Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Millennium Development Goals

This is petition started by the Fashion FT 100 Network and People Tree that is calling on world leaders to help Fair Trade companies make more of a difference.

The summit is being held in New York on the 20th of September - please sign before then...


Sunday, 29 August 2010

Dubai Airport

Sitting at gate number 213 at Dubai airport dreading what will inevitably be a quick and brutal snap back to reality as I have to begin writing up all the amazing research I have had the opportunity to conduct.

The four of us spent yesterday avoiding talking about what awaits us at home and instead indulged in our favourite holiday past-times. Zoe and Beth went shopping...again and Saida and I spent the day at the beach (we only got a little crispy this time.)

We had a great dinner at the Cricket Club and then they left me at 10pm to get their flight with out me. But as Saida said, I started this adventure alone so I must finish it alone. Just a like a true explorer, with all the lying on the beach, good food and shopping I can truly be proud of myself that I have conquered middle (to upper) class Sri Lanka.

I don't think I will have anything to update for a while, so good luck finding something else as riveting.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hand knit at Kalaro

23rd August 2010

Kalaro – Continuous flow of art

Today I joined Zoe in going to a pretty surreal place, a hand knitting group that makes jumpers for Norway, using the traditional circle knitting technique of Scandinavia. A strange sight to behold in a tropical country.

We set off at about 9.30 with the manager Priyantha Subasinghe to a fishing village called Munnakkaga a small island off Negambo. Here he employs 28 women who all knit intricate jumpers from complicated home knitting patterns, these items are then used as the display piece for knitting shops in Norway. If these women didn’t knit for Kalaro, it is more than likely they would have no other source of income as this is a poor area, the main income in fishing – a not so stable profession for the men of Munnakkaga.

Previously, Priyantha worked for a company that his grandfather set up back in 1979, training over 4,000 Sri Lankan knitters over the 25 years that it ran. Back in 1979 a Norwegian company put out a contract to South Asian countries to become producers of classic jumpers, the kind you see in amusing 1970’s Scandinavian outdoor living advertisements. A company in China also put in a tender, but the tenacity of Priyantha’s grandfather meant that he won the contract due to his implementation of a cottage industry, connecting poor villages across Sri Lanka in centralized community workshops as opposed to a large factory as suggested by the Chinese company. It was very successful until 2004, when due to the Norwegian company restructuring, the 500 knitters employed were no longer needed. So Priyantha decided to set up on his own, taking 50 of the most skilled knitters to continue to supply a few other companies in Norway.

The structure of work is very flexible. All the women have children so they are able to get them ready for school and they go home at lunch time to prepare food for their children as well. Because of this flexibility they are also able to complete their house work and take time off when their husbands return from sea. This is at the same time as earning above minimum wage. If they lived in the city, they may be able to earn more than this in one of the larger garment factories, but they would be paying for either board or transport, and there is no way that they would have the same kind of flexibility.

These women are amazingly talented, to be able to knit a garment so perfect that the company occasionally gets complaints that it doesn’t look like it is hand knitted, at the same time as never having had the need to wear a wooly jumper in all their life is phenomenal.


22nd August 2010

My birthday – what luck. Woke to slightly overcast skies with blue peaking through – this was at 7am, it could only get better. When I finally got out of bed and had had the happy birthday conversation with my parents I wandered into the living room, and there was the table resplendent with a birthday feast any person with a sweet tooth would salivate at. Pancakes, nutella, cake, candy popcorn, coconut treacle and ginger biscuits all topped off with ginger coffee. They had even made me birthday cards extolling my virtues as a teacher, not at all sarcastically referring to my tendancy to be a know-it-all…

We headed out the door at about 10.30am, record time for a Sunday and went to meet Priyanka at the bus stop on the way to Mt. Lavinia hotel. But she was dropped off by Dominic’s wife and she insisted on taking us all the way to the hotel. So we reached the beach, with our fluffy hotel towels and sun loungers by 11am, the perfect amount of time to turn ourselves pink in our eagerness to be golden sun goddesses on our return from tropical climes. We had found this excellent deal of 1000 rs (6 pounds) for lunch and the full use of private beach and the shiny pool – we of course spent a little more than that on having drinks delivered to our little settlement of crispy bodies. It was impossible to swim as the sea was like a giant tumbling exfoliation machine; it was rough and chucked sand into the surf to scratch us.

