Tsunami Diaries

Posted on October 6, 2006

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April 14th 2005 9.00 PM
I am standing at the sea-shore in Pattinacherry, one of the villages wiped out in the Tsunami that happened in December 2004. I can see the sea in the distance. I want to walk towards the sea, but I can’t. The stench is too much. It has been five months since the sea got hungry…and it has yet not been cleaned up. On the way here, the villagers looked at me and the Dream A Dream volunteers like we were daredevils for walking towards the sea. The fisher-folk have stopped going to sea completely. This sea shore is no longer the “safe” space where the children from the village played from evening to night till their mothers scolded them and whacked their naked bottoms back home. The sea that was the symbol of beauty has now become the demon; abandoned and feared and treated with a mixture of awe and contempt. Humanity is vanquished!

Saw some of the children today. Spent some time playing games. They were too restless. It was tough to keep their attention for too long. I know when this happens…it happens when children are under stimulated. There were some volunteers from Europe with them. Two girls have been with them from January. They said that the children were now doing somewhat better. They still dreaded the sea, but now they were at least open to playing. It took them a long time to begin playing again, and even now, they prefer to be with other children and do not appreciate much adult company. I closed my eyes trying to imagine their faces the morning after the aftermath. I jerked them open. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t.

Too many thoughts are running in my head. The extent of the relief work. The quality of the relief work. The lives of the people. Five months, the world has almost gotten on with their lives, but this village seems to have been stuck somewhere in time, like a week after the Tsunami. Five months are actually 150 days. So 150 days after the disaster, people are still living in the temporary shelters. The bright blue tarpaulin is the only colour I see around, and you know what, it is the door to the window-less asbestos structure that serves as a house for an entire family. I crossed a “house” that a family of nine are trying to call “home”. It is never going to happen! It is a tent, and it deserves to be called that.

I am sitting in this boat with my fellow-volunteers. I thought I have come here to help. I think I need help. 30-feet high waves, I don’t even know what that is like. I cannot even fathom, but right now as I sit here, I am not humbled, I am awakened: awakened from the stupor, the slumber.

This boat has not been to sea since December 26th 2004. It silently tells me a story. I am going to sleep in this boat. We were supposed to stay in the school. But, the school has been turned into a dumping ground. Where will the children go? What is going to happen? What can I really do?

April 15th 2005 7.45 PM

The volunteers from Dream A Dream and I got into the field, that’s just a figure of speech…I mean the dumping ground. We decided to clean up the school compound. Instead of trying to convince people to clean it up, we said, “lets get down and do it ourselves, people!” There seemed some disconcerted looks on the faces of one or two of them. But mostly, we all wanted to go down there. Actually, we did not imagine in our wildest dreams what we were in for.

The dumping ground had multiple layers and a myriad variety of waste. From dead fish, to soiled sanitary pads, to house-waste, to empty bottles of alcohol; our mound had it all! We tried to separate the waste, it was impossible. We changed the strategy, tried to burn it down, it somewhat helped; the dump reduced…but it was still a dump. We were tired and bruised. We had come to play with the children, and we had hardly gotten down to doing that…this trip was going more awry than I was ready for.

We finally paid some men from the village to help us out. I was amazed at the speed at which they worked. They cleaned it up, burned it down and it was gone in a matter of two hours! BUT WE PAID THEM…what will happen when we leave tomorrow? The apathy of the community is what worries me.

Right now, we are at the Brahmin’s Hotel. It is actually a shack made of bricks and mortar. But the Amma, she is the bestest. She has the darkest skin I have ever seen and the widest smile. She makes the world’s best dosas and as we gorge on her cooking, we are trying to think how to encourage the people to keep the school clean. It’s a team of seven of us…so the ideas are seventy…everything from planting trees to putting up pictures of God, we have thought of it all…

I feel cynical right now…all these still remain our ideas…it does not come from the people…it is not sustainable.

8.50 PM
The men who helped us clean up the school, I just saw them spend all the money at the liquor store. There are too many Liquor stores here, I am told most of them set up after the Tsunami. Alcoholism is beginning to be a pandemic here. Oh God, what else is left for these people, when will you relent?

April 16th 2005 2.00 PM
We are going to leave in an hour or so. I am in a reflective mood. I came here as a volunteer to help children affected by the Tsunami to come out of their shock. But what did I do?

I think I am being stupid if I think our team of seven did nothing! We cleaned up the school, and we also went and spoke to the authorities to have them come and collect garbage from certain points every week. It was weird having to talk on behalf of people I may never see in my life again. But somehow I felt the conviction when we were talking to them. Of course, it was irking me when we had to sweet talk with the bureaucrats, but at the end of the day, our work was done…and lets face it, we DID NOT HAVE to bribe them, so I guess it was well worth it.

I did spend some time with the children. There is a boy, Mohan I think. He does not speak any language except Tamil and I know nothing else but English. But I can safely say, we have a friend in each other. He is right here, I am sitting atop the parallel bars as he is trying to get my attention by performing acrobats and gymnastics…he is cute.

We gave the children colours and papers to draw on today. They seemed content. They were smiling. There were fights about the colours at first, but then everyone settled down. Some children even drew more than one picture. We danced a lot today. I felt liberated. The children looked relieved. They almost looked like the imps they are supposed to.

What I did may not have been much. But got me thinking. Made me more grounded. I learned inspite of my cynicism. I am glad I came here with Dream A Dream. I may not come to the next trip with Dream A Dream, but I do hope they are able to get the children to the sea the next time!

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