In a prison. In Sri Lanka.....
Trip Start May 21, 2007
127Trip End Sep 19, 2010
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The next part of the day comes with a warning of complete randomness and surrealism!
So having wolfed down lunch because we were told we had to leave "now" for the prison (which turned out to be an hour), we again hopped into the boot of the jeep, not a mean feet in a sari! No-one seemed to care about us but were very vocal about their concern for the pots of curd (a local speciality) that the visitors were bringing back to Colombo. So there we were, 2 white, Sri Lankan wannabes bouncing along for over an hour in the boot of a jeep. Having then arrived at the prison, gasping for any sort of breeze, we were escorted up to the woman's wing. There were 15-20 woman prisoners, some with young children, all detained for various crimes such as prostitution, membership of LTTE and theft. What struck us both was the fact that people can be remanded in custody for anything up to 3 years before their trial is heard, meaning that there are many people in prison who could potentially be found innocent, but may spend years in prison never the less.
The ladies from NCC began with a meditation for the woman and then had a group discussion about who they were, why they were in prison etc. They then split into groups, some getting individual legal advice from a lawyer. Everything was in Sinhala, with sporadic translation into English. The following really did happen…..
Nayani (headmistress) suddenly piped up “Anna Caroline sing to them”, at which we thought she was joking. She was not! We were commanded to sing some English songs, complete with actions at which we both took complete mind blanks. We could only think of the dreaded “Peanut Song” which there was no way we would be able to get through without laughing. In an attempt to sing something dignified, suitable for a prison and with a bit of melody, we went for the obvious “Kookaburra sits in the old gumtree” even perfecting a round towards the end….why we will never know! This seemed to be somewhat inspiring as we were immediately requested to sing another! Again under pressure, the only other one we could think of with actions was “With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm”, again which went down a treat and left us even more bemused. The cries of encore resounded and at this point we fell apart and really did not have a clue what to sing. We looked to Nayani for advice and her reply was “what about the spider one the children sing”. Without a second thought we refused point blank to sing “incy wincy spider” in a prision in Sri Lanka to a group of female convicts! You can only imagine our composure at this stage, or rather lack thereof. To “redeem” ourselves and to make it an experience that will be talked about for years to come, we thought we would sing the mother of all action songs “if you’re happy and you know it”. In Sri Lanka. In a prison. They absolutely loved this and joined in, as did the gaurds, with all the actions including wiggling their toes and patting their head! The irony of this only hit us on the journey home in the boot, when we were at last allowed to let off much pent up laughter! We were so flushed with success that we even began preparing songs from the shows however as we finished “if you’re happy…” the parcels were bought out to be distributed and our show came to a close. They seemed delighted with their presents and as we left they shouted after us “good bye, please come again!”, an invitation that we shall be delighted to accept as there is a Prisoners Welfare Day on Sunday which we are attending with Nayani. So it was back to the stuffy boot for our journey home, however to make us more comfortable this time, we were given hot watermelon to refresh us. So in conclusion we spent the afternoon singing to inmates, after travelling in a boot eating hot watermelon. Just your average Thursday don’t you think?!
Tomorrow is the end of the Muslim festival of Ramadan, which is a holiday here so the school is closed. We are going to relax tomorrow before heading away to the hill country for the day on Saturday with some of the teachers. Dear knows what this “normal” weekend will entail!