Thursday, October 1, 2015

Landscapes in Transition

My Fulbright project takes a broad view of landscapes in transition around Sri Lanka. Landing in Jaffna yesterday it was plain to see how this city is transitioning. 
When I visited here at the beginning of 2013 I was struck by the energy I felt all around. People on bikes and motorcycles everywhere, the cacophony of horns on the road, people rushing and business seemingly going on everywhere. Jaffna was like but also unlike the rest of Sri Lanka. But there were visible scars of war, bombed out buildings, single walls with shell scars, streets in disrepair. 

Most of that is gone now. There are still canals with awful stagnant water, piles of unexpected garbage, cow dung and dog shit on the sides of the road. But there is also building. infrastructure improvement, and more paved roads. Gone are most of the visible scars of war. There are larger and newer cars around, and when you stop to look, some very modern and large homes. So in addition to building there are signs of wealth that were not so obvious before. 

Large office buildings, the reconstructed Dutch Fort, and perhaps above all the rebuilt railroad station stand out in my mind. During one of my many early morning walks in. 2013 I happened upon a no-mans-land that was cleared of vegetation on either side. I was told later by my host that it had been the railroad station, one of the busiest in Sri Lanka, now not even a ruin, just cleared away. Mr. Gregory told me despondently that there was talk of rebuilding. But his tone of voiced led me to believe it would never come true. 

There's still lots more that needs to "come true" in Jaffna, but from a foreigner's viewpoint it's amazing that we could come here at all. Last year it was closed off to outsiders. The elections last January, followed by a new government put in place just a couple of months ago, are creating a stronger environment for reconciliation, six years after the end of the civil war. These are all very positive things that we hope will continue. Meanwhile, on a smaller more personal note, I am able to get wifi in the very humble guest house I'm staying at. An impossibility just two years ago when only one place in town had a connection. 

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