Family fortunes

Every Christmas (post present opening, Christmas dinner and afternoon nap) we have a tradition to meet up with another family. We have all grown up together and each year, alternating between our 2 houses, the routine remains the same – more presents, lots of chocolate then GAMES!

One of the ‘kids’ (we are now all grown ups but still refer to ourselves as the adults and the kids) is a big fan of playing games…you know who you are Soph!

As the designated ‘game selector’ she has come up with some legendary options in past years – the humming game probably remaining king of them all in the hilarity stakes.

This year we played Family Fortunes, a version of the 1980’s TV show.

Why am I telling you this…? It’s because today’s blog comes in the form of Family Fortunes!

So “if I asked 100 people to name something to do to keep yourself entertained with no electricity and on a rainy day in a  very remote town in northern Sri Lanka?”….our survey said…..

1.       Read a book – definitely the number 1 answer!

2.       Cook some food (only if you have a gas cooker)

3.       Write your blog (offline of course because no power = no internet)

4.       Sleep

5.       Listen to music (until laptop / speaker / ipod batteries run out)

Answers for which you would most certainly NOT get points for…

1.       Surf the internet

2.       Watch TV

3.       Go for a walk (when it rains it RAINS here)

4.       Bake a cake (I might have a gas cooker but the oven part is electric!)

If you’ve got any bright ideas, answers on a postcard please!


Flooding in Sri Lanka

.                            Photo from Sri Lankan Guardian

It’s shocked me and my colleagues how we can be living in a country so badly and frighteningly affected by the recent flooding, yet for us to be barely impacted at all by it.

I am living the other side of the island to where the flooding has had the most devastating impact and we have not had rain for at least a week now.

According to the The Guardian; “Up to 400,000 children in Sri Lanka are facing a food crisis caused by devastating floods” and the death toll has now reached 38.

This image taken by a local photographer is shocking and shows just how high the flood waters reached.

Money is being raised and aid is arriving through the United Nations, several big charities like Oxfam and Save the Children as well as many other organisations like Shelterbox. But bearing in mind the affected people have not only had to deal with decades of war and the tsunami in 2004 but now just as they begin to rebuild their lives and their homes, many are being forced to return to the IDP camps they were living in during the war as their homes are destroyed under the rising flood waters.

And yet I have been told by people who are in the area assisting the aid efforts that people, despite everything they have been through are still managing to smile.

The unbelievable resilience of the Sri Lankan people astounds me.

Please keep this nation in your thoughts as yet again they begin their rebuilding…

When the coconut trees hear voices, they will bear fruit

Remember the story of S?

After months of mine clearance this area was ready for the first families to start returning. The resettlement began at the tail end of 2010 and this week I went back to see how it was progressing. The change to the area is absolutely unbelievable…

After having a drive around I stopped and got out my car to take a closer look at a couple of guys forging through thick vegetation on the oldest looking tractor I have ever seen with a look of sheer determination on their faces!

As I stood there an old man on a bicycle approached me.

“Good morning madam” he addressed me in perfect English. “Good morning I replied”.

“What are you doing”, he asked – a perfectly reasonable question I suppose seen as how not many white women come up into these parts.

Momentarily taken aback by his fluency in English, I explained my job and that we had just done mine clearance in the area so I was coming back to check progress. He solemnly informed me that he was from this area and 20 years ago had been displaced during the fighting. He asked would I like to see his house.

“Absolutely”, I told him. I jumped in my car and tailed him a few hundred metres down the track.

Then he told me his story…

VK is 72 years old, married for more than 50 years he has 3 grown up children. Before the war they all lived together in this house built in 1931 by his grandfather.

They led a very comfortable life. His father was a successful businessman who travelled all over South Asia for his work. He often returned with exotic and exciting gifts from his travels and many times brought mango saplings back to plant in their garden.

Plentiful trees in your garden are particularly important out here, not only can the fruit be sold to generate an income but equally important is the shade the trees provide during the long hot summers.

Over the years VK’s father brought back more than 10 different varieties of mango tree and before long had negotiated to sell as many mangoes as they could grow, every year making $500 just from the fruit growing in their garden.

Over the years VK’s father died and his own family grew up in the house. VK opened a shop and the mango trees continued to flourish.

In 1990 the war intensified in this area and the entire family was hurriedly forced to grab what they could carry and flee their home. Leaving pretty much everything behind, VK locked one room in his house (the prayer room) and fled.

