Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Two photos

Not from Sri Lanka, but right before, from my one week in London where I got to spend time with both my sisters which was nice since the three of us had not hung out together in a while. One is of me breaking out into a spontaneous Aamir Khan dance move with the only spurt of energy I had left in my after I was tricked out of bed for dinner which i was told was not a far a far walk away, but lo and behold, I was with Sakina, which meant her idea of far was so not the same as my idea of far. Far flung is more like it. And do note that in JULY, I had that many layers of clothing on since summer seems to have forgotton London was on the map and it needed to stop and say more than hello.

The other one is one I took of Sakina with the only camera we had, a disposable one, when we were on the train on the way to the airport and we had to stand the whole way since it was soooo full of people. Funny story that we ended up passing my sister and brother in law who managed to get on the wrong train and thus had to get off to switch trains (their flight was earlier than mine and since I was dwadling, they left twenty minutes before we did...yes, the irony), and since the train was so full, they could not get on. Saks and I had the best place in the train, right by the window and we could lean on the wall and my luggage. Anyhow, doesn't she look cute with the one book she had with her 24/7 in London?

I have two more photos from that trip to the airport, but that is another post and another story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My first PRA (sort of...depends on what you want to call it)

So today, I headed out for a first meeting with a community in which we are starting our integrated livelihoods program. Went out there in full gear with ICRC, the Sri Lanka Red Cross and ourselves and the whole village came out. It is a village in an area that is both tsunami affected and conflict affected and there are lots of IDP’s from inland areas where fighting still continues though on a much lower scale than before. The east of Sri Lanka was recently liberated with parades and speeches the first week I was in Colombo some short three weeks ago (feels like ages already), and we don’t like to talk about pockets of conflict and violence that still remain. The people we work with however so like talking about it. At this entry point to the village, I love having ICRC there, esp in a village as this, since they can talk about what they do best. It reminded me, since it has been a while (little over a year) that I had sat down and saw an information dissemination session.

I love ICRC. They now have a nice video with Tamil (and Singhala) translations that talk about their work specifically in Sri Lanka. They have been around since the 50’s but set up a delegation in 1989 so they know both parties to the conflict and mediate on behalf on non combatants from talking to armed groups about child recruitment (sending messages or setting up meetings between the family and child if possible and even though it might take years uniting the child with the family), tracing services which they are known for across the globe, talking to prisoners making sure they are being treated humanely as much as possible and keeping them in touch with their families and vice versa (something I would love to do with them someday…someday when I don’t have a blog since ICRC folk are some of the most tight lipped people on this planet and have to be, more power to them) and then other protection issues. They are fucking cool. And I think the community appreciated there being there and talking about the work that they do. ICRC also explained how they are the daddy of the Red Cross Movement, IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent) the mummy and we, the National Societies the babies. I thought that quite cute….and will keep my opinion to myself on what I actually think of that as a working metaphor in Sri Lanka.

SLRCS went next and it was all in Tamil but I have worked with the woman before who was giving the session so I could pretty much guess what was being said. SLRCS is a post for another time but one can imagine, as you should, what it would be like to be the SLRCS after an event like the tsunami and being awash (bad choice of word) with other National Societies (PNSs we are called, participating national society) and all the money we brought with us, not to mention working styles. Indonesia had and has a very strong and active Red Crescent Society called PMI (whatever that translates to in Bahasa Indonesia) and the Maldives didn’t have a Red Crescent so I am guessing they formed one there….or are in the process of doing so.

We went last and by this time, everyone was getting tired, not to mention it was getting time for us to leave since we have to be back at base by a certain time but will be going back for what I promised would be a meeting where it would be more participatory and we would actually get down to work. It is a pre PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) meeting with the community and I am hyper excited since I love community meetings and everyone really did seem just so lovely.

When calling into a radio thingie on your car to base, when the conversation from your side is over, you don’t say over and out. You just say out. Over means that you are expecting a response from the other side since you are handing it over to them. I knew this the last time I was here and rarely ever heard it being used correctly but that is a change I noticed. Two people said it right. I have just started using the radio and yes, I do feel cool. My sisters are going to make fun of me but that’s what I wrote about it here.

Ok, it’s 7 pm, I’m tired. Time to go home. More soon!

