My boss’s boss came over from India for a weeks visit. This put a bit of pressure on me at work to get my organisational assessment report looking presentable, and gave me a chance to get to know more about the bigger BN picture outside of SL and the expectations of BNSL. As part of the visit we went to Tangalle for a full day meeting, plus 5+ hours driving each way – a long day! The meeting we went to was the Consumer Action Forum, which I’ve mentioned previously – a group of stabilised mentally ill people who are now looking to constitute themselves as an organisation which will implement projects and advocate for the rights and needs of mentally ill people. The meeting was well attended with about 50 people there, and as my boss’s boss was there most of the proceedings were translated, which was good! People have travelled from around the area and update the rest of the group on the work they have been doing. They have been involved in the BN programme which ran for five years in their area, but which now has finished. The members of the group have benefited from BN’s project and become stabilised and some have been able to start earning again. The amazing thing is that they are now continuing on the work of the project voluntarily, so they go and speak to mentally ill people in their area, help them to access medication and encourage the self-help groups. It’s quite humbling and inspiring to sit in the meetings – especially as every now and again someone will get up and sing a song! Can’t quite imagine that happening at any of the steering groups at NES somehow…


We had a weekend away for our volunteer pal who’s normally stuck in Anurandapura in solitary confinement as the only VSO in the town. Negumbo is the first place I’ve been to which actually feels touristy – there’s loads of little crafty shops, which were nice! The weather wasn’t great, but we did go for a stroll along the beach and see the big sailed boats which this area is renowned for. Negumbo is the beach resort closest to the airport, hence why it’s set up for tourists, and it has some amazing hotels – you’ll probably get offered the chance to spend a night here either at the beginning or the end of your holiday because it’s so easy to get to the airport. We went to check out the nice hotels because one of the vols had their sister coming to stay for a long weekend (from Hong Kong, not the UK obviously) who had offered to pay for the accommodation – lovely! We walked into one of the bedrooms and our jaws literally fell to the floor at what appeared to us as sheer opulence – lovely décor, amazing bathroom which huge bath and huge separate shower, balcony with amazing view etc etc. On reflection, it probably wasn’t that amazing, but compared to our £4 a night place, it was!

In the van on the way back to Colombo we got stopped at a police checkpoint. This isn’t unusual, but usually when they see Westerners in the van they stop asking questions and wave us on. But not this time. The police man asked us in Sinhala if we spoke Sinhala, to which of course we all shook our heads (VSO advice, don’t speak in Sinhala to the police) and then he proceeded to check all our ID and speak to us in Sinhala in a tone which didn’t sound too friendly. When we pulled away one of the vols who speaks better Sinhala than me (which doesn’t take much) said he’d accused us of lying – we should have looked blankly at him when he asked us if we spoke Sinhala… he asked us in Sinhala!


We went on a mini-break to Mirissa, another beautiful beach town on the south coast. We managed to wangle this one because on the Monday one of my colleagues was running a workshop in Tangalle and I decided to invite the other two musketeers along so they could see first hand the BasicNeeds approach to community mental health. And as Tangalle is on the south coast we went down on the Friday night to make a weekend of it, rather than facing a 5am 5 hour trip first thing on a Monday morning – which I’m not really a fan of, in case you hadn’t noticed. I arranged the logistics for the trip, which involved randomly selecting a guest house out of the Lonely Planet, then ringing to book a van to take us south. Both times I rang to book I felt like I’d spoken to some guy randomly walking past the phone, and had no sense that my booking had been taken – I had to offer the details of the booking, which weren’t repeated back to me and it didn’t sound like they were being written down either. This is just another example of the culture difference – of course it all worked out as booked, the van turned up and the guest house had a room for us (well, we were the only guests, so there was no worries there..).

Mirissa is on another beautiful stretch of beach like Unawatuna, but is smaller and less commercial (not that Unawatuna is commercial by our terms). As it’s out of season, it was even quieter, to the point that I think we saw 4 or 5 other guests in the entire town. So it was great to walk along the deserted beach, which was deserted even by the beach guys who tend to hassle you – bliss! There were loads of the crabs who live in snail shells, I think they’re called hermit crabs. They were everywhere, in big and small shells – you had to make sure you didn’t step on the moving target outside your room. I tried to take a photo, but it doesn’t really do the critter justice.

