I don’t know you yet, but you scare me. I see glimpses in the stories dad told – beaches, coconuts, eating curry from banana leaves; in the horror videos of torture on Channel 4; in the graphic descriptions of The Cage; in the sequined and crayoned thank you letter of my sponsor child.

I hold scraps of dad’s memories, my own knowledge culled from TV, books and websites, my imaginings of what you’ll be like. I compare you to India, the closest experience I have… but more it seems you are like Guatemala with her disappeared and military abuses. I don’t want to think of you that way. I want to picture pristine sand and coconut palms, coral reefs in clear blue water, children singing and yes I want to be the responsible tourist, the one who visits NGO projects and gives gifts to children and coins to beggars and why should I feel bad because I have so much and they have so little? You are my past, present and future, though I haven’t touched you yet. The love affair has been all second-hand – the intermediaries of father, literature and Internet. In my head you are still Ceylon, pearl in the ocean, land of dreams. There was no tsunami or civil war, no dead or tortured, no orphans. There will be no visa problems, or lost luggage; no language barriers, no dodgy hotel rooms or infected mosquito bites. It will all be perfect, won’t it?

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