NOT the national anthem !

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Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls [Read more…]

Sri Lankan–Africans from Puttalam: visiting my “long-lost relatives”!

MARYANNE KOODA

 

Along a narrow trail that wound a short distance from the Puttalam /Anuradhapura road, lay the quiet village we were searching for.  We reach Sirambiandiya after a four hour trip by bus from Colombo.  We are unsure of what type of reception we will get, as the research we had done on them, told of a people who were fed up of being treated like a circus freak show!

The knowledge of their existence has since been publicised by musical performances at the Barefoot Café,  so the novelty had worn off. Yet we were still interested in meeting them, despite the possibility that they may be wary of visitors. We took the chance and were delighted to find them open and friendly.

Puttalam1I have wanted to visit them for a long time, but till a restlessness born of inchoate melancholy drove me into taking the trip, I had been postponing it.  I am curious to find out how much they have integrated into the Sri Lankan culture, perhaps due to my own feelings of displacement; I am grasping at straws, in desperate search for a source of attachment to Sri Lanka. I am hoping that they might have it, and I could learn from them. [Read more…]

No poppies by request! Remembering with olu-nelum-manel, ambal-thamarai-alli!

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POPPY DAY? We didn’t have horses who died in battle. We didn’t have bagpipes.

Poppies don’t really mean much to us in Sri Lanka.

But the poppy campaign meant a great deal to the old war veterans when they came to Grants Advertising and asked for a creative poppy campaign, free of charge.

Tikiri de Zoysa wrote an amazing poem ‘Give to those who Gave’  and I remember how proud we were to see creative poppies floating around Colombo in wreaths and singles. Most cars had that wreath, vans too.

We were not remembering, but living it, trying to forget each day for a couple of hours that Sri Lanka, the very name, was loaded with hopelessness, bodies blown apart, shelling and fighting. The year was 1993 and we were in the bloody thick of it. No end in sight. I still can feel the hopelessness as if it were yesterday. Was it yesterday?

Remembering the fallen in our long war, from which we have emerged after decades, with the conviction that war is not the answer. Remembering the war veterans, and the identityless privilegeless members of the forces and the LTTE who are now without power and influence but relegated to poor people in the poorer part of the country once more.

Remembering the relatives who cannot visit a war memorial due to the lack of one both at home and in Canada, UK, Australia, Europe, Singapore, Norway, the list goes on.

Screen shot 2014-11-11 at 10.06.08 PMRemembering the victims of the massacres, the bombings the extorted, the defenseless, the harrassed, the exiled, the victimised and vanquished.

Remembering those who walked away from their childhood homes too far to return and those who walked the last battle and never did return.

Remembering the mothers of the missing and the fathers too. Remembering the children without parents who are in school-hostels today for want of responsible adults in the family to take care of them.

Remembering daughters and sons who left their schoolrooms and teachers and parents for life as a rebel.

Remembering that we can only remember and we can never forget.

Give to those who gave. All who gave. Let us lay an olu, a nelum or manel,  an ambal, thamarai or alli for the fallen.

May peace prevail! அமைதி, சமாதானம் காண்!
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Photocredits: First image is Dev Wijewardhene’s amazing photography on Nil Manel in Kandy, the second and third from seedsofdesign influence website.

Keep it Clean and Cycle On | Son of the Morning Light

 

 

 

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Keep it Clean and Cycle On | Son of the Morning Light.: Conservation art on Leyn Baan Street in the Galle Fort, shot with a Canon EOS 600D and EF-S 18-200mm lens at 18mm, 1/8, f/3.5, and ISO 100.


The above mural is by Simon Blackfoot and  one of a series with Rah Akaishi. Read more about the Moral in the Mural in Conversation with Smriti Daniel here.

“On Layn Baan St in Galle Fort, two exquisitely melancholy sea monsters are separated by a rusty gate. Stricken by grief, one wears a tower for a hat, the other towers above the lighthouse, rising above the fort with a ship bleeding oil cradled in its thin, long arms. The black ooze around their waists makes it clear these, intricately patterned creatures are fugitives of a man-made disaster. Artists Rah Akaishi (New Zealand) and Simon Blackfoot (Canada) painted them together – a response to the oil slick the bulk freighter Thermopylae Sierra left behind when it sank off the west coast in 2012.”

“A dedicated surfer, Rah says Sri Lanka has been pure inspiration: “I’m inspired by so much here visually also, the colourful religious imagery, folk arts and crafts, the architecture, land, seascapes, animals and people.” He’s designed for skateboards, apparel prints, tattoos, logos, posters, stickers and editorial illustrations and his work is rich with environmental themes and often incorporates wonderfully detailed animal motifs. A volunteer creative director for PangeaSeed, Rah says he uses art and design to educate, raise awareness and funds for the protection of sharks and preservation of their habitats.”

