Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The Tsunami reconstruction: Rebuilding lives in tamil nadu

Until December 26, 2004, “tsunami” was a term unheard of in the common lexicon along the long coast of Tamil Nadu. Today, even the unlettered utter the word often, with awe.

The giant waves that shook the coastlines of Asia on that day left behind a trail of destruction of epic proportions. Reconstruction and rehabilitation required an equally massive effort. For over three years, government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) launched rehabilitation projects, with a huge flow of funds from national and international agencies.

The spontaneous response for relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts from NGOs and donor agencies has few parallels. With nearly 2.5 lakh affected people being taken to temporary shelters in Nagapattinam and Cuddalore districts in the first six months, the coordinated relief measures prevented any outbreak of water-borne diseases, which in itself is considered an achievement.

On the fourth anniversary of the black day, as one looks back on the amount of work that has been done, there are several lessons to be learnt from the efforts made for disaster mitigation, capacity building, reconstruction, habitat development, community participation and ecological protection. The good practices that have emerged could be replicated elsewhere and the pitfalls avoided.

“The lessons are important to inform government policies on housing, disaster mitigation and approaches to pro-poor and equitable infrastructure,” says Pieter Bult, Deputy Country Director, United Nations Development Programme, India, in the foreword to the UNDP document “Tsunami – Lessons for Habitat Development”. The document lists out a series of case studies in the post-tsunami reconstruction scenario. Stakeholders should study the aspects of people-centric planning, environment friendly options and focus on a habitat development approach while designing and implementing development and reconstruction plans, he adds.

The control exercised by the government over the activity of building permanent shelters, in terms of site selection, allocation of villages and setting of specifications, has been welcomed by many agencies.

“The public-private partnership initiative in building permanent shelters has proved to be a successful model,” says R. Bhakther Solomon, chief executive officer of the NGO, Development Promotion Group (DPG). However, cost escalation has been one of the factors that these NGOs have had to contend with.

The DPG was one of the NGOs involved in immediate relief efforts and, subsequently, in long-term reconstruction initiatives. It built 822 houses in Vilunthamavadi, Kameshwaram, Vanavanmahadevi and Vellappallem in Nagapattinam district and Keela Tiruchendur and Mappillaioorani in Tuticorin district. The organisation also built several temporary shelters and community halls in several villages. It also focussed on the sustainable development of the affected communities.

“The first task was to organise the victim communities into self-reliant self-help groups [SHGs] to inculcate in them the habit of saving, thereby preventing exploitation of the victims by moneylenders,” says Solomon.

Getting the affected communities back into their original professions meant making available substantial resources in the form of new equipment for fisherfolk and rehabilitation of land in the case of farmers. To this end, the DPG organised the distribution of fibre glass boats, engines and nets to fishermen.

Another task taken up simultaneously was providing alternative means of livelihood, which meant giving skills training to different groups in the community.

The biggest challenge was the attitude of the victims, who, seeing the huge volume of relief resources pouring in, developed a “dependence mentality”, observes Solomon.

To overcome this problem, the organisation promoted several income-generating projects and vocational/ skill-development centres in various villages.

- Frontline

Friday, December 26, 2008


Two million benefitted by tsunami projects
Four years after the tsunami, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Sri Lanka (IFRC) together with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) has completed 223 tsunami recovery projects across the country, benefiting nearly two million people, a release said.

According to the IFRC's Four Year Progress Report, the most significant achievement has been in the area of permanent housing. The Red Cross has supported the construction of 22,665 houses.

By the first quarter of 2009, 32,886 houses will be built with Red Cross funding. This represents 27 per cent of the 120,000 houses damaged or destroyed by the tsunami, it said.

"We have adopted an integrated approach linking houses with water and sanitation, health services, roads, income sources and other essential factors," Sri Lanka Red Cross Society President Jagath Abeysinghe said.

A nursing school with 31 hospitals and a health centre have been built or rehabilitated under an agreement with the Health Ministry to reconstruct 69 health facilities across the country.

Over 200,000 people now have access to an improved water source. Pipeline projects in the Galle, Matara and Ampara districts have connected new resettlement sites and surrounding villages to the main water supply for the first time.

Major investment has also been made to restore and improve the livelihoods of the tsunami affected.

The Red Cross has completed approximately 40 livelihood projects under which 36,460 households were supported to recover, strengthen the diversify their livelihoods.

R. Janaka Chaminda from Beruwela was once depended on fishing for his livelihood.

The Red Cross assisted to rebuild his home with seeds, tools and agricultural training to start a market garden.

With 10 perches to cultivate, Janaka now grows 16 types of fruit and vegetables. "This is my livelihood now," he says as he proudly shows off his garden and new home.

"I grow spinach, mint, pomegranates and watermelons."

"We are now shifting towards long team development programmes in areas such as disaster management and community based First Aid which strengthen the capacity of local people to respond to future crisis," Paul Emes, Head of delegation for the IFRC said.


Waves of tsunami memories

Today, the Daily Mirror features 22-year-old Munira’s story, who witnessed the 2004 tsunami tragedy first hand during her holidays in Sri Lanka. An Arabic national, Munira lost her parents to the tsunami and returned to her country two weeks later with her elder brother and younger sister, where they conducted a small prayer in remembrance of her parents. Four years later, Munira has returned to the island, to visit the coastal areas of Kalutara where her parents died. Visiting the beach, she said she remembered the tragedy as it had happened yesterday.

Sunday December 26th, 2004, the day after Christmas, dawned bright and clear. The sea was calm and inviting and tourists and locals alike were enjoying the holiday scene, appreciating the hot weather, relieved to be away from the stormy cold snow in the west.

Many who had just celebrated Christams the day before, had been sleeping. After all it was a Sunday and the festive mood was still all around.

I, myself was in the south that morning, away from the busy city of Colombo which I had visited a few days ago. Booked in a hotel in Kalutara, I had just arrived in the area with my parents and siblings two days before and was hoping to return to my country the next day. However, little did I realise that the day would be the longest in my life. And little did I know that it would be the last I see of my parents.

Things that morning seemed calm. But when looking at the sea from the hotel balcony, all did not seem right. The water had moved away from the shore, revealing a lot of sand and the water in certain areas in the sea had turned into a darkish grey – a colour which I had never seen before.

The few who were strolling along the beach also kept starring at the sea. In ceratin areas some of the visitors said they even saw bubbles on the surface of water, as if something was breathing underneath.

Around 9.30 in the morning everything changed. Without warning a massive wave struck. It was big, bigger than anyone had seen. But later the sea receded altogether and many thought it was over. But little did we know that the water was preparing for another massive wave, even bigger than the first the people had just seen.

Many thought the end of the world was coming as they saw the sea they had known all their lives, disappear. They ran to the expanding beach. But the sea came back, back with such force, volume and height that it took people, houses, boats, everything in its path with it. It had left a trail of destruction in its wake.

My parents had been asleep in their ground floor room when the tsunami struck. My siblings were a little away from me and my brother screamed saying we should run to the fourth floor of the room. We did, along with several others. Once we reached the top, my brother wanted to rush back down to get my parents. He could not do as two floors of the hotel was already under water.

Then someone screamed again from the third floor saying another wave was coming. People were screaming from all corners, some saying to save them, others saying to save their children who they could not hold on to. From the glass windows, we could see people being dragged into the waves like tiny ants rushing to an open packet of sweets.

No one could stop the water and no one could think about helping each other. Furniture, television sets, fridges, carperts, everything had just been dragged out and was seen floating in the sea. The destruction has already started.

Five hours later, my brother and I were able to move towards the ground floor. Nothing was remaining. Everything had been wiped out. My parents’ room which was accessible only after a day, was empty. They had already dissappeared into the waves.

Ten days after the tsunami was struck, the people of Sri Lanka were still trying to come to terms with what happened. My siblings and I travelled the coast road from Kalutara to Hikkaduwa and returned to Colombo, without the bodies of my parents.

From a couple of miles outside Colombo, the signs of damage were visible. Small houses and bigger tourist hotels alike were either flattened completely or so badly damaged that they would have to be demolished.

A bus looked as if it had been picked up like a useless toy and wrapped around a concrete pole, boats were at the opposite side of the road from the sea, one boat was even in the middle of the bus station. A huge dredger looked as if it had been picked by a giant hand and placed about sixty metres from the sea.

The railway line was buckled and ripped up in parts and a train completely overturned. The visible destruction went on for miles. Occasionally there were little patches on the beachfront where the houses appeared to be untouched and intact, missed by the wave.

But the damage and destruction only served as a reminder of the tragic loss of life and livelihood suffered by the people. Over 30,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives in the disaster, nearly 4,000 were missing ten days later, and 834,000 people were displaced.

The smell of death and decay was everywhere. People wore masks to try to hide the constant reminder. Hotels and restaurants which escaped damage in the towns by the tsunami were closed due to the all pervasive smell.We visited Buddhist temples where people had gone for refuge and help. The generosity of the Sri Lankan people was evidenced by the constant stream of people delivering food and clothes to those left destitute. We met one woman who had lost her three children. One minute ago they were a happy family, the next minute all gone.

Her husband was trying to hide his own sense of loss by trying to console her. He had lost his livelihood, his fishing boat and they had lost their home. These losses alone were enough to create hardship but those losses were replaceable over time. They had to come to terms with rebuilding their lives without their three children.

