poitu varam

THE CHRONICLES OF A FLEDGLING MISSIONARY CALLED JOLLYBEGGAR "i still gaze fondly at all of the pictures, drink ginger beer, bunch my food, listen to punjabi dj tunes, play my dholki, wear my sarong (around the house only because in canada it is still really uncommon for a man to wear a wraparound skirt in public) and speak way too much of the differences between east and west..."

Friday, February 11, 2011


so i arrived at the church this morning and came in the back way as usual.

the wild -30 deep-freeze had broken and the sun was turning everything about this prairie town golden. although the mornings are brilliant, what with all that gold reflecting off of all that white, you don't need sunglasses somehow. it's mid-february.

i started the coffee brewing in my office because i've got big plans for today. many phone calls to make, emails to read and respond to, plans to finalize for the upcoming society meeting, some computer software to learn, and of course a talk to write for this sunday. while the coffee pot sputtered and popped- something that builds an anticipation similar to that experienced when one is in one's seat at the symphony and the orchestra starts its final tuning exercises- i decided to light up the lobby and open the front doors. this happens every day.

arriving at the doors, i saw that there was a very light blanket of fresh snow that needed shovelling. i got my coat and gloves on and went out to make the church a bit more welcoming by moving the snow. as i began the rhythmic scraping of the plastic shovel on the walk, that's when the flashback hit.

i'm running along the streets of batticaloa in the early morning. because the sun is already up, the day has begun for those who have shops to tend. conversations and energy are shared everywhere as men regale one another with stories of the night before, expectations of the day to come, good humour, news and whatever else.

dark faces with big smiles; sarongs of various weaves, patterns and quality, light shirts, dark pants, designer t-shirts and jeans worn by the young, flip-flops with squared off soles; music everywhere- mostly tamil techno-dance beats; odours, aromas and fragrances all mixed together to create a olfactory parfait of fish, frying oil, gasoline, dust, samosas with tea or instant coffee, burning garbage, sewage, incense, and whatever that smell is that rises when the early morning sun is beginning to heat up the pavement for the first time that day; 'good morning' from shop keepers, 3-wheel moto-taxi drivers, and very young soldiers toting intimidating artillery; the swish swish swish of brooms chasing the dust that has settled away from storefronts...

yes, it is the sound of the brooms on a regular day that says all is the same in the world. people going about their business, making ready the place of meeting or of commerce for a normal day.

what is our responsibility to the other on a normal day?

when there is no civil war, no political unrest, no tsunamis or earthquakes, no relief/rebuilding efforts to be tended to, what is our role then? when we have pledged our love to a people in their time of tragedy, introducing some of them to some of us with cross-cultural handshakes and intercontinental hugs, what is our responsibility afterwards?

can these relationships withstand peace, or do we presume to only be in relationship as long as the hierarchical constructs between the haves and the have-nots remain intact?

and what are the social and spiritual consequences of abandonment for both parties?

these thoughts swirled within me like so much snow this morning, being picked up by the wind, thrown back in my face and ultimately settling in a different spot on the path i had just shovelled.

this is february. i am realizing as i type that it was two years ago to the day that i was on a plane for the island. until this morning, it has felt like the last time.

so what comes next, i wonder...