Thursday, March 26, 2009


Normally it's exceedingly easy to find lifts to Paris on the Dover-Calais ferry. This time it was impossible. No one was going our way, or if they did, their cars were packed, or they didn't want to pick up hitchers. We were pretty sure we'd have to put the 82 Euros into the train, which is bit depressing at this point in our low budget trip. Only the high speed TGV trains run between Paris and Calais and the prices are unreasonable.

Then, as we were being embraced by the concrete jetty arms of the continent, somebody said yes. They were two dark skinned men, Londoners on their way directly to Paris. On their dashboard was nestled a little, multi-armed Hindu god. Itka and I began a Hebrew guessing game, spelling terms that would betray our topic.

"It's pretty obvious which subcontinent they're from," she said.

"Yes, but they could also be from S-r-i L-a-n-k-a, for example, or B-e-n-g-l-a D-e-s-h. Though most people from S-r-i L-a-n-k-a are Buddhists, and people from B-e-n-g-l-a D-e-s-h are usually Muslim and don't really look like this. By their looks I would guess that they're T-a-m-i-l-s."

"That's good. I've always been a fan of t-i-g-e-r-s."

The car deck was opened and we disembarked into the French night. The driver and his friend needed some help navigating onto the relevant autoroute, so we began chatting and actually asked them where they were from.

"Sri Lanka," said the driver, "You know Tamil Tigers?"

"It's my favorite guerrilla army," Itka told them.

"We are Tamil Tigers," said the other man, and, perhaps in order to sound not in the least threatening, added: "You should know that Tamil Tigers are always serious, Tamil Tigers never smoke, never drink." in a split second Tamil Tigers also stopped being Itka's favorite guerrilla army. Sic transit gloria mundi. She later admitted she anyway favored them mostly thanks to their sexy name.

The pair handed us a CD of militant Tiger songs. On the cover was an image of the Tigers' mustachioed leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in camouflage gear. They then played it for us - Indian Music with a snare drum.

These fellows were no simple fans. They were hardcore. The way the man at the shotgun said "we are Tamil Tigers" made it clear that being Tigers and caring for their organization was, if not their 9 to 5, at least a major occupation for both. The LTTE, mind you, is considered a terrorist organization in both Britain and France. During the 20th century, the Tigers have carried more suicide bombings than all Islamic terrorist groups combined. problem is that their foes, the Sri Lankan government and army, are not any better, and they are recognized as a sovereign state. "I'm very sorry about what your people are going through right now," I said, "I know most of the north was taken over and the press is not allowed to enter and report, there must be slaughters going on."

"Yes," said the driver, "but we kill more than 200 Sri Lankan soldiers each day."

Outside, along the nocturnal highway, signs were advertising historical attractions in the region, mostly pretty castles. We stopped at a service station and were treated to two cans of Red Bull by the driver and his friend. It was hard to believe, while traveling this excellent highway, that Northen Sri Lanka even exists, but it's almost equally hard to believe that when in Southern Sri Lanka. I remember having a pleasant "Lion" beer at a beach-front cafe in Rathgama, just south of Colombo. With me was a Dutch journalist who made it across the lines. He showed me photos of another world, a funerary world, one in which our ferry from Dover somehow briefly docked.

No comments: