documentaries I've been involved in have had something
of a predestined structure. But this experience feels
like a genuine journey, full of surprises, both horrific
was on my way to a meeting when I got a phone call that
changed my plans. A young journalist named King, who had
been giving me some advice on my story, rang me and in
a calm voice said, "Joe, there's been some kind of bomb
blast. You might want to check it out."
I had no idea what I'd find, but the low-key tone of King's
voice made me think it must be a small incident or a hoax.
In fact it was a small incident, but only in the universe
of relativity that is Sri Lanka.
I pulled up in a taxi at the address King gave me on Chitra
Lane. There was a big crowd and an eerie calm that reminded
me of the movie Crash. I had to navigate past a police
line and about a hundred bystanders. To give the scene
an "in the moment" feeling, I was rolling tape as I walked.
I stopped in an area with a few photographers and did
a 360û pan with the camera.
the viewfinder, I realized that I was looking at what
appeared to be a separated hand. Then, a few feet away,
several fingers. In another place, a leg, and most disturbing,
a completely severed but fully intact head of a man in
his early 20s with a mustache.
The incident could have been much worse. Police had somehow
become suspicious of the suicide bomber, who was trying
to demolish the motorcade of the Sri Lankan prime minister,
and had given chase. Encircled, he detonated a bomb taped
to his body, causing random carnage. A policeman on a
bicycle was wounded by shrapnel. About half a dozen cars
were totaled. A humble storefront had been pierced by
small slices of bomb shrapnel. Only the window of the
shop needed to be replaced, but, tragically, the owner
of the shop was hit in the chest and later died. All told,
six people were killed and two dozen injured.
atmosphere at the bomb site was one of sad resignation.
No one seemed shocked, not even the small children who
looked on with their parents.
in my hotel room, I sat staring at my shoes -- vintage
1960s wing tips from a thrift store in Berkeley. Now,
the fact that I had been standing in a sea of body parts
in Colombo a few hours back started to sink into my psyche.
I considered tossing the shoes but decided against it.
I still had to do my interview with the president, and
it's always difficult to find size-12 dress shoes. Instead,
I washed off the remnants of the carnage in a bidet in
my hotel bathroom.