Big kisses to all.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ward off that evil eye

There are lots of methods to ward off the evil eye that are culturally specific. Would be nice to know what they are. Th eone we use at home is to burn some red chillies. If there is a lot of smoke, you were being ridiculous and no one evil eyed you. If there is no smoke (the burning throat, burning eyes kind of smoke), you were evil eyed and now it's all clear.

There is something to do with eggs also, which my sister has picked up on since she got married. We marry into these cultural things which is kind of nice.

The point of the post is that I wanted to yell out to the world, I FUCKING LOVE MY JOB. Saying something like this is just inviting willy nilly the evil eye. Will have to find out what the Sri Lankan equivalent to warding off the evil eye is.

There is lots that I still do not get about this country.

Everyone just left the office and I am trying to catch up on some work and then off to see some old friends who have sailed into town for two days. Hopefully some badminton, some talking in Hindi, some talking in Spanish, some food though I find myself not hungry right now at all. Had a huge lunch. Found the biryani (it's not really biryani but that is what they call it here) place that I used to frequent in the town I used to work in but do not anymore and we picked up lunch from there on our way back to the office from the field and I found out from the new staff that I work with that not only is the best biryani in Akkaraipattu but it is in fact from the restaurant that I love, Millath House.

I like the calm at the end of the day.

One thing I want to comment on that pissed me off today, and has done in the past as well, is disaster tourism. Went to a village today to figure out if we are indeed going to be working there. The community is mostly IDP's and have bene moving around for a while. Was collecting secondary data from different local authority sources and all of a sudden we were asked, want to see a family? I was like sure, and without an invite, we just walk into a makeshift gate like thing and up to a shelter where there is a family.

First of all, who the fuck wants into a place uninvited? The whole point of community based work is restoring diginity of people by giving them the authority and ownership of what they would like to do and I understand this can be part of the culture of just being able to walk up, but hey, we aren't part of this community yet, we aren't their neighbours and they might want just a wee bit of privacy. The family (an old lady and two kids) didn't seme to mind but as always, it makes me feel weird to be standing there with a notebook and asking people questions (that they have now been asked a million times probably from similar looking people with notebooks and cameras (we didn't have cameras, thank god) and observing them as if they were in a zoo or something. Pissed me off to no end. I politely walked away and asked the local authority to never do that again when anyone from our team was visiting. Trying to have a whole conversation on dignity that was going to have to be translated was beyond me at that time and it is not that it would have fell on deaf ears, this is what we as the aid community have shown local leaders that we want to see. Cute kids with blue UNHCR sheeting makes a great photo, so we want to take it. Esp with people who are visiting since that is unfortuantely, what they want to see and show to the world. Alert net had some article on this and other agencies talk about this sort of stuff of imaging and how we portray the work that we do. I like the agency I work for. So far nothing I have seen is objectionable, which is a good thing. A good thing for the agency I work for since I am a loud mouth who will throw a hissy fit.

OK, done for today. That's two in a row. Where is my gold star?

Monday, August 06, 2007

From AlertNet. Human Rights Watch report.

It's been on the BBC today as well and one would think we were all talking about it here. We aren't- It's just another report. Let's see if anything happens or anything is done. Both sides have abuses.

Stuff like this makes me think if government should be held at a higher standard and perhaps the should since they have internationally recognized status and thus the benefits of being a state. Sovereingty is a big issue for me and that is a much longer conversation. But for now, the article below.

