Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Love is Blind

I think it's largely the ugliness, anger and corruption in Sri Lanka which stops me being in love with it. You can't be blind to what goes on here. The war, the deep seated racism, the disappearances, brutality, the lack of concern for the North and the East of the country. The corruption in every walk of life.

It's what, for me makes Sri Lanka unloveable. The government's corruption in particular. Where to start? Some small examples: they upped all the minsters' monthly fuel allowance from $2000 - $3000 just before they had to vote on the 2nd reading of the budget, which many in Parliament want to throw out. Strange timing. (This in a country where an average salary would be $100 a month, inflation is at 19%, the cost of living for Joe Blogasinghe is rocketing) Another was a scam whereby Ministers (and I think all MPs) were exempt from paying the 400% import tax on luxury vehicles and some were then selling them on to business people at less than 400% mark up but still at a tidy profit.

Even the former Sri Lankan cricket captain, Marvin Attapathu, complained about the corrupt nepotistic system of selection, whereby favours are given in return for a place in the team for someone's son etc. Thereby also sounding the death knell to his Test career for having spoken out.

Some of the examples are simply laughable, so unsubtle are they. Our ever resourceful president bought his son an Aston Martin on a whim recently..... And not even his salary would cover such an extravagance, nor is it 'family money' To appreciate the true irony of such an unsubtly corrupt gesture, you have to live here and use the roads. There are no motorways, the rds are full of potholes, cows, carts, stray dogs and far too much traffic. I have never gone over 80km/h. Mostly you do 40km/hr. An Aston Martin in Sri Lanka, wd be like owning a race horse on one of the (smaller) Maldivian atolls. I mean the president could have made his point about his status with a Lotus Elan or maybe even an Audi TT. There are only 2 Ferraris in the whole of Sri Lanka. Still that's politics here for you....

Depsite being a democracy and having an independent press, one of the cabinet minsters recently phoned the editor of the most outspoken newspaper with a death threat. They are the stuff of life in Sri Lanka, from firing an employee upwards, it is a national past-time. I have lost count of the number of 'abusive threat' situations I have heard stories of.

The press offices of one of the other newspapers suffered an arson attack for the 2nd time in 2 yrs. Carried out by 10 masked men, who strangely, despite this occurring in a very high security area, and in a city where there are more police and military than white lines on the rd, managed to escape. Impossible unless the police and armed forces were in cahoots....

This is a government which vilifies NGOs, who are spending vast amounts of foreign money to try and sort out the country's problems for them, accuses the UN of collaborating with the LTTE when they import emergency rations for all their staff, which is standard international procedure in volatile regions, accuse Amnesty of using their cricket ball campaign solely to try and destabilise the Sri Lanka cricket team and make them lose. It's a heady mix of megolomania and paranoia all rolled into one.

After living here for a while, time and again you come up against the fact that as a foreigner you are not welcome. On Wed night a bomb was left in a busy shop at evening rush hour time. It exploded killing 17, a civilian attack. Historically and by public statement the targets of the LTTE have always been military and government, this was quite a departure. When a vehicle carrying foreigners went through the area soon after, a 4WD, white NGO vehicle, it was mobbbed by a very angry crowd. The anger you can understand, but why target foreigners? A parent at my son's school who is a security advisor, said this is very common. It doesn't matter what your logo is, UN, diplomat or NGO, you will get mobbed. Seems strange to me, when this civil war has nothing to do with the international community. If anything the latter should be paying it more attention.

Then of course there are my two friends who separately,got taken down side streets in a tuktuk and then had the driver 'demand sex' from them. Both of them dress sensitively, one often even wears Salwar Kameez. Three other people I know have woken up to find a male intruder in their bedroom, another has been stalked, many of us get repeated harassing phonecalls from people and get 'stalked' by phone.

Last week I was meeting M in Colombo for a much needed 'date' one evening and I arrived late, because I got flagged down by a policeman, so of course, in this country of road blocks and check points I stopped. he said , as they always do, "Where are you going?" I told him, he then said "me, Parliament rd" He kept saying this, it was just as I realised that he was telling me he wanted a lift that he opened the door adn got in...... What to do??

Then he said "Japan" I said "no, English" but he kept saying "Japan" I realised he wanted me to take him to Japanese Friendship Rd next to Parliamnet. So I had to go 10 mins out of my way to drop this man off for his shift at a check point opposite parliament. By the time we got there, this policeman in his 50s, was asking me for my phone number and card. I pretended not to understand so he gave me a cheery wave and off I went. I like to persuade myself that he just wanted to arrange a regular lift to his duty spot.

When I told M he was absolutely furious. I was quite surprised. Took him half an hour to calm down. He was outraged that a policeman had arrogantly flagged down a car, because he could, and made a woman alone in a car, at night, drive him to his check point. Of course in the East they do this, the army flag you down and force you to carry them with their guns. you can't refuse, but if an LTTE saw you, you'd be for it. And vice versa. The LTTE do it too. It happened to a driver in my husband's NGO even though the vehicles have stickers saying "No Guns" What are you going to do? Say no??

I must admit I didnt think I had a choice, but as M pointed out if I just drove on, they wouldn't have shot at me! He didn't have a gun, I was in a busy built up area. I guess the fact that he was in uniform lulled me into a false sense of security. And that was how I got attacked 18 yrs ago in a church in Stuttgart, the guy I thought was the caretaker assaulted me, in broad daylight, in a church with several people looking around it. I was upstairs on the balcony looking down, he had a broom and a bunch of keys..... Bingo, fooled me. We found out, having reported it, he didn't work there, he wasn't the verger.

I know, I know, not in love with the place, but still a fool.


Mixer said...

Wipe out the Tamil maggots.problem solved

Ginro said...

Sounds like things have changed for the worse over there.
As a child I lived in Ceylon/SRI Lanka, and it was a lovely place to be.
As an English family we were made to feel very welcome and afforded a great deal of respect, the Tamil people were kindness to a fault - obviously the odd bad apple here and there but every society has them - although for the most part we did live up-country in St Coombs about half an hours drive from Nuwara Eliya. We came away loving the people and the country.
I've often wondered if I ought to take a visit back there sometime, but now I'm not so sure.

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