Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Irritated and feeling worthless

So you may be wondering how it is that I can post to my blog this week and upload photos to Flickr when I was supposed to be out of town all week. Well, that is a very good question.

Our trip to Sinharaja was canceled. The Japenese tourists, though happy to spend $70 a night for a hotel room, were unwilling to spend $100 for two days, all meals, homestays and guide fees included, for two of them in Sinharaja. They seemed to think that Sewalanka, a nonprofit organization, was going to give them a discount just for being. They agreed to the itinerary and price on Friday, then canceled on Sunday . Meanwhile, we spent a considerable amount of money calling Sinharaja to set this all up. This has provided several lessons for the future: 1) we need a contract that people sign before we set up the tour; 2) we need to charge a non-refundable booking fee up front and that will be kept as a cancellation fee if canceled without adequate notice (otherwise it will be applied to the cost of the tour package); and 3) do not breakdown the cost of the tour. Really this last one is the most important. I told Harshana this before he sent them the cost, but he insisted they needed a budget. I've never seen a breakdown for any of the tours on which I've been. Anyway, in the breakdown we labeled something Sewalanka fee and the Japanese tourists insisted they didn't need to pay this. This is a combination of the cost of our setting up the tour and a small sum of money that is put into a community trust -- this is how we ensure our tourism projects help the entire community. Anyway, I'm actually really happy this didn't work out because these women sounded like they would have been very difficult -- for this nominal fee they probably expected us to de-leech the area for them. Meanwhile I feel bad for the villagers as they most likely had already purchased food for these women. Hopefully we get the Tourism Board grant and we can make it up to them.

We were to travel onward from Sinharaja to Ampara, but now that we weren't going to Sinharaja, we could travel with everyone else on Tuesday morning to Ampara. So Harshana canceled our car and told Chamika we'd go with everyone else. It became clear on Monday that the car booked was too small. So I went to Chamika and said we'd need a larger car for everyone. Her response was, "O.k., no problem." That night I received a call from a very distressed Chameri to tell me that a larger car was not organized and thus Dr. Lionel (I don't even know why he was going or why he gets to be car dictator) said I couldn't go.

Now, I'm a very laid-back and rational person, but this has really irritated me. First, I was going to Ampara for two reason: 1) we are working on a water survey -- a report I'll be expected to write -- in Ampara District, and 2) there was yet another tourism meeting there. And second, if Chamika had told me when I asked, that a different car could not be arranged I would have gone by bus or if Dr. Lionel had asked me nicely to stay as there wasn't space, I might not be so irritated. It is really how the whole thing was handled that has me so bothered.

So now I'm also wondering why I'm here (I believe this is stage three of expat emotions). I mean, if I'm so expendable that they can just kick me out of the car to a project site, then maybe they don't need me at all.

Beyond this vehicle frustration, on Tuesday I decided to work from home (since my entire team was out of the office), but I got a phone call from Ajith asking me to work on that stupid Disaster Risk Management project again! So I was left behind while others went to do real environmental work and I get to stay in Colombo and do someone else's work. I realize I'm in a mood where every little thing is going to bother me, but this DMR thing is beyond upsetting. I didn't work on this project and it has nothing to do with the environment. They had a foreigner working on it and they chose not to replace her (even though she found someone), which in my opinion means this is their problem. So I keep telling them I'll edit the reports (because I'm not unreasonable), but I WILL NOT WRITE THEM. Yet, they still send me documents without information. I'm at my wits end on this one.

Luckily, Upul has come to the rescue. Since I am here and not in Ampara, I asked Upul if I could go to the Coastal Restoration Workshop's field trips this week. He is very happy that I will attend (the workshop is just Sewalanka staff and the participants haven't met me even though I'm technically the adviser for this project) and I leave in about an hour for Kalutara and then tomorrow we'll go south. They are going to see a coral reef (not sure how we are doing that without diving, but I guess I'll find out), some restored mangroves and a turtle nesting site. I'm actually very excited. So maybe if this trip goes well I'll be over my extreme irritation with all things Sewalanka.

This debacle did force me to stand up for myself a bit and demand that they once and for all fix the house blender (Mr. Aruna has had this appliance for two months now and hadn't even taken it in so I asked Ms. Kumari where I could take it because I was tired of waiting and she actually sent it to be fixed) and replace the pots in the kitchen (every single pot here has Teflon and it is seriously chipping -- recently discovered to be a carcinogen, so I think they should replace them).

1 comment:

milcman said...

Sounds like you are catching hell over there! From what I've read of your blog, they are treating you "normal" for their culture. You are expected to do the work and not have much say in what goes on...good luck!

Restore our coasts!