WomanInSariGoing back to Jaffna after 32 years was something I was looking forward to. I remembered it as a sleepy place, quite different to what I was used to living in Colombo, and it was a world away from New York, where I was staying at the time.

The intervening years has seen Jaffna and it’s people subjected to a vicious civil war, occupation by two armies and by militant separatists. It has been subjected to economic blockades and military offensives and cut off from the rest of the country at various times. It’s people have been shelled, bombed and forced to evacuate at the height of the troubles. Whole communities were displaced and their homes destroyed.

Despite all these traumas and hardships, I found Jaffna to be a vibrant and growing place, full of life and activity. I spent four days in the city, talking to its people, visiting its outskirts and the towns surrounding it.

The heart of the city around the bright yellow central market, is alive with vendors hawking their wares. Busy crowds of local residents shopped at the well stocked shops and hundreds of people moving around the central bus station indicated to me that life is coming back to normal. In the afternoon, the streets around the city are filled with school boys dressed in white shirts and blue shorts, who cross the roads in droves, and school girls wearing gleaming white uniforms, ride bicycles in groups back home from school.

The railway line connecting the peninsula to the rest of the country which was destroyed during the war, is now under construction just a few kilometres from the city centre and the neglected roads and bridges around the peninsula are all marked for expansion and development. Communities that were displaced during the war are returning and it was heartening to see young Muslim women in their hijabs mingling with ladies dresses in colorful salwars and sarees.

JaffnaTown

There is undoubtedly a military presence, not so prominent in the city perhaps but clearly visible around the peninsula and residents are reluctant to talk about what happened during the war.

But one thing I came away with from my visit was that the people of Jaffna are happy that life is almost back to normal and they want it to stay that way.