My experience in Jaffna. - Sandarangi Perera. For three long decades Sri Lanka was torn apart by a malicious war between the country’s majority and minority. This war made the northern part of the country inaccessible to most of us; its citizens. I myself thought that the people, culture and beauty of Jaffna and its surrounding areas would forever remain a mystery to me. However once the war ended the north opened its doors for the rest of the island to come witness all it has to offer.
Even with this great opportunity at my grasp, yet I was not capable of visiting northern Sri Lanka as I simply never had the chance to. Luckily this chance was given to my fellow college mates and me by our college, the chance to see and experience the post war north. After much planning, excitement and enthusiasm we set off to Jaffna hoping to gain new experiences, to learn new lessons and to make memories as young individuals aspiring to be future journalists. Our purpose of going to Jaffna was to collect information that was needed to write the stories that each of us were assigned.
The general topic assigned to the particular group that I belonged to was “agriculture”, and we were given the full freedom to choose a story we preferred under that wide topic. The task was to choose a story which has a news value. I instantly decided on writing my story about the grape cultivation in Jaffna, considering my love for the fruit and my curiosity about the process of its cultivation. On my first day in Jaffna I arranged an interview with a few government officers at the Ministry of Agriculture Northern Province. The interview was rather successful and proved to be both knowledgeable and interesting.
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I learned much about the history of grape cultivation in Jaffna, its plight during the war, its status after the war, the different typed of grape fruit grown in Jaffna, the problems and threats faced by the farmers and last but not least the future plans and goals set for the growth of the grape farming industry in Jaffna. Day two and three were spent visiting grape farms and interviewing the farmers to gain a much more practical knowledge about the cultivation of grapes. I must say that the grape farms we visited were by far one of the most beautiful things that I have ever witnessed.
Entering each grape farm felt like walking into a land that simply was far away from Jaffna. Greenery was rare in the North. The long stretched roads often had nothing but brown, open and empty lands on either side that often felt quite dead. These farms were the absolute opposite. Every inch of the mesh above our heads was covered with light green grape vines that blocked away the scorching sun that we could not flee from the rest of the time. What looked lovelier than the grape vines themselves were the grape fruit hanging from them.
Standing under those vines I couldn’t help but feel happy and refreshed. One grape farmer that I spoke to expressed to me how growing grapes was very much similar to bringing up a child. He spoke of the dedication, caring and nurturing it took to maintaining a grape farm. There were many traditions and rules entwined with this trade, there was a specific way in which every move was to be made and this made it seem to me that grape cultivation was more of an art than a business and the farmers also went on to say that sadly it is an art that is slowly dying.
Our third day in Jaffna was spent visiting onion farms and Palmyra plantations and other industries related to the Palmyra plant such as handicrafts and food and drink items made out of it. Out of the places visited on that day one place in particular that I found to be interesting was a small-scale workshop where Palmyra handicrafts were made. There were about five to six women there who were weaving pretty and colourful baskets and bags and on display were the most delicate little ornaments made from various parts of the Palmyra tree.
These women made weaving look rather easy as they sat there, smoothly and artistically moving their fingers creating beautiful patterns. Being a crafter myself I wanted to sit with them and try weaving, and so I did. An elderly woman offered to show me how it was done and I tried to grasp as much as I could by watching her fast moving fingers and yet when I tried to weave I failed miserably. I discovered that it wasn’t nearly as easy as they made it seem to be, yet it was quite the enjoyable experience to try anyway.
Along with our busy schedules, tweeting, blogging and all the other work assigned to us we still found time to experience the beauty of Jaffna while at work. Many of the places we visited, such as the Jaffna library and religious sites had a certain calmness and beauty about them that I had not experienced prior to that. I found this experience to be one that educated me much about the practical aspects of being a journalist; making contacts, setting appointments and interviews, researching into stories and their details, checking and crosschecking, finding reliable sources, team work and so on.
These lessons could not have been taught to any of us in a better way, therefore I believe I speak for all of my college mates when I say our field trip to Jaffna was a priceless experience in more ways than one. The open blue skies, the beaches, the breeze, the late nights and early mornings, the joyous moments shared with friends, the delicious food, the traditions and culture of the north and more than anything the kind people of the north have been etched into my memory never to be forgotten; and this was my experience in Jaffna.
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