What magic is a highway

photo 5

*This post is a part of a series, vignettes really, meant to capture the work I’ve been up to in Sri Lanka this December & January and thoughts and impressions of the changes I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. Check back here daily for more :)

Driving down the A9 that connects Jaffna to Kilinochchi to Vavuniya and beyond, I can’t help but think to myself how much this country has changed. I was talking the other day to a CEO of a bank here and amid my flurry of questions, he stopped me.

“You grew up here, right?” I nodded. “Well, do you see a difference?”

Change, so quick, so imperceptible it seems, is an understatement for what has happened in Sri Lanka since the end of the war in May of 2009. A new highway, roads, infrastructure development, wifi coded coffee shops, and the chance after so many years to go all the way from one tip of this island to the other not worried about the army or suicide bombers or a land mine. Some people will tell you that change hasn’t come quick enough or that the changes we’re seeing while good aren’t the changes we need to be seeing right now. I won’t bore you with the arguments. The point is that even as this is a Sri Lanka that I have known for so long, it is a far different Sri Lanka from the one I grew up in. The fact that there’s no military checkpoint outside my gate, no soldiers to make faces to is a sign in and of itself.

A lot of people are scrambling now to describe Sri Lanka, a formerly developing nation, it seems she’s graduated to a middle class economy. People don’t quite know what to make of a country that is building roads as fast as this one, that is seeing literacy rates and healthcare as high as it is with unemployment as low as it is, and that seems—if all that weren’t already enough— to be on the cusp of geopolitically and strategically repositioning itself as a valuable maritime port for trade.

The problems are rife. They always are. And the verdict is still out – is this a peace that’s here to stay, some will inevitably ask. There are the critics and the optimists. But as I drive down the newly paved roads of Colombo, the highway up to Jaffna and to the airport, I can’t help but think about the amazing things a country can do when it’s not at war. And I can’t help but think about the people I’ve met here who want so badly for everything to work out, who love this country so much – not as Sinhalese or as Tamils but as Sri Lankans. There are many people who would like to bet against Sri Lanka right now but I’m not one of them.

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