world's most wonderful natural stadium!
The best place to be at sunset is standing on top of the
stout, black walls of Galle fort. Leaning over an embrasure on Moon
bastion, I could see the entire old town within the promontory ramparts.
frangipani trees, the terracotta-tiled roofs and crumbling church
porticoes was the Indian Ocean, a vast blue emptiness rolling away
thousands of miles to Antarctica. To the north, the modern town
of Galle was teeming like a disturbed ant hill. Beyond the main
road and the honking bus station, past the brightly-coloured buildings
and the proud facade of St Mary's Church was the jungle - a jade
sea of palms broken only by the gleaming white point of a Buddhist
Lionel, a chatty
old man with lips the colour of beetroot, reappeared by my side.
We had met in the afternoon when I mistook him for a gem-shop tout
and he asked if I was German. Waving a hand before me, like an umpire
signalling a boundary, he indicated the large oval of turf immediately
cauldron - a 20,000 seater stadium," Lionel announced. In size,
the ground is more like a village green in Suffolk than an international
arena and I looked at him quizzically. "Ten thousand seats
below," he rejoined. Then turning to look along the ramparts
and grinning like a conjuror whose trick has worked, he added: "Plus
10,000 seats up here. All free!"
It is extremely
unlikely that the Dutch governor of Galle had cricket spectators
in mind when, in 1667, he began re-fortifying the original Portuguese
defences. He was more interested in keeping out the bellicose Sinhalese
kings and protecting the profitable spice trade. In any event, he
has provided the modern-day denizens of the town with the game's
most wonderful natural stadium. "It is marvellous," Lionel
continued. "We can sit here and watch the English get beat,
at no cost."
The fort walls
may be the most obvious remnant of the European influence on Galle,
but within them are a myriad of other references to colonial times.
You can still find a fading inscription of the Dutch East India
Company on the Old Gate leading down to the harbour, and on the
other side, the British coat of arms.
have their Dutch and British names - Leyn Baan Street, Queen Street
and (British imagination in full flow) Middle Street. On Church
Street, there is the grand Dutch Reformed Church and nearby, All
Saints Church. Outside a grocery shop, the disembowelled chassis
of an old Riley has been mounted as advertising. Another shop was
called Daily Needs and sold "Short Eats". The shopkeeper
said "cheerio". During the fleeting equatorial evening,
kids play with sagging footballs and old women lean over their verandas
to chat. I looked down Lighthouse Street and thought of an alleyway
in the Barrio above Lisbon harbour.
more than anywhere else in Sri Lanka, you forget that the country
is in the throes of a war that has ruined the north and turned Colombo
into "a Belfast in the sun," as I heard it described.
narrow streets of the Fort are laid out on an orderly grid and an
unusual radiance graces the cracked, decaying plaster of the huddled
buildings. The whole enclave feels remarkably un-Asian. Like Penang
or Panjim, Galle Fort is a heterogeneous place and happy with it.
There is even a Moorish quarter beneath the lighthouse. Galle, it
seems, is going places again. I met Ameen, a suitably cosmopolitan
gem and antique dealer underneath a banyan tree on Hospital Street.
"It will be like the old days," he said with a wry smile.
"The Fort will be full of colonials." (Guardian.)
peace of women
World contestants may say they want 'world peace', but how can that
be done when some of them can be so apathetic over the sentenced
stoning of a Nigerian woman?
awfully big misadventure in Nigeria has shown it up to be an out-of-touch,
slumbering beauty - lobotomised by the exploding flashbulbs of commercial
exploitation and too many mechanical utterings of 'world peace'.
have been issuing travel advisories to their citizens against travelling
to South-East Asia, Ms. Julia Morley, the contest's chief executive,
was merrily herding her young charges into a strife-torn African
country that practises syariah law in many parts and which has seen
its fair share of violent religious riots.
What in the
World was she thinking? This is what the Miss World website says
glowingly of itself: 'Every aspect of the contest will underline
the ideals promoted by Miss World, reflecting the attributes of
today's woman; a woman who has her own goals and views of her role
I wonder where
Amina Lawal fits into this template.
She is the
30-year-old Nigerian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for having
a child out of wedlock. It was her plight which triggered a planned
boycott by about seven of the Miss World contestants.
is ironic that the tumultuous lead up to the finals has done more
to highlight the true plight and nature of women than the pageant
itself ever did. Rather than being the usual cookie-cutter bevy
of diagonally-sashed, swimsuited women, a few of the Miss World
contestants this year bravely showed they were more than the sum
of their legs and teeth.
Ann Van Elsen, broke into tears when Miss Sweden and Miss Italy
refused to join her in the boycott. She said: 'Every year, contestants
say they are for world peace, but I'm not sure if it has any effect.
