Friday, October 20, 2006

Who's in charge? I'd like a word please...

I’m experiencing a feeling right now that I really don’t enjoy. It’s hard to describe… a combination of nausea, grief and a little bit of fear.

It’s the second time in a week I’ve had this feeling. It takes all I have not to break down and sob… distracting myself by writing is a good way to deal with it … suppressing? Maybe.

The first time was last Thursday. A friend called to tell me that the 13-year old son of one her close friends had died the day before, the result of a food allergy. It was a total surprise. He ate something that he’d eaten before without affect and was dead within 10 minutes.

Yesterday I received an email from my friend Rasika, who lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He and I became friends over the five weeks I spent working with him this year. Hearing from him made me curious about the state of the war in Sri Lanka these days. I haven’t been following for the past month. I find it too depressing. And too confusing.

The work I did in Sri Lanka, with Rasika, involved working with over 100, mostly non-profit, organizations that are working to achieve peace in the country. The groups were so diverse that one could only believe that peace is possible. In addition to peace organizations, the individuals I worked with came from work backgrounds as diverse as government officials, teachers, women’s organizations, tea plantation workers, university students, religious leaders, newspaper editors and reporters…

And the workshops they participated in, developing what they call the “One Voice Campaign,” brought Tamil, Singhala, English, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, obscenely rich and obscenely poor men and women together to work on a shared vision. Simply: A Sri Lanka where each of them is respected equally.

The people I met and developed relationships with came from all over the country: from the most war-affected regions in the north, to the tsunami-devastated towns in the east, to the affluent towns on the west coast and tourist destinations of the south.

My first trip to Sri Lanka in February, I spent three weeks, most of which was in the capital city of Colombo. During that time the cease fire was still in effect. My recent trip, in August, was very different, since the cease fire had been broken. I spent just 14 days in the country, of which only one week was in Colombo. In that week I was in three-wheelers (to get to and from the office) a total of 16 times. The trip from my hotel to the office was no more than 20 blocks. And in that week, the vehicles I traveled in were pulled over by armed soldiers four times. All four times the drivers were asked to show identification and their details were taken down by the soldiers. Twice I had my passport taken and was asked questions about why I was in the country. I was quite surprised at how the experiences left me feeling… unmoved. Armed soldiers are so much a part of the landscape that to have one stop and address me directly seemed like a natural event. Not scary; barely interesting.

What I did find interesting and another thing that had changed between my first and second trip, was the way my colleagues would walk on the streets. Their office is one block from the Prime Minister’s residence. It is a very heavily guarded neighbourhood. The restaurant we would get our lunch from was three blocks from the office, past the PM’s home – and on the same side of the street. On my second trip my colleagues would not walk in front of the PM’s place. They would cross the busy street to walk the block of his residence on the other side.

Why? To avoid being blown up, of course. And just weeks after I left, several people who had not crossed the street when passing the PM’s residence (including some school children) were killed by a suicide bomber in that block.

That news did not have much affect on me. It was predicted. People understood how to control and reduce their chance of being harmed in what was an expected attack.

The news I read today was different. Galle, a seaside, tourist town in the south, was attacked by Tamil Tigers. The people of Galle feel very far from the war in their country, despite the fact that the island is really quite tiny - just 350 kilometres north to south and 200 kilometres wide. The war, for the most part, has taken place in the north with strategic bombing in the capital of Colombo - west-central. To have the war show up in Galle is a huge surprise - one that people were not prepared for.

Reading the news of the bombings, I thought of three beautiful young women from Galle who I spent four days working very closely with. I was mentoring them to deliver the One Voice Campaign workshop to peers in their own community. The workshop they participated in was in Kandy, central Sri Lanka. The three of us, escorted by a senior member of the Sri Lankan government, made a pilgrimage to two of the most historically important Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. I spent several hours that evening learning about these young women from Galle and their devotion to Buddhism. It was a huge honour to have been invited to share the experience of their first trip to these temples with them.

This feeling of nausea and grief and fear… I guess it really all comes down to realizing that although I like to believe I have control of, and over, events that take place in my life, really, it’s illusory. I’m starting to learn that all I really can claim to control is my reaction to events… and, as tonight has shown me, I don’t even have much control over that… Pah!

Heading to sleep with one question to the universal power that does have control over who lives and who dies and when… what are you thinking??! Faith being challenged here… big time.


Blogger How I Died Today said...

This is crazy. I had read a bit about the conflict and was interested in going there regardless at some point in the not-too-distant-future. Thank you for saving me from certain death! A sad situation, but kudos to you for your commitment to help.

October 23, 2006  
Blogger G. said...

Thanks for sharing your insights.


October 23, 2006  

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