Preparations for this final stretch have been hectic and not without mishap. I’ve had trouble setting the dates, because Mr Farhan, principal of Kakkaiyankulam, isn’t available on the weekend, while Chiraddikulam doesn’t have the same flexibility with school hours because I’m coordinating this through the army, not the principal. I know it’s their last week of school, but they’re also completely done with exams, and I just feel that if I were able to speak directly to their principal (but for this I would need to speak fluent Tamil!) I would be much more successful – in part because I really have no idea what percentage of my messages ever get passed on from the army to the children.
Quite fortuitously and completely out of the blue, I got an email from a girl named Haiza, who expressed her interest in volunteering. Turns out she’s Reza’s cousin – small world! However, disappointingly but understandably, her parents were hesitant about sending her to the jungles of Mullaitivu to volunteer, so I’ll have to manage alone on Wednesday and Thursday for the rehearsals. I’m rather nervous about that!
I sent out a call to friends to make donations for an end-of-year gift pack for the children in my workshops – this wasn’t part of my ReachOut proposal and I originally intended to bear the costs myself, with a contribution from my parents. The response from both my Colombo and Princeton friends has been so overwhelming, though, that I do believe I’ll be able to cover all the costs with donations! (Edit: In fact, they gave me a little more than I needed and I will be using the rest when I compile gift packs for the second round of children!) On Monday afternoon, I took the train to Fort, and walked by myself for the very first time into Pettah. I love Pettah, I really do. It’s so bustling and dirty and hodge-podge and crammed with things to gape at! I found my way to Penguin Toys with no trouble, and proceeded to spend two hours buying an incredibly long list of items: erasers, sharpeners, packs of clay, pencil boxes, sticker sheets, bubble blowers, and a tea-set for each girl and a car for each boy, as well as really nice teddy-covered gift bags for each of them. While I was buying these cartloads of things, my father happened to send me a text about a possible 24-hour railway strike on Wednesday…fortunately I was leaving on Tuesday! Again, very fortuitous.
Early Tuesday morning, I sorted out all the remaining things: printing invitations with the updated dates and times, and buying pencils, rulers, scissors, boxes of crayons, and drawing books from Luminex. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to print the scripts – but in future I will never leave anything for the last minute ever again! All morning I received a series of calls that did nothing to lift my spirits: Major E let me know that it had started raining again in Chiraddikulam, and that the roads are quite bad. He is adamant that the mysterious school at Chiraddikulam is bigger than the community centre, and that we should have the performance there, while Lt K is convinced it’s actually the other way around, and that we should have the final performance in the community centre. All in all, it makes the junior school at Chiraddikulam seem rather apocryphal, especially since they never seem to be able to procure me access to it!
Additionally, Major E rather offhandedly said he didn’t think the parents of the Chiraddikulam children would be much interested in coming for their performance. I was a little flabbergasted – it was a new thought to me, that parents could be so very uninterested in their children. Why have them, then? (Answer: to work in the field, naturally!). I’m not actually sure the extent to which Major E’s proclamation was true – the parents have certainly been a little lackadaisical about my requests to talk to me about their children, but I also have no idea how well the message is being passed along from the army. I think I need to start sending written messages through the children, the week before, but that requires incredible organisational skills – something to work on, certainly, during the language workshops!
The icing on this cake of doom was a call from ExpoRail: in lieu of the railway strike on Wednesday, their afternoon train to Vavuniya would not be running, they said. I wondered if I should just give up and stay home, but when they called back ten minutes later to let me know that this was a false alarm, I decided to take this as yet another small miracle. So I took my regular metered taxi to the station and hoped for the best, sending along an email to my friends to send me good vibes also. The train journey was a little rain-spattered but otherwise uneventful, but I happened to notice that there were MAG people on the train.
I was a little nervous because this was the first time I’d be staying – not at now-familiar Thai Hotel – but at a strange new place called Hotel Indrans, next to the railway station. Mr Kamal had promised me that he would find me a room at Nelly Star, but I need to accept that he is just notoriously bad at keeping promises or being organised in any way. Fortunately, the staff seemed nice, and someone came to meet me at the station when I arrived at 10pm. I was also relieved upon walking in and discovering that the place was clean and non-sketchy, as was my room. Perhaps Hotel Indrans will be my next home away from home.