Since the Troubles ended, loyalist and republican paramilitaries once at war with one another have sat in the same room to share their experiences. They’ve met with victims in the name of truth and reconciliation. They’ve given talks to students and led wide-eyed tourists on Troubles-themed tours—something of a cottage industry here—as ambassadors of peace of a kind, so that what happened will not happen again.
But all the talking, Donnelly says, hasn’t always been productive. “Sometimes, people are revisiting old anger, and you think, Do we keep having the same conversation over and over?”
Perhaps it's as 27-year-old Cristian Navarro, the youngest of Oasys’ showmen, said, “Me siento mas realizado aqui"—I feel more realized here. He would rather be playing a romantic hero at Oasys than work as a ranch hand or compete in equestrian competitions, even if the sheriffs always win and he's always shot dead.
There was no hurried pow-wow before they opened the show, no talk of what story would be performed, no ironing out of logistics. Instead, we lounged on the verandah of Abang Man's house eating keropok while discussing the virtues and foibles of the characters in the Ramayanic universe. The troupe members knew their repertoire so well they were ready to perform at a moment’s notice. The genius of a master puppeteer is his ability to improvise, to pick a story based on the audience and the mood of the troupe. No two performances—even of the same story—are ever the same.
The last wave of boats was pushing southwards before the coming of the monsoon. Thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims, fleeing from ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority Rakhine State or untenable living conditions across the border in Bangladesh's refugee camps, were making their way across the Andaman Sea on rickety wooden boats in hope of safe refuge in Malaysia. Among them this sailing season was Muhammadul Hasson, 17 years old and still just a boy despite the life experiences that have already conspired to make him less so.
On Arturo Prat, the main street, a weathered banner hangs from a gutted old house. “Pisagua debe ser puerto”, it reads. Pisagua should be a port. But there is just one dock, and you can count the number of boats bobbing in the bay. I wondered if the dream still lived.