I had no idea until I met him that my Uncle Vasantha had survived the Tsunami that hit Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004.
I remember when the Tsunami happened there was an absolute feeling of chaos and powerlessness that hit our household. We sat, stunned, watching the waves crash over Sri Lanka and were totally unable to get through to any of our Sri Lankan family by telephone. It was days before we talked to anyone, and we couldn’t do anything else but sit and watch the coverage. To this day, the beach makes me very uncomfortable and I find myself holding my breath every time the tide flows out as I wait to see if it will come back immediately or not.
My Uncle Vasantha was near the beach when it happened and he and his friends survived by literally running into the hills. He described the sound of the tidal wave as a hundred motorcycles all at once, and it was the sound that confused many people who were just inland of the beach. They stopped, stood and wondered why the train sounded so close. It wasn’t until they saw the wave that they ran. There were not many people who were as lucky as my Uncle. He told me the saddest stories of tsunami loss. Some of the saddest were the ones where one or two members of a family survived and watched as their loved ones were swept away or drowned in front of their eyes. Years later and this tragedy still affects me.
My mom and sister went to the beach while I was there. I refused to go for a few reasons. The first and most prominent being that going to a cemetery, as extensive a graveyard as is that particular Sri Lankan coastline is not my idea of a relaxing weekend. Just the thought of it makes me shiver, even now. Uncle Vasantha told me stories of the hauntings that dot the landscape where the tsunami claimed dozens of thousands of lives. In fact, most Sri Lankans agree with me. They don’t like the beach anymore. They won’t go to the beach anymore. The derision I was met with from my sister, Rowena, was far from the response I got from most Sri Lankans or expats who had lived there for long enough to fear the long-lasting effects the tsunami had on the country and its consciousness. There was a kinship I felt with all of those who agreed with me that the beach was not the place to go for a holiday. Too many ghosts. Too much pain. So much sadness that remains in such a small stretch of land.
Kinship and ghosts. These were the two recurring themes of my visit to Sri Lanka, one of the most beautiful and haunted places on the face of this Earth. I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable when faced with the beach. I wonder how this will do me while I visit Florida with Steve in the Spring. The nicest thing about saying that since the tsunami I don’t like the beach, was the fact that most people in Sri Lanka understand without having to explain it. I doubt it will be that easy in Boca Raton and most likely it will be one of the many things about myself that I will have to keep to myself because there is no amount of speaking that can explain how I feel about, unless you already understand what I am talking about.