North experienced the bombs the guns and the land mines first hand.

images (9)Butterflies have returned to North

The civil war affected the whole country of Sri Lanka in one way or the other, but the North experienced the bombs the guns and the land mines first hand. People suffered. They suffered more than anyone who only felt the horrors of war through the news could ever imagine. They lost friends, family and sometimes their own limbs. They went through unimaginable hardship. Some broke. Others remained strong and moved on in life.
The Travelling Chaos duo travelled to Jaffna twice, and was able to experience what difference two years can make.
In December 2013, Jaffna, was still struggling to get on its feet. Not a single house remained untouched. Most were in the process of being partially built while others had at least 50 bullet holes in them.
But what made me completely speechless with horror was a 10-second exchange I had with one child. We were travelling in our vehicle when we had to stop in front of a row of tiny cottage-like houses when I spotted a little boy about 10-years of age, leaning on a fence, quietly staring at the row of vehicles in front of him. I immediately smiled and waved at him, and he did a peculiar thing.
He first showed me the universal signal for friendship; the thumbs up sign in an inquiring sort of way, and before I could respond he immediately put his thumb down in a thumbs down sign. I was confused, when the Army officer who was accompanying us told me what it was about.
He apparently witnessed the exchange between me and the child, and he said, “He wants to know if you’re a friend or enemy.”
I was confused, obviously, and I asked him what that was about.
“That’s how they were taught to determine if a stranger is a friend or foe. Children of that age were born into the war, and they grew up with the war. They were taught to do that since they were able to walk and talk, and they haven’t yet outgrown it,” he added.
I did not know what to say in response. I immediately turned back to the child and showed him the thumbs up sign, with a smile, to show that I was, indeed, a friend. He didn’t smile. He just nodded all solemnly and ran inside the house.
I realized, then, that although the war is over, the horrible aftermath was not over. It still lives in the minds of those who lived through it. The children who were born into it never knew a pre-war period. They only know war, and post-war. That exchange between myself and that child made me realize that as far as experience goes, I was more of a child than he was, and he might never even get to be one, if the war was too embedded in him. At the very least, he might stop caring at all, if a stranger was a friend or foe.
It is true that life in Jaffna has improved on a colossal scale. However, the horrors are very much alive in the minds of many.
While the horrors of war are still fresh in their minds, some slowly begin to rise and greet the world and to try and rebuild what is left of their future, and there are others who help them do that.
Fits Margosa in Chunnakam, Jaffna is a 19th century refurbished mansion that is possibly one of the only upscale hotels that are available in the North. The staff of Fits Margosa have taken in three children from the same family who were orphaned due to war.
According to one of the staff members, the said child who was at the time underage, was given his daily meals and was taken care of along with his two brothers and grandmother.
“They have spent several years in the Kilinochchi orphanage during the war. And when the war was over, we found their grandmother, who now lives with the youngest child.”
Sugeedran was given a home and his daily meals and the staffers of the hotel have sponsored for his elder brother to pursue his own interest. Sugeedran is now almost 18 and an employee of Fits Margosa while his elder brother followed a Hotel Management course and is currently working at a hotel in Anuradhapura.
Again in 2015, under the rule of the newly changed mint-government, Jaffna maintains its calm and serene environment regardless of many political rumours. One of the key factors, people in Colombo or other parts of the country are still suspicious and afraid of the North, is the language barrier.
Tamil is the predominant language once you pass Anuradhapura and you are left helpless if you are alone roaming around Jaffna without knowing the language. Yes, of course there might be one or two good Samaritans who would help you in a situation but you cannot help but feel a little doubt and fear as a part of the civil war state of mind that is embedded in our minds. Power hungry politicians take advantage of this simple factor to spread propaganda among the public which not only reinforces these fears but also creates a cold war-like situation between the North and the South.
“Even though the war is now over and the governments have changed, the communities are still under a certain amount of anxiety and fear. It is almost like cold war and the civil conflict is still lingering in the back of everyone’s mind,” said one of the people who were seated next to me in a bus to Kankesanthurai. He was on his way to Kachchatheevu for the St. Anthony’s Church Feast as was I.
Alice Kunsi, a 69-year-old mother from Mannar was a first time visitor to Kachchatheevu. She had come for the feast to meet her son. “I am a very ill and suffering from many ailments. So I came all the way from Mannar to get the blessings of St. Anthony before I die. And I wanted to make peace with my God before I go to him,” she said. She was probably one of the many sinners who ventured into the isolated island in search of redemption. And it is undeniably ironic in our prejudiced minds that people come to a place that they believe to be dangerous. Like we said before, places do not make people but people make the places.
There is an ongoing dispute between the Tamil Nadu Government and the Sri Lankan Government regarding fishing rights. Fishermen of both countries tend to cross international maritime borders, sometimes intentionally, to fish which is according to the law is illegal. This feast in Kachchatheevu provides these fishermen the opportunity to visit the island which lies near the maritime borders without any fear of conflict.
Stella, who had come all the way from Tamil Nadu for the third consecutive year said, it is good that people stop fighting at least once a year for the sake of religion. “When I first started attending the feast there were not many devotees. But now the numbers have risen and it is good to see that happening. It is always good to see people joining under our God to pray for him regardless of all the fights and fears,” she said.
There are many eye-catching moments when taking the A9 route. From the view of the magnificent sunset and the sunrise from Elephant Pass to the dilapidated and abandoned houses where people used to live, which bring a dark foreboding feeling to the travellers, Jaffna offers the most unusual experience Sri Lanka has to offer. One of those experiences is the curious case of the yellow butterflies who have taken control of the lush greenery alongside the A9. Despite the insecurities of the communities, the struggles and the fears of the common man as well as his needs and wants of reconciliation through the dark, the butterflies had returned to the North, as a simple symbol of thriving hope.