Chapter 4 – 5 February 2009

Thursday, February 05, 2009

After a little bit of a shaky start the Windows XP classes went very well. We’ll be on to Word mid-next week. I’ll start upgrading to Windows Vista before then.

I learned tonight that the plans for a dedicated building for the computer lab and communication center are progressing. Financial support has been promised from Singapore. Perhaps we’ll have it finished by the time I return next year. I’ve added my concerns that the building being easy to clean, have good theft security, good lighting and circulation, and have an adequate power circuit. Until then the eating hall of the sanghawasa (monks’ quarters, where we are set up now) will continue to serve as the computer lab. I will configure one PC in the chief monk’s office and arrange the other 5 along one wall so, when the PCs are draped with dust clothes, the room can be used for its intended purpose. I am very happy.

The “white monk” rode along with me to town today, just for the ride. There were dark skinned aboriginals here before the somewhat lighter skinned settlers from northern India arrived. Successively, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British invaded and colonized parts of the island. The Portuguese freely intermarried where ever they went – India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Brazil, etc. And the Dutch and British were not beyond their dalliances with the local ladies. Consequently, many Sri Lankans can be found with skin coloring ranging from tan to very dark and all tones in between. In depends on their genes and exposure to the sun. Samanera Dasana happens to have very light skin. So in good hearted teasing, the villagers and the other monks call him the “white monk”.

The little novices wanted me to take a picture of them in their room. When I looked in, I saw what you would see in any boy’s room if he didn’t have a mother to pickup after him. Especially if three of them were nesting in it. I told them I’d only take a photo if they cleaned up the mess. They’ve been working at it off and on all day and now that chores are done for the day (its 9:30 pm) they’re at it in earnest. They’ve swept a huge pile of trash out into the hallway that must have been under their beds since they moved in last January. They’re folding their robes now and I assume they’ll be neatly hung up. They’ll be hanging around my door in the morning waiting for me to come out. They’ll want me take the photo before the older monks put them to work, and even the boys know that the room will look like a dog’s den again before the day is over.

Boys room

Off to school

There’s also a picture of the 3 of them heading off to the pirivena (monks’ school) with their umbrellas and shoulder bags. They get up at 4:30 to start their morning meditation and chanting. Then a small breakfast and chores until lunch before noon. They leave around 12:30 every week day and walk about a mile to school. They are back by 5:30 (in time for computer classes now). More chores and religious activities until they go to bed at 9:30. They stop about 8:00 and prepare their dinner. If anything is left over from the midday meal they’ll take that from the fridge. If not, they’ll cook some rice, take few vegetables from the bin and boil them (all over their wood fire) and find some fruit (usually bananas). During all of this they find time to try and get my attention by teasing me or each other, always keep a cup of hot tea close to me, argue about who will set my dinnerware on the table and stand around trying out English phrases on me until I am finished eating.

Friday, February 06, 2009

We had our first parent teacher conference (confrontation) today. A mother came back with her daughter who had been denied a seat in today’s class. I had Champi explain to her that the girl had not attended the first 2 Basics classes and there was no way she could keep up with the XP class and we all ready had 12 seats full with students who had attended the prerequisite classes. We explained also that the classes would be continuing and she could start again in about 2 months. This is the hardest part of operating the school and it’s really hard on Champi and Madushi because they live here and have known everyone all their lives.

When installing Windows Office 2007, besides entering the 25 alphanumeric character software product key, you have to activate it. If you don’t, you can only open it 24 times before many of the features begin to get locked out until you do. We’re to the point now that all you can do in Word is type, save and print. With an internet connection, activating only requires a couple of key strokes. We still aren’t connected. The only other alternative is to do it by telephone.

For Sri Lanka, the nearest call center is Singapore. It’s an automated system with voice entry. I tried to speak the 54 characters several times over several dropped calls. I’d get through about 40 and the automaton would say it couldn’t understand me and to punch the numbers in from my cell phone keypad.  I’d try this couple of times but the cell signal was bad and the process would terminate about half way through.

Finally, I carefully wrote down all 54 numbers from the computer screen, took a table and chair out to the front porch, got a good signal and went through the voice menus until I got a live operator, somewhere. Probably in China or India but he had been trained pretty well to hide his accent; however, in doing so he kept swallowing his words. We really only had trouble with the ones and fours.  So after I read him the 54 numbers with only an occasional repeat, he read another 42 numbers back to me that I wrote down. Then I had to go back to the computer and key them in. Voila!

