Monday, July 9, 2007

The Weekend of an Expat

So I realize I promised details on the pilgrimage this week, but I am still unable to obtain internet access at home and thus this will have to wait. See, when they set me up at work they changed some number in my computer. This number only works at work, so now I can't use wireless anywhere else. They do this to every foreigner who walks in, then we wait days for them to change the number to something else so that we can access wireless in other places.

Anyway, enough of my technology problems. I had a very good weekend. There is a little crowd of expats here who are mostly working in development (read: not getting paid a lot). A great number of them are Australian, but we also have our token English, Guatemalan and me (representing the U.S. of course -- actually there are two of us). Anyway, in various combinations, I hung out with these people all weekend. It is very much like it was in Kazakhstan where they discuss their killer hangovers and difficulties working within a different culture almost nonstop. As I'm new, I don't get about half of what they are saying, but they all seem very nice and I think I'll make some good friends.

The one thing I have noticed while hanging out with the other expats in their homes, is that my house is not as nice as I originally thought. I'm finding this hilarious as I tried so hard to not have any expectations of my living arrangement before coming, and I was so successful that the house seemed very nice. Then I start seeing other people's homes with their lovely, comfortable furniture (our living room furniture is covered in plastic, which is really impractical given the heat) and beautiful verandas (we don't have such a set up). Also, we are in the burbs and pretty much everyone else lives in the city. This I'm not too upset about as we live very close to the office and I prefer to walk to work and bus into the city than to have to bus everyday to work. I'm still sure I can live in this house very comfortably, but I definitely have house envy.

Meanwhile, I'm still figuring out the bus situation. Friday we were to meet at Jason and Kat's house for a small party. Crista (housemate) said to just get to the Pizza Hut on the map that Beth (other housemate) kindly drew for me my second day in town. Well, I thought I'd take a bus as I was told the 120 went the entire route down Harrare Road. So I got on a bus marked 120. I was told this would cost between 5 -11 rupees depending on where I was going. According to the map, it appeared I wasn't going far. First, no one of the bus really knew where this random Pizza Hut was and you have to tell the money collector where you are going to pay the correct fare. Second, he asked for 20 rupees. Of course, I thought he was ripping the American off, but now I know I had boarded a super posh, air-con bus and they do actually cost more. Anyway, some nice man told me when to get off and I did so, but it was indeed the wrong stop. He offered to show me how to get to Pizza Hut and since it was a well lit road I decided to follow him. Crista called around this time and I told her I believed I got off at the wrong stop and handed the phone to the man who was helping. Between Crista, this man and everyone else already at the party they figured out where I was and where I needed to go. Then I was put in a rickshaw (which are actually called tuks or trishaws here) and was on my way.

Before you get into a tuk, you arrange the price. So we agreed on a price and then he proceeded to take the most round about way to Pizza Hut. When we arrived, after I questioned the direction about 10 times, he wanted more money. They do this a lot and you just give them what you agreed upon and leave.

Quite an adventure just to get to a little get together.

So for all of my plans on Saturday and Sunday I decided I'd stick to tuks until I know the city a bit better and can maneuver on the buses more comfortably. This means spending more money, but it is probably safer.

Saturday we went shopping at Crescat (fancy shopping mall -- they have a DeliFrance). Actually, I wasn't shopping, I was getting an idea of what clothing is acceptable and costs of said clothing. Then we went to Commons, which is a nice coffee shop that has wireless (this wireless thing is important as our office is rather uncomfortable and we are allowed to work anywhere). I had had enough shopping, so I took a little walk. I found a book store and bought the vital Colombo A-Z street guide (yeah, now I know where I'm going with real distances!). Then I walked around the cinnamon district (so named as it used to be a huge cinnamon market) and then found the only sizable park in Colombo. I had my camera, so I took some photos of the Buddha in the park and as I was walking back to meet my new friends I saw something incredible. At first I thought is was just another crow (obviously West Nile Virus never hit Sri Lanka as the crow population here is alive and very well), but then I noticed it had odd shaped wings. Plus the sound was all wrong. I put my camera up to look through my 300mm lens and discovered a tree full of flying foxes! Dozens of flying foxed hanging upside down. It was incredible. I'd seen them fly over us in Indonesia, but these were way closer and it was day time. My first wildlife sighting.
Flying Fox

Yesterday I went to a brunch housewarming (another lovely place) and then we went to Jazz. That is what they call it here -- the first Sunday of the month they have jazz at the rugby field. It was yesterday as they had an actual rugby match last week. Basically it is a big social function for all the expats in Colombo. I think I heard at least three times people say they wish they'd turn the live music down as they don't even like Jazz! I thought the music was really good and since I know so few people, I enjoyed sitting there and just listening.

Unfortunately, it does seem the expats that I would most likely become friends with are all leaving. Christa and Beth are both leaving in the next month. Felicity (an Australian expat that I hung out with a lot Saturday and Sunday) is gone in three weeks. Jodi, an Australian that does communications for Sewalanka, is actually staying so that is good. Basically, their year is up (Christa is leaving early as her program, tourism, is struggling with the current situation and she isn't super happy so that is a good excuse to go home). There are two Australian volunteer programs here, but one closed this past month due to the war, so no one will be replacing the Aussies who are leaving from that program. It appears Sewalanka isn't planning to replace any of the other foreigners so it will just be Jodi, Amanda (the boss) and me for a while. They do hope to get a handicrafts person in soon, but it sounds like that may take a while (they had someone lined up with the Aussie program that closed -- now they are trying to bring her independently, but I believe that program pays better than Sewalanka does, which may be the problem).

Also, prices are rising very quickly due to the civil war and oil prices (that is right, the overuse of oil in the U.S. affects the entire world!). It is interesting that everyone thinks the current conflict will end soon as, I'm quoting the local paper, "conflict cannot continue forever." There is no other reason to believe the current fighting will end, but everyone believes it will. So hopefully prices will go back down. Bus fares went up 50% in the last week!

As soon as I have a connection at home I'll upload some photos and put some explanation of the pilgrimage tomorrow.

1 comment:

jen k said...

You write this all out so well that I feel like I'm traveling along beside you, hip-to-hip. Have you ever done any, you know, guidebook writing? ;)

Hope your house envy abates as you make the place more your own. Throws over plastic furniture work well to offset the heat. And never underestimate the power of a hanging your own artwork (maybe a shot of those crazy flying foxes?) to make someplace feel like home.