Wednesday, August 29, 2007

bare chests- men only

I had this comment about why are the boys in polonnaruwa not wearing a shirt. Don'r they uffer from sun burn and at worse skin cancer. Well it seems that even when I am working during the day I take my shirt off to prevent the sweat wetting the shirt and in the evening is refreshing to get the wind on to your chest as shown in the photos below. I am sure Sudath, Gamini and Amila won't mind me using them as examples!!

Mark you when cutting paddy one wears a long sleeved shirt to prevent the hay from scraching and making the skin red with a rash.

queen of the night

The photos above are of a fragrant flower called Queen of the night or Raa Kumari that blooms only at night. The photos were taken the morning after, so the flowers are past their best. It is a lovely sight and these flowers are at the entrance to my house on the farm in Godagama, Meegoda. I often return home at night and I am presented with this pleasant sight. I believe this plant blooms at least once a month all year round.

nature's beauty

Petworth, on Upper Lake Road, Nuwera Eliya, the house now used as a holiday home for anglican clergy. The gardens wild but immaculately maintained, about 3 acres in extent is sorrounded by the Galway Forest so there is privacy for the house and the Lake Gregory can be seen through the tall wooded trees lining the periphery.

A few days in Nuwera Eliya was a breadth of fresh air literally to charge one's batteries after feeling like being on a treadmill on a seven day cycle, that I am currently in. I am growing, picking, packing, transportig and finally selling my produce direct to my customers.I have to start this cycle all over again.

It was cold and the weather was quite unpredictable, one moment beautiful and sunny and the next drizzle and rain. I liked the change though I wish I had brought more warm clothing. Nevertheless it is a place one can relax in and go for long walks,which I did without feeling sweaty or tired in the least.

The wildflowers are always a beautiful sight,and above are some I photographed in the grounds of Petworth an old property that is furnished as if it is in a time warp. Just as the last owner left it to the Anglican Church in the 1940's I think.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

high security zone gone crazy and lawmakers insane

I just got back from an incredulous event. At 7.45 pm I drove my only vehicle a Tata 207 single cab open flat bed (defined as a truck under the SL rules) from my sister's place in Pamankade to my father's house in Bambalapitiya (also where my ID and my drivers license show as my address).I went along the Marine Drive, to deliver two single beds and mattresses, and was stopped by the Army at a checkpoint. I was told I was entering a High Security Zone.(this was the first time I was aware this was also HSZ) When I showed them the High Security Zone clearance permit I had obtained with much difficulty following a rigorous procedure of red tape, that was valid from 8am to 8pm, I was told this was not enough to let me through as today the rules have changed so that the permit must show every road I am permitted to travel on.

I cannot think of anything more ridiculous. I deliver produce for a living and go through roads as and when my customers request items. I need to know every route that the HSZ covers and no one knows that, and then enter every road within this zone which will take a book and not just the permit. As usual the security forces just follow orders blindly, not realizing the ridiculous nature of what they were requesting and the point was lost on the poor private with not an ounce of common sense. When I said I was going home as is obvious from my ID, was I supposed to leave my vehicle in his charge and walk home?

What have these security men got for brains? We are supposed to fight terrorists, not prevent people from going home or making life difficult for ordinary folk, by changing rules at a whim with no notice. While I know that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, when the law is an ass ignorence of the ass is actually called sanity and the law maker is called acinine.

Within two weeks of getting a permit one is told that is not good enough and I have to have it altered to enter all the street names in HSZ that I travel in. What is the private was wrong what recourse do I have? At least a note on the change of the law can be given me and I can then take it to the issuing authority to request an alteration.Now I only have the word of a soldier to relate to the police inspector requesting an alteration.

As noted earlier those who make laws and rules are not covered by them and therefore have no clue how ridiculous their orders have become.

When a man cannot earn an honest living doing an honest job can you blame him for becoming a terrorist. No wonder we have spawned a JVP uprising or LTTE terrorism, its all the fault of the lawmakers not knowing the ground situation and the innocent majority have to pay the price.

