Sri Lanka in 1988: Experiencing ‘Ordinary Living’ in A Conflict Zone

John Richardson, whose title in this article conveying diary notes runs thus:  “Ordinary Living” in the Midst of Civil War Notes to Family and Friends“[1]  … with highlighting and pics inserted by The Editor, Thuppahi

February 1988: After getting settled in our home at number 5 Bagatelle Terrace, within walking distance of Colombo University, we have begun to fit into our neighborhood and the city.   Already we have made a number of Sri Lankan acquaintances.  Emily knows the city better because she is an inveterate walker.  She covers three to five miles each day on foot; more than any expatriates and most Sri Lankans, except the very poor.  She feels quite safe walking about during the day. We walk about at night, too, but are more careful as the streets are poorly lighted.  “Homeless” people do live on the streets here.  They are about as visible as they are in Washington, D.C., but I think the culture here is more accepting; the gap between rich and poor is much less than in America.  In fact, what strikes me about the majority of Sri Lankans, both rich and poor, is their unfailing honesty, courtesy and decency.  (The principal exception appears to be some of those who deal regularly with foreigners).  They are a considerate, friendly people – and for many, life is arduous.

What of the “disturbances”?  Only the most severe are reported in the international press, but we read about bombings, shootings or lamp-postings,[2] nearly every day.  The Indian Peace Keeping Force[3] has made progress in pacifying the North but the Eastern Province, comprising a mixed Sinhalese and Tamil population is still turbulent.  Information on the insurrection in the South is sketchier, but it seems clear that the government is not fully in control of some rural areas.  Southern Insurgents, who call themselves the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna  (People’s Liberation Front), are capable of staging major disturbances from time to time, even in Colombo. Violence is not a daily occurrence, however, except in troubled areas.  The situation is more like Northern Ireland than Beirut.

In Colombo, the government’s concern is expressed in fairly stringent security measures.  Soldiers or home guard cadres, in addition to the regular security staff, guard the University, many embassies and the homes of major government officials.  It seems incongruous to walk by these young men, armed with weapons that could easily kill scores, on our way to tennis or shopping.  On the other hand, we attended a large wedding recently where President Jayewardene was guest of honor (he participated in the Buddhist ceremony).   At this event, security was far less than it would have been if Ronald Reagan were attending a similar event in the United States.

While not a daily occurrence, more than five years of pervasive, violent conflict has touched many lives.   We have become acquainted with a number of Tamils and their stories are heart-rending.  For years, they lived peacefully as Sri Lankan citizens, perhaps employed as senior government officials, businessmen, physicians or university professors.  Suddenly, in the summer of 1983, their homes and businesses were looted and burned by mobs.  Friends and relatives lost their lives.  They fled to refugee camps and then to the north or to India.   Later, they were able to return to Colombo and their lives have resumed a degree of normalcy.  But they say they will never feel quite the same about living Sri Lanka.

At least Tamils are able to live in Sinhalese majority areas of the Island.  Sinhalese who once lived in the north have either been killed or driven into exile.  The lives of Sinhalese living in Eastern Province are threatened by Liberation Tiger hit squads that specialize in massacring the inhabitants of isolated villages.   When this happens, neighboring Tamil villagers may fall victim to retaliatory attacks by the security forces.  In the conflict zones, no one is really secure.

April, 1988

What is daily life like in a conflict zone?  My experience is limited, but may be worth sharing.

Yesterday morning at 5:00 AM (just after curfew lifted), I walked alone through the darkened streets of Jaffna to catch an early departing bus to Vavuniya, where trains to the South still run.  Until recently, the Liberation Tigers controlled Jaffna, but they were dislodged by an Indian Peace Keeping Force offensive, last fall.  Some Tigers have retreated to the jungle, but others remain underground.  The Indian forces control major streets and enforce a 9:00 PM to 5:00 AM curfew.  City Hall, where our presence in town was recorded by a smartly uniformed Indian Officer with a clipped British accent, is a military command post.  But the Liberation Tigers are still able to gun down those they target as collaborators and determine whether businesses and government offices remain open or closed. The day we arrived, an LTTE assassin shot an alleged IPKF informant to death in his hospital bed.

