Thursday, August 2, 2007

Knuckles and Home Again

So the World Heritage Site of the Knuckles Mountain Range is so named because it looks like the knuckles on a hand. It is a dryer and more temperate rain forest than Singharaja. Read: not as many leeches (though they say they exist there, I didn't see any). It is beautiful. I didn't have as much time to hang out and watch birds, etc., but we did have some quality travel time in the car on our two hour drive through the mountains (really they are hills) to get to the village where they make the paper. Next time the District Director (Lal) promised I can go hiking, but this time there was only time to see the project.

And what an awesome project. They took this village that desperately wanted electricity and trained them to make extremely high quality handmade paper so that they could pay back the small loans that paid for solar panels on each house. The Nepalese papermakers that did the training said they are amazed at the high quality -- almost better than the Nepalese who have doing this for centuries. They can make 400 large sheets a day (if it doesn't rain, it rained when I was there). They haven't sold any paper yet because they have decided they need a press to make the paper flatter. I need to boast for a minute because right after they said that I asked if they were going to modify a rubber press. Lal looked at me in amazement and said, "That's exactly what we are going to do, but we thought this over for weeks before coming up with that idea." I'm hoping this small anecdote gets around the field so that people start giving me problems to solve. I'm feeling very useless. Not that I mind just spending all my time touring the field projects.

So anyway, back to the paper. We're going to try to market it to local shops and possibly internationally once they start producing at a faster rate. This is the same paper you see in art stores for like $5 a sheet. Now that I've seen the process I feel this price is completely justifiable.

On the way back we made poor Peeaz stop a million times. Fruits and vegetables are way cheaper and much better if purchased outside of Colombo. So I now have a huge stockpile of veggies and fruits -- it is lovely. He was making fun of us and told us to see if the gas station store had fruit. So Jody and I went in just to play along with the joke. Well, that gas station was like a mini-Mecca (literally). There was a ton of Saudi, Turkish, Iranian stuff in there. I bought two tins of halva, a package of figs and sugarless gum. You can't get this stuff in Colombo, so it is pretty funny that we found it in some random gas station in the middle of no where. Luckily, Peeaz was not upset about the constant stopping, he said at the end that he'd rather drive outside of Colombo and especially with the foreign staff because we are so funny (I think that was a compliment). So we are to ask for Peeaz whenever we need a driver. I'm cool with that because his English is really good and thus he is also a stand-in translator.

Oh, and I've decided I really like rice and curry. I know what you are thinking, "didn't Jessica like rice and curry before leaving for Sri Lanka." Yes, I did, but rice and curry here is actually quite different from Indian curry. First, rice consists of about three giant spoon fulls on your plate. I now understand that I can say, please just a little, and I get about the amount I can actually eat, which makes eating considerably more enjoyable. Then you have your dal, which is my favorite part. Dal here is way thicker than Indian dal and is really just curried lentils. Then there is usually at least one other vegetable done with unfamiliar spices, but usually tasty. I get really excited when it is eggplant -- I have no idea how they do this, but the eggplant is incredible (I need to ask Manaurie to teach me). Finally, you have sambal. This is nothing like Indonesian sambal, which is usually exactly the same every time (hot peppers, oil, salt, pepper, tomatoes crushed together in a mortar and pestal). I don't really know how the sambal is made here, but the main ingredients are hot peppers and onion and they are diced to granular size. It is very good, and means you control how hot your food is. That doesn't mean there isn't spice in the food, but you can make it hotter if you want. I've actually found the food moderate spice wise -- no where near as spicy as in India.

For breakfast you get the same meal, but instead of rice you can usually get string hoppers. String hoppers are rice flour noodles formed into a little nest. I love to mix some dal with sambal and eat it with string hoppers. It is quite addictive. Sometimes they'll have roti, which isn't like Indian roti, but more like thick tortillas.

I think my intitial balk at the food was because I was expecting Indian food (which I love!), and was disappointed that it isn't really like Indian food. Now I've decided to embrace the difference and just enjoy. Plus, we have jaggery (solid sugar substance tapped from Kithul trees) here, so that makes up for everything. I'm really getting addicted -- I'm going to have to make sure this scheme to export jaggery actually happens so I can continue feeding my addiction when I get home.

I got another roommate just before I left for Knuckles. No one told me or Manuarie she was coming, but I tried to clean up as best I could with the few hours warning I had. You know, people leave, they kind of clean their room, but they leave a ton of stuff. The next person doesn't necessarily need all this crap, so I wanted to get it out before she arrived.

Aya, a Japanese woman working with the Peace Team, will be here for a year. She is very funny. Last night she screamed and asked me to come up to her room and then explained that a small four footed animal ran behind her fan. I got more details and then explained that it was just a gecko and not to worry. She didn't seem very excited by the prospect of having wildlife in her room, but I tried to calm her with the fact that he eats bugs, not people, and will have absolutely no interest in her. She looked very relieved when I told her it will not go near her bed -- they are strictly wall/floor animals. I think her transition is going to be tough. She asked me last night if we could use anything for the ants. See, the problem is that we live in a tropical place and well, no, there isn't anything you can do about the ants. They don't bother us much and we just make sure we put everything in plastic containers or the refridgerator and all is well. Wait until she meets Bob (name I've given to the giant cockroach that lives in the bathroom drain -- he only comes out occasionally and he is really skittish). Ooh, I better mention to Aya to be sure to turn her computer completely off when not in use -- one species of ant really like to eat wires that are pulsing with current. Not sure why, but if you turn the computer off they won't bother your computer at all.

So I pick up my bike this weekend and I inherited a yoga mat from Christi. That will save me a lot of money, so I'm very happy. I hope you are all very healthy and happy too. I'm going to have a cup of tea with some jaggery.

1 comment:

jen k said...

I love the idea that there are ants who only eat live wires! LOL...can you imagine the arsenal Frederick would need in Colombo to keep the computers going?