2330 Monday 7th November 2005
This is to everyone who I think has asked me to send them my travel journal. (If you do not wish to receive these please tell me. I won’t mind!)
Tomorrow I am to set off. London Heathrow, Colombo, Delhi, arriving in the evening of Wednesday. 24 hours in Delhi then to Colombo, Sri Lanka arriving late Thursday evening. 11 a.m. next morning I and the 100 or so other internationals (from 20 countries) begin what looks like being very intensive training for two days. Not with training specialists but by having a series of presentations from various dignitaries and officials on the running of the Presidential Elections. Then we get sent out to our locations throughout the country – at present I know not where.
The main purpose is to be one of the international volunteer Observers, to monitor the elections. This is the first time I’ve done this; I hope not the last. My expenses are to be met while in the country but I had to find my own airfare. Many of you responded to my appeal. So far it has resulted in £680, which exceeds the basic airfare of £555, however I have already spent £178 in essentials and there are bound to be more costs. (On the other hand I’m saving my housekeeping budget for nearly a month.)
(Essentials are: Poncho, boots, hat, fares to London for visa, visa, fare to airport, malaria tablets.)
I am VERY grateful to those who contributed. I found it rather embarrassing asking and do not think I’ll do it again. I am also grateful and heartened by the many messages of support. Thanks to all who wrote letters and emails.
I am due back early on Sunday 20th, but I’m due to fly to New York on 21st for a birthday party and Thanksgiving. I’m due back in Bristol on 29th.
The last few days have been hectic as I tried to tidy up all my jobs. These were mainly connected with my role as assistant clerk to my Quaker Monthly Meeting (i.e. area organisation). I was due to do my last meeting on 20th but will not be able to, as it’s at 2.30 and I won’t be back in Bristol before 1, but I hope to get to it to deliver a report. Today I took the briefcase holding the files to my successor, leaving it with the porters at her college hall.
Earlier I had an interview for a second part time job. Both are as clerk to school governors. I also borrowed a book of Thomas Hardy’s poetry from the central library, and I hope to read some of it after doing this, as, if I have time, I hope to go to a poetry group tomorrow before setting off. Hence I'm writing this at this late hour. Earlier this evening my son took me and the family for a farewell meal, and other friends entertained me similarly yesterday.
That was Sunday, which was a bad day for me as I made a very bad job as clerk to my local Quaker meeting. This was the second meeting in succession that has been something of a disaster. I am forced to the conclusion I am not cut out to be a Quaker clerk. I was very disappointed and disheartened by this, and felt very depressed most of Sunday.
These hectic days are not completely untypical; I live a very full life, rather OTT (Over The Top) even though I have dropped many of my interests recently. (I’ll have to drop more to do the governors’ clerk jobs.)
The reason I am going to Delhi on my way to Sri Lanka is to meet the new Secretary and new Treasurer of the committee, which is in effect the governors of a small rural school. I am the Administrator and Company Secretary of the UK charity which supports this school. I hope also to visit the founder and head who recently retired and is quite ill. So there will not be time for shopping in Delhi. The counterpanes and wall hangings I bought there last year were very well received as Christmas presents.
Usually I travel around India (and other countries) by local bus where the fare may be 3 to 10 rupees (70 rupees are £1) but I’ll have to use a taxi if I am to do what I hope. This will be 300 to 500 or so rupees.
I gather that the Sri Lankans will be looking after us right royally, with a car to take us to our post. The initial accommodation and training is being held in a very grand hotel, the Mount Lavinia. I have made contact with some Quakers in Colombo.
Well, I must stop now and get some sleep. I have already said tell me if you don’t want to get these emails.
On the other hand if you like it the previous ones are on my blog – http:// sp37.info.
November 9: Delhi.
