Sunday, April 6, 2008

To Vow-knee-a and Back

So I had my second photography workshop on Friday. This one went better than the first since the translator never gave up and asked for further explanation when he needed it.

The problem was getting there. Vavuniya (pronounced Vow-knee-a, which took me forever to get right) is the last town before you enter the LTTE-controlled area. I had made arrangements that I would leave Boralesgamuwa after our Thursday meetings at 3:30. That meant I'd get to the Mathavachchi check point no later than 9 p.m., which according to my contact in the Vavuniya office would be fine.

Then Thursday, just as I was about to leave, I got a frantic call from Vavuniya saying I couldn't get through the checkpoint if I left then because it would be too late. Thoroughly confused, I made other arrangements to stay at Islander and then finish the drive in the morning. Then I called Islander to see if I could stay there that night and I was refused. Hmm.

Turns out this wasn't actually my inability to get anything planned properly here, but issues from the conflict and Sewalanka staff being concerned about my safety. It all worked out and I got to stay at the Chairman's house in Anuradhapura, which is really beautiful and right on a lagoon with people fishing in the early morning hours.Friday I headed up at 8 a.m. First we picked up someone to accompany me through the check point from the Anuradhapura office. At the checkpoint I left my Colombo driver, collected my stuff and walked to the bag/person check. The ladies went through my stuff (quite extensively, which I actually prefer to a quick look) and waved us through. Then I met the Vavuniya driver on the other side to take me the rest of the way.

The staff in Vavuniya were lovely and I think actually enjoyed the workshop. I wish I didn't have so much to do in Colombo because I could see hanging out for a few days on their farm and working with the goats and various fowl.
And they have the prettiest dragonflies in the Dry Zone. Who knew?After the workshop and once my driver in Anuradhapura was reached we began the arduous task of getting back to Anuradhapura. First we headed to a vehicle checkpoint where my Vavuniya driver tried, but failed to get us out of the very thorough vehicle check. So the vehicle was completely checked out including having the guards bounce on each seat trying to feel for hard objects. My luggage was also searched, including asking me to turn on my computer and camera. I have the world's slowest computer, so this turning it off and on business takes forever. Oh, and there was a little rubbish fire burning at the check point on which they had thrown some chillies -- so I was coughing quite badly at this point. In the end we were provided our golden ticket (literally) and left to register with the police and then, finally, allow me to walk through the Mathavachchi check point.

This time I was by myself, which was actually no problem. The lady did ask if she could speak Sinhala to me, to which I replied that I wouldn't understand if she did. She looked at my passport, my Sewalanka I.D., my bags were searched again (no need to turn on the equipment this time) and I was given the ever-invasive pat down. On the other side my Colombo driver waited patiently even thought that whole process took almost twice as long as I had anticipated.

And now I'm back at my home. I attended a U.S. Embassy BBQ yesterday where the staff was very, very nice to me and charged me 1/5 of the actual cost because 1) I don't eat meat, and 2) they were worried there weren't many salads left. I had arranged for a 1/2 off discount because I'm a veggie, but when I pulled in covered in sweat from the bike ride the ladies seemed to sense that I needed a break. I thanked them for being so incredibly nice and they replied, "Of course we would be, we are American."

Now I sit in the house surfing the web and watching an incredible rain storm through the windows. It is not supposed to rain right now. It is really screwing up the Maha rice crop.

In war news, the minister for road development and maintenance was killed in a bombing 15 km from Colombo yesterday. Ninety people were injured at the start of a marathon organized to begin the New Year's celebrations. Maybe it is a good thing Barbara and I are hitting the road for this holiday. Four more days until I leave for India!!!

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