Monday, March 25, 2013

An international affair

Each day, more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.  But first, the last day in Jaffna began with a chance breakfast meeting with a BBC film crew - here to do a story on Tamils in Sri Lanka post-war.  I will be interested to see the German and BBC interpretations.  So many possible angles: ongoing trauma; reluctance to speak out; desire for peace and quiet lives; lost loved ones; slow rebuilding; poverty and educational limitations.

I met with my friend's family one last time.  Communication is getting easier as I struggle to wrap my tongue around Tamil sounds but come out with something passable and we improve our use of gestures and charades.  They treat me like royalty: seated in the one seat that is directly near the fan; painting my nails; feeding me constantly (a sweet called Muscat, grapes, red rice and coconut sweet dish, lunch of rice and fish with vegetable dishes).

They are delighted to see my own family via Skype and laugh at how different we are: skin color, housing, language, experience of the world.

Our farewells are sad.  I take more gifts for their son in Australia.  And I capture a little more of their experiences on video to help corroborate the story of my friend who is in indefinite detention.  We talk about the LTTE, the Sri Lanka Army, the war.

The mother talks about how the wartime has impacted her life: her husband suffers and cannot work, her son was killed, her other son cannot reclaim his land, and then a son waiting for a visa in Australia for three years.  She says she makes food to sell each day to try to look after her family.  She is a strong, but gentle, woman.  For the first time, she cries.

My offers to sponsor the eldest granddaughter's education have been turned down - pride wins out.  My friend in Australia keeps telling me it is his duty to provide for his parents, and I tell him he can do that when he is released, but in the meantime, I can help.  He shakes his head.

But as I leave, I quietly slip Rs.5000 ($50) into the hands of the mother - the one bearing the burden of caring for her family. As I suspect, she gratefully accepts.

I don't know if I will see this gentle, loving, generous family again.  I hope their children can grow up in peace.  The mother says that Skype is not enough: she wants to hold her son.  I say very quietly that maybe that can somehow be arranged, but I know it is unlikely.

What is the future for Sri Lanka and Tamil families such as this?  The gentle wish to live in peace is simple, but the pathway is very complicated. I keep coming back to 'What is it that Sri Lanka needs in order to maintain peace, equality and prosperity?'  The government, the international community, the UN and local Tamils all seem to have different answers.  Until there is a unified answer, I fear that Sri Lanka is on the brink of further tension and even violence.

This morning's paper is instructive: the headline is 'Double standards of powerful countries at UNHCR'.  Articles in the paper express anger at the international community (which the govt says is fueled by an LTTE rump) for ignoring Sri Lanka's post war achievement and for forgetting how horrific LTTE terrorism was.  There is also a story about the Navy arresting fishermen from Tamil Nadu - despite India's Tamil party (DMK) requesting that India protect its fishermen.

When the daily newspaper quotes the Defence Minister as say there were many so called champions of human rights in the the international media and in international NGOs who continued to attack the country and alleged that some of them had publicly accepted donations from LTTE-linked groups, it is clear that mistrust and division is firmly cemented in Sri Lanka politics.

I wonder if it is not so much separatism and self-determination that would benefit Tamils as The Government enacting openness, trust and a willingness to agree upon and implement an ongoing solution for peace that involves the international community.  Wishful thinking.  But the alternative is worrying.

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