Read on with   Smriti Daniel 

 

Image of the Week

 

HIRANYA MALWATTE

Image of the Week

hiranya mar 1 2013 muslim fisherman in mannar

Mannar

See more of Hiranya Malwatte’s captures of what is quintessentially Sri Lankan from her travels to all corners of her island home.

Why the BBS does not want us to eat halal meat

BIRD OF PASSAGE

I was pondering over Gaya’s piece on what one may write about if one were a Sri Lankan without being labeled racist, reductionist, fascist, sexist, speciesist, androgynous and so on, and thought, well, food is one topic, that should be unifying and uncontroversial. We are known the world over for our love of good Sri Lankan food. But then along came the anti-halal campaign of the Bodu Bala Sena.
[Read more…]

The quality of Srilankan vitriol is not strained!!

lasith_malinga0531_post_1306829593Shanaka’s defence of Lasith Malinga is well-written and is a balanced critical perspective on the “wedak balagena yanawa manussayo yanna” incident.

[Read more…]

The Ides of March

BIRD OF PASSAGE

As March dawns again, conspiracies abound in the island where every prospect pleases but only man is… It appears that the circus is once again coming to Geneva town.

From the Sri Lankan government side there are the worthy diplomats who apparently are “in charge” this time to lie for their country, although an erstwhile Minister who was supposed to be kept away from Geneva has been given marching orders at the eleventh hour to turn up, despite messing up big time last year.

The neo-LTTE remnants have been busy loading the human rights cum media bandwagon with a spate of new stories of child murders and custodial rapes, just weeks before this year’s UNHRC session, as if nobody knew that these atrocities were taking place throughout the war. The opposition, busily engaging in a “non-violent guerilla operation” to lure people “with opposing views” to the UNP before the next election, has nothing much to offer in the way of Geneva, although the TNA has sent a delegation to put pressure on the government to deliver on its promises.

The US government is once again wagging fingers at Sri Lanka with a new “resolution” while its occupation forces continue their drone induced killing spree in Afghan villages and dismiss criminal charges against troops burning Korans. Indian media reports affirm that India will support the US resolution while the suave Janata leader (intriguingly enough of Tamil origin) assures the Sri Lanka government of a “positive outcome” in Geneva, despite the pressure exerted by extremist Tamil Nadu politicians. India’s unblemished human rights record apparently includes some 500 perpetrators of abuse and torture, ranging from soldiers to generals, who have been decorated and promoted for their appalling deeds in Kashmir.

In the absence of China, Russia and Cuba to rely on for their valuable votes in the UNHRC, the Sri Lankan government is making untiring efforts to buy the US and India away from the resolution – by scheduling the country’s biggest ever auction of oil and gas concessions just around the March meeting. Perhaps it is counting on Exxon or Reliance to influence foreign policy decisions in their respective countries, when all other attempts appear to have failed. The two Asian economic giants, China (no longer a voting member) and Japan, meanwhile have assured Sri Lanka of their support in Geneva, no doubt increasing exponentially their chances of winning the oil bids, while Korea (which is a voting member) recently democratically elected the daughter of their previous dictator as president, with a reputation for her tough stand on security and terrorism.

So is the stage set in Geneva once again for a ritual show of solidarity by Asian member states (sans India) plus the Brazil-Venezuela-Ecuador bloc, taking offense at the hypocritical rantings of US, Canada, the European states and their third world minions? What has Geneva ever accomplished in providing those human beings, who have been oppressed and dispossessed, lives of security, dignity and respect, not only in Sri Lanka but anywhere in the world? All it demands is yet another investigation and report to be written by UNHRC consultants, each of who earns in one day at least half of a house that can be built in the Northeast for one dispossessed family. That is if the regime allows the consultants to come in. And if they let them talk to people independently. And if the consultants are objective and hear all sides dispassionately. And if the report is not rejected by the regime, merely creating a media sensation for a few days, otherwise to be buried in the dustbins of history. Or accepted by the regime with promises of compliance and thrown anyway into the dustbins of history. Meanwhile, those who were violated, will continue to suffer.

Sri-Lanka-seen-from-space

Much has been said about building peace and reconciliation. In Sri Lanka, the regime, its supporters and opponents continue to be locked in the “us” and “them” syndrome. The conflict that resulted in ethnic fratricide in the island is between groups that have co-existed, whose histories and genealogies have been interlinked for centuries.