I only have time for a brief message a. because it's late and b. because I'm not sure if my hotel or rather guest house closes. Yesterday I left Bristol luckily an hour or so early as the trains were slow and delayed, but got to LHR in good time. I heard the flight was not at all full so asked for a treble seat and got five to myself so was able to sleep most of the way. However, going east and 'losing ' six hours was quite a strain. Dawn came at was seemed 3 a.m. and breakfast was at 5. I'd 'stayed up' till midnight writing about my recent experiences at Quaker meetings. I ignored the excellent film selection and sadly also the jazz until near the end of the flight. SriLankan is an excellent airline. I had an hour or so in Colombo then three hours more to Delhi. Here I had to retrieve some things that had been taken off me for security - that was a mini adventure, then I came into Delhi by the or a bus. That turned out to be a mistake as it took a circuitous route and was delayed by a horrendous tailback. I had a typical brush with an auto rickshaw man who offered a very low price (I knew that my hotel was very near where the bus dropped me) but then tried to take me to a more expensive one. I took a cycle rickshaw but it turned out he also did not know the hotel, so I ended up walking, looking, dragging my wheely case, till I found it hidden up a small alley within the Connaught Place circle. I had to ask for toilet paper and a towel, and also got soap. Then I made several phone calls from one of the very convenient stalls where the owner put most of the calls through for me. All I had asked for was the prefixes but my question convinced him I was an idiot, so I sat back and let him do all the dialling. Soon I had fixed a program for tomorrow. Mr Singhal and the two Khuranas will come to my hotel at 10 and we'll talk on the hotel roof top terrace. Then Hari and I will take a taxi to Sohna to meet Kamla. Deepak may be at the morning meeting and will be at Kamla's.
I then set off to Pahah Gang my old haunts to find good vegetarian food - daal, sag, and hot chappatis, all noisily cooked right beside me. Washed down by coke! On the way I stopped at a hairdresser for a quick tidy up. He took ages, then launched into head massage and massaging my shoulders, arms and back. It was delicious. We'd negotiated a price of 25/- (rupees) but I was so pleased I gave him 100/- That's about one pound 30. or two USD.
Two of you have made remarks about my logs. One on my 'obsession' with prices, the other with my details of food. Once again I realise 'my mother my self' for these were her two obsessions!
Hope I don’t get rooked by the autorickshaw back to Connaught Place!
Friday 11th November
You'll get fed up with me making excuses about being in a hurry. But this time the excuse is that I'm in a little cabin with an ineffectual fan and I'm streaming sweat.
Yesterday (seems years ago) my visit to Delhi was very successful. I had good meetings with Mr S, Dr Khurana, and Hari, in the a.m. then with Kamla and her entourage including Deepak (and Hari) in the p.m. I'll be doing a full report to FOSF Council about it. For others, FOSF is the UK charity I help run; it supports a school in India not far from Delhi and I went to talk with the new management team. My morning visitors were very late but we had an intensive meeting, exchanging a lot of information. It was also very good to be with Hari almost all day.
Three hours wait at the airport plus the plane being about 45 minutes late was no fun. In Colombo (Sri Lanka) we were collected and taken in a nice van for well over an hour to a fabulous hotel. I didn’t get to bed till 3 a.m. then couldn’t sleep - I was tempted to go swimming in the sea cove just outside my window. (Actually I find I could not have as a gate to it is locked. In the daytime a grandly dressed guard holds the key.)
It is a horribly grand hotel. About 140 of us from some say 40 countries are being briefed today and tomorrow on all aspects of elections here - legal, political, practical, cultural etc. In a large air-conditioned hall, we have lectures from heads of various NGOs and Government depts. In between we have the most sumptuous meals, with flurries of flunkies desperate to please. I left some dirty clothes on the floor - this evening they are all washed and pressed and almost gift-wrapped. Too late to unpack I just tipped my bag out onto the generous dressing table - this evening all the odds and bobs are arranged in neat rows!
As soon as 'work' finished today I had a dip in the sea. As when here last time it was slightly spoilt by the flotsam, but that's being too critical, it was a delicious swim. Then back for a shower and outside the gate to this 50/- per hour internet cafe (i.e. 50 US cents)
In the lunch break I dashed out to get to a cash machine. I'd been told it was close by, so I brushed aside the bevy of auto-rickshaw men, but when I found it was a long way I took one. Town is bustling busy, exciting, rather cleaner than but similar to those in India.
The other volunteers are really nice and interesting. I've made friends with a Tibetan who spent most of his childhood as a refugee in India, and now works with an NGO in Kabul, Afghanistan. In the van late last night I had a long fascinating conversation with a Muslim woman from Indonesia. She is active in inter faith dialogue and I was amazed by her liberal attitudes. There are all ages (well 25 to 70-ish) most of them already working with Peace organisations.
