Daily Dribble…Sri Lanka #4/4

Tuesday, Day 11. Sometimes in this life something happens that is totally unexpected and you have to roll with the way the dice lands. Finding yourself out of your comfort zone is often as a result of such a moment as this. 

Today I visited a Tea Leaf Trust Centre for professional development, in Udapussellawa, that teaches a one year English Diploma, for free, to students aged 18 – 26 years, with Tim Pare, the co-founder of the Tea Leaf Trust Charity and Tom Cassidy of SaySomethingin. Although in different careers now, both these chaps are qualified school teachers and as such, well versed around groups of students and the skills needed in communicating a given subject for a specified time duration.

Imagine then my surprise when we are all standing before the school Principal, Ms Premila Manoharan, doing the introductions, Tim (or Mr Tim as he is referred to here) introduces “Mr Tom and Mr Daniel who will be taking individual classes with the students, along with himself, over the next hour or so”! 

The whole school, splits up into three rooms, each being taught by one of the Mr’s for 20 – 30 minutes, before the ‘teacher’ moves to the next group and repeats the lesson and then moves to teach the final group (with no whiteboard in the last room)! 

“Errrr, yes that’s fine” I said to Mr Tim as I contemplated this sudden roll of the dice. 

Now, as it happens, Tom had mentioned to me yesterday that he had taken a class at a school he had visited earlier that day, so in true Boy Scout Mode (not that I ever was one), I spent the hours of 7pm to 3am last night and early this morning, formulating a few words that, in bed, I’m sure sounded far better than probably they did today, but nevertheless appeared to be of sound structure and purpose. That was my plan of attack should the moment arise and, sure enough, Mr Tim proved me correct as we each faced one of the three classes in rotation. 

My comfort zone is well known by those who have seen me act since 2011 to 2019, to be of a nature where, if they didn’t know better, the performances I gave would appear totally unrehearsed and uniquely original, rather than from a learnt script, woodenly recited. The effortless delivery of perfection, where an enforced or elongated pause can give even an experienced prompter the feeling you’ve forgotten your lines, when instead it’s simply a pause for effect or to give the recipient the idea you’re making this up as you go along, is a skill that gained me a well known reputation for… ‘the long pause’. As comfort zones go, during those years, I was feet up and as laid back in appearance when performing as I’ve ever been in my life. Knowing what you’re doing, knowing the script, knowing the weighted delivery, placed a comfortable blankie over the whole proceedings, making life feel safe and secure. On autopilot with the cruise control flipped on!

All that aside, today, my security was stripped from me, the proverbial blankie was well and truly ripped asunder, as perfection of script, or learnt words, or sentiment hopefully delivered, were all left in a discarded heap at the door of three rooms of expectant faces and enquiring minds. Thrust into the glare of making yourself understood in a foreign land, making something sound at least half interesting, being amusing, keeping student’s attention AND managing to remember what it was you’d been thinking sounded so great at 2am now that it was 12pm AND you’re sweating like a Sigiriya tourist climbing Lion Rock when the sun has reached its zenith, meant I was so far from my zone of comfort and security blankie, I’d lost sight of the pair of them ages ago. They’d both been sold to someone else or given away to someone more deserving of their support. I was as naked, exposed and as raw as a shorts and flip-flops wearing, crashed biker with gravel rash!

My only hope is that at some point in the future, those students will look back on their life and say “that old chap in 2023 made me think differently about how unique I am, my place in this world and what I can achieve. My self worth and self belief improved from that moment”. If any of them remember that, my work and sweat there under their spotlight gaze will have been worthwhile. 

“I have been Daniel John, you have been a fabulous class, thank you and goodbye!”

For now, you’ll find me in a darkened room, while I quietly sink into a post adrenaline-rush dissipation.

Wednesday, Day 12. The trip home to our current base from the school yesterday saw me contract an issue with my left ear that has rendered me incapable of any movement without serious swaying and nausea. Spent the night on the bathroom floor, throwing up and spinning out all over the place. 

