The last couple of weeks before our departure passed very fast. Our heads were full of plans and we had an appointment with Roy Marso right after our arrival. He had kept us up to date by e-mail about the developments in Hambantota.
We would have been lost without the help of Faye and Humaid once again, and in Hambantota, Roy’s sister-in-law Zariya was of tremendous help.
We did the shopping at Pettah with jetlag and swollen feet. The first trip to Hambantota was disillusioning.
There was not much time for reading those days but I do remember one sentence I had read somewhere: “If you want to hear God laugh, let him know about your plans.”
The situation along the coastal road had hardly changed. Besides the grand new roofs of Buddhist temples and shiny new Mosques, there was not much of a change. Maybe the odd fixed wall and some of the debris had been cleared away since March.
Along some chunky timbered camps there was no lack of curious things. Like the sign boards, with the writing “tsunami escape route”, consisting only of an arrow pointing inland.
At Peraliya, (half way between Colombo and Galle) where more than 2,000 people had been killed in a train washed away by the tsunami, local people had set up a memorial and asked for an entrance fee.
Most of the people had adjusted to the situation. There was an election campaign on the way at that time and there was no hint that there would be any changes. There had not been any excesses during the election campaign as in the past. This might have been an indicator of the resignation of the people.
The new, shiny settlements you only saw if you went inland. Those houses did not take into consideration desires and interests of the local people; and it might occur that the main purpose was merely to resettle them.
Also, pricking up one’s ears were the official numbers of the government. In the district of Hambantota, along a coastline of 135 kilometers, 2,303 homes had been destroyed completely, and 1,744 partially. Despite those facts they were planning to rebuild 6,000 new homes at a new town called Siribopura, six kilometers away from the town of Hambantota and the sea.
The government had banned any rebuilding within 200 meters of the shore with the rationale that it was to protect the people from further tsunamis. The local people wanted to resettle on their own land and were outraged. Further, the people surmised that there were “other” reasons.
At the beginning of the election campaign, the government rescinded the ban. There was no prediction of the outcome.