Hari (in Delhi) was to have another visitor today, Stuart Morton from Friends House in London. It was Stuart who introduced me via email to two Quakers resident in Colombo. I've emailed to invite them to dinner tonight or tomorrow.
Stephen’s Log, Saturday 13 November.
The course training was completed today at about 4 and suddenly one had time to spare. I had a long lazy swim in the pool then sat in the cool wind with a pot of tea - Ceylon tea of course.
I got quite excited today. Yesterday it was mostly about electoral law, also some history. Today it was much more practical, including addresses by three party activists, the opposition parties slagging off the government and the latter's party being oily smooth. Among the complaints is that the government controls much of the press, radio and TV, and the private media are mostly pro government. We also had a lot of practical information although when we asked really practical questions I at least was pleasantly surprised to find we have a very wide range of freedom within a strict code of conduct and our knowledge of the strict laws that aim to make the election free and fair and importantly to cool tempers. For these last few days before the election all liquor stores are closed for several days, meeting, processions and even posters are banned. We also heard quite a lot about methods of cheating - the election joke is "Vote Early, Vote often". Apparently impersonation and intimidation are quite common. Anyone who finds his or her vote has already been taken gets a sort of dummy vote, which would only count if the result were close.
I am in a team of four going to Kandy, which is about the nicest place in S.L., though some of its districts have a bad election reputation. I'm teamed up with a Nepalese woman from Katmandu, a strong 40ish. Like most she is a professional civil rights and women's rights worker. Both of us are strong minded so it could be interesting! We were previously teamed up she with a rather soppy seeming American girl and me with a very grim Pakistani chap, a mullah type. Luckily a 'gender balance' exercise saved us both!
I have been continually amazed by what we get. Not just these two days (and the final ones) in this **** hotel but: the two of us have a van with flags, driver, interpreter, waistcoat with logo, hat with same, umbrella with same, armband - all proclaiming us as PAFFREL INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS. We are told we must visit the local police chief, district electoral office, party offices, etc, and not bother to make appointments - we will normally be seen straight away, such is PAFFREL's reputation and as of recently its legal privileges. Plus, we get 6000 rupees each - the clerk giving it to me said it was for her three month's salary. It's about $10 a day. It's more than enough for lunches and dinners.
We are due to set off at 1015 tomorrow. I hoped to get to Kandy in time to go to the lovely old church for the English speaking service, but I'll probably be too late.
It's hard to say what I've been eating. There is a huge spread - several dishes of several continents. But I managed to have a no-carb breakfast and a modest lunch today.
I've arranged a dinner party next Sat 19th.
I'm due to get the plane to London very late that night. I expect my next log will be from an Internet cafe I used when I was last there, which was in early 2004.
Stephen’s Log, Monday 14 November 2005
I did not send a log yesterday, Sunday, and I had the date incorrect in the SUBJECT line of the message I sent on Saturday I had a swim in the sea on Sunday morning, then after a shower and shave I had breakfast. Later I found time to write on ‘Breakfast’ – I’ll send the essay to you later. Mid morning our van was ready; ‘us’ being my fellow-Observer Renu, from Nepal, and our interpreter Narden, and driver Chaminda. The drive was very long, three ours, and mostly very boring. They allow all sorts of minor industry at the roadside, which is ugly, and there seems to be no building control. The road was uphill almost all the time. Towards the end it grew steeper and prettier until we reached the outer edge of the Kandy sprawl. A steep hill to our hotel, the Hilltop, a richer-tourist one but nowhere near the standard of the Mt Lavinia. Later when the other Kandy team joined us we had a meeting to decide what to do, then we all trooped off to a certain restaurant – more a café – in town that I used to use.
Unfortunately for my reputation the service was extremely slow and we were all very hungry. However the food was liked once it came. Three of us had Nasi Goring which is a Philippino dish of rice, beans, spices and daal. Back in the hotel we drank together (not the Hindu nor the Renu, a Buddhist, just the two Christians (if Quakers are Christians) and the very liberal Muslim interpreter.)