Yesterday, Emily and I took a long walk through the city and along Jaffna’s fishing piers.  Nets were spread to dry and a few children were playing, but there was little fishing.  A naval blockade, targeting LTTE smugglers, keeps most of the boats in port.  Later, we strolled through the city’s residential  “suburbs”.  Narrow streets are lined with small palm-shaded compounds where several related families reside (or did reside).  Off the main streets, you could forget there was a war going on and a foreign army occupied the city.   Most Jaffna residents now travel by bicycle or on foot, but there are also a few ancient but well preserved Morris Minors on the roads, kept alive with scavenged and fabricated parts. Petrol is sold on street corners in recycled liquor bottles.

Trips between Jaffna and the South are arduous.  From 5:30 AM until 11:00 AM I was sandwiched between two patient Tamil women, crammed with fifty other passengers into a private minibus, designed to hold about 30.  We jounced over roads that are worse than you could imagine, avoided land mine craters and were periodically evicted from our cramped vehicle for checking of passes, search of baggage, questioning and long waits at Indian Army checkpoints.  At each checkpoint, we had to walk several hundred yards, while our vehicle followed.  Fortunately, it wasn’t raining, but  the exterior temperature was about 95.  The interior temperature of our minibus, as you might imagine, was hotter.

Our destination was Vavuniya, a rural town that lies at the border between predominantly Sinhalese and predominantly Tamil territory.  For years, Sinhalese and Tamils shared these “border towns” in comparative harmony.  Now they are separating into hostile and suspicious camps, although many still yearn for the normalcy of earlier years.  Unemployment is high and young men while away their time in tiny theaters where they can watch violent action videos for a few rupees.  Some of them have experienced the real thing, as well.

After a lunch of Lion Lager beer and mutton curry in the very basic dining room of a government Rest House, I caught the 1:30 Yal Devi express to Colombo.  In more peaceful times, the Yal Devi ran through to Jaffna.  Reminiscent of those times, the Vavunya stationmaster was a most courteous middle-aged Tamil civil servant who took pride in his facility and a well tended flower garden.  He invited me into his office, behind the ticket window, and we chatted briefly.  The fourteen-car train was filled to overflowing with Tamils who, like me, had traveled by bus from Jaffna.  The single tracked line south snakes through miles of jungle, with verdant shrubbery nearly touching the sides of the cars in many places.  Our train moved at a deliberate speed through this exquisite, tranquil setting, but I knew the impression of tranquility could be deceptive.  Occasionally, this train had been successfully targeted by remotely detonated LTTE land mines.  At station stops, small boys would climb aboard chanting “cool yogurt… cool yogurt… cool yogurt.”  The “Elephant Brand” yogurt, served in small paper cups, tasted delicious.

The Yal Devi  pulled into Colombo Fort Station about 8:00 PM.  My trip from Jaffna had taken longer than it takes to fly from Paris to Colombo and in many ways Jaffna and Colombo are as far apart.  Some Tamils make this taxing journey several times each month.  No one who has not made it can fully imagine what it is like.  I suppose one would call my brief visit to Jaffna an “adventure.”  Like most adventures, it was a mixture of mundane,  strange, anxiety-producing and exhilarating events, with the first predominating.

  • §§

Our air shipment, including two portable computers arrived in mid-March.  Since we had more than a month to get along without these household goods, the new arrivals seemed like a glut of materialism and western high tech.  Getting the computers to work was a challenge.  I gradually learned to shop for and work with a completely new set of electrical connections.  Between our computers and the Ceylon Electricity Board’s highly unstable 250 volt current is a complex umbilicus of power conditioner, transformer and surge protectors which keeps things functioning, most of the time.

