Jaffna, Sri Lanka Dec.2018
This is my 3rd visit to Sri Lanka, but only my first for my ‘Me and My Mirror’ project. I’m on a bicycle again, this time, thankfully. I’m saving work in Colombo until I’ve maybe sharpened up my game again. So I rode 5 days up here to Jaffna on the very northern tip of the island-nation. Jaffna is Tamil heartland and the home of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Your Tigers are, I think disbanded; but Tigers can be secretive… they don’t generally announce when they are fucking off.
But the last firefights were not that long ago: North of Trincomalee between 2007 and 2009. Plus I was here in 2007 when the Tigers used 2 home-made airplanes (!!!) to drop a handful of large home-made barrel-bombs on the SL Air Force planes at the Colombo civil airport. They moved around in home-made submarines too. Do not mess with a Tiger.
So anyhow here I am and it’s goin’ really well. The whole NGO community has basically abandoned Jaffna; it’s not in the news, see. And they’ve moved down to Colombo (where? – see? It’s not in the news, but for the odd Horrible Giant Incoming Wave). So when the media leaves, so, by and by, do the NGOs. It kinda makes me crazy. I mean, when was the last time you read about Afghanistan? It’s not exactly ‘peaches and cream’ there, yet, after all that fucking shock and awe.
But I digress, which is what I do… Jaffna is a good place for me to work: there is plenty of ordnance still in the ground here and plenty of people mutilated by war.
Sri Lankans also seem to have a genetic pre-disposition to diabetes and other circulatory issues. That might be a naïve thing to say. But I’ve been around. I mean, their diet is not that bad (super-tasty, if you ask me… and lots of fruit… definitely not anywhere near as rich or fatty as N Indian cooking… right?) and the peeps in general do not tend toward obesity and sugar or sweets do not seem to me to be, like, hyper-prevalent and nor do they smoke much… as a rule and in general. Okay, the men can tend towards ‘paunchiness’, and sometimes to a comical degree… but a paunch is a different thing from what we see so very often in ‘Murica, and Canada, eh? So they just got a rum deal, vascular-wise. Cuz I’m treating a TON of vascular lower-limb amps. Go figure. I see people whose limbs are failing, in a vascular sense, absolutely everywhere. But that is someone else’s discourse. I just want to hit them on the head with a mirror if they are so truly unfortunate as to lose a limb. Bang.
Another week or so in Jaffna, then ride my bike down to these tough towns North of Trincomalee, where the weather right now is SHIT … there are, understandably Zero tourists… and where the last of the fighting was and the last of the bombs are.
Hopefully, this time I’ll have a tailwind.
For now, it’s 09h30 tomorrow at the ‘Jaffna Teaching Hospital’, with all the P Rehab Therapists and their #1 orthopedic surgeon. I’m stoked. That hospital, though, man, it’s like a Kafka story… a human jungle and the people are pretty much roasting goats against the perimeter wall. Which makes sense, cuz it’s shaded. And shade can be hard to find.
Urs always, Stevo
The Latest News Article (December 25, 2018)
National Geographic Explorer Documentary Piece
Just back from the experience of a lifetime. Nat Geo filmed me (and Me and My Mirror) as the central character in a 1 hour documentary on the tragic impact of UXO (unexploded ordnance ie: cluster bombs etc). Cluster bombs are among the ‘dirtiest’ munitions in the world; they fall out of the sky at random, are meant to explode on impact, are often filled with shrapnel and are designed to kill, or at least maim. In Lao almost 100% of the victims were innocent civilians.
Some Stats on America’s bombing of Lao:
- It was a ‘secret war’; most Americans, certainly the general public, were unaware of what their government was doing
- They carried out this atrocity for a full 9 years, from ’64 thru to ‘73
- In over 580,000 bombing missions they dropped over 2 million tons of munitions on a fundamentally neutral country that was also essentially uninvolved in the Vietnam aggression
- The bombing was the equivalent of one B-52-load of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hrs/day, for 9 years. More bombs than they dropped in Germany and Japan combined during WWII
- Over ½ of the victims of cluster munitions worldwide are Lao.
It goes on and on. An important fact too, and something I only really realized (this was my 2nd work-trip there) is that cluster munitions (the Lao call them ‘Bombies’) were nowhere near the only thing they dropped. Everywhere in the countryside you find de-fused (one hopes) collections of: 500, 750, even 2000 pound bombs, and tons of other aerial military hardware fell from the sky. There is also a horrifying variety of ground munitions too, some of which is still live: rockets and mortars, landmines, hand-grenades etc. The US, in their wisdom conducted a proxy ground war by hiring mercenary Mong Lao soldiers to fight the communist ‘Pathet Lao’.
So all this evil stuff is still out there – some estimate that up to 1/3rd of the explosives did NOT detonate at the time. People still find it the hard way every year; very often children because they play with it; the bombies come in all shapes and sizes but nefariously look like toys. Lao has come a long way but is still one of the poorest countries on Earth, so other victims -the poor – include scrap-metal hunters and villages trying to re-use the ordnance for ‘dynamite fishing’.
Many, many of the victims – usually people on the perimeter of a detonation, the central figures get wasted – become amputees; they lose limbs.
Enter Me and My Mirror and enter National Geographic Explorer; it was a perfect marriage. I was keen to treat some people and draw attention to my work and its validity and Nat Geo wanted to draw America and the rest of the world’s attention to the terror of what was done and what continues to happen; the ‘Legacy of the Secret War’, so-to-speak.
I’ll post many more photos and anecdotes but I gotta hop just now and before that I need to thank – over and over – the fine people from Nat Geo: the producers (thanks Lucy and Leila!), the head camera dude (thanks Dane), the #2 camera (thanks Joe!), and the sound-guy, Mike the guy with the mike: Thanks. These guys are, after all, the best in the business and I am sure that the end result will be both beautiful and thought-provoking. There were an awful lot of locals who provided indispensable help too; both Lao guys (+ 1 super-beautiful girl) and ‘falangs’ or white dudes too. Thanks so very much to you all.
It really was the experience of a lifetime and I don’t expect an outfit of this caliber to call again anytime soon.
Lots more to come, including an air-date for the film.
Yours as ever, stephen