People always ask me why I came back to Sri Lanka. Lately they ask why I stay. The first question is easy. I came back because of the CFA. Sri Lanka, with peace, has a boundless future – with more opportunity than I’d have in the US or Canada. The second question is harder. I guess I stay because I like it here. Or something. Daily life in Sri Lanka isn’t bad. The people are interesting, things are cheap. There’s achcharu on the street and if you get fed up you can drive to the beach. Still, there’s this bubbling tension under the surface and you get a sixth twitch that things can explode. Either the government or the LTTE or somebody does something crazy every single week, and it gets old. And these are structural problems. It’s like having your plumbing go screwy, or your hard drive crash. As a normal human I just want to throw up my hands and go ‘is this my problem?’. I have enough trouble growing up and finding a matching pair of socks. In Sri Lanka, however, it is my problem.
In Canada, by contrast, everything runs pretty much OK. I lived there for four years and had no idea who my MP was and only the vaguest clue as to who the Prime Minister was. I guess that displays a stunning lack of citizenship, but it’s also a good thing. The government didn’t meddle in my life, and I just sorta got on with things. The best government – like the best software, design, or service – is invisible. It just enables ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ without bothering you too much. That’s nice. I kinda miss that.
In Sri Lanka, however, government is everything. Literally. According to a recent LBO report, Sri Lanka is reported to have about one million government employees. For a country of 20 million this is ludicrous, and 54 cents out of every tax rupee goes to sustain the bloat. In Sri Lanka the government isn’t tyrannical as much as parasitic. Worse, it is also intrusive. Mahinda insists on postering the streets, funding a sketchy pet airline, a sketchy sale of SLT, and engaging in bald corruption on a grand scale. Corruption is bad enough, but under the current regime it’s just in your face. Which is why I avoid the papers. Every day it’s just like ‘WTF?’, and at some point you just can’t take it. Mahinda is launching a quasi-private airline even though he can’t secure Sri Lankan airspace. They’re cracking down on legal alcohol while Kasippu proceeds unchecked. The CMC – headed by an illegitimate mayor put there by technicality – doesn’t maintain the streets, and a woman literally gets washed down the drain. It’s endless, and it’s real, and it sometimes makes me feel so helpless. In Canada the news was literally construction in Alberta and record stores closing in Toronto. There I didn’t read the news cause it was boring. Now I don’t read cause it’s too intense. And the print quality is terrible, but I digress.
But that, in a way, is kinda why I stay in Sri Lanka. It is messed up, and so am I. I can change, and so can this country. Will change, despite itself. This country is literally defined (for the worse) by two tiny youth groups that got violent – the JVP and the LTTE. Those guys came out of nowhere to be kingmakers in elections. If you have an idea here it probably hasn’t been done, and there will be people to fund and get excited about it. And people and bureaucracies, and forces of nature, but you can. You can start a business with like $500 USD coming in and actually pay rent. I spent two years blogging, going out and doing odd jobs to keep myself in shoes. For a while I wanted to change the nation, but I don’t even entertain that dream anymore. It’s just too heartbreaking. Now I’m just trying to do work I love and take care of the people around me. I think that’s still doable.
If I was abroad now would I come back? Probably not. Without a Peace Process things are just too unstable. There’s just too much suffering, and too little hope. I could support a war, but a war executed by corrupt morons doesn’t inspire much confidence. Without that dream of a bright nation I don’t know if I would come back, but I’m glad I did. I was born in 1982 and my entire life has been defined by this war I had nothing to do with. It was just this messy inheritance. With the CFA I thought that maybe my parents generation would sort this out so I could have a normal life here, and build. That dream is rapidly slipping away for my generation, but I’m glad I had it. I still love Sri Lanka. I still feel like I’m home. I just have to do what little I can now. I still have that dream of a great Sri Lanka. It’s just one generation removed from me.