Having become dependent on computers, we decided that air conditioning, too, was a necessity.  I purchased two window units for our bedroom and “gifted” them to Colombo University International House.  The private-sector Sri Lankan contractors who did the installation were honest, efficient and punctual.  With air conditioning, we lose the experience of adapting to the heat-coolness cycle of each day, but also 100-degree mid-day temperatures, near 100 per-cent humidity and mosquitoes.  Our computers work better and so do we.   When we want to experience more natural conditions, we can go downstairs, do some ironing in the laundry room, or take a walk.

  • §§

Emily and I were most pleased that my 24-year-old son, Bradford, now working in Taipei, chose to spend his annual two-week holiday with us.  We vacationed for a few days at Koggala, a beach resort South of Galle and were able to personally witness the devastating effect of war on a previously thriving tourist economy.  Imagine Miami Beach or the Waikiki area of Hawaii as a virtually uninhabited ghost town and you will have a rough idea of what we experienced.  Walking along several miles of spectacular and virtually empty ocean-front beach,  we stopped to poke through the grounds and lobbies  of resorts that had been abandoned and left open to the elements.  We shared facilities of one remaining open hotel with a small group of Austrian Tourists. Women in the group often bathed and sun-tanned without their bathing suit tops, a practice not customary in Sri Lanka.  No-doubt the hotel owners were happy to have the business.   Male employees probably enjoyed the view.   Sri Lankan curry was available, but German fare predominated on the luncheon and dinner menus.   Unemployed “beach boys” often stood on the periphery of the hotel grounds selling handcrafts and offering to serve as guides.

June, 1988

International House’s caretaker, Mr. Bandara, and I have developed a cordial relationship.  We talk frequently, especially during Emily’s travels to the north.   While cleaning the room of another guest who had recently departed, he came across a stick of “Brut” deodorant and asked about its function.  Mr. Bandara comes from the rice growing region in Sri Lanka’s Central Province, near Kandy.  His parents and relatives farm about a hectare of paddy land.  Like many peasants, they cultivate by hand; without even the assistance of a water buffalo.  Mr. Bandara is the first among his family to secure a salaried position in the city – university maintenance supervisor and International House caretaker.   He frequently queries me about Western culture in his limited, but improving English.  Deodorant is not a widely marketed product in Sri Lanka.  How was I to explain its function and justify its use?  Attempting to do so raised questions about my own culture’s customs and norms, though I still continue to use the product.

  • §§

During April and May, my research activity gained momentum.  I am investigating and trying to explain patterns of violent political conflict in Sri Lanka since the time of independence from the British Empire (1948).  My assistants are scanning newspapers and other sources – English, Sinhala and Tamil – for “violence events” which are carefully described and coded.  I have hired seven researchers, plus a summer intern and our housekeeper, who doubles as an administrative assistant.  Student strikes, demonstrations and JVP threats have kept Colombo University closed much of the time, which made it easier to recruit qualified individuals.  Four are Sinhalese, two are Muslim, one each are Tamil, Burgher and South Indian.  Like Sri Lankan society,  the group is multiethnic and with differing views of history and daily events.  Scanning computer-generated graphic output from their data, I have the researcher’s excitement of viewing patterns than no-one has seen before.  Of course, I would be much happier if there was no violence in Sri Lanka for me to study.

But violence persists.  In the North, Indian Peace Keeping Force offensives seem to be making headway against Tigers.  According to recent  news stories, more than 2,000 “terrorists” were killed in the past year.  How sad that these young men and women, plus a number of Indian soldiers and civilians, have had to lose their lives.  One was an Indian Colonel, commander of  Mankulam district on the Jaffna Road, with whom Emily stopped for tea on several of her trips north.

From my Colombo vantage point, it seems as if the security forces may be losing control over some outlying Sinhalese majority areas, especially in Southernmost Matara district where Janatha Vimukti Peramuna  guerillas are strongest.  However there are hopeful signs, too.  Recently, The government scheduled elections in the central and southern parts of the country for newly created Provincial Councils.  Former Prime Minister Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party boycotted, but the United Socialist Alliance, led by her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, contested.[4]  Elections were held,  the government won a majority and violence was limited to sporadic incidents.  Janatha Vimukti Peramuna posters warned that the first person casting a ballot at each polling place would be shot, but turnout in many areas was close to 50 per-cent.  Sri Lankans take the opportunity to vote very seriously .  Two trains were burned and night train service was suspended for several days.  Many shopowners  closed their doors, fearing JVP reprisals, but some remained opened.  Tossing Molitov cocktails into open doors from a passing motor scooter was a favorite JVP tactic, so some businesses that remained open only admitted regular customers through back entrances.