Is the Ides of March the right forum to bring about this peace and reconciliation or is it merely a confrontational space for one-upmanship? What is torn aside by fratricide needs to be healed by reconstructing brotherhood and sisterhood. Acknowledging, accounting and atoning for violence is an important step, as is the ability to live with different perceptions of what happened to individuals, communities and ethnic groups during 30 years of war. A UNHRC investigation and report will not establish the “truth” as some of its proponents hope and its opponents fear.

Perhaps it’s time to learn some ancient wisdom from the Japanese concept of takakuteki or multiplicity as an approach to conflict resolution – the need to engage multi-dimensionally or multilaterally, rather than as “us” vs. “them”. Cardinal principles are that there is no absolute need to be consistent across all contexts and there is no need to engage directly when this will only result in further conflict. The principle of multiplicity accepts that it is not possible every time to eliminate the contradictions in conflicting perceptions, values and principles. These differences can be allowed to exist in the same space, without harming one another, until such time that antagonism cools down and rapprochement is possible.

The raison d’être of the UNHRC is to be yet another playground of global geo-politics. The Ides of March and its logic is most likely to continue to hurtle Sri Lanka into its familiar galaxy of violence and destruction – as is the objective of some of its proponents. Trouble is good for local politicians to keep constituencies pacified and for global players to occupy banana republics. However, while the current Ides of March is a lot about posturing, what is uncertain is whether caesars still need beware, lest their last words be “Et tu, Brutus?”.

It’s Wednesday in the peaceful island we know and love so well where blood ivory may end up in Buddhist temples ????

Am not sure how many of you have read Asterix but if you have you will remember the opening line in each of Goscinny& Uderzo s beloved books was “Another day dawns in the peaceful little village we know and love so well”.

I feel like that sometimes when I see somewhere in my mind’s eye the sunlight filtering through the palm trees and lighting up the lawn at my parent’s home by the sea, the river coming to life in Bolgoda, the tank at Minneriya calm and quiet save for the splash of early fishermen who offered us a lift home back to our Rest House last year and yes, this year, the paddy fields of Kurunegala and the acres of vegetable gardens with guinea fowl and rooster, goat and chickens, dogs and cows beginning a new day is well… paradise-like and I know we have a legacy of nature unparalleled over there with some beautiful hearts and minds that I could never replace in my lifetime.

However, Sunela’s post on blood ivory  is also an issue facing Sri Lanka. Even though the slaughter was of African elephants Sunela raises the question that such practices are not only against Ahimsa but also would encourage similar atrocities in Sri Lanka. A buddhist country they say well I prefer to say a country blessed with many religions and amongst them the supreme influence of Buddhism. Surely, this tragedy needs the attention of the highest in the land and we shall await further writings on any possible steps or solutions provided by the State.

Sunela Jayawardene don’t give up. There are a few experts like you in Sri Lanka who can speak out so keep the heat on for a positive resolution.
Magazine-Cover_Blood-Ivory

“This illegal shipment is the result of the cruel slaughter of 179 African elephants. Ivory poachers shoot the adults and young animals in an elephant

herd, and hack off the tusks. The babies are left to starve. Soaked in the blood of elephants that died in agony, the tusks are known as blood ivory.

To place blood ivory for veneration in temples that extoll the greatest philosophy of ahimsa, is sacrilegious, and will taint the noble cause and name of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, especially because of the global attention that blood ivory has received.
A recent article in National Geographic Magazine [October 2012] highlighted the horror of blood ivory. As you know, the National Geographic Society has given Sri Lanka excellent reviews as one of the world’s top destinations, but the adverse publicity if this ivory is distributed to temples will surely tarnish this image.”

 

 

Rizana: So what now?

Gaya Fernando

I remember transiting at the Abu Dhabi airport on Etihad Airlines in 2004 en route to Sri Lanka from Brussels. I was dozing in the departure area, which is hardly a lounge, in jeans, tee shirt and beloved camper shoes that I always wear when I travel.

Miss, Miss, Miss ge Agency eka mokakdha? (Miss, what’s your agency?)”

Forced back into reality, I made out a few curious girlish faces peering at me eager to make conversation with a new recruit.

Ah? Mokakdha? ( What?)” And I realised with a laugh that I had been mistaken for a housemaid by my countrymaid companions going home on vacation.

