Michael Keller (Sri Lanka)

Michael Keller (Home for Human Rights, Sri Lanka): Michael worked as a summer-school teacher, a research assistant at a counter-terrorism consulting firm, an intern at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Paris, and a consular intern at the US Consulate General in Naples. At the time of his fellowship, Michal was in the fourth of a five-year program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, pursuing a BS and MS in Foreign Service. He speaks Italian, French and German.

Trouble in Paradise

18 Jun

In the summer of 2002, while interning at a counter-terrorism consulting firm in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to attend a speech given by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He spoke optimistically and at length about the negotiations between his government and the Tamil rebels, and though talk of a new era of peace in such a troubled state impressed me, I mentally filed Sri Lanka away in the part of my brain labeled “one less thing to worry about”.

I never imagined that two years later I would arrive in Colombo to contribute to the successful realization of this peace process.

But first I went to the beach. What better way to get to know the country quickly than to head straight from Colombo’s airport (on the west coast) to the east coast? After a harrowing 6 hour bus ride over less than 260 kilometers, I arrived in Trincomalee, a fine introduction to Sri Lanka’s history and problems.

The small city has been owned, in chronological order, by the Portuguese, the Dutch, a central Sri Lankan king, the Dutch, the French, the Dutch, the British, the French, the Dutch, and finally the British. Today it’s divided between Muslims, Tamils, and Sinhalese, and before the cease-fire its residents witnessed their fair share of troubles.

Despite hosting the east’s most beautiful beach, there is no tourism infrastructure, Western faces are a rare sight, and cows forage for street trash during the nighttime. I was one of three guests at a hotel in Nilaveli, a town 16 km north of Trinco that is home to no more than 5 hotels on the nicest stretch of Trinco’s coast.

Notwithstanding the fact that check-points line the main street, that some nights there is a curfew, that there are more cows than people on the beach, that there is a large navy barracks 15 meters from the water, and that next to the barracks is the bombed-out skeleton of a hotel, the area is amazing. Clear skies, coconut trees, monkeys, turquoise water, puffer fish, and sea turtles may attract some much-needed investment in the future. I think I’ll wait for the guys with machine guns to leave the beach before putting my money down here.

Posted By Michael Keller (Sri Lanka)

Posted Jun 18th, 2004

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