Trigger warning: This is an emotional piece about the recent attacks in Sri Lanka. It contains graphic content regarding war and violence. A vigil will be held for the victims of the attacks at NYUAD on Monday, April 29 at 7 p.m. at the Central Plaza
Update: This article was written on April 25. The bodycount of the Easter Sunday attacks continues to fluctuate as new information comes to light. As such, statistics in this article may not represent the most accurate death and injury tolls.

Sunday morning started off as just another Sunday morning. My dad going through the newspaper in his work out clothes before we settled down to eat breakfast. Our dogs were seated in between my parents — their usual spots during meal times. My mom’s sister called, bombs had gone off. I didn’t believe it. My mom started frantically calling people and I ran upstairs to get my phone. Easter Sunday was meant to be a lot of things, but multiple bomb attacks weren’t supposed to be one of them. Nine suicide bombers detonated at three churches and three hotels in locations across the island leaving Sri Lanka with almost 300 dead and counting and more than 500 injured.

On April 23, a Tashan poster advertised a “Candle Light Vigil for Sri Lanka and refugees around the world.” The poster struck a nerve within much of the NYU Abu Dhabi Sri Lankan community — both students and alumni — who reached out to Tashan that same night. The next morning, Tashan reacted by immediately taking the posters down and posted a well written, heartfelt apology. As Sri Lankans and NYUAD students, we appreciate Tashan’s prompt response. We know that Tashan didn’t mean any disrespect. This article isn’t written in anger, nor is it written to point fingers at anyone. It is written to express why the Sri Lankan community reacted the way we did. It is also written in the hope that our NYUAD community learns something from this and addresses the larger framework of the global citizens that NYUAD aims to be.

The poster read, “Candle Light Vigil for Sri Lanka and refugees around the world.” As a group of Sri Lankans, we felt that the victims of the Easter Sunday Attacks deserved their own attention and that combining it together with another event took away from the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. We’re not against a vigil for the refugees. On the contrary, I believe that they too deserve their own attention. Horrific attacks and events happen around the world. They all have victims who go through their own struggles and they all deserve to be recognized and respected. Each for their own. They are important. Understanding that is also important.

Easter. A day of joy that many people looked forward to. A day of prayer. A day to celebrate resurrection. A day not meant for destruction.

On Sunday, the death toll started with 75. Now we’re at over 250. Tomorrow, this number might change. In addition to the dead, there are at least 500 people injured, with some fighting for their lives in intensive care units. 250 is a number. But within that 250, are individual lives, stories, dreams, could-have-beens and would-have-beens.

It doesn’t stop there. Those who survived the blasts live with memories of seeing their loved ones lifeless and in pieces. Outside of that 800-something individuals, there are also their families and friends. Survivors who had to stand in line to walk past a long line of white body bags to identify their loved ones. People who walked through hospital ward after hospital ward only to be finally told to check the mortuary, where they pulled out one body after the other. Bodies that were injured, disfigured, broken. People who had to watch images of dead bodies projected onto a screen in order to identify who belonged to whom. Some bodies so disfigured that DNA analysis needs to be carried out.

Then there was also the rest of the nation. Circulating pictures, asking strangers to help, “Let us know if you have seen this person” only to be updated a couple hours later saying, “sadly they’ve passed away.” The pictures most difficult to see were of a room full of little children, playing at Sunday school. A room full of children who are now injured, fighting for their lives, or dead. Next month marks ten years since the end of the civil war. The Civil War and the Easter Sunday Attacks are two separate attacks. To the people of Sri Lanka, they’ve now been attacked twice. People who survived 30 years of war were lulled into the safety of almost ten years of peace. A taste of normalcy only to have it taken away. The three decade war was gruesome. But an attack of this magnitude in one single day spoke volumes. Imagine living through a 30 year war with an estimated 100,000 casualties and numerous bomb attacks. Imagine saying that one day’s explosions, the number of explosives found in the days after and the implications of it are worse than that war. It has only been three days since the attacks, versus 30 years of war. That’s how much the people of this country are shaken.

Curfews have been implemented every night since Sunday. People get up in the morning and hesitate to go to work. Some stay. Some go. Some alternate between going and staying. 30 years of war means that you become desensitized to some of this. Life went on during the 30 year war, life will still have to go on after all of this is over. Life has to still go on in the midst of all of this.

Sunday afternoon I was pacing up and down because I didn’t know what to do while my mother was replacing my dusty curtains. For our generation, when the war ended we were either small kids or early teens, protected by our parents from most of it and too young to fully understand it. But we’re old enough to understand this attack. Back home now, some of us, including me, get to work from home. Many Sri Lankans — at home and away — don’t feel like we’re walking out into the live minefield that is Sri Lanka right now.

But that doesn’t mean we are at ease.

I’ve been unable to do much of anything except check the news even as my mother kept telling me to get on with my work. The forces are still finding explosives. Today, I got a call from my mother telling me that there is a possibility of a bomb going off and to stay inside. She said that no matter what happens, I should go on with my life and know that I am loved. You have no idea how terrifying it is to hear your mother speak those words.

We’re all calling each other and texting each other, checking in. At home, somewhere in the NYU Global Network, at work, or other Sri Lankans currently living outside the country — are all terrified. Our parents and friends were asked to stay inside their offices today. Roads closed down. Hospitals getting harder to enter. 200 detonators were found today and 21 hand grenades. On Monday, they found 87 explosives hidden with garbage.