Despite threats, political campaigning was vigorous.  In fact, political campaigning is a major form of entertainment in Sri Lanka.  Some weeks ago as I was playing tennis on a Saturday afternoon, when we noticed a noisy commotion at the nearby traffic roundabout.   It was May Day and a political rally was in progress complete with crowd, loudspeakers and … an elephant!  I’ll bet you don’t have elephants at your political rallies, my Sri Lankan doubles partner remarked.

AA JR 2

these photographs are an embellishment taken from http://srilankabrief.org/2014/04/sri-lanka-the-years-of-blood/

  • §§

Though large crowds are occasionally targeted for terrorist attacks, athletic competitions continue.   The cricket season has now given way to the rugby season.  Since our tennis club is also a rugby club, we have the privilege of watching matches from the club house veranda.  Rugby is a fast-moving, even vicious sport; like football, but without pads.  There are few or no substitutions.  When someone is hurt, often writhing on the ground in pain, the referee will call for “ice” which is brought to the spot by a small-boy runner.  The injured player holds a cube on the injured area and then, most frequently, returns to the fray.   No substitutions are allowed.  If the game seems a form of barely organized mayhem, audience participation is civilized.  “Well played ‘CH’ ” and “Let’s go ‘CH’ ” in British accented English are the most common cries from spectators.

September,  1988

On Saturday night we called an Ace radio cab and drove South on Galle Road to Mount Lavinia.  Our destination was a Sri Lankan betrothal party, hosted by a tennis-club friend.   Her daughter, the bride to be, is an Air Lanka Cabin attendant. Her fiancée, formerly of Air Lanka, has joined his father in a business with offices in London and Australia.

We could easily identify the house because of the Christmas-tree lights (also customary for weddings) that festooned it.  Sheet metal awnings had been erected on metal pipes that  covered most of the lawn.  Long rows of chairs were set up facing each other, for more than 100 guests.  Lighting a ceremonial oil lamp began the festivities (this is common in Sri Lanka).   A few speeches followed.  There were ceremonial toasts with small glasses of a Sri Lankan wine rather like sweet vermouth.  After that, guests simply sat in the rows of chairs, talked, drank and, eventually ate rice and curry.  Later, the young people danced to disco music, with strobe lights flashing.  All the conversation was in English — not out of courtesy to us — that was the natural medium.  The house is situated on a main thoroughfare in a somewhat rural area.  A few village boys stood on the street watching the goings on and thinking whatever thoughts they were thinking, perhaps a mixture of’ envy and resentment at the wealth and easy social relationships among attractive young people and their elders that the gathering represented.

This event was represented an important threshold for me.  For the first time, I felt I could participate with the relaxed, unpretentious conversing and socializing that is so much a part of  Sri Lankan life.  After eight months residence and professional study I had begun to “fit in” and to be accepted.  My dinner companions were the former head of the meteorology department, the president of an electrical cable manufacturing company, and the head of Sri Lanka’s  price stabilization board.  All were tennis players.  Their wives were sophisticated and seemed to have active lives.. There was no pressure to “mingle” and meet lots of people.  We could follow our conversations to their conclusion in a relaxed, meandering manner.  There was a very special quality of warmth to the evening.

