I unlocked the latch and opened the door, stepping out into the small balcony outside my room. Beyond the metal screen, beyond the red dirt path, beyond and the cluster of structures below was the ocean. This was Trincomalee; one of the most strategic ports in Asia that has roused envy in ocean-bound merchants and militia for millennia. They say you could conceal an entire fleet of ships in its bay.
Years of war have left their mark on Trinco. This region, the notorious “East” of Sri Lanka, was the center of conflict and contention between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil opposition. The violence ended three years ago with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers and “peace” established was by the government. But the wounds of the war are not easily healed, especially when unattended, and in Trinco one feels in the midst of a freshly torn city. Street shops are locked up in the day; men and women patrol in military fatigues with hands clasped on automatic rifles; road barricades remain on the streets with big red “STOP” letters reminding us that it hasn’t ended.
Growing up in Israel I was not unaccustomed to militarization but here things felt a little different. There is a heavy feeling in the air that seems to linger over the city. I can’t quite my finger on it, but it evokes memories of dark eyes ablaze and many eyes devoid of the flame…
“Why do you have all these?” I said to the cordial man who was preparing my dinner, pointing to the collection of shrines at the front of the small store. There was a meditating Buddha, his eyes closed lightly with an hand outstretched to the ground; Baby Ganesh was there, his elephant body hovering in between worshippers; to the right the moon cradled a lone star over the city of Meccah, as Muslims in countless rows knelt in submission; at the very end was Jesus Christ, who was gazing down at me from the cross
but the blood at his wrists distracted me. The man’s ruckus laughter startled me. “Because I love all religions,” he said, smiling.
I was so certain that the war naturally polarized the religious communities here that I found myself surprised to hear this man speak. I realize now that I have underestimated the ability of people to respond to the humility, loss, and depravity of war with love and not hatred, aggression and a lust for revenge. This was my wake-up call to look more closely at my assumptions; assumptions that have only now come to the fore.