Friday, April 15, 2005

Time Is My Medicine

Time Is My Medicine

We live in on the other side of the mountain. Every day, we ride up to the Tsunami Relief Volunteer Center, situated in the Khao Lak Lamru Nature Preserve, then back down the other side of the mountain into Khao Lak town and its strip of resorts, tourist-oriented shops, bars, ret-ta-rahns, and this internet cafe.

Beyond here, we all go to our respective project sites, the furthest being a good half-hour, forty minute ride away. Those who aren't driving motorbikes are hitchhiking, an easy task from the Center or anywhere up an down the stretch of disaster. People are neither afraid to pick up strangers or take a ride. You'll see dozens of 'Falang' in the back of small trucks, going to and from their projects. Everyone here is helpful in getting you where you need to go. Two minutes at the roadside is a long wait.

There are five or six ATMs along the Khao Lak strip, but north or south of here, you won't see a bank for miles, not since Phuket to the south, or Ranong, Myanmar, to the north 150 k. Here in Khao Lak, all the Thai speak easy English, but just south where we live, no one speaks a lick of English. After being here a while, I soon understood how over a thousand Swedes could die in Khao Lak the day after Christmas.

One of them was posting a notice yesterday of his still-missing son, a little boy of about three or four. The posters are all around town. Missing children, husbands, and wives. You'll see foreign survivors wandering around, having gone home, then returned, looking for the bodies of their loved ones.

"I was hoping for a miracle," said one. "Hoping I'd see him come walking through the door."

A lady and her son from Germany were here for the 100 Day Celebration, telling us that her missing husband loved Thailand, and would appreciate the memorial they made for him at a nearby temple. She said she last saw him as they walked along the beach when the wave came, and would not go near the water again, but later, she and her son were at the water, placing a flower in a coconut at the water's edge, along with the hundreds of other offerings to the sea and the dead.

The new girl from Germany said she came here with her friend who lost both her parents, then decided to stay on here for a couple of more weeks to join the volunteer effort.

At his dinner table last week where he hosted of number of us on the boathouse crew, Mr. 'K' told us of how he searched for days for his son, finally found him among the dead at the temple, along with three other family members, gave a DNA sample, then fed all the people at the temple, as he was then feeding us...giant platters of fish brought from the kitchen by his wife and daughter. Rice, Singha beers all night, and another huge platter of fresh fruit. Somewhere along the way, during the course of conversation, he told us with the utmost sincerity he thanked us for coming.

Yesterday at the boathouse project, a well-dressed Thai lady from Bangkok was there asking about where she could go and what she could do to help. She was astonished to learn that we were working for free.

"You people came from all over the world to help us?" she asked. "You're working for free?"

"Yes," replied Miriam, from Belgium.

The woman began crying, and took Miriam's hand in both of hers, thanking her profusely, over and over in Thai and English.

"Kob Kun Ka, Kob Kun Ka," she said. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

So, I guess we're getting paid after all. Shortly after our arrival in the country, in the lobby of the hotel in Bangkok, one of the women working there asked why we were there. She too, took my hand in both of hers and thanked us for coming to help the Thai people, tears welling in her eyes.

"Digger," I said. "I just got paid. Now we've got to go do the work."

Last night, where there was a going-away party for one of the fellows working in the wood shop, a Swede spoke of how just being here and listening to their stories was helpful.

Kong, joyfully working alongside us at the fisherman's boathouse project, whenever he sees me, will recite the phrase I've taught him.

"Whass hah-pen-ning, Man?"

Then he'll answer his own question. "Noht mush."

Each morning, he is the first person on site, playing his bamboo flute in solitude in a haunting serenade to the sea. Kong calls me 'Doc-tah'. I asked him why, but somehow his response was lost in the translation, or lack thereof.

"Can you heal a broken heart?" he asked.

"Yeah," I told him, laughing. "Doc-tah of love."

He laughed, and then grew momentarily serious. "Time," he said. "Time is my medicine."

- end