Chapter 7 – 15 February 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The classes are going very well. The teachers I am training are really excellent; they love teaching and enjoy learning many new things themselves. Despite having an average of 100 hours of IT training they have never had such unrestricted access to computers or the internet.

I am installing Vista on the first machine this morning so I’m writing this while installs. The teachers will come in this afternoon to learn how to install software on the other machines.

I’ve downloaded GoogleEarth and established Gmail accounts for them. They can’t get enough of either.

I did my laundry yesterday and had a small disaster. I pre-soaked, washed and rinsed the whites and colors all separately. Then I put them into one of the tubs to take down to the clothes line. As I was hanging them I was shocked to see two pair of underwear and my white knit shirt had bright yellow stains all over them, then I saw that my blue shirt had large green splotches on it. I finally tracked the problem down to an orange towel I had been using (offerings of linens and such are dyed orange before presenting to the monks). I looked at the towel and saw tiny flecks of undissolved dye in the weave. Now I know why my face was looking a little yellow in the mirror. One of the village boys took the shirts home to try and get the stain out. He did a good job with bleach on the white one but was afraid to do the blue one. When I wear it I will just explain that it has been tie-dyed.

We had movie night last night. The preschool was packed with children to watch “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. It started at 6:30 PM and went until 9:00 PM (long movie). Some of the parents came for their children starting around 8:00. There’s very little light on the paved lane and none on the dirt path. Even with a flashlight they’re wary of snakes and other things in the dark.

On Friday, I was invited to Lal and Kokila’s home for dinner. I first met Lal 5 years ago during my first Tsunami related visit to Godagama. He was and has been very instrumental in the reconstruction project. Kokila, too, has been very involved with the community. In fact, she along with someone from another village were invited by the Spanish Red Cross to come to Spain to speak about the reconstruction projects that the SRC has been involved in here. The trip was completely paid for by the SRC.

They had a small shop by the railroad tracks and lived in her mother’s home a little further inland. The shop completely disappeared during the Tsunami and nothing remained of her mother’s house except the cement floor. They were one of the families who received a new house from our project. They added a larger kitchen area and room for a new shop from which they sell small grocery items (sort of a convenience store). This is their main source of income. It’s marginal because there are 5 other such shops within walking distance. They have a small refrigerator in which they keep ice pops and yogurt which gives them a small advantage. They buy most of their inventory from shops in Ambalangoda so they operate on very small margins. They keep the shop open from about 6 in the morning until about 8:30 in the evening. They’ll open anytime if some needs some of the medicines they stock.

A German man set Lal up with a cement block maker after the Tsunami. This was common at the time. It is a hand press that molds cement block from hand mixed cement. It makes 1 block at a time which is set on boards to dry in the sun. The problem is that after all the houses were built, there’s no market for the blocks. He also paid the down payment on a small truck to haul cement bags and finished block. Nobody was buying so there was no income and they had to sell the truck to cover the back payments. The German got angry and wanted his money back because he thought Kokila used the money to open her shop. But that money was donated by a Swiss woman. Kokila used to be an Ayurvedic massage therapist at a foreign resort in Bentota where they first met. Working there with foreigners has helped her to develop very good English skills and she is a great translator. She can’t work outside the home any longer because she has 2 small children to take care of. She can’t do massage therapy in her home because the villagers might think it was a cover for prostitution.

During better times Lal had bought a tuk-tuk which he would hire out for passengers but this is very competitive so he mostly used it to haul big items such as bags of rice for the shop. One day he loaded too many bags and something broke (I couldn’t understand what) so it sets idle in the front yard until he has the money for repairs.

We discussed what things would improve their shop profits since this is the best solution as Kokila can care for the children and mind the shop at the same time. A small freezer would allow them to sell fish balls, cutlets, ice cream and other items that need to be kept frozen. This would make their shop more unique and build a bigger customer base as no other shop currently has a freezer. They still have to deal with credit issues because only 5 of their regular customers have a steady income. That’s a monthly pension they get for being retired from government jobs. Anyway, before I leave I’ll check my remaining budget to see if I can help them buy a freezer. If anyone here is deserving, it’s them for all the selfless work they’ve done to rebuild the community.

Kokila prepared a few chicken drumsticks for dinner. It’s the first thing other than fish that I’ve had in 3 weeks. When I teased her about no one joining me at the table she had the children eat with me.

We have such a tangle of extension cords. Some of them run from the kitchen around the side of the building and under the door. The kitchen outlet is the only one wired for a 16 amp breaker. All the others are 6 amps. So I hired an electrician to rewire the room. He bought all the parts in Hikkaduwa for USD 75.00 and tapped into the kitchen outlet and ran a grounded system 50 meters around the outside of the building, through the classroom window and down to a new outlet near the floor. All the inside wiring is encased in neat conduit. He did a really great job and it looks professional. He then made up a 20 foot extension cord with six 6 amp outlets to run from the wall to under the desks. Only 2 wire cabling is available at reasonable prices here so he had to run a separate third wire alongside it to provide proper grounding for the equipment. It took him about 7 hours with Shantha being an eager helper. His labor charge was just USD 9.50 for the entire job!

OK. The computer upgrades are going fine but very slow. I was hoping to walk the teachers through for a couple of hours this afternoon but I see now that’s not going to work. So I’ve cancelled classes for tomorrow and we’ll set aside the whole day for installations.

So, guess what? As soon as I finish this first PC and the monks have eaten lunch, we’re going the beach to go swimming! That’ll be the first time in my 5 trips here that I have been in the water.

Its 3:30 and we’re back. Three of the young men in the village drive tuk-tuks so they, 2 other village boys who do odd jobs around the temple, 3 monks, 3 novices and I all pile into the 3 tuk-tuks and go to a beach in Hikkaduwa. We had a blast! Like kids in a pond! We didn’t have a beach ball so we were throwing a small coconut around until someone got conked on the head. Then we found an empty Coca-Cola can to use. I took my camera bag and was worried for awhile about it being stolen. But the monks piled their robes on top and then it was good as in a bank vault. I probably got a little more sun than I should have. Lots of people out but mostly local kids and families. Not many foreign tourists. For those of you still following along on Google Earth, we were swimming exactly here: 6*08’11.52” N, 80*05’56.37” E. Its right behind the Coral Sands, one the hotels in Hikkaduwa.

Kokila came by and took me to the home of a local artist. He’s quite good. I keep trying to find some way to help get the employment level up here. I’m thinking maybe we could sell some his work on eBay. Took a lot of pictures of his work, so we’ll see. Kokila has agreed to help me find some cottage industry stories that we can post to the website.

Attached is a picture of Nalika in the pigeon coop. I have no idea why. Another is of Shantha teaching his Sunday school class. The others are self explanatory.

Kate Skyped me from Cambodia on Sunday. She could see me but the camera in the internet shop wouldn’t connect so I couldn’t see her. John Skyped me from Austin, TX where Sandra was visiting for a few days. There’s a little delay in the line so it’s hard to keep from stepping on the end of each other’s sentences.

I’ll send this now and write more later. With everything up and working now, it has gotten pretty busy and I have to schedule time to write.


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