Thursday, April 30, 2009

Up, up and away!

LP gas goes up in a few hours time I hear.

No real surprise I guess given that the PC Elections are over and done with.

I wonder what else is gonna go up - rice, dhal, bread utilities, cake?

No matter people, we harvest what we sow, all this will only affect the bourgeoisie middle class, the poor still use fire wood after all, eat manioc and rice... oh wait, what happens if. when rice goes up too

Alas, poor Sri Lanka!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Desert Winds

I've written about the Harmatan winds before this but never felt I did justice to the phenomenon

A picture speaks a 1000 words? You be the judge

The wind comes carrying along with it dust blown off the sand dunes of the Sahara. As the winds touch the city it picks up urban litter, poly bags, pieces of paper, light debris, even small stones!

The grit gets everywhere, into the house, into your clothes, your nose your mouth.

The sky darkens, red sometimes, Grey at others

Its warm

You suspect its warm when you break into a sweat after a hot cup of tea. or perhaps its the warm air that the fan throws at you when you turn it on to cool down. Another possible sign is finding yourself sprinkling water on the bed sheets before taking an afternoon nap.

I'm trying work it out, just how warm has warm got to be before you call it hot? Is it hot when the only place really cool is the chair in the living room just a foot away from the AC or you wait till 3am o take a plunge into the pool?

It must be at least warm, I mean why else would I go through 3 liters of water a day? Why else would I sweat so badly that my shirt sticks to my back - or was it cos I didn't dry off after a shower in the hope of staying cool?

It has to be at least warm, why else would I even consider that this is worth blogging about unless it was so so warm that my brains were fried and short circuiting?

Is that like 45 degree Celsius on the gauge? Thats like 113 degree Fahrenheit!

It must be hot

Monday, April 27, 2009

So forgiving

And so it seems that the denizens of the Western Province have let loose even more animals out on to the street

Why? Do we really want to be 'lead' by the likes of them? Are we so uncouth as to be taken in by sequins and color and music, life is not a Bollywood movie

Alas, poor Sri Lanka!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Magical moments

I was inspired to pen this after reading Kirigalpoththa's blog about he's adventures, hiking and camping around Sri Lanka. Brought back a few memories of mine!

Under the stars in Marichchukkadi

The Northern boundary of Wilpattu is a a place called Marichchukkadi, a sparsely settled area. It was here that my dad took me on my first shoot at a time when it was still possible to do such things in Sri Lanka. By this time he had limited his bag to wild boar and hare's, the former thriving in the jungles, raiding chena's and paddy fields in the night.

On the other hand I had developed a healthy respect for life, irrespective of spices, preferring to watch animals in their natural habitat, bringing home one stray after another to the pretend exasperation of my mother.

SO, the reality was that I was there for the ride, for the opportunity of staying up all night dressed in hiking boots, jeans, a t shirt and a hand painted camouflaged jacket.

If I close my eyes right now, I can see that night, a cold clear night with the wind around be as I sat in the back of the open jeep, looking up at the crystal clear sky pricked with brilliant dots of white light, stars in their millions. I hear the wind in my ears, the sound of the engine, the smell of the earth...

Elephant in the Moonlight

Much later, now as a young man I discovered Diyaluma, the 630 odd foot water fall on the Koslanda - Welawaya road. There are two paths that eventually take you to the top of these falls, there you will find something that very few people know of - that all that water pouring off the top does so through a mouth that is perhaps two feet wide at the most if not less.

I chose to spend a night up there once, armed with a sleeping bag.

Just to the right of the edge there is a flat rock, large enough to accommodate me and my site. That night as I sat there toasting my marshmallows and chocolate, feeling the back spray from the falls over me was a perfect night. The quietness, the calmness of the night soothed my soul, music to my ears.

Later on as I lay there on my back, arms behind my head looking up at a nights sky, shooting stars streaked across the heavens granting me wish after wish.

The magical moment of that night happened early in the morning when I woke up around 3. Looking up stream, in the moonlight I see an elephant, a wild elephant at the streams edge, drinking water...

