Friday, March 26, 2004

March 25, 2004 Blog Entry:

Early evening time again, my favorite time of day, here in Sri Lanka as anywhere else on this wide planet made smaller by our technologies that I’ve been blessed to tread dust upon. Cows munch lazily in the field beyond my view, flocks of crows swoop and flit from palm tree to banyan tree, exploding in parabolic skeins of flight, the light softly fades from utter roseglow brilliance to muted silhouettes, anticipating the certain gathering of bright stars in a short while, but no moon as yet to grace us.

Been a hectic, somewhat tense, but most productive couple of weeks, among the most satisfying I’ve had since I arrived In Country at the end of September. The intensity of life, particularly the political life of Sri Lanka, torn by a vicious and brutal civil war for the past 20 years, became even more unstable, more fraught with uncertainty, when a major public rift occurred in the heretofore monolithic command structure of the LTTE under the sole leadership and clenched-fist control for the past twenty years of Supremo Commander Prabhakaran. Not so anymore, A couple of weeks ago, a very powerful war hero, Colonel Karuna, one of the most trusted of Prabhakaran’s allies openly broke away from LTTE control, and made himself a Lord, setting up a separate administrative and military region in the Batticola and Ampara Districts of the Eastern Province, South of where Soraia and I are in Mutur.

Col. Karuna planned and successfully executed many of the Tiger’s most devastating victories over Sri Lankan Government Security Forces as well as the superior-on-paper forces of the Indian Peace Keeping Force, who were driven out of Sri Lanka in disgrace after being soundly defeated by the hit and run tactics of LTTE guerrilla and counter-insurgency warfare, just as we were in Vietnam, just as we currently are being dogged and harassed and bogged down in Iraq. Yes, Virginia, a well-trained, committed guerrilla fighting to the death to kick invaders out of his/her home turf land will hands and arms and legs and feet and eyes and ears down defeat even the most technologically superior fighting force, a lesson the US of A, and most military professionals, seem absolutely incapable to learn for the past near half-century. So, Karuna, who has declared himself along with 6,000 or so very loyal and hard core guerrilla fighters, mostly teeny boppers, has seceded the East from the LTTE of Prabhakaran in the North. He has established the Batticola-Ampara District of Liberation Tigers – ah yep, that’s BADLT. You know, if it weren’t so sad, I might actually guffaw at just how so silly we make it all up on this illusory earthly plane.

Trincomalee District which has a much less number of Tamils, only about 33% compared with 90% in Batticola and Ampara Districts, has remained loyal to Prabhakaran and the North. So the guerrilla armies of the two factions are massing their forces on the boundary of Trincomalee District, the Verugal River, about 40 klicks from us in Mutur. It takes a two – three hour drive to get down to the river border, because of the very primitive, as in bouncy, rough, toss your brains and your guts around like they were in Tom Cruise’s cocktail shaker. Seriously, average speed for much of the journey is under 10 KPH. Soraia and I butt-painfully know because on Monday we drove from Mutur to Vaalachchenai to visit and give support to the Batti Team, who have been under extreme stress the last couple of weeks dealing with the highest pre-election tension throughout Sri Lanka, including a couple of assassinations. We had permission to travel through the LTTE controlled area of Trincomalee, but south of the Verugal River we were on our own. No problem, after crossing the Verugal River demarcating the two lines of opposing bunkers, we were able to cruise down A-15 through mostly coastal marsh plains with no trouble at all. Actually, the road was much better. There was a daunting moment, however, when on the road marching north past us was what I suppose was a Heavy Weapons Platoon, about 40-45 soldiers in full gear, but no steel pots, carrying what I think were four Chinese120 mm mortar tubes with base plates, and a bunch of rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Hadn’t seen any of those in quite a long while. There are also much more evidence of Tiger monuments and a large, quite sad military cemetery just like Arlington or Normandy or Valley Forge or Gettysburg. I was compelled despite my abhorrence and disgust to salute.

