We have plenty of time to look around; plenty of time to ruminate and plenty of time to also care for others - if we possibly can. There is much more fellow feeling floating around. Why? Because more than in normal times, we see the hardship and suffering undergone by the less privileged. And we are different because the fact that life is so uncertain and an awful infection and dying are possibilities, presents itself to us starkly. Though we are concerned, it must be acknowledged that our first thought is for our safety and our family.
Former national crisis
Such better feelings and reactions were with us during the civil war of 1983 -2009, especially in Colombo, when the July ’83 rioting and murder of Tamils and destruction of their homes and possessions occurred. Self-centeredness was overthrown. Many Sinhala homes harboured Tamil neighbours and friends; many were those who risked their lives to save Tamils or conduct them to safe places.
The area I lived in did not see goons and marauding murderers looting and burning as most families were Sinhalese. However, I did offer our home as a safe haven until the troubles subsided, to a Tamil family. They declined the offer as they felt safe in their home. But I did carry a huge box of their jewellery, walking alone with the box wrapped in newspaper held in front of me. I hid it in the imagined safest place: the dirty linen basket. Later when bread was difficult to come by and sold early in the morning, husband and I both went to buy at least four loaves each, to distribute to known Tamil families. That day and even later we chauffeured many a Tamil to safety or on some errand needing their presence.
Present national crisis
The present crisis contrasts to then. If a home is infected or an inmate taken to hospital or quarantine, we bar our doors against them and mask ourselves and stay safe in our homes. Then if a Tamil was killed by a Sinhala thug and later, the Sinhalese by the LTTE, the killed were elevated to martyr status. Not now. Those infected by COVID-19 and the COVID-19 dead are treated like pariahs. We shut ourselves completely away from them. Not much pity either, onlymumbling annoyance: “They could so easily have passed the infection on.”
We often consulted specialist doctors with this and that complaint. Not now. No sympathy; no personally conveyed condolences to others either. We avoid hospitals like the plague, or rather, hot spots of infection and funerals and funeral parlours as hot beds of COVID-19. On the one hand we have become more caring but on the other, more callous. We do not visit the sick nor sit with the mourners.We steel ourselves and stay away.
Time was when we welcomed tourists and were glad when hotels were full, sea beeches dotted with much exposed white, black or fairer-in-colour skin. Out shopping, we would actually let tourists get ahead of us in display areas and at paying counters. Now we avoid hotels and shopping. Thus our consternation at the brought down hordes of Ukrainian tourists. Why oh why wasn’t another country less affected by COVID-19 – of the very few like New Zealand and Australia, even China - not selected to guinea pig the tourist industry. Why Ukraine which economically is a poorer country and does not boast money spenders per se.Why? Because of a person by the name of Udayanga Weeratunge who was one time Ambassador to Ukraine. Thus his showing gratitude and probably making a bit of money too.One man forfeiting the health of the entire Nation. Not much economic benefit to selected hotels or tourism because heavy bargaining (by Weeratunge we suppose or his local stooges);and greatly reduced hotel rates. Mandatory quarantine rules and other health strictures thrown to the winds.
This was supposed to be a test case. 300 and more were brought in two planes and it was said more than a thousand had lined up for the cheap holiday in Paradise. We hope against hope no more Ukrainians will be brought over and even the opening of the Katunayake Airport is done after careful consideration by medical personnel, given credence by the Government and its controlling military. Too much to hope for in this highly politicised country?