Thursday, April 07, 2005

Surviving Thailand's Tsunami

Kamala Beach,Phuket,Thailand,April 7,2005
Kamala Beach was hit the hardest by the Tsunami on December 26th, 2004. You may remember the 100 day Ceremony in which white balloons were released. That ceremony took place on Kamala Beach. I don't really know how to tell this story because there was so much laughter and so much sadness at the same time. So let me just tell you my day.

My two kidnappers from Monday came to my Hotel to pick me up for lunch. Dang is on the far left and her co conspirator, Ooy is on the far right. The other women all work in the same business of rounding up Farangs to see Vacation Club presentations at one of the three Hotels in town that sponsor them. You, my loyal readers, keep asking where I find such beautiful women in Thailand. The real answer is: they find me. I am just a very quiet person and the Thai people appreciate that very much. I asked Dang and Ooy if they would be willing to take me to Kamala beach as my guides. So Dang arranged a Taxi (400 baht round trip including many stops) and off we went.

We went a few minutes up the road to a place where the waves came in very hard. My new best friends are pointed to where the Tsunami came from. They said many many people died in this spot.

This building shows the effects of the enormous surge of water that crashed in from the Ocean.

After 10 minutes travel north on a winding coastline road, I get my first glimpse of Kamala Beach. You can see the darker area where the grass and trees had been.

A new concrete retaining wall has been built, much further back from the original beach to keep the area from collapsing further. All the buildings were wiped away clean by the Tsunami.

This shot of the beach shows where the Wave came from. It hit from the left, just beyond the peninsula you see here. New boats are being built right here on the beach.

The construction is coming along very well. You can see repairs everywhere.

This is another picture to show where the Tsunami came from.

Here is a closer look at the boat building.

Most of this work is done with hand tools.

Ooy took us to her friends; 'Solay' and 'Fatima' who are a Muslim couple living in Kamala Beach. Solay graciously offered to take us inland to the Tented Refugee Village that became the home to a hundred families when their homes were annihilated. Kamala's population is made up of 90% Muslum families and a lot of Farangs who have built expensive homes in this area. Solay told me he lost 4 family members in the Tsunami and watched many people die around him that day. He was at home asleep when the wave struck. As he told me his story he spoke very gently and talked with reverence, not sadness or fear.

We travel almost four kilometers inland and uphill to the refugee camp. Ooy points us the way into the gates. This is a property owned by one of the families from Kamala.

The people staying here are Buddhists and as we entered the gates, the first thing I saw was the Buddhist Altar.

Jack was on the second floor of a Beachfront restaurant when he saw the Tsunami. He saw the ocean suck back and many fish flopping on the beach. At first he did nothing. But then he saw the tidal wave coming and he went to ground and started running. He rotated the index fingers from both hands around his head the way you do to indicate that someone is a little crazy and he said: "everything go mad. People running. All I think of is,'where my daughter'. I run away and grab anyone I see and we come here." Jack said the Tsunami wave came three kilometers inland and destroyed most of Kamala Beach. He said 4 people in his immediate family died that day.

This is Jack's five year old daughter. His wife also survived. He lost 4 brothers I think. Seventy-six people died from the Tsunami. Jack said the worst part was that he saw people dying over a four day period.

When the Tsunami struck, there were 100 families living here. Now, after three months, there are still ten families unable to find homes.
Jack told me that each family was given 20,000 baht for their losses. Dang said that a simple house costs 100,000 baht to build so many families simply cannot afford to rebuild. I asked these people if they were aware of how much money was given for Tsunami relief from around the world. Jack said he was. I asked where he thinks that money went. He and the others just gave me coy smiles and shrugged and said they didn't know.

This is 'Lot'; Jack's grandmother. She is a real cutie pie and wanted me to take her picture. She is a very soft spoken woman who likes to laugh.

These tents were donated by European travellers who wanted to give something on the spot, to these people.

Jack told me the greatest fear is that the Tsunami is coming back. He says many people here cannot sleep. I asked if he thought the 100 day ceremony had helped. He said: "Chai. Much better now. Many ghosts gone from beach now."

So for now, these people live in tents.

As we drove away, everyone thanks us for coming and the last one to see us as we left was Lot who smiled and waved and wished us 'Sawadee Cup'. I felt very emotional as I left and didn't want to talk. I didn't feel sorry for these people. It was something else. It's something I keep finding in Thailand. A connection to what is important; to family; to their country. These people have seen unspeakable horror and yet they invite me into their lives and smile and laugh with me as family.
Just before I left these wonderful people,I asked Jack: "What will you do now?" He said: "Stay away from water."


Mary Jane Capron said...


I read your descriptions and looked at your photos with great interest. I haven't donated to the tsunami relief effort because I had no trust that the money would get to where it was needed. Where does it go? How is it dispensed? It really makes me angry that we are pressed to give, but there is no assurance that what we give does any good. We don't have much money (in fact our gas is cut off right now til payday). I would give though if I knew it would directly help someone. Any advice?

somsoc said...

Thank you for that very personal picture of the survivors. What can be done to see that more of the money goes to the intended victims? Maybe adopting a family and giving to them directly, would be a solution. Is that possible, do you think??

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Steve for sharing so much about the tsunami and the people. They are a wonderful people.

Much love

Anonymous said...

I feel guilt and anger as I read this.
Guilt, because there seems little we can do to help these people rebuild, short of going there with lumber and tools. I have given money, as many Canadians have, but it seems like more of the "trickle down" theory dominates. Reaganomics worldwide.
Anger at the heartless, godless and corrupt people who would benefit from the suffering of their own neighbours. Shame on them.
I admire the spirit of the survivors. They are an inspiration.


Steven said...

I got a lot of responses like yours mary jane and somsoc. We want to help these people but we want to make sure the money really gets there. I told Ooy and Dang this might happen. We're working on a plan here. Stay tuned, and thanks.

Steven said...

Deeds: Remember when I used to say that I was afraid to come to the Third World because I thought that when I got here I would find them so needy that I would feel compelled to stay and help? I had it wrong. I need what they have.

Steven said...

Scott: They are an inspiration. I cried as I drove away because I was so inspired by their courage and strength as a community. I wish I had more facts so that I could see where that money really is going.

Vivyan Ackroyd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vivyan Ackroyd said...

Will get you at the airport, sent you an email but it was bounced...said your box was full, busy guy you have been. I sent a copy of your last post about the money getting to the people my local Kingsway newspaper...hope we get some reply and perhaps you could be a liason or arrange for one over there ....bye for now and clean out your mail box so you get my messages and pictures....hugs and be well...lots of news to share with you, luv ya Vivyan

P Melissa said...

I was thinking you might want to contact CBC radio as well about the donation problems.

And who do I have to pay to get a new blog around here? Tap tap tap. Hope you're having fun.