Another World

Upon arrival at 4AM one of the very first things you notice is the military and police presence around the city of Colombo. It begins with the heavily armed police and soldiers of various kinds.  On the 45 minute drive to the hotel we were stopped three times where one of our hosts had to show ID and explain what we were doing. In addition to these stops we had to pass numerous checkpoints. Cars and people just coming to the downtown Fort area where we’re staying have to be tending to business of some sort just to get in. The road our hotel is on in the heart of Colombo is practically shut down due to the president’s house and other government buildings being nearby. If a dignitary is about to drive through, not only do they shut down the street, but barricades are put up at the driveway of our hotel and we’re not aloud to leave. This has already happened multiple times. So far these complete closures haven’t lasted very long, but it’s an odd feeling to know you aren’t allowed to leave the grounds of your hotel.

We were told that our driver’s ability to travel was greatly improved by the fact that we are from the West. Our van with gear arrived at the hotel 15 minutes after us because they were pulled over 6 times and had to explain what they were doing, where they were going, and why they had a bunch of heavy suitcases in the van.

Here in Colombo there is a minimun of at least one soldier or policeman every block. In our part of town there are a lot more that that. From the view of my hotel room at 5:30PM yesterday on four blocks I counted over 30 police/soldiers in uniform. To their credit, with the exception of yesterday’s experience in the Bajaj they have been friendly with us. If we give them a wave and a smile, they generally do the same in return. How it must affect Sri Lankans on a regulary basis must be quite palpable. People are constantly watched by the police.

Meg and I went for a walk on our own for the first time yesterday outside of the “green zone”. As a Westerner it’s obvious we’re not from around here. Everyone notices and looks at us which is another story that Meg will tell in a future blog entry. We feel quite safe walking around. The people are very friendly, and there are so many police that about all the crime that we could be victims of might be being pick pocketed. Even that seems pretty unlikely with all eyes on us. Of couse we keep a close watch on our surroundings.

On our return to our hotel we tried to get back through a different cross street. We were denied access at each street apparently due to the proximity of the president’s house. All were nice about it. So we went back to the street/checkpoint where we exited the tight control area earlier. All I see are exit signs and a pair of men and women’s bathrooms. I tried to go through the exit but was told to go where it said “men”. Turns out those weren’t restrooms at all but the place you would go to get frisked before entering the controled area. We got a laugh about me thinking they were bathrooms.

IMGA0428

While the police might be mostly friendly to us Westerners, the story isn’t the same for Sri Lankans. They don’t get smiles and waves.  In reality all movements are controled and freedom of speech in practicality does not exist.

Daman

Video from the Galle Face Hotel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOIvLmVBJOU

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Ken said,

    Meg and Daman:
    Happy week to you. We’re about to begin the staff meeting and just wanted you to know that we’re thinking of you.

  2. 2

    Mary D. Brown said,

    Meg – it was you that I worried about, not Daman, now I am realizing he is the one who is becoming the adventurer – take care – we love your daily blogs – its as if we are there with the two of you. Best.

  3. 3

    Marcia said,

    Daman – I, too, know you to be quite an adventurer! Remember, you’re not in Gordonsville anymore.

    I do worry about you and Meg. It’s a mother’s lot in life to do so.


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