Friday, June 20, 2008

Poson Poya

This year Poson Poya, fell on Wednesday, June 18th 2008 and therefore was a midweek day. There was no exodus of the Colombo middle class to provincial 5 star hotels for a weekend of fun and therefore these hotels were empty. I went to the Deer Park Hotel around 8.30pm the night before Poya to have dinner and the lights at the entrance were switched off and I was told the Restaurant also was closed. I suspect they did not even have one guest.

Earlier that same day after climbing the Dambulla Cave temple where the power had failed, and we just had to view in poor light, we went to Heritance Kandalama for tea and a light bite, and even there it was eerily empty. The staff all seemed lost and wandering about polishing the floors and practicing bar skills like throwing the bottle over the head for want of something better to do. This is the best time of year for all those hotels as the air is dry, there is no rain, and the wind keeps the whole place beautifully cool at all times with no mosquitoes. A short drive thereafter to Sigiriya and the climb seemed even easier than before with all the new ladders in place and one section for ascent and another for descent making all much easier than my first climb which was as precarious as one could make it following the contours of the rock holding onto rusty chains.

We settled into the Giritale Hotel for the night, primarily because of the unmatched location, where only one other room was taken. The stunning view in almost any other country would keep this place full all year round and as I mentioned earlier this is the best time of year to be there. Walking out at dawn on Poya morning into the lobby in my sarong and banyan seemed quite natural as there was no one else, not even hotel staff hovering around. The morning pot of tea was ordered and enjoyed with the birds-eye view of the birds especially the Brahmini Kite.

What I am trying to say is that we have some of the nicest hotel locations on the face of the planet and they are all empty, dead, almost forgotten, and there is no reason why our glorious tourist industry should blame terrorism, as it is just the excuse. I was telling this friend, who was with me that for me the first impressions of a country count an awful lot in making up my mind about a place, and that all the travel agent has to do is to whisk the traveler straight from the airport to these locations as the flights arrive at dawn and they can get here in a few hours, which will give the impression especially in June of a lush peaceful tropical paradise far removed from the media spotlight that appears to cloud one’s thinking. It is just marketing skill that can turn a threat into an opportunity and then give a tourist the holiday of a lifetime, which is all we should strive for, so that their word of mouth is better than any marketing plan in luring more to our shores to enjoy the immense range of interest we can offer the true explorer.

The Poson Poya morning trip into the Polonnaruwa ruined city was a carnival of hand tractors and trailers packed to the brim with people on a day out with beautiful parasols keeping out the hot midday sun from their faces. It is enough to melt the heart of the observer to see the patience with which these people endure the bumpy ride with no apparent discomfort, so they can partake in all sorts of activities of the day.

Near one of the ancient ponds there was this snake charmer with two cobras and one python, see photo attached with a throng of people surrounding watching the proceedings. There were hat sellers, ice-cream sellers, clairvoyants and palm readers and an assortment of vendors seizing the opportunity to make a buck.

The various food Dansalas were everywhere so no one need go hungry today as every bit of food was free!! The biblical view of the thousands of older ladies who had come to partake in the religious ceremonies at the famous Gal Vihare were all seated all along the hillocks having their packed lunches provided for them by some well wisher.

The flowers on the offering table at the Buddha statues were so serene and natural as would be expected in any religious place. The relatively modern version of the Buddhist flag was everywhere and the very same flags were also used to flag down the traveler to imbibe in some refreshment.

