The Difference after the War Ends

Aug 6, 2015

Sri Lanka is an ancient civilization, dating back 30,000 years. The island off the coast of
India in the Indian Ocean is a mix of many cultures, Sinhalese and Tamil the predominant
ones.  After a recent trip there, it seems amazing the transformation I witnessed.  I first
visited the country back in 1998 when it was in the middle of a brutal civil war that began
in 1983.  You could not travel freely because of the many military checkpoints and
threats of bombs and killings.  People seemed always on edge, always looking over their
shoulders at any passing face.  Was this someone with a bomb?  Was this someone
hiding a weapon?  It was a stressful way to live.

After years of conflict, the civil war ended in 2009.  When you visit the island capital
today—Colombo—you can feel the lightness among the people.  Smiles are more
evident.  Children are playing sports in fields and parents are cheering them on, with no
apparent worries about security or threats.  Colombo seems cleaner and more orderly
than in the war days.  New highways have been completed—even with tolls—to channel
the masses from one side of the city to the other.  There has been so much improvement.

Yet, like any nation, it’s a work in progress.  Among gay Sri Lankans, there is little
freedom as homosexuality remains illegal.  Men tell of police entrapment schemes that
make them reluctant to live their lives.  There is a certain emptiness in their eyes when
they talk about what their lives can be until they are allowed more freedom. Many fear
they can never really live until they go someplace else, until they flee to a more
hospitable, tolerant culture.  It’s a great thing that the military checkpoints are almost
invisible, but if fleeing is the only road to happiness, then there is still so much work to be
done.