Featured image courtesy the Daily Signal
America’s election day is quickly approaching and so writing about something besides the Trumpian phenomenon or Hillary Clinton’s emails or how deeply flawed U.S. democracy is – and there will be a lot of work to do post-election irrespective of who wins on November 8 – seems like a prudent course of action.
But let’s be clear, in the coming years, Americans of all stripes will need to recognize that we can’t take democracy for granted. Sure, our institutions are resilient and resoundingly so. Nonetheless, there is no place for racism, xenophobia, misogyny, et cetera in our political discourse. We have tons of work to do, dear reader; we must remain vigilant. This is important.
Clinton is obviously a deeply blemished candidate, though undoubtedly less blemished than Trump. In the spirit of full disclosure, I won’t be voting for either of them and I’d frankly rather turn to Sri Lanka-related matters at this time. Two very different visitors to Washington in late October are, at least indirectly, driving this piece. I met with them on the same day and both conversations could have carried on indefinitely.
In strange ways, the further away I am from my time living in Sri Lanka, the closer I get to my experience there. The more I appreciate that unique opportunity. The more I realize that doing another several years uninterrupted on the island probably isn’t in the cards for me. The more I think about those thoughts, those feelings, those smells, those sights, those relationships.
The drinks that I could have done without; the meals I shouldn’t have avoided; the passion that went unrequited. Yet, that’s all general stuff. Please join me on this brief journey. Let’s start in Washington and then move back to the island.
That feeling when you’re exhausted and think you can’t read anymore, but you need to finish the Sunday papers, all of them because Monday is coming soon. And if you’re reading the Sunday papers on Monday then that would mean you’re already behind and the week has just started. Who wants to feel behind on a Monday? You know you don’t.
That feeling that you want to ignore “Face the Nation” this week, yet realize you should at least check it out. You’re always left thinking that it should be a one-hour program, though you usually find yourself watching the entire thing.
That feeling you get when people in Washington are talking about the “big changes” in Sri Lanka. You are told about the “significant progress” and how happy we all should be. You are frankly thinking that very few people in general and one woman specifically – a person whom you will forever hold in the highest regard – has a truly nuanced understanding of Sri Lanka in this town.
That feeling when a senior Sri Lankan journalist is in Washington and you meet him for coffee at Union Station. You speak with him for nearly two hours and only leave because you have another commitment. You are basically on the edge of your seat the entire time. What an interesting person, what a pleasure it was to speak with him – if only there had been more time.
That time when you meet someone from the Tamil diaspora in Foggy Bottom. You meet at her hotel and then go to a place nearby. You don’t know what to expect, although there is obviously an unanticipated and subtle charm to her. How great that was, and what fun the next meetup will be.
And then you return to the time you spent – all that time – sweating it out on the island.
The final years of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reign. Those passport checks at Omanthai. Rushing out to use the bathroom at Omanthai and always thinking that you were the only one who seemed to need to. The times when you know your phone is tapped and it could not be more obvious. Those long conversations in Jaffna. Screaming at tuk-tuk drivers. Feeling guilty about screaming at tuk-tuk drivers. Finally…finally being able to eat with one hand, and doing it confidently. Learning to love to eat with one hand. Wishing cigarettes weren’t sold as singles because then there would be no guilt the next day, and because then you would be able to breathe the next day. Wondering how to ensure that arrack is more readily available in the U.S.
Spending so much time in an office and usually enjoying it. Understanding that the war was over, yet feeling like you were invited, that you got a special invitation, a front row seat in some ways, to a conflict that continues to burn. Remembering that you were quite literally in a cocoon of Tamil and feeling embarrassed, truly embarrassed that you learned almost none of the language.
Thinking about the people with whom you had the privilege of working, and it was a privilege. Human rights work wasn’t exactly a safe space in 2011 or 2012 or 2013 or 2014 – far from it.
Feeling like you are a part of something bigger than any one person, that there is a sense of mission, a sense of purpose and that you find that quite appealing, as you have on other occasions, in other countries, but that the other occasions haven’t touched you in the way that Sri Lanka has.
Trying to write your heart out. Trying to capture the emotions, the feelings in language and knowing that you sometimes come up short, knowing that you will usually come up short, that you will almost always come up short – but that you must try again. That you can’t be afraid of failure because genuine achievement could be right around the corner, because you never truly know.
You never truly know what comes next.