Monday, September 22, 2008

Dogs or Motor Bikes what is more dangerous?

Today is Friday the 19th of September. I returned from the Polonnaruwa hospital. Sudath who works for me on my land, the 5 acres in Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda, was returning at 9pm last night with his 7month pregnant wife, on his motorbike, from a clinic near the hospital. A dog had suddenly crossed the road and both had fallen off the bike. They had superficial wounds to hands and legs and were taken by a trishaw to the hospital where they were admitted for observation and x-ray the following day.

What I wish to note is that soon after Sudath was admitted there were four other people who were brought into the ward with injuries some serious resulting from dogs running across the road.

If one is familiar with Sri Lanka one will realize as a motorist one sees many dogs on the road in groups or singly and a motor vehicle is usually safe from their menace. However motorbikes are in harms way as they are constantly running across the road with no care or concern for the traffic.

With our free medical care, no one seems to make an issue out of the high cost of health care arising out of dogs causing traffic accidents on the road. I did mention in an earlier piece where our drivers tend to brake suddenly endangering civilians, when dogs cross the road as they try to avoid harming the animal and harm the humans instead. This motorbike accident brought home to me, the frequency of this occurrence with the attendant costs to the economy, which outweigh the benefits of having so many dogs around.

I invite the reader’s comments on this issue, as the increasing number of motorbikes on the road with the resulting accidents are putting a serious strain on the free healthcare system of this country. Will bike riders be more careful if they have to pay for a share of the cost of accidents? Even if it is not their fault, but only because they are in vehicles prone to accidents.

The hospital was full and this has over 500 beds. In this ward there were two to a bed and the next bed was a soldier(MP) who was stabbed last night by an army deserter who had been identified and faced imminent arrest.

This hospital has a reputation for expertise in treating poisons either resulting from snakebites or from ingesting pesticides as is commonly done due to the slightest provocation, mostly in the form of attempted suicides.

a short journey to Cochin

I had to rush to India for three days recently as my sister fell ill while on a retreat and had to be hospitalized and I stayed with her till she got better to travel and accompanied her back. The normal 5day wait for an Indian visa was short circuited to the same day through connections and the urgent nature of the visit.

I was extremely pleased with the level of care she received at a private hospital and value for money of the institution as well as the approachability of the doctors at the hospital. The total cost of 3days care in a private air-conditioned room without food but with all medicines, doctors fees as well as drugs for a further two weeks upon discharge was Rs5000/- Indian or about US$100. I was so taken aback with how little was charged I gave the doctor US$40 to help with indigent patients, while thanking him for his dedication seeing the patients coming to his clinic every day.

I had not been to India for a long while, and I had planned a trip in the future to Kerala as a state most like Sri Lanka. It had been marketed well internationally as I had been aware of their promotions in the various World Travel Marts I had attended in London in Novembers of the past years prior to my return to Sri Lanka.

My first impressions were extremely poor, with the wait at the airport at immigration being almost twice as long as the flight to get to Cochin, which was 50 minutes. The arrivals area was so crowded with people teeming to greet relatives the whole experience was uncomfortable. More people and more tourists arrive into Cochin alone than to Sri Lanka in a year so one can appreciate the needs of a small provincial airport in a state with three other international airports!

My visit confirmed a few ideas I already had about Sri Lanka. We are a far superior tourist destination, with a greater potential of tourist satisfaction if only we know how to market the country despite the war. We need to offer a few conveniences like a tourist bus service into town, that costs less than the exorbitant Rs2400/- oneway trip into Colombo in an air-conditioned taxi. We also should reduce the cost of the cultural triangle pass, which only a tourist can tell you how unreasonable it is. Our tourism officials act like they have never been tourists in a foreign land. Hence they just don’t know what a tourist really wants, and how to satisfy one.

The country is about to spend US$4billion on a up market destination in Kalpitiya, a total waste of money that any person with common sense will state in a moment. We can get a better bang for our buck with less than 10% of that spent but directed in a different route not to over exploit any part of the country but to have very small exclusive resorts that will require less infrastructure and bring better quality jobs that will not disappear overseas.

Trust me when I say that half the jobs in the Kalpitiya zone will result in the trainees going overseas for employment, and the standard of the former falling, by having to add trainees all the time for the export market. There are plenty of jobs available in a country that does not have unemployment, just one of aspirations not meeting availability.

