Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | Bangkok – Away from the Tsunami
Around the Indian Ocean, a Tsunami struck on the morning of December 26th, 2004. I found out about it on the evening of the 29th, and then only that some sort of Tsunami had hit Thailand. That’s as a result of travelling in the previously earthquake stricken state of Gujurat in India without access to English language newspapers, and beyond the reach of television. Gujurat’s city of Bhuj, had suffered incredible damage just a few years earlier on exactly the same day. Still, the tsunami did not seem to be that big of a deal in people’s daily lives. Later I was to read that psychologists in India advised people who had experienced the Gujurat quake, not to watch tsunami images on television, as it could bring back painful memories of their own trauma. Then there’s the fact that for many of India’s poor, they do not have access to media, or even if they did, the struggle for daily survival is enough without worrying about something that happened many thousands of kilometers away – something they are unable to do anything about.
Once I did get to an Ahmedabad hotel and had access to television or print news reports, I found out a lot more about the tragic loss of life and incredible damage. It’s overwhelming for most people, and I’m no exception.
In India, the local news focussed mostly on the loss of life in Sri Lanka, and then some on the relief efforts in India, along with a healthy dose of criticism for the nation’s politicians accused of using the disaster as a photo op for political gain.
Here in Thailand, I have CNN Asia in my hotel room. It’s much more graphic, and possibly because of the more easily accessible terrain or the large number of foreign tourists missing or dead, it seems the coverage is about Thailand. Many more people have died in other countries, but the images are of the beach resort community of Phuket. The heros, the orphans, the dead, the misssing, the injured, and the miraculously living.
India, as well as Thailand, which is a relatively rich country in the region, have both refused any government to government financial countributions (not including the food and medical aid of NGO’s or the salaried manpower and expertise of foreign rescue personnel). But the people of Thailand have a generosity of spirit and that has translated into large donations throughout the country. Near Khao San Road, a donation box is filling up with many hundreds of thousands of Baht, as tourists and Thais alike, reach into their wallets to make some sort of contribution that will hopefully help people along the Andaman coast rebuild their lives. The tragedy has touched many throught the country including the King who lost his Thai-American grandson.
On my visit to the Phayathai Babies Home in Bangkok, I found out that the resident Psychologist, Khun Apichet, had lost both of his parents to the waves. The American actor(Tony) living here in Thailand that started the “bridging the Gap” program at the home, was in the south helping with the relief effort. I saw him on CNN. They say that one in four people in the south of Thailand have either died, been injured, are missing, or have lost a loved one to the Tsunami.
There’s good and bad in this disaster’s aftermath. Their are stories of human vultures cutting off body parts to steal jewelry, and others stealing bodies from hospital morgues and then selling them to the relatives while claiming that they went to considerable risk and expense to discover and retrieve the corpse. Dogs have gotten into makeshift morgues and eaten at bodies. Army personnel in India refused to touch bodies in that country known for it’s caste system where only the “Untouchables” are deemed low enough to touch the dead.
There are also the stories of parents who have lost their children taking in children who have lost their parents. There are stories of Palestinians lending money to Israelis to make their way home. There are tales of boatmen who have lost their entire families tirelessly evacuating people non-stop throughout the day in the their luckily remaining watercraft. And the well known stories of people helping people – to survive.
If you want to help, adding to the incredible generosity being demonstrated throughout the world, probably the best thing you can do is give money to the international agencies that are on the ground doing something to help. Culturally different clothing is not that appropriate to donate. Give to the Red Cross or Crescent, WorldVision, Doctors without Borders, Save the Children fund, or Unicef. They are here, and throughout the region. They are working to provide clean water, food, and shelter. If they end up with too much money, there will be other areas that they can use the funds.
It’s an incredible way to end the year. Let’s wish for a new one that brings happiness, miracles of hope, and renewed determination to make our world better.