I’m restless. I have not been able to sleep in a while. My beautiful Sri Lanka, the place that I have lived and loved and adored for as long as I remember, is dying. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
My beautiful Sri Lanka. The place that I have wanted to visit over and over again in my dreams, the name that calls out to me no matter where I am on this earth, the land that I and 20 million other people call home, is rotting away.
It shatters me, and kills me inside to see my children being destroyed like this. It burns from within that my women are torn apart like this. My mothers and fathers are on the streets screaming and batting their chests and tearing their hair out for justice for crimes too putrid and beyond the grasping of a sane mind. My brothers are hurt and silenced. My sisters are soulless, voiceless and hopeless. My daughters are aching over after night duty at the slaughter house and my sons are walking corpses sold out in the flesh market.
My beautiful Sri Lanka is unravelling. She is breaking at the seams and falling apart, and I am merely watching.
Pictures of that sunny Saturday morning blink and make noise inside my mind like those ancient film screening equipment. The ones that spit out the ‘putter putter’ noise of a film reel rolling into place. I’m on the beach. The waves gently wash over the worn out, hungover coast after a wild Friday night. The sky is soothing, and towards the right of the horizon, I see a man. A faceless stranger. He is with a boy. The boy is about 13 years, skinny for his height, lanky and he is shirtless. They are holding hands and walking on the beach to my right. I watch this unlikely pair (out of curiosity or maybe I was meant to see this ) because something tells me that they are not related, the man is not his father and the boy is not his son. The man takes his shirt off, and hangs it over his shoulder. And gently puts his arm around the boy’s waist and pulls him close, the way my lovers do sometimes, and continues treading the edge of the sea.
My heart sinks. It clenches and releases a wave of emotions that crawl through my veins, under my skin and I am disgusted. I want to rush at the man and kick him with my feet. I want to rub sand on his eyes. I want to take pictures and take it to the Mount Lavinia Police. I-
My heart is breaking but I am only watching.
I’m as guilty as the monster infront of me.
I am walking on the road after work. I see a woman and a little girl aged maybe 12, the woman strutting to and fro on side of the road. It is not her I notice, it is the girl. She has two braids falling down either shoulder, and she is wearing a denim skirt. She sits, stands up, runs near a shop and taps on the glass of the nearby kottu stand, the same way I sometimes tap on a fishing bowl to make the fishes notice me. The woman when I now look at her, is wearing heavy make-up and a skinny, and is shuffling her feet impatiently as though she was waiting for something. Or someone.
I sicken me. I come home and stick my finger down my throat and retch in the hope that the I am cleansed of what I saw. No – what I watched and did nothing to stop.
I had thought I was living in paradise. My travels within the island were my proof. Beautiful beaches, lengthy walks in the jungle, warm people and food worth dying for.
But I am living a lie, and this is hell on earth.
Veiled behind our beauty, we camouflage our flaws. The parents of these children encourage it, their neighbours overlook it, our law selectively avoids it and you and I look away. The media pulls a fraction of it out, occasionally when someone gets killed, and after the hype fades we hear nothing of it. What about the ones that don’t get noticed?
What about her? She is carrying both her sibling and child inside her because her father destroyed her.
We are Buddhists and Muslims and Christians and Hindus. We call ourselves democratic socialist something something. We export tea. We bring tourists in a measly attempt to bring some dollars in, to make money for our little country like eager parents trying to feed their children.
But what about our children?
The ones that are wrenched out of their childhood and thrown into perverse adult fantasies. The ones who don’t understand why it is happening to them. The ones who walk among us like soulless corpses.
What about the ones who are still stuck? What about the boy at the beach and the girl with the two braids?
We could have/ should have / might have / probably / hopefully have done something by now. Surely. As a nation we ought to be stronger. We ought to care more.
No, I am not talking about the ones who comment on facebook about how horrible this is, or the media that is trying to unearth this, or the President who is trying to enforce law, or the people who are on the streets petitioning.
I’m talking about us as humans with a heart that beats and a brain that works. Where have we gone wrong? What is it that we are not teaching in our Education Ministry approved syllabuses that is not doing the trick? What are our parents not teaching our kids? (perhaps banning porn and short skirts might help?) The rapists and murderous of seya, what have their parents not taught them? The workers at Green Cabin, what were they not given training in?
Or is it that people are inherently evil? And that there are cold, dark and soulless creatures who wear a sheep skin to hide among the rest of us and that there is no saving them?
The girl in the picture is untitled / unknown but she is real. She is our child. Our daughter. Our sister. Our baby.
The picture you see is from Emerge Lanka Foundation. They are a non-profit organization that helps young girls who are victims of abuse get back on their feet. Shunned from society and held back from education, these girls don’t have the confidence or the resources to live a normal life. As survivors of rape and incest, the strength that takes them to stand up against their perpetrators, most of the time their own fathers and to have faith in their own strength to rise from their tortured past is a massive step for them. They are torn and battered in ways that you and I cannot imagine. Emerge Lanka wants to restore hope through projects like ‘beads to business’ where they help the girls discover what it feels like to be alive and in control of their own lives, to be financially stable and to learn to live again. Every piece of jewelry is as unique as the girl who made it. Each piece of bright metal and plastic are strung together in the hopes that life becomes beautiful in the end.
If you wish to help them out in anyway, please visit their website
A special thank you goes out to Brandon Ingram whose book ‘The Fairy Dance’ left me shaken and inspired enough to cough up the above mess. If you are interested in literature that explores topic of child sex tourism, you know where to look. But fair warning, you might not be ready for reality as raw and brutal as this.
Parts of this article was featured in Ceylon Today column ‘Diary of the Downtrodden’ written by Cassandra Doole found at ‘Where have we gone wrong?’