The sense of loss was everywhere. In Hikkaduwa, a fishing town, over 4,000 people lost their lives and communities were destroyed. The bulldozers were flattening large portions of the town. A week later it would be difficult to see where the houses were on the morning of December 26th.

There was a pitiful little pile of battered chairs, broken tables, dented pots and a few bits of clothing where the bulldozers were working the salvaged remains of hundreds of households of what was once a thriving community.

The Sri Lanka government was quick to respond in the immediate aftermath of the disaster in getting bulldozers out to clear the main roads, putting in temporary bridges where the tsunami had taken them out.

Most of the main roads were opened a few days after the disaster or diversions were in place in areas which were impassable for months. Aid and assistance was getting through.

People looked to the sea for their livelihood and their entertainment.

The sea was their friend. The sea dealt them a savage blow. The glorious beaches now stay eerily empty, the fishing boats 'parked' in places never meant for boats. Four years later. survivors have tried and have begun to rebuild their lives.

Where did they start?

Observing two-minute silence today

The government has urged the people to observe a two minute silence today, by remembering all those who perished in natural disasters in Sri Lanka over the years, especially those who perished in the 2004 tsunami.

The government has urged the entire nation to observe the silence from 9.25 to 9.27 a.m.

Special police teams have been deployed to stop traffic within the specified period and those travelling would also be requested to observe the silence.

“We want the whole nation to come together within these two minutes and remember all our brothers and sisters who died in the 2004 tragedy and all other tragedies in the country,” the police said.

Acting Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Rohana Dissanayake also made a special appeal at an event held at the Disaster Management Centre earlier this week for the nation to oblige and mark the two-minute silence.

The Minister also said the National Safety Day which is commemorated today would be held in Kandy this year.

Minister Dissanayake added that if the country was to face another natural disaster like the tsunami, arrangements were in place to respond to the crisis situation swiftly and effectively.

He observed that new communications and response systems had been implemented to cope with the disaster.

The National Safety Day comes as a result of a cabinet proposal made in May 2006, and the first event marking the day was held on December 26, 2006 in Galle.

The 2007 event followed in Ratnapura. This year's event is being held at Dharmaraja College in Kandy.

Schoolgirl's geography lesson saves family

On December 26, 2004, British schoolgirl Tilly Smith, ten-year-old, sensed something was wrong while on the beach with her family. Her mind kept going back to the geography lesson Mr. Kearney gave just two weeks before she flew out to a Thai resort with her family.

“The water was swelling and kept coming in,” recalled Penny Smith, Tilly's mother. “There was froth on it like you get on the top of a beer. The sea was like a millpond before [the swelling began].”

The Smiths, from southeast England, were celebrating Christmas at Mai Khao Beach in Phuket, southern Thailand. Deadly tsunami waves were already on their way — triggered by a massive earthquake off northern Sumatra earlier that morning.

"The beach was getting smaller and smaller," said Penny Smith, 43. "I felt compelled to look, but I didn't know what was happening. Then Tilly said she'd just studied this at school — she talked about tectonic plates and an earthquake under the sea. She got more and more hysterical. In the end she was screaming at us to get off the beach."

Tilly's father, Colin Smith, 46, said other tourists on the beach were alerted by his daughter's concerns as he took Tilly and her seven-year-old sister back to the hotel swimming pool.

Penny Smith added, "I didn't know what a tsunami was, but seeing your daughter so frightened made you think something serious must be going on."

She remembers seeing a yacht being tipped vertically in the bay. "Then it was as if the entire sea came out of the water. I was screaming, 'Run!'"

The family took refuge on the third floor of their hotel. Set well back from the shore, it withstood the surge of three tsunami waves.

"Everything went in the swimming pool — beds, palm trees, the lot," Penny Smith said. "Even if you hadn't drowned, you would have been hit by something."

If they had stayed on the beach, she believes they wouldn't have made it to safety.

In the disaster's aftermath, the Smiths said, they met people from nearby resorts who had lost whole families.

Tilly Smith left back safely for her at Danes Hill School in Oxshott, Surrey, England soon after the tsunami.

A week later, she told her geography class how the sea slowly rose and started to foam, bubble, and form whirlpools before the big waves came.

"What Tilly described as happening was exactly the same as I'd shown on a video of a tsunami that hit the Hawaiian islands [in 1946]," said Andrew F. Kearney, Tilly's geography teacher.

"She saw the consequences of not acting when something strange happens."

Kearney had many hundreds of supportive e-mails from teachers around the world since Tilly's story was first reported in Britain.

"People often underrate teaching and teachers and they feel it's important to show we can make a difference," Kearney said. (National Geographic News)

Did animals sense tsunami disaster?

Before giant waves slammed into Sri Lankan and Indian coastlines on December 26, 2004, wild and domestic animals seemed to know what was about to happen and had fled to safety.

According to eyewitnesses, the following events took place:

Elephants screamed and ran for higher ground. Dogs refused to go outdoors. Flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas and zoo animals rushed into their shelters and could not be enticed to come back out.

The belief that wild and domestic animals possess a sixth sense — and know in advance when the earth was going to shake — has been around for centuries.

Wild Life experts believe animals' more acute hearing and other senses might enable them to hear or feel the earth's vibration, tipping them off to approaching disaster long before humans realise what's going on.

The massive tsunami was triggered by a sea quake of 9 on the Richter scale off the coast of Northern Sumatra island on December 26. The giant waves rolled through the Indian Ocean, killing more than 150,000 people in a dozen countries.

Relatively few animals have been reported dead, however, reviving speculation that animals somehow sense impending disaster.

Ravi Corea, President of the Sri Lanka Wild Life Conservation Society, which is based in Nutley, New Jersey, was in Sri Lanka when the massive waves struck.

He travelled later to the Patanangala beach inside Yala National Park, where some 60 visitors were washed away.

The beach was one of the worst hit areas of the 500-square-mile (1,300-square-kilometre) wild life reserve, which is home to a variety of animals, including elephants, leopards, and 130 species of birds.

Mr. Corea did not see any animal carcasses nor did the park personnel know of any, other than two water buffaloes that had died, he said.

Along India's Cuddalore coast, where thousands of people perished, the Indo-Asian News service reported that buffaloes, goats, and dogs were found unharmed.

Flamingos that breed this time of year at the Point Calimere wild life sanctuary in India flew to higher ground beforehand, the news service reported.

Accounts of strange animal behaviour have also started to surface.

About an hour before the tsunami hit, Corea said, people at Yala National Park observed three elephants running away from the Patanangala beach.

World Wild Life Fund, an organiswation that leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats, has satellite collars on some of the elephants in the park.

A spokeswoman said they plan to track the elephants on that fateful day to verify whether they did move to higher ground. She doesn't know, though, when the satellite data would be downloaded and analysed.

Mr. Corea, a Sri Lankan who migrated to United States 20 years ago, said two of his friends noticed unusual animal behaviour before the tsunami.

One friend, in the southern Sri Lankan town of Dikwella, recalls bats frantically flying away just before the tsunami struck. Another friend, who lived on the coast near Galle, said his two dogs would not go for their daily run on the beach.

"They are usually excited to go on this outing," Corea said. But on this day they refused to go and most probably saved his life.

Alan Rabinowitz, director for science and exploration at the Bronx Zoo-based Wild Life Conservation Society in New York, says animals could sense impending dangers by detecting subtle or abrupt shifts in the environment.

"Earth-quakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water while storms cause electro-magnetic changes in the atmosphere," he said. "Some animals have acute sense of hearing and smell that allow them to determine something coming towards them long before humans might know that something is there."

(National Geographic News)

Saturday, December 20, 2008


How I Survived a Plane Crash...............By Dr. Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

December 17th marked the 30th anniversary of the day I had a brush with death being involved in a plane crash in which the Boeing B-737 was reduced to ashes, but where the majority of passengers miraculously survived. Needless to say, I too lived to tell the tale!

A strange coincidence it may be, but it was exactly 75 years before on that very same date that Orville Wright made the first successful, piloted flight in history in a powered airplane on December 17th, 1903 near a beach in North Carolina, not far from where I now live. Orville was the younger of the famous Wright brothers who have been credited with the invention of the airplane. Wright’s flight reached an altitude of just 20 feet, covered 120 feet and lasted only12 seconds. The flight that I am about to describe attained a higher altitude, covered a longer distance and lasted much longer!

New Delhi Bound

There were no direct flights to New Delhi from Colombo in the seventies. Passengers from Colombo had to take a flight to Madras (Chennai) and then proceed to New Delhi often via another major Indian city such as Hyderabad. I was one of many Lankans who boarded a plane at Katunayake that left for Madras on December 16th, 1978. Four of them including myself were Health Ministry officials who were on their way to New Delhi to attend meetings at the South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO) of the World Health Organization (WHO). Ministry Secretary B.C. Perera, Medical Statistician Srini Samaranayake, and Principal of the Anuradhapura Nurses Training School Padma Siriwardene were my Health Ministry colleagues who were also my fellow passengers on that flight.

It was a pleasant flight that took us to Madras where we stayed overnight to take another flight to Hyderabad early morning the following day en route to New Delhi.

The flight from Madras in the Indian Airlines plane left the airport and headed for Hyderabad. Although we knew that the plane had reached Hyderabad, it never landed there. After circling over the airport for some time, the pilot had decided to go back to Madras, due to poor visibility around the Begumpet airport in Hyderabad that misty morning. We were disappointed, but not unduly concerned. In hindsight, it was a bad omen if one is prone to be superstitious. Whether the pilot was being overly careful and not taking undue risks had anything to do with the precious cargo he was carrying, we will never know. On board that flight was the South Indian film idol M.G. Ramachandran who by that time was a leading political figure in Tamil Nadu. Apparently, he too was heading for New Delhi to attend an important meeting.

