“OPTIMISM PERSONIFIED” – By Des Kelly
Don’t give up on Sri Lanka – Metro UK – Article
IN 2013, I joined Sir Ian Botham to report on his trek acrossSri Lanka to raise money for various causes – from the north, which bore the brunt of the civil war, to the south, devastated by the tsunami. My first night in the north (then mostly off-limits to tourists) was on an army base that had been a training camp for Tamil Tiger suicide bombers in 2009. It was a serious mission but seriously fun – we celebrated arriving inColombo with drinks at The Kingsbury hotel’s rooftop bar and curries at the Cinnamon Grand.
I learned a lot about, and fell in love with, Sri Lanka. And – forgive me for using a cliché often used for people who have been to hell and back – I was amazed by Sri Lankans’ resilience, their determination to transform their country and put the civil war behind them – which they did.
Sadly, we’re struggling to do the same. Along with three churches, both The Kingsbury and the Cinnamon Grand were targeted by Islamist suicide bombers in April, killing 258. News reports referenced a ‘troubled past’, streaming footage of the – totally unconnected – civil war, which took place from 1983 to 2009. We must be careful not to conflate the two and create a false impression of the place.
Scenery: A highland tea plantation
I’ve visited Sri Lanka several times and a 2017 trip toColombo also stands out. I explored it with local guide Kieshokanth, who took me to tiny cafés for teeth-rottingly sweet glasses of faluda, a neon-coloured drink made with jelly. I visited the home of Colombo local Miss Daisy for sea-bass curry and explored the chaotic fish market, grabbing laughing locals when I slipped on fish guts. Colombo‘s candy-striped Jami-Ul-Alfar mosque remains the most beautiful building I’ve clapped eyes on.
Currently, the Foreign Office is asking travelers to avoid Sri Lanka for all but essential travel and I’d never advocate visits to unsafe countries. But what happens when the official warnings lift? We tend to see terror attacks as one-offs when they happen in the West but with lesser-known regions a lack of understanding leads to incorrect assumptions about similar events, leading them to still be written off for the wrong reasons.
After the bombs: Prayers in the street following the terrorist attacks in April
With Sri Lanka, it’s essential we let security forces do their job and acknowledge the attacks’ devastating impact. However, headlines referencing troubled pasts don’t portray reality. Post-civil war, tourism flourished. What’s struck me on visits – including last September’s sail along the gorgeous east coast, ravaged by the civil war, now a tourism hotspot – is Sri Lankans’ determination to move forward. Securing a prosperous future relies on outsiders doing the same.
After all, if we write off destinations that have, at some point, experienced terrorism or war – like France, Spain, Turkey, the US, Thailand, Germany, Australia, New Zealand – then there aren’t many left.