Having spent the next 20 years moving constantly and mostly living with relatives, last month VK was told he could return to his land.

VK’s overgrown house. Built in 1931 by his grandfather, the roof remains over just 2 of the rooms. In the background (far left) stands the last remaining mango.

Needless to say after 20 years the contents have all but gone, the roof remains over just 2 of the rooms and his shop is just a shell. But VK has hope and determination.

Each morning he takes the 1 hour bus ride north, collects his bicycle from a relative’s house close by and cycles up to his property. He has hired some labourers to help him cut through the thick vegetation and start repairing the house.

Keen to show me his house we pushed our way through the vegetation along a secret path he has created behind his shop – so the thieves can’t find their way in and steal from him he tells me – as we walked around the destroyed rooms as he pointed out what was the kitchen, the bedroom and the prayer room (amazingly still locked!)

.           The secret path…

He is too old now he told me to run his shop but he plans to rebuild their home and eventually the family will return. I asked him was he sad about the state of the house and he told me he expected after so long away that little would remain but the thing he was most saddened by was that all but 1 of his father’s mango trees had been cut down for firewood.

“What will we do for shade in the summer now?” he asked.

He pointed to the coconut trees telling me that right now there are no coconuts because all the people moved away. Thinking he meant because no-one had been looking after the trees he said no, it’s because they need to hear the people’s voices before they grow coconuts. I must have looked completely bemused as he smiled and just said…“you’ll see when the people return and the trees hear their voices, they will start to bear fruit once more”.

This was once a bedroom… There’s a lot of work to be done to restore this beautiful house to its former glory but VK is determined.

There is a lot of work to be done here, it will be expensive and VK is not exactly a young man! When I asked him why does he not simply remain in the new house they live in down in the south of Jaffna he told me he will come back because this was his father’s house and before that his grandfather’s house.

He wants to die here so his soul can rest here, just like his father and grandfather have done before him.

Hungry, grumpy or thirsty? Define ‘Resolution’

This is my new paperweight – a souvenir from my top new years mini-break in Devon. All I can say is you will never appreciate the value of a paperweight until you live in a hot country and your office fan creates perpetual wind tunnel.
On returning to Sri Lanka I discovered it is obligatory to shake hands and wish everyone you meet ‘a Happy New Year’.
During one of these handshaking moment I was chatting with one of my staff and asked them what their New Year’s resolution was. They replied ‘what’s resolution’  and it got me thinking.
According to it means “a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something”.

So why then do we spend the first few days, weeks, months (or mere hours in the case of some…you know who you are!) existing on lettuce leaves, being grumpy from nicotine withdrawal, craving a barrel load of Merlot or dragging ourselves to the gym on wet and windy winter nights?
All in the name of ‘New Years Resolutions’.
So this year I decided instead of GIVING something up that I would ‘resolve’ to TAKE something up! After all you can never have too many party tricks up your sleeve…
Step 1; decide on something I want to take up
Step 2; figure out which of these things is realistic living in the wilds of  Sri Lanka!
Step 3; thank the Lord for the internet.
Last year I decided I was watching far much crap on the TV, 1000 channels and not a single good programme – other than Lie to Me which I really got quite hooked on – so I starting teaching myself the mouth organ (ref back to step 3 above). I can now perform a passable rendition of Billie Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ . This year I resolve to get better.
Becoming a better cook is a toughie with no decent supermarket in town and I would like to learn to ride a motorbike with more confidence than my currently wobbly attempts but the rainy season is not really allowing for that right now.
However fear not, the list goes on (from the realistic to the down right dreaming)…
Learn to touch type / play guitar/ ride a horse / snowboard / salsa dance
Improve my general knowledge.
Learn (and be able to recall on demand) a couple of decent jokes!
(Re-) learn how to do a backwards crab down a wall.
OK so this year my new years resolutions are not the norm (although it obviously helps that I don’t smoke, I actually rather enjoy exercising and I was reliably informed by a doctor friend that red wine is good for you!) so I guess you could call it my bucket list instead!
What are your resolutions for 2011?
p.s I think the actual reason they are called new year’s resolutions might be because sticking to them takes a heap of ‘resolve’….?

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!


Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2010. That’s about 16 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 29 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 102 posts. There were 157 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 255mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was August 25th.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,, and

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


All about me


A night in Cape Town jail


Landmines & life
1 comment


1 become 72


Here comes the bride…
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All in all a jolly fun year of blogging…so in to 2011 we go (I bet you carry on writing 2010 when you write the date until at least March!)…