So with that in mind, I woke up early one day to meet “L” and her mother for the drive to Jaffna, the major town in the Tamil north and the scene of a lot of destruction during the civil war. In the northern countryside, I couldn’t help but notice how barren the land was. There was little grass around, and many houses had been abandoned and left in ruins. At various spots along the way, L and her mother explained that this once-fertile land was destroyed during the war and that many Tamils fled. (In fact, despite the war being long over, there are still over 90,000 displaced Tamils in refugee camps.)
“Are those people over there rebuilding the houses?” I asked.
“That’s the army building houses, but probably not for Tamils.”
“How come this area hasn’t been rebuilt?”
“Well, many people have left or were killed, and those who remain don’t have the money. Plus, a lot of the records were destroyed, so not many people can prove their house is really theirs.”
I persisted with my litany of questions. “How come this area seems so underdeveloped compared to the rest? Hasn’t there been a plan to rebuild?”
“The scars of the war are still here. For close to 30 years, we didn’t have access to the outside world, and no, the government isn’t really putting funds into development. We have an uneasy truce.”
Afterward, we went to L’s family’s newspaper, Uthayan, where we waited for the editor. This newspaper was the only Tamil news organization to survive the war. The government tried to shut it down many times, but it managed to live on. In the main room, you could see bullet holes from attacks, ruined computers, and graphic pictures of the journalists who lost their lives in paramilitary attacks. There was a wall dedicated to those who are missing — and probably dead.
“Are things better now?” I asked the editor.
“Sure. The fighting has stopped, but that doesn’t mean everything is normal. It is still the same military leaders and government officials in power. But things are moving in the right direction.”
“Did you support the Tigers?” I asked him, broaching the topic head-on. The Tamil Tigers were a student organization that turned from resistance fighters to terrorist group. Their defeat was what helped end the civil war.
“The Tigers might have started with good intentions, but in the end, they became as bad as the government and alienated the population they sought to support. So, no, I did not.”
L and the editor gave me a tour of the newspaper, showing off more relics of raids and introducing me to staff and editors who also worked throughout the war. The building, like the land we just saw, bore the scars of war.
It was an eye-opening experience to see the region and learn about the conflict and how it still affects the people of the region.
As I took the bus to the airport and got ready to leave Sri Lanka, my mind kept going back to its people. Regardless of where I was and who I spoke to, I was welcomed with open arms, treated as family and with kindness.
Sri Lanka was better than I could have imagined it. Not because of all the beautiful sites and fun activities, but because the people made a stranger feel at home.
Book Your Trip to Sri Lanka: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. It is my favorite search engine, because it searches websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as it has the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancelations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Safety Wing (best for everyone)
Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money too.
Want More Information on Sri Lanka?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Sri Lanka for even more planning tips!