My TSUNAMI story. Jan05
My childhood friend was getting
married on the night of 26th December 2004. We were enjoying the merriment
by a lakeside on a cool winter evening when someone mentioned 'Tidal
Wave'. Natural and 'artificial' disasters have become so commonplace that
it did not even register a sympathetic break in our celebrations. The full
impact of the disaster only became clear when I saw a copy of the Straits
Times while returning to Singapore on the 28th.
I needed to do something almost as
if to drown the guilt of being so happy while so many cried. The
fund-raising started immediately, I have the advantage of knowing a pool
of generous friends who support my aid organization in India. So with
blind trust they donated to my fund. I knew good colleagues already
working in Aceh and Sri Lanka so my destination became Southern India. I
flew into Chennai on the 2nd Jan 2005 with money, water purification
tablets, 6 cartons of chocolate and 2 bags of old clothes.
The first day was spent with an
organisation already doing relief work in Chennai. I realized that in
metropolitan areas the victims had enough aid and relief, if I were to see
the real damage; I had to go to Nagapattinam-300 KM south.
I rented a car. Babu the driver is a
gem of a man, moreover he spoke the language. Our journey took us south
along the coastal highway. Little fishing villages had disappeared to be
replaced by tacky colourful plastic tents. Lakes had appeared far from the
sea shore and there was a heavy weight of grief that I could feel from the
faces that I passed. It was surreal- the day was beautiful yet so ugly. I
stopped at a little town called Pondicerry- famous for its ascetic
lifestyle. The signboards said 'www.Pondicerry.calm'.
People speak French, there are
cafes, spas and ashrams but we were here to spend money on other things.
Babu took me to this tiny shop; we loaded our Ambassador car with
blankets, sarees and sarongs (called loongis). With every inch of our car
utilised we once again took the road south. We travelled through the
night. I had not seen such a beautiful sky dotted with twinkling stars yet
I felt overpowered by a sense of doom. I imagined gigantic waves coming to
engulf us from the darkness of the sea-shore. That is exactly what
happened to the residents of the tiny villages that we were passing.
We arrived in Nagapattinam at 6 AM.
Nothing prepared me for the scene. I have seen poverty, disease, even
violence. The whole area was reduced to a wasteland- muddy, littered with
debris and an unholy white powder sprinkled on the surface to disinfect
the area. Fires burnt unceasingly, devouring what the waters had left
There was no emotion because I did
not know what or how to feel. At one point I saw 6 or 7 boats piled on top
of each other next to an overturned, brilliant yellow truck. I felt as if
I was in an outdoor gallery where an artist had created a piece of modern
art. Except the smell, I don't know that smell but I felt its evil
intentions. And the sounds- a mother's tears and cry for a missing child
transcends language and cultural barriers. I am a father, I recognised
I went from camp to camp
distributing what I had. One camp was run by this young man. He had a
hand-written list of 360 families in his care. People were moving from
camp to camp to search for missing relatives. He was helping to make the
process easier. I left the bulk of my things with him to distribute.
I met a young mother with a little
baby, she was searching for her husband and 10 year old child. I gave her
some of my money. It wouldn't help her in her futile search but I hoped it
would buy her food. But I doubt she even realised what I had given her
because she was still rummaging through a pile of debris where her home
Even after I came back home friends
still added to my fund. I'll use my registered aid organisation in
India- Isonfund Trust to help one mother support her child through
childhood and school or perhaps buy new fishing nets and repair boats in a
small fishing village.
I met heroes on my trip. Young men
and women who have suffered tremendous personal losses yet stand strong to
help their communities recover, parents who lost their own children yet
find enough love to pick up an orphan, poor families who forgo a meal so
they can donate their share to the victims.
I salute men like Captain
Soehardi and Captain Elmo who have jumped in the midst of the disaster
areas and laid plans and the foundations for rebuilding- even while
governments wrangle and the media judge.
I returned home humbled.
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