The grasshopper

This is something I was described as once by a lovely couple I worked with a few years ago. Always jumping from one adventure to the next…

Well I am taking a leap yet again. My time in Sri Lanka has come to an end. It’s been nearly a year (although I’m not sure I can even believe that myself it’s gone so quickly). And it’s been let’s say ’emotional’.

The work has been tough, the hours have been long, the bureaucracy has been exhausting, all in all quite an experience.

I feel privileged to have experienced the beginnings of this country’s post-war rehabilitation. Even just during my 12 months here I have seen unbelievably fast development – particularly in Kilinochchi which 1 year ago when we first arrived had not a soul living here and is now a thriving community.

As I have seen all over the world, the main highway through a country is generally where life ‘happens’ – goods are traded, clothes are washed, food is cooked, crops are farmed, gossip is shared – having  spent many an hour hurtling up and down the A9 highway between Jaffna and Kilinochchi, as I leave this intriguing country I share with you the sights I have seen on these drives.

These toddy-tappers shimmy up the palm trees to harvest the sap from these trees which they then ferment and sell, usually from little shack ‘toddy taverns’ along the side of the road. Driving in the late afternoon is made all the more precarious as drunken toddy drinkers wobble home on their bicycles.

The attention to detail on these road signs always makes me smile. This sign very accurately says it’s is 8.10km to Jaffna. Not 8 and not 9 but 8.1km precisely!

 

This character I met whilst we were surveying a new minefield. He was on his way to fertilize his fields.

It made me smile that we had stopped him on his way to work – a world away from donning a suit and heading into the City, he simply throws on a sarong and jumps on his bike!

I thought he just had the most incredibly interesting face and a wonderfully mischievous smile.


If you look at the top of this building it appears a man is bravely scaling the wall. It’s actually a construction ‘scarecrow’. The owner of a construction site will hang these to distract attention away from their shiny new expensive building and towards their scarecrow. It’s apparently to stop jealously from passers-by!

This fisherman caught my eye as he leaned his bicycle against the bridge, hitched up his sarong and waded into the waist deep water to catch his fish. His skill and patience had me transfixed for what seemed like hours as I watched him fling his net across the water then haul it in to check what he had caught. He looked about 60 years old and he fished with such a natural technique he must have been doing this since he was a boy.

You see quite some sights driving along the roads here. There’s no such thing as loading limits. This cart piled high with coconut husks was being pulled by a tractor with a lawnmower engine. The truck below is the local coffin delivery service.

Religion is hugely important in Sri Lanka and in the north where the main ethnic group is Tamil, Hinduism is the major religion. It’s impossible to drive more than a couple of hundred metres without passing a beautiful brightly coloured temple with intricately painted figures.

Each morning before heading to the minefield all our deminers will visit the temple, in fact all over the country you see adults and children, eyes closed, hands together, head bent forward as they stand in front of these small shrines and perform puja.

However, as is often the way it’s the people here who have made the place for me.

Our 2 camp cooks are unbelievable caterers. Not even the slightest bit phased by having 60+ hungry mouths to feed, these guys are up at dawn cooking up a storm over an open fire in the makeshift kitchen with pots so big I could probably fit my entire self into! Here they are making hundreds of rotis for lunch – which starts to be cooked at about 8 o’clock in the morning!

These worn out boots belong to one of my deminers. The foot you can just about see centre back is that of a man we found fixing old shoes on the side of the road. Our deminers can wear out a good pair of boots in a matter of months so we employed this fellow to patch up our old boots (he refused to have his photo taken!).

As I squatted next to him and asked about his family he told me he used to be a diver, he would strap 2 air tanks to his back and dive for lobster for the posh hotels dotted along the coast. Him and his diver pals pushed the boundaries, staying down too deep for too long just to get as many lobsters as they could before their air ran out. After several of his friends had died doing this incredibly dangerous job. his wife begged him to stop which brought him to Kilinochchi where he learned the boot mending trade. He laughed and told me he much preferred diving but his wife was the boss!

My house guard Rex, must be about 100 years old and speaks the most fantastical confused English. Should anyone decide to try to break in I doubt he is any kind of kung fu champion – he would however most likely talk them to their death. Here he is pulling jackfruit off the tree in my garden, he found it hilarious that this odd British woman actually liked eating this prickly fruit. I taught him to say “See you later” in English and each day without exception he cheerily chuckles it to me as he waves me off to work.

Rex is one of so many wonderful people I have met and worked with here. It will be sad to say goodbye but having spent a fair chunk of my overseas time in South Asia, I think I’m done in this part of the world for a while.

So onto the next adventure….watch this space!

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2 Comments

  1. Mark Sweatman said,

    February 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Fantastic photos, Hel. My absolute favourite was the coffin truck – an absolutely brilliant snap.

    • misshelen said,

      February 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Thanks Mark! There are some sights out there – certainly keeps the long journey’s quite interesting. Hope all well with you.


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