There is nothing like having such a tiny country go to the cricket world cup to build a sense of pride and spirit in Sri Lanka. Everywhere I turned, there were signs pasted on store doors reading “Sri Lankans are winners!” There was a buzz in the air. Every Sri Lankan was sure they would beat Australia. I was a bit dubious, but of course enjoyed being scooped up in the enthusiastic atmosphere.
It all came down to last night. I sat with some friends in a pub watching the match. I still don’t know all the rules of cricket but I was less interested in the match and more interested in the boisterous atmosphere, the cheering and dancing, and the funny Indian commercials. Behind the pub stretched a large field, dotted with locals watching the match on a huge projection screen. I decided to pop out back to experience “real” Sri Lanka.
At least 1000 people stood packed together, flags draped around their shoulders or wearing SL jerseys. Many of them had stickers of the Sri Lankan flag plastered across their foreheads. Suddenly, the crowd would errupt in a large cheer and everyone would jump up and down, wave their flags in the air. A group of boys would lift their chairs up over their heads and run through the crowd shaking their chairs in the air. The drums would start and everyone would dance. I was a bit nervous… all of these Sri Lankans in one place: a prime target with the war. But then again, these huge crowds were strewn all over Colombo. What were the chances of being a target? Still, we didn’t stay long. Just enough to soak up the atmosphere.
Home again, home again. I passed out. 45 minutes later I woke up. Fireworks. “What?” I thought to myself. “Sri Lanka won?” I was sure Australia was going to win when I left. I started to pass out again. Then there was a loud tik tik tik tik tik tik. Not the typical sound of a firecracker. It was continuous. Machine guns. More flares in the sky. Colombo was being attacked. The guns were only a few streets away. I froze. I was so scared. What should I do? I shook it off. “No, Alia. It’s just fire works and people being excited from the match.” I was so exhausted I managed to fall back asleep. I kept waking up though. The guns were loud. But were they guns? I have never heard anything like it. I woke up the next morning to my friend shaking me. “Colombo was attacked last night. Did you hear the machine guns? Did you see the flares and rockets being shot into the sky? I think the Sri Lankan army was firing away off of the roof of the hospital just down the road.” I had been right. There had been a problem in the middle of the night. My terror was well grounded. My stomach sunk.
Today there are few people on the roads– a combination of a late night of cricket and fear of the war. The war is no longer only in the East and North. Last week the airbase was attacked and the SL army shut off the power in all of Colombo so they could shoot at the LTTE planes. We had all sat for hours in darkness. Last night all international flights were rerouted. Planes can’t fly in today.
I think I am leaving just in time yet my heart aches at the thought of going. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go….