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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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.

Sinking under paper mountain

Sometimes my job is just like any other office job anywhere in the world!

Today has been spent slowly trawling our way through an absolute beast of a mountain of paperwork. We are currently going through monster expansion in Kilinochchi….from 200 to nearly 800 staff.

I have pretty much moved down from Jaffna full time now to help with the expansion. My jobs – training and logistics.

The logistics side I rather enjoy.

Remember my brief stint in construction in Mozambique? Well I’m reusing all those useful skills as I juggle office construction along with how and where to store our 100’s of metal detectors, tool kits, spare tyres and other minefield paraphernalia!

The car parking is no easier – more deminers means more vehicles. Maneuvering 4 ton trucks in an already bursting at the seams compound is no mean feat!

As for our 1970’s ambulances – thank goodness for the wonder who is our senior mechanic. How he keeps these things on the road is beyond me (these ones are older than me!)…


I have decided I am definitely an organised person though – aided 100% by my newly purchased clipboard! All I need now is a hardhat and I wouldn’t look too out of place on a construction site (or maybe I would just look like I was about to break into a rendition of YMCA?)

The training of new folk has been an absolute mission. Not helped by the fact the monsoon has arrived so I have spent many a soggy day sheltering under dripping tarpualin, nipping out the second there is a break in the downpour to test the nervous new recruits, only to find myself racing back to my little plastic shelter 5 minutes later.


We’ve had lots of ladies training with us this time round and it’s been lovely seeing these brightly dressed gorgeous girls donning their body armour and visors each morning.

Personally I would find their salwar kameez outfits very impractical kneeling down all day digging at the soil, but they are so graceful and comfortable in their traditional dress they could probably demine in a sari!

Our medics are good to go.

After several weeks of painfully jabbing one another in the arms with needles and finding my veiny white arms quite an oddity compared to their brown ones as I explain the concepts of torniquets and pressure points to them.

The training and testing has taken weeks and weeks so today really was a momentous occasion as we we finished testing the last of the deminers and the medics packed their trauma kits and counted out paracetamol!

Instead of soggy fields and building sites, we now launch ourselves into our mountain of paperwork to make sure everyone gets insured, gets nice new shiny boots and signs their contract.

It’s a big day for them all tomorrow – their first day in a real minefield.

I remember my first day in a minefield like it was yesterday….!

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!

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.

Unbelievable.

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.

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