Thursday, March 31, 2005

Khao Lak Update

Hi Folks,

Settling into life here in Khao Lak. Show up for work every day, breakfast gathering with the volunteers, then off to the work sites in the backs of trucks and motorcycles. Digger and I have a three-mile commute to the center from our bungalow, where those lizards have kept me awake every night until about 3 a.m. when they suddenly just stop.

Then they start up again.

Unfamiliar with the sounds of the jungle just outside our window, Digger sat up straight out of a dead sleep our first night here, asking, "What the fuck was THAT?"

We joked about the white 2 ft. rat he saw on the rafters, making a deal with that loud lizard, telling him, "You cover my movements with your sound, and I'll score us the barbequed potato chips."

Mr. E., our bungalow mgr., drinks himself to sleep each night, telling me of his nightmares of the tsunami and his mother in his dreams. 'Soona-meee', they all say, as did Mr. E., over and over the other night, as we sat up late, watching Thai TV.

My worksite friend and English student/Thai teacher, Voy, lost his girlfriend, two family members, and the husband and two sons of a family of four from Sweden that has been coming here for years and had become his friends. He had a dive shop, a restaurant, and a tour guide service, all lost to the wave.

Today I finally asked him, 'How can you be happy?' as he pointed out a poster on the wall of the still missing father and two sons.

'I try to stay busy working each day,' he said. 'I try to keep happy.'

You would never know his personal story by his general gaeity on the job site. Others seem more laden with their grief. One man, who told another volunteer his story and asked not to be named, is pleasant and smiles and jokes with us, but sometimes you can catch him, isolated and lost in his thoughts.

The artwork that is being produced is incredible, from both children and adult artists. Maybe it's just by being closely associated with the tragedy and knowing the context of the artwork is why it's so moving, but I've never witnessed work so laden with emotion as this.

There's rubble and reconstruction going on everywhere. After awhile, one can become accustomed to the scenes of devastation, but even up north, twenty or thirty miles up the coast where the wave didn't hit, the village was destroyed by twelve foot seas that swept through.

You guys still sweating? We start sweat here at about 9 a.m. and continue sweating until about three or four in the afternoon.

Lots of Aussies, Germans, Swedes, Brits and Kiwis in camp. Some dreadlocks, some backpackers on Asia tour. Thai and Japanese representation in camp. Canadians, and a suprising number of Americans from all over the place. No republicans. Nobody from Texas. Several from Seattle.

Lots of NGOs putting up new homes all over the place. Digger got an offer today to work with a new program starting up in Nam Khaem, I think is the right spelling, whereby he gives a three-month pledge and they take care of his lodging, meals and visa extension.

Big Scare Panic the other night with the earthquake. At this point, the people believe anything can happen. Given the loss of life and the impact of the wave on their lives, you can understand why they and the Royal Thai Army rousted everyone out of their homes to head for the hills.

Convinced that the entire peninsula would have to go underwater in a major earth change for the water to reach the high ground upon which we're staying, we went back to bed. Next day, everyone around here was dragging ass on three hours' sleep.

Leonard, a fellow worker from Poland living in Nepal, just sat down at the next station, one of six here in the ctr., the Khao Lak Nature Preserve, where two gibbons swing around the bamboo porch trusses in the mornings, making entertainment for everyone.

A nasty tour bus/van accident up the road five k. yesterday. A double decker tour bus sandwiched a van of local guys, killing two and putting the others in intesive care. When there's somebody oncoming in your lane, you yield and take to the shoulder, keep a straight line. Everybody reads everyone else's intention.

Please forgive the first-draft typos. Giving up the screen to others waiting.



Friday, March 25, 2005

Khao Lak, Thailand

I always wanted to be an international diplomat.

From a bungalow with Digger, we are at the edge of the steaming jungle, next to one of several refugee camps overflowing with displaced Thai. Utter devastation all around, up and down the coast for 12 kilometers. Horror stories from survivors, every day. Just today, a little boy on one of our construction sites who lost his mother, six months pregnant. An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people died here.

We are with the Tsunami Volunteer Center, composed of about 120 people throughout the world, mostly Europeans, mostly young folks, performing a variety of projects throughout the area. Wish you were here.

World Vision, Habitat For Humanity, and a number of other relief organizations are here, rebuilding along with the Thai, who have received us all with open arms. They keep thanking us and thanking us for coming to help.

Phuket got smashed, but has returned to almost normal, with the streets filled with Europeans once again. Here, there is much reconstruction going on everywhere, with the place resembling Hiroshima.

"This place looks like it got bombed," said Digger.

Tales of terror, the survivors on rooftops and hanging onto trees, awaiting a third wave, watching people run from the first, then consumed by the second, engulfing 30 ft. coconut trees, flattening everything, and snapping and twisting steel-reinforced concrete pillars. The scene is nearly beyond both description and belief.

Cars, buses, motorcycles and boats in hotel lobbies and pools, the water inescapable for everyone at ground level for a much as a mile inland in some places.

Have been teaching English to students of Takuapa elementary school. Digger is working construction with a boat house crew. Many Americans here. We are with the 2nd wave of relief, with people coming and going, staying for varying lengths of time.

Heartbreaking scenes on the beach, with stacked stone altars and memorials up and down the coast. A red Santa on a Buddhist shrine; a photo of a couple in the back of a limo, just married, having a glass of champagne, laughing; a message in a corked bottle, along with a photo of a couple strolling along the beach and a flag of the UK. It's overwhelming, but both the Thai and the volunteer people are strong and resiliant, moving forward into another day, with much more work to do.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Cynthia's Desire

Brovic's Crossroads

Co-captain of the football team
graduation then marine
his hometown's pride when he adorned
a combat soldier's uniform

his luck turned sour from the first
when a planted roadside bomb burst
and took the driver and his limbs
in a flash, a burn, and blackened spin

through frantic hands and shouting men
and numbing pain and wonder when
they worked over him if death would wait
if they could just evacuate.

He watched the news from far away
with tv dinner on a tray
his mother served while father wept
and horror in his dreams had crept

through German then stateside VA
hospitals where prosthesis gave
him arms and legs
and purple heart for his parade.

His mother's forehead etched in sorrow
the father's doubts what chance tomorrow
for a son given to his country's pride
convinced himself for freedom's ride

but soon the highschool sweetheart drifted
through old photos she had sifted
for now he was his country's dregs
and Cynthia wanted a man with legs.

- end

Brovic's Crossroads

Brovic's Crossroads

Why, you ask
A Hundred Thousand Orphans
In the blink of an eye.