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Pointed Path to Peace - Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA | Tuesday, 28 July 2015 | Views [325]

   STUNTEDMIND                                        February 2003

 

SRI LANKAPart I: Potential Partners

By Sandy Powlik

 

I ARRIVED IN COLOMBO at night. Wade told me he would sort out a ride from the airport. He showed up with three men in suits – a driver, a bodyguard, and a tall, lean, bearded man who was the grandson of an ex-Prime Minister. We got into a black suped-up SUV belonging to a casino owner who we joked and earnestly suspected was an arms dealer. “I’ll explain later,” Wade said, “This is not Nepal”.

I met Wade in Nepal at a basic rafting camp. The guy had left Canada with a backpack and $400, ended up working at, owning then selling a bar in Japan, and headed to Nepal with some money and a vision. In Nepal, with a Nepali partner and an Australian partner, they built Adventure Centre Asia (ACA) – a grassroots rafting, trekking and cycling tour company. Deluxe accommodation was a canvas tent, but most slept in nylon tents, usually on a riverbed. Wade had come a couple months earlier to set up ACA in Sri Lanka. Now here we were in Colombo, cruising around with middle-aged Sri Lankan bigwigs, heading to meet Nalin, Wade’s new friend, at his swanky Hilton Apartment. As we entered the elevator, a young pretty blonde Russian girl with a tennis racket joined us and selected the penthouse suite. Evidently, Russian girls are a well-known racquet in Colombo, and many cosmopolitan cities.

Nalin owned several clubs, including the late-hours Boom Club that was especially gracious in its Russian Madams. He just bought four hotels and was going to Moscow next week to buy four helicopters (M-17s) for the military. “I am Tamil,” he told us, and the UAE Embassy house was his, they rented it from him. He was ex-mafia and ex-military; with the ceasefire, he could not legally deal in arms.

This morning, Nalin took Wade to meet the Secretary of Defense, who is the decision-maker for the Minister of Defense, and the bearer of the needed signature to okay the balloon endeavor. ACA has plans to offer hot air balloon rides and he could not have met with the Secretary of Defense without Nalin. “You have to meet A,” Wade told me, “I will introduce you. Also B – I am meeting him tomorrow. Why not come along?” Amrik, the bearded hippy grandson of the ex-Prime Minister, is concerned about the environment and elephants. He introduced Wade to Nalin. These men were connected. They had money and time, and now that the military was less profitable, they were looking for new projects. Wade needed a new partner.

Wade and his Australian business partner, Peter, mandate that ACA have a third and local partner. Wade arrived to discover their third partner was all talk, with no money, no connections, not even a car. Nothing, that is, except enough talk to lure Wade here. Now here, he had to find a third partner, and was suddenly choosing between two large-scale options:  Bored and rich ex-mafia, ex-military types seeking new enterprises; and Maharaja – Sri Lanka’s biggest company, a highly political, huge family-run corporation that owned several TV stations, radio stations and soft drinks (Pepsi). “What do you think I should do?” Wade asked me. On principal, he was anti-corporation, but we were talking about heavy-hitting criminals with guns and helicopters. Pair up with arms traders during an alleged armistice or family-operated Pepsi? In Nepal, the third partner was a nice man he knew Nepal, its rivers and rafting. But, like Wade said, “This is not Nepal.”                                         

 

    STUNTEDMIND                                          April 2003

 

SRI LANKA – Part II:  The Pointed Path To Peace

 

IN THE 12KM between Trincomali and Nilaveli, there are two police checkpoints, a World War II British veterans’ cemetery, a garbage dump that looks to be afire, many old bus stops – one bearing “Lovers Day” and “I Love You” graffiti – numerous brick shacks, and one expansive thatch-roofed shanty refugee camp. It is estimated over a million people are displaced after Sri Lanka’s civil war or “freedom struggle”. Tamils worry that many could see The Tigers (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE), as terrorists and they fear a war on terrorism. Economics are behind the peace agreement: the promise of foreign investment put peace on the table.

