Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Aussie in Jaffna

I was collected from the hotel on a scooter - a slower bike though maybe just slower for my benefit. Hurtling over the potholes was more like a carnival ride. The side roads are more pothole than road an it is often best to abandon the road for the gravel shoulder. I wonder if Australia could send road construction teams over to employ locals and allow for better transport. Although the road quality does keep the tuktuks and scooters to a slow pace, all of the bike-riders, often dinking children, could do with a smooth path. Not sure how the roads cope with the wet season.

In front of the house is a makeshift tutorial centre where a dozen children are spending their Saturday learning from a teacher who looks close to 12.  They study all day. I drop by in the morning and leave them with a koala. They call me back later to give me a gift. Later in the day they find a cricket set and assuming I know a thing or two about cricket, ask me to play.  My batting is passable but my bowling a disgrace! Lots of whooping and howzat hoolas. It's a lot of fun.

I met the rest of the family today: a sister and her two children.

As we sit outside in the shade of the palms, I show the children a few games in my iPhone. They are delighted. Of course they have never seen an iPhone or played the collection of games my kids have put on it.

We visit a water hole on the way home - a strange phenomenon. There is no known water source, no known depth and the water level is constant despite the rainy and dry season variations. Hindu mythology tells of the water hole being a divine bathing spot for a god and goddess. Scientists have probed it with no conclusive results. It has survived unchanged for centuries. A comforting constant.

At home we eat more.... And then some more. I am being fed like a foreign traveller!  Beautiful fish curry. We had purchased the fish from the market earlier and watched a man cut the scales away, the stomach out and the head and tail off. He was surrounded by cats. Where there are dead fish, there are cats.

My stomach is no match for their generosity. I have to learn to say no thank you or my stomach will burst. Grapes and Lankan coffee to follow. It is divine - coffee ground with coriander, cinnamon, sugar and other spices mixed with warm milk.

We chat with their son via Skype for most of the lazy and relaxed afternoon. I point out that the children in their family match my own in age and gender - except for the baby in Autralia. I show pictures on my phone if my 'ama' with her grandchildren in a similar portrait to the one I am witnessing.
Then I learn that the eldest grand-daughter has been studying all morning at tutorials. She is 11 or 12 I think.  Her father explains that his life has been disrupted by war. That his dreams of being a lawyer were thwarted by having to move around, leave school, earn money for the family. He dreams that his two daughters will be lawyers and his son a doctor.

He can't afford English tutorial classes - they cost the equivalent of $25 per month. On his casual salary of $3.90 per day, he can only afford to send her to the Tamil tutorial classes at $5.90 a month. 
I am determined to help - appalled that the yearly fee for the English classes is equivalent to the price I have paid for three nights accommodation.

My offers are, of course, refused. They tell me Tamils are giving people. I tell them I am a givin person too so one of us had better learn how to take! They laugh but we don't resolve the standoff about me sponsoring the daughter to take English tutorials. That debate is not over!

I slept for 12 hours last night after driving back past temples glowing in the sunset.

There are many ways that Australians can help Sri Lanka continue to build peace and prosperity. Locking up asylum seekers or sending them off to camps in islands are not on the list. 

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