Yet we need to be on the move. To Hatton. So they bundle me into a minibus and keeping my eyes closed and head down, we manage to make it to the superb Argyle Hotel with fabulous views through the clouds of Adam’s Peak. Suggested that it’s fit for climbing I ask how long to ascend to the summit and the response is apparently 4 hours. So that’s a miss. 

Thursday, Day 13. Today I feel like I’m on a rocking chair that is almost at the end of its rock. Just a slight swaying to and fro unless I try to stand and then I’m all over the shop. Best to relax then while Charlotte heads off out to the new school floor opening ceremony for which we came here. Can’t be helped, but in this condition I’m more of a hindrance. At least I’ve stopped throwing up! 

Friday, Day 14. Somehow along the way we have arrived at Good Friday. The traditional Easter weekend of the West isn’t something that is readily seen here in Sri Lanka. Not a surprise as this country is predominantly Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and then Christian, in that order. So no chocolate egg for me today then! 

Charlotte gets me some scrambled egg with toast instead to go with my scrambled ears and balance. Managed to keep it down too!

This world is in a sad state when the cup of tea on your breakfast table is the product of modern day slave labour. 

Saturday, Day 15 arrives and with it our final wake-up call with the pre-dawn creatures of the air chorus of this totally tropical island in the sun. Although the named soft-drink Lilt may have been withdrawn from use and exchanged with another name of bland forgetfulness, I am lilting and listing both to port and starboard as this weird condition continues. 

Charlotte has me ensconced in a bath chair on the veranda with a glass beaker of tea while she accompanies me there, reading one of her Book Club books. One that incidentally I’ve recommended to her as being one she should read, but one that she has found difficult to get into. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr comes highly recommended as does Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Both books are worth perusal and I guarantee you won’t regret reading either of them. They both have worthwhile messages for today’s reader. 

We are on a countdown to vehicular collection at 9pm to whisk us the 4 – 5 hours to Colombo airport from this lovely hotel in Hatton. Of all the places we have been to and stayed at in Sri Lanka, the Argyle Hotel has stood out as being the best. Perhaps it’s the 4 star rating. Perhaps it’s the attentive staff who provide both room and clothes washing services for us, whilst respecting the fact that although unsteady and not in perfect health, they don’t treat me as an invalid but as one that simply needs assistance to get about except for the fact that they address themselves to Charlotte the whole time as if I am deaf!

Charlotte commented that the below stairs staff all think that 

  1. She is my carer and
  2. That I have Parkinson’s

Slightly harsh assessment for those who do suffer that awful condition (imagine Charlotte having to tuck in your piles), and as for those who have Parkinson’s, well I wouldn’t wish that on anyone if they feel anything like the way I do right now!

Wobbly as a blancmange in a salad spinner! I’ve really had enough of this already, although one of the side effects means I’m now only 72kg (or 11st 6lbs in old money)! I haven’t been this weight since the year 2000… 

Just when you think you’ve witnessed every madness this country has to offer, the road from Hatton to Colombo comes along to prove you wrong. Wrought from the mountain sides of jungle climes, someone thought it would be a good idea to have a million switchbacks on a metalled road that has had its metal stripped out and sold long before the English left town, like the lead off a church roof. 

It seems the idea for this particular road was thought up on the back of a fag packet. As a feat of engineering it must surely be hailed as a masterpiece. As a way to unbalance and unhinge the soundest mind it excels. The failure of any driver’s abilities will be met with a swift end. The sides are sheer. Any dwelling or habitation clinging by the fingernails to the edge of this triumph over gravity has to employ the use of stilts to support the platform on which any building stands. 

So to take this road overnight in darkness would be foolish in the extreme. Here we go then!

