I'm in Colombo en route to Jaffna. We're taking the bus, not flying; no seats and we're just hoping the bus people don't remember us three (Lisa, Jill, me) as those awful whiteys who were faffing around with the tickets last go-round. First we didn't show up, then we wanted to change them, then we wanted to cancel them and get a refund... last poya they was hatin' on us, to put it briefly. This time around there's more general government instability but no actual hartal in Jaffna itself. There's been quite a bit of violence, which seems also to be escalating still, in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Vavuniya. I hate the bloody JVP and their fearmongering propaganda.
But, no deal! I'm going for a jaunt in Jaffna, la la la. Packing for this trip has been an exercise in reevaluating my frump levels. I finally got a bunch of new and altered clothes back from the Dangolla tailors, so I have a nice sacklike long dress which is super comfy and frump-tastic. Also a sort of half-kurta, half-national-dress shirt which is emerald green. I'm hoping that the Jaffnaites will not lynch me for a Muslim or a UNPer. Packed my most baggy salwar kamiz too, the one my host family called a 'grandma kit.' I will be styling.
Of course, now that I'm in Colombo, I'm suffering under my own sartorial conservatism. I find myself just hating all the women in above-the-knee skirts and sleeveless, nay, spaghetti-strap tops. It's shocking how many white people there are in town. I have gotten used to envying gorgeous Lankan women and wishing I was brown; oh, the injustice of having to also envy gorgeous Western and Arab and African women too! Also I dislike being this self-centered and lookist. Shame on me, for pete's sake.
Clothes are just so important. It's too hard to manage the wardrobe choices: how not to look like a tourist without looking like a ragbag. My customary US fashions are too weird for here and even in Colombo I feel like a freak when I wear even minorly revealing stuff; I'm just tall and bigger than everyone. This is shallow and vapid anyway; not sure why I can't let go of it. I should have a t-shirt made saying Ï live outstation"but then I'd have to wear it.
But actually. I am psyched for Jaffna.
Last night I was at a post-class dinner party with the yoga crowd; a sort of umpteenth housewarming for Thanuj's new-built manse. Ruchira, another yogafriend, designed the house and had been describing it as "simple" but lordy lord, this place is incredible--beautiful carved salvaged temple doors and windows, three storeys of exposed concrete and lovely antiques, walls made of grilles open to the outsides, overlooking a river, internally ceiled with lotus-printed panels like a temple ceiling. It was one of those "I didn't realize how rich my friend was" experiences.
I report this not because it has anything particular to do with Jaffna but because it's a new major file under my portfolio of thoughts on class and wealth and work here. It does bear some thought on the contrast between the wealth that pays for this house and the poverty and oppression of the North. Thanuj works hard and isn't a jerk, but still, this is one incredible and somewhat ostentatious house for a single 34-year-old guy. It's definitely a babe magnet; Ruchira's Aussie friend Anya came to yoga (for the first time) and dinner and as far as I could tell was classily throwing herself at Thanuj--the house, really, though he's a kind and attractive guy.
Anyway. There are rules and rules about behaviour; dress is just one of the areas of rules and class is just one of the contributing variables. It is so sad to me, still, that after all this time here I am still always an outsider, peering through obscured levels of social reality to try and find the place that fits me. Age, wealth, race, education, gender, work... it's as complicated as the worst Lankan bureaucracy, and at the end there is an inevitable metaphorical headwaggle.