That’s not all. I can’t recall the amount of news I’ve read on the contained explosions or suspicious vehicles reported. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we also have to deal with a government that was warned about the attacks in advance and did nothing about it. A government who knew that civilians were joining ISIS but still it is not illegal for citizens to join terrorist groups. We’ve been let down by our unreliable government and so-called leaders. We’re also trying to stop this country from turning against the innocent Muslim population.

We all wonder. Will there be another explosion? When will this all be over? Will this turn into another war? Will we make it to next year?

Growing up during the war, I imagined how we would escape or hide if a bomb exploded at school. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I’d rather the next generation of kids not go through these mental exercises. But come next Monday, when schools reopen, with tighter security and constant vigilance, I’m unsure. As a kid, I got up at 6 a.m. to run to my parents’ room to find my mom talking on the phone to other moms about whether to send their kids to school today or not because of possible bomb attacks. Next week, parents will go through the same thing. It’s not over for us. Not yet.

NYUAD students and alum account to about 30 of us. But that’s not all the Sri Lankans on campus. East Dining Hall staff, cooks, servers behind the counters, convenience store employees, life guards, personal trainers and numerous Serco staff are Sri Lankans too. They may have lost someone. Or not. If you see them, talk to them, listen to them. Ask them how they’re doing. Distract them. Its okay to not look at the news constantly. Its okay to take your time. its okay to talk about something else. After three days of not being able to do anything else but check the news and update my friends, I needed that. Chances are, the people around you need that too.

When I was studying away in New York, my mother kept telling me to avoid subways and Times Square. Of course, I took the subway and of course I went to Times Square. The point is that even after events are over, the trauma remains. When I told my aunt what my mom told me today, she said, “that’s what we used to tell you too, you were just too young to remember it. We left our houses in the morning, not knowing whether we would return. It brings back memories of walking through bombed sites strewn with blood and limbs looking for my dad.” So for Sri Lankans, it’s also not just an attack, it’s also a resurfacing of trauma. I know Tashan didn’t mean any harm. I also know it was just a poster. It was one sentence. 11 words. And yet, just 11 words can mean a lot. Tashan later explained that they were going to have a vigil for refugees and when the Easter Sunday Attacks happened, they added the Sri Lankan vigil to it. But without this knowledge, the poster could also have been interpreted as referring to Sri Lankan victims from Sunday as refugees. Don’t get me wrong, we did have refugees during the 30 year war but we do not at the moment.

Here’s the thing about being a part of the NYUAD community. Events around the world cease to be isolated events. When something happens somewhere around the world, chances are you now know someone from there, which makes it personal. You can’t just not care and leave it alone as someone else’s business. There are happy moments. I celebrate Sri Lankan new year — as well as South Indian and Nepali new year— with my non-South Asian friends, which happened the Sunday before Easter Sunday, in the same way they celebrate Diwali and Chinese New Year with me. I can no longer think of April without thinking about the Rwandan genocide. That, to me, is the NYUAD community. When the attacks happened on Sunday, I had friends who downloaded apps that weren’t banned in Sri Lanka under the social media ban so they could talk to me, friends who were willing to cancel their plans to go out and talk to me, friends who were willing to stay up late in their own time zones to talk to me, friends who messaged me constantly and emailed me to check in and friends who patiently listened as I freaked out every single time they found a new set of explosives. This is, to me, what it means to be a part of this community.

This is NYUAD. It means we celebrate festivals that didn’t come from our backgrounds, even when we’re away from each other. It also means that we stick through tragic times together, even as we are separated by continents and oceans. It means we care about things outside of ourselves. In the past week, I’ve received a lot of warmth from my friends outside of this country in the midst of all the negativity that has been plaguing Sri Lankans.

When John Sexton said play another octave on the piano, he didn’t mean counting the number of countries you’ve been to, how colourful your Instagram feed is or how many visas you have on your passport. Understanding the world in all its differences, beauties and tragic moments and being there for them with whoever needs you there makes you a global citizen. Sources reported that the world searched seven times more about Notre Dame’s roof burning down than they did about the Easter Sunday Attacks.

In April, Black Churches burned down in Louisiana, the great mosque of Aleppo, much older than Notre Dame also burned, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 occurred in the Philippines, floods in South Africa and of course the Easter Sunday Attacks. Notre Dame probably got a lot more attention than each of these, even when lives were lost. The world does have a tendency to focus on Western or Caucasian narratives. Then again, that is why we’re here. We, the community at NYUAD, alumni and students, aiming to be global citizens are here to change and challenge that narrative. The NYUAD framework was created as a university with diversity in numbers, in study away sites and trips, which means we have connections to places during good times and tragic times. When we say the world, we mean the world. Not just a part of it.

Towers around the world lit up or shut down — including in Abu Dhabi and Dubai — and vigils were conducted on behalf of the victims of the Easter Sunday Attacks. There have been responses and thoughts from around the world. We are grateful for that. I know it was just one poster, one sentence and eleven words. We are in no way angry at Tashan. But what we’re asking though, from the entire community is to think a little more and understand a little more. Eleven words, after all, can carry a lot of weight.

Author’s note: Because people not numbers matter, here are some of the victims from last Sunday’s attacks. This is a good resource in case you wanted to keep track of what is going on following the attacks.

Originally published by ‘The Gazelle’, an NYUAD student publication on 27th April, 2019.