Feb 21st, 2009
Last night, I was the compere/announcer for Colombo Fashion Week and thankfully, my hubby, was there too. There was a blackout, so I made a mic-free announcement for everyone to stay calm and stay in their seats. I had no idea it was a response to an air raid.
As you may know, the LTTE, also known as Tamil Tigers, smuggled in pieces of small, light aircraft and then built a small air force of a handful of 2-seater planes.
The lights came back on and I continued, as directed, to get on with the show, blissfully unaware of any threat. I even kept on reading my script when I heard what sounded like people banging on the wall behind me, sticking tight to my "show must go on" sensibilities. At the sight of tracer bullets, I knew that sound was something far more serious.
Then the director told me to announce the show would continue tomorrow and tell everyone to calmly move away from the huge plate glass windows that formed the entire West wall of the penthouse ballroom. No one even knew where the emergency exits were, so they all rushed to the elevators, which of course weren't working.
My husband, who knew ahead of time what was happening and had been hovering nearby, very calmly told me it was time to go, and when I said "I have to get my stuff" he explained to me, still calmly, "you need to get away from the windows, because they could fire through them. Get only what you need and come this way." I did and he grabbed my hand and held it tightly as we moved through the crowd to find our friends. He never let go of me until we were safe.
I realized I had left my cell phone, so when it was quiet, we went back to the sound stage-booth-thing and he helped me gather everything else. The emergency exits were dangerously close to the plate glass windows that formed the entire South wall of the ballroom, and also overlooked the Army Base, so he wanted to wait until things quieted down before we took the stairs. We sat waiting in a secure corner.
I had brought a flashlight because they hadn't provided me with any light the night before, and it was odd to read a script by the light of the DJ's laptop. And thank God! I grabbed it and we made our way down the unlit 8 – 10 flights of stairs that may have never been swept, amidst kicked off ladies footwear, with my friend's Dad in tow. He was on his cell phone trying to get through to the rest of his family, but was only receiving calls from his driver who was on vacation in another part of the island, asking if they were all okay.
We found our friends in a covered parking area, and then we began to relax and make jokes. Once we were down among our friends, the info started coming on cell phones. I don't know if you've seen it in the news by now, but the crash I heard was a small plane crashing into our IRS building, which is next to an Air Force Base, less than half a mile away. The anti-aircraft fire was happening all around us, and it seems it actually hit the aircraft, forcing it to crash before reaching its target. You can imagine the gleeful jokes about the destroyed IRS files.
The hotel made an announcement that were given the all clear to turn on the lights and air conditioning, but that we couldn't leave the grounds yet. They played music, served food and drinks, and we all relaxed into the return to normalcy. Our international designer guests from Dubai, Bangladesh, and Pakistan were all unshaken. When they announced that it was safe to leave, a group of white boys– a sports team from England or Australia–were all packed and waiting for a taxi in the lobby. They seemed amazed that the rest of us were all back to business as usual. It's just what I heard the head of British Council saying on the phone to someone "Sri Lankans are incredibly resilient".
I was thinking about the little decisions I made when getting ready that afternoon. I was already constantly invoking Divine Order, because I was nervous, so the fact that I made these decisions shows me I was aligned well. Things like: to remember to take a flashlight, to wear a comfortable pair of shoes and pants instead of a dress or skirt, to not take my laptop, to bring a granola bar or two because the intermission snack trays never made it our way the night before.
I was very grateful for all of those things in the midst of it all. And I was so happy with my choice of hubby. He took care of me, and then helped our friend’s dad make sure his family weren't still up there before we had him come down with us. Once we were downstairs safely, he located all of our friends and kept them in sight.
As far as I know, only one person died in the attacks, and the 2 planes were shot down. They missed their targets and caused only a bit of ruckus. Inside the hotel, I didn't see any pushing or hysterics, and the hotel staff were on top of it. The war seems to be almost over, and this was a desperate, last ditch effort to terrorize. I don't feel particularly terrorized actually. I just remembered that while I still had the mic, and it was on, I told everyone to stay calm and hold thoughts of peace in their minds. I'm actually pretty proud of myself for that, now that I remember it!
So there you have it.