Having gone back to Chidamparam airport in Madras, we patiently waited until it was time to restart the journey. It was about two hours later that we were airborne again and on the way to Hyderabad. The skies had cleared considerably by that time, and the plane landed safely on the runway at Begumpet airport. We were scheduled to leave again from there after a stopover of forty minutes. However, VIP M.G. Ramachandran was not on the plane that took off from Madras a second time. He had probably changed his mind and cancelled the trip to New Delhi due to the delay. Going by the events that unfolded in Hyderabad that fateful day, MGR had taken one of the wisest decisions in his life.

High Company

On the second leg of our journey to New Delhi too, we were in high company. Another prominent Indian politician of that era M. Channa Reddy who was Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, then Chief Secretary I.J. Naidu, and the Inspector General of Police of the state M.V. Narayana Rao were among the 126 passengers on board. Dr. Reddy had also served as a State Minister, a Union Cabinet Minister, and Governor in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Everything looked fine as the plane started along the runway for take off. But as it gathered speed and momentum, the whole plane started shuddering and rattling. By then, it was probably too late for the pilot to abort the flight and bring the plane to a halt on the runway itself. The plane did take off but only succeeded in gaining some altitude before coming down in a rapid descent. As the plane lost altitude, we clung on to our seats not knowing what the next moment would bring. There was a loud impact that shook the plane as it touched terra firma again after the shortest flight that I had ever taken! If the passengers were not thrown around, it was only because they were wearing their seat belts.

Not stopping immediately, the plane careered along tilting from side to side until it was brought to a halt. The cabin lights went off and passengers noticed that one engine was on fire. Thick black smoke filled the cabin and passengers were feeling terribly uncomfortable. We had seen the usual routine of a flight stewardess going through the motions in demonstrating the use of oxygen masks just a few minutes before during preparations for take off. But ironically, they never dropped down, as one would have expected when smoke started filling the cabin. By now all passengers knew that the fire was raging – an inferno in which we were trapped. Some people were screaming, but there was no pandemonium as such. A few sensible quick-thinking passengers climbed on to the seats to try and calm down others who seemed to be in a more agitated state. In the meantime, cabin crew tried to open the exit doors. They had trouble initially, but after a few agonising moments, they finally managed to get one opened somewhere in the centre of the fuselage. The exit door at the rear too was opened a few minutes later. Passengers started moving towards them in some order. Instead of stampeding wildly in all directions, the relatively disciplined manner in which the passengers acted would certainly have prevented more deaths in this disaster.

(Websites that cover air disasters provide more technical descriptions of the accident in narrative form together with pictures of the destroyed plane. Websites of interest to readers include:

Survival of the Fittest

I unbuckled my seat belt and took my turn in a line that formed spontaneously in the central aisle. I did not even try to pick up my brief case that was lying underneath the front seat because every second mattered. By that time, the entire plane was on fire and I could even feel the heat through the floorboards and soles of my shoes. I was one of the first to reach the exit. But to my dismay, I soon discovered that there was no chute for anyone to slide down. I jumped out without any hesitation, but just like the way the plane came down, mine too was not a smooth landing! I went sprawling on the ground the same way a few other passengers did. Fortunately, the height from which we had to jump was not much. The landing gear (according to later reports) had been retracted for a belly-landing. I did not realise it at that time, but I had badly twisted my ankle in jumping out of the plane even from that height. I remember creeping through a partly damaged barbed wire fence and running for dear life. But as I ran, I was tempted to look back. The entire plane was engulfed in flames. It was only then that I had time to think of my fellow Sri Lankan passengers. I feared the worst - that all of them would have got trapped inside and perished. It was a case of "survival of the fittest". If there were any sick passengers, invalids or anyone who was old and feeble, they simply would not have had a chance. It was later reported that the only passenger who died had two little children with him. He had to virtually throw them out before jumping through the flames himself. He had died in hospital having suffered severe burns.

Lost in the Crowd

Soon after I "evacuated" the plane, what I saw on the ground was equally horrible. I first saw a stewardess rolling on the ground trying to douse the flames on her Indian silk sari that had caught fire. Just beyond the barbed wire fence were two mangled dead bodies.

Two poor grass cutters who were working in the field had been crushed by the plane. A swarm of people from the village appeared from nowhere. No one offered help but simply gaped at me. Just as I got lost in the crowd, I heard the wailing sirens of ambulances and fire engines. But they were not heading in my direction. I did what I thought was the only sensible thing to do. I got into a trishaw (three wheeler) and used sign language to get the driver to take me to the passenger terminal. It is interesting to recall that soon after boarding the aircraft, I had settled down in my aisle seat without removing the dark blue blazer that I was wearing that day. In my coat pocket were the air ticket, international health card, passport, travelers’cheques and some cash in Indian currency. This action of mine saved me a lot of trouble that I would otherwise have been faced with during the rest of the journey had I lost those precious items. I was thus able to reach for my wallet confidently and pay the trishaw driver his fare. At a time when getting international telephone calls from a place like Hyderabad was almost impossible, I rushed to the Post Office in the passenger terminal and dispatched a telegram to my wife. It carried a brief message – "Plane crash landed. Escaped unhurt". If she heard the news on the radio, it would have caused her more anxiety.

It was in the terminal building that I was relieved to be reunited with my fellow Sri Lankan passengers who too had obviously made the miraculous escape. It was only then that I fully realized the plight I was in – stranded in the airport terminal in a strange land with only the clothes that I was wearing.

Flight to New Delhi

The Indian Airlines authorities had hurriedly arranged a special flight for us to be taken to New Delhi from Hyderabad. It was with much trepidation that I boarded yet another Indian Airlines plane! But we were anxious to get to our next destination as soon as possible. As the plane accelerated along the runway, we kept our fingers crossed. But as it settled down after that initial steep climb, the passengers broke into spontaneous applause! After a safe landing in New Delhi on that cold December night, it was close to midnight when we entered the lobby in Lodhi Hotel (where we had prior reservations). I had neither a toothbrush to brush my teeth nor a comfortable sarong to get into before going to bed at the end of a hectic day. I wrapped a bath towel around my waist and crept under the blankets almost in a daze. It was only then that I became conscious of the throbbing pain in my badly swollen right ankle. However, we all went to the WHO Regional Office the next morning. Most of us even managed to go through the weeklong meeting, but not before going shopping for new clothes at Connaught Place with the cash advance we were provided. But Mr. B.C. Perera who had suffered minor burns on his face decided to return home immediately.

My Only Memento

I have lost count of the number of flights that I have taken in my lifetime. I have not bothered to collect scraps of paper in the form of boarding passes from all those flights that I would have taken both before and after the disaster. But I do have with me the boarding pass issued to me at the check-in counter of Indian Airlines at the Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad on December 17th, 1978. The boarding pass that I have preserved to this day remains the only memento from that unforgettable flight.



Sunday, December 14, 2008


Addressing diabetes is vital for strengthening tuberculosis Amit Dwivedi

Patients with type-2 diabetes may be at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB) because they generally have a compromised immune system, which results in life-threatening lung infections that are more difficult to treat

Research at the University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville shows that type 2 diabetes, especially when it involves chronic high blood sugar, is associated with altered immune response to TB. Patients with diabetes and TB take longer to respond to anti-TB treatment, and that patients with active tuberculosis and type-2 diabetes are more likely to have multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Almost six percent of people with diabetes had MDR-TB, reported this study. 30 per cent of those with MDR-TB also had type 2 diabetes.

According to World Diabetes Foundation (WDF), it was estimated that in 2007 there were 246 million people living with diabetes, 6 million new cases were diagnosed and 3.5 million people died due to diabetes.

According to the Global TB Control report, published by World Health Organization (WHO) for the same year, there were 14.4 million people living with TB, 9.2 million new cases and 1.7 million died due to this disease. While it is recognized that 95% per cent of TB patients live in developing world, it is not so well known that 70 per cent of people with diabetes also live in developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia and the pacific region.

India has a strong TB control programme in the world, referred to as the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) or Directly Observed Treatment Shortcourse (DOTS). However, we need to focus more for its effective implementation. Public- private partnership can alleviate the problem of TB in people living with diabetes, said Dr Anthony D Harries, senior advisor, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD, The Union).

Dr Harries was of the opinion that, "there are many risk factors for TB, which include HIV/AIDS, silicosis, malnutrition and smoking. While the link between TB and diabetes has been known since roman times, it is only recently that unequivocal evidence has been gathered to show a strong association between the two diseases. With an estimated 21 million adults with diabetes and 900000 incident pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) cases in 2000, diabetes accounted for nearly 15% of pulmonary TB and 20% of smear- positive pulmonary TB. Diabetes therefore appears to increase the risk of active TB."

Dr Harries advocated that "there are three pronged approach for the DOTS strategy for TB control: 1) identify TB patients through passive case finding, 2) diagnose TB through sputum smear examination and 3) put the patients on anti-TB treatment."

