Sri Lanka, 2001
Travel stirs things deep within me. Words are an outlet. This is from a series of emails, with all sorts of things carelessly edited out - and some carelessly left in.
Colombo... ("Oh, there was just one more thing..."- remember the tv detective?)
Doesn't matter that you think you're familiar with Asian driving - it's always... interesting. Kerry Anne used the same word to describe her drive to Colombo from the airport too. So many near misses. They could save a lot of white paint by not bothering with lane markers, is my suggestion. The little 3 wheeler motorbike rickshaws are considered fair game for all - they're like crows on Australian roads dodging when cars come through.
Colombo is typical mix of modern and looks-like-it-needs-renovating, and everything has that soaked-in-smog colour. The building next door is 8 floors, with only four finished, so they just left it like that and moved in - looks like about 30 years ago. There's an armed trooper patrolling the seventh floor (there's only bits of an 8th floor). There's a sporting club with immaculate lawns across the road - I think it's cricket ground, not sure - with some slum-looking buildings poked along the water's edge behind it. It's warm! It's who-forgot-the-exhaust-fan-in-the-bathroom humid too. If the city wears drab, nature wears vivid, and the trees have generous sized leaves. It's palms, big leafed trees, and bright red flowers. The birds think they're in a tarzan movie by the sound of things. A pair of crows are sitting two feet from me thru the window preening eachother.
Off to Eastern project on east coast in an hour - 6 hours drive. It's security level is code yellow. That's worse than green but not as bad as red, apparently. I guess if you're under fire it's code brown! There are refugees in this project - they fled the fighting.
I really want to get the story and photos for the mag if I can. I just love doing that. Love yat Some thoughts below
The driver's name is Joseph. (Why are the drivers always called Joseph!) He seems nice.
Q. Is it ok to miss another vehicle by 1 foot
A. Yes, if there''s a bicycle in between. Otherwise you've gone ten inches further than you needed to.
What more can I say? Vehicles here move randomly in any direction - even sideways into you as you pass them. I'm not sure Joseph is nice. I think he has a deathwish. I think he's trying to kill us all.
Rice fields. Ridiculous tangle of jungle ready to swallow up even the telephone poles. Odd shaped mountains plonked at random on flat ground. Monkeys cross the road, wild elephants (how cool is that!!!), contented cattle in town and out, slow motion buffalo. Towns with garages side-by-side that pass as shops crammed with everything. Women in stunning saris. I didn't notice them at all.
7 hours later...
I'm staying in a bungalow in a place with an impossibly long name on the edge of a tropical lagoon. Evening - from my door I can see prawn fishermen with fires on their outrigged canoes casting white nets on glassy lagoon. Mosquito net reminds me I forgot anti-malarials again. Oh well... In the morning frangipani falling outside my front door - I suppose it smells nice? At first light took shots of pink on grey with dark prawning platforms protruding from the grey water. What the hell am I doing up at dawn? Must be jet lag.
The project is amazing. Bombed out buildings, army check points. Yes, ok, it is right in the middle of the war zone. But there's been a cease fire for two weeks, and it's considered bad form to kill overseas visitors. We passed landmines, pressure mines, blown-up buildings, and we moved freely between both sides - govt and tamil tiger (NTTE). Troops everywhere, road blocks. We met families displaced by the war who have been resettled by the project - got some shots there. 80% of everyone in one part of the project have lost a member of the family. One of the staff was abducted some years back, and the project manager had his daughter on a bicycle when a grenade was thrown - he still has shrapnel in his shoulder - daughter ok. The project has made some real impact despite the war... Didn't have time to get spectacular shots, but maybe some nice ones.
Ok, any longer would be .... more boring, huh!
Hail xxx, full of grace. (Sorry, I bet that evokes a sinking feeling from the past....)
I've just had a bath (unusual) and am sitting next to the window as the sun sets over Colombo. I can hear the imam calling the faithful to prayer, but I ain't responding. Probably I'm not in that category. Those big billowy clouds are hanging like a question mark over the indian ocean. The sounds kind of change when the sun goes down. I'm wearing my cool black XX shirt that I was given at the project in Batticaloa - they wore them there because of the war - so they would be recognised. They used to let our staff past even when they blocked the UN & general public. So... what are you wearing? (Sorry, sick mind).
Remember that evening at the beach? I wish I could be back there and talking to you. I like your companionship a lot. It's getting darker outside like the movie's about to start. I wonder what's playing on the streets of Colombo. They don't have twilight in the tropics - just on and off. On the way to the office this morning there was this long, curved, narrow, completely empty street, and a ragged guy with a large crimson wrap on his head asleep on the path, with the light reflecting off the obbled surface - would have made an amazing photo. But if he woke, I think it might have been another heel on his dignity. No photo's worth that, hey.
Ok, so now I'm out at this Club Palm Bay place north of town. I'd rather stay in a local hovel - it's a bit over the top. But if you were here, this would be just fine!! Get to treat you like a lady. It seems to have a half acre swimming pool, immaculate gardens and opulence that suggests cheap local labour (must be at this low price). The inlet wanders around the edges of the resort, and, well, everywhere are palm trees (no surprises) - not neatly planted - but in wild clumps like tins of pencils. Here as everywhere there are these local crows. Crows are like disturbing thoughts and unanswered questions. They seem to gaze at you. You can chase them away easily enough, but you can't stop them from returning. Bit like the overweight Americans at the buffet.
