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A poem about Manik Farm

June 20, 2009

By Gamini Veyangoda – a Sinhalese journalist who was in Canada last year, now surviving in Paris

Do I know what it means…
Do I know what it means…
To stand in the queue as a mere 13 year old,
Collecting charity for my younger brother
and widowed and aching mother,
a wound in my stomach which hurts and oozes.
With no one to care for the pain
To live on, not knowing why or the reason or meaning of hope.

Do I know what it means…
To be orphaned – a helpless little child playing with others like myself,
Without a family – but accas and annas who took care of me,
And to be separated – as I hear they will be with me no longer
plagued with the memory -of making it over rounds (gun fires) and shells and fallen bodies.

Do I know what it means…
To know neither the results of the exam I sat,
Nor my index number to look them up later .
What kind of world is it ?
… that refuses me schooling,
… demands that I bury my fears,
And uses my strength and will to care for other younger children and elderly people?
Do I know what it means…
To have my son taken away for questioning –
Miss my husband or my brother – and wonder if I will ever see them again?
To fearfully hide away the son I treasure in a bunker,
To save him from LTTE recruitment and raining shells
To ‘lose’ him now in custody of the army,
being rehabilitated I am told – for uncommitted sins.

Do I know what it means…
To be an old man or woman in trying conditions alone,
Not able to tell my children where I am or what I went through,
My aches and pains and wounds from the war adding decades to my age,
Talking about yester years, in this tent where I am, till I know not when.

Do I know what it means…
To throw myself into the work of mass cooking with rations received,
Organizing the wounded in body and heart to donate their labour for others,
Solving the problems of water, cooking pans and grumblings from fellow block-mates,
While stifling the pain of losing my own two daughters.

Do I know what it means…
To stand in long queues just for a plate or a bucket,
Standing in the scorching sun, despite my wounds, fever and limps,
Or else receive my meals in a shopping bag
And run the risk of spilling out my family’s precious meal

And do I know to what it means…
To marry the man I love,
running for our lives through what feels like fire and hell,
Just so we may stay as man and wife before either or both of us fall…
And now, thankful to be together at Menik farm.

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