Sunday, 8 August 2010

Passions rising on the Isle of Serendipity.

In Kalkudah, once the army gained control, people were forced from their homes, for the army to occupy the property. To this day not a penny has been paid in compensation, many of these homes stand empty now, victims of the Tsunami. Local Tamils may still own the land, but are prohibited from building new houses, because the land sits within the 200-300 metre from the beach, in which redevelopment is restricted by government decree. As previously stated, only the Singhalese elite, mainly members of Rajapakse’s extended family. This isn’t to say there is no rebuilding by Tamils, some of them, against all odds, are managing to weather the storm. But they are at a definite disadvantage, they are up against the Singhalese big boys, those who have more money and official approval. Tamils struggling to compete are all too aware of the hypocrisy, they do not mind voicing their opinions either. Yet still they struggle, if a small hotel, half a mile from the beach, is the best they can achieve then they will build there. One thing I start to realize, in this area people are starting to speak out, to voice their discontent. (Photos: 1] Child labour; 2] Raising the age of retirement - Kalkudah Village, Tamil East Coast, Sri Lanka)

Large numbers of people are still held in “Refugee Camps”, supposedly awaiting dispersal. Access to these camps isn’t possible, foreign press, officials nor local people are allowed inside the camps. And the local opinion? If there was nothing amiss about the camps, access wouldn’t be a problem. I tend to agree, if you have nothing to hide, why hide it. One official view is that LTTE members and civilian personnel must be differentiated, how they are supposed to determine that I do not know. Questions as to what goes on there, go hand in hand with accusations of war crimes. Officially, the Tamil Tigers are not recognised as anything but terrorists, in this way it wasn’t a war being fought, they are guilty of acts of terrorism and dealt with accordingly. After all, we all know how the western powers deal with terrorists. (Photo: What redevelopment? Long term temporary hut - Kalkudah to Batticaloa Rd, East coast, Sri Lanka)

One area of rebuilding which is very evident is the coastal road, along the east coast. Whilst the war could be blamed for many bridges being destroyed, the tsunami left it largely broken and unusable by most vehicles. Large work forces can be seen labouring all day in the scorching sun. Previously I’ve noted the large numbers of to be found working of road reconstruction, it appears there are also a lot of Chinese forming these chain gangs. Word has it they are Chinese nationals from Chinese prisons. Provided free, by the Chinese government, they are just one aspect of the aid given by china. What better way of washing your hands with large groups of undesirables, a huge money saving programme, pass the cost onto another country. For Sri Lanka it’s also saving money, they only have to feed them, there is no other labour cost. (Photo: Fishermen preparing the nets - Kalkudah beach, East coast, Sri Lanka)

I’d go as far as saying the tsunami was a gift from heaven for those of influence and affluence. Not only did it devastate an unruly population, forcing them to concentrate on the barest necessities of life, it created a huge opportunity for land grabbing. Kalkudah bay is about 15km of absolutely unspoilt golden sand. Now, all the land along the beach front has been fenced off, with regular signs nailed to trees, “PRIVATE PROPERTY – TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.” Normally followed by the name of some property or development group! I fail to believe it was so before the Tsunami, or the ‘victorious’ ending of the war. In fact it’s obviously not the case, the fencing is new concrete posts and barbed wire. The expense of fencing in like this is beyond the means of local people, there has been a concerted program of procurement by the western ‘Big Boys,’ The address’ of the companies are mainly from Colombo, the land stands empty, awaiting development. One spot of land, on which a relative of Rajapakse is about to build a hotel, actually belongs to a doctor, who has fled to Australia. The story goes that he refused to sell the land, threatened with his life he was forced out. Having refused to sell initially, it was no longer an option. Conflicts of interest between politics and commerce mean nothing here, the presidential family mafia holds many ministerial offices and within business have their fingers in many pies. (Photos: Bringing in the catch - Kalkudah beach, East coast, Sri Lanka)

I spent the whole day on the beach, walking and watching the fisherman hauling in their nets. I was amazed to see groups of adolescent lads forming lines to pull in the nets, as I saw later this sight was deceiving. As a means of preparation the lines are pulled in until the actual net arrives at the shore, it is then left until the net drop is finished; once the loop is complete the real haul begins. As the catch becomes concentrated in an ever-decreasing space, the closer to shore it gets, so the load becomes heavier and heavier. In those final moments, struggling to keep the fish from leaping to freedom, pandemonium reigns. Kids rush in the grab escaping fish, men try and hold the surface line high, to prevent them leaping clear, with a cacophony of raised voices, shouted commands or advice add to the confusion. In the mid-section of the net lays a drawstring, panic sets in to pull this closed and entrap the bulk of the catch. It’s mayhem, but interesting to watch! Considering this is done numerous times a day, along the beach, I would have thought a higher degree of organisation would have been attained. By and large the whole process is actually well organized, it’s the excitement at that crucial moment, all control seems to go out the window. I wish I could understand the language, only then could I deduce exactly what’s going on. (Photo: Singhalese holiday home - Kalkudah beach, East coast, Sri Lanka)

After a long time spent watching the fishermen I wanted to have some time to myself, so set off back down the beach to find a private spot for some sunbathing. And then got involved in beaching a fishing boat, I wish I hadn’t, but was glad I did. At least I lent a hand instead of ignoring their laboured attempts to move it an inch at a time, but it was hard work, and I felt my help might not have been much help anyway. Oh well, at least it caused some amusement! Which is exactly the reaction of the fishermen, up and down the beach, at the sight of my nipple ring. Disbelief primarily, they were lost for words, I tried convincing them it wasn’t uncommon in the UK, I’m not sure if they believed me or not. They’d call over others, holding their hands over their eyes or mouths, incredulous I think is the only way to describe their reaction. Bearing in mind they have only just started to learn of a few Colombo men wearing a ring in their ears, it’s hardly surprising. (Photo: Fish Eagle - Kalkudah beach, East coast, Sri Lanka)

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