During my recent visit to Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka, I experienced a lot of mixed emotions, and had many thoughts;
- It brought back so many memories of my previous visit to Jaffna, and Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
- I had many imaginations on what the place would have been like during the war period
- I had many thoughts on what people who live in Jaffna, who lived through the war must now feel like; now that the “war is over”, one way or the other
- I had many thoughts on what people from Government Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Police) who were fronting the war zone, and former LTTE soldiers must be feeling like, how they are dealing with their scars; physical, and more importantly, emotional
So I decided to write a blog post. Since, the thoughts and the messages I want to encapsulate wouldn’t fit into one blog post, I decided to break it up.
Part II – My First Visit to Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka
My mother was quite worried. No one she knew had been to Jaffna in the recent past. Although, at the time, in early 2002, a ceasefire agreement was in place, some sections of the country was controlled by the LTTE. Having only heard about them through TV News, about a suicide bombing attack in Colombo, or about fights between them and the Government Forces (Army, Navy, and Air Force), and having her own second cousin (Her mother’s cousin’s son) killed in the war (Army Officer), my mother was quite concerned, quite naturally, although she trusted Sundhar to do his best to keep us safe. My mother also knew me to be gullible, so she was scared nonetheless.
I was so excited. Not only it was another trip alone with Sundhar, yet another imaginary Mani Ratnam movie about two friends on a journey, but we were planning to fly there. I had never flown before, although a lot of my family had flown. And, we were going to travel back by bus, where we have to go via LTTE controlled areas, in a bus run by the LTTE. I was finally getting to see them! Finally, I may get some answers to my curiosities;
Who are they?
How can they kill themselves, especially with a bomb attached to themselves?
Are they brain washed? If so, who did it? And how?
Will they look scary?
Will I be scared, when I am finally confronted by LTTE soldiers?
Will they kidnap me, and keep me hostage?
Will they kill me?
Will I think some of the soldiers are hot? Or worse, will I fall in love with one of them? (Then, my mom would kill me before the LTTE!!!)
Finally, it was the day. My father was on holidays. So we went in our van, picked up Sundhar on the way, and they dropped us at the Ratmalana domestic airport.
The check-in process was weird, and we had to go back near the plane to identify our bags again! The Lion Air plane was smaller than I imagined. Inside was quite cramped-up, I hardly could stand. Worse, we got seats near the wings. We couldn’t see anything properly. I was sad! But Sundhar had his usual smile on his face. While I was thinking of petite issues, he seemed to enjoy to have this experience, a lot don’t even dream or dare to have.
Once the plane took off, giving me a weird sense in the tummy, the Air Hostess, who was seated at the back, told us, that the two of us can have the two back seats. I was happy.
It was beautiful. We saw a lot, but not as much as I imagined. All too soon we were landing in Palaly, Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka.
Good God we’re going to crash! Why do we have the nose down, when it’s so close to land?
I had to hold Sundhar’s hand. I had observed planes a lot, the big jumbo jets, and they all have the nose up when landing. But we were going really fast headed to the ground, nose down!
I hope the pilot knows what he is doing!
What appeared to be like the last second, the nose was up and we landed with a few thuds, and twists, and turns. It was not at all smooth!
They need to repair the runway!
Following Mom’s instructions, both of us called home.
අම්මි, අපි දැන් යාපනේ!
Mom, we are now in Jaffna!
And Mom went;
ඇත්තද බබා! හරි පුදුමයි ඔයා යාපනේ කියන එක!
Really Baby! It’s almost a wonder that you are in Jaffna!
I suddenly felt she wasn’t scared anymore! And yes, she called me Baby at the age of 22, and still calls me that at the age of 38!!!
Sundhar made some other phone calls, and we were going to stay at his relatives or friends’ (They called everyone Aunty and Uncle, so it was difficult to say) home in Point Pedro (Parathurai / Peduru Thuduwa). We took a bus to go there. I had no idea where we were, or where we were going. So, I blindly was following Sundhar, placing so much trust in him to know.