I had a swim in the hotel pool at 7 this morning. Later we visited: the local PAFFREL co-ordinator, who had a story that in a nearby district a party worker had been murdered, but this turned out that his driver was slightly wounded. But it was politically motivated. Then to the District Secretary – a post that used until recently be called Government Agent but was changed in a fit of anti-imperialism. He had a large very cold office and called in minions to fetch him papers from as far as a yard or two away. Still, he was very helpful, and showed us all the photos round the room of all the G.A.s under the British, and the few more recent ones since independence. Thence to the Chief of Police who had an even larger office. The minions outside barely have room to move. He too was helpful and assured us the police are no longer partisan. (He told us they had become so for about 20 years because the politicians worked it that way, but recently they had adopted the British model with an independent Commissioner, so now police behaviour was impeccable!).
As advised during training we did not make appointments but simply strode past staff to the big man’s office, and each time were granted an immediate audience. POWER!!!
Then via long bumpy winding lanes to see two more PAFFREL co-ordinators, one of them a Catholic ‘father’, in a very impressive civil rights and environment campaigning set-up. The gang decided to come back to ‘my’ place for lunch, and then we decided to go and look at the nearby Temple of the Tooth, which contains one of the Buddha’s relics. The temple contains a lovely hall where I sat and meditated for a while.
By now it was nearly four so we decided to call it a day, except that we have invited other teams of international observers to our hotel at 8. One team is two woman from the Commonwealth Observers team the others a group from the EU team. Tomorrow we plan to go about 45 minutes drive to a town with a reputation for dirty work at election time, mainly one ethnic group intimidating another to stop them voting.
In these talks (and barging into offices) I usually take the lead but I’ve warned my colleagues that though I have certain qualities such as boldness their experience and judgment are better than mine. We all seem happy working to each others’ strengths.
Stephen’s Log, Tuesday 14 November
Sorry but I have just spent over 30 minutes composing a log, but then had it disappear when I hit SEND. This is very disheartening. I should have learnt by now to save frequently.
I have to go for another meeting at 6.30. So for the record I'll say that today Renu and I with our driver and interpreter went south to check out an area round a town called Gampola. We did not have a map, the excellent one provided didn’t cover that town, which we'd chosen as it has a record of election malpractice, mainly intimidation. We assumed the police would have maps but they didn’t. Instead they kept us for ages, flannelling. Then we set off using a map sketched by a sergeant but what seemed a short journey took 45 minutes before I said we'd turn back. But the scenery was fab, steep hills covered in vegetation and tea plantations, and Shangri-la valleys. Back in Kandy in time for a conference to meet Parties' election agents and the press. Thence to Pizza Hut (which I supported as the alternative was KFC!).
Stephen’s Log, Wednesday November 16, 2005
E-Day minus 1. Whereas yesterday was disastrous for me (despite, or maybe due to the full moon which is a good omen in this Buddhist country – they get a full holiday every full-moon) today has been successful. Our team of four, Renu and I the Observers, Camidia the driver (who I learned has a Masters, and is now a tour-guide) and Nader, our mainly silent interpreter, set of at nine. First stop, my insistence that we get a good map. We went to the Survey Dept but were told by several staff we could not have one as there was no-one to take our money. I insisted we see the manager – on leave. The Senior Manager, the Director… (I had in mind next to invoke the Minister, or the Chief of Police, or more realistically the GA. (I find everyone still calls him the GA even though they changed his colonial title to District Secretary.) They relented by asking if we were prepared not to have a receipt. Only the cashiers were away – the maps were readily available. I agreed with some trepidation, as the map I needed is a large one, 1:50,000, and a very finely printed. But it was only 135/- - less that a pound!
Next we went to a large field full of buses and clerical workers, all being sent off to set up polling stations. We needed help finding a certain one, as it was not on even this good map. Thus armed we drove the half hour to Gampola to locate the first polling station we intended to visit tomorrow – Election Day. We found the GA’s staff beginning to set up, and waiting for the clerical staff to arrive. Then we went to a café to finalize our plans, with the aid of the good map. Once Renu and I had decided which polling stations we most wanted to visit, we took the driver’s advice on the actual itinerary.
We selected one polling station at which we plan to arrive half and hour before it opens, to watch the procedure which will include showing the ballot box to be empty, then locking it shut. We will return at the end of the day (4 p.m.) to observe the box being sealed and the ballot papers reconciled.