We returned home about eleven PM and were settling into bed when persistent sounds of drumming  broke the night stillness. Was it disco party music from the Russian group house for younger staff members, adjoining the back of our lot?  Such parties were frequent events.  But the drums had a more Asian flavor and came from the front.   Throwing on some clothes, we walked a few yards to the end of our dimly lighted lane and were greeted by an elephant, festooned with red Christmas tree lights walking majestically down Bagatelle Road.    It was a small Perahera festival. There were six more elephants, one bearing a Buddhist Relic.  They were accompanied by Kandyan drummers, brightly costumed dance groups of men women and children, acrobats on stilts and Relic’s custodian along with his attendants, dressed like Indian Maharajahs. (I have never seen a Maharaja, of course, but this is what I think one might look like.) Unfortunately, we were not able to view this spectacle in complete peace.  A somewhat seedy “guide” attached himself to us and started explaining what was going on.  Most Sri Lankans are polite, but somewhat formal with strangers.  Those who at first meeting are over-friendly often have an ulterior motive.  It quickly turned that this man wanted money.  He became increasingly obtrusive and aggressive. The procession was nearly over and we beat a retreat behind our walls and locked gate.

  • §§

All our Sri Lankan friends said  the main Perehera festival, held in Kandy, was a “must,” during our stay.   This semi-religious  annual event commemorates a 15th century military victory over South Indian invaders.  Now, it is intended to invoke blessings of the gods on Sri Lanka’s people.   We attended the last night of the festival, having obtained coveted veranda seats at the colonial era Queens Hotel, adjacent to the parade route.  Perehera is  mosaic of color, sound, light, motion and odors quite unlike anything we had ever experienced.  Centerpiece of the several hour long procession is  the Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha (normally housed in Kandy’s golden-roofed  Dalada Maligawa – Temple of the Tooth) which is carried atop  a massive gold-bedecked and white-Christmas-tree-bulb-lighted male elephant (or “tusker” as elephants are often called here).  The festival is also an opportunity for lots of Sri Lankans to have fun  as either active or vicarious participants.  Through this magical event, men women and children of Sri Lanka can forget for a few days, the poverty, hunger, frustrations, boredom, and hopelessness that are the stuff of daily life for many in this heavily populated Third-World Asian nation with a GNP per-capita of less than $US 400 per year.

And the festival is magical.  It goes on for several days.  At night, the procession is lit by sulphurous torches – coconut shells dipped in kerosene – carried in iron baskets on the end of long poles.  There are firecrackers, and constantly the sound of throbbing Kandyan drums accompanying dancers in traditional Sinhalese armored breastplates, shinplates and helmets.  Most of the participants are men and boys, though a few groups of women dancers appeared toward the end of the procession.  Women’s principal role seemed to be as white clad nurses, walking alongside the marchers to deal with emergencies.

Having extended our Kandy stay, we were brought sharply back to reality two days later.  The morning train from Colombo was derailed by saboteurs and service was temporarily halted.   In conjunction with Provincial Council elections the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna declared a hartal (general strike).  Small entrepreneurs were threatened with death if they did not close down their business and take their private busses and taxis off the road.  Many did close. Traffic on Kandy’s normally busy commercial streets was limited to a few pedestrians (including Emily and myself).  We had to stay over an extra day, but finally hitched a ride back to Colombo with an Indian film crew that had been shooting in Kandy.  Despite occasional violence, Sri Lanka remains a favorite venue for low budget Indian films, our companions explained.

December, 1988

During October and November, we were mostly away from the island, visiting India and New Zealand.  This first excerpt describes our return to Colombo from New Zealand and Singapore on November 25, 1988.

It seemed like another routine arrival at Katunayake International Airport.  The aircraft cabin lights blinked on.  Sleepy passengers, almost all Sri Lankan, stirred.  There was an announcement about the temperature at Colombo – a cool 78 degrees Fahrenheit – and availability of transport.  We disembarked for the first time at a shiny new  terminal rather than the grim concrete and sheet metal temporary building that greeted us on past arrivals.  Few soldiers were in evidence.  Customs clearance was crisp and professional.  Smiling, sari-clad Air Lanka staff were standing by to welcome us home to the island, once justifiably described in tourist brochures as “paradise.”

“Paradise lost” was more descriptive now.  Our taxi driver provided the first intimation of what awaited us.   350 rupees would be the fare to Colombo, rather than the usual 275 or 300, he insisted.  “Curfew;  … petrol shortage” was the explanation, given in broken English.   “No problem”  (a favorite Sri Lankan expression) he assured us, however.    Our airline ticket receipts would serve as curfew passes.

