Village” at Seeniyagama, which is a great idea. He rings Kushil (who I met in March at the opening of his first “Model House”) and arranges for us to do a quick show there between 2 and 4 tomorrow. Hurrah!


We take the opportunity of grabbing a quick lunch as we are in plenty of time (just as well, as vegetable fried rice takes an age to arrive!) and then continue our search for the Camp.


We eventually discover where the Canp is, but we have to take a vey difficultand long-winded way round, with hard corners and lots of electric wires, because there is no way the bus will be able to turn into the main entrance - but eventually, after lots of Y-sticking and 3-point-turns we arrive at the camp.


There are about 200 small, wooden, temporary shelters, with corrugated silver metal roofs, all fitted in tightly, cheek by jowl, under some trees. It is a Muslim camp and the toilets and washing facilities, though basic, are very clean. People are really having to live on top of each other here. There is some open space down at the bottom of the camp, but it is in bright sunshine and unuseable during the day really.


Several people come forward and tell us their stories - there is one poor man who lost his wife and all 4 of his children - he is all alone. It really is sad. I talk to a local NGO who turns up, and apparently permanent housing for all 200 families will be completed by about March 2006, so it looks as though there is a light at the end of the tunnel of waiting for these people, and that they will have a fresh start earlyish next year - but for those who have lost their entire family, the pain will never go away.


We can’t actually negotiate the turning into the camp (really this bus is not the ideal vehicle for a camps tour at all, however attractive it looks!) so we park it just outside the top gate of the camp. The genny is still wired up to the bus, which is insane, but luckily one of the huts has power, so we run the PA off that, and use that hut as the backdrop for the show.


While the show is set up, Shane and I take the children down to the open area at the bottom and play parachute games for about 20 minutes - there was no shade, so we couldn’t have done much longer (just lifting and wafting and then parachute football, as the ground wasn’t suitable for Cat and Mouse) but the show was set up by then, so we shepherd the children back up to the top to the small but shaded show area.


The show goes really well, with a lot of participation by the children. The performers are really feeling the heat (the very long hours of travelling on the bus in recent days are adding greatly to tiredness) and we have to keep the show short anyway as we have 2 more hours to drive to get back to the guesthouse by the Navajeevana Institute where we are staying tonight. It gets dark about 6.00 pm and it is not a good idea for John and Nat to be driving in the dark yet.


After the show, which was watched by about 150 children and 100 adults, John and Nat hand out yo-yo’s and it is a bit more orderly and manageable than previously, which is great, and we are on the road again about 4.00 and get to our guest house by 6.00.


I go straight over to the Navajaveena Inmstitute, and after having had a look round an exhibition of paintings by a very nice, deaf Sri Lankan, I beg the use of their computer and internet access again and spend a couple of hours catching up with masses of emails. Paddy comes over and we send off the diary and pix for the last couple of days. I keep on keeping on with the emails until I realise that they are turning out lights and are longing for me to go, so I say my thanks and leave. Quick dinner at the restaurant next door (where we meet a local NGO who says that our tour seems to be having a great impact and that we should be proud of ourselves, which is nice to hear!) and early bed.


4 December

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