By about half four we realized we may have spent a little too long by the sea, not realizing quite how hot it was due to the cooling sea breeze. We headed back to the pool, which was very soft compared to the sea and lazily hung around the edge watching the sun begin to go down. The showers in the changing rooms were the best we had had for a long time and we probably spent too long in there, but it meant that we didn’t look quite so sun stroked when we returned to the deck to watch the sunset and drink baileys coffee.

Dominic invited us back to the Sansoni house for a drink, and we were spoilt by him, his wife and their charming children. Dominic pours with a heavy hand, so a gin and tonic in we were all feeling very talkative. They provided us with cheese and crackers, chicken curry and after eights and of course a copious volume of vodka and gin, resulting in us stumbling home at about midnight.

I rounded off the evening by speaking to my brother who was back at the pub in England and as a result just as inebriated as me. A lovely ending to a lovely birthday – I was only missing my birthday buddy, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZIE!

Somber skies

21st August 2010

We had been planning and desperately hoping for sun today so that we could make the most of the weekend and head to the beach before having to write up our final presentation for next week. But instead we woke to grey skies and heavy rain. It put us all in a bit of a funk and we were a little snappy with each other. I persuaded the girls that if we made the most of the rain, stayed in doors and tried to write as much of our presentation as possible, it would mean that we could take a hopefully sunny day off next week.

So we spent the day indoors and only went out to go to the supermarket. We got a lot done and even got to watch Karate Kid as a treat.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


20th August 2010

Hoping today would be better, I set off towards the Barefoot head office which I figured from the directions was about a 20 minute walk away. After some waiting around I started to think the worst and imagine that it would be yet another day of wasted time, however I was soon introduced to the head of weaving, Anusha a little tightly packed ball of energy, and I knew that I would not be having an unproductive day. We jumped into the van and Priyanka, a lovely young woman from India who is working with Barefoot on textile designs for six months. The drive to the weaving centre took over an hour but it did not feel like it as conversation did not cease.

The weaving centre itself is the picture of perfect design. Designed by the Sri Lankan architect who was the right hand man to Geoffrey Bawa, it uses natural light to the full extent and the space inside is huge and open. Inside, they have fitted about 80 or so hand-weaving looms and they have about 20 bobbiners working non-stop. The women, as I would be if I had the opportunity to work in such a beautiful space, looked genuinely happy and grinned at me with every opportunity.

Priyanka was working on a new weave using Khadi, a handspun cotton from India. It was absolutely beautiful utilizing natural colours not often seen in the traditional Barefoot palate. Priyanka has already begun to understand and speak a little Singhalese, so she was able to communicate with the weaver and before long they had woven a foot of beautiful shawl.

I was able to interview a few of the workers and was surprised to find that they are all paid the highest of any where we have been to of yet. The bobbiner that I interviewed, Lasanti, is earning 12,000 rupees per month, this is unheard of for bobbiners who usually barely make the minimum wage, let alone double it. (We think the minimum wage in Sri Lanka is about 6,000 rupees, although no one that we have asked seems certain.) I also interviewed Lalani, who is a weaver – she earns 15,000 rupees per month, 5,000 of which she contributes to food for her family.

After speaking with Anusha, I learnt that these women are not the exception, and that some weavers have the ability to earn around 25,000 rupees per month as they work on a piece rate. This is truly amazing as this is the first factory/initiative that pays well above the recommend Asian Floor Wage – I was beginning to believe that this was an unobtainable goal that would only serve to frustrate the garment industry. It is great to be proved wrong.

For the rest of the day, Priyanka and I sat on the mezzanine above the workers listening to the cadence of the looms and talking about hand weaving (couldn’t think of a more perfect setting.) She showed me her work from university and after, she is a talented designer and incredibly skilled weaver and it is brilliant to see another young person so passionately committed to the promotion of hand-craft – maybe it isn’t hopeless after all.

