The big 5 and the last blog

This is it folks….the end of the road, the final curtain…after 3 years of happily blogging about the trials and tribulations of my life in humanitarian mineclearance in Asia, Africa, Asia and back to Africa, I’m hanging up my blogging boots on the open world wide web.

Time now for Misshelen to ‘go underground’!

Just before I go…I’ve just been on holiday! Yes you did read that right, I’ve just taken a holiday – a short holiday but a holiday all the same.

I needed to escape Angola for a wee while and amazingly in all my time living in Mozambique I never made it to Kruger Park so took the opportunity to nip over for a quick break and some wild animal spotting.

An absolutely fantastic trip and highly recommended.

Want to see my holiday snaps??

Hippos are the coolest animals in the park! They submerge themselves under the water with just their searching eyes poking above the surface.

Just one of many beautiful waterholes in the park where you silently creep into a hide and watch the animals close up. In the bottom left of the picture is a ‘klipspringer’ (which means rock jumper in Afrikaans).

We watched this beautiful African antelope with its ‘salt and pepper’ coat perch on a rock watching the hippos lazing in the water.

We watched this family of elephants wade across the river with the mum giving her babies a shower as they went. You can tell the big elephant is a female as the females spent their lives in a tight knit group of mums, daughters, sisters and aunties where as the male elephants tend to live on their own. 

Thank goodness for camera zoom lenses – although mine paled in comparison to some of the super duper cameras we spotted in the park.

This is an African fish eagle flying high in the sky looking down into the vast expense of water for fish. Having spotted ‘lunch’ swimming in the water below, these eagles swoop down to catch their prey with their talons. Their distinctive cry is unmistakable and is said to be the sound of the spirit of Africa.

It’s breakfast time for this giraffe. It’s hard to get the scale of these animals from a photo but this one we spotted must have been nearly 4m tall!

These kudu antelope – with their distinctive long spiral horns and white stripes – are probably the most spectacular antelope in the park. Their horns can actually be used as musical instruments!

I do love a good tree – and Africa has them in abundance. The baobab tree is probably my favourite…well maybe the baobab and the marula!

These baobab trees are somethimes called the ‘tree of life’ or sometimes ‘the upside down tree’ because the roots of the tree are out of the ground on the branches and if you dig down into the ground under the tree you will find the leaves where the roots should be. ONLY JOKING!

Thanks world for reading my blog and for all your comments. Posts now are for family and friends.

So it’s over and out from Misshelen…

Advertisements

Angolana

I’m not sure this is even a real word…!

But it’s exactly what I am these days. The word is used to describe a female Angolan. Ok so I’m not quite native Angolan but I am certainly a resident of the country. I’ve moved to Angola!

It’s been quite a while since my last blog – my only excuse being that life has been rather on the manic side these last few weeks.

Since leaving Sri Lanka I have been back in the UK unpacking, washing, repacking, travelling south and north, unpacking and repacking again….you get the idea! After a couple of weeks catching up with friends and having some fun (rather to the detriment of my voice box unfortunately – thanks for a great rugby weekend Edinburgh folk!) I jumped on yet another long haul flight and have come back to Africa.

Wise Jackie once told me just before my first visit to Africa that ‘‘it gets in your blood and under your skin and when you leave all you want to do is to go back’’. Little old me thought no, not me….but oh how wrong I was. My year in Sri Lanka was an interesting one but as soon as I arrived in Asia last year I realised in my heart that I really wanted to be in Africa.

Well it’s true what they say that you should be careful what you wish for before just one year later I landed in Luanda – the high rise, highly populated, highly priced capital of Angola. Read THIS.

Luckily for my bank balance this was not to be my new home, instead I spent my birthday sitting in a landrover bumping along a very long road south to the middle of the country where it feels like you are back in the REAL Africa.

Now I know what you are thinking – Angola…where the heck is that? Well never fear, misshelen is here to give a geography lesson.

This stint in Africa is a little more scary than the last one as I have returned to this vast continent bearing the weight on my shoulders of being the big boss Programme Manager. Although quite exciting it’s also a little daunting as this is probably one of our most – erm – ‘challenging’ programmes. Having been here for 3 days and already with a file full of notes and a head bursting with facts, figures and to do lists it feels ever more of a challenge.

However I’m entering into the unknown with an attitude that I’m sure it will all be ok. Watch this space…

p.s internet here is truly RUBBISH! So posts may become a little sporadic over the next wee while. Might be easier if you sign up for updates so you will get an email when I post a blog. Just scroll up to ‘Get automatic updates’ on the left hand side of this page and type in your email address.

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!

The long drive north

.                               Look at these beautiful eyebrows!!!

I’m just back from the big smoke capital…where they have normal life necessities like proper shampoo, restaurants and beauticians who will  pluck and twease eyebrows so I no longer look like I have been living in the wilderness for 6 months!