Friday, August 17, 2007

the freedom of living outdoors

I spend most of my week in my small, 5 acre paddy, coconut, banana, and papaya plantation in Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda. I have a 1000ft of the Minneriya Oya running alongside the property, so my lodge was built to face the the 'Oya' or river. The room is used to store my fertilizer and paddy, and the verandah or open space is where I live. My desk, my dining table, our beds, the living room is all in the verandah as seen in the photo. When it rains I put a plastic plythene sheet accross the opening to prevent the water from getting in especillay into the beds.

This way of sleeping outside, when everyone in the village sleeps in doors, in hot sweaty dark rooms, full of mosquitos is a novel method to the locals who have never known anyone to live like this. I can think of no other way to live except this way, ensuring the free flow of air especially as I do not have fans, air congitioning or electricity.

Boys from the area drop-in in the evenings for a chat as they find there is a lot of freedom not found in their claustrophobic homes. We are not gracious hosts as we are all men and dont go rushingto make tea.There is, however, a sense of peace overlooking the river, and laughter of the kids bathing in the water, or the men talking about their day's toil and the women comparing their men!

I am concerned about the security of everything being open and hope my privacy will not be violated but so far it has been a pleasant experience of people dropping in when I am in bed in full open view of all including the ladies who come to the river to bathe. Its good to for them to see this life and think!

my trusted friend

I have chosen a very difficult life, namely that of farming in two places 220 kilometers apart in Sri Lanka and buying produce from neighbours, many of whom who would otherwise not be able to sell their produce, and then selling in my small Kade or shop in Godagama or selling direct to some of my well heeled customers, frinds and relatives in Colombo.

I work seven days a week so I can pay the wages of 10 people who depend on me for their livelihood. Only Amila my trusted friend and man Friday, valet, chauffeur and salesman and delivery boy, seen here with me, knows how hard I work, how I live what I do without to lead this very isolated and sometimes lonely life. Lucky for him he has his weekends off to spend with his family, meet his girl friends and go out with his friends, a pleasure I currently do not have the pleasure of enjoying.

I do have an immense degree of pride in what I do as well as a deep sense of understanding of those in a similar position on how they survive as well as being open to the connivance of the con artists also who inhabit our villages and the government servants, and security forces who abuse the trust put on them, and who miss the bus when it comes to their real position in society and not their imagined place.

A test of stamina is how long I can survive this gruelling journey, that is also a strain physically, of having tocarry heavy bunches of king coconuts and 50kg sacks of rice among other manual tasks.

The perception that I am doing this for fun and sheer pleasure is furtherst from the truth. This is a life I have to somehow conquer if I can go to the next step. If I was doing something more productive or remunerative and satisfying I would be doing that, however that chance has not come my way and the alternatives that have been offered arising from the searches made are so far less exciting and fulfilling.

the police or are they just the real criminals

I have referred to below many thoughts I have recently had on those who have been given the task of upholding the law of the land, instead abusing the trust they have been given.

I note below another two instances that happened yesterday and today. My driver Amila was stopped yesterday about 4pm on a lonely, straight stretch of the road past Habarana on the way to Dambulla at a speed of 66 kmph. Those who know the road will honestly tell me that no vehicle keeps to the 60kmph limit there and doing 66 is probably the slowest any vehicle goes at that stretch.

There were 5 traffic policeman, one to use the radar gun, another to write one ticket, another to sign the ticket and two others just to waste government time and money and get paid. The officer who stopped him, seeing two vehicles racing at over 130kmph may have been so embarrased to write him a ticket showing the speed he was doing, took the easy route and told the person to say he was overtaking unlawfully where the fine is 500/- instead of a 1000/- for speeding no matter what the speed. Amila who was too incredulous to even see the 66 on the radar detector was too disgusted to even speak to the man in filth that he kept quiet during the whole proceeding so there was no provocation to get the cop to break the law into changing a speeding ticket to an overtaking ticket just for him to face save from his colleagues and the rest of society to be so cussed.

So there is a true story of an unprovoked action of our officers who should be protecting the motorists and pedesrians from dangerous drivers of whom there are numerous numbers in this country, just choosing the easy option of catching motorists for thier convenience on not out of protecting the public.

