Tuesday, July 17, 2007

First week in Sri Lanka

I haven’t written about my first week in Sri Lanka because it has been such a busy one. The trip over was uneventful, with security less of a problem than I anticipated – the British seem to take terrorism in stride with less angst than the US. My London flight left Dulles at 11:30 PM, which is ideal. It gives you a full day to work and pack. Security lines are short. The airport is almost empty. Virgin Airlines staff members were cheerful and efficient, as always. It makes one wonder why employees of the problem airlines - I think of sad, deteriorating United Airlines, with its dispirited, often hostile staff - don’t visit the good ones.

Business class service on Sri Lankan airlines, too, was of high quality. Though my travel agent gets good rates, it still is expensive, but what a difference. I actually look forward to these eleven-hour flights, with ample time to work and sleep, interrupted only by too great meals. I indulged myself with a drink and wine at the late afternoon meal, but then partook sparingly of the pre-arrival offering – and with no alcohol. I arrived rested and ready for the more than full day of work that awaited me.

Principal work for the trip is this: For more than a decade, I have served the Sri Lanka based International Center for Ethnic Studies as a Director. When I began, the Board had four resident directors who collectively managed the Center’s two offices and three international directors who helped institutional visibility and provided broad oversight. Now the Center’s original leadership team has been reduced to one. One was weakened by a stroke and can no longer participate actively. One was killed by a suicide bomber. One resigned to accept a prestigious UN position. The remaining active resident director lives in the US, part time. A capable, charismatic new director for the Colombo Office has been named, but the transition has surfaced problems, created mostly by the partial leadership vacuum. Suddenly, my role as an international director is requiring very significant commitment and psychic energy. It is sort of like the problems American University Board of Trustees members faced when the excesses of former president Ben Ladner became public and he had to be removed from office.

Things are going well for the most part and I am learning more than I ever thought I would know about the Center over which I exercise putative authority (and which, incidentally, published my last book, Paradise Poisoned). My early days in Sri Lanka have been filled with meetings and discussions. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Colombo, Thursday meeting with the printer of my book, Friday and Saturday in Kandy, the old capital of Sri Lanka in the mountains.

I normally don’t mind the heat and I don’t use air conditioning when I am in Sri Lanka. But it has been usually hot today and the evening has not cooled things off. A day of ninety plus temperatures can be tiring and I am tired. Time to roll down the mosquito netting, turn on the fan and call it a day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason employees of United Airlines are often dispirited and hostile (if indeed that is the case) is that, through no fault of their own, the airline has been in and out of bankruptcy in recent years while the company's top executives, who continue to earn ludicrously high salary and stock option packages, demand cuts in pay and benefits for the employees. I remember what the (U.S.) airline industry was like before deregulation and the advent of low-cost carriers. Sure, deregulation produced lower fares, but it destroyed several airlines, came close to doing the same to
several others, and made flying, at least within the U.S., on the whole a much less pleasant experience, as passengers are tightly packed into planes like sardines in non-business or non-first class. International flights seem to have been somewhat less affected.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Sam said...

Would you mind reviewing SriLankan Airlines at:



9:15 PM  
Anonymous sunny said...

To visit Sri Lanka is my dream! I'm fond of Sri Lanka culture!

11:22 AM  

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