The chance that I can really say something during the pageant is
really small. I think I will have a much more powerful effect if
I boycott the contest.'
did not get the chance to put her words into action. Ms Morley,
the originator of its motto - 'Beauty With A Purpose' - who had
remained disingenuously neutral the whole time, said at the end
that the contestants should respect Ms Amina's wishes and rescind
the boycott. More was to come.
journalist, probably trying to quell the rumblings of unhappiness
from the Muslim segment of the population, said in an article that
the Prophet Muhammad would have approved of the contest if he were
alive today, and may even have taken one of the contestants to be
his wife. All hell broke loose. There were riots in Kaduna where
about 215 people were killed. At least 22 churches and eight mosques
were destroyed. Ms Morley is lucky. Compared to what she has left
behind in Nigeria - many deaths and the knowledge that possible
death awaits Amina Lawal.
While the Nigerian
government says it will protect her, the syariah ruling imposed
on her still remains - it dictates that she will be killed by stoning
once she has finished weaning her child. What kind of world does
Miss World stand for? I would have liked to have seen Ms Morley
standing next to the contestants in solidarity, pleading for the
life of Ms Amina: World peace!
Morley will now use the Nigerian experience to take the contest
into the real world and champion real women's issues - those that
cannot be resolved by a glittering tiara, a designer wardrobe and
a victory walk.
But I doubt
she will do it. It's up to the women themselves to take a stand,
like Miss Korea, Jang Yu Kyong, who has decided to return home and
wash her hands off the hollow ideals of the event.
of all, the voice of the current Miss World - a Nigerian - remains
poignantly absent. She is Agbani Darego, the first Black African
woman to win the title. It was her victory that brought the pageant
fatefully to her home country.
Now, she is
uncomfortably invisible. Quite likely, like many other women, she
has been cowed, if not silenced - by the 'world peace' of a world
in pieces. Courtesy Straits Times Singapore.
will terror strike next?
In a recent article Sandra Dick of Edinburgh Evening News
says it could even be Sri Lanka
WHEN the tourists
packed their cases and headed off on a journey to the sun-soaked
and peaceful island of Bali as one of their stops on their round-the-world
travels they could not have suspected for a second that they were
actually heading to their deaths.
None of the
innocent men and women who perished in the horrific blast which
ripped apart Sari's nightclub would ever have contemplated that
the oasis known as the Land of Temples, where the sun kissed sands
and crystal-clear waters lure tourists from around the world, could
be a target for terrorism.
But it has,
in the most horrific way. And if Bali, with its peace-loving people
and a culture seeped in colourful dance, native art and haunting
music, can become a target, then just where on Earth is safe?
News that Bali's
Kuta Beach area was brutally ripped apart by a terrorist's car bomb
with hundreds of young lives lost and scores more ruined, came as
less of a surprise to international terrorism expert Professor Paul
Wilkinson than to many of us.
For he firmly
believes that there is simply nowhere in the world 100 per cent
safe from terror attacks.
think you can say any country is immune," he declares.
can say is that there are relatively more risky places to be and
relatively safer places to be."
Bali, he believes
in hindsight, couldn't have been a more perfect place for the terrorists
to strike. "Indonesia has been one of the more volatile Muslim
areas - extremists have been able to operate there, to move their
weapons and explosives and plan their attacks," he explains.
"To specialists, it has not come as a great shock to hear of
a major attack in Indonesia. What has surprised people has been
that it was in Bali, a holiday island which has been free of these
kinds of problems, a small island of tranquillity in a rather troubled
from the point of view of the terrorists - who I'm sure are linked
this just made it all the more attractive as a target. Here you
have lots of Westerners relaxing, with very little security or measures
to prevent terrorist opportunity.
objectives is to kill as many of their designated enemies as possible
and that includes civilians.
sense, it was wide open to terrorists who wanted to mount a major
and tourists just regaining their confidence after the horrors of
September 11, bloody events in Bali have further fuelled fears over
international travel. The Foreign Office has updated its advice
for those considering travelling to Indonesia and renewed its warning
that UK citizens should remain vigilant at all times to the threat
of global terrorism.
Prof Wilkinson, of St Andrews University's Centre for the Study
of Terrorism and Political Violence, has few words of comfort. "To
quote Sir Winston Churchill, 'I am an optimist - I don't see any
point in being anything else'," he states. "But we are
facing a global network with a presence in so many countries. It
is difficult to say that anywhere is 100 per cent safe.
There is no
immunity from terrorism in the modern world. But some countries
have taken better measures than others to make themselves less vulnerable."
Among the 50 or so listed, Sri Lanka is listed as below
48 Sri Lanka:
There has been a high level of terrorist activity from the Tamil
Tigers and visitors are advised not to travel to certain areas in
the north and east.
The civil unrest
could be exploited by global terrorists.