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August 31, 2006

Creature of habit, or just a booze hound with a taste for trashy music?

I spent the best hours of Sunday night and Monday morning drinking my way through thousands of rupees, cheating at a game of pool with man whose core business is digging up mines so carefully laid in the paddy fields by the forces in this country and trying out some liturgical dancing to Sweet Child O’ Mine with friendly locals that I later realised were prostitutes.

It can be any pub, seedy den, sticky lounge room or dodgy karaoke bar in the world but I’m afraid these three things will never change. I will always drink too much beer. I will always cheat - badly and blatantly - at pool. I will always find a way to have Sweet Child O’ Mine play out across the room, be it a cover band, lame DJ or me hitting the high notes with the help of a microphone together with Axl.

Is it time to change the tune?

Posted by catherine at 8:11 AM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2006

DIY home renovations

I’d rolled myself into the car at 4.30am that morning and, in between valium shut-eye and sugary tea stops, I’d been thinking about what would be waiting for me when I got home.

In the three days since I’d been in Colombo, the army base down the road from my house had started shelling over the top of our roof and into the LTTE controlled area across the lagoon. Our office and house now had big, crude, wet-paint logos on the roof, in the hope that in the throws of an aerial attack the shells will be good enough to be discerning about their target. A curfew had been imposed that would leave just enough time to buy some juicy mangoes from the market in between leaving work and getting home, the phone networks had become no better than two tin cans connected with a piece of string … and I came home to find a sand-bag bunker had been hastily constructed in the corner of my lounge room, leaving the dining table and couch huddled together in the opposite corner of the room.

There’s no more movie nights by the lagoon - some old romantic comedy projected onto a sheet strung between two trees. Half the organisations have sent ex-pats to safer locations and ceased non-essential projects until further notice. You can’t find a single soul, not even a cow, out on the streets after 7pm. The Army have been moved north and replaced with the Special Task Force that come complete with spanking new combat fatigues, army-green goggles and camouflage sprouting from their helmets. New hot tin-roof checkpoints have found them selves a home along the side of the road and now have lines of people clutching their National ID cards winding down the road behind them.

My hands smell like old milk, I’ve found a rogue hair on my chin, my clothes are going mouldy with the first murmurs of the rainy season and still, after nearly three weeks, no access has been granted to the uncleared, rebel controlled areas to distribute aid.

Posted by catherine at 8:03 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2006

I always knew the media was in the business of lacing the facts with a fair amount of half truths, foreign diplomacy and bare faced lies, but this was too much to stomach…

As the fighting in Sri Lanka spread north, I read and watched reports from India, America, Australia, UK and Europe of an LTTE training camp that had been shelled in aerial attacks, killing 61 people.

The truth: A former orphanage that had been converted into a First Aid Training School had been shelled in aerial attacks, killing 61 children.

Come on world, throw me a bone. You’ve gotta give me something. I’m losing hope here.

Posted by catherine at 8:10 AM | Comments (4)

August 11, 2006

these are numb words

I have just returned to work after attending a memorial service for 17 humanitarian workers who were killed in the north of Sri Lanka. They were found lying face down in their office wearing their staff uniforms, with a bullet in the back of each of their heads. But that is only the beginning of why I have been clenching my jaw, balling up my fists and fighting back tears all day.

The heavy fighting in the north east has sent a wave of people heading south away from the trouble. Looking for safety and looking for food and water. Conservative estimates are that up 30 000 people are heading down through Batticaloa by foot. Of course we can’t say for sure because humanitarian access has been blocked for the last week. Agencies are packing trucks with food, water and medical supplies every morning and driving to the checkpoints, only to be turned back. The UN and Red Cross have also been denied access. No assessment of the situation has been done, so we can only assume that inside the borders of the uncleared area is a humanitarian nightmare. Aerial shelling has been almost daily and is moving closer and closer to Batticaloa town. Now supply trucks from Colombo are being detained on their way to the east and one of the two access roads to Batticaloa has been closed.

My staff are scared. The rules have changed. Working for an NGO no longer gives you unspoken protection. They are being stopped while in the field more often, access to our project sites is now a daily obstacle and they are asking for guarantees of safety that I can’t give them.

While hundreds of humanitarian workers stood breathing in humid air somewhere in the east of Sri Lanka holding limp home-made white flags and lighting candles in front of 17 photos, a cow walked through the crowd, crows swooped down on heads, and convey of armored vehicles drove past, machine guns draped lazily over the side.

We can’t control anything. We can’t change anything. And this is not even the worst of what is happening in this world…

Posted by catherine at 9:04 AM | Comments (2)