I had another opportunity to show my prowess as a weaver and they were even more impressed than previously, all the women gathered around to see how it was done by a true master, only sniggering a little when my shuttle kept flying off the end and crashing to the floor. Sadly there is a very strict rule of absolutely no photos at all, and I could only watch as beautiful women wove beautiful fabrics without documenting their serenity.

We all arrived home happy and content with our days, a lovely contrast to last night. We started to get glammed up and Zoe the resident hair stylist put different kind of plaits in all our hair – looking hot we set off to the Barefoot café where they were having a blues evening with Slim and Slimmer. At Barefoot I was able to introduce the girls to Priyanka and they all hit it off. The band were amazing and when the rain stopped (yes, raining in Sri Lanka – how crap) we were able to dance the night away, with only a little hindrance from a strange man who thought the whole world loved his sleazy moves.

Day Two - Melbourne Textile Washing Plant

19th August 2010

I wasn’t really looking forward to today as I wasn’t sure how much more they could show me, my fears were founded as I spent about 5 hours of the day waiting in the meeting room that they had designated as my space, waiting to talk to people who then cancelled on me. Two things I did manage to do today was have a tour around their water treatment plant with the factory engineer – probably fascinating if you understand chemistry – he walked me through every single process and the chemicals used to bind and then neutralize the other chemicals…

In the afternoon I spoke to HR and learnt about their employment practices, probably one of the most impressive factories in this regard. The trainees earn a base salary of 8,500 rupees per month with the opportunity to earn more with overtime and attendance bonus, the most that a more senior person can earn including overtime and incentives is about 17,000 per month. This is well over the average that workers in the garment industry can generally earn. The only thing that worries me about this is that they employ about a thousand workers, only 72 of which are women – so surprise, surprise, the male dominated work place earns well above the minimum wage.

No one had, had a particularly enjoyable or productive day so we all sat about the dinner table and had a little bitch over a vodka tonic – feeling significantly better we sat down to a mind numbing Sandra Bullock film.

Day One - Melbourne Textile Washing Plant

18th August 2010

In stark contrast to my last few days, I went to a high tech washing plant today called Melbourne Washing part of the Maliban group. I had not been looking forward to it as over the last few months I have come to the conclusion that hand weave is the way forward and large factories are impersonal and even a little boring. How wrong could I be. It was fascinating. If your tie dye top or jeans are made in Sri Lanka, they will have been treated here. This plant does every treatment to clothing – stone washing, bleaching, overdyeing, acid wash, tie dye, sandblasting, grinding, 3D wrinkle effects and the most amazing LAZER (not sharks with lazers though, that would have been cooler). The jeans go into a sealed glass box on a mannequin, a design begins appearing on the fabric as if by magic. One example of a lazer design was what looked like splashed bleach – phenomenal.

Asoka de Silva, a graduate of Moratuwa university and now the operations manager showed me around made me feel very welcome. All the employees seem to love him and joke around with him (respectfully) as though he is truly a kind employer. Asoka personally trains the new recruits and keeps an eye on them over their first few months, he then places them in an area that he thinks they will excel. I was introduced to their current group of new recruits, Asoka is particularly proud of one of them and is thinking of putting him into research and development, an amazing opportunity for this boy (I would guess he is about 18).

After my factory tour I was handed over to Pradeep the factory engineer. He covers three main areas; machinery maintenance, waste water treatment and energy management. Over the next hour he gave me a very detailed run down on how his job saves the company money. It was very impressive actually, it was just the level of detail which went over my head slightly. He has come up with some very interesting ideas which save a lot of resources and subsequently money. One in particular is the re-processing of steam. Their biggest energy consumption is through their boilers (oil fueled) which make steam for the whole factory used in their dyeing and drying procedures. Pradeep has connected the used steam back into the system and the recycled water accounts for about 60% of their steam.