During the decent from Hatton to Colombo, I was trying to analyse whether it was the shake, rattle and roll of the minibus, the incessant squeal and squeak of un-oiled, un-greased and under maintained undercarriage or the constant switchbacks that meant we were in danger of unwittingly being coated with the reappearance of our Last Supper! Our driver carried on to the airport in Colombo regardless…


The thread that connects…

Sri Lankan Airlines have a great promo video that they show on their flights…not much good when you’re about to land at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, but a pleasant reminder of many of the great and wonderful experiences Charlotte and I have shared over the last two weeks. 

What the aeroplane video doesn’t show is the ‘harsh reality behind the fairytale’ which can paint a very different image of this beautiful tropical island in the Indian Ocean. 

  1. Gnat bites. Unavoidable when coming to a place like this so if you’re in any way allergic to them, make sure you pack antihistamines and topical soothing cream. You will get bitten. No matter how hard you try to avoid them with all the formulas (Jungle or So Soft) they will find your damp crevices or chinks in the armour when you least expect them…much like the Spanish Inquisition. Be prepared to itch, hurt, swell and ooze. 
  2. Sunburn. You think like all good travellers that you have packed Factor 50 sunscreen that’ll protect you for 50 times longer than not wearing any at all. What in fact you’ve packed is a product that’ll protect you for 50 seconds and then you’ll burn like a cat’s paws on a hot tin roof. They have lots of tin roofs out here too. Makes a great noise at 2pm. 
  3. Sunstroke. In many ways a direct result of failure to wear a full body suit when going out in 30° even on a cloudy day. Unsurprisingly, the sun near the equator is a bit of a fiery furnace and with the height above sea level being considerably more than our usual 44 metres at home, it comes with a considerably reduced atmosphere to protect you too. Result, serious and very quick dehydration. I duly noted the salt marks on my clothing like I’ve just dried off from swimming in the sea! A precursor to a very uncomfortable night followed by severe headache the next day. When you think you’ve drunk enough, drink more!
  4. Inner ear imbalance. Now this one is a little tricky. You might get it or you might not, but if you take a tuktuk on a route lasting anything longer than 5 minutes or so, chances are you’ll be travelling over roads that have no reason to be described as such. More fitting would be a collection of potholes all joined together for mile after torturous mile. The trip to the school left me with no balance, throwing up all night and into the next day and still after 5 days, being unable to walk without Charlotte’s aid, or help from hotel staff, or cabin crew, or anyone who is in my immediate vicinity as I lurch from step to step with precious little coordinated control at all. 
  5. Heat and cold fluctuations. Unless you yourself have been to this type of area, nothing really prepares you for the rapid difference in temperatures. From the lowland mid thirties with its associated moist and tropical lushness, to the chilly mountain hills where you are constantly reminded by the locals to wear a hat to avoid a chill. The cold and damp seeps into you leaving you shivering and longing for sweaty valleys. 
  6. Noise. Now here, I have to admit that we do come from a particularly quiet location in French France, but the cacophonous raucousness of wildlife (frogs, crows, street dogs), 5am calls to something that lasts at least 2 hours with associated singing, chanting and drum banging, and a multitude of vehicles vying for supremacy on the tracks that snake around this jungle environment, has certainly left me in a state of ear-ringing campanological distress. 
  7. Extra leg-room airline seats. What a waste of time. Not only are they positioned near the toilets with all the associated smells and bodily noises that come from the incessant usage of the facilities, but the light emitted from those little rooms plays havoc with your attempts to gain some shuteye on the overnight flight too. The extra leg room advantage is also taken up by those people queuing for the toilets who end up standing on your unprotected toes in the near darkness.

Yet, the trip was amazing. Real bucket list stuff. Boxes have now officially been closed. That life-itch has been well and truly scratched. 

Educationally exceptional. 

Charitably eye opening. 

An assault on your senses. And pure torture too.

All in all, a very successful trip and one that both of us have absolutely no wish to repeat… only time itself might prove otherwise…

Thank you to everyone who has come along with us for the ride and all your comments so far. If you’ve enjoyed the Daily Dribble journey over the last few days, or been to Sri Lanka and experienced the same places yourself, do leave a message…

Until next time…

Carry on regardless…


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