In my recent visit to Vavuniya, I visited a women’s self help group in Thekkawatta. They had all come with their children, dressed up for a show. It was good to see how much beauty is there in Vavuniya, despite all the turmoil and sad stories we hear from the camps.
Baby Loudes is born in the Kiliveddy IDP camp. Though I am concious of female aid workers posing for photographs carrying malnourished kids, I couldn’t help reaching out for Loudes. At least, I am not an aid worker. And I wish from the botton of my heart that Loudes would never suffer from malnourishment.
I don’t know why, but some babies seem to choose me. Loudes did. She just stared at me so long I felt like carrying her back to Colombo with me. But she has a mother, albiet internally displaced mother.
Loudes also reminds me of Sanduni, another baby who chose me, long time back when I was working for a local NGO with a wing for abandoned babies. It was my first job. I used to finish work and hop across the road to the baby orpahnage. At the time there were around 18 babies, all crying out loud for love than milk really…something that the staff there just couldn’t give enough of, though they all had big hearts. Sanduni just stood in her cot and wanted me loving her. I learnt that she was found by a bus driver somewhere on the route from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, inside a shopping bag, hanging from a branch of a roadside tree. The driver had thought someone had left a kitten in a bag, when he saw something moving and kicking inside. At the orphanage she was named Sanduni, and treated for the rash she aquired from being inside a polythene bag in the dry-zone heat.
And that’s how I ended up adopting her as my babe for a while. I would run to the orphanage in the morning, before work began, to feed her. Run back in the lunch hour and after work. Buy fruits and stuff from the measly salary i earned at the time. I just fell in love with that babe like crazy.
Single women can’t adopt in Sri Lanka. So I could never adopt her. Besides, I was only 23 at the time. Economically unstable and emotionally volatile. Almost persuaded my parents to adopt her, though my father decided he was not taking another daughter he had to put through school and college. He probably calculated the whole investment he had in me from birth to then, ha ha!
So anyway, I never adopted Sanduni. One day when I returned from a long overseas trip I found Sanduni was tranfered to another orphanage since she did not deserve intensive care anymore. I created bit of a scene at home, saying I want to go see her. But ofcourse, that never happened. Somewhere down the line, I realized it wasn’t realistic. And I put Sanduni out of my mind. It was a bit like getting over a boyfriend, I felt.
It’s five years since. Everytime I hold a baby, I think Sanduni.
In Kiliveddy IDP camp in Muttur, a tire is a toy for this kid. Deprived of his home in the Sampur battle, he doesn’t know how long he’s been here in the refugee camp. Not that he does not remember, but he cannot count. He does not answer anything more than his name, and that’s what he repeats, smiling…as if his name is the only language he knows. Obviously, he is not going to school.
Personally, I have seen tires in a different context as a kid. It is something I can never imagine as a toy. I don’t want to repeat what a tire stands for in my childhood, 1988, 1989 Sri Lanka: The world knows about it; and I have already written a story about it: Pallu (it’s listed under Pages). With that I imagined that it is out of my system.
And then I meet this boy, Seethan – if I got his name right, with his toy tire around his neck, homeless, probably rootless, and futureless despite my optimism for him and the others of his kind. Seethan plays with a tire that epitomizes the hieght of violence I have experienced in my life. Of course, he’s lived through another war, with its own symbols of violence.
I want to hug him as if I were his twin. But I couldn’t.