"Ayubowan" is a Sri Lankan greeting meaning "welcome." It also means "good journey."

Paige Cornwell will continue her "good journey" through Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore this summer, documenting the people she meets and the thing she sees through stories, photographs and videos.

To contact Paige, click "about" in the section below. To read her previous posts from her travels last year in Cambodia, Indonesia and Singapore, click "older" at the bottom of the page.

 

Back Story: Coming Home

It’s been about two weeks since I arrived home after a month in Asia, and I don’t think my body has quite adjusted yet. I was driving during sunset and thought, “this is a beautiful morning.” 

This happens every time I arrive back from Asia, apparently. I’m initially fine with the time change and the 32-hour travel back. Then about two weeks of being home and BAM. Dead Paige Walking. I think my body is trying to tell me it wants to be back in the Eastern Hemisphere.

What the heck, Paige. You’re tired. Go to bed.

Sorry, body. Can’t do it. It’s 11:30 a.m. in Lincoln.

Feels like 10 p.m.

It’s not.

It should be.

Well, it’s not. Now accept this coffee as a sleep replacement.

You know you want EGB instead…

Wrong continent.

Shoot.

I started back immediately at the Lincoln Journal Star and saw first-hand the changes the journalists in Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka have only begun to worry about. Eight reporters and editors will leave after taking a buyout from Lee Enterprises, which cited financial issues as one of the reasons for introducing the opportunity. An editor in Malaysia said he thought the newspaper industry would decline in five, maybe 10, years. It’s not as bad in Malaysia, he said.

Not as bad as in the United States.

It’s discouraging, but only slightly. There’s a whole world out there, and I’ve seen the other side. 

(Having flown both west to Singapore last year and east to Singapore this year, I also circumnavigated the world in two years, too.)

And there are stories in that whole wide world. But I have realized that, ultimately, the stories can’t just come from spending a few weeks in a country (no offense to my lovely classmates going to India in a few weeks. You guys are going to do awesome work). That can provide the beginnings of a story (see!) or maybe even a a few in-depth articles. I spent time interviewing Khmer Rouge survivors, but my 3000 word piece doesn’t begin to tell the real story.

The real stories are when you stop seeing yourself as an American telling the story of a person from another country. When you stop needing or even wanting to tell the stories. When the stories flow naturally.

When you, in turn, become part of the story. 

I hope to go back to Asia. Be part of the story.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

An investigation into the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. No international reporters were allowed in the conflict area at the time, but the footage from the documentary confirms what human rights organizations and the UN have suggested: atrocities were committed by both sides.

Models.Community Concern SocietyColombo, Sri Lanka 

Models.
Community Concern Society
Colombo, Sri Lanka 

 

A Morning Song.
Community Concern Society
Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Students in the Community Concern Society’s preschool sing a song during the morning session. Many of the students’ families cannot afford school tuition and usually pay 50 rupees (about 50 cents) to go to the CCS school. 

 
Jane.Community Concern Society Center.Colombo, Sri Lanka.
 Jane first came to the Community Concern Society’s Sunday School when she was 9. When she was 16 she was forced into a marriage by her husband’s family who made her sign marriage papers. She was pregnant by age 17.
 She has also been in the pregnant women program and the baby cleaning program. Both of her sons, 10 and 1, are in the center’s feeding program which provides the children with meals. She can’t cook at home. That’s where her husband does drugs.
 She isn’t sure if she could leave her husband. She wants to go, maybe. For now she stays for her children. She wants them to get an education and stay in the program. 
 She likes the center because it provides her with the help she needs. Because of the program she doesn’t have to beg for food.

Jane.
Community Concern Society Center.
Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Jane first came to the Community Concern Society’s Sunday School when she was 9. When she was 16 she was forced into a marriage by her husband’s family who made her sign marriage papers. She was pregnant by age 17.

She has also been in the pregnant women program and the baby cleaning program. Both of her sons, 10 and 1, are in the center’s feeding program which provides the children with meals. She can’t cook at home. That’s where her husband does drugs.

She isn’t sure if she could leave her husband. She wants to go, maybe. For now she stays for her children. She wants them to get an education and stay in the program. 

She likes the center because it provides her with the help she needs. Because of the program she doesn’t have to beg for food.

I wish you the best of success in your journalism things.