Meteor showers

I cant remember if it was the Perseid or the Leonids meteor shower of 2000. Which ever one it was, it was expected to be seen at around 1 am and I wanted so badlyh to watch it.

At the time I was living in Mattakuliya, Crow Island to be exact, in a house which was right on the beach. Given that the location was in close proximity to the Colombo Port it was frequently patrolled by the Police as well as the Navy.

Stepping out on the beach I walked towards the sea to put some distance between me and the few street lights that still worked. Turning around I fixed my gaze towards the East and waited. It was not long before the shower began and soon the sky was periodically lit as the meteors lit up hitting the atmosphere.

So enthralled was I that remained unaware of anyone behind me till I heard an officious voice ask me 'Mokade karanne?" (What are you doing?) No surprise who that was!

Not wanting to miss any part of the show I barely turned round as I gave name and address. As to what I was doing, I invited them to see, and having directed their attenting towards the sky, stepped back to see what would happen.

The "Ooo's" and "Ah's" that emitted from the three as they saw the lights brought a smile to my lips, somehow I don't think it was an evening they would quite forget

Single black female seeks companionship

This is creative advertising indeed, easily one of the best singles ads ever printed. It is reported to have been listed in the Atlanta Journal.

SINGLE BLACK FEMALE seeks companionship, ethnicity unimportant. I'm a very good girl who LOVES to play. I love long walks in the woods, riding in your pickup truck, hunting, camping and fishing trips, cozy winter nights lying by the fire. Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand. I'll be at the front door when you get home from work, wearing only what nature gave me. Call (404) 875-6420 and ask for Daisy, I'll be waiting....

Over 150 men found themselves talking to the Atlanta Humane Society.

Thanks D, I had to post it after reading your mail

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Willie!

Never sure if I should celebrate your birthday or mourn your death today.

So I party from dawn to dusk and mourn you thereafter

What is it people?

All of a sudden the blogging community seem to have found grand new depths to crawl around in - what is it people?

Nothing wrong in disagreeing with someone's post, everyone has a right to an opinion, and for quite sometime it seemed to me that the SL blogspehere reflected that.

I've found posts that were stimulating, some that were weird, some inane, others insane, but they were all opinions posted by different people of different hues with differing opinions, thoughts and ideas.

I've laughed at some of them, red a few wondering what the heck that person was talking about, been amused by pompass ass's, touched by the soul burning prose and poetry of others.

Some blog in their true personality, others perhaps take on the guise of a different person all together, no real harm to it I thought. Ebony and Ivory and while bricks and stones might break my bones, words really could not hurt me, at least so it should have been in the blogsphere.

Now though things seem to be taking a turn for the nasty, the language becoming vitriolic, people forgetting or choosing to ignore the point about respecting people's privacy. Why?

Be nice people, ours is a small community and not every one has the skills of old William Shakespeare - Its he's birthday today by the way. Criticize by all means, constructively, perhaps consider not saying anything about anyone unless you had something nice to say.

And perhaps leave those feuds, primadonna/ macho cat/ dog fights out there in the real world when you step into cyberspace?

Be nice, treat people the way you would have them treat you, life is too short, really, to waste hurting people.

My dolls

I've had dolls.

I now have two more- these two are a little different than the Action Man figures I used to play with as a child.

These two are West African voodoo dolls, the kind that are used by Togolese and Beninese witchdoctors practicing their art.

Crudely curved out of a light wood, the images are an approximate of male and female characteristics - genitalia and mammary glands if anyone is wondering!

Now, inanimate as they are there is something about them that contradicts that, somehow, in some in tangible way, they seem to have energy.

The result of an over active imagination fueled by Hollywood depictions of voodoo, juju and witchcraft? I don't know...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pope John Paul, the Virgin Mary and Chief Mlapa III

On the northern shore of Lake Togo lies Togoville, the historical center of voodoo in Togo.. Its from here that voodoo was introduced to Haiti when practitioners of the art arrived there as slaves.

Togo's name comes from the Ewe word togodo meaning behind the lake.

Europeans arrived here in the 16th century, the prevailing power vacuum allowed them to use the country as a conduit for slave trading.

