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I would quite like to go home

June 29, 2011

I want to go back. We did return to Sri Lanka once, with chocolate slabs wrapped in extra tin foil to stop them melting, Marks & Spencer nightgowns and shirts as gifts. But we stayed with family in Colombo, had tea and a buffet dinner at a grand hotel in Nuwer Eliya’s tea estates and walked down to the beach at sunset. It was lovely.

But we were too cowardly to go north, to listen to Jaffna, whispering away. It remained sealed off, frozen in time and memory. Of course other people have lived there, grown up, got married, had babies. But they have also run, hidden, pleaded and died. I had choices and I chose not to go and see.

When there was a ceasefire nine years ago, I did go back. Walked through my childhood house and smelt the jasmine. But I was newly engaged and too busy falling in love to really notice. I would come back, I thought, and look inside this life again. But the war started again, more brutal and desperate than before, and I packed Jaffna away again, inside a box I chose not to open, thankful beyond anything that I had another life, options, that meant that I could.

Now there’s a sort of peace. It was won by taking away any choice at all from many of the people who remained in the north through all the war years. The Sri Lankan government and many others say it was worth it. I can’t quite bear to think of the full cost.

All I know is that there is a holding of breath as people wait to see if their lives really can resume. They could just suffocate. But if they begin to exhale, I want to go back.

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