Di, a former student at the Community Concern Society who now goes to university through a CCS sponsorship program. The 21-year-old is the only person from his area (a beach destroyed by the tsunami) near Colombo to go to university. He wants to be a business manager and become proficient in English. He giggled when I told him he spoke English very well. When he left he wished me well and said “thank you for your consideration Ms. Paige.” He is the first native Sinhalese speaker to pronounce my name correctly. 

Aftermath: Cambodia and Sri Lanka

When I first told people that I was going to Sri Lanka, I received the same responses as when I talked about Cambodia last year.

"Where is that?" and "Wasn’t there some conflict there?" and "You’re going to die."

In both countries I have discovered a mostly-peaceful place with people who are struggling with psychological scars of war. 

The similarities mostly end there.

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge genocide that started in 1975 wiped out a fourth of the Cambodian population in its quest to form an ultra-communist utopia. All Cambodians, taken over by the group led by Pol Pot, suffered under the regime. Though those considered intellectuals or upper class were killed first, ultimately, about 2 million people of every type of group and class were murdered.

The regime ended in 1979. Since then, multiple former Khmer Rouge officers have been prosecuted for their role in the genocide.

Four years after the genocide ended, Sri Lanka had its own conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE sought to create its own independent Tamil state in the north and east of the island  and was branded a terrorist organization because of its violent tactics. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed during the almost 26 year conflict.

In 2009, the Sri Lanka government declared a defeat after launching an attack on Tamil-controlled areas. The U.N. estimated that about 6,500 civilians were killed during the strikes. Northern Sri Lanka was considered “a bloodbath.” The Sri Lankan government claims Sri Lanka as the first country in modern times to eradicate terrorism, however, officials now face U.N. charges of human rights violations.

Cambodia was destroyed by leaders who sought of “Utopia.” Sri Lanka was torn apart by a civil war where different sides sought their own versions of a utopia. 

Despite the countries’ differences, the results are the same. In a place where innocent people died, the survivors now struggle to make sense of what happened.

The Ladies Who Endure. Community Concern Society Apartment Complex B Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The Ladies Who Endure.
Community Concern Society Apartment Complex B
Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Rebuilding: An Epilogue

The story I wrote about the effects of the tsunami for the Lincoln Journal Star’s epilogue series. Special thanks to the Tidballs for setting up the interviews and to Michael Maly for shooting great photos.

Photo Story: Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka.

At the 25-acre site in Kegalle, visitors can see more than 80 elephants grazing, being fed and taken to the river for a bath. Foreign visitors have to pay 20,000 LKR (about $20) for admission, with fees being used to look after the elephants.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation established the site in 1975 on a coconut plantation to provide protection to orphaned elephants. The site has since grown and now also serves as a breeding ground. Since the breeding ground was established in 1982 more than 20 elephants have been born into the sanctuary. WIth more than 80 elephants, Pinnewala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world.

Many elephants were found orphaned or injured in the jungle. One, called Sama, lost a leg after stepping on a land mine and another is blind.

Despite it being established as a sanctuary for elephants, the orphanage has been criticized for its treatment of the animals. On June 4, a baby elephant drowned after getting trapped in stones and trampled by an adult elephant, according to the Daily Mirror. According to witnesses, bystanders watched the elephant in trouble but the mahouts (elephant handlers) did nothing to address it. In January, several mahouts were transferred after an elephant died from injuries allegedly caused by a caretaker’s spear.

The Born Free Foundation, an animal rights group, lists several criticisms, including the chaining of the baby elephants during feeding and the lack of providing them with a “natural life.”

On the Sri Lanka tourism website, Pinnawela is listed as making attempts to “simulate, in a limited way, the conditions in the wild.” They are allowed to roam freely during the day and form herds.

The Born Free Foundation commends Pinnawela on its practices of caring for elephants, but also writes that the site has work to do before being considered a true “sanctuary.”

"As a sanctuary we believe that it should be putting the welfare and care of the animals as its highest priority," David Jay wrote in the foundation report. "We do not believe that the current management practices do this."

(Back Story: At the orphanage, the mahouts ask if visitors want their photos taken then demand a small fee after they shoot the picture. This didn’t bother me, but I was pickpocketed 1,000 LKR (about $10). Yes, I was pickpocketed at an elephant orphanage. Yes, I realize how funny this sounds. No, I haven’t ruled out that an elephant did it.)