Togoville has a colorful history, in 1884 it was here that Chief Mlapa III signed a peace treaty with a German explorer, effective giving the Germans rights over all of Togoland.Under them, till WW1 the country underwent quite a bit of economic development - not always appreciated by the Togolese themselves who objected to the Germans forced labor , direct tax and pacification campaigns.

During WW1, the Germans surrendered to British and French forces, the Allies first victory in the war - and Togoland was subsequently split into two - part to the British to join what is present day Ghana and the other to the French.

Independence for Togo, from France came around in 1960. In 1963 Togo became the first African country to have a military coup after independence. Since then there have been a few more, the most recent attempt supposedly last week when the President had his brother the ex Minister of Defense arrested on coup charges.

Pope John Paul II made a visit to Togo and Togoville in 1984 following the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary on the lake. He was paddled across sitting on Chief Malapa III's throne which was set upon a large fibre glass canoe. A shrine to the Virgin commemorates her appearance and that of the Pope.

The Mlapa dynasty is now toppled, though its possible to see the throne and some old pics of the former chiefs inside the Maison Royal

Monday, April 20, 2009

Soap, salt and suger

Poverty in Africa is of the extreme kind, its not comparable with what we associate with as poverty in Sri Lanka - here poverty means watching people die, it means not having access to clean water or proper sanitation.

Bassamba while not an extream case still falls into that category with poverty all around you - whether it is the bone thin children with bloated bellies, or the lack of clean drinking water let alone enough to grow crops, poverty prevails in all its darkness here.

"Helping out' can be many things, it does not always have to be a big thing - too many times we stop short of helping someone thinking that perhaps it's not enough. The truth is what ever you can do does help - perhaps not changing a life, but if you can bring a smile to someone who has little reason to do so, me thinks you have done enough.

On the return trip back North heading home I went back to Bassamba, this time with a few gifts - bars of washing soap, little packets of suger and salt, biscuits, a plastic bucket to replace the rudely cut plastic can they used to draw water from the depths of their single well - small things indeed, but perhaps enough to make things a little easier at least perhaps for a day or two.

Women around the world, irrespective of where they come from, are more likely than to like a cake of perfumed toilet soap - or so I thought. Judging by the smiles on the faces of the women when I handed each of them a cake I was right.

My perfect moment was to come a little later on though as I drove back along the dirt track towards the sealed road - two girls walking back from the market place in the hot sun. Stopping I handed them the last two pieces of soap I had with me and pulled away. Looking back in my side mirror I see the two of them breaking into dance, stamping their feet in the dust, twirling around, waving in the air a hand, each in which they clasped a bar of laundry soap.

So little to bring a smile

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Voodoo Dolls

Togo and Benin are the voodoo centers of West Africa, originally called vodun meaning 'the hidden' or 'the mystery', from the Fon and Ewe of the Dahomey Kingdom.

For my second night in Togo I picked the border town Aneho, 2km west of the Benin border. The colonial capital till 1920 and a major slave trading point before that.

Voodoo is strong here, and the various components required by a practitioner to be found at the back of the Market; something I was determined to discover for myself.

Tuesday morning found me strolling around what is so reminiscent of a 'Pola' with vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to rubber slippers from China.

Eventually I found myself at one corner and as expected, the wooden dolls, snake heads and monkey skulls so critical for the magic!

Voodoo got its current name in Haiti and Cuba when the religion brought by slaves from West Africa and mixed it with Catholicism. Originally known as Vodun it is for millions of Togolese and Beninese an ordinary part of every day life sans the dark side to it which has been what has been emphasized by Hollywood.

The practice conforms to the general pattern of West African religion, with one primary god Mawu surrounded by a host of lesser spirits ethnically tied to their followers and the part of the spirit world in habited by a persons ancestors.

Traditional priests or Juju men are consulted for their power to reach across the ether to consult with the gods and spirits involving a 'sacrifice' or gift of palm wine, gin or food such as eggs, chicken and goats. The grace of of the spirits is essential for protection and prosperity while some spirits can be called upon for darker deeds

Aneho is filled with dying buildings with faded paint, the remains of Colonial rule. A beautiful church offered a beautiful representation of the architecture from an era long gone.

