Sunday, 25 July 2010

All change, into the heart of poverty.

So it becomes time to move on, it would be too easy to stay, yet strangely overdue. It does become too busy here, I do feel like a hypocrite and my focus is wandering too much. Trincomalee opening to tourists is big news in Sri Lanka, and I don’t mean purely for western tourists. Busloads of Sri Lankans arrive from the central provinces, hoards of youths, lively and loud, clamouring to have photos taken with the tattooed man, trying to take pictures of white women in their bikinis. Some days the beach is flooded with local visitors, most realising a long-standing dream to see the beach at Uppuveli. Unaccessible (or so I’m lead to believe) for 30 years as the war raged. I was also informed that some of the young visiting coming from the interior haven’t been to a beach before. I’m unsure of such rash statements, but their behaviour certainly indicates the visit as a special occasion. (Photo: Fishermen mending nets - Trincomalee beach, Sri Lanka)

Unfortunately the result of the onslaughts is an environmental nightmare. Every morning, especially at the weekends, the beach is littered with plastic bottles, plastic bags and an assortment of glass bottles. Invariably these are from Sri Lankan visitors, rarely they cleaned up, either by the visitors or the staff at the various beachfront establishments. It breaks my heart, the bay is gorgeous but with such an increase in visitors it will soon become just another filthy beach, which foreign tourists will not want to visit. What a crying shame, the war torn, tsunami battered coast desperately needs an injection of money, it needs visitors. But not this sort, this is counter-productive. Countless mornings I’ve walked up and down the immediate stretch of beach to my guesthouse, picking up Arrak and whisky bottles, bags, wrappers and countless plastic water bottles. I’m not the only one either, I’ve noticed another tourist doing the same. Handfuls of broken glass have been picked from the sand. Some is scoured and weatherworn, much of it is clean and sparkly, obviously recently broken and left lying on the open sand. (Photo: Hanging out, at the beach temple men only - Trincomalee, Sri Lanka)

At least the glass bottles, those still intact, seem to be taken away, I assume for recycling. Of the multitude of plastic water bottles, they accumulate, in patches of rough ground, against old buildings, anywhere and everywhere. Within the grounds of guesthouses they are at least collected and disposed of; not by garbage collectors, there appear to be no such luxuries on the island. A few times a week they are simply heaped onto a fire and burnt, acrid fumes wafting through the grounds, the stench a mixture of plastic and rotting food waste. Actually the amount of foodstuffs lasting long enough to burn is limited, as heaps domestic waste is piled behind the buildings the scavengers rummage through. Crows, dogs and even cows vie for the choicest refuse, battling against each other for first choice. The cows came as a surprise to me, I’ve never seen them as scavengers before, pigs yes, but never cows. Here they wander freely, emaciated, dehydrated constantly on the prowl for any source of water, any edible vegetation. (Photo: Bicycle mechanic - Trincomalee town, Sri Lanka)

A poverty stricken coast, the east coast of Sri Lanka can certainly do with an influx of money. How much the local populace benefit is marginal though. Sri Lankan tourists arrive loaded with supplies, consume what they bring, leave the litter and return home. Little, if anything, is actually spent whilst here. Foreign tourists frequent the hotel and guesthouse restaurants, they aren’t locally owned or run. Many of the staff are brought in from other areas, even security men I’ve spoken to are outsiders. So a small number of locals are employed for menial tasks, cleaning, labouring under the mid-day sun. Few visitors spend time within the town of Trinco, few spend much money there. The market is devoid of tourists, small stores are shocked to get foreign custom. It isn’t hard to realise why the Tamil Tigers resorted to the decades of bloodshed, the distribution of wealth and opportunity is grossly unfair. Now the east coast is open the businessmen from the west can resume their plunder of the local economy. ( Photo: Evening rainbow - Uppuveli beach, East coast, Sri Lanka)

There are dozens of Hindu temples in Trinco, sometimes they stand in clusters, often one large temple standing alone. They do have a semblance of the ornate about them, but nothing like those found elsewhere. Even the largest, roof ringed with every Hindu deity imaginable, is lack lustre and dull in comparison to temples in Colombo, Kandy or Nuwara Eliya. It isn’t for lack of decorative features, it isn’t for lack of attendance or care; I believe it to be simply a lack of money. View the gaudily painted temples in other areas, imagine the time and money needed to maintain their glossy sheen. They have neither the time nor money to spend on their temples in the east, so they stand faded and forlorn, but not deserted; far from deserted. Attendance is high, worship reverential, none of your religious hypocrisy seen here. Weeell, almost none! I’ve yet to decipher why some of the local Hindu restaurants are serving beef. It could be ox, probably not Water buffalo (I’ve not seen any of them outside Yala National Park), but I was stunned to be offered it as beef. Whatever the explanation, it isn’t worth eating; it’s stringy with lumps of gristle in, which made me gag when I tried to swallow it. Not a good idea to throw up in the middle of a café, surrounded by locals eating exactly the same dish. (Photo: Crow sheltering from the storm - French Garden guesthouse, Uppuveli, Sri Lanka)

I got talking to a local Tamil guy, who spent five years in prison under the terrorism laws. They live in total segregation while in jail, a sunken cell, little more than one and a half by two metres. He was open about the experience, yet cagey when other people entered the café. He’s still under observation by Naval Intelligence, who still pay him frequent visits. It was tempting to go out with him for a day, not on a guided tour, which is what he offered. I saw it as a chance to dig deeper, allow him to relate more of his experiences. He’d been fighting on the Tamil side, been shot and served his time in jail. He was a more desirable companion than the drunken soldiers who came here the other day. Off duty, they polished off two bottles of spirits in a couple of hours, staggered around for another couple of hours then rode away on motorbikes. It was a real hassle, one recognised me from before, when I’d been coerced into buying a wristband in aid of dead and wounded soldiers. He was insistent I go and sit with them, and I was absolutely refusing, I didn’t give a damn if it caused offence, though was tactful. The guy wouldn’t take no for an answer, but I stood my ground, NO WAY! After another one staggered over, to the tourists rooms, and was trying peoples doors, it got slightly tense. With hindsight he was probably only looking for a toilet, but I fucked him off in no uncertain terms, informing the staff to get him out the way; like now! I was aware that within the group offence had been taken, disgruntled words and arms waving in my direction, but the guesthouse staff were perfect advocates for peace and tranquillity. The situation was diffused, the main guy came over to make sure I had no problem them, with the Sri Lankan army. I wasn’t about to say I disagreed with military occupation, or to liken it to Iraq and Afghanistan, I just shook his hand and assured him there was no problem, satisfied, they dispersed and I breathed a sigh of relief. I’d been waiting for it to kick off, sure they were too drunk to do me any harm, but still tense, waiting for something to happen. Shit, me and authority eh! (Photos: 1] Full moon tropical fantasy; 2] Under alien surveillance on my laptop- French Garden guesthouse, Uppuveli, Sri Lanka)

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