Nobody lives off their allowance

Posted Thursday December 25, 2014 by Hazel Durbridge

If you are reading this on Christmas day, Happy Christmas!  Thank you for being such a dedicated reader of my blog!

Well, I have now been here 3 weeks. I compare the experience with Cameroon all the time. One big difference is that there are less volunteers – about 10 dotted all over the country rather than the 70+ there were in Cameroon. Consequently there is very little opportunity to socialise with other volunteers. I went swimming a couple of times in Colombo and I went and met 2 other volunteers by the coast over their New Year week-end. Otherwise, now I am here in Batticaloa, I will not see any of them again for at least 3 months. If I thought there were few white faces in Maroua, there are none here.

The volunteers are all in their 40s-50s and 80% women. NOBODY I have met yet lives off their allowance. They jet off to India/Burma/Thailand etc for holidays, go to posh spa hotels for week-ends, upgrade their living accommodation, buy ovens, sofas, eat out all the time, avoid public transport and buy up jewellery shops. They are nice, but a bit out of my league on the spending front.

Things are far more expensive here. I need to keep within my allowance because I have no savings, but there will be no luxuries.

They moan about distances and pace of travel here, but it is nothing. The accommodation is fine, standard horrid furniture and uncomfortable chairs, but there are ceiling fans in every room and of course running water. I am in a shared compound again, but so far the landlady seems very nice and the garden is full of flowers and I have my hammock up on a verandah with a view out over the lagoon.

The task I have been set isn’t anything like they said in the briefing and it is a biggy. They want me to write the Development Plan for Batticaloa. I am not quite sure why they can’t write it themselves as there seem to be plenty of staff and they all have degrees and postgrad qualifications, but no doubt the politics will reveal themselves sooner rather than later.

I have written strategic documents before, but this is a couple of levels higher. Still, there is an ex-volunteer called John who wrote one for the adjoining district last year who is in touch and whom I can turn to for advice and I have a proper desk in an air con office and people are bringing me briefing papers and taking me to meetings. It will be a shock to work 8-5 5 days a week in this heat, but far more rewarding than Bogo in that sense.

I have started another book. This is not going to be an easy read as the writer, Adele Balasingham, has a pompous, laboured style, but the content is pertinent to me at the moment. Title: ‘The Will to Freedom: An inside view of Tamil Resistance’. In some of the paperwork I read on Friday it said that 300,000 people got displaced during the civil war in Batticaloa and about the difficulties they are still having with rehabilitating freedom fighters and child soldiers. Pretty much every person over the age of 10 will have been touched by the atrocities here or the impact of the Tsunami that killed thousands in the town. Re-building is rapid. There are some swanky villa/bungalows going up here and I came across a massive hotel development in the lagoon both ugly and incongruous. Maybe I should do some research on where they are at with planning regulations. There’s a thought.

I must try and keep up with my Tamil, although so far they all want to practice their English. I like living in a Maroua size town (no swimming pools though, but you have the lagoon and the sea) and I was out exploring on my push bike yesterday. I think I will get lonely, but if work keeps me busy I should be OK. I am sleeping 9 hours a night at the moment! At home I had trouble sleeping 5!!

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