Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Several people have written to ask if I was anywhere near the small mortar attack on some dignitaries in Batticaloa yesterday.

I wasn't, although it did cause the cancellation of a meeting I was going to attend.

International NGOs and international workers are welcomed here, especially by the rebels who attacked yesterday, so we aren't being targeted. (It was the other way around in Afghanistan.) And I don't live or work near the people who occasionally are.

So no worries!

Monday, February 26, 2007


On the weekend my friends and colleagues Dr. Rana and Dr. Khaleda went to Plonnanuwa, north and inland from Batticaloa. It's got thousand-year-old antiquities and lots of historical importance but while Khaleda went to study all that stuff I, at least, concentrated on having a luxurious massage (though I didn't like the way the maseuse was poking my feet and it was hard to get him to stop), steam bath, and curiously cool herbal sauna. (I don't think it was properly turned on.)

Merlin Sri Lanka's Maternal Child Health specialist Dr. Khaleda Islam. Hotel Sudu Araliya, Polonnanuwa, Sri Lanka.
Khaleda. Hotel Sudu Araliya, Polonnanuwa, Sri Lanka.
We stayed at the Hotel Sudu Araliya which is very tastefully arranged.
Lotus. Hotel Sudu Araliya, Polonnanuwa, Sri Lanka.

Rear terrace giving onto rear lawn. Hotel Sudu Araliya, Polonnanuwa, Sri Lanka.

Entrance moat. Hotel Sudu Araliya, Polonnanuwa, Sri Lanka.

On the way back from Pollonnanuwa we saw lots more wild and not so wild life. Sri Lanka has a lot more cattle than Liberia, Afghanistan or Eritrea.

Interested cattle. Near Polonnanuwa, Sri Lanka.

The best moment of the ride home was like the ride there - we saw another elephant! Having had enough lush grass for the moment this one ambled around and then contentedly flung dirt on his back and scratched one rear leg with the other. As you do, on a Sunday afternoon.
Jumbo's brother 'Jumbo'. Near Polonnanuwa, Sri Lanka.

Seeing Jumbo reminded me to read 'Akimbo and the Elephants'. Alexander McCall Smith is very clever at making good protagonistis out of characters who are good people. Few other authors can make impeccable stories about impeccable people.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jumbo and friends

My friends and colleagues Dr. Rana and Dr. Khaleda rode with me yesterday from our base in Batticaloa to Polonnaruwa where today I had a nice long massage, steam bath, and other treatments that come highly recommended for any hard working Project Coordinator.

On the way here the driver suddenly called out 'elephant!!'

This bull was ambling around, eating tall grass and keeping a sharp eye on us although not as sharp as the eye our driver kept on him... he had the engine running and the car in gear just in case.

Although I once rode an elephant called "Small Ears" for hours through the jungle of western Thailand this was my first wild elephant. He walked casually towards us and then passed behind - presumably towards greener grass.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka is a haven for birds. There's a serious risk that I'll have to buy an expensive new lens.

I think the rotation of this picture can be blamed on a bump in the road - I've 'never' shaken an image myself. I like the effect though.

Though a symbol of India (and of a tasty beer, reputable airline and now a collectible bathing beauties calendar) this Kingfisher looked quite at home in Sri Lanka.

Stork? Crane? (Pigeon? Chicken? I'm expecting Sue, Sandra, or Steve to let me know. UPATE: Mari has proposed that it's a "long beaked eagle". Nice. But I'm waiting for a second opinion. UPDATE: Steve did in fact pitch in to say it is a stork, probably a Woolly-necked Stork, Ciconia episcopus. But, in his words: "I will give Mari points for her, uh, *creative* guess")

Now even I know that this is a peacock. We saw peahens too. Again, I'd never seen them in the wild before.

Moving on to something more important...

...our route paralleled part of the railway from Batticaloa to Colombo which we're not allowed to ride because of security risks.

I hope to be able to ride this train before I leave Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Another great read

I've just finished an excellent book I'd like to recommend.

It's 'Saturday' by Ian McEwan.

It's a very thoughtful thriller takes 279 pages to describe 24 hours in a very interesting man's very interesting life.

The funny thing is - I can NOT remember how it appeared on my shelf. Ian McEwan is completely new to me and now I want to read more. Did anybody recommend it to me? I'm beginning to forget this sort of thing. Goodness, I hope some wonderful friend didn't give it to me... Comments? [Update: it turns out it was recommended to me by my wonderful friend Marga. I think I'm getting that disease that I can't remember the name of...]