The sea isn’t great at this time of year, and can be quite dangerous but luckily we had a local guy with us who can read the sea like a book, so I went in for a dip – I love bobbing up and down on the waves, but there was a moment when I wasn’t quite sure which way was up and just wanted to get back onto the beach. The adrenaline was pumping big time and it took me a good five or ten minutes for my hands to stop shaking – the sea is powerful and not to be played with. I can’t even begin to imagine the force of the tsunami, which I never forget when I’m by the beach here.

So we got the bus from Mirissa to Martara, and then changed to get to Tangalle. We didn’t have anywhere booked and just turned up at the Wavy Ocean (great name) and again were the only guests. The beach in Tangalle is more like I thought the beach would be like here – big and long, unlike the bays of Mirissa and Unawatuna. Me and Sarah took a walk along the beach in the late afternoon sun, which is the time I love to be on the beach. Once we walked along from the built up bit there are a few guest houses and bungalows. The guy from one of the places started speaking to us and invited us to see his rooms – there are just two of them, and a nice covered area to sit and watch the waves come crashing in. Then he offered us a drink – of coconut! He shimmied up a palm tree, cut off a couple of coconuts, lopped the tops off and offered them to us with a straw sticking out! It’s not often you get to say “I’ve finished my coconut!” He was going to take us to see the turtles coming up the beach to lay their eggs, but the heavens opened that night with a big thunderstorm so we didn’t go. I’ve been back to his place a couple of times since, but that’s another story…

So, back to the professional reason to be on the South coast! The BasicNeeds community mental health and development model has the voice of mentally ill people at its core and also research and evidence gathering. The training session was for community volunteers to learn how to take life stories from mentally ill people and their family and carers. Life stories are taken over the duration of the implementation of the programme, so the changes in people’s lives can be seen – for example around their life skills, acceptance by the local community or their livelihood activities. It’s also seen as a therapeutic activity, as often mentally ill people don’t get their voice heard. We participated in the group work, and managed to follow most of what is happening, with a couple of folk translating bits for us. The training helped my two follow volunteers think about how they can use life stories in their own placements, working in mental health units in SL, so it wasn’t a jolly really…


Aiyo! Apologies, it’s been ages and all I’ve managed is a few photos – I can’t really complain about the lack of emails, can I? I’m finding it really hard to make the time to write plus I’m not very good at responding to emails either, so many apologies. I’m mentally writing this blog and emailing folk, I just don’t seem to find the time to actually sit at a PC and type!

So, see the next few entries for a catch up…


Yet again, no time for words because I’m too busy off on mini-breaks!  Things are tough here though, honest.  Work’s cranking up a gear with my boss’s boss over from India this week, so I’ve been report writing and preparing a presentation for her – I do feel slightly out of my depth with this OD stuff, but we’ll see how it goes.  I’m suggesting basic changes around strategic alignment and HR practices, which I hope will impact on the effectiveness of staff.  Well, I’ll have to facilitate the implementation of the changes, as well as just identifying them I guess – that’s my work for the next 6 months then!

No time to tell the stories from the weekend, but here’s some photos with some comments to keep you going – http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=44169&l=19f3b&id=676344121

Thanks for sending emails to the few friends who identified the desperation in my previous post, I will respond soon.  And for those of you who haven’t been in touch, I hope you feel guilty enough to email this week.  Am I out of sight out of mind??!


Well, I haven’t got the time at the moment, but you can see some photos from the weekend in Mirissa and Tangalle here http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=43181&l=a28a8&id=676344121

But really, it is a hard life – I’ve got a day off for Poya tomorrow and I’m going to have to work on a report in the morning.  I’m starting to feel the pressure at work – I’ve got lots of ideas, I’m just not convinced anyone will want to listen…

Hope you’re all well!


So, I know I’m not posting every week on here, but I’m getting more emails from Amazon than I am from the UK – what you doing, what’s good, what’s bad, what’s happening in Eastenders????!  Enliven my inbox, please…

Meanwhile, everything’s going well here and I’m kind of settling into things – I don’t have that sudden feeling of “I’m the only Westerner walking along the street, I must look slightly odd” as often when I walk to work.  Things are quite busy what with socialising, work and hand washing, so I haven’t got the cross-stitch out for weeks, which is nice.

So let me know your news, it’ll be good to hear from you.  And thanks to the few friends who have been emailing, you always make me smile!

Take it easy & I’ll post properly next week – I’m off on a mini-break to the beach again this weekend…