Back garden bomb

I want you to imagine something for a second…

So you come home having been forced to move out of your house for  a while, let’s say for the sake of argument  it has flooded.

All you’ve been wanting to do for longer than you care to remember is to go home, to check what is left of your house and belongings and to start fixing, cleaning and getting back to normal.

You arrive home and its all a bit of a mess, the roof has been destroyed, the walls need repairing, the garden is full of rubbish.

You start cleaning up. First the inside then the outside, the driveway, the garden. You spot something in the ground, it looks strange and out of place, just a lump of rusty metal sticking up right next to the side wall of your house.

You approach it and poke the ground then in horror you realise it looks kind of bomb. Not that you really know what a bomb looks like but you’ve seen movies on the TV and it just looks dangerous.

Ok so all this seems a highly unlikely scenario. And that’s because our country hasn’t just come out of 2 decades war.

But for Mr Sanmugat this actually happened, except that his house hadn’t flooded – it had been bombed.

Mr Sanmugat came to my office today with his wife, they explained they had been forced from their home during the war and had just recently returned. As they were cleaning the shell of what had been their beautiful family home, Mr Sanmugat’s wife spotted something sticking out of the ground in their garden.  Mr Sanmugat ushered his wife away and brushed the top of the metal sticking out of the ground. Realising it was something he should probably not be wise to fiddle with he had put a plant pot upside down over the top of it and come to visit me.

I followed them to their home and asking them to keep some distance away I went forward to investigate.

It was a mortar bomb, nose down with just a few inches of tail fin sticking out of the ground. Less than a metre from their living room.



Weird and wacky English laws

Today’s blog is a bit of a random one….

Having recently had a conversation about British traditions and the dying breed of the eccentric English gentleman I was trying to recall an old English law – something about shooting a Welshman in Chester but only on certain days of the year??

Apparently this ye olde law is one of many and every few years the Law Commission dig through the Statute book to add the archaic ones to the Repeal Bill. These are some of the slightly more obscure and wacky continue to elude the Commission’s digging…

– In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless in public unless they are a clerk in a tropical fish store.

– Since 1313 Member’s of Parliament must not enter the House of Commons wearing a full coat of armour.

– It is unlawful to impersonate an Chelsea pensioner.

– The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen – should she need bones for her corset.

– It is illegal for taxi cab drivers to carry rabid dogs or corpses and by law they must ask all passengers if they have small pox or the plague.

– Any person found breaking a boiled egg at the sharp end will be sentenced to 24 hours in the village stocks.

– It could be regarded an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen’s image upside-down

– With the exception of carrots, most goods may not be sold on Sunday.

And two English laws which wouldn’t stand a chance in Jaffna…

1. It is illegal to be a drunk in possession of a cow.

2. No cows may be driven down the roadway between 10 AM and 7 PM unless there is prior approval from the Commissioner of Police.

And just for the record…

The old English law is “In Chester you can only shoot a Welsh person with a bow and arrow inside the city walls and after midnight”….

and…the eccentric English gentlemen DOES still exist in my part of the world in the shape of my frightfully smart speaking, cigar smoking, moustache wearing, absolute legend of a colleague;

The real victims of war

S was 18 when he was made homeless by the civil war.

His story is a sad but common one on the far most northern tip of this island. The war has ended now but the end to the fighting is just the beginning for the innocent civilians caught up in the last 25 years of conflict.

I work with S, he is one of my field officers – and a darn good one at that!

His family have lived on the northern coast of Jaffna for generations, with their small family home surrounded by palm trees and fertile land on which they grew onions, chillis and potatoes. His father had a good job working as a security guard.

In October 1990 life changed dramatically for the family. The war had been underway for more than 5 years but with little direct effect on S and his neighbours. The Indian army had briefly evacuated his neighbourhood in 1983 but after 3 months they were allowed to return home and their house was fairly unscathed. Life continued as normal.

It was not until October of 1990 when leaflets were dropped by military helicopter and a message was put out on local radio stating that some specified areas were to be immediately evacuated by all civilians, that it became clear that the war had just arrived on their doorstep.

Some left immediately, others decided to wait it out and see if the claims that the fighting was edging closer were true.

S and his family waited.

At 4.30am a final warning to leave was issued and a final drop of orders by helicopter. At 6am the army arrived.

They had captured the area and from now on this was a civilian no-go area. Then the firing started as the enemy approached in attack. S, his mother, father, brother and sister fled for their lives – with no time to collect their belongings they left behind all their belongings. With just the clothes on their backs they took refuge at a relatives house several miles away.

Little did they realise for some of the family that would be the last time they would ever see their home.

For the next 20 years, S and his family were forced to rent a house to live in, all their belongings had been left behind and when their neighbourhood became a military zone his father had not even been allowed to enter for his job.

S managed to get a job as a security guard in the main town but because he was earning 6000 rupees a month (about $50) he was above the Government threshold for war compensation. Slowly slowly they bought new furniture and clothes. They literally had to start their lives from scratch.

It was 20 years after this October fleeing when I met S and he told me his story. We were about to be the first demining agency allowed into the area where S’s house was. S was coming with us. It would be the first time in 20 years he had seen his childhood home.

What he found was heartbreaking. The roof was gone, the walls peppered with bullet holes. He told me the house had probably been ransacked for anything of value soon after they left. His sister’s gold jewellery would have been one of the first things to go.

The well was damaged beyond repair and there a tree  growing through his bedroom floor.

I asked S if once the area was eventually handed back to civilians whether he would return to the family home and he said yes probably but first the Government needs to make sure there are schools, businesses and land for agriculture.

Those who have already returned claim to have a miserable existence with the current complete lack of infrastructure.

I asked what about his parents, sister and brother. He told me his siblings have lives elsewhere now and wouldn’t want to return.

And his parents? They died in 1997, seven years after they were forcibly removed from their home. They never got the chance to return.

The former bathroom…only the toilet (far right in picture) left in tact

The theme is the letter “M”

This is what I was told a few days before the leaving party of a fellow aid worker.

It was a fancy dress party and as the lady leaving had a name beginning with ‘M’ (plus the host was secretly desperate to get some wear out of his ‘middle eastern’ fancy dress outfit!) the theme was set.

Now bearing in mind the war has only been over for about a year and it’s still impossible to buy even some really basic food items here, this was going to be a challenge. There are certainly no local fancy dress hire shops!

However I can be rather imaginative when I try so here is how to make an ‘M’ themed fancy dress outfit which would impress even the most skilled of Blue Peter’s sticky back plastic presenters….can you guess what I went as?

First get yourself a straw hat…fairly easy to find when the ‘straw’ here is from the palms of a palm tree; trees which are two-a-penny in Sri Lanka…

A trip to the local florist got me some very fake and very bright flowers which I stuck on my palm leaf hat….

Next off to find some bells…after quite some searching I found out that bells are sewn onto the hems of Sri Lankan traditional dancers so it was a quick trip to the local market to ask around for ‘dancing girl bells’!

Then it was a case of individually sewing (by my own fair hands no less) my 100 dancing girl bells onto a pair of trousers.

It was a long afternoon!

Next onto the slightly more imaginative part….take 2 ribbons, chop them in half then glue the ends together…

Have you guessed what I was yet??

This might help…the final touch was to chop up 2 squares of white bed sheet…

Guessed yet?

Here’s a clue;

I represent a very English folk tradition….

–                             A MORRIS DANCER!!

Considering I was the only English person there, there were some fairly confused looks when I walked in.

No fear though – a few cocktails later I gave my best rendition of a morris dance….which needless to say resulted in even more confusion.

All good fun though.