28 April 2010 - Colombo, Sri Lanka.
At 5pm I awoke from my jetlag induced near-coma and hit the streets. A local man named something that sounds like “Jack” walked alongside me and explained how everything is closed because it’s a Buddhist holiday. He insisted I see the big elephant ceremony and the next thing you know [bxA] we were crawling into 3-wheel motor tuk tuk. Our first stop was a super funky cool Hindu temple.
I had no camera because mine got ‘blessed’ during Thailand’s Songkran water festival a couple of weeks ago. Jack to the rescue: thirty minutes and forty bucks later, I became the proud new owner of a terribly fake totally dodgy Sony imposter digital camera/MP3/video/gaming device.28 April 2010 - Colombo, Sri Lanka. Man in dodgy camera shop in street market.
As we sped around Colombo Jack repeatedly assured me that things are safe now, there is no more fighting. Jack’s skin is dark with the wrinkles, pits and crevices of a well worn life. His teeth are spaced and rotting with one side tooth sticking straight out of his mouth.
I thought about Lebanon where no one will ever tell you you’re safe. They also won’t tell you you’re in danger. They’ll just say there may be trouble. On the taxi ride from the Colombo airport I spotted a gunman in a tower guarding the port - his rifle was positioned to fire. There are lots of military checkpoints, but it feels pretty calm.
Jack pointed to a building he said was a very famous. His English is fluent but with a thick accent from which I could discern only the occasional word. He acted out a person strapping explosives around the chest and I understood “bomb” and “many people died” and when he pointed to new construction I understood “rebuilding.”
I asked, “When was that?”
He assured as though it were ancient history that it was last year. There is no more fighting, Sri Lanka it is safe, very safe…last year there were no tourists in Sri Lanka but it is all safe now.
I said it is a lovely country and he beamed.
We swerved around a few more streets and he asked me how things are in Thailand. I said “good – oh, I mean, you know, they’re fighting but that’s in Bangkok, I live in Phuket.”
He knowingly said yes ‘they say don’t go to Thailand right now because of the fighting.”
“Yes, yes,” I agreed. I guess they do say that.
He got excited, “Yes, yes, everyone fights because fighting makes the money!” He motioned wildly with his dark dry hands, one finger mangled in an entirely wrong direction, “If there were no fights there would be no money!”
I pondered for a bit about fighting and the safety of things. Derek recently noted the travel warnings not to go to Thailand because of the fighting. Derek lives in Beirut, Lebanon which has a US State Department permanent warning not to travel there under any circumstance. It was his idea to meet up in Sri Lanka.
Then there’s the US, where we don’t have civil war, but we do have a bunch of relatively privileged educated people turning political acrimony into sport. Jack the Sri Lankan is right: it is about the money. Fox News is making a fortune off of hyperbolic hateful intolerance. Yeah, the left is no better, but I only hear about Glenn Beck these days.
28 April 2010 - Colombo, Sri Lanka. Buddhas under Buddha tree.
I wonder what the Buddha thinks about all this.