when I am old ….

Posted Thursday December 04, 2014 by Hazel Durbridge

I haven’t had space to tell you about something I saw in Unawatuna. I was sat on a sun bed people watching. Along the edge of the sea walked this old guy with a pronounced limp. I think he was German because he had very tight little speedo trunks on. He was nut brown, very up right, pacing methodically, eyes ahead, slowly along and back this curve of beach. On either side of him, no leads, were these two aristocratic looking dobermans with docked tails looking a bit like dogs you see carved in Egyptian pyramids, noses in the air with a movement like horses doing dressage. All the mangey rat stray dogs who had been lounging under the sun beds got all excited and there was this little trail of sniffing wannabes after them. It was very funny, but also very moving. That old guy and the dogs just owned that beach. I guess I just thought, ‘make me like that when I’m old’.

Another time I saw something that had the same impact was in a little village somewhere north of Southampton. I was in a pub looking out on a beautiful village green on a lovely summer’s evening. The green had a maypole on it. This elderly couple who must have been in their 70s came up and started dancing, quite beautifully around it, entwining their bodies in some elaborate routine, seemingly oblivious to anything but each other. It moves me to remember it.

I suppose what was lovely about both images was people happy in their own skin whereas I’ve been picking up a lot of angst amongst the volunteers. One in particular seems to be on the fringes of ‘the group’ and I don’t know why. I have only just met her but I picked up a real need to offload her experience. There’s too much to recount here, but I think she came in after a group referred to as the saints and blessed. I don’t know whether they were brilliant, worked their socks off or got off on martyrdom. Personally, if they set themselves up as ‘gods’ this is the wrong approach. We are supposed to be conduits for others’ empowerment, but anyway their legacy has made her life a misery and there is other stuff she hinted at. In the end I gave up trying to have any semblance of a tennis type conversation, but nor did I have the time, expertise or truthfully the desire to try to help her unpick it all.

Other volunteers just give me a grilling – career, marital history, child history, political standpoint – I give up any effort at having an equal chat, but interspersed with the battery are the vulnerable gestures that make them extremely likeable.

I was reflecting tonight about how differently so far I am dealing with this experience from 2010. I really needed to fit in then. This time, maybe because I know they are all going before me I am not even trying. I am enjoying their company as fellow human beings, but nothing more. I hope this augurs well for my ability to deal with the office politics.

I did tell one the story of the man on the beach and insightfully she asked me where I saw myself on a continuum of 1-10. I said 7. I want to be 7 even if about some things I am not and I am working on getting to 10.


Crocodiles living in tanks and lagoons are also under threat. They go on land to attack livestock and create fear in local fishermen. When they are caught, they are moved to wildlife parks.

Stray Dogs

The issue of stray dogs is likely to become an increasing problem in the district. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where tourists are advised to get rabies jabs before visiting.  Many of the animals are skeletal and suffering from mange.  This issue needs to be addressed, both from an environmental position (dog excrement, rabies, and potential bites are a health hazard) and from the perspective of animal cruelty.  The Tsunami Animal People Alliance runs programmes to neuter and spay dogs.  They have worked in the area before – August 2008, 408 dogs and October 2011, 501 dogs  A typical programme lasts 3 weeks and will spay/neuter 250 animals (both owned animals and street dogs that are caught with nets).  The cost is about LKR 500,000, but foreign grants can be accessed. During the writing of the plan paperwork and funding was secured to run a programme in January 2014.

Mosquito/ health threat

Abandoned tanks, water bodies and dug wells at Kiran, Santhiveli, Kudumpimelai and Pulakkadu and poor drainage systems generally lead to an increase in breeding grounds for mosquitoes and dengue fever.

Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013

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