It is an eerie experience to drive through a darkened city, usually teeming with activity, that has become a ghost town.  Some street lamps were lit, but shops were dark and barricaded.  An occasional stray dog, armed sentry or vehicle were the only visible life. During a curfew, vehicles an the road and individuals outside of’ their homes must have passes.  Those without passes can be detained or, at the discretion of  armed sentries and patrols, shot on sight.  Street people who have no homes are, apparently, unofficial exceptions.  I wondered if some “street people” were Janatha Vimukti Peramuna guerillas in disguise.

Curfews (the present one is from 11 PM to 4 AM) do have one beneficial effect, there is no traffic congestion.  Our passage to the heart of Colombo was swift. Ticket receipts were accepted as passes without question at four checkpoints, including two on Galle Road between the downtown area and,  Kolupitiya, our home district.  Contrasted with our experiences of rigorous searches by Indian Peace Keeping Force soldiers in the North, checking seemed desultory.

Home was an oasis of normalcy.  Our housekeeper, restored to good health after a mysterious stabbing that incapacitated her for several weeks, greeted us with smiles and  hot tea.  She had stayed late to be on hand for our arrival.  Our rooms were immaculate and undisturbed.  There were clean sheets on the bed, fresh flower arrangements in the living and dining rooms, a pitcher of freshly boiled water in the bathroom.  The refrigerator was well stocked, including freshly prepared buffalo curd, green grahams and papaya for our breakfast.

Next morning, anecdotes from household staff members and friends, plus newspaper articles saved during our trip, began to sharpen the previous night’s impressions into a clearer, though incomplete picture of the situation in Sri Lanka’s capital.  During our absence, the influence of shadowy Janatha Vimukti Peramuna  guerilla cadres had grown, while that of President J.H. Jayewardene’s government shrunk.  Problems that previously existed only in  outlying areas – Jaffna in the North,  Matara and Galle in the South – had spread to the Colombo suburbs of Dehiwala and Nugegoda.  Now bus service to the city’s outskirts is sporadic and under army escort.  Power transformers have been blown. (Any one seen to be tampering with a power transformer can be shot on sight, this morning’s Sri Lanka Daily News warned.) Electricity and water supplies are sporadic or unavailable.

As usual , the poor and powerless suffer most.  There are queues for food and water,  long waits for crowded busses; threats and  intimidation from self-proclaimed JVP cadres (some of whom may just be ordinary thugs). People are afraid to report JVP activity to the police.  It is  rumored that the lower ranks have been infiltrated and that JVP sympathizers on the force now finger informants for execution.

Two weeks ago, Sri Lanka’s resurgent tourist industry suffered a crippling blow.  Power shortages, food shortages and strikes caused a jittery government to evacuate tourists from resort hotels in several formerly “safe” areas.  At one hotel, the staff refused to prepare any food.  In another, they would only serve Sri Lankan food (this would not have been a hardship for us, but was unlikely to boost the vacation trade).   Lack of petrol stranded a tourist bus on the oceanfront highway south of Colombo for several hours.  For fleeing vacationers, conditions at the airport were, in the words of one observer, “chaotic.”

As we walked to our tennis club that afternoon, it seemed hard to believe these reports.  Street traffic was normal for a Saturday  at 4:00 PM.  Both government and private busses were in evidence.  The number of soldiers and police on the streets seemed, if anything,  less than usual.  Courts were alive with their regular population of Sri Lankans, expatriates and ball-pickers (ballboys).  Competition was keen and conversation was unexceptional.  I wondered how close to the end it was before normal  play was affected at Saigon’s popular tennis spot, Le Cercle Française.

Later, I did note one striking difference in Colombo’s downtown shopping district, normally a favorite tourist destination.  Not a single Caucasian face, other than my own, was to be seen.