Driving down Sri Lanka’s east coast, war seems to be everywhere, touch everything. From Batticaloa, we drive past police training headquarters and more checkpoints, military sites, and automatic weapon-hauling troops running through obstacle courses and ground training. We continue south past bombed out houses and buildings wrought upon by war’s havoc, in between beautiful fields of fertile, arable land and rice paddies. We come across more army posts and armed troops piled into camouflaged trucks and jeeps or riding bicycles with AK47s slung over their shoulders. Every road lined for miles with coiled razor wire and barbed wire fencing. Some areas camouflaged the wire with palms, but camouflage is camouflage, not decoration nor beautification. Imagine everyday going to and from school or work, confined by barbed wire. Afternoon comes and many towns are closed for prayer. Women are garbed in white or black, and children are wearing mauve school uniforms. We are in a land of mosques, beards, beef pastries, and no alcohol. In Oddamavadi, we pass under a giant banner that reads: SADDAM HUSSEIN MUST WIN: SATANIC BUSH MUST PERISH. We are Western non-Muslims in a Muslim area of a non-Western country during a Western War on Terrorism.

We reach the small east coast fishing village of Arugam Bay. Here, corner stores display pictures of Osama Bin Laden and Mecca, and vocalized opinions are that of “Americans bad! Canadians good! Support Sri Lanka!” This often translates into: give me money. There are few tourists, mostly surfers and a few girls. They are not used to Westerners here, and as weeks go by and lingering stares and halted gaits to get and see us females up close up continue, I often feel uneasy.

4:30am I awake to the light switching on then quickly off. Someone is outside the hut. Half asleep, I glance left out the window. A dark face appears in the black night two feet away. “Hey!” I exclaim, and point at him. Not thinking clearly, I clap my hands twice – perhaps in hopes to scare the guy off – nudge my boyfriend next to me and sputter, “Aron! There is a guy at the window!” The guy vanishes, only to reappear in the other window, now gazing at us straight ahead. Aron sees him, gets up, standing 6’3”, he bellows something out – and he was gone.

In the morning, we tell Ranga, the owner, about the incident. Ranga is a kind man, a big man with a big beard and a big belly, always wearing a blue sarong. He is a Tamil in a town of Muslims. He does not interfere. He tells us it is one of two reasons or types of people: first, it could be someone older, a brown sugar addict, “like my neighbor, the guy that always walks around here selling hash, or showing up with surf boards, looking for anything for a quick steal to sell and get cash. He used to be a nice guy, he is my neighbor, but now he is not nice even to his family;” or second, a younger 13-15 year-old kid wanting “to see boobies. Some Muslim kids have never even seen the arms of their mother or sister.” We figure our Peeping Tom was the latter, and though unsettling, at home we do not leave our ground-level windows wide open at night. It is hot here, in this eastern Muslim village, and we are staying in a beach hut for $10 CDN a day, including breakfast, for both of us.

There is a ceasefire, yet the scads of armed forces and razor wire all down the east coast belie it. We hire a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the bank in Pottuvil.  We pass more army barracks with officers armed, ready, watching through the wire. We are told traps are set up in the marshes, and tires are positioned as clues. The horizon consists of bombed out, deserted areas, old war zones that a few survivors have returned to and now somehow inhabit.

In the bank in Pottuvil, two uniformed men with guns stand watch. One in a green uniform goes outside for a moment, AK47 slung over his shoulder. The other one, younger, in a dark mauve uniform, follows suit, only he leaves his automatic weapon on the seat just inside the entrance to the bank. The unmanned weapon, not ten feet away from me, remains in the front entrance of the bank unattended, long enough for me to notice and point it out to my boyfriend, and long enough to have gotten up, grabbed it and held the bank up – before the uniform scurries back inside to grab his weapon. Perhaps he is still in training. 

More stories and photos available at www.lolitastravels.wordpress.com

Much love:-)

Tags: ak47, arugam bay, mafia, mobster, muslim, peace, pottuvil, sri lanka, tamil, trincomali

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