08 April 2005

First Impressions, Sri Lanka

The graceful palms sway over the road, and temple trees dip down with their green, shiny leaves and delicate flowers to give shade occasional shade from the equatorial sun. Many of the houses we pass are merely fronts with no back, and there is still debris and trash that lines certain areas of unoccupied land. I wonder what was once there, if people’s homes & fishing boats and stores have completely been wiped away. I have heard stories of this.

There are old cemeteries along the road that have different sections—Buddhist, Muslim and Christian—and some of the gravestones are knocked over, scattered, broken apart. But these were those buried long ago, before the wave came and took many more lives and left mass graves filled with bodies.

As we drive down the coastal road toward Galle from Colombo, the wreckage left behind by both tragedies is evident. The first tragedy, that of the poverty of families of storekeepers and fishermen who build weak structures too close to the shore for lack of both resources and land, who are left with nothing, and have no resources saved for rebuilding. The second tragedy, that of a natural disaster that hit unmercifully and without discretion, taking lives, houses, and dreams and Turing them upside down.

As we continue on, I wonder what the people standing outside and riding bikes down the street, going on with daily life, are thinking. Surely things haven’t returned to normal. Groups of women stand in the shade in front of tiny shops that sell biscuits and cold drinks, some of which are sandwiched between two piles of rubble that were once also small stores. The destruction is random, unpredictable, and in some cases complete. Some of the women have children on their hips, and I wonder if those who don’t lost sons and daughters to the terrible waters. I meet eyes with them as we go past and we have a moment of recognition that is mesmerizing. They have beautiful long braids of thick black hair and wear long flowy skirts and in most cases, I begin to notice, no shoes.


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