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April 28, 2006

Not quite War, Not quite Peace....

And it’s just slowly, slowly sliding out of control right before our very eyes.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t seek out the gritty bits of the world - you get enough just walking down the street. But of course I watch the news from time to time, and of course I’ve seen reports of countries seemingly tipping over their own feet and falling face first into civil conflict. But never before have I stood by slack-jawed and seen a country walking straight into it with slow and deliberate steps.

Last Thursday, peace talks were postponed indefinitely. Tuesday saw a suicide attack on the Army Headquarters in Colombo - the first such attack since the cease-fire agreement four years ago. And the night after there was retaliatory aerial and ground shelling in the north-east.

But you can get that information from any website or news hour or radio program…

Tuesday night we got a phone call telling us to pack all our essentials and get ready to leave, no negotiations. I was too busy watching snippets of it unfold on BBC and a trashy reality show called Project Runway to do a thorough job of packing my essentials, so I have to live with a hurriedly packed bag that yields few underpants and toiletries when I open it… I do however have three woolen beanies (essential for the tropics, I think you’ll agree), seven unread books and the entire series of Project Runway.

By early Wednesday morning we’d piled into a vehicle, turned on the air-conditioning, downed some sleepers, waved shameful good-byes out the back window to our local staff and started the ten hours drive to Colombo where we would be ‘relocated’ until further notice…

What is obvious now is that it’s not what makes it to the evening news that you need to worry about… it’s the smaller steps, the sneaky shuffles toward conflict that are the real problem. It’s the increased number of heavily armed troops passing you on the way to the market, it’s the armored vehicles driving down your street in convoy on a Thursday morning, it’s the heavy checking of civilians going to work in the morning, it’s the wide, white eyes of camouflaged boys scouring for mines on the side of the road with crude hooks tied to long sticks, it’s the sound of gun fire and grenades in the distance that you tell yourself is firecrackers, it’s the nervous giggling of staff, it’s the eerie stillness of streets in the middle of the day, it’s the wallpaper of posters and sloppy spray paint of power over crumbling town walls. It’s the unsteady, mid-stride between war and peace.

So while the eye-stinging bars of Colombo spill over with relocated, G&T swilling ex-pats from the north and east, and our normal tsunami projects limp along amidst the increased humanitarian needs of over 40 000 displaced people from the recent attacks, we wait to see where the next step of this country will land.

Posted by catherine at 5:19 PM | Comments (1)

April 4, 2006

One for the ladies

permanent housing beneficiaries3.jpg

I really like this photo, not because it’s a particularly good photo, but because all the women are listening so intently. They are being told that, after community consultation, women may have their names on the deeds of the new houses that we are building for them. You can’t see it in this photo, but the men are off near the bushes messing about, re-tying their sarongs and being indignant about such an absurd suggestion.

When the community voted on whether both men and women should have their names on the deeds of the new houses, the number of widows in the community pushed the vote in favour of the women. Now both names will appear on housing deeds. This one’s for the ladies!

Posted by catherine at 12:44 PM | Comments (1)