Sri Lanka through RUAH's eyes
Lankawata mama adarai
DEPARTURE: I love Sri Lanka. I already miss Sri Lanka. I have been in
Sri Lanka for eight months and planned to be here for another four. But
this morning I received news that I must leave the country in two weeks.
My post-graduate degree program from an American university was meant
to take place in Sri Lanka over the entire year of 2006 - as my 20
fellow American and two fellow Sri Lankan students completed our
research for a degree in Sustainable Development and worked alongside
However, this morning we found out that our university has decided
that to continue the program in Sri Lanka poses too much of a risk to
the students and liability to the university.
SADLY MISSED: Lassana Lankawa
Instead, we all must leave the country within two weeks. We have the
option to relocate where we choose and then reconvene in the US for a
final seminar at the end of December.
With so many options to choose from and only a couple of days to make
a decision, I first made the decision to go to India for one month for
an advanced yoga teacher training program while I write my graduate
However, after contacting my family and hearing the news that my
maternal grandmother is in hospital in critical condition, I have
decided to return to New York to be with my family.
This past Saturday, I was thrilled to return to Colombo after a
week's vacation in India. I had attended a wedding in Bangalore and
while the experience was beautiful and inspiring, I was surprised at how
much I missed Sri Lankan people, culture, language and food after only a
While in India, I realized how much I had left to do during my
remaining months here. I was hoping to explore more of the magnificent
scenery of this ecologically diverse country, find a meditation and yoga
centre, try new restaurants, learn to cook Sri Lankan cuisine, read more
Sri Lankan literature, learn some Tamil and improve my Sinhala
I even had dreams of having a cameo on a Sri Lankan tele-drama,
singing a song on "Superstar," being featured in a magazine or start
writing a book about my experiences here!
These dreams are now lost, at least for now. If it were up to me, I
would stay here and complete my year - and even consider extending my
stay in the country beyond my academic year.
Yet, the decision is not mine to make. The administration and lawyers
from my university have already made up their minds based on their
monitoring of the situation and assessment of the risks involved.
Candidly, their conclusions did not appear out of thin air. The truth
is that the political situation here has the attention of many outside
Sri Lanka. When I informed my family at home about my departure, they
were disappointed for not having the opportunity to come and visit me as
they had hoped.
However, they were also relieved that I would be leaving a country
where each day over the past thirty years has brought grim news of
violence and death perpetrated by all sides.
Even during my recent week in India, people I met could only talk of
Sri Lanka's amazing beauty. Yet, when I asked them if they had visited
or planned to visit -they exclaimed they had no intention in light of
the conflict going on.
I assured people that it is very safe here and that visiting Sri
Lanka would be an experience of a lifetime. My words were in vain when
they told me, "Why visit a country of conflict and bombs when there are
so many other beautiful places with peace to go?"
This situation truly breaks my heart. Regardless of whether one
believes the views of foreigners are an integral part of the development
of Sri Lanka or not - isn't it important that this country be valued for
its assets and appreciated for its beauty rather than have to be known
for the pain and suffering that occurs on a daily basis?
I recall the first day I heard fireworks in the broad daylight -
something that does not happen in the west where fireworks are saved for
My entire class jumped out of their chairs and looked out of the
windows, thinking they had just heard bombs. Our Sri Lankan lecturer
told us to relax and assured us the sounds were those of a celebration.
My classmates and I were anticipating violence, knowing we were in a
country of conflict. These days, I hear explosions all the time - I know
they are only celebrations and barely flinch.
Yet, I wonder - have I too, become immune and numb to the violence,
the bombs and the conflict?
Is accepting that there is suffering in the world and moving on with
our lives the only way to cope with the violence?
I realize that while I am required by my university to leave the
country, my Sri Lankan colleagues, classmates, friends and readers have
no choice but (or wish) to continue their lives here as usual in their
home country near their family and friends.
In the movie, "Hotel Rwanda" there is a crucial scene when all of the
foreigners are evacuated by bus. With tears in their eyes, they depart,
leaving the Rwandans behind in the pouring rain. That moment is so
bitter and portrays the fleeing foreigners as hypocrites who claim to
want to help, yet all too easily.
I realize that my work here is not contributing to the improvement of
society or this situation directly or as a whole.
However, when I think of the accomplishments of my classmates who
have worked on various projects in five different tsunami devastated
villages-and more importantly built strong relationships and bonds with
Sri Lankan friends and host families-I am saddened by this sudden
I had dreamt of leaving Sri Lanka at a time when there was peace all
throughout the country. The pilot of my Sri Lankan Air flight from India
was so positive and kind - welcoming all passengers to his homeland with
many blessings - to a place that he sees as "paradise." I do hope that
Sri Lanka works towards being paradise for all.
Please know that my colleagues and I will miss this country and will
always have a place for Sri Lanka - its people, language, culture and
cuisine - in our hearts for a lifetime.
My Sri Lankan friends have told me that they pray for peace in this
country every day, and I will promise to do the same. As a dear Sri
Lankan friend of mine has told me, "the situation is tense, but not
Special thanks to my readers and the editor of this paper for
inviting me into your lives. Also thank you to all of you whom I have
crossed paths with - especially my dear friends (in particular the Silva
family, Mrs. Rodrigo, Thalpitiya village, Sarvodaya, my American
classmates, Manjula, Amila, Palitha, Kevin, Sam, Dinuka, Himalee and
Wickrama) for your wonderful welcoming and hospitality. God bless you
Await Ruah's New York Diary