Dr. Harries further said "In most of the developing countries there are no systematic ways of monitoring or evaluating patients with non-communicable diseases (NCD). This has to change. The DOTS framework for TB control, developed by the IUATLD and WHO, has allowed structured, well-monitored services to be delivered to millions of TB patients in some of the poorest countries of the world. In a resource poor-country like Malawi, the DOTS model was successfully adapted for scaling up and monitoring antiretroviral therapy (ART) to people living with HIV (PLHIV). This model can be adapted for NCDs, such as diabetes, as well. With treatment cards and registers, it would be feasible to make comprehensive quarterly reports on diabetes treatment outcomes, which would include the monitoring and evaluation of co-morbidities such as TB."

The Millennium Development Goal number 6, specifies that the incidence of infectious diseases such as TB should be halted and reversed by 2015. To succeed in achieving this target, it is important to focus on resource-poor countries not only on for HIV/AIDS but also on the burgeoning epidemic of diabetes as a significant epidemiological risk factor.

(The author is a Special Correspondent to Citizen News Service (CNS). Email:, website:


Thursday, December 11, 2008


Drowning, other accidents kill 800,000 kids a year
Ben Stocking

Simple things like seat belts, childproof medicine caps and fences around pools could help prevent up to half of the 2,000 accidental deaths of children that happen each day around the world, UN officials said Wednesday.

A child rides motorcycle without a helmet in Hanoi, Vietnam. AP

More than 800,000 children die each year from burns, drowning, car accidents, falls, poisoning and other accidents, with the vast majority of those deaths occurring in developing countries, according to experts and a report released Wednesday by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Tens of millions more suffer injuries that often leave them disabled for life, said the report which was launched at a meeting of global health experts in Hanoi. The World Report on Child Injury Prevention 2008 does not include injuries caused by domestic violence.

The problem is most acute in Africa and Southeast Asia, but no country is immune, conference participants said, issuing an urgent call for action.

"The price of failure is high," said Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization, speaking in a videotape shown at the conference. "On current estimates, unintentional injuries claim the lives of around 830,000 children worldwide every year." The report calls on countries around the world to issue prevention measures such as seatbelt and helmet laws, child-safe medicine bottles, water heater controls and safer designs for nursery furniture and toys. It also recommends various traffic safety improvements and putting fences around pools and ponds to prevent drowning. A child-friendly version with safety tips was issued at the conference and online.

Such steps have been taken in many high-income countries and have reduced child injury deaths by up to 50 percent over the last 30 years, the report says.

Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF's executive director, said unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children between 9 and 18 years old and 95 percent of these injuries occur in developing countries.

"More must be done to prevent such harm to children," she said, also speaking via video.



Women in plantation sector and ‘Tea Day’

International days (I.Ds) are celebrated throughout the year. The purpose of celebrating International days is to promote the life of people, remind people of the human values which are forgotten due to industrialisation and materialistic values, to enable people to think of their fellowmen who are effected in some way or other, and thereby make every person, every community and the every Government to be concerned and be accountable partners of development and well-being of the whole human society.

On December 15 the International Tea Day (I.T.D) is celebrated in Sri Lanka, India and all tea producing countries. There are millions and millions of people working in tea plantations in Sri Lanka, Asia and in many tea producing countries.

Except in few countries, in most of the tea producing countries the tea industry workers had lived like slaves. They were highly exploited in the economic, social and in other areas of life including employment.

The women in the industry lived a sub standed life compared to women in other sectors. No one can deny that although the plantation sector still remains the backbone of economy of the country. The people living within the sector remain a marginalized people and subjected to various kinds of discriminations. In this backdrop international Tea Day was declared on December 15, 2005 at the tea conference held in India, New Delhi. The objective of this day was to bring the problems and issues of the tea plantation workers at national and international level, to ensure a fair trade practices in the industry, to built solidarity among tea workers all over the world and also to stress for the importance of safeguarding the industry in the interest of all stakeholders including all tea producers specially the tea smallholders.

The celebration of the I.T.D during the last few years has built a sense of brotherhood and solidarity among all tea workers in the world and making them feel that they are not isolated within their countries. I.T.D was declared by stakeholders who are interested in the future of the industry and the welfare of the people working in it, but has still not gained recognition of the United Nations (UN).

The day needs to be celebrated continuously nationally and internationally and the relevant themes popularised in order to gain UN recognition. And when the I.T.D is recognised by the UN the tea producing countries including Sri Lanka would be required to pay more attention in sustaining the industry and showing more concern for, women and children who depend on the industry.

This year makes the fourth anniversary of the I.T.D. Plantation Sector Social Forum had ensured the celebration of the day continuously during the last four years. The general theme of the I.T.D is “Let us ensure a living wage for the plantation workers”. In the year 2006 too the same theme was highlighted and the Tea Day on December 15, 2006 coincided with the island wide work stoppage by the plantation workers demanding wage increase through the collective agreement.

The I.T.D celebrated in 2006 December at Hatton in this background drew more than 10,000 plantation workers which made the I.T.D popular and known among the plantation people. The third I.T.D was celebrated at Bandarawela. This year being the fourth anniversary the I.T.D is to be celebrated at Nawalapitiya. Although the main theme of the I.T.D is to ensure a living wage to the plantation workers, in order to popularize the various clauses in the New Delhi declarations sub themes are introduced every year. The theme for this tea day is “Let us promote women’s leadership in the plantation sector”.

At this stage it is appropriate to look into some of the clauses of the New Delhi declaration of the Tea Day with regard to women in the sector.

In short the Delhi declaration stressed that the women’s views needs to be recognised and respected and given due consideration. Violence against women should be ended. Women’s reproductive right and other rights need to be safeguarded. With the view to popularize these ideas the theme for this year is defined as “Let us promote women’s leadership in the plantation sector”.

In order to reduce violence against plantation women a clause stressing the appointment of women over women workers had been introduced into the collective agreement entered into few years ago between the trade unions and employer’s federations. Provision of common aminities in the working fields, facilities for women to receive their own wages, improved environment for women where they would be protected from sexual harassment and discriminations are matters that had been agreed upon among the parties. But most of these agreements remain a dead letter and constituent parties are conveniently avoiding to speak about them. “Tea Day” with its theme to promote women leadership will try to bring pressure on the relevant parties to implement these agreements.

Further, in Sri Lanka there are policies and mechanism in place for the development of women, safeguarding their rights and ensure their security. None of these services or its benefits reach the plantation women. Activating an advocacy program to ensure the Government’s women welfare services reaching the plantation sector is the other objective of celebrating Tea Day. In the meantime I.T.D is celebrated in India and other tea producing countries and processes are under way nationally and internationally to gain recognition for the Tea Day from the UN.

S. K. Chantrasekaran

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Women lose jewellery at ceremony

By Palitha Ariyawansa
Several women attending a religious ceremony at the Sri Kadiresan Hindu Temple in Badulla town on Sunday morning are said to have lost their jewellery. It is understood that an organised gang of women allegedly stole the jewellery worth more than Rs.2 million.

The ceremony that lasted for several days marked the completion of renovations at a colossal expenditure. Inquiries revealed that the thieves snatched the jewellery during the rush to witness the shower from a pot in the roof.

Badulla ASP, Dudley Woodward said the women who were concentrating on the religious observances realised much later that their jewellery was missing. Police said a group of young women from a distant area would have mingled with the devotees and snatched the jewellery during the rush. Many of the victims were wearing Thalis, a costly necklace worn by them on the day of their wedding.

They were praying to the gods yesterday to punish the thieves and to cause them to return the stolen jewellery.

A police team under Badulla Acting HQI, D.M. Wijepala are conducting inquiries on the instructions of Uva Province DIG, H.N.B. Ambanwela, Badulla SSP, Sunil Maturata and ASP Dudley Woodward to arrest the suspects.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Fishermen at Gurunagar Jetty...Farmers starting their work with the rainy season....
K.Ganesh, Government Agent, Jaffna

In the Peninsula .........Life bounces back to normal:

By Dhaneshi YATAWARA

Amidst the tornados, cyclones and depressions built up in the Bay of Bengal, spring is coming to the Northern peninsula. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Nation Building the Government is to launch ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya’ (Northern Spring) - the mega development program for the Northern Province. Similar to the Eastern Province the Government will bring back the lost glory to Jaffna and its people. Life was running smoothly in Jaffna even at a time when troops’ fight against terrorism was at a climax in the Muhamalai Forward Defence Lines. The villages in Jaffna suburbs on the either sides of the A9 road on the way to the Muhamalai FDL were enjoying their usual docile environment.

Out of the total area of 983.6 square kilometres of Jaffna only 27.9 are uncleared which include only the Vadamarachchi East, the Jaffna District Secretariat situation report stated. With the recent operations carried out by the Army more territory is being liberated.

Jaffna is a unique set up with 546,507 people residing in the district. According to the Government statistics 3,537 families comprising 12,963 members are living in Vadamarachchi East - the only uncleared DS division.

“Jaffna people are free to lead a normal life and the situation is improving at an amazing pace,” Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General G. A. Chandrasiri told us while explaining how the day to day activities are functioning. With the past experience of LTTE threats to innocent civilian lives the Commander does not want any loose points in the security network. Since its liberation from the Tiger clutches the Sri Lanka Army is in charge of the total security of the area.

Sri Lanka Army makes sure that the people are able to conduct their religious activities, festivals and all the other important functions, without interruption. They take full care of the area ensuring that the needs of the civilians are also met on time while carrying out their prime duty of holding the Tigers at bay beyond our limits.

