My ESL teacher advises me to watch the news everyday. It helps to improve my English. But every time I hear of the atrocities carried out due to religious hatred, I am saddened. Saddened because I am a victim of this hate. Everytime I hear about an airstrike carried out in Syria, or watch Jews being tortured in Serbia, I remember my days in Sri Lanka. I think the worst feeling in the world is when your own country does not want you, simply because you pray differently. The country you were born in refuses to acknowledge your birth because you are different.

I do not clearly remember the time before trouble started. We used to live in Aluthgama, near Colombo. It was a Muslim district, with no Sinhalese people. I didn’t know then but Tamils and Sinhalas would not mix with us. There was an untold segregation going on. I knew nothing about this tension because I used to travel between Aluthgama and Matara, where I stayed. There, among the more educated people, there was no racism, no segregation.

My parents say it was not always like this. Sri Lanka was always geared towards progress. It was the first country in South Asia to achieve a 99% literacy rate. Our spice market is historically famous. But like most South Asian countries, it has a diverse population. Unfortunately, we could not use it to our advantage; the Sinhalese, being the majority, acted superior to the rest.

The Tamils rebelled against it. It turned into a civil war which was brutally repressed. The Tamils were then ostracised instead of being helped to recover. In 2013, Islam started to gain massive popularity. It became the fastest growing religion and was soon regarded with suspicion by the Sinhalese. So they united in the face of this new ‘adversary.’ We were the villains now. Extremist groups started burning down Muslim areas. Soon they came for Aluthgama. We were featured by BBC when the Bodu Bala Sena, a major militant group, burned down our home.

We fled to the relative security of Matara. But apparently the Sri Lankan weather hated us, too. Soon after we moved, Matara was hit by a tsunami. Water filled up our house in thirty minutes. We had no idea what was going on since we had never faced a tsunami before. We climbed thorny walls to the roof, and held on for dear life. My dad and uncle came to our rescue but by then I felt like I had already bled to death.

My dad decided to move to Canada right away. He was a well established businessman in Sri Lanka. Can you imagine how much suffering a person has to face to leave a life of plenty for the unknown? I think he also feared for his two children growing up in that country. We packed up and left in a month. Saying goodbye to my kin was the hardest because I didn’t know when I’d see them again.

When I arrived here, the security guards at the airport said, “Welcome to Canada.” The customer service lady was constantly smiling. It seemed like they had known me for years and had been expecting me.  

It’s amazing, really—Canada has hundreds of different cultures, but they manage to coexist so beautifully. I believe this comes from the existence of respect. People are not judged by religion or by looks, but rather by how smart or hardworking they are. The Tamils here do not care about Muslims; they laugh at the thought of any kind of enmity.

In Sri Lanka, I was marginalized by other members of society because I was different. However, I do not hate them. I believe their hatred stems from ignorance. If Sri Lankans knew more about their cultures and had respect for each other, the country would be much better off. Despite what Sri Lanka did to us, I will forever miss its seas: tranquil, cobalt blue waters that took your breath away. I will also miss the trains of Sri Lanka, against which even the Hogwarts trains stand no chance. But one thing is for certain: I will never leave Canada for Sri Lanka.

Illustration: Lila Huang