The other incident was this morning when we Amila and I left Godagama with 550 King Coconuts to fill our orders, stopping us at a check point between Godagama and Athurugiriya and asking for 4 King Coconuts. He offered to pay, but does he not get it. We cut to orders, and no excesses for the police. We have a job to do and life to lead and farmers and distributors. They have a job to do as upholders of the law and to protect the public from all comers. It is shameful to stop us just for that purpose and not to check our identity. They see us on this route twice a week every week and should they make it a habit, is it fair.

Those in power and the higher ups just dont know those who have to face the actions of their subordinates, and the inconvenience the general public face from the police instead of the service they should render to us the law abiding hardworking honest living people of the land.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Perceptions of others

I had a insurance salesman come to see me on the farm yesterday. I was in shorts and a banyan working in my kade, serving my customers, weighing 10 kilos of my red samba to sell him, and cutting some seeni kehel to give him.

He patiently waited and then once I was free, started talking to me on the merits of all the types of insurance, for my enterprise. He was from Sri Lanka Insurance, and just moved to this area from Panadura, and was renting a house. All his children work abroad. He gathered that I had lived overseas for many years and that I had come back to Sri Lanka to make a go of it here. He saw what I did for a living first hand selling my rice that I grow in my paddy fields in Hingurakgoda to a customer at my Kade in Godagama, and assumed it was an amusing pastime for a man of means.

I had to gently explain that I had mortgaged my last insurance policy with Sri Lanka insurance, that my mother had started 20 years ago and which still has 10 more years to mature, so that I can raise funds to run this business. It was a 100,000 I had borrowed.

He found it incredulous that I did not have the funds to pay a monthly premium of any sort, and that I only wanted a term policy, so that in the event of my death, someone can continue to run this for a time, without being forced to make a hasty decision arising out of a lack of funds. He said that they did not sell a term policy, which in my opinion is the simplest of insurance policies, and because agents don't get large commissions and is a pure actuarial calculation on expected life expectancy with no investment attached, I was shocked that they did not offer it.

My intention here is just to show an example of the continuous problem I face with people who make assumptions of my life, and this happens with my friends past and present who really don't know me and what I am about. I am working hard to build a business from my boot straps, with a starting point being an existing farm that I inherited from my father, which was not cash flow positive. It is as simple as that. I do not have any funds of my own to invest, I just have to build on what I have and work at making the whole venture successful.

As a result of this I have been forced to isolate myself from many people, as they assume I have funds and am living the high life. People look at the value of the property and not what I am attempting to do from it. If I explain to people I actually do not spend any money on myself, as I have to meet my expenses, they don't understand. I have a gross income of about 200,000 a month and expenses slightly higher than that so I need to borrow to fill the gap, and eventually have to repay my loan, even the loan I borrowed just recently from my insurance policy.

I have about 8 peoples wages to pay, then I have to make my lease payment on my Tata cab as well as the maintenance which has been very costly. I then have to spend about 18,000 a month on Diesel as I travel to Polonnaruwa to bring my produce. This cost is rising daily. I have to repair and replace all the time. I need to get an electric water pump for Godagama as the old Kubota 2inch kerosene pump as just given up the ghost. I need the pump as I have to irrigate the plantings, and fortunately the rains in the past few months has allowed me some delay in making this commitment and setting aside about 15,000 for it as I have to also buy electrical wire from the pump to the house to run it.

The people on the farm can attest to the fact that only one meal is cooked in the house, due to the price of LP gas, and I am very economical eating the left overs from the Kade, thereby incurring almost a zero cost of food.

I have to buy fertilizer, plants, seeds, and essentials for farming. My dairy is currently running at a loss in cash flow terms, as I only get 22/- for a litre of milk and I am trying to get my customers to buy fresh milk from me at 40/- a bottle in the morning instead of them buying powdered milk at 200/- for 400grams, a far more nutritious alternative in my opinion.

All these measures to earn a living working seven days a week, none of my staff work seven day weeks. Its a struggle, it has its ups and downs, but when bureaucracy as shown in the articles below intercede making my already difficult like harder, that's when one feels the odds are stacked against people trying to make an honest buck.