As Jaffna is still rather ‘developing’ we often buy equipment and the like down in the capital then drive it north. Normally the ‘drive north’ part is the job of our drivers, last week I decided I needed to escape the peninsula for a few days so offered to do one of the long drives north.

From start to finish it is quite the adventure!

First you have to go north to south. The quickest way to do that is by plane but as there is no domestic airline right now (and as we have a few friends in the military) the way we go is with the Sri Lankan Air Force!

It’s all terribly exciting as you are piled onto a bus (in the old war-stricken days they used to take your mobile phone off you and make you close curtains over the bus windows!). Then you are driven across the tarmac to your waiting military plane – one of these two bad boys…a Ukrainian transporter or a Chinese twin engine 15 seater….!

I prefer the big one – the seats are low benches running down either side of this big ‘ole beast and it has a huge ramp back door which (just like in the movies) does indeed start to open when you come in to land…before you hit the tarmac!

It’s always full of soldiers, sailors and pilots all looking very smart in their uniforms and there are no windows so it feels rather daunting as this big gun metal bird hurtles down a bumpy runway to take to the skies.

Actually it feels like it will never make it off the ground!

The baby brother plane is a whole different experience…you are handed huge headphones when you squeeze in through the back door because it’s so darn noisy sitting literally on top of the engines. You spend the flight in isolation from your fellow passengers with big black ‘cans’ on your ears!

You certainly keep your fingers crossed on this plane if there is even the slightest breeze in the air – this wee thing bumps and bounces through even the smallest of clouds!

This time round we got the little plane, safely made it down south then it was straight to the office to collect my car only to be told someone had crashed it the day before so there was no driver side mirror, oh and by the way the boot doesn’t shut so it’s kept from flying open with some string. Talk about a Blue Peter effort of a car, this was going to be an interesting journey.

After a unexpectedly luxurious night in a hotel (a last minute booking meant I was upgraded to a suite!) I gorged on the hotel breakfast the next morning as I have been reliably informed by my brother-in-law on many an occasion that calories don’t count when it’s a hotel breakfast!  Then it was time to hit the road.

Now bearing in mind this drive was a fairly last minute plan and also bearing in mind that I don’t actually live in the capital city I figured a helpful (local) soul in the hotel could tell me how to actually get out of the city.

It would appear I had figured wrong.

After much um-ing and ah-ing and several times being asked ‘Was I SURE I was driving all the way to Jaffna’ and ‘Was I really driving there on my own’ I established that in fact no-one could give me directions! They handed me a tourist map and I knew I had a compass in the car – I figured how hard can it be. Set the compass to north and off you go…

This was my map. Not exactly a Tom-Tom is it!

Off I set. After a while my compass arrow was pointing decidedly north EAST rather than north. I stopped at a local petrol station and asked if I was heading to Jaffna. Again much um-ing, ah-ing and questionning and then several shakes of several heads. Apparently I was on the road to Kandy – definitely NOT the right road for Jaffna.

A swift u-turn and following their vague instructions to “turn right after 100m up a dirt track, turn left when the road ends and you will eventually join up with the Jaffna road”, lo and behold with a wing and a prayer it worked and before too long I was happily popping out of a slightly dodgy looking neighbourhood onto the Jaffna road.

Now this is a long old journey to do solo so I had decided some i-pod action was in order.

Pops – you will be pleased to know my choice of travel audio was in fact the omnibus Archers from last Sunday. Along with a spot of Weekend Wogan and some Desert Island Discs I was set.

I now am fully up to speed with what the British deputy-Prime Minister would take to a desert island as his luxury item!

After a full day on the road I got to Jaffna at sunset and was led home by the light of a very big and very bright full moon! Beautiful.

Free at last

So one day a month I get a day off (work-life balance…what’s that?).

It’s always the last Sunday of the month when operations is on its monthly break and the office staff who work Monday to Saturday are also off. Us expats shut up shop and attempt with all our might to trick our body clocks into sleeping through our usual daily wake up time of dawn. Just for the record…gin helps!

Last Sunday two of us decided we just had not seen enough off the wee peninsula we are living on so we jumped in the ‘Landy’ and went to be tourists for the day.

After a quick bite to eat from the local bakery and with burning mouths from the HOT sambol you get with your roti (basically just raw crushed chillis…divine!) we decided to visit the local library.  Now I had seen this impressive building from the outside which had been burned down during the war and had been rebuilt and apparently restocked.

When you arrive you are greeted by a terribly friendly guard who asks you to turn off your mobile phone and take off your shoes!

I have to admit rather cynically as we went in I was expecting a beautiful but slightly empty shell of a building so I was absolutely shocked  when far from seeing empty shelves I was confronted with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books.

Rows of encyclopedias, books on religion, politics, history, geography, even an entire section of cookery books! It felt slightly surreal being barefoot in a library but nonetheless we padded around for ages having a giggle at some of our slightly more obscure findings…

Just off the coast line there are several small islands and to get there you drive over a causeway. It’s a bit of an adventure because the causeway is literally a few feet above the water level and not really wide enough for cars to pass one another.