Sri Lanka accused of abuses on massacre anniversary

By Simon Gardner
COLOMBO, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's government is responsible for unlawful killings and disappearances, Human Rights Watch said on Monday -- the anniversary of the discovery of the massacre of 17 aid workers blamed on security forces.
Issuing a report entitled 'Return to war: Human rights under siege', the U.S.-based group said President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government is resorting to abuses to fight a new chapter in a two-decade civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels.
"The Sri Lankan government has apparently given its security forces a green light to use 'dirty war' tactics," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
"Abuses by the LTTE (Tigers) are no excuse for the government's campaign of killings, disappearances and forced returns of the displaced," he added. "The government has repeatedly promised to end and investigate abuses, but has shown a lack of political will to take effective steps."
About 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting for a separate state for minority ethnic Tamils, and security forces since 1983.
Rights groups say hundreds of people, many of them minority Tamils, have been reported abducted or disappeared this year and 1,000 more in 2006. Rebels, paramilitaries, elements of the security forces, and underworld gangs have all been blamed.
The Sri Lankan government says numbers of disappearances are overblown and many cases are fakes to discredit the administration.
The publication of the Human Rights report coincides with the commemoration of the murder of 17 local staff members of Paris-based aid group Action Contre la Faim, who were shot dead in their compound in the northeastern town of Muttur last August after they were trapped by fighting between troops and rebels.
Nordic truce monitors blamed the killings on the security forces and international observers say an inquiry into the massacre, the worst attack on aid workers since the 2003 bomb attack on the United Nations office in Baghdad, fails to meet international standards.
Action Contre La Faim are not pointing fingers, and are waiting for answers in a case that remains unsolved a year on.
"We want to know who has done this," said Loan Tran-Thanh, head of the group's Sri Lanka mission. "It's very slow, but that's normal."
"We cannot make any judgements ... because we are not the experts. We don't have enough data for us even to give an opinion," she added. "There have been so many contradictions."
The island's human rights minister demanded that journalists be barred from the commemoration ceremony.
The Tigers are also blamed for serial abuses, including killing civilians and troops with roadside bombs and forcibly recruiting people, including children, to fight in the war.
Human Rights Watch is lobbying for a United Nations human rights mission to be sent to Sri Lanka in the name of transparency and to discourage further abuses, but the government has refused.
It says western governments are bullying it on human rights and are hypocritical, citing abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I understand that they are going to commemorate ... these 17 people, but they have forgotten 35 people from the Muslim community butchered in the same place by the LTTE," said government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.
"How do these human rights work with 17 and not work for 35?" he added. "As far as the government is concerned, it is doing everything possible in relation to human rights." (Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in COLOMBO)

Why aren't you blogging!?!?

Stop your yappin’ people, this blog’s for you!

Week one over and man, this is so awesome. I do love it, I do I do I do. Was so nervous that the love that I felt before was just a one time thing but this is real. I do feel alive when doing this kind of work.

Before I go any further, the aspect of my blog that most fascinates me needs to be pointed out and commented upon, the cluster map. Lots of new hits from new countries and either someone really loves me and is flying around the world and logging on to my blog or for some random reason, there is a word in my blog that is making people find me somehow. Some Russian hits, some Canadian ones and finally, a South America hit. Very exciting. Some more out in the East Asian island region and god knows who is reading me in the central west of America but you do really like reading, thanks. I should know what state that is, but I don’t. I don’t know America that well. My bad.

So, work. Week two has started and I am taking my time and getting to know the programs. I have four people that I am directly responsible for, and all of them are great and wonderful and I have about 6 villages right now in which we have integrated programming that I am responsible for as well. Lots of little bits and bobs that are all supposed to fit and work with each other and I am finally getting my head around what those bits and bobs are. Real field visits tomorrow to two of the aforementioned villages and community meetings, which I LOVE, planned in both villages. I get to see my Field Officers and Senior Field Officer in action and finally can get planning done where I can visual what we are talking about. Or at least I hope I can.

Sri Lanka is still in the news but the areas in which I am working are for the most part calm. Ampara is as always, an interesting place to work since we have our own unique set of problems that sometimes connect to the nation wide stuff and at times are just our very own. One big difference I have noticed that I have yet to see commentary on is the amount of madressa type people walking around. Young men with big beards and the whole white turban and white starched clothes. It is a very specific uniform and I do not recall seeing it in the same way last time I was here. Interesting.

Please if someone has any guidelines on how we can blog as aid workers who are not anonymous, please pass them on to me. I still have no idea what I can say and what I cannot say. It’s really annoying since I am censoring myself perhaps more than I should. Or have to.

I am sitting right now on a desk at home, my boss a few feet away with our puppies at his feet. As soon as I get a camera (don’t hold your breath, it won’t be for another 3 months when I go home) and it is a sweet scene. I do want to show pictures of these puppies to everyone and of the house in which I live. I will. I might just borrow Mick’s (my boss) camera, that is, if he has one. I should ask. Anyhow, one way or another, photos coming soon.

I have a fish pond inside my house. And appalling lighting.

OK, that’s it for now. Not lots of information, I know, but it’s the best I can muster right now. At least I wrote.

Big love.