  • §§

We had planned to spend our final days in Sri Lanka entertaining friends and making nostalgic visits to favorite spots in the city, with perhaps a trip to Galle or Trincomalee, but our plans had to be curtailed.  On our last evening in Colombo, however, we invited two of our closest friends to a favorite dinner spot, the Meridien Hotel’s elegant rooftop French restaurant, overlooking Galle Face Green and the ocean.  The city looked much the same as always, conveying the illusion of normalcy.  Food, wine and service were excellent, but there were only two other couples dining and the meal ended early.  Curfew had been moved to 9:00 PM.

By now, those leaving Sri Lanka tried to book hotel rooms close to the airport on the day before their departure.  This reduced chances that a disturbance, general strike or day-long curfew would result in a missed flight, with the risk of long delays before being able to book another.  Our choice was Brown’s Beach, one of the first resort hotels built in anticipation of a tourist boom.  Sitting over drinks in the vacant cocktail lounge, we could look out over the empty beach, lighted by Tiki Torches,  and see the lagoon which, this last evening, was illuminated by a nearly full moon.  We did not, however, feel like honeymooners.   Our feelings were a combination of sadness, anxiety and guilt at leaving our friends.  In the dining room, also overlooking the beach,  tables were set for more than 100 guests,  but there were only three others.  In our room, mosquito coils and netting had taken the place of air conditioning.

The following afternoon, following an uneventful trip, we were in Hong Kong.  I was surprised to experience a palpable lightening of tension, tension I had not realized I was carrying, at the absence of curfews, security guards, searches and newspaper reports of daily killings.  Entering a store, I instinctively opened my bag to be inspected for weapons or bombs, but there was no inspector.  We were safe.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the many Sri Lankans who have become friends and colleagues during the past year.   They still face an unsafe, uncertain future.

Please remember Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans in your prayers.

END NOTES

1 = This paper appears in Tissa Jayatilaka, ed., Excursions and Explorations:Cultural Encounters Between Sri Lanka and the United States. Colombo: United States Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, 2002.

2 =  Lamp posting was form of execution used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.  Individuals who have occurred LTTE’s wrath were tied to a lamppost and shot dead.   Often a notice would be posted describing the dead person’s offence or perhaps simply describing them as a “Traitor to the Tamil People.”

3 = In July of 1987, Sri Lanka’s government, under some duress, agreed to accept a “Peace Keeping Force” of the Indian army on the Island to pacify the Northern and Eastern Regions.  By early 1988, this force had grown to 50,000 soldiers or more.  A few Sri Lankans welcomed this incursion, which made it possible to redeploy Sri Lankan army forces against southern insurgents, but many more viewed the Indians as an army of occupation.

4 =  Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had lost her husband,  movie actor-politician Vijaya Kumaratunga, to a JVP assassin’s bullet earlier in the year.  After several years in London, she rejoined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party returned to active politics.  She is now Executive President of Sri Lanka.

**** ****

  John Richardson is Professor of International Development and Applied Systems Analysis at American University’s School of International Service, located in Washington, D.C.   Since 1991, he has also served as Director of Doctoral Studies.  In 1988 he accepted a visiting appointment as Professor in Colombo University’s International Relations Program, which the School of International Service had helped to organize.  When John and his wife, American History Professor Emily Richardson, arrived at #5 Bagatelle Terrace, in Colombo’s Kollupitya District for a one year stay it was their second visit to the Island.  They had spent a three-week working honeymoon in Colombo and Kandy the previous July.  During his stay, John kept a daily journal, which provided material for periodic four page letters that he mailed home to relatives and friends. The recounting which follows is excerpted from his letters, with some editing and revision.

Since 1988, John has written extensively on Sri Lanka.  He is presently completing a book about the political economy of violent conflict in the island  from 1948 through 1988.  He visits almost every year and serves as a director of the International Center for Ethnic Studies, based in Colombo and Kandy.

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Filed under atrocities, authoritarian regimes, communal relations, governance, historical interpretation, island economy, JVP, life stories, LTTE, politIcal discourse, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, terrorism, tolerance, transport and communications, travelogue, unusual people, vengeance, war reportage

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