I got given Pizza Hut for lunch, an interesting interpretation of pizza toppings – pineapple and curry, nice! In the afternoon I was shown around their design studio where there are samples of every single kind of wash or finish that they do – some are hideous, but most are simply amazing. The effects that they can achieve through different washes, dye techniques, lazer and abrasion are mind blowing.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Shoba - Day 2

17th August 2010

Woke this morning to sunlight streaming in through the batik curtains, the violent weather from the previous evening seemed to have disappeared in the night. I made my way to Shoba at 9.30am and sat opposite waiting for someone to arrive. Anusha’s sister walked by and told me that I would have to wait – yes, I thought, that is what I am doing. When Anusha finally turned up it was 10am – luckily the café opposite the Shoba gallery serves the most amazing muesili and espresso coffee, absolute treat.
We set to work, I started to make a folder for them that should be full of perfect examples of jetted pockets and immaculate execution of the invisible zip. We had to do this in my first year of university, at the time I had hated it and found it very boring, now I am glad – thanks Vince! To begin with though, I just wrote out simple instructions on how to insert a plain zip in a seam – neatly, a foreign concept to Anusha. I asked Anusha if she could translate the instructions that I painstakingly wrote out (including pretty amazing drawings) into Singhalese, doubtful.

Zoe had requested that I get a sample of lace made out of her wool. So I showed the wool to the women, they were doubtful – no vision! Anusha gave it to one of the women that make lace at the front of the gallery on show for the tourists, she quickly drew up a pattern on gridded paper and started rolling the wool onto the wooden bobbins. It was great to see it being made out of wool as it made the process a little more visible with the thick yarn. Because of the thicker yarn, she was able to complete the sample in under three hours.

We went into the town outside the fort to buy a clearfile folder and some embroidery threads for the women that sit at the front of the gallery to make little bracelets. Anusha’s sense of colour is very different to mine, I suggested tonal shades and fashionable colours – Anusha suggested green and purple together. We compromised and chose three variations each. On the way back to the gallery I saw an awesome souped up auto complete with car seats.

Back at the gallery, it was time to begin preparing for the afternoon workshop. I cut out seven sets of lining for the womens bags, and gathered samples of lace and buttons from around the shop for their inspiration. After lunch the women began to arrive, when all seven were there, I started to tell the women that I wanted them to design their own bags using the template that I had made yesterday – they did not seem to impressed when Anusha translated for me. So I tried to make them more enthused by showing them different fabric combinations and showed them how striking the lace looked on a plain handwoven background. They began to grab fabrics and soon they were figuring out their own designs – I heard Anusha suggesting to someone to add her favourite ‘sparkles’ (sequins) I almost lost it, but instead I very calmly suggested that no-one was allowed to use ‘sparkles’ unless they could persuade me otherwise – needless to say, no one ended up using ‘sparkles’.

The women were not to make their bags today, they were only cutting out the pieces so they could make them at home. Instead Anusha began to sew the bag step by step so that they could all learn how to do it the correct way – as I had already shown Anusha how to do it, she made the bag very well and even inserted a very satisfactory zip after referring to the instructions. The bag that Anusha made looked great, she had made it from scraps of handloom and jute – but she was talking again about covering it in appliqué and sequins, I couldn’t persuade her otherwise.

By this time it was already 5pm so I had to make a move back towards Colombo, I said goodbye to all the women and Anusha and her sister. Im not as impressed with this group as I had initially thought I would be. I wasn’t sure about their payment methods, they only pay the women after the piece has sold, this is absolutely not Fair Trade and Anusha really didn’t see that. She kept telling me how expensive it is to run the gallery even though it is part of the family house, so it seems that she is letting the workers absorb her cost. Only when she figures out that the workers are more important than the precious gallery will she be able to become Fair Trade.
The bus back to Colombo took almost four hours, but this meant that I could almost finish another crappy novel which always manage to lift my spirits. Back at the apartment, all my lovely comrades were home and it was great to be back, they even put dinner in front of me as soon as I sat down, more of Saida’s amazing cooking!

Shoba - Galle Fort

16th August 2010

Today was the first day of our opportunity to work within the Sri Lankan garment industry. While the other girls have gone to fancy corporate factories, I have requested to go to Shoba – which is a small co-operative of women in Galle Fort. I asked Anusha, the woman who runs Shoba if I could come on the 12th when we first visited and it was all arranged.

