Sunset over the lagoons. See more
I’m writing this from the Jaffna beach. At Casouria it’s shallow and baby blue, you can walk out for hundreds of meters. In the evening people throng here, especially since they lifted the curfew.
We were having dinner in Point Pedro with a local family. Absolutely charming and hospitable, realy the hope and character of this country. They said they hadn’t seen crowds like this in years, flying kites and joking around.
The Ruins Of Jaffna
Behind the smiles, however, there is a quiet tragedy to this place. The same family spoke of how artillery would fly over their house, but never land. We visited another neighborhood near town, however, where every other house was abandoned, populated by ghosts and goats. Their facades pock-marked by bullets, the roofs caved in and gone.
The Wanni, of course, is almost entirely deserted. Today you can drive through with one perfunctory checkpoint. It’s beautiful land, bereft of people. There are buildings without roofs and roofs without buildings. Almost every single house is missing a roof, and there are people living beneath takarang sheets.
I thought somehow that Jaffna town would be untouched by this, but it often feels like wandering a ruins. We looked through kovils mossy and overrun, Angkor Wat with concrete. There are beautiful houses fading into the jungle, goats sit on the verandahs, snakes teem in the underbrush.
Like any Sri Lankan tragedy, however, it’s masked behind a smile, hidden in an off-hand comment. Like the quiet beauty of those houses, there is a hidden emptiness inside. Each shell of a house was once a family. They once had dinners, birthday parties, children’s first steps, quarrels and vows. Now they are deeds without actions, the hearth overgrown with vines.
There are now parents growing old without their children, those scattered across the globe. We spoke to a sweet aunt of a friend, struggling with a war injury but with her children nowhere around. In a culture such as ours this is extremely strange, but great trauma has made this penninsula an international archipelago.
It almost seems crass to ask what people want now, but the election has made the few we met strangely voluble. There are neighborhoods where Sarath Fonseka posters far out number Mahinda’s, the first I’ve seen. In conversation I’ve heard support for the General, but not that much trust or faith. One gentleman said both candidates were the same but he was voting for a change, which makes an improbable sort of sense.
I heard another joke, that you sould vote SF for our children’s future, vot MR for his. It’s just the normal poking fun at power, but during the war a Vavuniyan told me he only opened his mouth to breathe and eat. The eating is still good, but now the conversation goes on well after the plates have been cleared.
Me, personally, I’m just so happy to be here. This part of the map was another world to me, and it’s thrilling just to see. And I’m not the only one. Every candidate has been here, shirtless and beseeching. There’s also half of Colombo in and out, for conferences, eclipses, or just looking around. Jaffna is getting back online, albeit missing a lot of good people.
I feel like a bit of a southern carpet bagger, poking around this newfound country. It may be ruins in parts, but it’s definitely not conquered. This election it may conquer the conqueror, but I’m personally more interested in seeing what happens when Jaffna finds itself. When the homes get roofs and people under them. Jaffna is a tragic beauty now, but someday it will perhaps be just beautiful.