PS:I'm probably too old for dolls, but I just had to get my own pair of voodoo ones!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Of goats and Tata's

I'm back, after a 7 day trip covering 2000km along the length of a country, from border to sea!

Left Ouaga early Sunday morning, heading SSE towards the frontier with Togo. This trip I have to confess was undertaken with some trepidation, partially based upon the fact that I had been told that road conditions were poor and partially based upon the fact that the wheels have been playing up, requiring in the space of four days a radiator and a shock replacement. That coupled with an odd noise or two did have me worried - this is Africa after all!

As I drove along the familiar stretch leading to Koupela, ahead of me the sky split in two, dark and light vertical bands, the edge of a shower of rain, a sight I managed to capture but which in no way does justice to the magnificence of the real thing, reminding me of scenes from the movie 'Twister"

Turning South after filing the tank I was in new territory heading towards the border along a road, which was not bad at all, so far.

Border crossings in and out of Burkina are pleasant, especially the overland ones. Togo was another story, having been stamped the Immigration Officer kept my passport in hand asking for a 'gift', one I laughed off on this occasion - its not good to be noted as a soft touch

The drive thereafter was surprisingly fun, unlike the Burkina Togo is greener, almost lush in vegetation, so SL in appearance. The lay of the gradually undulating as I moved South, closer towards the gentle hills I could see in the distance.

I was trying to make good time for I had a small detour in mind - to visit the Tamberma Valley, for a look at its unique collection of fortified villages. To protect themselves from slave trading Benin's Dahomeyan kings the ancestors of these people fled to the valley in the 17th century to life in these fortress like "Tata's".

A typical Tamberma compound consists of a series of towers connected by a thick wall and a single entrance chamber which is used to trap intruders. The ground floor consists of a two alcoves to the left and right of the entrance, one used for pounding millet, the other for preparing the food. Next comes the entrapment room which is also used to house the fetishes that protect the Tata. From there a narrow door leads into the kitchen from which access is allowed to the second story and living area.

Built of clay covered logs - the 'cement' a mix of clay and straw and no tools which is amazing given the size of the structure.

Life revolves around the elevate area where the occupants cook, dry their millet and corn, and spend most of their leisure time.

Bassamba is a village of 350 people, who's main economic activity is agricultural growing corn and millet for consumption and sale and brewing millet beer. Men and young boys hunt using bow and arrows and traditionally when a man is old enough to start his own family he shoots and arrow, building his Tata where it falls.

The poverty is extreame, poverty is a way of life in Africa and it makes me realize just how much I have and how much of that falls into the category of 'nice to have' as opposed to 'need to have'.

Having declined an offer of a wife, a rather sweet village lass, I bid adieu as I left to continue my journey

The goat? I had a run in with one at 120km, smashed a light and dented the bonnet...

To come, voodoo dolls, the Virgin Mary, soap, salt and suger - see more at flickr

Friday, April 10, 2009

Living in West Africa cont

I love living out here, but like all places there are a few things that do annoy me. The most frustrating one is trying to get a job of work done at a fair price. On top of the fact that EVERYONE seems to be trying to make a fast buck its no help that I have two handicapped by the fact that I am obviously not a local and that I do not have a firm grasp of the language.

Bargaining in the market place over a piece of art, even the good natured banter with a border guard or customs office I enjoy - its the guys who are so blatantly out to make a fast buck that really really piss me off.

I think I'm ranting... not only did I have to spend the entire day trying to get the radiator fixed, but the maid had her bag flinched which meant I had to get the locks changed since her bunch of keys went missing too.

My weekend... I'm hoping will be a good one. I'm to leave for Togo on Sunday - apparently a rather adventurous decision on my part according to the almost everyone I've mentioned this to. The road "hasn't been repaired since the 2008 rains" I hear, which should make things interesting. Have given my self two days to make the 1000km trip to Lome with an open decision about which route I'll take on my way back. Worst case scenario I'll swing by Accra, Ghana, and drive North back to Burkina...