Small exclusive resorts of not more than 5 rooms is the answer to Sri Lanka, and this can then be shared by many people in the land who will own them, rather than a few international hoteliers who will be the real beneficiaries of a Kalpitiya zone. Large exclusive resorts never benefit the host country only small resorts do. However kudos, commissions and corruption is less likely in the small resort and therefore less chance for the powers that make the decisions to benefit personally at the expense of the country. The tourist bureaucracy only appeals to those wanting to receive some international recognition. Actually profit is more important and the small hotelier who does not make it to the World Travel Mart as it is not cost effective is the person really benefiting Sri Lanka as he or she has a small place offering a unique experience that even a hotelier cannot even dream of inventing.

Coming back to the case of India, where everyone requires a visa which is certainly not cheap if you are a European or American, I cannot find one reason for them to choose India over Sri Lanka, It is a country with 60 times our population and about 4 times to offer in tourist delights! Sri Lanka is a country one could never tire of as there is so much packed in such a small area. The idiocy of the industry not to recognize this and act accordingly baffles me.

I am not trying to denigrate India, but compared to Sri Lanka it is a non starter. The benefits there of lower costs of food and such like are not areas that reflect on tourism, so the many great things of the country have little relation to tourism which I am highlighting here. If India can attract people with all these drawbacks, I see no reason why Sri Lanka cannot be proactive.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

an unexpected visitor from the US

the gentleman in the photo said she would go back home and tell her friends she met this veddah!!

A friend of mine in California had recommended to a friend of his who was backpacking in Sri Lanka to contact me. Melinda 24 from Santa Monica contacted me on Monday evening when I was doing my deliveries in Colombo, and I picked her up and took her to my place in Minneriya.

I guess she was brave to go with a stranger she only knew by recommendation, and we arrived at my place at 3am. I showed her the Polonnaruwa historic city the following day, but was aghast that the tourist rate now had risen to Rs2,700. In fact I was embarrassed as it was a rainy day and we had to duck the rain to see the ruins and we could only go to a limited selection. To add insult to injury officious guards at sites, requested us to put the umbrellas away when entering historic monuments, so we could only go in the pouring rain. Lord Buddha would immediately put them in their place had he been around to see this nonsensical request.

What Melinda enjoyed most was going to the homes of my various neighbors who had never entertained a foreigner in their lives and she was quite taken aback with our hospitality as she was treated at short notice as an honored guest and in one place she was even given a gift of a picture to hang on a wall. Two days later she was put on a bus to get back to Colombo and a local bus to Nugegoda from Pettah, which she gamely did much to the amazement of the locals who would not venture into the unknown.

mango saga

Earlier in the blog you can see various references to the mangos in my property and how we pluck and sell them etc. This season we were lucky just to get about 200 mangos, when last year we had in excess of 2,000. This is another drop resulting from the unusual weather pattern that has seen an almost non-existent crop of rambutan. Needless to say word was out that I had brought some mangos, and within seconds people clamored for the few I had and I had to fight to keep some for my reliable customers in Colombo.

One particularly large tree that yielded at least Rs30,000 in mangos last year did not give me even 20 mangos and I decided for once to indulge my self with this largess! The photo is of the few rata amba I brought today for sale at Rs30 ea and I know the fruit kade I sell King Coconuts to in Pelawatte sells the same for Rs70.

On serious note it is quite difficult until one actually cuts the mango to determine if it is spoilt and inevitably this is a complaint that I hear despite all the steps to reduce this happening. That is why I say only 10% of the actual crop that spawns from the flower actually gets eaten by a human with animals taking a greater share

Monday, September 1, 2008

rain and the vagaries of the weather pattern in 2008

Those of who have read the earlier piece, which due to my lack of access of the net was also posted at the same time, though over 3 weeks in writing, would find this ironic. I was then complaining of the lack of water, and my need to irrigate by pumping water to keep my rice paddies alive.

Now just at the point of harvesting I have had 6 days of rain, always starting between noon and 2 pm each day (ironically for those aware it was the day after the elections where the government received an overwhelming plebiscite of approval. While I am no doubt ruing my luck, one really has to appreciate the thousands of peasant farmers who habit these parts staring disaster in the face. For them two rice crops comprise a large part of their livelihood and this is the second time this year that the rains came while harvesting. (Earlier segments of the blog detail what happened)

I have been here in Minneriya this past week and all conversation is only about what we can do to salvage our crop. While I have not been in touch with news, I can only surmise that there has been very little said about it and so we have to battle the issue alone and suffer the consequences.

