Boxing With Waves

May 15, 2008
By Sindhuri Nandhakumar, Kundasale, ZZ

'These are some of the rare corals found in our beaches' said Chandi proudly while the rest of us in the boat eagerly peered to see the corals through the glass bottomed boat we were travelling in. Chandi was taking us on a tour of the famous Hambantota sea waters in Sri Lanka. 'Us' means my family: my parents, my brother Joshua and my very own self: Lacey. My father's love affair with the Asian continent had brought us to 'Sri Lanka: a land like no other' (as the tourist brochures said) to spend our Christmas vacation in the year 2004. Today was boxing Day, early in the morning.

Our acquaintance with Chandi had occurred by chance. On Christmas Day, the day before, my family was strolling on the beach of our hotel 'The Blue Lagoon' when we saw a small young girl walking on the shore. My mother, the overeager tourist as she was, wanted a photograph of this typical Sri Lankan girl and decided to approach her with a motherly smile. The unimpressed girl however began to cry and wail. My startled mother stopped halfway and looked about with an alarmed expression on her face when a young man wearing the traditional Sri Lankan 'sarong' and a bare body came running towards us. This friendly young man explained to us that this girl was his sister and he also explained that she was not a normal child and was suffering from Down's syndrome and was frightened of strangers. Chandi went on to enquire about us and the young girl, seeing her brother talking to these strangers also opened up to us, to my mother's delight. Chandi then offered to take us in his glass bottomed boat the next day to see the corals in Hambantota with his sister Sajini, much to our delight.

As we eagerly bent forward to look at the exquisite coral lying at the bottom of the sea bed, the boat gave a sudden jolt and massive wave surged forward and carried the boat with it, moving forward rapidly.

Suddenly with a deafening roar, waves started piling on top of us and I found myself underwater, trying to fight a losing battle by trying to breath. I tried to lunge to the surface, but in vain.

After what seemed like eternity but what was in reality, only a couple of minutes, a strong, firm hand pulled me to the surface. It was Chandi. He led me to a coconut tree and asked me to hold onto it tight. My father and Josh were already there and Chandi was off to rescue my mother and she too joined us in a minute.

Chandi was off again: Sajini was missing. Try as he may, he couldn't find her. In an hour, with chandi still looking, a rescue boat came and helped us clamber on. Chandi refused to join us; he had to be forced into the boat.

When we eventually reached the hotel, which had ceased to look like one, we saw destruction all about us: collapsed building; bodies sans limbs; wrecked trees; everything.

Amidst all the confusion and destruction hung the uncomfortable and sorrowful truth: Sachini was still missing. Despite protests, the hotel management urged us to return home the very next day. Chandi was distraught and devastated, refusing to eat and crying out 'Sajini' every half a minute.

An airport security officer told us that Mother Nature was punishing the Sri Lankans for all the sins they had committed over the years.

Only when we were safely back home in the comfort ofour Maryland living room did we discover the actual truth: we had been caught in a tsunami that had affected many South East Asian countries. With a shudder we realised that we were lucky to be alive and were it not for Chandi we would have been rotting corpses in the Indian Ocean. Despite frequent attempts to contact Chandi, we still have no news of him and Sajini. We just hope our voices can be carried across the oceans and that he hears our huge 'Thank you Chandi'.

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