Development drive

The only obstacle the development work is facing is the shortage of building materials. Since the goods should reach Jaffna through sea, transportation of these bulky materials gets a limited chance. “Commissioner General of Essential Services already had discussions with the Chairman of the Cement Corporation to initiate a special supply of cement to Jaffna,” Jaffna District Secretary K. Ganesh told us. By then they were expecting a load of 78,000 cement bags from the next shipment of ‘Mercs Ruhuna’. At the moment 7000-8000 metric tons of building materials reach Jaffna through the currently available sea transport. Shipping was paused due to the adverse weather conditions that affected the island’s Northern and Eastern parts.

Fuel is separately transported by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Navy avoiding shortage of supplies. In October Jaffna’s requirement of 535 metric tons of petrol (90 Octane) was supplied. And to meet the requirement of 4,166 metric tons of auto diesel, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation supplied 5,624.23 metric tons in the same month.

“At the moment seven ships, namely Ruhuna, Yala, Dublin, Bin Than, Almeezan, Nimalawa, Maha and Uniglory are used to transport goods from Trincomalee and Colombo harbours. If we properly plan the transportation the number of ships is quite sufficient,” Ganesh added. Ruhuna has a capacity of 3,800 metric tons, Yala has 2,800 metric tons, Dublin and Almeezan has 2,200 metric tons capacity, Bin Than has 1,500 and Maha has a capacity of 2,900 metric tons.

According to the up-to-date figures 53,324 families are resettled in the Jaffna district. Action is being taken to resettle the IDPs within the southern 300 metres of the 600 metres Buffer zone of Forward Defence Line after verifying the suitability of families jointly by the Civil Administration and the Security Forces. 3,419 families have produced deeds to prove ownership during the verification and they have been sent to the Attorney General’s Department for submission to the Supreme Court to consider for resettlement in Tellipalai Divisional Secretary Division. A committee consisting of the High Court Commissioner, the Government Agent, the Jaffna Security Forces Commander, the Northern Naval Commander and the Deputy Inspector General of Police has been appointed by the Supreme Court to consider the possibilities of Resettlement in the high security zone.

The committee met on several occasions and is studying the situation to abide by the Supreme Court directive. At the moment 258 families are identified for resettlement. Tellipalai Divisional Secretariat and the Security Forces personnel have verified the documents of lands. Action is under way to resettle 24 families in the cleared area beyond 600 metres Buffer Zone shortly.

Four hundred passengers can travel from Jaffna to other parts of the country every other day in the passenger ship and the two private airlines operates five services daily transporting a total of about 220 passengers.

Education, the most precious gift of the Jaffna people, performs miracles amidst all the difficulties these children face. In the G.C.E. Ordinary level examination held last year 100 students gained 10 As each. Their minds are clear and traditionally they are trained to think that education is their key to a successful future.

Schools in Jaffna district participated in National level sportsmeet and got 11 places. This is a very encouraging development for the student community as well as to the society. A function was organised to honour all sportsmen and women who achieved places at district, provincial and national levels. The District Secretariat informs that action has already been taken for the transport of uniform material required for the students for next year. A total of 487 schools of primary and secondary levels are functioning in the district.

Private traders brought in 4,950 metric tons of stationery where as the requirement was 200 metric tons in the month of October.

Altogether 3,700 private traders are now fully involved in trading activities. The private sector trading activities are improving. 24 Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society outlets are functioning properly.

Within the district 2,953 poultry farmers and 1,050 dairy farmers are registered. The prices of meat, eggs and milk are under control now as a result of increased production. It is necessary to promote the existing conditions in livestock and poultry industries by bringing in animal feed by ship on a regular basis. In January Jaffna produced 62,350 litres of milk and in October the figure was 64,052 litres while the maximum was 91,852 litres in August.

Cultivation in Jaffna extends to 5,110 ha of high lands where crops are grown throughout the year. 9,600 ha of paddy lands are cultivated only in the Maha season.

Valukkai Aru scheme is implemented by the Provincial Irrigation Department as a reawakening project under World Bank Funds at a cost of 268 million rupees. The Valukkai Aru has a catchment area of 57 square metres. The Valukkai Aru main channel is approximately 16 kilometres long and runs from Tellippalai to Araly. This scheme includes 62 minor tanks and main channel and 08 sub channels and one barrage. This scheme is scheduled to be completed within two years. The preliminary construction works are already commenced. With the completion of the Chunnakam Power plant additional 30 megawatts of electricity is contributed to the national grid, enabling the authorities to supply electricity without regular interruptions.

The new power plant is constructed as a BoI project under Northern Power, a private company based in Colombo working as the local agent for Energy Capital - a company based in Singapore. The Thondaman Aru barrage, which prevents inland fresh water getting mixed with sea water during the high tide, was damaged due to lack of maintenance. Under the Ministry of Nation Building the barrage reconstruction work is 80 per cent completed at a total cost of 100 million rupees. This has altogether 18 gates out of which 16 are completely done. Manual and electronic manoeuvring systems are already installed. 20,000 acres of land were rendered totally unsuitable for agriculture as a result of poor maintenance of this barrage. Construction activities are undertaken by the State Engineering corporation and the Government Factory. With this the quality of the under ground water will improve and as a result the conditions of the arable lands will also improve.

In addition to all these projects, the Road Development Authority has undertaken to rehabilitate the Jaffna - Manipay - Karainagar road at an estimated cost of 400 million rupees under a CAARP project.

Several road development projects are under way in addition to the Karainagar road development project. Separated from India by a narrow strip of sea ‘Yalpanam’ was the home for many prestigious personalities of our motherland. Life is running smoothly in Jaffna amidst heavy debacles. The dark gloomy days seem to have gone beyond the seas.


Study: Happiness is contagious, even for strangers
Smile, and the whole world may smile with you.

Scientists reported Friday that happiness is contagious, and that you may have complete strangers to thank for the smile on your face.

In a paper published Friday in the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, American researchers tracked more than 4,700 people in Framingham, Massachussetts, as part of a heart study from 1983 to 2003.

When they analyzed the data looking for happiness trends, the scientists found that happy people passed on their cheer to people they didn’t personally know - and this transferred happiness lasted for up to a year.

"Happiness is like a stampede," said Nicholas Christakis, a professor in Harvard University’s sociology department, one of the study’s authors. "Whether you’re happy depends not just on your own actions and behaviors and thoughts, but on those of people you don’t even know."

Christakis and James Fowler, an associate professor of political science at the University of California in San Diego, previously found that obesity and smoking habits spread socially as well.

For this study, they examined questionnaires that asked people to measure their happiness and found distinct happy and unhappy clusters that were significantly bigger than would be expected by chance alone.

Happiness lasted for up to three cycles: to the friends of friends of friends.

Happy people tended to be at the center of social networks and had many friends who were also happy. Having friends or siblings live nearby increased peoples’ chances of being upbeat.

Happy spouses helped too, but not as much as happy friends of the same gender. No effects were seen with coworkers.

Christakis and Fowler estimate that each happy friend boosts your own happiness chances by 9 percent. Having grumpy friends decreases it by about 7 percent.

Being happy also brings other benefits.

"Happiness has a protective effect on your immune system and you produce fewer stress hormones," said Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London who was not linked to the study.

Other experts said people shouldn’t assume they can make themselves happy just by making the right friends.

"The psychological health of your friends is a predictor of your own mental health, but to say you can manipulate who your friends are to make yourself happier would be going too far," said Stanley Wasserman, an Indiana University statistician who studies social networks.

Because the study was done in a single community, further research is needed to confirm its findings. The study was also conducted before the rise of online social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

"This type of technology enhances your contact with friends, so it should support the kind of emotional contagion we observed," Christakis said, though he couldn’t say if being on Facebook would make you happier.

Fowler said the study was the first tentative evidence of karma.

"The fact that happiness spreads from person to person to person suggests that these waves of happiness we radiate could eventually wash up on our own shores," he said. (AP)


The cricketer who ran out of life...

By Ranee Mohamed

He told us that he was going to be the next Sanath Jayasuriya," said weeping mother Samantha Malkanthi. "I brought him up in the most grueling circumstances," she cried refusing to move away from the bedside of her 13 year old son Pallage Supun Tharaka Nanayakkara, the cricketing star who fell on the very field he was applauded upon by the whole school.

We have dreams - every one of us - and young Supun Tharaka's dream had not been to become a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. He wanted to be a cricketer. "My son was the happiest when I took his cricket bag after school and handed it over to him," said father Pallage Ranjan Hemantha Nanayakkara who makes his living driving a three wheeler.

Suffered much

This helpless duo have suffered much to bring up their three sons - Supun Tharaka (13), Udan Tasrutha (7) and Chathuka Sankalpa.

About three weeks ago Supun Tharaka, a student of Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya, Colombo 5, left his home at 36/7H, Sujatha Mawatha, Pamankade after eating five stringhoppers. "Amma, I will be back after cricket practice. Have some hot rice for me," he had shouted on his way out of the house.

In the afternoon, his father put aside his hires and set off to Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya in the evening with a fish bun and a roll. "Our son ate the food hungrily and then went to the ground for practice. I was standing on the side and watching. The coach had not turned up that day and a father of one of the children was batting. My son was bowling. All at once I saw the person bat and the ball went high up in the air. My son went running and tried to catch the ball. I was horrified when all at once I saw the ball fall on my son's chest. I saw my son falling down. I ran towards him and several school boys in the field ran towards him too. I grabbed a bottle of water from a nearby student and splashed some water on my son's face. He opened his eyes and said 'Thaththa' (father) and then closed his eyes," said Ranjan crying uncontrollably.

