A trip to Embilipitiya plus meeting Victoria's esteemed Governor
Saturday 12 Mar 11 - Tuesday 15 Mar 11
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Well, I’m back from a brief but fairly productive trip to Embilipitiya, and I’ve already moved into the working week, with an exciting day today welcoming David de Kretser, the Governor of Victoria, to Seenigama.
Saturday morning is my earliest start of the week; cricket’s a demanding game and you have to be punctual! When we finally started at nine o’clock or so, it was already pretty hot, and Anjula got the ladies and the U15s to run ten laps of the ground for a warm up. I was very glad that I was a ‘coach’ and not a student, for I didn’t fancy running that far in the sun, but then of course, Anjula said that we should run too, and so we did. After a couple of laps of sticking alongside him, I became bored and picked up the pace, eventually lapping some of the cricketers twice.
Mistake. I was then stuffed for the rest of the morning. I fielded for the U13s and was asked to do most of the boundary riding, running up and down the boundary chasing leather without much recognition or success. By 11am I was ready to call it a day.
But I soldiered on, as any self-respecting coach would. Harsha asked me to take the U13s for a brief fielding session. As soon as he left the ground, though, the kids started playing up – my pleas to do X or Y were countered with ‘It’s too hot’ or ‘Give us diving catches’ or ‘That’s boring’. After five unsuccessful minutes, I did what any self-respecting coach wouldn’t do, and cracked it.
Now, I admit, my version of ‘cracking it’ is significantly more tame than the version of a few of my female relatives; I didn’t even take my bat and ball and go home, I left the bat and ball and went to my temporary housing. I don’t even think the kids understood that I was fed up, they just thought I was going to get a drink or something.
And I had to get ready for Irosh, who was coming at 1pm to pick me up. But then he wasn’t, or not that early at least – Dulani, his wife, was sick and he was delayed, leaving me with another couple of awkward hours to kill.
We eventually got on the road much later than I had hoped, but luckily the roads down south are very good. This is a direct result, no doubt, of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s connection with the region. You can see his face on just about every major road, if not his son’s, and even when you can’t, one can almost feel his presence, like an Orwellian Big Brother figure, only slightly less sinister.
Akshaya was waiting at the gate for us to arrive and immediately wanted me to chase him around the house. Marco, a German friend of theirs, and as a result ours, had given Akshaya a Bruce Lee DVD, so he was also keen to try out his moves.
Kumudu cooked us a delicious dinner as we looked at some of the horrifying scenes in Japan on Marco’s computer – like many in Seenigama, it seemed to reopen mental scars for Kumudu. She asked me whether I thought 2012 would be the end of the world, and I reassured her that we’d be OK.
I surveyed the improvements to the house, including the addition of doors and hot water, as well as a water cooler and a fridge. Marco’s done a great job in sparking the Lankas into action – they’re lovely people, but not particularly proactive, and so it seems to be up to us to get them moving.
We watched the final overs of the South Africa vs. India match, with Irosh unleashing all his hate on the Indian bowlers, calling Nehra a ‘loser’ multiple times as the Seth Efrickan batsmen smashed him around the park in the last over.
A real cricket game took place in the morning with Irosh and Akshaya, but what Akshaya really wanted was to play on the computer, so we did. And before we knew it, lunch was on the table and then it was time for us to go – Irosh had a six-hour drive the following day starting at 3am, and it is at least six hours to Colombo from Embilipitiya.
Akshaya was crying when we left, but he does that every time we go so I wasn’t too worried. (If that sounds heartless, it’s because I am.) On our way out we inspected the signs advertising the business – they’re good but too green, and camouflaged against the trees. Still, considerably better than nothing.
After saying goodbye to Irosh at Seenigama, I took the rest of the day off. The Australian cricket team were up against the might of Kenya, and I rode the bike to the villa so that I could watch it on the big screen. Not worth it, of course; the game was lifeless and I spent most of the time catching up on emails. At about 10, when the game finally ended, I was in trouble – a thunderstorm has come over and heavy rain had set in. It wasn’t until after 11 that I ate any dinner.
Monday was also a quiet day. I walked to Hikkaduwa in the late morning and did a few odd jobs – posted a letter, put some money on my mobile and bought some supplies. I walked the length of Hikkaduwa Beach, as well, the first time I’ve done so. I prefer the smaller Seenigama stretch – not only is it less crowded, but it’s cleaner, free of touts and doesn’t have the smell of diesel fumes from the hundreds of boats ready to take tourists diving or sightseeing.
Even though I didn’t particularly need or want one, I bought an ice cream while waiting for the bus back. The product cost me 20Rs. (about 18c), and I would have paid that much for the packaging alone – the icypole was called Captain Cool! Not only is that an awesome name for an icypole, it’s also the nickname of former Sri Lankan cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga, and even more importantly, Dad’s nickname from the AuSLMAT trip.
In the afternoon I joined a few of the club cricketers for a hit up in the nets (or as they call it here, the ‘side wicket’). I held my own, much to my surprise, and even more surprisingly managed to turn the ball a significant amount consistently – promising signs for the season ahead.
I continued my healthy eating for dinner, with Sugee cooking traditional ‘village food’, as she calls it, in water lily, snake gourd and okra curries with red rice. It's really nice, and though, if I'm being brutally honest, I probably slightly prefer the more common potato or pumpkin varieties, I’ll generally eat anything that’s put in front of me and besides, it’s interesting food that I would never get the chance to eat normally.
Today’s big event, as mentioned, was the arrival of the Governor along with his high-powered delegation. I slept in and was very slightly late for the pharmacy in the morning, but I arrived in time for the steady stream of forty or so patients that kept us busy throughout. The Foundation staff were speaking to each other in Sinhala, but I kept picking up the words ‘Sam’, ‘Australia’ and ‘Governor’, so it wasn’t too hard to deduce the subject of conversation.
They were due to arrive at two, so Sugee and I went back to the house for more ‘village food’ and a bit of a rest before the big meet. When we arrived back at MCC, hoping to be able to welcome them in, they had already arrived twenty minutes earlier – the Governor obviously hasn’t adjusted to ‘Sri Lankan time’, where everyone’s schedules run half an hour behind.
With him were another few ‘suits’: his British secretary Charles, and two Australian aid officials, Sue and Leo. Sue had heard of AuSLMAT’s work, which was pleasing, and seemingly like most here, she knew of ‘Dr. Sian’.
The Governor, or ‘Dave’ as I like to call him, was particularly vocal on the subject of men’s health as we toured the medical facilities – he seemed relatively unmoved by the psychologists’ work, instead lambasting Kushil for his lack of a dedicated male health program. (OK, perhaps ‘lambasting’ is too strong a word; I just like the sound of it.)
We got a big reception at Victoria Gardens, a housing settlement built by the Victorian Government back in the Bracks era. With that in mind, the placards declaring the villagers’ hope that ‘the Victorian Government prospers greatly’ would not have been welcomed by Labor, given the recent election result. But anyway, it was very pleasing to see all this gratitude for my home state, even if none of it was directed specifically towards me.
The estate, which I haven’t visited since one of my first visits here three or four years ago, is clean, spacious and welcoming, with a playground and small park in the centre of the circle of double-storey houses. A few photos and a brief visit to one of the houses and we were off again, to the sports complex.
By this time I was ready to get into the cricket session that was about to start – I figured I’d be of more use there than tagging along on a tour I’d been through five or six times previously. So I sunscreened up and went along to help the U13 and U15 session. I umpired, which was a bit of fun, and enjoyed the cooler weather of the early evening.
The delegation departed, and after dinner and a long writing session, I finally retired for the evening.