So I set off this morning at 6.30 (AM!) from the flat and made my way to the bus stop around the corner from our apartment. We have been catching public buses since we got here so I didn’t think it would be a problem, but when the first bus to Galle (the number 02 for future reference) drove past without slowing I enlisted the help of the old man standing next to me, so when the next bus came we were ready to frantically flag it down, but it didn’t stop – I was holding a water bottle which I almost threw, but refrained because that would have been rude. Luckily, a small AC bus stopped for me not too much past 7, it only cost a little more so I was able to sit in a fridge all the way to Galle.

As we headed further south, it became apparent that the crap weather in Colombo yesterday was nothing compared to the stormy weather in Galle. Wind and rain lashed the coast and umbrellas flew into the ocean. I did manage to make it safely to Shoba gallery by 10am after a long wet walk from the busstop outside the fort walls. They were not quite ready after a slow start to the morning so I waited across the road at the Pedlar Inn café drinking a not half bad latte – first in well over a month! I headed back at 11, where I was immediately put to work designing a bag. Not really my forte, but I gave it a shot. I then dragged Anusha to Barefoot and the other touristy shops in the area to do some comp shopping, something she apparently hadn’t thought to do as she had not set foot in half of them. It was great to show her what else sells and also to point out what the tourists were picking up but putting back.

Back at the gallery I continued my task of bag design trying to get it done before the trainees arrived at 2pm for the workshop which I was apparently going to teach… But we breaked for lunch for over an hour and by the time we had got back most of the women had arrived for the workshop. Anusha took over and taught a different design while I sat a treadle sewing machine and tried to figure out how to work it – not easy, you have to spin the wheel towards you and use your feet to treadle at the right rhythm which I would quickly use and it would start to go backwards instead. Anusha let me use an old singer which had been hooked up to power instead – still not easy. It took me about an hour to figure out how to sew the bag neatly without the need for an overlocker so all the seams were on the inside, but I did it and was feeling very proud of myself. The women in the group and Anusha were all amazed at my neat zip and pocket bag, not something which my sewing tutor at university ever felt, and insisted I teach them. Who would have thought I would ever teach sewing… It was decided that all the women would come back again tomorrow so that I can teach them my bag, I think I will make them all choose their own fabric and motifs – they do not seem to be given any autonomy in design.

I then spoke with Anusha for about an hour after the women had left about Shoba and its aims. I was really interested to hear that the Export Development Board had not given Shoba the opportunity to take part in the Fair Trade course which Shermila Batik had done. Anusha would like to become Fair Trade but doesn’t know how to go about it. It seems that the charity that Shoba work with, Transrural Trust which is based in the UK, have already begun the process of making their supply chain and accountancy more transparent. It seems unfair that the groups which would benefit the most from a Fair Trade mark find it difficult to even acquire information on how to become Fair Trade.

I had decided not to stay in a hotel outside the fort so I braved the driving rain and walked two minutes down the road to a guest house run by a lovely old man – my room was lime green. The geckos blended into the walls.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Architecture and children

14th August 2010

We visited the home of Geoffrey Bawa today - it is very pretty and green and set on the side of a lake. I would quite like to live there.

Then we went to a charity called EACT (Educate a Child Trust)where their main aim, among many others is to educate children. The children gave an amusing Kandian dance performance - tres sweet.

I think I have visiting places fatigue - I can't think of anything exciting that happened, but we did get to eat at home and Zoe made a yummy stir fry and then we went to the cinema where we got to watch faded action heros including Sly, Arnie and Mickey Rourke look disturbingly worse for wear - their faces look melted and re-moulded by a child. But an excellently terrible film.

finally the beach...

13th August

Panic over guys, all is well. Woke up feeling a lot better but with slightly shaky knees. The weather had turned properly and was now storming it up. We headed for the Martin Vikramsinghe museum of Folk history where we had a very informative tour from a local guide. The museum plots the history of colonialisation and local traditions.
We went to another batik workshop called Shermila batik with a similar setup to Ena de Silva but not of quite the same standard. I was really interested to hear the woman who runs it – Iranganie – had been on an Export development board run two week workshop on Fair Trade – she does not think that it is worth the cost to become certified. I wonder what the course was like and how it was set out – if the government was running it, were they willing to offer assistance in the accreditation process? Possibly not something they would be willing to answer from an email.

