Monday, April 30, 2012

Sri Lanka - An Hour at a Glance

It's a meeting with mental health counselors of torture survivors from a northern town in Sri Lanka. Several are barefoot. Others wear sandals that are casually slipped off, preferring the cool concrete beneath them. Their bodies are draped in the brilliant colors of saris, their hair neatly clasped behind their heads or woven into thick braids, their wrists adorned with thread bracelets, their eyes shining with kindness. One lone man sits among some 15 women, looking not in the least uncomfortable.

In contrast, I'm wearing black pants and a blouse strategically chosen because sweat doesn't show. My black mid-heel sandals are not easily removed without some exerting some energy. But I simply haven't any to spare so they will have to stay. 

It is hot inside and out; not the completely miserable kind, but the kind that reminds you that you're not at home in your temperature-controlled comfort zone. And, as if a further reminder were necessary, an iguana or something of that ilk saunters across the organizational chart posted high on the wall. The iguana has unilaterally inserted him or herself into the hierarchy of the organization.

The room has four walls like any other. Doorways that lead in, out, or between. A table fan is conveniently directed at me and the curtain of the window behind me is drawn back to allow a breeze. A ceiling fan, the blades of which are marked with the organization's initials, remains still, mocking my Scandinavian sensitivity to the heat. Or, maybe it just doesn't work.

The room is like any other, but the work, the work is not. The work is about the trauma experienced by people who have seen war and worse. This work should not exist, but does. For trauma does not release its grip easily. Its hands are sticky with tears and grief and darkness. It is a caustic mixture of known and unknown, fear and anger, resignation and resistance. 

But this room like any other, filled with the riches of compassion and wisdom, is part of the antidote to that mixture. With its plastic chairs and filing cabinets and single bottle of chilled water sweating through its own label, this room is where lives begin to change.

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