That’s one computer, only 5 more to go. I’ll wait until tonight to do a couple more as its quieter then. One good thing is that the call only cost me US $1.40. The telephone companies are tightly regulated here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It’s 6:30 AM and I’ve just finished a big load of laundry including my mattress covers and pillow case. I won’t bore you with details other than to say I had two plastic tubs and a 5 gallon bucket and a bathroom floor covered with standing water (which made it a little treacherous since I was standing on one foot and using the other one as an agitator). With 3 containers I was able to get 2 rinse cycles. I now know how excited my grandmother must have been when she got her first hand-cranked, double roller, clothes wringer. I could pay one of the village ladies a few dollars to do my laundry but I don’t want to be the cause of creating a class structure here. And a number of unplanned incidentals are already stretching my budget.

Laundry day

Laundry day

I’m going out to hang them on the line now to get an early start on the sun and make sure my mattress covers are dry by nightfall.

I took the occasion to scour the bottom of my feet with a kitchen sponge scrubber. The nightly washing with a cloth only goes so far. And since the bathroom was already a swamp I scrubbed it down as well (with a different sponge scrubber).

We start teaching the adults today and maybe they will have better small muscle control. The children are so small their arms are below the level of the desk and they have difficulty controlling the mouse. After the lesson on files and folders where they practice “drag and drop” and “copy and paste”, it takes me about an hour to sort out the 6 PCs and put everything back where it belongs. The kids get so excited when they learn something as visual as moving picture files around that it’s hard to hold them back. If they are a little off with the cursor or move the mouse a little when they release the button, they wind up dropping files in the most unlikely places. It’s hard for the teachers to run up and down the rows and check everything they do during the practice parts. Also, with 2 kids at a PC they get a little impatient with each other and 2 hands on 1 mouse results in chaos.

There’s a photo in this message of the south side of the monks’ residence (where I’m living). On the left are 2 dog houses. The larger pen in the center is where one of the village ladies keeps her pigeons. She can’t keep them at her home because the snakes get them. Here the dogs go crazy when a snake comes around. The monks tend the pigeons and open the cage in the daytime and they come out and scrounge around and fly to the top of the building. When they’ve had enough freedom, they go back in the cage and it gets closed until the next day. To the right of that you can see the original outhouse and washing stall from the old residence.

EXCITEMENT! The telephone company just showed up. But first they have to have lunch so they bring their sack lunches of rice and curry into the kitchen. After lunch, one of them is pulling cable up from the coast road and hanging it on the concrete poles. No tree cutting permits or chainsaws here. Just a ladder and a machete to clear a tunnel thru the jungle. Another one is running the inside cabling and grounding bar. A third one, who just turned 66, sets in the truck (to make sure it doesn’t roll away, I guess). The fourth one is the supervisor and he has set down at an empty computer station and found the solitaire game. He also talked to Champi about signing up for classes next month.

Broadband through the jungle

OK, work has just come to a stop as the man pulling wire has got a small thorn in the top of his bald head from climbing up the trees. It seems to very painful and everyone is gathered around trying to see it and pull it out. To keep things moving, I went upstairs and got my “field surgery kit” and let them use the hemostat, scalpel blade and antibiotics.

I had been having a hard time containing myself with the prospects of having an internet connection by this afternoon. Only to be told that the tech guy who sets up the ISP information on the cable modem has to come out here first. I tried to convince them that I would do it myself if they would let me talk to someone in the office, to no avail.

The problem is that tomorrow is Sunday, and Monday is Poya Day (religious holiday). So now it’s Tuesday at the earliest.  Bummer!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Since tomorrow is Poya Day, there will only be brief Sunday school services at the temple today. A dance competition has been organized for the 22 Sunday schools in the District. Apparently it’s a big thing. During the hour between my afternoon classes, Madushi and Champi have been going over to the preschool building with their dance team and working on their choreography. It seems I “must go”, so instead of a lazy Sunday nap, I’ll go to a dance recital today. It’s being held in Madampa which is a couple of villages north of here. So since I’m that far, I’ll go the rest of the way into Ambalangoda to send this.  Perhaps it will be the last one sent from an internet shop.


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