Wet and warm in Wasgamuwa

Trip Start Nov 01, 2005
1
9
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Trip End Apr 30, 2006


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Thursday, December 1, 2005

As a quick over view, human elephant conflict is a problem in Sri Lanka. As a result of Mahaweli Ganga river irrigation project in 1986, areas of jungle were cut down to make new paddy fields and new villages were created. The population of the villages has increased and the children of the original farmers are now cutting new areas of forest to create new paddy fields for their families. The roaming area of the elephants is being diminished. As a result the elephant are increasingly coming into conflict with the villagers. The elephant damage crops and homes in their search for food and have even killed people. Sometimes the villagers stay up all night in tree huts, using fire crackers to scare the elephants away.
Electric fences are being used around some of the villages to keep the elephant out.
The aim of the project is to research the pattern of movement of the elephants and to monitor the effectiveness of the electric fences. The organisation also hopes to enable the local children to find jobs other than farming by providing them with English lessons,.

I arrived at the field house a few days early and was fortunate to meet the departing volunteers. Along with the project manager they gave me a friendly introduction to life and work at Wasgamuwa.

The field house was pretty basic, an open sided metal roofed shed, divided into rooms by reed mats. Solar powered lights and a cold shower were the only mod-cons. The open sided living area looked out across the large lake to the hills beyond. It is a very beautiful unspoilt rural area of paddy fields, irrigation lakes and forest. I felt so luck to be there - it was so much nicer than the picture!

During my stay I visited the national park five times and was lucky to see many herds of elephant on each visit. I do like elephants, but sometimes I wish they were a bit more furry. I particularly like it when the young males get a bit feisty. They curl their trunks in the air, stick their ears out and trumpet. This should only be enjoyed from the relative safety of the landrover though as they can be very dangerous.

Each morning I got up at dawn (come on, it's not that out of character) and watched the sun rise over the lake with the first one of my five daily cups of tea. Unsurprisingly Sri Lanka has made me a tea addict.

I went out each day with the field scouts (all young people from the local villages) to carry out the research tasks. Yep, that's poo spotting, poo measuring and poo poking to you. This was done in a variety of combinations and locations with different research objectives which I won't bore you with.

I hadn't imagined that the project would be so sensual! Some people go to spas for treatment like this. We often had to walk around lakes or along fence lines irrespective of the terrain. So I was alternately baking in the sun, wading through chest deep bath warm water, squelching through mud and having every part of me pricked, scratched or bitten. Tiptoeing along the narrow ridges between paddy fields and cycling along the tracks has been wonderful.

We also visited the local villages to interview any villagers whose homes or crops had been damaged by elephants during that week. It was very sobering to see walls of homes knocked down by elephant- one had even fallen onto the bed where the children had been sleeping (luckily they were unharmed).

The project went really well although it was a bit odd being the only volunteer, especially in such a remote place where so few people speak English. But it has meant that I've had a lot more interaction with the local people than I might otherwise have done. Sometimes the scouts have come over in the evening (well, that's afternoon to us as evenings are early in the tropics) to play cards with me. The housekeeper has also been keeping me entertained with cards and the local game caroom.
I have felt quite isolated on occasion, particularly when the project manager was away. There have been so many things that I've wanted to discuss with someone. Eventually I got to a city and bought a mobile phone to re-connect with my loved ones.

The local people have been very friendly, if rather curious about me.
I have had to be very careful not to cause offence. It's been lovely to swim in the rivers and lakes - but not so lovely to have to do it fully clothed. Haven't swum like that since my bronze award!

The food has been fantastic, a local lady cooked for us. Breakfast was usually pol roty (a type of flat bread made from coconut), with pol sambol (grated spiced coconut with onion). Lunch was rice and vegetable curry and dinner was rice and curry. But usually 3 or 4 different types of vegetable, fish or soya curry. very tasty.

The project house was open to all the local wildlife - it's been a real treat to lie in bed and watch the great variety of lizards, skinks, geckos and land monitors climbing along the rafters and down the reed walls. Not such a treat to negotiate the giant cockroaches in the bathroom.

I felt very sad to leave, despite the occasional frustrations it has been a wonderful experience.
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Comments

angiedarren
angiedarren on

curry overload
Gillian is hosting an Indian Night tonight, so we will be spiritually connected via our food intake! Does this mean you will be off curries for a year when you get home?
Angie
xxx

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