Friday, March 22, 2013

Homecoming

Jaffna is a long night's bus trip from Colombo.  It is at the tip of Sri Lanka and home to the island's Tamil community. Jaffna was bombed during the earlier war periods in the 80s. Many Tamils fled at this time. Half have never returned. The devastating killings of 2009 happened south of Jaffna- probably along the road we drive along in the pitch black of a warm lankan night.
I sat next to an academic who was happy to chat in English about her children. At one stage her phone received a text message: UNHCR says US resolution won't lead to self-government.  She explained that the phone companies are paid to send messages and advertisements for the govt and other clients. I asked here what she made of that message. She shrugged: I don't get involved in politics, was her reply.
It seems that this is the easiest option for most Tamils living peaceful lives but with horrific memories and lost loved ones.  Head down. Quiet lives. Never again going through the past 40 years.
The only opinion offered by the academic a bit later in our trip was that an opportunity for compromise was squandered in 2005-7 and from there the real horro began.
Jaffna: cows grazing by the road side next to sleeping dogs; women in saris riding bikes; massive colorful temples; modest accommodation; roads potted with holes; and the home of the family of the Tamil refugee I have been helping who has been in detention since December 2009.

His sister, brother and nephew came to fetch me by bicycle and tuktuk.  Language barriers meant that big hugs and smiles had to say it all. His sister beamed. Her head wobbling so hard it was sure to wobble off. His nephew smiled shyly prompting me to reach for the obligatory Koala to be gifted. I was friend after that.
His family house was a humble square of concrete surrounded by a red-dust floor, two roosters, a dingo-dog and palm trees - some coconut.
Worn, but well kept. The family gathered around a lap-top on the porch eager to talk as next we could.
I hugged his mother so hard that I think I winded her. His father approaches more shyly and his sisters took all afternoon to work up the courage to talk with me. I won them over by persistently taking photos when they weren't looking abusing much giggling and delight.
Words weren't needed as I handed over pictures of the son they hadn't seen for close to 9 years. He is their youngest of five. Their baby. His mother's wordless smile made the adventure to Sri Lanka worthwhile. Time paused. For a moment, nothing else mattered.
A family, with one son in Australia still without a visa and one son wounded and killed as a civilian in 2009 after having endured months of surviving in a refugee camp, was, for an afternoon as reunited as it will ever be.

1 comment:

Anna Symes said...

Wow. Incredibly moving, Rose.