Wrote these two poems with all the heightened imagery of war, and preparations for war, which everyone is holding bated breath will not occur. No one wants it, but as a species despite what most people don’t want, it seems that war is what most of our governments and leaders are only able to manifest so readily. Here are the two poems:

Oh a couple of references in the second stanza – a tuk-tuk is the ubiquitous 3-wheeler taxi that is always available when you don’t need one and never available when you do, and the Kacheri is the Town Hall.



a faint, familiar sound
into my consciousness
from long, long ago

I looked up
hairs raised again
on pimpled skin
along back of neck

the Huey
swooped up over
the waving palm trees
behind the Mutur house
stubby mini-guns
menacingly protruding
from either side

after a few ear-splitting moments
right over my craning eyes
it disappeared just behind
the horizon of palm trees
across New Market Street


later while riding
to the Kacheri
in a putt-putting tuk-tuk
I saw in the distance
the gunship leaning forward
over the pristine beauty
of Trincomalee Bay

it reminded me of the terror
from another jungle in another time
and that lovely day of serenity in ‘96
when with Sara I saw a Huey lean over the Pacific
from the splendor of Esalen hot springs

March 21, 2004
Nilaveli, Sri Lanka

Ah yup, last Sunday, Soraia and I with a couple of other ex-pat folks from the INGO community spent a lovely day up at Nilaveli Beach, so my life here certainly ain’t all that bad. On the Saturday evening before, we all had a house party and saw Casablanca and, most enjoyable, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I was most impressed to see in the credits that Leonardo DiCaprio played the mentally retarded brother. What an incredible performance!

I went snorkeling for the first time since the Spring of ’79, when I went to Puerto Rico and saw a barracuda. No ‘cudas here, just lots of dead coral from a typhoon that hit Sri Lanka several years ago and a bunch of “color fish”, what the locals call the many small aquarium species of fish, which is a major export item of the local economy. In about a month I’ll be able to easily get certified to do scuba diving at Nilaveli, one of the things I’ve always wanted to do. Hopefully, after the election the situation shall remain calm, so I can plan some regular visits to both snorkel and scuba-dive. Here’s the other poem:

entrenching tool

from the primitive ferry
crossing the Verugal River
the concertina-wired boundary
between two teeny-bopper armies
teeth-deep in heavy weapons
I look back at the bunker
being relentlessly hardened
and see an entrenching tool
lying in the freshly dug mud
of the verdant river bank

how quaint – about 36 years
since I’ve seen one

I wonder if their bunker
will be any more effective
than ours – probably not

just so sad
so pitiful so
the always
waste of

March 23, 2004
Mutur, Sri Lanka

Let me upload a couple of pics, or several, and sign-off because I’m dragging since I’ve contracted from somewhere a bit of a deep chest cold, mightily affirming that it is neither the onset of rabies or the dengue fever. The heat has begun to get really quite bloody brutal:

One of the many old Brit Gun Positions that ring Trincomalee Harbor from which they were able to successfully thwart the Japanese from making ill-use of Trincomalee Harbor. Someday I'd love to take a small fishing boat and explore some of these old positions more closely.

One of the lighthouses at the entrance to the Inner Harbor

The Mutur Jetty currently being built – ah yup, dat’s my home sweet home, basking, rather broiling, under a wide cloud-filled sky . . . .

Two song-birds which serenaded me most lovely one evening a couple of weeks ago . . .

And a heron that also gave me several moments of delight on the river bank behind the house, especially when it gracefully soared up and away over the jungle bank, which I tried to catch in flight, but missed – it’s etched like so much else in my memory . . .

Later a full moon graced the view from my window at my favorite time of day . . .

Here are a couple of shots from the trip the other day. No I didn’t play Ugly American Tourist with the boy and girl soldiers of the two factions of the LTTE, especially since the newspapers here in Sri Lanka have been full of accusations and speculations that USAID has been influencing the election as well as behind the split in the LTTE.

Here are some Tamil youth playing on one of the typical ferries used to cross rivers. This one is like the one that we used to cross the Verugal River between Trinco and Batti. No bunkers. No teenyboppers with semi-automatic weapons here, thank gods/goddesses; almost like normal life, but if fighting breaks out lots of civilians will be moving north across this river ferry to safety.

This time of year, the canals and streams are filled with this incredible “blue-flame” flower, one of the most mysterious and lovely I’ve been graced to see.

One of the many Hindu Shrines, which dot the landscape, seen through a support of a new bridge being built.

A steel pot still life – pun too unfortunately intended . . .

Dot’s it for this entry. Love each other. Hold each other in the grace of gratitude for how blessed we all are no matter what we experience, as we wend our way through the stars and our joined destinies to “A Better Place To Be . . . “

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