This was mostly a driving day. We did not go very far, but it took forever. The roads are narrow and busy. Traffic lights are rare. But somehow it all works. People bob and weave and pass in inappropriate places because there are no appropriate places. You have to assume there is someone coming at you in your lane at any time. But I must add we haven’t seen a single accident all week.
We stopped at a scenic overlook, oblivious to the huge bee hives hanging from the tree limbs until Prabarth pointed them out. He warned us to speak quietly. Noisy talking angers the bees enough to make them come after you. He spoke from bitter experience, describing the hundreds of stings some of his clients had gotten when the did not listen to him. Always listen to your guide!
Our travel organization always includes a visit to a school or orphanage in their main trips, but this Sri Lanka journey is considered a pre-trip. As we drove Prabarth spotted school children taking a lesson under a shady tree and arranged a spontaneous visit. The kids were so excited. We enjoyed it, too. They sang “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” to us and we sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to them. We were surprised that they also knew "We Shall Overcome." These kids were Tamil - the minority group here. We wondered if this was why this song was part of the curriculum. The school had no electricity and it was dark and hot inside. The kids all wore uniforms which look nice from afar, but close up they were stained and tattered. We resolved to collect some money for school supplies and buy them tomorrow before we leave the country. Prabarth can deliver them next month when he takes another OAT group on that route.
Whenever we drive for an hour or more Prabarth brings up a topic of interest about his country. Certainly the war that was part of his life for 26 years was worth discussing. There are very few signs apparent to us of this war that ended in 2009. The Sinhalese are the native people of Sri Lanka. When the British started tea plantations here, they brought over Tamil people from India who had already worked on such plantations. They settled mostly in the north and everyone lived side by side fairly peacefully for decades. It is not clear to me exactly what caused the war to start. Although the Sinhalese are Buddhist and the Tamils Hindu, that doesn’t seem to be it. The majority Sinhalese passed a law making their language the official one and many Tamils lost leadership positions as a result. Our guide feels that the war could have ended many years before it did, but too many people made too much money selling munitions. The desperate Tamils did more and more desperate things, inventing the suicide bombers that kill and maim so many people all over the world today. Since you can’t tell a Tamil from a Sinhalese by looking at him, they readily infiltrated many parts of the country, blowing up the entrance to the Temple of the Tooth we visited in Kandy. The troubles also spread to India and a Tamil wearing a bomb vest blew up Sanjay Gandhi, son of the former prime minister Indira.
Once the politicians decided that enough was enough, they cracked down on the entire country. Prabarth said that it became difficult to travel since there were checkpoints that invasively searched vehicles and bodies every ten kilometers. As the Tamils retreated north, the current government leadership formed a noose around them. Even when the Tamils offered to surrender, the military agreed and killed them anyway. Thousands of Tamil civilians who had no part in the war were exterminated as the noose tightened. It amounted to ethnic cleansing and today only about 15% of the
Tamil population remains.
After the war the US gave $12 million to Sri Lanka to get the country going again. Prabarth said that only about one million actually made it past the politicians’ pockets and that we should go home and tell our government not to give any more funds until the leadership here changes. Although he is obviously glad that the war is over, he is so disillusioned by the current leadership that he has never voted. The current prime minister has four of his brothers in cabinet positions and numerous more distant relatives in other leadership positions. And so it goes.