Saturday, 31 May 2008

More images of Vesak

The parade took hours to pass so instead I wandered around to take in some of the amazing lanterns around my area

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Images of Vesak

This full moon is a really special one - it is the Vesak celebration (Buddha Jayanti in Nepal) which is a really important celebration in Buddhism, marking Buddha’s birth, death and reaching nirvana or enlightenment.

What is fascinating is how differently the occasion is marked. In Sri Lanka, the streets have been filling with stalls lined with paper lanterns with trails, and buildings are being dressed up with garlands of lights. Important and holy places are adorned, and even main roundabouts are meticulously decorated with lights, lanterns and huge lotus blossom lamps.

In fact it reminds me more of Diwali or Tihar, the Hindu festival of Lights as it is often called. In Nepal, on the day of Laxmi Puja, the day to celebrate the goddess of wealth (Laxmi) is the highlight of the Tihar festival. Garlands of lights are strung on buildings and thousands upon thousands of butter milk candles are prepared for lighting when night falls. The belief is that Laxmi will visit the most brightly illuminated homes and bestow wealth for the coming year. Little footprints of mud guide her to the places where she should focus her wealth (we always used to have a trail leading to the safe in our office!) As evening would fall the Kathmandu Valley would be ablaze with lights until inevitably the power would fail with the huge overload. Then it would be bathed in the gentle warm glow of thousands of buttermilk candles, which I found incredibly beautiful.

So I find Vesak in Colombo reminiscent of a very different Festival in Nepal. Here are a few images for starters.........

As evening falls you can see the lights and lanterns at most houses lighting up.

The full moon shines over the cityMy neighbours have decorated their door with a bright star lantern.

And thousands of these lanterns are strung everywhere in streets, outside buildings and homes.

Now a parade is coming along our street so I am off to watch it .....

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Second impressions

A few more impressions of the early days of life and work in Sri Lanka…

· In Nepal I was almost always called (elder) sister “didi” – in the street, in shops, in meetings, in restaurants and even in the doctor’s surgery. I have to stress that the elder reference is more a mark of respect than seniority in age of course!!! In South India and in Sri Lanka so far, I seem to be called Madam everywhere.
· Fish! Fish available everywhere – from the wee guy nipping in and out of gates in the residential areas with a pole balancing two containers of extremely fresh fish for sale to the (smelly) aisle of dried fish in the supermarket.
· Curried banana flowers – mmmm.
· The removal of alcohol, meat and eggs from sale every full moon.
· A different dress code for women in Colombo – there are traditional Sri Lankan saris with a little frill (I’ll get a picture as I cant easily describe it), Indian saris and a few shalwar kameez, but in the main women of all ages wear blouse and skirt – very different to Nepal and India.

And finally – a little moment to share. On Friday evening, as I was enjoying a lovely cold beer with a friend to mark the start of the weekend, the waiter helpfully topped up my friend’s glass. He did this with a rather interesting technique, holding the bottle well above the glass and pouring with quite a flourish – with the result that the beer promptly produced an unbelievable amount of froth. The waiter responded to our amusement by blaming the beer! “Little bit bubble coming up”, he announced! Little bit bubble?? My friend’s beer was proudly sporting a 6 inch head of froth!!! It’s incredible how much a little bit bubble can lighten the mood and make you laugh!

Taking a moment to think of others

This week has been momentous in my profession. And for reasons I wish were different.

It is two weeks since Burma was ravaged by Cyclone Nargis and the extent of the disaster is still emerging. Now we have some news about our friends and colleagues there and send all strength and wishes to tackle the immense tragedy of the disaster and moreover, its after effects.

In the midst of images of the carnage in Burma which were challenging us in our comfort, the news of the earthquake in Sichuan started to break. Now, 6 days after the disaster there I am stunned by the images of the devastation and the extent of the loss of life. In the coming weeks we will begin to understand what this means for families not just in terms of loss of life, but how on earth to begin to rebuild homes, livelihoods, communities and to deal with the intangible losses. Even though I have been inside a building which was damaged during a major earthquake (the earthquake of December 26 2004), I cannot begin to imagine the terror and fear of the people who lived through this horror.

My friends and colleagues are working round the clock and in conditions far beyond the comprehension of many of us in both of these emergencies. Their dedication and professionalism is both inspiring and humbling.

All those affected by and working in these disasters should be in at least our thoughts, and preferably our actions.

Ground rules

I have now managed to get a connection at home so here is a progress report, putting things into context a bit and being rather more serious than usual.

Life and work here is one of contrast. Colombo is a green city, relatively uncrowded and easy to live in. Food is great and although prices are steep due to high inflation and the situation here, there are many nice places to hang out - and you can even get beer! Now, if you have ever been based in Chennai you know that is a change!

However, not far underneath the surface is another reality. In another world, the north of the island is in the grip of fighting and in Colombo bombings are sadly a fact of life. On Friday, we were out of the city when phone calls started coming with news of an attack in the busy Fort area of Colombo. Phones were buzzing as details and reassurances were sought, and calls from concerned relatives overseas even reached us. But I want to be clear – this blog isn’t about that. While I chat about life and work here, there is a very serious side that is not up for public discussion.

But there's plenty that is..............