Sunday, September 2, 2007

Travels with Ganesh and Beyond

It seems that many of you are now caught up, so I feel it is time to write an especially long entry. I apologize, please feel free to just skim.

So we left on Friday for Arugum Bay. We were supposed to leave early in the morning, but there have been issues with vehicles lately and we left at 2:30. This is a problem because it is at least eight hours to Arugum Bay, so you really want to leave earlier in the day.

We arrived at 11:30 and the Beach Hut (our hotel of choice) only had one room. Luckily, Harshana is from the area and knew people with whom he could stay.

We got up bright an early the next morning to go meet with the Minister of Tourism. I think this Minister is actually a good guy. He refused to make promises he couldn't keep and he seemed very honest and open about the situation. Of course, people asked for things that the Minister of Tourism just can't do. For instance, waste management is really a local government issue. Still, people asked the Minister to clean-up the beach. But the Minister didn't cowtow, he said that that is really something they could do and then gave examples of people who took control of their own waste management. I mentioned it would be nice if hotels offered to fill tourists' water bottles with purified water rather than just selling bottles of water. One hotel said they already do that and it is very successful, hopefully others will begin because the number of plastic bottles on the beach is crazy.

They also asked for help with the fishermen. There are a few things the Minister said he would do, like build a toilet (the hotel association took responsibility for maintenance) and he'd work with some agency to deal with the land problem (the fishermen have land for a market, but they can't access it right now). Then he said that fishermen/tourism industry have always had problems with each other and it was up to the hotel owners to fix this. The fishermen get nothing from tourism, but the tourism industry needs them to be more cautious about their waste, etc. So the hotel owners need to work this out with the fishermen (see, very levelheaded in my opinion).

After the meeting and lunch we took Ganesh to his new home. I guess on the Pada Yathra, Chairman promised a Ganesh statue to someone in Panama for their temple. I think their Ganesh was washed away by the tsunami as the temple is a cave temple right on the beach. So Harshana was tasked with bringing Ganesh to Panama from Colombo. Ganesh got the best seat in the car -- the only one with a seat belt. Then he sat between us on the tuk ride to his new home. As there is a festival currently happening in Panama, we couldn't take Ganesh all the way to his new temple (physically we could, but it wouldn't be right during the festival), but we did go see it and I took photos.

I saw elephants and peacocks along the road and my first sighting of jackals when we went out to Ganesh's new temple. Oh and a Sambar in Harshana's parent's yard.

Left on my own (since Harshana lives in Panama), I hung out with Euka and some surfer tourists. It was interesting to see Euka again -- we were both brand new on the Pada Yathra and rather quiet; now we are more comfortable here. He is Dutch and is here building these crazy dome houses. They are supposed to be tsunami proof. He seems a bit irritated with the pace of work here, but that is to be expected.

I also met this interesting German guy (Gunter) and his local wife. He has lived her for more than 20 years and still doesn't really fit in. His wife was very quiet, but I kept wishing she would say more because she was clearly quite intelligent and would have been interesting to talk to. I think she is used to letting Gunter do all the talking -- more than once she mentioned (whispered really) that he was talking too much. It was kind of funny.

Anyway, the next morning we met with the guides and hotel people to debrief from the Minister's visit. Here I got an ear full. Apparently the CEGA office is on rented land. This is bad because we built the building, so when the lease is up the owner will probably refuse to renew and inherit a building for free. The problem is, Sewalanka didn't actually fund the building of this office. We were partnered with and Italian NGO and those decisions were completely up to them. But they are gone (the project is over) and we are still here, so we get to hear all the complaints. One guy (not a guide, a hotel owner) said we should be paying the guides because they have no work. Now, Sewalanka really isn't in a position to pay people to do nothing and we were quite clear with the guides that business would not just happen. I mentioned that there were a lot of tourists in Arugum Bay at the moment, so how do they have no work. We did a great job training them to be good guides, but no marketing lessons were provided. So I told them, "look, here we all sit. Guides, give the hotel owners your brochures. Hotel owners, tell your guests the office exists and what they can do." Seriously, there was no surf while I was there, it was the perfect time to get people out on the lagoon or on another tour. Harshana and I have already planned some marketing sessions to try to remedy this.