From what I've read, the route to Lome is a spectacularly scenic one through a range of mountains. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Life in a West African country

Its five months since I moved here to Burkina Faso and I'm looking back rather bemused by the entire thing.

While re location was something that was on the cards, it was more a project simmering in the back than an active one. When it did boil over, it happened at a speed that was unexpected as it was unlikely!

I had just got back to Colombo after a tour of the region, my annual pilgrimage to touch skin and bring myself up to speed on ground realities. But I digress.

Moving here has been a challenge - twice so due to the fact that I have had to grapple with the intricacies of a new language. And that is something that I have always found difficulty in, learning another language.

Burkina Faso, formally the Republic of Upper Volta, gained independence in 1960 from France. It had its first coup in 1966 when the army intervened after much civil unrest by student as and unions. Four years later a new constitution allowed for a military-civil government leading to the election of a democratic government in 1977.

Since then there have been 3 other coups, the most recent one in which current President Blaise COMPAORE came to power in a 1987 military coup and who has subsequently won every election since then.

BF has one of the worlds lowest GDP's, and agriculture represents 32% of the its gross domestic product - livestock, sorghum, pearl millet, maize, peanuts, rice and cotton.

In my five months here I become accustomed to leading a rather sedate, sheltered life style. Ouaga offers little in terms of entertainment, though there is a thriving art and culture scene patronized by western expats and the upper society of Burkinabè.

There is a lively club scene, a number of places that come alive closer to mid night, throbbing with a mix of Western, West African pop and traditional music. What ever is playing, the floors are packed as the night owls party the dark hours away. One interesting phenomenon I've seen across the region is the tendency for the girls to dance alone, facing the mandatory mirror on one wall... for a single guy, this can be a rather interesting spectacle indeed!

Dining out is a pleasure, and with dictionary in hand I've sat down to feast upon a range of cusines from Africa and around the world.

That said, the ability to enjoy a tradional west african staple meal is deffinitly aquired.

A typical West African meal is full of starchy items, meat, spices and flavors. The wide array for staples across the region is made up of Fufu, Banku, Kenkey, Couscous and Gari which are served alongside soups and stews. Fufu is generally prepared from starchy roots like yams, cocoyams, or cassava, but could also come from cereal grains or plantains. Banku and Kenkey are maize dough staples, and Gari is made from dried grated cassavas. Rice-dishes are eaten in the region, more so in the dry Sahel belt to the North. Examples of these include Benachin from the Gambia and Jollof rice, a pan-West African rice dish similar to Arab kabsah, with its origins from the Wolof people of Senegal.

The most popular spice is that of the seeds of Guinea pepper (Aframomum melegueta; also called grains of paradise or melagueta pepper) a native West African plant, were used as a spice.

Both tomatoes and chillies have become a basis of cooking apparently introduced by western cultures

In reality local cuisine and recipes of West Africa remain in local customs and traditions, with ingredients like rice, Bambara and Hausa groundnuts, black-eyed beans, brown beans, and root vegetables such as yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Cooking is done in multiple ways: roasting, baking, boiling, Frying, mashing, and spicing. A range of sweets and savories are also prepared. Plantains, peppers and green peas, citrus fruits, and pineapples, are legacy of slave ship traffic between Africa and the New World and Asia.

Water remains the preferred beverage in the region, usually the first thing to be offered to a guest. Green tea is very popular, especially amongst the Muslim population though the consumption of black tea seems to be increasing, albeit in small increments. Palm wine is also a common beverage made from the fermented sap of various types of palm trees and is usually sold in sweet (less-fermented, retaining more of the sap's sugar) or sour (fermented longer, making it stronger and less sweet) varieties.

More to come

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Girl RD

A new (kind of) Super Hero was born last week - one who stands up for women s rights, ' even the ugly ones' in touch with he's feminine side.

Its a bird, its a plane, no its Girl RD!

I'm a fan, and I really do mean this sincerely. It cant be easy being a Super Hero, especially when nasty bad guys who stare at women s breast decide to act all kindergarten and go around posting your mug on lamp posts - makes coming home to the family and claiming that it was just another day at the office hard to make

So, in tribute, let me give you our Super Hero Girl RD revealed!