What was more surprising was that all along the road all the way from Polonnaruwa to Godagama, there were these Dansalas where no one need be hungry as there was food for the asking. The crowds seem to all have decided that they were all going to eat out today, with no one cooking at home for once. Everyone in the country seemed to be on their way to a free eatery near their homes, with the usual mode of transport being the tractor-trailer. It is a nightmare scenario for a motorist to navigate between parked vehicles in the middle of the road as no one seemed to care where they stopped, but every one seemed to enjoy themselves and that was all that mattered a nation in a sociable, jovial, eating, singing and dancing mood.

some peace and quiet for a change

I am at present alone in my Ratmale home, which the villagers call the hotel. It was a relief to be by myself, In Sri Lanka with people around there is no reeal quiet. I brought Gamini and Sagara from Godagama, invited Rohitha, my neighbor in the Hingurakgoda property. It was more of a vacation instead of work for them. They went into the jungle to look for ‘wellang’ trees from which to cut the handles for the mamoty that all farmers in Sri Lanka use. This is supposed to be a good wood for this purpose being light, strong, straight and hardy and usually grows in just the size for this purpose.

If one knows Sri Lanka, food is a major preoccupation of the people. They like to eat three square meals and preferably rice. In these days of high costs the fact that they demand this is an exacting toll for me to fund. When I had to pay Rs120/-each, a bath packet at Minneriya only for the staff, I decided enough was enough and sent them all away to the Hingurakgoda property.

It seemed these days that all they spent time was fish to eat wth their meals and cook the dry rations that we brought with us or just spend their time chatting. There are four workmen on the land constructing the kitchen. Performance from my staff was zero as this state is not their normal work, so they don’t see the urgency. They therefore just make tea for the workers and eat bulath with them and cause a general nuisance.

In the 24 hours so far since they were sent off, I have been able to help the workmen by shifting the soil to fill the inside of the kitchen with earth and generally get up to date with my things and plan for the next few days ahead.

It was so peaceful last night. The winds were blowing swaying the kumbuk trees in front with a soothing sound. This an added bonus aiding me in my sleep. I sleep under a mosquito net, just so that I am not buzzed in my ear from a mosquito. The villagers all leave my area after their tank bath and told me to sleep indoors because the elephants might come and attack me! That’s how much they are frightened of the wild elephants. Off course I did not heed their words and slept in the verandah.

The people in this village all sleep indoors with all their doors and windows shut tight. It is hot and many find it hard to fall asleep and they complain incessantly. No wonder, they don’t benefit from the wind, which is prevalent in the dry season, and the sound now should be heard to understand.

As a result they think I am totally mad sleeping alone in the middle of the jungle, an elephant’s trunk distance from the edge where an elephant can touch with the trunk, the verandah being open on three sides. I was told last night when I was bathing in the tank after dark under moonlit skies, that the elephants are bathing on the other side right at that time.

Two boys are climbing the jam tree in front of my verandah now as I write. The tree is small and the branches light, and if one falls they could seriously hurt themselves, but no amount of warning will get these kids off the tree. That’s today’s village kids for you. Even they are not disciplined enough to listen to what I have to say least of all their mothers who keep calling for them to come to bathe in the tank. I have noticed it has become a practice of the kids to climb the tree every day in search of the red jam fruit, which are actually sweet. The monkeys on the tree in front of me are eyeing their performance and no doubt if I was not sitting here, would have had first crack at the red berries.

Food is my last concern at the moment so I can easily stay here with the water bottles I have. The four workmen from time to time ask my advice on how I want certain aspect of the kitchen done. I had been persuaded to get 5 tractor loads of black rock for the foundation, which was way too much, so I have asked the baas to raise part of the wall with rock and also complete the front of the kitchen area with rock, so it will look quite a quaint building mainly built from rock, and more Nuwera Eliya like to one in these parts. I worked out it is cheaper to build out of the rock than brick, but as I already have the brick, I will finish the walls to the roof line with the brick, so it all coordinates with the rest of the set of buildings.

I am very happy with the photos I took in the morning of the various flowers in the pond so much so that the one in the blog is what I am currently using as my wallpaper. It turned out to be really nice.