Then we visited another toy place that makes soft toys with hand-woven fabric, the toys they make are mainly for the Western market, but they also make toys for domestic market too. They use the natural kapok fibre for stuffing but they also have the synthetic alternative.

The doctors left us to go back to Colombo so we were able to look around Colombo without boring them with our obsession with lace. We went back to the first lace place we found and purchased a bit more. We then wandered around the old fort and had lunch. We headed back outside the fort and had our first beach hit at Unawatuna – it was rough! It was minutes before we were all thrown into the surf and surfaced grazed with our swimsuits all askew.

We went back to the same place for dinner which Beth and I had been unable to enjoy the night before – their pizza was amazing.

Lace and a little bit of spew

12th August 2010

This morning we had breakfast in a local place, I thought at the time it would be a good idea to try a traditional fish roti – yes, excellent idea Kate. My stomach began to churn. But no time to waste, we began to explore the old fort and almost immediately we found a government led initiative making the traditional Beeralu lace which came from either the Portuguese or the Dutch colonists depending on the source. It is really amazing how it is painstakingly made. The thread is held in position by pins in a padded bolster, each thread is then attached to a little turned wood handle and the woman uses these (on average about 20) to knot and twist the thread into intricate and very delicate lace. This particular initiative employs a woman from a surrounding village to train six women at a time for six months in this complicated art. We were all instantly enamored with it and set about the difficult task of choosing our pieces – the lace is obviously not cheap as a tiny piece can take a whole day to make.

We then moved on to another project inside the walls of the fort. This used to be affiliated with a lace project called the Power of hands which was set up just after the tsunami which affected the coast of Sri Lanka so badly. It is now Shoba, and makes many different kinds of handicrafts including Beeralu lace and bags. It was brilliant to meet Anusha Liyanage who runs the project and seems genuinely devoted to it and all of the workers. Shoba is not WFTO certified, Anusha explained that she would like to be but had no idea how to go about it. Instantly my ears pricked up and I asked if I could come back down for a couple of days to work with her and investigate the business further. A perfect case study on how to improve Fair Trade systems. Anusha agreed and it was decided that I would go down for the 16th and 17th.
My stomach had not improved, I was finding it difficult to concentrate and even after Anusha gave us a glass of sweet lime I still felt more than quesy. Nirmali and Lakdas left us to find out more places to visit from the Export authority so Beth, Saida, Zoe and I got drink and went and sat on the rampart (or in my case lay) for about an hour – still no improvement. When the doctors came back to pick us up, they commented on my green colouring. But I soldiered on as the next place to visit was a coir (coconut fibre) yarn producing place. It was just three women working on twisting the fibre by hand spinning wheel. They spin about 10 kilos of fibre every day, from this they make 250 ropes which they sell for 2.2 rupees each (4 pence). From here we travelled down the lane to the coir fibre producing plant, again set amongst a tropical backdrop of lush greenery and swaying palms. I let the others walk ahead as I felt my mouth begin to water, I then swiftly puked into the bushes and onto an unsuspecting lizard. Feeling much better I joined the others to learn about the production of coir fibre. They basically put the coconut husks through a blender/mulcher which spits it out the other end.

When we finally reached the hotel we were very pleasantly surprised that we had a pool right outside our rooms which attempted to be an infinity pool – it didn’t quite work because the pool was bright blue and the sea was choppy and navy. But we all enjoyed a swim; I then started to feel ill again so I had a nap. The others got ready for dinner and I felt like I should go, the restaurant was lovely and served fresh seafood – it didn’t smell so great to me. I stupidly downed a fresh lime soda too fast and had to make a run for the toilet, I am sure much to the delight of the German couple sitting just outside. Beth took me home and after some anti-nausea medication I went to sleep hoping I would be better in the morning.

Another green factory and some turtles

11th August 2010

We left at about 9 (only an hour late). We were picked up by Mahesh (our driver from the Kandy trip) and Dr. Lakdas – a head professor at Morotuwa university. Our first stop in the packed itinerary was the Blue Water hotel, designed by the Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa – an amazing resort only really to be enjoyed by honeymooners or the very rich.