Needless to say it was absolutely pelting down with rain the day we decided to cross so the water was high and practically lapping the tyres of the car plus there was some kind of temple festival just finishing so we met head on the busloads of pilgims coming back over to the mainland…

Anyhow after some slightly hairy edging slowly past one another we eventually crossed safely and went for a drive. The islands are a slightly odd place because the ‘islanders’ who live there are from Jaffna but have a definite ‘island mentality’ of being just slightly different to the folk on the mainland. The folk on the mainland, when asked about the islanders, simply shrug and with a sly wink dismiss them as ‘not quite as civilised as the mainlanders’.

I guess not so dissimilar to any island / mainland divide the world over!

As we explored the islands we kept driving past shacks on the side of the road selling what looked like pink popcorn. Not being able to resist investigating we pulled over. An old gnarly fisherman, who has one of those faces which just screams ‘I’ve got a story to tell’, stepped out from behind his stall and in unbelievably crystal clear English said “Good morning, how do you do?”.

Amusingly that was about the limit of his English but through a bit of sign language and my Pops’ way of speaking the local lingo (English but just v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y and VERY LOUD!) we were reliably informed that far from being popcorn it was sea water boiled shrimps!

Now I know the rules ok…wash it, cook it, peel it or don’t eat it….prawns left outside + hot climate = food poisoning….etc etc. So let’s face it this basket of shrimp had dodgy belly written ALL over it. But I reckon sometimes you’ve just got to take your chances and get down with the locals!

With there not being a dickybird chance of this lovely but slightly grubby stall holder having a nice antibacterial handwash in his pocket I did (briefly) think twice as he peeled one of the big prawns and handed it to me….yes, I ate it!

My friend by this point was being given a handful of the salty shrimp…yes, he ate them!

From the look on his face I couldn’t resist and tried one. They were absolutely delicious, SO moorish and totally addictive. We decided to throw caution to the wind and promptly bought half a kilo.

Heading back over the causeway we stopped at the local ‘beer shop’ and bought some of the local brew then back to the house for a Sunday afternoon movie and movie snacks of beer and salty shrimp.

After a day away from the office I think it’s called ”relaxing”, that evening (with total sodium overload from gorging on my shrimps) as I set my alarm for dawn I might even possibly have had what people with slightly more normal lives call ‘the Sunday night blues’??!!

p.s we lived to tell the tale post-shrimps…all those family camping holidays have obviously set me up with a strong constitution!

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.

Guest blogging

“Guest blogging can be a really nerve-wracking experience, but one you shouldn’t shy away from” was the first line I read!

Never one to refuse the challenge Misshelen is now officially a guest blogger!

ytravel invites other writers and travellers to guest blog on their website.

So time a take a tea break and have a look at my contribution…

Mozambique festival

Freaky frogs

A few perverted frogs have taken up residence in my bathroom and sit croaking away as I have my evening shower…it’s a little unnerving wondering whether one of these slimy blighters is going to make a leap for my head mid scrub! I even found one having a soak in the bottom of my toilet last night.

See if you can spot 2 of my freaky frogs…

Scroll down

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

The joys of living in the jungle of the tropics!!

Scroll down again….

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

At least they are toilet trained…

Gone surfing

…back soon.

No one likes a bragger

So I won’t labour the point but….I have just returned from an absolutely fabulous holiday back in the UK.

In brief…

Family fun in Wales to celebrate dad’s birthday…mountain biking, bbq’s, kayaking and good old fashioned British beach time (ie huddling on windy beaches wrapped in towels sipping disgraceful coffee from polystyrene cups!)


Even Looby got in on the bike riding expedition!

Celebrating Pops being 21 again! Realising how much I miss reading a real newspaper on a Sunday, and a Saturday, Monday, Tuesday…

Camping out in a wendy house with Ankles, mastering the art of surfing (well mastering the basics!) with lots of obligatory’ new surfer’ face planting into the ocean!

Getting lost in a rather wonderful way on a longer-than-planned coastal walk.

‘Al fresco’ camping (yes, as in camping without a tent!) – thank goodness for boy making ability to light a good fire!

Being tourists for a day and nosing round Agatha Christie’s house (I think I am the only person in the world who didn’t know this famous lady was also an archaeologist!).

Then trying to explain the basics of mineclearance on a beach with a pint of Devon’s finest cider in hand!

Ice-cream and a catch-up (read; gossip!) down by the river with my ole pal duggas then on to a highly entertaining lecture by no other than Sir Ranulph Fiennes – a man with a bone dry sense of humour and more lives than your average cat!

A sunshine day for the christening of my beautiful nephew…with hotdogs and cake to celebrate!

Lunch in the quietest cafe ever being probably the only people in the world not be at home watching the football. Great service though – thanks England!

« Older entries