- We didn’t have smart phones or GPS devices
- All name boards were in Tamil
All of this was really weird. Based on the TV News, the amount of attacks and fights reported everyday, I didn’t imagine people here to have normal lives. I didn’t imagine this many people to be living here. I didn’t imagine to see big nice houses with people living in them, only to have their neighbours house smashed to the ground with bombs. I was starting to feel weird in my stomach, and I wanted to cry.
Did they see the neighbour’s house getting bombed?
Did they see their neighbours die?
What did they do?
Where were they?
Did they know a bomb was about to hit? Did they run? Did they hide? Did they come back to help?
Did they cry?
It was getting too much!
Why do we kill each other?
Can’t they see we’re all human beings?
Why can’t they be like Sundhar and Me, best friends, even when one disagrees with the other’s lifestyle?
And it occurred to me;
What was Sundhar thinking?
Does it remind him of his childhood? How they escaped the war?
How can he not hate anyone?
I have seen a two storied Railway Bungalow in Mt. Mary, Colombo, Sri Lanka, being burnt down as a 3 year old, in 1983, heavy wooden rafters wrapped in fire, crashing down with big thundering thuds. I have heard my mom say stories about how she couldn’t help some Tamils who were trying to hide, as the landlord of the house we were renting wouldn’t allow it!
Is there a God?
Why would he allow this to happen?
Why would he create humans to be so cruel?
But my English teachers, Mr. Joseph, and his daughters Yvonne and Jasmine, who lives down Elvin Place, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka, had told us stories about how their house had been burnt down by a group of Sinhalese, yet had been rebuilt by their Sinhalese students, when the only thing that got saved was a picture of Jesus Christ, which I had seen many times hanging on top of their front door!
Then, there must be a God!
But why would he save only a picture?
Was it a sign of hope? After all, the house was rebuilt. But what about their traumatic experience?
I’m confused! I don’t understand this!! We all have same colour blood that runs through our body!!!
We finally arrived in Parathurai (Point Pedro). We had a warm welcome and a lot of chitter-chatter. They spoke a lot in Tamil. I can’t remember much about the house or it’s people as two things worried me:
- I had to ride a motorbike! They didn’t seem to understand of anyone not knowing how to ride a motorbike!
- I also had to watch where I was going, and not wonder around too much as there could be undiscovered landmines!
After a one minute lesson on how to change gears, what the break was, what the clutch was, how to accelerate, and how to start, I was apparently ready to ride a motorbike! Well they were mostly right, except starting took a lot more kicking than Sundhar (apparently I was too gentle with the pedal), and riding on the sand was too difficult. I fell a couple of times while riding on the sand. Didn’t get wounded, thanks to the sand, but I wouldn’t have fallen if it weren’t for the sand!!!
The sand was so white, it looked like snow! At least my imagination of it, as I hadn’t seen snow back then. The ocean was so blue. Everything was so beautiful.
We stopped at one place, and we wondered around in an empty field. I think I wanted to check out some bushes, so I had gone further into the field, when I heard Sundhar call my name;
Nimesh, come back! There is a board saying there are landmines!
I froze! I looked at him and smiled, knowing very well that I might never make it back to him. I knew I’d first hear it click, but then I’d know what happens next!
Just run back Machang, don’t be scared!
I ran back with no clicks or bangs. I realized what it would be like to be a soldier for a tiny second of my life. I was surprised that I wasn’t that scared!
From that moment on, we were a bit more cautious, or random strangers decided to stop us;
Don’t go there alone!
I never bothered to ask why not. This was their everyday life.
How do they stop little naughty boys from running around?
Have any parents had to witness a little child get blown up by a landmine?
Have any children had to witness a parent get blown up by a landmine?
I knew the bitter truth. I felt it deep within me. No one had to tell me, or show me, I felt it.
We left Parathurai, caught a bus to go to Jaffna Town.
To be continued…