But you should see the beach! Rough-textured sand, local huts under a forest of palms, fishermen, in the shade groups of people bartering over fish not yet ghost-eyed on a hessian bag. Long fish, round fish, big fish. The fishing boats are like Dulux ads - swirls of multi-colours in local designs. High prowed, flat bottomed, bigger-than-you-expect long fishing vessels - drawn up on the beach like parked dragons leaning to one side or the other. I have to find out what time they launch them, and then be glad I carried that bloody big zoom lens all this way. Hope there's surf - with a fast shutter speed I can freeze the drops of water (even in the tropics!). Sometimes I get my photos back and am disappointed. Sometimes pleasantly surprised. ….
I think of your heart beating across the seas. I remember the softness of your skin, and... that smile.
Ok, honestly. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate my performance at not contacting you. Not doing too well, is my theory.
Except that the server has been down since Friday, so I've been unable to get any email happening. Eerie silence from the outside world. Trying to study, but so many distractions. Hey this really attractive english program officer asked me to dance last night - well, some other guy dragged her up and she wanted me to go too - I refused very nicely, but it was nice to be asked. I mean it was just a dance - i'm not getting carried away, and I'm not interested or anything. Maybe she wanted some protection from the other guy? I'm easily flattered & don't get out much, hey. For someone who loves all form of ex
Not much happening, but some interesting people here. I always really hit it off with the Africans (ahh-fri-cahns - try it), particularly the Zambians (Zahm-b-ns) Once you get past their polite exterior, they have the most fantastic sense of humour. The accent is so kind to your ears, too. They think Mugabe is getting a raw deal from the press. A different perspective!(?) We agreed about the bloody-mindedness of Israel & the US, though. Met an interesting guy from wv Canada here called Patrick from North West Territories (20 below zero when he left). He has a beard and with his hair tied back looks like deNiro/Rodrigo in 'the Mission' - same smile. He works with the Indian tribes there - and is involved in fighting pipelines, land rights, etc. He originally went up there with CBS as cameraman, and stayed. His wife is indian and they have 8 children. I think there's 60,000 people in a province bigger than victoria. Open spaces. 3 hours daylight in winter. Caribou, bears and snow, methinks. 500 miles further north and you have the long dark night.
Went for a walk along the beach with Patrick & another Australian (we're all kind of beer-drinking mates) as the sun was sliding away. Warm Indian ocean surf breaks on sandy beach, fishermen fold nets into their boats for morning. The boats all face the ocean, as if anticipating something. Kids with dark bright eyes and uncomplicated smiles, mongrel dogs (rabies here! I nearly got bitten and would have had to have stomach injections - his teeth got my trousers, just pulled my leg away in time), palm forest with traditional houses, black pigs in compounds. Just like this as far up the coast as you can see either way. Tiny sand crabs dance around your feet to their burrows as you walk. Got talking to the local fishermen - with very little english. Some have these great colourful boats with motors, others have small traditional log-tied boats. Then it made sense - someone leases the big boats, then they take a hefty slice of their meagre earnings or catch. I got invited to go out in the boat with them - but it's a 4am launch, so maybe later in the week - or I won't function in the conference. But that's a once in a lifetime thing, hey.
So where are those elusive blue of yours. I haven't seen them since that Tuesday. Hello you. Sometimes I feel you fade in and out like a distant radio station. Your last email was so close, wonder what the next one will be. I'd give anything for a hug right now.
Hey you, be kind to yourself today, ok?
Hey, tonight Patrick organised a Dogrib Nation (the indian tribe in nw Canada) talking circle. It was amazing - each person speaks, as long as they like, but they cannot be interrupted, and you cannot comment on what they say. It's how the tribe make decisions - they keep going until everyone has fully spoken their mind. It would be a powerful way to do a wake. They sometimes use a talking stick - whoever holds the stick has the floor. To hear Sarone talk about his Maasai upbringing, how as children they would sleep in anyone's house in the compound - six to a bed because it was close and warm - how you can't open the container yourself to drink milk (that's greedy), someone had to open it for you, so even drinking milk was communal... Or Jayakumar from very poor parents in India and how his mother would check the other houses, and if there was no smoke it meant they had no food, so she would cook extra... This was a spiritual experience for me tonight. So good to just listen deeply and be heard.
The attachment is that photo of the refugees - I had to cut the resolution back to make it email-able - the faces are clearer than this. I'm not sure how to crop it right - I might zoom in until it's the height of the window. It's not an amazing shot or anything - but I like it because they're obscured. There's a story we're not part of. When I paint I like ob
(to a friend)
How are things at home? XXXX for me is daylight. When she walks out of the room, everything goes dark. Whatever problems I felt we had before don't exist any more. Everyone deserves someone to love them the way she loves me. I worship her.
I'm very fragmented. You know that moment when a cup hits the floor and shatters, and all the pieces that held together move in different directions. All the different me's I'm supposed to be in touch with are moving in different directions, with their own energy, and it's happening in slowness. Like months. All these different parts of me are like different stories with their own plot and characters and energy and I just move between them. I don't know which part wants what any more.
I want/need your friendship, and so I have to disentangle all these other feelings - I realised that after I sent that last email. So I'm doing that - hacking off all these tendrils, withdrawing those feelings.