Next we set off on our agreed itinerary, with me timing each leg. This was a spectacular drive. (It is such a shame I lost yesterday’s log as I managed some very expressive prose describing the country – and the disasters.) Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was) is a staggeringly beautiful country. Steep hills covered in lush vegetation and tea plantations. We went to one estate upon which enormous care had been lavished, with fine stone walls, bridges, and navigations of streams. A super (genuine) waterfall and landscaped grounds better than most public parks or private gardens. "Cheap labour", explained Camidia. But obviously a plantation owner or manager early in the 20th century had left a lasting memorial. Also all the people we met, mostly poor tea pickers, were reserved but friendly. Not over-effusive as so often the case. There were beautiful flowers, and almost tame birds twittering tunefully in the hedges. Super trees, and incredible landscapes of mountains and Shangri-la valleys. The route took four hours, which is fine. It means we can visit about six polling stations each for 30 to 45 minutes. One of us will go round the immediate area looking for evidence of intimidation and other election malpractices while the other will fill out a questionnaire in the polling station about the procedure and party agents’ reports.
We stopped for tea at a wayside shack. At these places it is served not strong but very sweet, with powdered milk. (In the hotel it is served much as in England, but usually far too strong. Ceylon tea has a bitter edge.)
Did I tell you about Ashef, the other interpreter – the one that talks far too much, and takes the lead too often? He is tall, handsome, brash, from a rich family, something of a playboy, and says he likes classical music, by which he means golden oldies. He has never heard of Mozart, Beethoven, etc. He earns a huge salary and spent his bonus on a sports car. All in all, like a City yuppie in money brokerage. But his profession is a tea-taster! Despite this he says he hates tea, never drinks it, has coffee and smokes.
Anyway, we got back to Kandy by 4.30 but instead of going to the hotel Renu expressed a wish to go to a gem saleroom. (A problem with losing a day’s log is that I forget if I’ve told you something – I think it was in the lost one that I described Renu, inter alia calling her patrician.) As we entered my heart sank! We were met by a flurry of flunkies, who handed us over to a posse of salesmen who ensconced us at a big desk, with these keen young men seemingly all around us. I tried to ensure my body language indicated complete rejection of the whole process. Renu was merciless with the chief salesman, comparing the jewels disdainfully with what was obtainable in India and Thailand. She started by looking at rubies but and eventually bought three matching garnets for well under half the price originally quoted. They then tried to sell to me (I having made the mistake of showing interest in some crystallographic aspects) but after he had offered me a bargain I chickened out and fled.
Back at base I had a second swim. I’ve been going daily at 7 a.m. and have improved noticeably. Then a hot shower, and here on one of the hotel office’s machines. (I’m doing it off-line, onto a floppy, for sending when I can get onto the Internet.)
I suppose I must say why I said yesterday was disastrous. One disaster was losing a good log report. Prior to that the day was not exactly wasted but achieved far less than it might mainly due to not having a good map. The one supplied by PAFFREL did not go far enough south. (We’d picked the election district that had most trouble during the previous election.) The survey office was closed due to the full-moon holiday, and we assumed and were assured the police in Gampola would have good maps. They didn’t. They had a few hand made sketches. To cover their sense of failure they spent ages looking and shouting at reach other (well, only the regional chief shouted, the others scurried.) We could not get away. While a sergeant laboriously sketched a map for us I tried to slip off to get a cup of tea across the road but was loudly summoned back by the same big chief, who had decided to parade us before his assembled chief superintendents and describe to us in painful detail his deployment, which was indeed impressive with many extras drafted in for election day, both senior officers and PCs, to ensure there would be no trouble. We got away after about two hours then set off on the basis of the sergeant’s map only to find it had at least one gross error, and gave the impression a certain polling station was nearby when it was not.
The third disaster was far more serious and if I were sensible I would not admit it. We rushed back to Candy for a meeting convened by the GA. This is the District Secretary who was once called the Government Agent, and was the main Colonial Office officer for the whole region. He said he had arranged for us international observers (I.O.s) to meet the party agents. However the latter were far outnumbered by the Press (PAFFREL had told us not to speak to the press except maybe personal stuff, e.g. why are you an international observer?) The only other I.O.s were some from an Asian civil rights group and they had not had the training nor done the interviews that we had so they asked really basic questions and were answered in excruciating detail usually in at least two languages serially. What with the heat and the TV lights and the utter boredom, and me being me I fell, asleep. I usually do this quite well, i.e. surreptitiously, but the stringer for the BBC noticed and the next thing was that Gabrielle noticed them taking photos of us instead of whoever was lecturing. She woke me up but too late! The others in our group think it’s amusing but I am very worried not for myself looking foolish but for PAFFREL’s reputation. So I was very depressed yesterday evening. Losing the computer file was the last straw.
