Well another extraordinary week. It started last weekend with Vesak. This is the most important Buddhist festival, celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Dr T wanted me to come to work on the Friday morning to take part in the Dansala, which is a tradition of giving food and drink to passing travellers on their pilgrimage to religious sites. The idea is that you set up a stall and flag down passing vehicles. We were getting a steady flow of traffic pulling up but Dr T in her wisdom felt I should go out on to the road and flag down some vehicles. In 30 seconds I had caused a total traffic jam in both directions! It seems the sight of a white blonde woman waving a yellow flag at you at Vesak is something worth stopping for. Anyway, no sooner had I gone out, the Dr was calling me back again to prevent a complete traffic standstill. Dozens and dozens of bus loads of people passed by all cheering and singing. The nearest comparison in the UK I can think of would be if we won the world cup.
Caroline and Eve, two volunteers from my 'batch' came to stay and in the evening we went out on to my road to see the other Vesak tradition of lighting lanterns. On the main roads they hang large paper lanterns but down the small village roads they light hundreds of small coconut oil lamps, which is really very beautiful. We were met by my local trishaw driver who took us down the road to see the local temple and school. He then took us in his trishaw to a neighbouring village to see the rows of oil lamps and on to a larger temple. Just as we arrived the full moon came out from behind a cloud and lit up the temple, which was quite a special moment.
The following day we headed off to Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage and I saw LOTS of elephants! There are about 60 in the herd and as magnificent as I had hoped. It was fascinating to watch how the older elephants looked out for the younger ones. The best bit was watching them march down to the river as we were only about 15 foot away. We had arranged to met up with the other vols in my group and spent the afternoon there and then went on to Kandy to witness the complete mayhem of the Vesak celebrations.
On the Sunday evening I managed to get bitten by a cat! This is the same cat who has been hanging about the garden since I moved in and I know I should know better but I gave it some food and a bit of a fuss, so as I got up to leave she tried to stop me by sinking her fangs in my ankle. Note to self: Do not touch the animals! So as I looked at the blood beginning to seep from my leg my thoughts turned to rabies...arrgh. So I have been going to the local hospital for rabies jabs this week. They weren't quite sure which vaccinations I needed and suggested I could watch the cat for the next ten days and if it was ok, I wouldn't need any. Mmm, I think I'll just have the jabs if it's all the same to you.
And while the celebrations of Vesak have subsided we have been hearing the news of the conflict in the north reaching a climax this week and the dreadful sufferring of civilians trapped there. And last night news came that the conflict was nearly at an end and as a result the Buddhist flags have been replaced by Sri Lankan flags and firecrackers have been set off all over town. A group of locals have been partying at the end of my road all afternoon letting off firecrackers and playing music, unfortunately the same three songs for the last four hours. It all seems good natured but for the first time here I do feel a bit unnerved by it all. It is going to be another extraordinary week I'm sure.