Hakan Öge
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Hakan'ın Kamerasından
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Sri Lanka

Your name madaam!

The little man opens his hand and writes my name on it. 'Your name sir!' 'Hakan.' under mine he writes Hakan's. His head swings softly on its socket. Hakan and I look at each other keeping our smiles hidden. The army boat goes off again. We are anchored at the entrance of Galle harbor in the south of Sri Lanka. A little army boat completed with a heavy machine gun zooms in and out of sight. We wait for clearance. It gets very clear to us that it is going to be very chaotic
in this place.

Has anyone ever seen military write official information on his hand?

I am tired. Thirsty. Hungry. I don't feel good. I need to sleep. Now. Two very official older men come on board. At least one of them smells of unwashed body, of sweat marinating in synthetic clothes. The smelly guy looks at the cushions before sitting on them, he feels them and a grimace distorts his face. I can only imagine that the cushions are humid. I smile at him and show him the open porthole. 'Seawater' I tell him. He shows me the porthole his head balancing peculiarly on its socket. He looks
a bit like those little dogs you sometimes see through car windows, you know the ones with their heads dancing on the rhythm of the road. He tells us he's going to search the boat. 'Go right ahead' I tell him hoping he's not going so crawl all over our bed. He looks left and right, seems extremely depressed at the smallness of it all, he seems disgusted as well. He instantly gives up on the search and asks me 'you have liit'll prresnt?' there it goes, we have entered bribe and baksheesh land. 'What
present do you mean?' I ask him. He stares blankly at me. 'What do you want?' I insist. If the smelly thing wants something from me he will have to express his will more clearly, he knows through the papers we have no cigarettes no booze on board, what will he ask for, how hard will he persist? What does he expect from us and for what reason? A present because he is disgusted by Mardek? Well, I'm disgusted by him. A present because 200 US dollar is not enough to enter the country? A present because
he makes Mardek smell of rancid sweat? Please... After a bit of pushing and pulling I give him a necklace we bought in Bali and a cap. He wonders if he may wear the necklace himself or if he has to give it to his wife. I tell him he may wear it but at the end he's going to give it to madaam. From now on nearly every person will want a present from us. Do we look like Santa Claus?

We're in. We're moored alongside another sailboat that's moored alongside another one. The pier is huge. On the other side there is a war boat although it is not grey but it has many weapons fixed on it, many guards are walking the pier. They are wearing bulletproof vests and carrying rifles. We feel slightly vulnerable to say the least, going for a shower wearing flip flops and a few cotton clothes. We try to inform our self about the dangers of the place but all we get are 'yes' and a wriggling
of the head.

Later we hear they were attacked by rebels just a few weeks ago. The Tamil Tigers entered the harbor pretending to be fishermen but were unmasked and shot and burned and sunk to death. Also the military is bombing the entrance of the harbor every night to dissuade rebels to swim in. We feel not comforted at all, definitely not when the bombs crack through the water and wake us up in a start. Every night.

We did see the tea plantations on the mountains, so green so lush with a kind of hypnotic asymmetric geometry. Little dark and poor ladies pick leaf by leaf the tea we'll drink. We did see the elephants, 70 of them at least. Going for their daily baths in the river. They passed by me and I got struck by their size, by the elegant way they move about. Soft and silent. And the skinny elephant man, clad in an orange turban around his head, in a cloth around his waist holding a pole and bathing to.
We also saw the dusty ugly towns on the way. The immense golden Buddha statues, the saffron dressed shave headed monks strolling in the dust holding an umbrella above their vulnerable shiny skulls. We were driven on the most erratic and hysteric roads ever. And we survived...

Exhausted and very willing to move on. We check out. My guts are giggling to bits when I see Hakan giving the sour bribing official lollipops. Lollipops!

Hakan points Mardek towards the Maldives and off we go, sailing on a windless and waveless ocean.

24.02.2007

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