The hard leather ball which was up in the air had fallen straight on the young boy's chest, throwing him to the ground almost instantly.

"It was October 29 and the time was about 2.50 p.m. I was making tea for my two younger boys when a neighbour ran into our house shouting that our older son had been admitted to hospital after being struck by a ball. I thought I was losing my mind and ran along the road all the way to the hospital in the clothes I was wearing at home," recalled the mother in anguish.

Supun Tharaka had been rushed to the Kalubowila Hospital where the staff had battled to bring Supun back to consciousness. Yet it had been days before he even opened his eyes.

And when he did open his eyes, he did not know where he was, did not know who his parents were.

"Today our son cannot move. They feed him with a tube. The machines have been taken off and now our son just stares, his fingers folded and his legs still. This is our cricketer - our man in the family, our young star..." cried his mother.

"We had great hopes for our son. He was so full of energy. He could not be still even when he was studying. Besides, at home he was the cricket coach to my two younger boys," said his innocent mother.

"A doctor told us that when the ball had fallen on our son's chest, his heart had stopped for a few minutes, thereby cutting off the oxygen to his brain. We have never been so frightened in our life. We love our three little boys very much and there are no words to express how much we love our elder son," said Ranjan and Malkanthi Nanayakkara.


The couple stand helpless and alone in the face of this great sports misadventure that happened in school

Co-curricular activities are encouraged today. More and more children are urged, nay forced to go for sports activities, yet when tragedy strikes the schools often back out. And Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya seems to have forgotten this young boy who now remains alone and trapped in a hospital.

What is the responsibility of the school and the school authorities in the face of such a tragedy? Are there rules and regulations or a code of conduct in the face of misfortune laid down in the school curricular? It is the responsibility of the very same authorities who urge children to take part in sports, to look after them when tragedy and injury befalls.

Questions are being asked by several parents as to where the coach was and who authorised another person to take the place of the coach. If the coach was around, then would such a tragedy have taken place, asked some parents.

Frame of mind

But the parents of Supun Tharaka are not in a frame of mind to weigh the injustice of what has happened. "Please help us to get our child back home, the way he left home that evening," they plead.

"We have no money and our greatest wealth are our children," said these parents, burning with heartache and pain.

Supun Tharaka needs fresh fruit juice, special medications and foods that can be tube fed. This poor couple who were finding it difficult to give their three children three meals and an education all at once are now in an agonising quandary wondering how on earth they are going to give the best for their young son. Supun Tharaka not only excelled in cricket, but in his studies, in drama and in the reciting of bhakthi gee too.

"Our son told us that he is a left hander just like Sanath Jayasuriya. In fact Sanath Jayasuriya was his greatest hero. He had his photos all over, he tried to walk like him and talk like him. and today he cannot talk at all," said Samantha Malkanthi.

Supun Tharaka played for his school. Playing against Moratuwa Vidyalaya, in the Astra Cup tournament, Supun Tharaka had emerged a star - bowling like a star, grabbing a catch and of the 14 overs, eight had been maidens - taking a wicket and allowing only 14 runs.

All this he did for the school. And when he ran everyone cheered, everyone clapped, the school was proud of him. But as he lies bound to bed with tubes at the ICU of the Colombo South Teaching Hospital today, who is clapping? who is proud of him? Only two spectators watch him - day and night, for Supun Tharaka is a poor player now, struggling for life.

Let us join together, to give a fair chance to this fallen young cricketing star.

"We are doing everything possible - Principal

G. Jayaweera Amarajeewa, princi-pal of Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya when contacted by The Sunday Leader said that the school is planning to inform the Tharunyata Hetak programme about Supun Tharaka.

"I have given a letter to the parents to go to the Cricket Board, though it is not within my purview to do so," said the Principal. He also went on to say that some of the students are planning to collect some money for Supun and that the staff had gone and seen him and given the parents some money.


Fighting aids with ayurvedic medicine

By Risidra Mendis

He lived a normal, peaceful life and like most of us had many plans for his future. He went overseas for better prospects and never forgot to send money to support his mother and sister in his native land.

But for Bandula his plans for the future were soon shattered when he discovered that he was HIV positive. His life changed; he lost interest in living and he thought his only option was to commit suicide and end his misery.

But for some reason Bandula decided not to commit suicide but face the future with this deadly disease, that has by now killed thousands of people around the world. His decision finally bore results that he never dreamt of. A friend of Bandula gave him the name and address of Dr. D. D. A. Hettiarachchi, who succeeded in finding a cure for Bandula's deadly disease.

Dr. Hettiarachchi is a Sri Lankan ayurvedic doctor who claims to have found a cure for the deadly HIV positive virus and has succeeded in curing some HIV positive patients and is in the process of treating many more.

Bandula who by now has got a new lease of life and is in the process of rebuilding his shattered life shared his story with The Sunday Leader.

Bandula is a chef by profession. In 1988 he left for Saudi Arabia to earn a living and provide a better life for his family. "I was in Saudi Arabia for five years, six months and 18 days. I had to quit my job and come back to Sri Lanka because my mother was not well. I looked after my mother and worked in Sri Lanka. I then left for Hong Kong in 2000. From Hong Kong I went to Singapore," Bandula said.

In 2001 Bandula had to give up his job as an international chef and return to Sri Lanka once again as his mother was not well. "When I came to Sri Lanka my mother was paralysed. I stayed back to look after her. On May 27, 2001 my mother passed away," Bandula explained. By this time Bandula had decided to settle down in Sri Lanka and had got registered to his fiancee on October 31, 2002. On November 14, 2002 Bandula while on his way back to his hometown after setting a date for his wedding got a bad headache.

Admitted to National Hospital

"I got high fever and started shivering. I went to a doctor close by and got some medicine but the fever didn't go down. I came to Colombo on November 15, 2002 with my nephew and got medicine from a doctor in Battaramulla. There was still no improvement in my condition so I got myself admitted to the Colombo National Hospital. I was at the National Hospital for two weeks with high fever and purging. The doctors said the purging could be due to something I ate and said I should get better and sent me home," Bandula added.

According to Bandula his glandular glands were swollen but the doctor had told him not to worry and sent him home. By this time Bandula's purging problem had settled down but the fever remained. "I used to get fever in the nights. I went back to my doctor in Battaramulla and told him I wanted to take a blood test. I then got myself admitted to the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital," Bandula said.

Bandula was released from the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital after two weeks and the doctors told him not to worry as there was nothing seriously wrong with him. "By this time Bandula and his wife had decided to get 'officially' married on December 25, 2002. But when I went back to my doctor in Battaramulla he told me that my VDRL was positive and to go to the STD clinic at De Saram Place. By this time I had already distributed the wedding invitations," Bandula said.

Deadly discovery

By December 20, Bandula discovered that he was HIV positive. It was at this point in his life that Bandula had to take the most difficult decision - canceling the wedding ceremony and letting go of who was most precious to him, his wife. "It was a difficult decision to make but the doctors had told me that I have only about two to three years to live. I had to think of my wife first and decided to cancel the wedding. I didn't tell my wife's relatives that I was HIV positive. I said I was not well and have to cancel the wedding.

'I hadn't had any sexual relations with my wife so my mind was clear. However my wife's relatives' gave me a tough time. They called the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital to see what was wrong with me and when the doctors said there was nothing wrong with me they tried to force me to go ahead with the wedding. But I refused," Bandula explained.

Bandula added that he thinks he contracted the deadly virus while in Hong Kong or Singapore and was forced to tell his wife's younger sister's husband the truth. However his wife's relative didn't believe him. But Bandula was determined to save his wife from this deadly disease and in February, 2003 through his lawyers got a divorce without telling his wife that he was HIV positive.

"Only my lawyers knew that I was HIV positive," Bandula explained.

It was in 2007 that Bandula finally met Dr. Hettiarachchi with the help of a friend and from then onwards his life changed for the better. "When I decided to seek treatment from Dr. Hettiarachchi, HIV positive patients at the STD clinic told me not to go for this treatment. The patients said there are many side effects when taking Sinhala medicine and the Western medicine won't agree with the Sinhala medicine.

Decision time

"Dr. Ananda Wijewickrema at the STD clinic told me it was my decision to make. But I took the chance and have never regretted it. I still go to the STD clinic to get my vitamins," Bandula said.

He added that he feels much better since he started the treatment one year and two months ago. "When I first met Dr. Hettiarachchi I couldn't talk properly, I felt very tired and my skin colour was not the usual brown. Even my eyes were protruding inward. But today these symptoms have all gone," Bandula said.

Bandula now has his own catering business and takes orders. However he takes utmost precautions when cooking and most often instructs his assistants to do the cutting and chopping. "I hope to get married again someday. I have the confidence that my blood count will be negative after 10 more months of medication. There are many NGOs who are collecting money in the country with the intention of helping HIV positive patients but none of this money is coming to the genuine HIV positive patients," Bandula said.

HIV has killed 225 people in the country while 4000 have been recorded HIV positive in 2007.

Main ingredients

Dr. Hettiarachchi uses three main ingredients, namely animal, plant and mineral products to cure HIV positive patients. Speaking to The Sunday Leader Dr. Hettiarachchi said the cures of ayurvedic medicine are respected the world over. "It was our ancestors who discovered these wonderful remedies that have cured many people from various ailments. In Sri Lanka HIV positive patients are treated badly because the disease is spread through sexual intercourse. Due to this reason HIV positive patients keep their condition a secret and are not willing to talk about it," Dr. Hettiarachchi explained.

