White flags

There was someone new outside Batticaloa’s Zion Evangelical Church on Easter Sunday.

The small congregation recognised him immediately as an outsider. They welcomed him into the church.

The service began with a blessing of the young people. They’re released from the main service for Sunday school just as the outsider begins pacing by the entrance. A nervous few members of the congregation try bringing him outside, asking him what’s wrong.

Their questions will remain unanswered. He detonates.

The Easter attacks have lifted the veil on Sri Lanka’s violent past and its volatile present.

Seven explosions have left lifeless bodies in a state so unrecognisable the death toll keeps changing.

In the days that follow, politicians wipe their hands of previous knowledge, they offer ties to the Christchurch massacre without proof and authorities publish incorrect photos of wanted men and women, some apologise, some resign.

Among the chaos, men and women from every faith don white, mark streets of the dead with white flags, sing blessings and bury their dead.

The Muslim community keep watch of their homes, their mosques, their businesses as they’re damaged by mobs through the night. Muslim journalists are threatened and held accountable for the actions of extremists whose actions don’t align with their faith teachings. Women are told to refrain from wearing their niqab, hijab and burqa. They’re told not to attend prayers at local masjid.

Acts of terror cannot be justified so searching for answers is a fruitless task. Why, is the resounding question. Why Sri Lanka? Why Christians? Why Muslims? Why us.

The country’s civil war only ended in May of 2009. Even then, peacetime is interrupted with violence and tensions driven by people looking to stamp out the minority religions. But most people breathe a sigh of relief. The bombs have stopped.

The country starts rebuilding itself. Locals fill the bullet holes which punctured their walls, they elect new leaders, The tourism industry starts to flourish.

Sri Lanka is ranked the number one country to travel to and foreigners start posting photos of white sand beaches, smiling locals, exquisite architecture, crowded train rides, colourful markets, white Buddhist temples, intricate kovil and grand churches.

And then the bombing starts again.

We rush back into the same routine. We, who have left this country, now in colder yet somehow warmer parts of the world, we make the same calls to our loved ones to check if they’re alive.

If we’re lucky, we breathe sighs of relief when our own aren’t part of the death toll.

I am lucky. This time.

Photos by Amalini De Sayra

Me too.

To whom it may concern,

When I was twenty-one I let a boy stay in my bed. I needed a ride to the airport the next morning and I considered him one of my best friends. He was dating my best friend. We stayed up talking and watching a movie and then said goodnight. I closed my eyes.

A minute later I opened my eyes. My “friend” was running his hand over the duvet. His hand moved from over my waist, down to my hips where it roamed for a while. I froze. It stopped. Then he did it again. I moved away from him, pretending to be asleep. It stopped for good.

The next morning I woke up, I didn’t know what to say so I pretended nothing had happened. He dropped me off at the airport, hugged me goodbye. I wasn’t sure if I’d be returning to Auckland so he hugged me again for extra measure.

When I came back to Auckland I told my best friend what her boyfriend had done. She confronted him, he swore he must have done it in his sleep and that was the end of that. He tried to apologise but I didn’t want to be anywhere near him. When he sat at the table at lunch, I would leave. One friend followed.

He was still invited to all the same parties, he had a seat at the table.

A guy who knew us both well told me “I know he’s lied in the past but it’s too hard for me to believe he did this. I have to believe he was asleep.”

A little while later this “friend” did the same thing to another person. This time the girl was drunk and alone in a room, trying to get some sleep. He whispered in her ear that he wanted to “f**k” her so bad. He told the boys as he walked out of the room that they’d hooked up. He still had a girlfriend.

I told his girlfriend that by ignoring two people with the same story she was making a fool of me, our friend and herself. Through tears and what must have been enormous heartache, she broke up with the one who betrayed us.

He was still invited to the same parties, he had a seat at the table.

There was no avoiding him. I had to pretend I didn’t want to cry every time I saw him. I had to have conversations with him because everyone else was still hanging out with him and I felt I was being a bummer. I reconciled, it could have been worse, he never touched my body, it was over the duvet, maybe he was asleep 30 seconds after he closed his eyes and you were the one who let him into your bed so technically it’s your fault.

Eventually, he had to leave Auckland for work. At the last party we attended, he asked for one last hug, “for old times sake.”
It’s been years and I will never forget that spine-chilling hug.

I’ve moved back to Auckland after 2 years. I was invited to a BYO this weekend.

He is still invited to the same parties. He still has a seat at the table.

Street Lights

This is the story of two Christchurch sex workers.

This podcast contains mature content and may not be suitable for young listeners. For the protection of those involved, voices have been digitally altered and names have been changed.

Chapter 1 

Meet Jess and Lisa, two sex workers in Christchurch, New Zealand. In this chapter of Street Lights, they share with us how they became sex workers and give us a window into their personal lives.

Chapter 2

 

The women lift the veil on life on the street and in the parlor.  Sex work has some surprising perks and perhaps unsurprisingly, a darker side.

 

Chapter 3

In the final chapter of Street Lights, Jess and Lisa share their experience with sex work and the law.

This episode features Detective Inspector Darryl Sweeney and sociologist Dr. Jarrod Gilbert

 

 

Soundtrack: Bensound

Voices edited by Luana Barnes

Visuals by Annabel Kean

A huge thank you to the New Zealand Prostitute Collective, Jocelyn Darling and to Jess and Lisa, the street lights.

Professional Practice

Tomorrow afternoon I will get given a piece of paper which will quantify how good my personality is out of a 100. I’m not joking. This is not a drill. This is Professional Practice.

All week I’ve been overthinking this performance review and it’s been giving me mild anxiety. I like to think of myself as a mostly level-headed person but this year the heat really has turned up in the kitchen.

While I’ve enjoyed absolutely all of the highs and lows and wouldn’t change them for anything – I am starting to regret the time I tried to suppress an ugly cry in front of my tutor when a story fell through in the last minute. You think there’s nothing worse than ugly crying until you hear the sound your body makes when you try to suppress a sob. Don’t try it at home. Parental supervision is advised. I also regret the time I smacked my friend’s arse only to turn around and be face to face with the tutor. There’re countless more things I’m sure to regret but we don’t have all day.

Every minute we arrived late, let out a few too many yawns, looked down at our phones at the wrong moment, is judged and written down as an evaluation of how fit we are to be journalists.

While I see how it’s useful for our future employers to know if we can be polite individuals, the report doesn’t fully account for the times no one of authority was in the room. It doesn’t fully account for the times we’ve shared black forest chocolate by the kg, offered back up stories when things hit the fan, driven classmates to interviews that have nothing to do with our own grades, proofread countless articles for each other and it damn sure doesn’t account for all the times there’ve been words of encouragement when your own mind forgets what you’re capable of.  This only accounts for 20% of the grade.

I’m sure tomorrow will be fine – it will all work out. But to the 21 of you that are sure to be overthinking alongside me tonight – I love you even when you ugly cry.