Today Friday, was delivering 500 King Coconuts, but to make it economical I need to deliver 700 nuts. However the weather is against me now in selling that quantity and had to settle for less. I have a different task everyday and a different set of obstacles to face. I am glad I am healthy to carry on, but my irritation level rises when those who should know better come up with asinine assumptions that are just not true.

Limited freedom to roam not fairly applied

Today is the 3rd of August 2007. I finally and after much effort was able to get a permit for me and my man friday Amila to drive my vehicle into Colombo, and into some areas that come within the High Scurity Zone. This is valid between 8am and 8pm and to that extent, when I visit Green Path where many of my relatives live, I have to leave by 8pm.

I noted below in a blog that my Tata cab a single cab, flatbed vehicle, is considered a truck under the laws here and therefore requires a permit to enter certain areas as there is a possibility that such vehicles can carry explosives. I have also referred to below the absurdity of this proposition, when many closed large SUV with tinted windows, do not require such permission and are more likely to carry unauthorized goods and unauthorizd people.

It is sad thatin the interests of security due calculation is not made of the likelihood of occurences and try to tighten the rules governing the most likely threats than make blanket rules that cause inconvenience to honest hardworking people while allowing the guilty and dubious through.

I have noticed that the police are less likely to stop a vehicle with tinted windows, because they are not sure who is in it, and are concerned that their jobs are more in danger if they stop a high official who will complain, and have him transferred from sentry duty to active duty in the north.

All these matters referred to as well as the ability of convoys of vehicles ostensibly of high officials with escort cars and other non attached cars go through with lights blazing taking advantage of the fast passage allowed, to pass through undetected and searched adds a new meaning to security.

I do not for a moment belittle the task that the security forces have of protecting Colombo from the threats. However I believe they have a better ability to protect from attack if the intelligence side of this is acted on more than the checkpoint side of this.

I sadly feel, that people like me are victims, as I do not posses any other vehicle other than my cab, and I was invited to come to the Swimming Club almost opposite Temple Trees this evening, but had to regretfully decline, citing the inability to bring my vehicle, and I was not in a mind to engage a three wheeler, having parked my car elsewhere, which in itself could give rise to a scare!!!

I dont mind paying this price as long as their is sacrifice on all sides, and not just applied to the less fortunate.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Permit to enter the High Security Zone

I alluded earlier to the problems I had with the police in getting the required information to apply for the permit to bring my Tata cab, all open flat bed, into areas of Colombo. A closed tinted Sport Utility vehicle most favoured by ministers and crooks and even the LTTE are allowed free of this requirement.

Today at noon Amila and I went to the Pettah Police station section that grants this permit, armed with all the relevant documentation. The SSP who was going to help me could not speak to the officer as he had requested as their was no reception at the underground warren I had to go to.

Despite having what was clearly the information requested, I was told by the office that I did not have a certified copy of my enterprise licence. I had to carefully explain that I was a farmer bringing his produce direct to customers and as such the farm did not have that kind of designation. For an officious official this was not a good explanation. Then he wanted letters from all my customers that I bring produce to them. If I did have letters, he would say they have to be on letter head. What house has letter head when a police station can issue me with a police report sans a letterhead and only on a piece of paper.

I explained that this vehicle was my only vehicle, and I needed to go at anytime as I am invited to dinner or whatever at places that fall into the high security zone. Only Friday when this permit is to be picked up will I know if I will have been given freedom on time or restricted to certain hours to the area, where I consider home and where my family live.

This bureaucratic process took a few hours. I was asked to get the SSP who offered to help, to call the Deputy Inspector General so I can get the pass, and override the requirement of letters from my customers, and the lack of an enterprise license.

It amazes me if anyone thinks this will avoid a security threat as the real threat is from the vehicles that do not come under this category, that can freely enter this zone and is far more capable of carrying concealed explosives than an open vehicle where I cannot even put a briefcase in the drivers cab.

There is no rational explanation for this nonsense.

As an after thought, what is more basic than one who toils the soil and grows food and transports it to his customers direct. If he cannot perform this function with freedom, what is freedom. Is this the state to which we have fallen. The problem is the small man does not have a voice, the big man has a voice but is not thus inconvenienced as he is too well off to be concerned about the daily struggle of living. So those who make the laws are not aware of those who have to live by them and how they suffer as a result.