Explaining the stages of HIV Dr. Hettiarachchi said the first stage of HIV is when the virus first enters your body. During the second stage there are no symptoms to be seen in the patient. In the third stage the patient's glands get swollen and in the fourth stage the AIDS related symptoms can be seen. In the fifth or last stage the patient is known to have full blown AIDS," Dr. Hettiarachchi stated.

Dr. Hettiarachchi treats his patients from his home at Suwa Asapuwa, 98/7, Sisira Mawatha, Kanda Liyaddapaluwa, Ganemulla. The doctor administers a two year course that includes kasaya, guli and karka among others to his patients. Dr. Hettiarachchi has a file of confidential documents of all his patients which he showed to The Sunday Leader where HIV positive patients whose blood count was positive, after his treatment showed a negative report.


More information on this deadly disease can be obtained from Dr. Hettiarachchi's website, Dr. Hettiarachchi's sons, Pradeep Abeywardene Hettiarachchi and Prageeth Abeywardene Hettiarachchi help him to treat his patients. Pradeep is now learning the ancient art of ayurvedic treatment for snake bites from his father.

Due to his amazing cures for HIV positive patients Dr. Hettiarachchi has been offered the opportunity of practicing his medical cures in Western countries. "I have turned down these requests because I feel that I have to first cure my people before I cure others," Dr. Hettiarachchi said.

But due to a lack of funds Dr. Hettiarachchi's patients are likely to suffer a great loss and even pay with their lives. "I have treated all these HIV positive patients with my own money. Some patients can afford to pay me for their treatment. I use these patients' money to treat the ones who can't afford to pay. When I requested for financial assistance from the government President Mahinda Rajapakse instructed Minister Tissa Karaliyadde to look into the matter. The Ayurveda Commissioner and Minister Karaliyadde's secretary have given us support and assistance, and instructed the relevant authorities to release the money. However apart from some financial assistance given to us a few years back we have not received any funds to continue with our cure. The Ayurveda Research Centre in Nawinna has agreed to release the money if we are wiling to give them information on how the solution is made. How can we reveal this kind of information to them," Dr. Hettiarachchi said.


Hoteliers hoping for the best

General Manager, Cinnamon Grand, Rohan Karr,
and General Manager Colombo Continental Hotel
Anil General Manager, Galadari Hotel, Sampath Siriwardena

By Nirmala Kannangara

With the fes-tive season round the corner city hotels are embracing the festive mood and a special place has been given for decorations that herald the Christmas season and the dawn of yet another New Year. Arrangements have been made to celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus Christ and to welcome the New Year in grand style but with the current global and local financial situation, hoteliers are not certain whether their festive plans would be something to sing about.

Almost all the hotels in the country have already decorated their buildings with eye-catching decorations to greet the season but they cannot help but wonder as to whether their regular guests would patronise the special events considering the global financial crisis and the local security situation.

Unsafe places

"With the terrible incidents in Mumbai, South Asian countries have become unsafe places to visit and Sri Lanka too would feel the impact of the Indian situation in the days to come. As a result most probably we would no longer be an ideal holiday destination among the European travelers mainly during the festive season and the global financial crisis, which has impacted the locals indirectly too will have an impact on us. As a result we can only hope for the best this time. But since it is a tradition we will be having the prearranged programmes for Christmas and New Year's Eve," some leading hoteliers told The Sunday Leader.

New Year dances cancelled

However although most of the city hotels have cancelled their New Year dances due to the prevailing financial and security concerns in the country, Cinnamon Grand, Continental Hotel and Galadari Hotel as usual will be in full swing on December 31 and according to General Manager Galadari Hotel, Sampath Siriwardena the band Aquarius will provide music for the hotel's New Year's eve dinner dance.

"December is generally the best month in our calendar and right on top of all priorities is entertainment. To enhance the festive mood we have Aquarius exclusively playing at Margarita Blue on Fridays and Saturdays and they will round up their stay with Galadari with the traditional 31st night celebrations in the Ballroom," Siriwardena added.

According to Siriwardena although the hotel has planned a gala dinner buffet still he was not sure whether the usual guests will 'make it' on December 31 with the present unstable situation.

"We will be laying out a grand dinner buffet and unless we receive the patronage that we are expecting, it will be a total loss. The previous years the hotel received tremendous support from customers and this time considering the cost factor and also the country's situation it is really hard to say what would happen at the last moment but up to now we have received many reservations but still until the tickets are sold we are not in a position to predict," Siriwardena stated.

Siriwardena further said that the Ballroom dance is not only for adults but also for the entire family as parents wish to take their kids with them for the New Year's dawn.

All is set for a sumptuous Christmas lunch and the children could drop a letter to Santa with their wish list and receive a gift from him on Christmas day lunch. Paul Pereira will provide soothing music during Christmas Eve and for the Christmas dinner at California Grill according to GM Siriwardena.

Meanwhile Cinnamon Grand Colombo in association with Soul Sounds will be presenting Many Moods Of Christmas - an enchanting musical evening for the entire family on Christmas Eve. A special Christmas buffet would be served at all of the hotel's outlets according to sources.

At Cinnamon Grand

Cinnamon Grand sources meanwhile told The Sunday Leader that with the curtain coming down on year 2008 and to welcome the New Year a host of activities have been planned to celebrate in style. "Begin the New Year on the right note with Misty and Sohan & the X-periments that will present a musical fiesta to blast through 31st night.

However General Manager, Trans Asia Hotel, Neroy Marso said that the hotel would not hold the traditional 31st night dance this year but will have a gala dinner party by the poolside to welcome the New Year and a special Christmas Eve dinner will be served in the hotel's food outlets.

Also an extensive buffet to fulfill the expectations of a traditional Christmas dinner will be served at Summerfield's Caf‚. The Royal Thai, Saffron and Long Feng restaurants invite their clientele for a specially crafted dinner menu to unfold Christmas.

"We expect a better crowd for Christmas and New Year's Eve this year and guests could join in with the choristers and sing carols. Children could give a big hug to Santa and enjoy the delicacies that are awaiting the guests," according to General Manager Marso.

Marso told The Sunday Leader that a gala dinner buffet will be laid out at the Summerfields Caf‚ on 31st night and the gala poolside party will be packed with entertainment for everybody - rides and games for the young and old alike and music by Ricky Bahar with Legacy and DJ Udi will keep guests rocking the night away.

"With fireworks and many more entertainment items on the cards TransAsia will make the 31st a day to remember. We are mostly expecting our regular clientele and the expatriates to patronise us this time too to make New Year's Eve a success," added Marso.

Colombo Continental Hotel sources meanwhile told The Sunday Leader that they are expecting a good response for the gala dinner dance at the Sapphire Ballroom with the ever-famous Sunil Perera and the Gypsies in attendance.

"We have already received many reservation inquiries and we are hopeful that we would be able to sell out our tickets for the dinner dance," the sources added.

According to the sources a special Christmas Eve dinner will be served at Caf‚ Emerald from 7pm onwards and the Christmas brunch and the traditional Christmas dinner too will be served at the same venue.

"We are expecting a good crowd for the dinner dance and a scrumptious dinner by our master chef will be awaiting our guests. Even at the Heist Bar a DJ will keep guests spellbound throughout the last night of 2008," sources said.

At Mt.Lavinia Hotel

Meanwhile Mt. Lavinia Hotel which is yet another hotspot for entertainment during the festive season will have its traditional Christmas Eve dinner with Lazer at the Governor's Restaurant by the pool side and the Hut discotheque will come alive with DJ Rajeeva to keep the guests entertained.

"A Christmas Around The World' lunch will be served at the Empire Ballroom with Lazer in attendance and the Christmas day dinner will be served at Governor's Restaurant with Chandimal and the Second Connection and guests could go Mediterranean for dinner at the Governor's Restaurant on Boxing Day," hotel sources told The Sunday Leader.

According to the sources a gala dinner dance to welcome the New Year under the canopy of glittering stars with Phase Three and DJ Pier with fabulous fireworks, a kothu station and traditional breakfast has been organised. The Hut and Sea Food Cove too are ready to welcome year 2009 with DJ Rajeeva and a scrumptious sea food dinner to blast through to the New Year.


Justice P. Ramanathan - a man of principled conduct

Late Justice P. Ramanathan

"Justum et tenacem propositi Virum"
(A man upright and tenacious of purpose.)
Orate Odes III

Justice P. Ramanathan passed away peacefully at his home on December 7, 2006. Two close friends and his dutiful wife Mano, who always looked after him with great care, were by his side. It was in the fitness of things that his death was as peaceful as was the way he lived all his life - in quiet dignity. Sunt lacrimae rerum (Virgil) - Mortal things are suffused with tears" - and so it had to be with Rama.

He belonged to a well-known family. His great grandfather was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Solicitor-General, King's Counsel and a distinguished member of the Legislative Council. His great grand uncle was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the first Ceylonese to enter the Ceylon Civil Service and was Registrar General for several years. Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy was also a relative from an earlier generation. The family was renowned for its philanthrophy, munificence and service to the people.

Much has already been said and written about his career as a prosecutor in the Department of the Attorney-General and the various judicial positions he held with honour; first, as a Judge of the High Court, thereafter as a Judge and President of the Court of Appeal and finally as a judge of the Supreme Court. It is therefore unnecessary for me to advert to his career, except to say that he possessed in ample measure the essential attributes of a good judge, namely, impartiality, integrity, and a strong sense of justice and fairness.