Later y’day evening Ashef persuaded us to go to what he said was a trendy restaurant. Its gimmick was good, being on a bridge over the wide river, but it was essentially a barn or shed and the food and waitering were dreadful.
Stephen’s Log, Thurs 17 November.
Election Day. We left the hotel at 6 a.m. so as to be at our selected polling station well before it was to open at 7. This was so we could observe the ceremony of showing the ballot box to be empty before locking it and sealing the lock. Then we checked the layout of the room, obtained figures from the SPO – Senior Presiding Officer – such as the number of ballot papers he had and the number of registered voters. Then when the poll opened we checked the procedure that each voter goes through. On entry he or she gives their polling card to the first clerk who finds their name in the register of voters and calls it out so that the party agents who are seated opposite can check the voter off their lists. A common form of cheating is or was for people to take polling cards off others, violently, or to use cards intended for people who had died or the many who have emigrated, the assumption being that at least one of the agents will know about it. The voter then has his or her left hand smallest finger (the Americans call it the pinkie) marked with indelible ink. The third clerk checks that this has been done then hands the voter a ballot paper. On this the thirteen candidates were listed, each with their symbol. The two leading parties’ symbols are an elephant and a betel leaf. They then vote in a booth made crudely but effectively of cut out cardboard. Behind the party agents (two per party, but most of the minor parties had none) sit any observers. There were some from local PAFFREL groups and one from another group called something like campaign for non-violent elections. Elsewhere in the hall sits a policeman, usually a sergeant with a machine gun. In our training we were told the police must be unarmed inside polling stations but this was not the case in all the polling stations we visited, so we reported it to PAFFREL. In all we visited 9 P.S.s during the day but oddly the only one about which we made an unfavourable report was this first one. Besides the armed police, there was a huge party display (of the ruling party) less than 500 metres from the P.S., which is also an offence.
After doing the first PS we set off on the route we’d done yesterday. In all the polling stations there was peace and calm, nothing to report, except one had very long queues (two because men and women have to queue separately). In each we went first to the SPO and asked him questions, then spoke to the party agents and to any PAFFREL observers. Then we asked voters if they anyone had tried to stop them. Invariably the reply was negative, or "Not this time". It was a hot day, and we’d had to get up early, with no proper breakfast so by about 1 we were both feeling weak, me with a headache and Renu nauseous. Probably heat exhaustion, or maybe lack of water – when I had a long drink I felt better. Also I was concerned that the driver had had an even less adequate breakfast and was due to drive is to Colombo in the evening. So we had an hour break during which were all slept. The van has about 12 seats. (It also has air conditioning, which was a great relief.)
Most of the time we were ‘up country’ in the fantastic scenery I mentioned yesterday, and the schools and other halls we were visiting tended to by up steep slopes. One was half a mile beyond where the van could drive. We stopped at wayside tea places two or three times. Here they sell tea made with dried milk, lots of sugar and boiling water poured through a cloth holding tealeaves.
We had other odds and bobs of food, seed cakes, nuts, and chocolate, but no proper meal all day. By 3.30 in the afternoon we were back at the first PS we’d visited, to observe the closing process. This included elaborate sealing of the ballot box both by the election staff and by the polling agents. All the spare ballot papers were also sealed, then a procession including two armed police carried them to a chartered bus and off to the count. Onlookers lined the road.
We completed a summary sheet and faxed it to PAFFREL HQ in Colombo then drove were free to return to the hotel.
We went back to the hotel where I had a swim. I did some typing onto floppy disk but again I lost it. The five of us then decided to go out to eat, not taking my advice to eat in. It was uncanny, the streets were nearly empty and it took ages to get a tuk-tuk. In town we found all the restaurants closed. This was because the whole country was as it were holding its breath for the election result. Today, (I’m writing this on Friday evening) most businesses are still closed for the same reason. However our tuk-tuk man said he knew of a place. We were the only customers. However the food was good, and our tuk-tuk man was waiting for us when we came out. We all went to bed very early, exhausted.