[Note to self: enter 'Saturday' onto 2007 reading list ... once Merlin replaces my pirated copy of Windows XP with a version that will allow me to re-install Dreamweaver...]

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Photo contest entries

Here are three photos I've entered in the current PhotoLife "Best Black & White" competition:

Fern Cottage, Yorkshire

County Hotel, London

Stormont, Northern Ireland

Three pictures of Batticaloa

Here are three pictures from my walk this afternoon.
Shy shopkeepers.

Abandoned (I think) cinema

School yard

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jimmy Carter

I've just finished this book. I liked it particularly for the regional history (ancient and 20th Century) and the history of the conflict. Jimmy's solutions match what I've always thought and I don't really understand the controversy.

Any comments?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunshine Bakery

Sunshine Bakery, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.

Today I went out for a walk with my camera, hoping to find something nice or interesting to photograph. Sometimes things can be very interesting without being nice but today the only scenes that seemed to qualify either way were police checkpoints, which I'm not ready to photograph.

I ended up at the Sunshine Bakery where they have great samosas (even the veggie ones are delicious) and the best hot cheese balls.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Type size and a dear friend's blog

Two readers (both now within 30 years of being 'of a certain age') commented that I'd been making my type too small. So I've enlarged it and I hope they'll keep reading.

My friend Christa has just started her blog. It looks great!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Palameen Madu IDP camp

This large camp is on the beach. The tents were provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

My friend Steve in Richland, Washington State, wrote the following in response to my 'Migration' post. I don't think he'll mind me quoting him.

"Strongly advise against swimming with the crocs in front of the temple. I believe the primate in the picture is a 'temple monkey' also known as a toque macaque. Known for its wonderful 1920s hairstyle. They are just so behind the times, unlike our good-ole-US-of-A monkeys currently infesting Washington D.C."

I miss you Steve, you crazy guy!!

Mamangam temple and IDP camp

Mamangam temple (right rear), Mamangam IDP camp (left rear). Storks, herons and what might have been a crane enjoy the sacred pond where fishing is prohibited due to proximity to the temple. Supposedly, crocodiles will accept treats of rice at dusk. (To be experimentally confirmed.)

Mamangam temple.

Mamangam temple.

This Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Mamangam holds 60 families. Another 60 are located in a nearby school yard. The families were displaced by fighting in the Vakarai area north of Batticaloa around January 19.

Friday, February 2, 2007


Welcome to my newest blog format (and location). (Here is the last of the previous posts and here is the main index of all of those posts.) I have given up some design freedom (which I wasn't really exploiting) for quicker and more computer-independent updates.

I'm settling into work and life in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. (I work for Merlin, a UK health NGO.) Batticaloa was devastated by the December 26 2004 tsunami which swept across the sandbar in the foreground of the photo above with a wave that swamped all those trees. The building in the centre of the far shore is the Merlin office - the water flooded seven feet deep there. Where I live, several hundred metres farther inland the water reached three feet deep.

I've been surprised by several of the things I've observed and experienced so far. My job is much more bureaucratic and less hands-on than the nominally equivalent job I was doing last year in Liberia. I've had to buy some 'real' shirts and I've already been to an awful lot of meetings. Our Merlin staff design and lead programs - school health, infection control, community health development, facility reconstruction and dental care - but none except the dentists actually provide treatment. The fact that we even provide dental care puts our program in context: this is not the overstretched primary health care situation of Liberia. There are still some emergency aspects to our work but this is mainly development. We are building and equipping health facilities but we don't have much to do with their operation. The government, while understaffed, is a lot more able to do this than was the case in Liberia. And while a lot of our beneficiaries are IDPs - displaced either by the tsunami or by the ongoing conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Government of Sri Lanka (and a loosely aligned Tamil breakaway group), their temporary shelter is of higher standard than most Liberians could dream of.

Anyway, life is very pleasant here. I live in a very comfortable home with virtually full-time electricity, hot water, and a much better variety of restaurants than Buchanan, Liberia. I work with another wonderful team and I think we're going to get along very well.

My first few days in Sri Lanka were spent in Colombo, which has most modern conveniences and some very nice restaurants. The drive across from Colombo to Batticaloa was lovely. (The roads I've seen are much smoother than Liberian roads.) We spent a night up in Kandy which has cool air, nice hotels and splendid views. Farther on we saw these Temple Monkeys, also known as a toque macaques (Thanks Steve for the identification!), and then spent a night in Ampara, here on the east coast, before reaching Batticaloa. I'm looking forward to seeing more of all these places but I'm also told that Sri Lanka has very many more lovely places to visit.

Best wishes to all.