Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tsunami areas after 5 years.

Ban Nam Khem revisited.

It occurred on December 25, 2004.  In Khao Lak, it occurred in the morning around 10:00 AM.  This is the footage of Khao Lak.  I would be staying at one of the rebuilt hotels where this video was taken. 

At one point in time, there was a huge village called Ban Nam Khem, which was sort of like a cowboy town in the Takuapa District.  It was a fishing village, with old wooden homes and a huge number of people constantly engaged in conversations, social events and of course impromptu fish barbeques.  In old articles from 2005, the villagers were complaining.  They are still complaining today.  

Those things changed.  Once the waves hit the village, the place was never the same again.  Bodies were shoved against the walls of the Wat or Buddhist temple of the village.  Boats were on top of homes.  New salt water ponds were left around increasing the saline content of the soil.  Families were decimated.  Some people lost 20 members of their families.   I came back to this area.  I came back to see if things got better after 5 years of relief work.  I’m not sure. 

The Tsunami Children Foundation could have been big.  It never was big.  In fact, we never really got the substantial funding that was necessary to make it big.  We did a number of things by partnering with other groups and governmental entities.  We made due without the money that we needed.  Essentially, TCF was a NGO of 2 people--myself and Dr. Ratjatawan

Did we help?  I don’t know.
Ban Nam Khem.  I’m sitting down with a few survivors of the tsunami in Ban Nam Khem.  

These are a rough bunch.  Guarded men.  Proud men.  Suffering men.  All of these men lost someone to the tsunami.  And yet, when we came back to see them, they were really really happy.  They prepared a meal for us, and it is served in one bowl with one spoon collectively shared.  Dr Ratjatawan and I were invited to break bread this way, the local way.  They treated us to the local hooch, a very powerful alcoholic drink made of herbs.  It was then that I get the real picture of Ban Nam Khem and the people. 

Many who survived the tsunami are almost a lost generation.  They suffer from a sense of anger.  Ban Nam Khem at one point in time was a rough town.  It was the Old West of America in the middle of Thailand.  Not even the provincial authorities would go into Ban Nam Khem.  In some ways, some say, they are paying for the past sins.  This is Thailand.  It is Buddhist and Animalist.  Spirits houses are located on each property.  When you visit a location, you ask the spirits of the location to welcome you.  Tattoos are often in Sanskrit or Pali.  Thai Buddhist amulets are ever present.  My friend tells me, “A Thai does everything for a reason.  There is a reason for any action.” 

A drive through the Khao Lak area during the low season reveals a few things to me.  Things are not exactly better.  Gone are the NGOs.  Gone are the projects.  Gone are the people attached to those projects giving the local economy a false economic boom.  The jungle is also taking over much of the land.  Roads are closed. 

I am wondering if I did any good.  I then return to my thoughts about hanging out with the villagers.  We ate seafood at a survivors restaurant on the seashore by the tsunami memorial.  Glasses of Sangsom Rum (they call it whiskey, but it's rum.) were shared, and stories of a night out with the visitors echo in the wind.  Perhaps just being there was good enough.  I hope so.  

This road still goes to nowhere.  It was wiped out by the waves. 

The sunsets are still beautiful.