Frontline World

Sri Lanka - Living With Terror



INDEX

THE STORY
Synopsis of "Living with Terror"

REPORTER'S DIARY
34 days in Sri Lanka

THE MAKING OF A SUICIDE BOMBER
Interview and Analysis

A LONELY WARRIOR FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Profile of Rajan Hoole

FIGHTING TERROR WITH PAINT BRUSHES
Slideshow

ANIL'S GHOST BY MICHAEL ONDAATJE
Excerpt from the Novel

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sri Lanka News and Information

MAP

   

The day after video journalist Joe Rubin, a Pew Fellow in International Journalism, landed in Sri Lanka, a suicide bomber attempted to kill Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. Rubin immediately emailed his editors at FRONTLINE/World, recounting the experience, the emotions, and the details.

Here's a peek into Rubin's email diary, as he encounters life in a paradoxical place: the incredibly beautiful, and incredibly violent, world of Sri Lanka.

Reporter

Statue of Buddha



Oct. 28, 2001

Landing in Colombo, I felt more than a little apprehensive. Three months back, the airport had been attacked by Tamil Tiger terrorists. Three passenger jumbo jets were blown up, along with much of the Sri Lankan air force. Dozens of soldiers died, and confused passengers fled into residential areas surrounding the airport in the predawn hours.

Before we were allowed out of our seats, we were sprayed by the flight attendant with some kind of pesticide, allegedly required by the World Health Organization. As I stumbled off the plane into the muggy subtropical air, I wondered if I'd ever get enough of a handle on this place to tell a coherent story.

The airport was filled with soldiers and a couple of empty "duty-free" shops that wouldn't pass as bodegas in Brooklyn. I'd been told that you couldn't really feel the war in Colombo. But, as my taxi passed checkpoint after checkpoint and giant statues of Buddha encased in bulletproof Plexiglas, I begged to differ.

DoormanThe next morning, I felt quite a bit better, waking up in the somewhat faded but nonetheless splendid colonial hotel called the "Galle Face." It is perched right on the Indian Ocean, has immense ballrooms, a gorgeous entry, sweeping staircases lined with red carpets, old-fashioned hand-operated elevators, and a picturesque staff (the doorman's been working there for 60 years). You take meals and tea in a courtyard nestled a few feet from crashing waves. Not bad for $35 a night. The hotel is almost completely empty now, following Sept. 11, the airport attack here.

From my room, I look out at the Galle Green. Think of New York City's Battery Park. And I mean that quite literally. It's an immense expanse that runs along the water, and in the background stands Colombo's only skyscraper, The World Trade Center. Twice, the towers have been attacked by suicide bombers. They are only 37 stories high, but that is towering here, and they are in many ways the spitting image of their former twins in New York.

Walking around the Galle Green was a real treat. Hundreds of residents flocked to the park to fly kites and take in the sunset. It was a remarkably welcoming crowd. An old man grabbed me by the arm and said, in broken English, "Many nations, one world. You are welcome here, sir!"

It was a very easy scene to photograph. People didn't pay me too much mind, so I took dozens of close-up shots of kids playing in the waves, an old man flying a kite, and people buying snacks of shredded coconuts and shrimp cakes. And all this with those two towers looming in the background. The scene reminded me of happy Sundays I'd spent in Battery Park.

This is the paradox of Sri Lanka I'd heard about: on the one hand, turbulent and violent; on the other hand, welcoming and beautiful. All paradoxes aside, I was glad as hell to be here

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Producer: Angela Morgenstern; Designed by: Susan Harris, Fluent Studios; see full web credits.

 

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