Then I left. I had to take the bus to Tangalle and as I was going somewhere I'd never been by myself, I didn't want to arrive at midnight. Harshana said it would only take 3 hours from Monoragola, but actually it is 4.5. Plus, I waited 45 minutes to leave so I could sit in the front seat (where I'd have leg room and a place for my bag -- how do people travel long distances here with absolutely no luggage?). The ride was totally unexciting. A very large Sri Lankan man sat next to me at one point, even commented on the small seats, but did not move back next to a smaller person when the opportunity arose. I'm not sure if people think we'll become best friends if they sit next to me or what. Anyway, he didn't ride the entire distance, so it was o.k. The seat was plenty big when a regular sized Sri Lankan sat next to me. [Side note: I do know that part of the reason the seat was small is because I'm big, but I was there first!]

Tangalle was beautiful (as was Arugum Bay, did I mention that?). We (meaning me and the Aussies) went because it was Jim's birthday. I love that they let me tag along on these trips even though I don't know everyone -- I had never met Jim. I had met his partner, Lisa and she seemed interesting, so I figured it would be cool.

It was an extremely lazy three days (technically four since I stayed after everyone left). We'd get up late, eat a lovely breakfast, then walk down to the beach. We'd sit around on the beach and maybe go for a dip. I'd wade and a few times I went in to dive the waves. We'd come back to the hotel around 3 for lunch -- hang out there for several hours and then go find dinner. Seriously, we did nothing. I read three books! But it was great.

On the day everyone was leaving (literally everyone, Jim had already left for Arugum Bay and Lisa was on her way to India via Colombo) Amitha and I decided we should get up early to go to the Rock Temple at Mulkirigala. My only complaint about these trips with the Aussies is that they aren't really interested in seeing anything. I could go on my own, and was planning to on this trip (since I had the extra day), but luckily Amitha wanted to see this temple before leaving. So we arranged a tuk for 5 a.m. (he arrived at 5:30) and we climbed the million stairs to the rock temple. Here one can see a dead Buddha. I should clarify -- a dead Buddha statue. These are apparently rather odd and he looked strange with his rolled back eyeballs. This is where texts were found that enabled the first translation of the Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle), which provided information on Sri Lanka's history to the Europeans then in charge of the island. One bad-tourist complaint about the temple: barefoot over very sharp rock steps isn't so comfortable. I'm sorry, but my feet have been encased in shoes for my entire life. They are soft and sensitive. There were really cool Tocque Macaques at the Temple, which may make up for the barefoot rules.

So the gang left and I had the hotel all to myself for the day. I took a long walk down the beach to take photographs and then I just hung out at the hotel. I didn't feel comfortable swimming by myself and it was Poya, so the chances of things other than temples being open were slim.

The next day I was picked up and taken to the Sewalanka office in Tangalle. This was an office-to-office day as I just went from Tangalle to Matara to Galle stopping in each office to hear what projects they are working on and what they want to work on. I did not see any projects, which I have to say seems like a waste. I'm going to have to start taking control of these visits so I get more out of them. I'm just too passive.

The next day I was supposed to attend the regional office meeting, but it was in Sinhala. Ajith swore it was going to be in English, but clearly that was just to get me there. Not sure why he cared as not one English word was uttered, which means I couldn't contribute. So I spent the day writing a last minute report to USAID for a project I didn't work on and isn't even in my program (it was disaster preparedness). Actually the report was for USAID's contractor who is contracted just to monitor the project. This is a total waste of money and I find it completely appalling. Basically, USAID pays these contractors in the States more than they give out in the actual grant, to collect reports written by the grantee and then give them to USAID. I filled out USAID forms and even wrote and graphically enhanced the USAID fact sheet for the project, what is left for the contractor? Plus, she gave the office one week to fill out these forms (they had already submitted their final report per instructions) because she is coming to Sri Lanka to close out the grant. Seriously, you should all call your Representatives and complain.

And then I came home. Half a day in the office and then I was off to Negombo for the Tourism Workshop. This was also supposed to be in English, but at the last minute the participants switched from mostly Arugum Bay people to mostly people from the south. I guess the ladies who came from the south didn't know English and despite the guys from Arugum Bay not knowing Sinhala, they conducted the workshop in Sinhala. I think this is sad. First off, it was advertised that it would be in English. Plus, this is a tourism workshop and though not all tourism is foreign, most of it is and they'll need English if they are going to participate in it (plus, English is the go-between language here as those who speak Tamil don't necessarily know Sinhala and vice-versa). Anyway, I couldn't even do any personal work as they were using my computer for the Powerpoints. Oh well. I think it was successful, though I have no idea what was said.

Now I'm home. I think I'm going south again this week to meet with Mercy Corps about a tourism project. I have to write a proposal tomorrow for the Tourism Board. I think it is official, I'm on the tourism project.

No comments: