26 December 2014

Tsunami

Unawatuna beach days after the tsunami
Last year on the beach of Unawatuna in Sri Lanka, Shirley and I met a man who remembered Boxing Day 2004 very well. He was working in a beach front restaurant and it was early morning. When he woke and went down to the beach, he knew that something wasn't right. It was an eerie feeling. The tide seemed to be further out than it should have been. Then he heard a distant noise and saw the first tsunami wave on its way.

Instinctively, he decided to race into the nearby woodland where his parents' little shack was located. He yelled at them to get up and get out. The death water was coming now. He grabbed his mother and quickly carried her up to higher ground but when he turned and tried to get back to his bleary-eyed father it was too late. The tsunami had swept in. Later that morning, he found his father's corpse floating head down above the kitchen floor.

The man on the beach was probably in his early thirties. He was crouching near our beach chairs where we were drinking "Lion" beer as the sun sank peacefully over the Indian Ocean. Tears were rolling down his cheeks and we had tears in our eyes too. I put my arm around his shoulder and squeezed him because there was nothing much you could say. We felt a piece of his pain.

And then he returned to his job as a hawker - drumming up business for diving expeditions in the very ocean that had claimed his father and 35,321 others along the Sri Lankan coast, hundreds of miles from the epicentre of the  undersea earthquake that created that monstrous tsunami ten years ago.

Afterwards, I attempted to write a poem based on the beach man's story. If  you're interested, it's here.

13 comments:

  1. 40 years since Cyclone Tracy, 10 years since the Indian Ocean Tsunami. I remember the horror of both natural disasters as a distant observer.

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    1. Yes Carol. Some disasters affix themselves to our memories like limpets.

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  2. Have 10 years passed already? It seems like yesterday.

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    1. Yes ten years. We were so much younger then.

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  3. Wonderful poem, Yorky.

    Watching all the reports and services on TV and reading tributes in the newspapers brings back the horrors of the tsunami. Only moments ago as I was reading an article in today's paper about the tsunami I stopped to look out the window...trying to imagine what it must have been like to see that wall of water descending...shivers went up and down my spine.

    10 years...incredible...again it was one of those times I remember where I was exactly and what I was doing when I heard the reports come over the radio....

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    1. I am so glad you appreciated the poem Lee. I think it could do with a little more polishing. Meeting the man on the beach gave the horror of the tsunami a perronal reality.

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  4. As others have said , it seems like only yesterday ! There's been a bit on TV. I wish we didn't mark the passing of the year with all these disasters but I guess that's life.
    We are so lucky to live the life we do.... in so many ways !

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  5. Your poem is very moving. You.ve captured it well........ and the artwork is wonderful too.

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    1. The art work was by a Sri Lankan child who lived through the tsunami. And yes Helen, we are lucky but often we forget to count our lucky stars.

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  6. An old friend of my mother's died in that Tsunami. He managed to save his wife's life but not his own, sadly. We learned about it much later, when my Mum wanted to get in touch with him. They had known each other since teenage days.
    Such catastrophes are horrible enough, which makes me understand even less why people would deliberately kill each other for such "crimes" as having a different religion or skin colour, or belonging to a different tribe. Not much has improved in our minds since we've been cavemen, has it, only that we have much more efficient instruments to kill each other now than the old clubs and spears.

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    1. Actually our caveman ancestors were probably much more co-operative. They needed to be to sustain each other. When you compare the fatalities and the horror of the tsunami with 9/11 or the attack on the school in Peshwara you realise that it is in a completely different league.

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  7. I spent much of Christmas day with a friend who was in the vicinity at the time of the tsunami and it brings home to one that no one in the world is immune to disasters wherever they may occur. Your poem gives an insight into how you felt in a way that prose perhaps might not achieve. It was not an easy read. I think that Meike has an exceptionally valid point though when we bemoan natural disasters and then go an commit atrocities which are entirely avoidable.

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    1. Thank you Graham. And yes. Meike's connection is a striking one. The loss of life in natural disasters is so awful and so tragic that we should definitely not be supplementing those deaths by engaging in unnecessary conflicts based on hatred, money or more likely - religion.

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