The sun has not been oppressive so I have been able to do some serious back breaking labor work to assist the workmen and now I have calluses on my left hand from the mamoty work. I cant wait to see the end of the kitchen building, but I am doing the work in stages due to financial constraints, and will only recommence when I next come to this property on July 1st when I hope I can go right up to roof level. Cement is Rs 780/- a 50kg bag now and I have used 10 bags these days to do the stonework including the foundation.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

a year of blogging

I just realized that I have now kept on this blog for year, my first entry being June 3rd 2007. There is much that I have written about in this year, with so many events planned and unplanned, with photos to illustrate. If one cares to go back to the beginning and briefly skim through this the content covered amazes me and I do not not think one can have as much to write about in other fields of life where one has to earn a living, as that is what I am simply doing everyday, and it is getting harder each day and not easier as I had hoped, and the blog unwaveringly documents the reasons behind it.

Thank you my friends for reading and commenting and apologies for my total lack of manners in replying to your questions, but as I just come here to update the blog I find little time to read through and reply. I wish I will be able to surf the net one day soon, just as I had got very used to in the years I lived in the West. It is truly a luxury that those who have 24/7 internet should realize others would kill for!!

Update on pin haraka (see below for original story)

Below on May 29th I set out in detail my dilemma. I report on the finality of this.

The suffering of this animal was getting too much to bear, and the people working in the cowshed and around were also demoralized. The worms had started to attack the animal and it was too ill to even make any noise, it was a pathetic sight.

On June 5th I went to the vet in Homagama and pleaded with him to do something, to end its life humanely. He just would not accede as it is against the policy and also fearful of repercussions as putting euthanizing a cow could get him in hot water and he would not contemplate even to help. It is a major issue swept under the carpet in Sri Lanka, as we appear to want animals to suffer and die a horrendous death!

Quite by chance I met a lady who had also come to the vet saying her cow had also fallen and was not getting up with the vet saying there is nothing he could do, and another man whose buffalo who had also suffered a similar fate with the same answer from the vet. Little does he know what he is in for, and I was not the one to forewarn him of the situation he will have to undergo seeing his beloved animal suffer a similar fate. If this is any indication, I am willing to bet there are more cows dying daily in Sri Lanka in this manner than those killed for meat!

Eventually I found a kindly soul who was moved enough by our plight as to offer to help. He purchased some liquid and a syringe from the pharmacy and came to the shed. All my staff had fled the scene and they cannot face a moment like this, so poor Sagara had to hold his nose with one hand due to the foul odor of the worms eating into the animals flesh, and holding the neck with his other hand so this man could inject this fluid into the animal's neck to end its misery in about two hours.

Yesterday the 6th was the day for burial. Due to the stench and not wanting to drag the carcass too far, just out side the cattle shed between two king coconut trees, the deep pit (grave) was dug. The four staff digging then insisted on being given Rs1000/- for kasippu and they drank themselves silly and then ate a hefty lunch before dragging the carcass to the pit and covering it up in an inebriated state, and finally clearing the place, spreading some dolomite all around ostensibly to dispose of any remaining worms still around.

Of course no other work was done on the farm after that task, even though they had promised to cut the second load of grass the cattle needed to keep them from being hungry.

Please someone explain to me why they have to get blind drunk even before the job at hand is complete. Is this an excuse for a drink or a real need to do an unpleasant task in a semi comatose state?

Today, Saturday 7th of june is another new day of events on the farm, like fighting about the number of bottles of milk so and so took for sale, and why is a bottle of milk hidden under the sink! and why are the calves not being given enough vitamin rich rice bran to build them up so they can contribute to the country's dire shortage of milk, and adding a new customer a pregnant lady to the list of those requiring a bottle of milk delivered each day.

I forgot to mention, a new calf saved from the Dematagoda Mas Kade was given to us to bring up, with some local people paying 18,000 to save from veal. Actually it is another sad case of cheating the gullible, as the butcher buys this calf for 3,000 the meat value and sells it for six times to those who want to save an animal for vesak, allowing the butcher to buy more animals for the slaughterhouse, thanks to the generosity of those who want to save them from that fate!! do you see the irony?