On this occasion, I would like to refer briefly to his personal qualities which permeated and vitalised his entire being. These were the mainspring of his life. It is precisely these qualities which endeared him, in a special way, to a very wide circle of friends.

It is a little known fact that he had an impish sense of humour, and a very rare capacity to laugh at himself! Many years ago, we went on a holiday to Anuradhapura. Rama was then the judge of the High Court at Anuradhapura. We dropped in at the court-house and our younger daughter, Swanthri, asked him, "Uncle, where does the 'rogue' sit?" He unhesitatingly pointed to the Bench and said "As far as I know, the 'rogue' sits there!"

The spontaneous reply to a question asked by a child revealed a heart and mind as big as his physique. High office sat lightly on him.

His personal qualities and attributes were unique. He was blessed with a nature devoid of meanness, pettiness, malice, envy, ill-will and arrogance. On the contrary, he was richly endowed with positive qualities such as generosity, hospitality, magnanimity, moral integrity, compassion and an abundance of good-will to all, including the few who disliked him!

He was never self-righteous nor 'moralistic.' He was unassuming to a fault. It is but rarely that one meets with a person so loyal in friendship, and so resolute and unswerving in principled conduct. He certainly measured up to the Roman ideal, "Honeste vivere neminem laedere" (I have lived honourably, I have never harmed anyone).

His journey came to an end two years ago. Ours may continue for a short while longer, but the fragrance of his memory will remain undimmed and undiminished in the hearts and minds of all those who had the good fortune to have known him. I consider it a privilege to have associated with him closely and to have worked with him. The oft quoted lines from Hamlet epitomise his life and work.

"He was a man, take him for all in all. [We] shall not look upon his like again."

- G.P.S. de Silva


Living in Wellawatte

By Thilaka Vivekanandan Wijeratnam

Come evening all along the byroads of Wellawatte are groups of housewives, many of them in housecoats and yet others in 'maxies,' lamenting about the high cost of living and how to cope with the house rents and the herculean task of feeding several mouths with three meals a day.

Invariably the topic is the high cost of living. It is a sound reason for the landlords to raise the rents. The poor tenants are at their wits end trying to find the money for the advance payments and the monthly rent thereafter.

The seemingly inhuman house-owners are like heartless predators hunting for money all the time. The worst fact is that some of them are so wealthy that they have enough money for the next two generations of theirs to live in comfort.

Killer rents

Yet they continue to eye prospective tenants especially the lone widows who get foreign currency, or parents with children overseas.

In fact one landlord told the writer, "You have children living abroad, you can easily give two years advance." He recoiled and made a hasty retreat when he got the answer: "My children are walking in the snow to work and I will never fatten the purse of a greedy third person with their hard earned money, whatever physical discomforts I have to suffer."

He was probably thinking of the two years interest he would lose.

Fine for living in Wellawatte

This is in addition to the cost of fish, meat and vegetables which have 'special' prices in the city of Wellawatte. The residents of Wellawatte pay the highest prices for vegetables, fruits and fish in the city of Colombo. Never are vegetables and fruits sold at reasonable prices, be they in season or not. To the vendors too the people of Wellawatte have to 'pay up' whether they like it or not.

It is more like paying a fine for living in Wellawatte. But who are we going to complain to?

In addition to the high cost of fruits and vegetables comes the monthly bills - water, electricity and telephone bills.

People of Wellawatte have always been generous to beggars on the wayside. But now they hardly notice the hungry, the old and the infirm, the figures in rags crouching on the pavement, because the residents themselves are fast getting there.

The clusters of women chatting in the evening talk only about the cost of living and the house rent. "Won't the government put a ceiling on these exorbitant rents?" they lament.

"Our people are so crafty they will give a receipt for a much lesser amount to hoodwink the authorities and exhort the money somehow or other. "You can't beat them," said one housewife dejectedly.

"Well, the house-owners also have to cope with the cost of living," said one philosophically.

"You can afford to give high rent because you get the money from abroad," retorts another.

"People like you spoil the greedy dogs," said another while the others nodded their heads in approval.

"Leave that alone, do you know the price of 250 grams of leeks, carrots or any other vegetables?" asked another housewife.

Chicken essence

"What vegetables! What about fish and chicken? We will soon have to use some essence for the taste of chicken. If we cannot cook at home, we will have to eat a packet of rice sold outside - that is also double the price now," they lamented.

"What about bread?" queried another. "Whoever thought about paying Rs.40 for a loaf of bread," was the pathetic question.

"What can we do, we have to live no. Tighten our belts to feed the brutes," sighed the women.

"Well, we have to be sensible now and forget about other things like clothing, shoes and accessories," they all agreed.

"We have to stop going for films, picnics, buying jewellery, fashionable slippers, hand bags etc. and spend whatever money we have only on food items," they rationalised.

Curry leaves

"Quite right. We cannot do all that now, we will have to merely exist. Now only we are beginning to understand the difference between living and existing," they agreed.

"We cannot stop this discussion without our curry leaves. Now carrying a bunch of curry leaves has become as expensive as carrying a bouquet - Rs.20 for a bunch of curry leaves.

"Look at us in our old, faded housecoats discussing curry leaves when we actually should be discussing clothes. We are drinking plain tea or black tea or whatever you call it. How to buy milk powder? I keep one box in case we have visitors. My children grumble when they see black tea. They tell me do not be a miser amma," said one lady sadly.

"Oh, I serve plain tea to visitors too. Now even at our committee meeting, we have no bites or shorts eats. Just plain tea. I don't want to be a member. You can't blame them, even a vadai is Rs.20. How can they spend over Rs.1000 for shorts eats," lamented an active lady in our midst.

"Well, let us learn to look at the brighter side. We will now lessen our sugar and cholesterol levels. No milk powder, no coconut milk, no fleshy stuff, just some measly vegetables," said a wise one.

As the sun set, we dispersed and walked into our dimly lit houses. Life continues in Wellawatte, amidst tears, heartbreak and hardship.


Weather - the safest of topics

Although it is a bit windy at the moment, we are all right unless we wear flared skirts or carry umbrellas that have a tendency to turn inside out. I remember this boy who made a parachute out of a bed sheet and was contemplating jumping from the balcony of his house, on a windy day. Luckily, his mum who was out, called, and she alerted the next door neighbour to stop him before he broke something.

It was a nightmare when we had to go to school on a windy day, as our knife pleated uniforms would rise up and expose our underskirts or petticoats. Since it was not the done thing to carry schoolbags, we carried our books by hand, so we were left with just one hand to battle it out. Of course, you could just fling all your books and stuff on the pavement, but that meant trouble too. And when you pulled the front of your skirt down, the back would be merrily flying high up overhead!

Flying kites

One of the nicer things about windy days was that everyone would start flying kites. Mostly it would be boys, but some girls too did engage in this activity. Sometimes there would be a kind of a game where you tried to bring down someone else's kite by getting the string attached tangled up in yours.

The Galle Face Green would be full of kite flyers, since there was uninterrupted space as well as a strong breeze. There would also be vendors trying to sell colourful paper windmills and other toys which were wind operated. Of course, every little kid who spotted these would want one.

We would also make paper rockets that would whizz around the classroom, a welcome distraction to a dull and dreary subject. Of course, the teacher would not be amused and ask us if we thought we were boys instead of ladylike girls! I love wind chimes, and I have hung several up at home since we have open space with plenty of wind whistling through. The tinkling sound of bells is always so very pleasant and soothing to the senses.

What I didn't like, was the moaning sound the wind would make in the night, with ominous creaks accompanying it. It was really eerie, and once when we were in the hill country, it moaned so loud it sounded like a human being wailing and groaning. We were up most of that night!

Sneak out

Sometimes, we would drape a white bed sheet over ourselves and make ghostly sounding noises and scare each other. We would sneak down to the sea and be drenched by the spray from the enormous waves. Our parents would be none the wiser! We even had a sort of tornado recently in a coastal area, that had left considerable destruction in its wake. Once, in a well-known restaurant famed for its alfresco dining, on a windy night a part of the roof landed amongst us!

Luckily no one was hurt, but most of the patrons weren't amused at all. The other thing I don't like is that beautiful flowers are ruined. What a waste! But the good thing is all the dried leaves and twigs fall off the trees, though not for the person who sweeps up. Lots of flying objects have to be avoided and grit gets in your eyes.

Frozen bottom

Across the world, my friend in Switzerland says her bottom is frozen to her chair, and she might have to thaw it out before attempting to get up. It's snowing and getting colder and colder. We are luckier in that sense. She's addicted to Hagen Das ice cream, which she moodily spoons into her mouth in a trance like state, whilst contemplating life. She kicked up a huge row at her regular ice cream outlet as they wouldn't stock her favourite, Double Chocolate Chip, during winter.

"Imagine," she said indignantly, "how can I wait until summer to eat it again?" They tried patiently to explain to her that ice cream sales were down in winter, normal people ate it only in warmer weather. So she had to resign herself to another flavour. My other pal who returned from there says her son enjoyed sledding and skiing on the snowy mountain slopes. Another friend in the Saudi desert says it's very pleasant and cool there now. A most safe and non controversial topic, the weather! Keeps conversation flowing smoothly, doesn't it, when there are gaps and lulls?

- Honky Tonk Woman