Stephen’s Log for Friday 18th November (written in Central Colombo on 19th)
Believe it or not I lost yet another file yesterday! I am in Colombo city centre about half an hour journey from the hotel having come to do some shopping at a government emporium where all prices are marked, no haggling, and quality is good.
In my last log, for Election Day, I forgot to mention that as we were checking out of the hotel in Kandy we received a message from PAFFREL telling us to stay there another night.
So on Friday we set off at about 8 to do the three hour drive down, down, down, to the coastal plain and the Mount Lavinia Hotel which is on the other, south, side of Colombo. The road was nearly deserted, with no trucks and few buses. The island was still waiting for the election result. Our driver became expansive – his normal job is tour guide – and pointed out items of interest, such as the magnificent memorial to the Royal Engineers captain who built the road. It must have been a major feat as it twists along mountainsides, always rising as one drives towards Kandy.
Back at the Lavinia we had a soon assembled in the de-briefing room but had to wait an hour for Renu who had decided to change her air line ticket to get home sooner. She has been complaining of how much she misses her family. We gave our report, Gabrielle doing a great job describing the shooting near Kandy. She and her partner Kumar had got there soon after the incident and had some eye-witness accounts. (An opposing crowd had mobbed a party campaigner and his driver had shot into the crowd, injuring a man in the thigh.) Renu and I had little to report; despite its reputation our district had been very calm.
After de-briefing we had one of the hotel’s usual excellent lunches. I am now past the greedy stage where I try to sample a bit of everything (well, a bit of about 50% of everything) and now I’m more sensible. My lunch was mainly delicious salad and fresh fruit.
I had a mainly lazy afternoon but went to the nearby cheap Internet café to do this day’s report onto floppy disk only to have MS Word crash on me yet again. This together with the sense of anticlimax made me feel a bit depressed, as did thoughts of problems in Bristol and the hectic time I’m likely to have on Sunday and Monday.
I had a swim in the pool after dusk. It was lovely to swim on one’s back and watch the stars. Later a crowd of us, our team and others we’d met, formed a cheerful group at an extended table along the poolside. It would be very romantic, with the terrace lights, the stars, the rising moon, and the roar of the waves nearby. We were pretty cheerful except that there was a Swedish chap amongst us who was incredibly boring, talking terribly earnestly about computers and election statistics and what he believed about the end of the world. I cringed, hoping I am not so bad a bore!
Stephen’s Log for Saturday 19th November (written in Central Colombo on 19th)
1 p.m. still in the Internet place in central Colombo. In the next stall a young woman is using Internet telephone to have a very long passionate conversation using a cam-corder, and a picture of her friend. Just like Jemima!
This morning our group decided to go shopping in Colombo but they were discussing renting a car for about 2500/-. They were waiting for Ashef who was late, as per. I prefer independence and new experience so I left them and came here by train – 15/- return and far more interesting. The track is practically in the beach for several miles. A begging girl of about 10 sang tunelessly (or chanted?) a dirge, her face expressionless, but with a fascinating refrain on a beaten-up old tambourine. Later her sister joined her. Off-duty they we surprisingly vivacious.
It is horribly hot and humid here. Sweat streams off my head – I cannot lean over a stall or counter to look at goods. I need a pair of flip-flops but the price quoted ($18) was ludicrous. I hate haggling! I just laugh perhaps rudely and stalk off. However the Government Emporium was a delight. The staff are so laid back and walk so slowly, as to be irritating. Civil servants!
Maybe I’ll be able to log the rest of today, but possibly not. This evening I am to set off at about 10 or 11, for the 0245 flight to London, arriving at LHR at 08xx Sunday. It’s a 10-hour flight but London is 6 hours behind Sri Lanka. I hope to be in Bristol in time to go to Monthly Meeting at 2.30. I am due to leave for New York at about 1700 on Monday. When I get back a week later I start two new part time jobs as clerk to school governors. Somehow I think Christmas preparations are going to have to be minimal this year!
Thanks for appreciative comments!
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