Wednesday, October 22, 2008

5 days working in Colombo 2001

I know seven years ago but I have been thinking about it again. It was a month before 9/11 happenings in the US when I went to Sri Lanka. I still think about the people I met and wonder how they are getting along. I am always impressed how humans just adapt to the world around them and get on with living. Hooray for life.

We leave the five star hotel. At the beginning of our journey, every few metres we pass a soldier with a gun. They stand on the road watching the traffic. This is the route the politicians drive to work.
The cars and tuktuks, who pay little attention to road rules, are squeezed together down to one lane. Beside us are two lanes of metal barricades. Then there is a large wall against which dirt and sandbags have been piled. Atop the wall is barbed wire and at intervals along the wall are soldiers, guns at the ready. It is the Prime Minister’s house.
Later we drive past the prison. I only know it is prison because my host waves at a nondescript building that closely resembles those around it but with a thin coil of barbed wire along the top of the outer wall. It would seem it is not the prisoners the citizens are afraid of.
High walls and solid metal gates divide buildings into boxes. Every one employs a guard to open the gate after checking who is coming in.
At the laboratory we have new problems I haven’t experienced. Ants had got into the water bottle through the little air hole.
The guard opens the gate for us to leave at lunchtime. At a fast food restaurant, a man in the carpark shows us where to park. He wears a uniform very similar to the police uniform.
When we leave he stands out in traffic to help us rejoin the non stop flow of cars.
After lunch I am given a tour of the laboratories. In the virology lab on a shelf in a glass case, sits a stuffed dog with rabies.
Driving home we pass a Leyland shop. There is a whole pile of engines for sale, all nicely painted in bright tonka toy red.
The next morning driving back to the laboratory we cram past a little rickety table with all the other trucks and cars, belching diesal and petrol fumes. On the wooden table, there is no ice, no covering, just rows of fish sitting beside a busy roundabout in high humidity.
That night I am taken out for dinner by the head of the company and his wife.
They take me to a restaurant that recaptures the old colonial days. Guards in safari suits and hats are at each entrance.
We sit out on the stone terrace overlooking the sea and sip cool drinks while we are entertained by traditional dance performances. As with getting anywere in this city, to reach here we drove over chalk murals marking where bombs have exploded. The conversation we are having over drinks is about children. My hosts tell me they are not planning on having any children. They think it is irresponsible to bring children into such an unstable and dangerous environment.
Later one of the doctors admits to me, that in her heart, she did not think I would come. They thought I would be put off by a recent bombing at the airport. I did wonder as a flew out if I was making a stupid mistake but how can you not help where you can? The world sometimes is not so big.

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5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.