Friday, August 17, 2007

Paperwork and Honor

So yesterday I got my work permit. Oh yeah, I'm extra legal now. Kumari beckoned me into her office and handed me a piece of card stock that looked like it was put together by someone in kindergarten. This is my official work permit, good until January 31, 2008.

So I took my fancy piece of beige card stock downstairs to get my resident visa renewed (again!). You see I could only get a month extension until my work permit was completed. So now it is completed and I'm into the last lap of the race (until January, when I have to renew everything again!). I went to the guy that does visas (I can't believe I don't know his name, I'm going to have to find a covert way of getting it) and he didn't believe me that I had my work permit. I actually had to show it to him to get him to believe me!

Well, this created some sort of scandal. How did I get it without him knowing? How did it get passed on to me without Chairman seeing it? Get this, Chairman (that is what they all call the head of this organization, like it is his name) has to approve all official work permits. It isn't enough that he approved my hire and approved my plane ticket reimbursement (twice, once before I purchased the ticket and then just now because accounting wouldn't pay me until he signed off on it), he also has to approve a document given to me by the government. What is really crazy is that he signed my work permit papers!

Anyway, they had to find out who stepped out of line and fix the problem because work permits can not be given to foreigners without Chairman seeing them. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I didn't get Kumari in trouble. I haven't seen her yet today, so I don't really know.

Before all this happened, I was at the Ministry of Tourism for the launching of CEGA. In case you are wondering, tourism is not supposed to be in my portfolio, but since Christa left, and I guess I have some knowledge of the topic (I mean, I travel a lot -- just kidding, I did take a class that included principles of sustainable tourism), more and more tourism work is being thrown at me. I'm happy to have it, because the tourism work is fun and I don't have enough to do anyway. So, I went to the launching of CEGA (Community Eco-Guides Association) and their website. This is actually a very exciting project, these eight guys are the first, certified eco-guides in the country. If anyone comes to visit me we will be partaking of their services -- they even have a bicycle tour through two villages. Plus, Aragum Bay is supposed to be really beautiful. If you surf, it is listed as number 13 of the best places to surf in the world.

Chairman couldn't go to this shindig. I assumed when I was invited I'd get to sit in the back and learn about the program, but no, since there was no Chairman, they made me sit at the head table. To top this off, the Minister of Tourism could not for the life of him remember that I'm with Sewalanka and thus every time he addressed me he said, "our colleague from USAID." Then I had people coming up to me throughout the event asking for my card and discussing projects that needed funding. I kept telling them I'm not actually from USAID, but I'm not sure they believed me. I don't have cards yet, so this added to the problem. At one point they asked me to speak, but I said it would be better if Harshana, who actually worked on this project, did the speaking. I wrote his presentation, but still, he should give it.

At the end of the event, they had an open discussion where they issues facing Sri Lanka in terms of increasing tourism. Of course there is the war, which most didn't think was really a problem (never mind that tourism has decreased dramatically since the fighting picked up). Then there are the bad roads, poor sanitation, harassment from beggars. I kept waiting for this room of mostly men to come to the biggest problem, but they never did. They discussed dogs barking all night and crazy tuk drivers. They never brought of the harassment of women. I find this fascinating because every female tourist I meet here talks about it; How you can't look anyone in the eye, you can't even return a "hi." I was going to bring it up, but then they ended the discussion. Maybe it was implied in the harassment discussion, but they only mentioned beggars. I wasn't sure if this was a topic that would be inappropriate to bring up, but it really is interesting that on a topic of what tourists want, they never once asked the tourists. Giuseppe was there too (Italian guy who actually worked on the project) and yes we both live here, but we are also tourists.

Anyway, now I'm going to an eco-tourism training later this month. See, the tourism work continues to grow. Plus, I have to go to some meeting with YMCA on future collaboration. They are funding this training (and a training on coastal restoration, which is really more in line with my work, but will be in Sinhala, so I don't get to go). They want to do more tourism projects with us. Could be interesting.

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