This trip was taken mostly to check in with the two communities on various projects that have loose ends to be tied up. This is good, since most of CI’s trips are packed with Activities To Be Implemented that we sometimes don’t get enough time to chat with each community. We set off at 3am, as usual, but since it’s been an unusually long week for me I slept quite soundly until 7.30am, when we stopped at Palm Garden Village Hotel (just before Anuradhapura) for coffee – which was unusually strong for SL coffee. We all approved. We stopped again for breakfast at a little kadé and breakfasted on stringhoppers, fish curry, saltless coconut sambol and fried eggs (moment of comedy – Ameena tried to tell the boy who worked there that she wanted a runny yolk, but the phrase doesn’t translate so well into Sinhala, and anyway the proprietors of these small establishments are unused to ladies who are so particular about the consistency of their breakfasts). Nearly didn’t use the bathroom because of the fat cockroach lurking near the ceiling, which Sunela chased away with a stick.
Reached Vavuniya town by about 9.30am and 61 Division by about 10.15am, where we met up with our good friend Brigadier A.K. and dropped off the parcel of prizes for the avurudu (New Year) games for the officers and civilians being organised by the army. Chatted to A.K. about problems with getting PTF permission, and he promised to help out – so we’ll be mailing the letter to him Monday. Received a cup of extra sweet and milky tea, army-style, and admired the small amphitheatre created entirely out of discarded shell casings fitted into the earth.
We got to Chiraddikulam at about 11.30, I think, and we distributed the pre-school starter packs, discussed the possibility of school fees as a means of providing income for the volunteer teacher/providing materials in the future, and asked for updates all the CI programmes we are implementing/hope to implement with the villagers, including the SEEDS programme on food technology (those interested in creating a business must inform CI when they can have samples ready for tasting, by the beginning of May). We spent some time measuring children picked for the cricket programme, and also collected a list of children interested in the drama/arts workshops that I finally hope to start running at the end of March, depending on the status of our PTF approval.
We then had lunch with Brigadier A.K. and Major N. W.sitting in the shade of a army-built pavilion in view of a beautiful little stream. It’s bizarrely only accessible to army personnel, and I have no idea who gave them the authority to think that way about random chunks of nice land. But then the systems that are still in place in these tiny border villages are, in general, both strange and unfair. But no one knows how to fix the situation without first making it worse – and right now it is better to have the army enabling our assistance to the communities than otherwise.
We then visited Kakkaiyankulam and spent a LONG time slashing costs for the community centre, because with the quote we’ve been given we can’t possibly build it for them. Turns out some costs they’d factored in were unnecessary, and we brought it down to a little over a million rupees ($10,000-ish) – much more in line with the funds we have. We also measured more boys (Kakkaiyankulam has more children in general – and it makes me sad to think that it quite possibly has a lot to do with not losing children as soldiers as suicide bombers) which is good, in a way, because now we have a much stronger argument for making each team a mix of kids from each community. Understandably, the communities would argue against it if they could, but I think this year will be a good exercise in the art of gentle persuasion. Mr Farhan, the principal, promised me a list of names of children within the next couple of days.
After these two visits, we travelled back to Vavuniya town, and checked in to Thai Hotel, a first for us. I must say, the gentleman there makes me MUCH more comfortable about tripping on my own that Hotel SVS Inn Vavuniya did – the rooms were clean and spacious, if a bit claustrophobic, and the food was excellent. Its one drawback was an incredible proliferation of colour, but the fact that we felt that we were residing inside a giant marshmallow pudding was more a source of amusement than otherwise.
We left relatively early the next morning, and took a detour along the Mannar Road instead, stopping at Ameena’s place In Puttalam for a soft drink before hurtling home. I returned home just in time to see Sri Lanka lose to Australia, despite beating them in three previous matches (why would I be talking about anything but cricket?!)