For six years now, the tragedy of Muttur has been haunting us.
Beyond the number of people killed that day in the courtyard of our office, beyond the brutal and barbaric way used to take their life, beyond the impunity, lies and silences which have surrounded this crime, beyond the horror that it inspires, I remind myself of each of them. Who they were. What they were living through. The love, the friendship, the kindness and the beauty they inspired to others. Behind the abject massacre still remain too many questions. Questions that someone will, one day, have to answer. And justice shall be made…
Six years after the tragedy, Ananth, Ganesh, Shritharan, Kovarthani and the others have not faded from my memory or my thoughts. One by one, I recall their names, their faces and my memories of them. So as to never forget. So that they will not die a second time.
Every visitor who passed by the Trincomalee-Muttur base in Sri Lanka would tell you the spirit that prevailed was amazing and had turned the base into a big family. The wages were not among the best. They could have worked elsewhere, for other – more lucrative – organizations. But most of them preferred the spirit, the freedom and the human values that prevailed here. At the end of the day, most of the workers would stay at the office, in small groups, to chat “because they felt better here than at home, here with friends”.
Muttur is an hour away by boat from Trincomalee, at the other end of the Koddiya bay, on the South shore. It was in this small Muslim town, guarded by the government army and surrounded by the Tamil Tigers separatist guerilla, that ACF had an office, linked to the Trincomalee base to allow operations in the southern part. After the tsunami, everyone was affected. And we were working for everyone: Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.
Half of our programs were being developed from the sub-base in Muttur, and part of the staff would stay over during the week, from Monday to Friday, to implement the activities before going back home on weekends.
Even if a ferry was travelling back and forth every morning and night, expats would sometimes stay overnight. An opportunity to discover other aspects of the team since, in this small Muslim enclave, there was not much to do at night other than staying at the office with everyone and gazing at the stars together. Stare up and chat about something else. Live together. They were happy when someone came. They knew that at night, while a (very spicy) curry was being cooked by Kethees and Mathan, we would all talk about everything and nothing. About the programs, the work day, but not only…
Each of these reunions was a particular moment of sharing. We would wind down a bit. We were “off”. People spoke more freely. We learned a lot. We talked about France, we talked about them. Often about the war or the present situation. Sometimes about the future. These evenings were fascinating, marked by respect but also by relaxation. We laughed a lot. They didn’t translate everything…
Perhaps it was easier to create a relationship with the staff we could directly talk to. But for all the others, those who did not speak English, another form of communication appeared. Through the eyes, the smiles, the rare Tamil words I had learned, and the few English ones they knew.
I often felt a lot of affection for people I hardly speak with. For example in the cases of “Uncle” Ganesh, Murali or Kones. Because I found their presence pleasant or reassuring, their look caring, and their smiles sincere and communicative. There is, in human relations, so many more ways to communicate and share, other than the mere words exchanged. This is a beautiful thing that I learned with them during those long evenings in Muttur.
I think that everyone who ever worked on the base had, like me, his or her heart torn out by what happened there. Because of the innocence and purity that was killed there, in the courtyard of the very office where we used to stare at the stars. Most of them were young, full of energy, hope, and dreams for the future. Some were fathers, with a family. Good human beings. Simple. Friendly. They were men and women who had decided to dedicate themselves to vulnerable communities, in order to help them, and they were so happy with the work they were doing. I remember talking with several of them many times about our humanitarian vocations. About what it meant for them. They were proud of it.
I can’t forget.
Testimony of Fabrice Carbonne