Next was Hirdiramani green factory just off the main Galle road, about an hour’s drive south of Colombo. It was similar to the MAS green factory although not quite the same standard only gaining a gold certificate where MAS gained platinum from the US Green building council. They seemed to have focused very locally looking at the bio-diversity around the plant and local initiatives to get rid of their waste. The whole set up did not seem as slick as the others that we have experienced as a cohort of male (of course) middle management milled about whilst giving us a slightly disjointed presentation. When I asked about any extra benefits that the workers receive we got the usual spiel about subsidized lunch and transport. I asked specifically about loans for the workers and a slightly dopey man started giving me details about the perks that the (male) middle management get; car allowances, access to personal loans etc – these of course are not available to the factory workers.
If you would like more detail about the environmental aspects of the factory such as waste water filtration and cooling systems feel free to check out the group connect sri lanka blog.

Next was a real treat, we got to visit the Viktor Hassleblad (as in the camera) Turtle Sanctuary, further south down the Galle road. Inside were three tanks filled with little baby turtles trying to get out and make it for the sea. Each tank held a different age. One day olds, two day old and three day olds – they are released into the ocean on the night of their third day to minimize the risk of them being picked off by crows. Even so over 75% will perish in the cold, cruel ocean filled with big, nasty baby turtle predators. We were allowed to pick up the babies so we of course all posed with them by our faces – I secretly called mine Bobeena. The other tanks also housed two turtles injured by speed boats who had had their flippers chopped off so they swam in circles (yes, really) and an albino turtle which had a very pretty shell.

After dragging ourselves away from the turtles we went to the next Geoffrey Bawa hotel down the coast called the Lighthouse hotel, which looks out towards Galle Fort and the actual light house. The most amazing thing about the hotel is the staircase which curves around the walls and the banisters are steel sculptures of invading Portuguese soldiers. We managed to persuade Nirmali and Lakdas to stay for a drink and watch the sunset behind the palm trees. Lakdas regailed us with stories of his youth which involved scrapes with the Afgan police during Russian occupation and footpath massages in Bombay.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, the New Old Dutch Guesthouse, which was situated within the walls of the old fort, it was already past 8pm, so we quickly left our things and found the recommended seafood restaurant near by where we met yet another of Nirmali’s friends who is a Chandler for a shipping company who is currently having a headache with Somali pirates. He left in a rush to attend to some more pirate business and we enjoyed our fish dinners.

Catch up days

9th/10th August 2010

We spent two days writing up notes and hanging out at the university. On the 9th, Saida and I had a very strange interview with the CEO of Odel. We had thought we were having an interview for a work placement for next week, she obviously thought that we were interviewing for a job and asked us about how we felt about relocating. She said she would call us if she was interested, there will be no call. It did turn out to be a good little trip though as we decided to walk back to the apartment and on the way we found an alcohol shop! So we stocked up on wine, beer and vodka (to be consumed sensibly throughout the next three weeks of course).

On the 10th after a day at the university, we had a presentation in our apartment from the architectural historian Ashley de Vos to which most of the faculty also seemed to come. It was fascinating to learn about the history of a place before going there. He told us about the influence of Portugeuse then Dutch on the architecture of the nation. He specifically told us about Galle Fort and the buildings within, he was a very engaging speaker and we all learn a lot.

Elephants and Temples

8th August 2010

We began to head back towards Colombo, leaving the tranquil city of Kandy behind. We had many planned stops along the way, again our day had nothing to do fashion or craft. Our first stop was Embekka Devale which is known for its intricately carved pillars dating from as far back as 14th century. The carvings depict different mythical creatures and the odd Portuguese soldier. Our guide was a wonderful old man missing most of his teeth who knew the entire history of the temple and pointed out all the interesting little details of the paintings and carvings.

The next temple was the Gadaladeniya temple which is at the top of a battered sandstone hill, to get to the temple we had to sprint to the top of scorching well worn steps in our barefeet. The temple hailed from about the same time as Embekka but the has been heavily influenced by Hindu architecture. We had to hop to the main structure before the soles of our feet blistered. There was a huge statue of Bhudda in meditation pose. Our guide then began to show us his paintings, I gritted my teeth and prepared to tell him they were very nice, but no thank you, but the paintings were excellent. His style was very simple and they had all been done with pen and paint. I was impressed and bought one, then the girls all gave in and bought one each. It made his day as it was his birthday and he usually only sells two a month.

