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.