‘Expat’ with Elephants Blog

Banking and musings

I opened a bank account yesterday. I know, I’ve been here two months and I’m just getting around to this. My excuse is really good, I couldn’t open an account until I finalized my work permit and visa. Isn’t that slightly crazy: to open a bank account I had to show my passport, visa, work permit, work contract and of course, have some money to deposit. Oh, and I had to have a letter from Sewalanka requesting the bank to cash my check — basically stating that the check was real and the money was in fact owed to me. In the U.S. I needed an I.D. and money. Plus, there was some initial confusion as they call a checking account a savings account. Beside that everything was very similar to the process in America. Oh, and I had to sign the big brown book entitled, “Register of Savings Pass Books — Running Stock.” I guess this means there will be an official long-term record that I opened a savings account in Sri Lanka.

Anyway, I’m very proud of this accomplishment and mentioned it to Amitha. She immediately asked why I opened a bank account and I explained that Sewalanka reimbursed my plane ticket cost via a check in rupees. Amitha made the very good point that I shouldn’t leave that money in rupees as the currency has been falling at an even faster rate than the U.S. dollar and thus I will loose money over the long run. I was thinking of keeping it in rupees as emergency (i.e. going over budget) money. Anyway, I’ve yet to go over budget so it probably is stupid to keep it in rupees. The alternative is changing it to dollars, but then if I want to take it out of the country I’ll have to put it in my shoes or something (you aren’t allowed to take out large sums of money that you didn’t declare on your way in).

Speaking of shoes, when the hoteliers in Arugam Bay mentioned that the security checks you must endure on your way to the east were frustrating to tourists, the Minister of Tourism’s reply was that he had to take his shoes off to board a plane in the U.S. I don’t really think this made the hoteliers happy (especially since they were all local or Australian). I thought it was funny. I really wanted to mention that I have to cross the street unnecessarily every time I leave Crescat in Colombo (you aren’t allowed to walk on the sidewalk out front of the president’s house) and that that is far more irritating to me than the few checkpoints on the way east, but I held my tongue. I was also yelled at three times this week for trying to lock my bike up in various places. Apparently, I’m not allowed to lock my bike in front of Crescat (but I can leave it with the guards at the side of the building) or on the street in high security areas even though there was a motorbike sitting there also. I’m totally not used to this because in America I could go anywhere on my bike — even when roads were closed the cops would let me go.

In case you are wondering if I’m in a state of eurphoria at the lack of proposal writing here, I should mention that I’m back at it. Luckily, as I’m not the grantwriter, I am not solely responsible for the proposals, so people actually help and give me information in a timely manner. Plus, since I’m an active participant in the projects, I actually have something to contribute to the proposal’s content. I still believe this is the best way to do grantwriting and reporting. The role of grantwriter is obsolete; people working at nonprofits should just suck it up and learn how to write a proposal. The proposals will be stronger and the reports will be more informative.

Speaking of poorly written reports, the USAID contractor came to visit us on Monday to discuss the close-out of the disaster preparedness project. Sewalanka managed evacuation training and drills for two villages, including installation of an emergency communication system and contributing to the country’s disaster management plan for $25,000 (one year). Sewalanka staff wrote monthly reports (in Sinhala) and organized five large binders full of handouts, meeting minutes and participant lists for this project. They submitted detailed quarterly reports and full financial accounting. Still, this woman who is probably being paid more than the amount of the grant was not happy. See we had a foreigner advising the project, but she left several months ago, before the last quarter began. So the local staff had to write the last quarter report and the final report on their own. If you have ever written a grant report you know how much fun you don’t have while doing it. Imagine having to do it in a language with which you are not totally comfortable. So she mentioned the reports were not very good in the last quarter. I saw the draft all marked up sitting on the table when I came down to try to help. I think this is obnoxious. It wasn’t part of the grant that Sewalanka pay a foreigner to write the reports for this grant. It seems like some leeway should be provided when your grantees do not speak your language. This grant was under the special tsunami program within USAID, so Sewalanka can’t be the only organization suffering from this prejudice. Although I’m sure Kate wrote the original proposal, so I can’t be completely upset at USAID. I have heard a lot of people complain that only the organizations that had foreigners and could report in English received the larger tsunami-related grants. Aren’t you glad your donations went to those who really needed instead of being based on something stupid like the level of reporting?

So I’m actually busy at work now. I’ve been completely absorbed into tourism — we head off to Hambanthota next week to do a site evaluation for a community based tourism project funded, hopefully, by Mercy Corps. We submitted a very last minute, but enormous, grant request to the Ministry of Tourism for Sinharaja homestays. Next weekend I’ll attend our first package tour of Sinharaja. Actually, Harshana and I just made that up, but it sounds good doesn’t it? Two Japanese students contacted him to help arrange a tour of Sinharja so I suggested we make a package and see how it is received. I think he is taking me because he is worried he won’t understand the students as no one in the office, but me, can understand Aya. I’m also working on a lagoon/tank irrigation project with our agriculture program. Still working on solid waste issues and trying to coordinate some training for sustainable aquarium fisheries (as I have no experience in this at all). Finally, I’m starting to receive requests for specific subjects in photographs, so I have to be more focused when I’m out in the field.

Speaking of photography, I’m taking a class with the Photographic Society of Sri Lanka. It is actually a beginners/amateur class, but it is focused on the technical side. My technical knowledge is very lacking and as the class is very reasonably priced and on Saturday mornings, I figured it would be a good idea. I can’t afford Sinhala classes at the British Council (it would be one month’s salary), so I also think I’ve decided photography is filling an education void. Manurie said she’d teach me Sinhala — we are going to set up a schedule and get a book and everything. I’m a little worried as she hasn’t taught a language before and I know it can be difficult without experience. She has taught before, though, so it may work out well.

O.k. I realize I’m babbling, so I’ll stop now.

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Anonymous said…
I think for the wedding present you should give them something decidedly American: maybe a bottle of wine, a toaster or the coup de gras…a gift card to Wal-Mart.

Good luck.

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