We finally arrived at the destination we had all been waiting for, the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. ‘Luckily’ we got there just in time to see the spectacle of feeding time. Two baby elephants were chained to the middle of a fenced arena where sunburnt tourists got to force bottles down their throats. As you may be able to tell, I didn’t really enjoy this – in fact it made me feel a little ill (this could have also been the smell.) There is a huge problem in Sri Lanka of humans encroaching on elephant territory resulting in the elephants being pushed into human inhabited areas and both elephants and humans responding violently. As a result there is a ‘conflict’. I felt that the way this has been explained to us as a situation where the elephants are equally to blame is sad and surprisingly naïve for a nation seemingly so attuned to their environment. There has also been a little bit of controversy surrounding the orphanage due to the amount of human contact the elephants are subjected to and also because they have begun to breed elephants when it is supposed to be an orphanage. We headed down toward the river where we saw a pack of about 30 elephants ranging from babies to adults all trundling into the river to bathe. A magnificent site although entirely orchestrated by their mahouts (keepers).

On the way back home we stopped at a fruit stall and bought bags and bags of fruit, mainly avocados. They are huge and ripe and soooooooo tasty! When we finally reached home we had amazing Mexican style wraps with lots of tomatoes, coriander and of course the amazing avocados.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Back to nature

7th August 2010

Today we didn't really have to do any work, but that did not mean the schedule stopped! We visited a tea factory just outside Kandy - it seemed unchanged since it was built in the late 1800's. Then on to the tea museum, where of course we had to buy some tea and have a cuppa up in the clouds. No stopping we went onto the Botanical gardens, absolutely beautifully maintained and well landscaped - it puts many richer countries to shame. We were able to stop and have lunch under a big banyan tree. They have a really cool orchid house where we got to see a bride and groom (who looked like an inflated matador in his traditional dress) they looked hot and uncomfortable and not too pleased to be there.
Then we went to the market and bought the biggest avocade I have ever seen! Then on to the temple of the tooth, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka where Buddha's tooth is kept in a little box and only bought out on special occassions. We were there for the evening ceremonial beating of the drums. A very colourful experiance.

Then of course dinner was back at 'The Pub' where we had just salad - to hell with the risk of tummy trouble, we want something raw! That is how hardcore we are.

Finally some handmade

6th August 2010

We had to leave our lovely chalets today feeling slightly worse for wear after our little party last night. But my spirits were lifted at the prospect of seeing more handweaving and handcraft.

First stop was Selyn Handlooms, a World Fair Trade Organisation accredited group. We started at their dying plant in the middle of what seeming like jungle. It was made all the more steamy by the wood powered boiler. The owner did not seem particularly sure of his environmental practices with regard to dyeing, he did however assure us that the dyes come from Germany - a good thing I suppose?

Next we went to their handloom workroom, it was great to be back in such familiar territory. I finally had the chance to weave, the women were very impressed with my prowess and insisted that I must have done it before - it must be the rythem getting stuck in my head. I became slightly obsessed, but luckily the girls were able to leave me and visit the showroom next door and get a shopping fix while I got very sweaty in the warm room with no fan. I was able to interview the woman that helped me. Her name is Chandra Rathanyake and is 56 years old. She has been working at Selyn for 15 years, before she was a house wife. I found it quite worrisome when I asked how much she spent on food she said that she would not be able to afford to live off her wage if her children did not give her food that they had grown. So after she has paid for expenses, she is unable to save any money. I was unable to quiz the owner about this as he had left the office by this stage.

Suitably laden after our shop, we set off to Ena De Silva, a womens co-operative group in the hills surrounding Kandy. With this idyllic backdrop the women work on traditional handmade batik and not so traditional embroidery. It is a brilliant set up with a lot of trust. Instead of being paid a piece rate they are paid a monthly wage as some of the women have been working their for 47 years.

From Ena De Silva we went to Kandy. The second largest city in Sri Lanka in terms of commerce. It is really lovely, it goes at an even more chilled pace than Colombo. We went for dinner at 'The Pub' where we had a beer and could have watched the cricket if we really wanted to.