A story and memorial from the Mayor of Galle on the 8th anniversary of the tsunami.
Mayra and I were in the home stretch of our 2-week research trip, hoping to get a government official to tell us how Galle, the 4th largest city in Sri Lanka, has recovered. We were lucky to get an evening interview with the Mayor.
We only got to one question: “What was your experience the day of the tsunami?”
The Mayor — a politician in front of a camera… — proceeded to hold forth for over 60 minutes. In the political opposition at the time, he shared how he conveyed his family to safety and, without telling them, returned to Sambodhi House, an orphanage for the disabled. He was greeted by “dead bodies everywhere” -– 48 of 62 residents died -– and he delivered children to the morgue in a fire truck. Unlike other local politicians, he helped out througout the day. People said he saved lives. We got the full replay, and I was rebuked at one point for trying to hurry him along.
And then he started to cry.
To weep, recalling how the children had called him “father,” for his role as Board Secretary. Such grief, and also guilt, it turns out, almost 8 years later.
As the new Secretary, he had asked a priest to spend holy days discussing the Buddhist precepts with the children. Just the second such sermon was on December 26. The children were assembled on the front porch when the tidal wave raged ashore.
He feels impossibly responsible. And then, with terrible wonder, our last hour made sense.
Of course he had to tell this story in full; had to relive each moment, in his own time, in his own way.
It’s not a surprise that it surfaced for a foreign camera crew with a question that may never have been asked. Had he shared his pain with anyone else? Was he even aware of it?
On the 8th anniversary we thank the Mayor of Galle and Sambodhi House.
We recall lessons in humility and respect when listening to others.
We remember lives lost, and emotional scars that remain harsh, if submerged.
We remind ourselves to value every day.
And we ask everyone to care again for a disaster-hit community dear to you, get involved, and give again.
-Mike & Mayra