War over, classes over, time to go home

I walked into the Physics Department tea room on Tuesday where a half-dozen physicists had gathered to hear the President of Sri Lanka address the nation on TV declaring victory in the war on terrorism. As I sat down the department head noticed me. “We have foreign professors come and foreign professors go, but you come and look…” he said, pointing to the TV screen. “Yeah”, I replied, “Why don’t they have my picture on the TV?”

Kris and I have come to Sri Lanka at a very interesting time. When we arrived, the LTTE controlled maybe 20% of the country, and now they have been completely defeated in a military sense. All the LTTE leaders are dead, a certain “live by the sword, die by the sword” form of justice. They literally fought to the last man. I can not admire this, as romantic as it sounds from a distance, because of the suffering they caused to so many even when it was clear they would lose. Their “last stand” was more of an expression of their fanaticism, their lack of touch with reality, than their devotion to their cause. Their cause would have been better served had they surrendered much earlier, or if the leaders had fled the country.

But though I sympathize with the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils, I can not be sorry for the death of the LTTE leadership. Their complete annihilation should give the island some peaceful breathing room, some time to start to heal the differences, to build a sense of Sri Lankan identity that rises above cultural differences. But that time will be limited, so the healing work to be done must be done urgently, as urgently as the movement of troops in wartime.

Classes at the University were supposed to be over yesterday, Wednesday. But then the war ended and I knew it was coming. Sure enough, on Tuesday, the President declared Wednesday to be a national holiday, wiping out the two final classes I was to teach. I decided there was nothing in Electromagnetic Theory that would justify bring the class back together, but met today with the Computational Physics class as it was their last opportunity to finish their projects. New Year’s, Poya Days, the celebration to end the war, all happened on the days I had classes. It was uncanny.

Final exams in both classes are still pending, but that was the last class meeting for me in Sri Lanka. For this last class, I wore a sarong. I told the students that they had honored me all year by wearing the national costume of my country, so on the last day of classes, I wore the national costume of their country. Actually, on me, it looked more like I was a tourist dressed for the beach than anything else.

So, the war is over and classes are over. My work here is done. Time to head home.




  1. SHANNON said,

    May 21, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Anyone take a picture of you in a sarong?

    • Tim said,

      May 22, 2009 at 8:54 am

      Kris has one picture of me in a sarong, lounging around the house. But we have a tacit agreement not to distribute pictures of the other that the other does not want distributed and that photo definitely falls in that category. However, since I have pretty much adopted the sarong in place of a bathrobe, you will , no doubt have opportunities of your own to take such a photo.


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