Shireen sadly had to return to Colombo after a week, but I decided to stay on to quietly wander the streets of Jaffna town. It was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between houses abandoned by those fleeing the war, and houses bombed during the war - both are crumbling, black from decay, and definitely heartrending
. In specific areas of Jaffna however, the endless destruction resulting from the bullets and bombs of warfare is unmistakable - entire streets are demolished beyond repair.
I spent several hours in the Jaffna Public Library, hardly able to believe this beautiful landmark was destroyed in a fire in 1981 by a pro-government mob, then lovingly rebuilt, only to be destroyed in crossfire in 1985. Fortunately, world attention again contributed to the reconstruction of this revered institution during the cease fire of 2002.
Before Shireen left, we removed our shoes and went for a blessing at the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil - one of the most significant Hindu temples in the country. Any expectation of peace and calm was quickly left behind as we rushed from shrine to shrine to experience the cacophonic puja. Now, feeling the need to get away from the hubbub of the commercial centre and the heartbreaking remnants of former battles, I headed not to another kovil but rather to the calm and beauty of Jaffna’s lagoon, where fishermen and birds silently compete for the prawn catch.
I reluctantly left Jaffna after ten days, this time travelling by day bus in order to see the countryside
. I was mesmerized during the entire trip between Jaffna and Killinochi. House after house along the roadside had been bombed, and most were still in a state of disrepair three years after war had ended. Sri Lankan army camps and check-posts were located at regular intervals all along the way, although they did not appear to be impeding regular traffic. In Killinochi itself, once the LTTE administrative capital, young soldiers were still standing guard on every street corner - rather intimidating to the local merchants, to say the least. Although having suffered very heavy damage, Killinochi is gradually being rebuilt, and will be an important stepping stone to Jaffna once the extensive roadworks to the A9 are complete. It is desperately hoped that along with the necessary infrastructure developments, will be a more concentrated effort to decrease the deep misunderstandings still existing between the Tamils in the north and the Sinhalese in the south. But one thing is certain.......everyone is happy to see the end of the war.
Whether in Jaffna itself, on the islands or in the northern parts of the peninsula, Shireen and I couldn’t help but notice hundreds of abandoned houses. Not simple dwellings, but beautiful, elaborate structures that are now sadly crumbling from neglect - and all belonging to Tamils who fled during the war. UNDP officers informed us that at least a third and possibly half of the population of the Jaffna Penninsula escaped. Now that the war has ended, will they return to rebuild their properties? It appears to be doubtful - at least in the foreseeable future, as the north is now suffering from a lack of jobs and a very high inflation rate