Any resemblance to a real person or situation is purely coincidental (had to say that, else I might have the CID's of five countries, my ISP, mom , dad, estranged ex and god knows who else after me)

"Look mommmy, I wet my pants"

Kids I tell you, so cute they are - the things they do. Sometimes its un intentional, lost in a world of their own hardly aware of just how cute they are drawing, playing, splashing around in a puddle.

Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule too - those kids are creepy, those are the ones who rip wings off butterflies and look around to see if the world is applauding, those are the ones I wonder if they were kept too long at the breast or perhaps not enough, perhaps they were kept in their diapers till they were twelve, for what ever the reason the are the kids who go "Look mommmy, I wet my pants"

And then they grow up...

They get into fights, I knew of a chap, who was dating this really sweet girl, a chap who could not go into an empty public toilet and NOT get into a fight! How the heck do you do that?

Its strange the length to some people will actually go to to get some attention. Most of us just get drunk and act silly, walk around with a dopey look on our faces ogling the girls. A few on the other hand turn to venting their frustrations on random bits and pieces of furniture and attempting to re arrange someone else features.

The advert of the blogs has certainly taken things to an all new height indeed! Just a few weeks ago there was a short discussion about why one blogs, was it for self or not. I am of the school that subscribes to blogging for ones own pleasure - I think that if you do something out of passion and enthusiasm, then only do you do it well. And then perhaps someone out there may stumble upon it and find in it something that stricks a chord - now that's good stuff.

Then of course there are the "Look mommmy, I wet my pants" blogers who blog to get attention - these ones tend to lean towards the extrema in their apparent out look of life in general, preaching the high moral ground not un like those extremist who go around bombing and shooting random people all around the world.

Sad people, you got to feel sorry for them... but oh some of them are so good! The lengths that they go to, you got to give em credit for effort! There was this one chap with a duel personality, one male the other female... he's female persona would write nasty bitchy almost threatening e mails to the people who commented on the post he wrote! Now just how sicko is that? The thing is, if you look at he's blog a majority of he's posts do take a rather high moral stand, there is just no live and let live with this chap at all. Its he's business really, but I'm glad he's there because to remind me about the kid who rips wings off butterflies.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

This is war

Over the last few weeks (months?) I've read how the Sri Lankan forces a "few days away' from wiping out the LTTE once and for all.

In those same weeks I've read and heard about the efforts taken by the GOSL to ensure the safety of those Sri Lanka's caught in between the Sri Lankan army and the the LTTE cadres as both sides edge up to a final confrontation.

While the LTTE has no obligation except for perhaps a moral one to ensure that no harm falls upon the very people on who's behalf they claim to be fighting for, the GOSL certainly does have an obligation, be it to those in the South, West, North or East of the nation.

What the actual ground situation is, very few of us know. Independent reporting of the situation is in fact virtually non existent and hardly anyone outside of the corridors of power and those at the front itself have an idea of the extent to which Sri Lankans have become causalities - in both a physical and mental sense

War has casualties, and what the Sri Lankan army is doing is something which should have been done a long time ago, an all out offensives to wipe out the LTTE who have over the last three decades brought so much misery upon all Sri Lankans. BUT this effort will be of no use unless there is solution to the core issues that brought us here.

That independent reporting is not allowed will more likely than not give rise to claims of severe civilian casualties, of atrocities, of gruesome deaths at the hand of the Sri Lankan armed forces. There is so much that 'Official' reporting can do after all

The most recent claim that of "The silent horror of the war in Sri Lanka" By Arundhati Roy

Understandably the GOSL has come back with a strong response questioning the source of her claims.

But is there getting away from the reality that Sri Lankan's are dying? If you happen to browse the site that carried Ms Roy's article, you will come across images most disturbing, of women and children and old people dead, killed in such a manner that screams out loud STOP!

Be warned, the images are disturbing, they are shocking to those of us cosy in our homes anywhere else but the theater of war

But it cant can it? And more people will die before this ends, more will be come traumatized and mentally disturbed before there is a light. I only pray that its not in vein, that at the end, we will find away to live together as Sri Lankans.