For those who are unaware of the real problems here are some of them. When it is time for harvesting and the rains come, it is prudent not to harvest till the rains cease. However when one finally harvests, the rice paddies are overripe and the price falls, as only the large mill owners benefit from buying overripe paddy which they can salvage along with wet paddy by parboiling and then milling parboiled rice. They offer a low price saying it is overripe or wet but suffer no price loss on sale as they have salvaged it in their mills where they have all the machinery for boiling in tons and drying in similar quantities.

Those who are in the midst of cutting, lose some of the harvest and have to dry the balance before being able to sell it, as the moisture content has to be below a certain percentage. It is hard to dry with the wet weather. Others like me have a lot of paddy that has fallen on to the ground due to the rain, and we have to salvage it once the rains cease by hand cutting as most cutting machines cannot work on fallen paddy. The large combine harvesters are capable of raising fallen paddy, but they can only be used in large fields unlike most of the farmers in this area. (for a related intellectual discussion on paddy farming see

a while since my update due to a period of difficulty

While I have not updated my blogs for a while, I have been extremely busy these past two months on trouble shooting matters that seem to occur incessantly on a daily basis, making me wonder what is in store for me today. The issues have been many fold and cannot be isolated as to reason or type or even an unforeseen event. Even for my personality, which is of an optimistic disposition it has been hard to take given the already traumatic events of 2008.

They have included a vehicle repair arising out of the gear or stick shift coming into my hand, and that meant I was not able to make sales on schedule, resulting in loss of revenue, and a shortage of funds, to say nothing of the added expense of the repair.

A whole family of monkeys have taken up residence at the back of the farm house in Godagama and have already done considerable damage to the banana trees and my one and only avocado tree along with drinking coconut and king coconuts, which they do with their sharp teeth. We are forbidden to kill them even though they are now vermin and in substantial numbers as to be pests more harmful than rats. In these times we are not able to get gun permits to try and deter them. Lighting of fire-crackers is of absolutely no use in this regard as they have become used to this ruse.

One of the permanent staff has just failed to turn up to work and looks unlikely he will return. I need to find a replacement quickly. Two of the female staff contracted the dreaded “chickengunya” fever and have been out of work for over a week, resulting in a considerable loss to productive output of the farm as the females in Sri Lanka are more productive than to males, whatever the chauvinistic males say. To make matters worse the cattle keeper is out with the flu, and it is hard to keep the herd of cattle of about 15 washed and cleaned as well as milked.

Another of the men Gamini, a father of four who is an alcoholic, knocked a borrowed trishaw on the morning after his daughter’s wedding, and has broken his knee-cap etc. and is out of action for months. He had borrowed money for his daughter’s wedding on the promise of payback soon after by way of payroll deduction. When will I ever see the color of that! It is a double whammy disaster of an essential coconut tree climber and tractor operator being out for perhaps four months.
This when added to the nuisance value of a non working man with no funds and family to support, however still funding his drink and bothering others and utilizing free accommodation and produce is more than I can take. There is only so long one can live on charity which is what he is doing. The other day my father took dry rations to his home to help out. What he does not then realize is that the money he receives by way of charity will further enrich his needs which ironically are supplied by his wife as he has no way of getting the stuff.

The bride groom also works for me and so with his wedding to Gamini’s daughter, his attendance is also suspect, and he is the only one who is capable of using the petrol grass cutting machine, and my cows too have had much less to eat, resulting in a drop of milk for sale, arising from all of the above.

The usual man who comes to cut the king coconuts (has been for the past 25 years) has been very erratic in his arrivals lately as he wants even more per nut to cut and tree to climb, and so my king coconut sales have suffered even more than I had calculated due to the wet weather.

With 50% less staff working for the past two weeks my place is in a state of shambles, not putting it too bluntly.

My alternative refuge in Polonnaruwa is full of election talk, preventing the finish of my kitchen in Ratmale, and water shortage for my paddy at this critical juncture, which I have had to resolve by pumping water at great expense to ensure I don’t lose my rice crop which is due for harvest in less than a month.

This tale of woe is kind of the worst it has got so far, with no obvious resolution and I only hope I can relate some better news next time, but I am hanging in there by the skin of my teeth and only just. I have been able to weather this due to my capacity to live on air and not much else.

I have the greatest admiration for businessmen who have started with little and have achieved a lot as it is with a lot of sacrifice and patience, and hope that things will improve that they have been able to finally get to where they are now. Those reading my blog can offer one-word solutions like fire the lot, or sell the property and retire to the jungle, but all these words of advice are easier said than done.