Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!

So…..I’m now living in Jaffna! Which for the ‘geographically challenged’ is the northwest corner of the island which is just off the south coast of India!

It’s not my first time in Sri Lanka – I worked out here back in 2006 – but it is my first time in Jaffna. Unless you have been living in a cave for the last 2 years you will no doubt heard of the Tamil Tigers. The peninsula I’m living on is part of the chunk of Sri Lanka the Tamil Sri Lankans were fighting for.

Now there is peace and the clean-up has begun. There are battle sites dotted around all over the place which have mortar bombs, grenades and all sorts of ammunition left lying around them. As for the minefields, the  density of mines here is shocking. 5 mines every square metre is not an unusual thing to see (in the picture below the rows of little stakes I am walking through are where we have removed mines).

I have more people to manage this time round (including several female demining teams which is very good to see!)

and the demining here is not with detectors but is 100% excavation – which basically means a deminer on their hands and knees with a scraping tool inch by inch scraping away the ground in front of them.

Its slow, hot, tedious work, the temperature here easily hits high 30’s and the humidity is making me melt.

I take my hat off to each and every one of them.

Plus we have lots of mechanical clearance here which i need to get my head around. I have been on a steep learning curve trying to understand about steering boxes, hydraulic pumps and bearing pins…!!

There is a still a very visible and active military presence here and we’re not allowed to keep explosives so mines have to be dug out of the ground then burned. Burning mines still makes them go ‘BANG’ so I have to write lots of letters to important army & navy commanders to let them know what we’re up to (letters are REALLY loved here…and everyone has a company stamp which they use in earnest!)

I am learning rather quickly that titles and correct addressing of military top dogs is incredibly important and during the numerous sessions of polite tea drinking with these guys I end up studying the pips on their shoulders desperately trying to figure out whether they are an Admiral, a General or a mere Captain…I have been addressing most as ‘Sir’ just to be on the safe side.

So basically I have my work cut out for me!

On the home life side of things I have ended up in a totally awesome house. Having just finished reading a book about 17th century Iran, my house is exactly how i imagine the Persian styled houses described in the book to be like – lots of dark wooden beams and ornate carvings – with all the rooms facing into an open courtyard.

Its a welcome world away from my Mozambique salmon shack and there has been a fair amount of late night star gazing up through my open roofed courtyard.

I have inherited a bike which the locals find absolutely hilarious and are really quite open about laughing at me as i wobble down the road. However tonight I came out of my office to find my bike positively gleaming and purposely parked directly in front of my office door…one of the guards has totally bought into my love of cycling home after work and he had polished it and ceremoniously placed it ready for me to jump on to.

My guys here are all very lovely and this is just one of the small but very thoughtful gestures which I have experienced since I arrived here.

I got a bit stuck in the mud this evening coming out of my compound gate and one of the guards gave me a very enthusiastic push…straight into the main road…bearing in mind there is a very clear pecking order on the roads here (bikes are 2nd bottom only above pedestrians!) I take my life in my hands a bit on each and every bike ride.

However I am persevering, in fact I rather enjoy my little home-time routine; my bike ride home to shouts of ‘hello lady’ from the bolder of the school children I pass, me grinning rather apologetically as I cycle the wrong way down the main road (I’d rather play chicken with the other cyclists rather than cross the flow of cars, motorbikes and rickshaws!!). A cheery ‘good evening ma’am’ from my slightly barmy but terribly sweet house guard Rex as I lean my bike against the wall and opening my front door with my ridiculously big key to be welcomed by my equally slightly barmy but terribly nice housekeeper Baba!

This whole place has got a very surreal feel about it, low roofed archways you have to bend double to get through, oversized door keys, seemingly slightly mad but oh so lovely people and tea parties to attend – it feels like I am living in Alice’s wonderland…I honestly expect to see a waistcoated white rabbit racing down the road my way to work each morning!

All in all jolly good fun!


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