A few days before I left Luanda, I was taken by American friends to dine in a black-market restaurant. We ate at outside tables in a little enclosure on the street. The clientele all looked more or less as if they were black-market profiteers themselves. We were sitting right next to the rail that fenced us in from the street, and I had my back to this, so that, absorbed in conversations, I did not notice at first that a crowd had gathered behind us and were reaching in to grab things from our plates. But the management soon sent out a bouncer, who knocked down an old woman with a blow on the head and drove back the mob, mostly women and children, some of whom disappeared, while others, keeping their distance, stood dumbly and stared at the diners.
Here in Beirut refugees are lying on all the steps, and one has the impression that they would not look up even were a miracle to take place in the middle of the square; so certain are they that none will happen. One could tell them that some country beyond the Lebanon was prepared to accept them and they would gather up their boxes, without really believing. Their life is unreal, a waiting without expectation, and they no longer cling to it: rather, life clings to them, ghostlike, an unseen beast which grows hungry and drags them through ruined railway stations, day and night, in sunshine and in rain; it breathes in the sleeping children as they lie on the rubble, their heads between bony arms, curled up like embryos in the womb, as if longing to return there.
Unsettling about this place in the North of Sri Lanka is not that one fears being molested – at any rate not during the day – but, rather, because of the sure knowledge that people of one’s own sort, if suddenly faced with living this kind of life, would go under within three days. One feels very keenly that even a life like this has its own laws, and it would take years to learn them. A truck full of policemen; at once they scatter, some stand still and grin, while I look on and have no idea what is happening. Four boys and three girls are loaded into the truck, where they squat down among others who have already been picked up elsewhere. Indifferent, impenetrable. The police have helmets and automatics, therefore authority, but no knowledge. The newspapers carry a daily column of street attacks, sometimes naked corpses are discovered, and the murderers come as a rule from the other side. Whole districts without a single light. A landscape of brick hills, beneath them the buried, above them twinkling stars; nothing stirs there but rats.