A day in Vavuniya

Originally published on Perambara.

The heat in Vavuniya is incredible – oppressive and dry, as if it is trying to sap every last ounce of moisture from you and evaporate it into thin air. As I clambered out of my blissfully air conditioned van and into Vavuniya’s searing heat a few days ago, I felt immediately tired, even though I had only been sitting and sleeping for the past 7 hours since we left Colombo.

I mentioned this to the young woman I was with, who I had picked up from her family’s house just outside of Vavuniya town and she cheerfully agreed. “It seems to get worse every year, even my aunties agree”, in her thick European accent. Only in Sri Lanka for a very brief visit, she met me and my crew for a day’s worth of filming connected to her charity work at the Vavuniya hospital.

My first impression of the hospital was that it looked quite new – I supposed it was probably built up after the end of the war last year. The paint on the walls was still fresh and clean and so were the wide windows, if you ignored a light coating of dust, inescapable in these parts. Walking inside however, I saw that the place was a mess of tired patients and harried medical staff. Stray, mangy dogs skittered unnoticed in and out of the open doors and crowds of aimless looking people sat on the floor of the entrance to the hospital and all along its corridors.

My companion saw my doubtful stares in their direction and clarified: “IDPs”, she said simply. “They arrive in busloads early morning, but they cannot leave until they’ve all been seen. They are only allowed to go back to the camps late in the evening.  So they wait”. I remember the two young girls I had seen when I first stepped out of our vehicle in the parking lot. They were sitting at the foot of a dusty red government bus, staring at nothing in particular. I supposed they were waiting to go home too. I felt sorry for them, sitting there with nothing to do and in this terrible heat. One of them looked at me, brow furrowed, when I pointed a camera in her direction but looked away again, disinterested.

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