Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The rarest and most amazing thing

Janet wrote to our friends yesterday that we'd love if they could come to Sri Lanka while we're still here. It's not the first time she or I have written and it's a bit of a mystery why they won't find a way to make the trip. She wrote in her email a truism that we remind ourselves of over and over. Things that we take utterly for granted in our day to day wanderings are utterly exotic from the standpoint of our "normal" life. 

There are plenty of sights and sounds you could expect to see in a travel magazine or on the National Geographic channel. There are also subtle, less obvious sensations. But they are significant, almost gargantuan in their dimensions. I would love to show them to Our friends and I'm sharing one with you here. 

I sauntered over to the pool yesterday at about 3:30, as the cruelest heat of midday began to shimmer away. Raj, the poolman who's taking over for Shadeesh, was busy on duty looking through lists of names and numbers. (Poor Shadeesh is another story-he just had his second surgery yesterday to insert a second plate into his leg where it was fractured almost eight weeks ago on a motorcycle accident). 

First thing Raj tells me as he looks up from his lists, "no lessons next week! New year!" We smile and chat briefly, not much to talk about really, and Raj asks me, "Going to swim sir?" "Yes," I answer. "Towel available?" He smiles and reaches under the desk where the dry folded towels are kept. I smile and get on with it. 

I'm in the pool and pretty quiet. I hadn't felt well the day before or all day yesterday so just something gentle in warm water felt like the best thing. Meanwhile I heard Raj making repeated calls from the list. They were like cold calls, he introduced himself, said a word or two about no lessons during New Years, listened while the person he talked to thanked him or told him she already had heard, hung up and started the next call. It was all in Tamil but the script and the rhythm were easy to follow. 

I wondered as I hung out in the pool, how interesting that he's calling each family. Nothing that strange about it is there? You have each student's emergency number. You use it to call the families. I thought about the kinds of things that could happen to kids at the pool, falling and scraping a knee, feeling sick. Not much else given the strong supervision they're under with the coach (and parents are nearly always there watching). 

Then I thought for a minute about some of the horror stories Thavaraja and others had recounted a day or two ago. Bloodshed, violence, kidnapping, roundups, massacres. All of these were thick on the ground until just seven years ago. This small group of parents, not to mention the children, would have been supremely vulnerable during the killings. They would have made a soft target for abuse. No one was safe. Not in public spaces or in private places. Thavaraja told many stories about incursions into his property in broad daylight. "Impunity" is the word you hear used but it was a lot worse. Brutality, extortion, random violence, perfect disrespect for human rights. No one of any age or gender, wealth or civic stature was immune. And it would have been part of the daily fabric of life. 

So in this new life in Batticaloa, safety, prosaic and not at all exotic, turns out to be rarest and the most amazing thing of all. 

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