My day starts at 6.30am when my alarm goes off. Of course, I set it to snooze a couple of times and eventually get up at 7am. This will no doubt change when my room mates arrive in the next couple of weeks. The morning starts with a nice cold shower (eurgh!) just as the call to school starts up from over the road. This is a collection of songs, blessings, prayers and chants to remind the students to get a move on and lasts for about half an hour. Once I’m ready, complete with sun cream and insect repellant, breakfast is a bowl of cornflakes and a yogurt then it’s off to catch the bus. There’s one about every 10 minutes and it’s only 20 metres or so to the bus stop. Once on board we travel slowly for 10km to get to work – for the price of 18p! Work is at an orphanage for girls with learning and physical disabilities – although for a couple of them the ‘disability’ is dyslexia and those are the girls who need lots of stimulation. In the mornings I work with the adults who don’t go to school. Some of the girls have been abandoned by their families. Those that can usefully work after the age of 20 do so, the others stay here and help look after the youngsters, do the washing in the river, help cook meals and keep the place tidy. We generally spend our mornings doing puzzles, playing games and having a go at art and craft work, with varying degrees of success. We then serve lunch for the school aged girls (and the boy or two who live there as well). It’s rice and curry, brought each day by neighbours in turn and usually fish based. We put a helping each onto a metal plate and put each serving ready for the girls when they come back from school. As you can imagine, doing sixty meals takes a while, so food is usually cold by the time the girls eat. My lunch comes from the remainder of the food, although it’s taken from its large plastic bowls and put into nice china ones before it then goes onto my plate!
In the afternoons my ‘class’ grows to nearly sixty! Sometimes we play games with the parachute or the basketball, other times we do colouring in. We’ve done a lot and one wall of the dining room is now covered in artwork.
At about 3pm I tidy up and cross the road to wait for the bus. The journey home is always quicker, and if you sit too close to the back of the bus you get shaken and jolted with every pothole – and there are lots. The stop I get off at has a man selling fish there too – real ones for keeping in a tank, not ones for eating. My host family are still at work so the maid lets me in. She’ll bring me a drink and insist that it’s her job to do my washing, as I clearly can’t work the machine! My host family are lovely. The dad works for the electricity board and has a good level of English, the mum works for the health department and tries hard with her English. I’m picking up a bit of Singhala at work, but it’s not really any use in conversation (pencil, paper, elephant, monkey, flower…). The youngest son is still at home, he’s 20 and we watch the cricket and the football on the TV together. His English is quite good, but he is reluctant to use it. The house is large and my room is upstairs, complete with my own bathroom (no bath, of course, just a shower). Afternoons and evenings then involve reading, listening to music, talking to my host family or perhaps a trip to the beach to watch the sea which takes 10 minutes. The sea isn’t good for swimming in, it’s far too rough. Other times I’ll go to Kaluthera which is the town, it’s 4km away so that takes probably just over half an hour. There are lots of shops there, some only sell on thing, like seats for the car, others are confusing. A ‘hotel’ is really a café, and a ‘bookshop’ also sells a wide range of craft equipment. I got a jigsaw puzzle from a shop that seemed to be selling mostly plastic things for the home. At the moment, it’s still monsoon season, which means at any moment it might rain, so my umbrella is my constant companion, along with my hat, my sun cream and my camera.
Weekends are different. I get to meet up with the other volunteers who currently range in age from 17 to 50 and come from all over the world. We travel to distant parts of Sri Lanka. Parts that would take someone living in England a couple of hours to reach take anything up to six hours, due to a combination of bad roads, strange driving and an overcrowded public transport system. So far I’ve been to the rainforest, a National Park where we saw wild elephants rather close up, a beach which has a Coral conservation area and the ‘Ancient Cities’ which are the ruins of civilisations from 2500 years ago. When we were at the Ancient Cities – which are between four and six hours drive from each other – it was Poya weekend, which means the Buddhists were celebrating a full moon. They do this every month, so every full moon is a day off work. It meant that the ruins and temples we had gone to visit were very busy and everywhere we went people were staring at these six white girls, wondering what we were doing there.
On Sunday evenings I get a chance to use the internet at home and catch up with my journal, as well as reading the Sunday paper. Sri Lankan English is very different to the way we use English, so sometimes I have to read it several times to work out what it’s saying. It’s warm at night, so I have a fan on and have to sleep under a mosquito net which makes my bed look like something a princess might sleep in. I fight with it most nights when I forget it’s there!