Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nuwara Eliya

Old woman, Single Tree Hill, Nuwara Eliya

Sunday, April 22, 2007

family Pachyderm, order Proboscidea, class Mammalia, species Elephas maximus, subspecies Elephas maximus maximus (Sri Lankan elephant)

On the road today between Colombo and Ampara we passed an elephant sanctuary and saw this beauty. I don't precisely know how wild she (female Asian elephants have no tusks) is - this shot was taken between the strands of an electric fence and I think she was hoping for an apple. But the main thing is that this was the closest I've approached an elephant that isn't wearing a gaudy red gown. That's not really a joke; I petted a ceremonial elephant a few weeks ago. I have also, by the way, ridden an elephant for several hours through a Thai jungle, which is also a distinctly different experience from tourist rides that emphasize that, for the elephant's sake, you mustn't wear spike-heeled shoes.
Here's some excellent information about the distinction between African and Indian elephants (of which Sri Lankan elephants are the largest subspecies): African elephants have ears shaped like Africa and Indian elephants have ears shaped like ... India!!!!! (This is not a joke.)
I've grown extremely fond of elephants. While it's true that I may no longer ask my driver to stop when I see one in the distance, this one was too close to ignore. So this is currently my definitive Elephas maximus maximus photo.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Photo etiquette?

Selvarasa Srirangan's father, Batticaloa, April 17 2007.

I hope you like this picture. It's the father of one of our drivers, sitting in front of his house. I asked his permission and snapped the shot last night when I thought the light was perfect.

I like the shot but there's another reason I'm posting it: to challenge a rule of etiquette. His wife died the night before and the family had cremated her two hours previously. When he'd greeted me he burst into tears and Sri's was trembling throughout my visit. So was it wrong for me to ask permission to take the picture? I don't believe there should be any firm rule. Of course, if the person asked is not free for politeness or another reason to answer honestly then it's wrong. But people (all over the world) often like being photographed and Sri's father admired the result in my camera's display. I think it's condescending to assume that a portrait shot is unwelcome.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Temporary shelter in Arayampathi, Batticaloa

About 630 people have now been living in this school (which therefore can not operate) for nearly five weeks.

They fled into this community near Batticaloa when government 'rebel clearance' (artillery fire and multi-barrel rocketry) directed at them made their homes and rice paddies unsafe.

Conditions are survivable - the World Food Programme provides food and Merlin helps with mobile medical clinics - but these people must soon be given tents and their own space unless peace and reconstruction can tempt them back to their homes.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Truth About Tea

Dr. Khaleda Islam at the Tea Centre.

Two colleagues and I went to Nuwara Eliya last weekend and toured the Tea Centre at the Pedro Tea Estate which spreads for miles around this 2000m elevation respite from Sri Lanka's heat. We saw the whole factory process (photography not allowed) and of course ended up in the tasting room with fine china cups of the brightest orange pekoe I'd ever seen. Not that I'm a connoisseur because as it happens - I dislike most tea.

Anyway the machinery was marvelous (I love this stuff) - especially a big grinding machine that moves a top half around an eccentric over a lower half with spiral ridges that grinds or pulverises or in some other way really beats up the tea. One room of the factory was about 40 degrees C. and another was filled with fine dust that Dr. Khaleda is sure is dangerous. We asked why the workers don't wear masks and were told that it's too hot to wear them comfortably.

Our colleague Dr. Ravi revealed more back in Batticaloa. He used to work in Nuwara Eliya, treating the thousands of women that pluck tea for cuppas around the world. They earn 150 to 180 Rupees a day (less than USD $2) when they start and will work for decades without an increment. They are not given time off for medical care. They tend to injure their necks and backs (from carrying bags of tea with tump lines) and suffer abrasions and arthritis in their hands.

What is there left to drink?