Giggles and social systemic failure

I tried to explain that I was in transit from Belgium and that I had gone to Brussels for studies …. what studies? what is Belgium ? :… As a lawyer I wanted to do a higher degree I had explained. Blank looks. It turned out that they had never really known Colombo folk nor Colombo at all. From their village they had been driven through to the Airport and onwards and upwards to Foreign Exchange earning countries in the Middle East. Who would want to go abroad if they were lawyers and had good jobs? They couldn’t make me out at all and so I made them tell me of their lives, villages and stuff to ease the boredom of transit.

The stories were told with giggles of debts that parents had run up mortgaging properties, houses in order to marry off other siblings, debts run up for other reasons resulting in the young girl being sent off with parental consent to find some extra cash to be a housemaid in the Middle East.

Forged passports were common. One girl on the flight sitting behind me had only her passport in her hand. No luggage. An escapee from a bad situation she had fled to the Embassy and was now going home with no money, no payment, nothing but her passport and the clothes on her body.

Oyaa kohomadha den gedera yanne? (How are you going home from the Airport?)” I persisted wondering if I could give her the bus fare or pay for a space in a van which she would share with others. Oh don’t worry Miss, she said with a big grin, “me aiyala akkala maawa bala gani bessama ( These brothers and sisters will look after me when I arrive at the airport…)” She was confident that they would see her home safely to her village.

These little naiiveties displayed by both sides makes me realise to what extent we are ignorant of the ways of our people who subscribe to diverse social norms. “Hmm…”I was not entirely convinced but she seemed quite relaxed and was snoring in minutes. I turned back with a feeling that this is all very unsatisfactory somehow, got home and told my story to my family though my mother was not amused that I had been mistaken for a housemaid. She was always a little snobbish, bless her !!

I would not have entrusted my baby to a Rizana

After the grim news of the beheading on 9 January, I thought back to that little encounter now 8 years ago. A forged passport sent a minor to a situation that she had no expertise nor training to handle. She was employed by those who did not care that she had no expertise.

I, having brought my own children up from the day they were born single-handedly overseas, have never let even a Ceylinco Babycare Nurse (who helped out on Sri Lankan vacations and research trips when I travelled alone with my children) venture beyond  preparing meals, laundry and babysitting to actually care for them under the age of 2. Many a fight and argument have I had with Ceylinco nannies on vacation that they need to be left to do the job and in this case they were trained to some extent but that minimal standard fell far below mine. I would have felt entirely to blame had my infant choked in their care regardless of the reason.

Rizana is alleged to have smothered a baby she was caring for, to death, following an argument with the mother. Later she retracted and said that the baby had died in a choking accident while bottle-fed. No doubt, the medical evidence can point to the cause of the death.  From then onwards she was a subject of the processes of that nation which we may criticise and condemn, but which after all are beyond our control.

Rizana_Nafeek-Killed

Is it their problem or our failure ?

However, there are other atrocities happening in these countries as well as systemic flaws and rackets in Sri Lanka that send housemaids with no training and minors at that into nations where their lives are worth little. At the root of the social problem, parents and families of these girls too are not entirely blame-free. Given that there is an unemployment problem and the cost of living is rising alarmingly, the all too familiar phenomenon of low-income families borrowing money from money-lenders and paying exorbitant interest rates is one of the reasons that children are sent to work as housemaids and earn enough to pay off these debts and save the family. This may not be the case of Rizana’s family of course but it is the case of others, sadly.

Women and Media Collective have released a statement that points the finger at the Government’s lack of will to bring Rizana home. On the other hand, accounts say that the President had appealed just 2 days before the execution and has released a statement of condolence on the execution. Another writing Who failed Rizana? does point out that delegations who went to Saudi Arabia may have done her more harm as they had implied that a settlement was on the horizon which could have worsened her case by misleading the public and harming the negotiations with the family’s tribe. Malinda Aiya wrote a good piece in 2010 which asks if we should be judged by our peers and in it includes:

We must acknowledge that many employment agencies are not just run by racketeers but crooks enjoying political patronage and therefore protection.  We know that the system is full of loopholes where a crackdown on errant agencies just results in the same crooks setting up office elsewhere under a different name for a paltry sum of money so they can carry on from where they stopped.

rizana-nafeek-protest

An infant is dead due to the easy entrusting into the care of an unknown young girl of a precious vulnerable life and a young girl is dead due to her actions in a context in which she did not belong.

Inter-State diplomacy has not saved the life of Rizana Nafeek. However, what’s going on in our country is our problem, what can be done about it?

Is it time to take a different policy stance on whether we admit that we are exporting carers to other countries and enforce policies, standards, training and put in place good negotiation mechanisms and active co operation policies in the diplomatic delegations to these countries as the Philippines do?