Friday, January 07, 2005

schoolblog 2

Dear Friends,
Yesterday was full of many different sights, sounds, and emotions, from the sadness of finding the two corpses of the day to the joy at the look on Kailerasi’s face when she was presented with gifts. The day started, again, on the bus, which was a little less crowded because the doctors took a separate van, but there were still people sitting on the roof.
We arrived at Nagapattinam at about 10:15 and immediately got to work on the school, clearing out the broken and overturned furniture. Some members of the Indian Army helped us throughout the day. Within a half-hour, a cry went up from one of our workers, "Dead body! Dead body!" and the corpse of a very small child, its arms and legs spread, was pulled from a pile of overturned bookcases where it had been lying amid a heap of ruined books and papers. The area where the child had been was covered with disinfectant, and the body was put into a large wicker basket found in the school, to be carried to the cremation ground. The smell is overpowering. I follow the men carrying the body. The cremation ground is on the beach, relatively far from any houses. It is covered with the ashes from previous burnings. The child’s body is placed on an old tire, amid a pyre of fallen branches and other rubble from the tsunami, and is set alight. Some of the workers say a short prayer, and we wash our hands and feet in the sea. I think of the child. Was it in the school on the Sunday morning the tsunami hit, and if so, why? What was its name? Who were its parents, and are they still alive? All of these things have been lost forever.
We return to work. This school seems to go even faster than the other one, though the wreckage is at least as great. Within a few hours, there is only a little dirt left on the floor, and I take a break. Everyone keeps telling me to rest, even though I do not feel that I have worked so hard. No one will let me get back to work until four in the afternoon. When I have returned, some boys from the school are helping to sweep up the dust. They soon start a makeshift cricket game with some of the workers inside the school, using a rubber ball and a wooden stick.
We start cleaning out houses and apartments around the school we worked on yesterday, and I meet the principal of that school, who thanks us and says he will give us a list of supplies he needs. I again see Kailerasi and Ragu, the boy and girl I met yesterday. Some of the younger workers find a coconut by the side of the road, and break it open using a mattock. They offer a piece to me, but I refuse, thinking about what that mattock has been working in.
At about two o’clock we break for lunch. We invite Kailerasi, Ragu, some of the other boys, and the women whose houses we have been cleaning to share our food with us, as we have more than we could ever eat. The rice, sambar, rasam, and vegetables taste particularly good when shared with all these people. Mani has presents for Kailerasi: a new orange hair ribbon, a necklace, and a 20-rupee note that she found in a pile of dirt. Walking back to the worksite, I see a goat trying to eat a motorcycle, biting at one of the lights.
We go back to cleaning out apartments. In these tiny, boxlike homes near the shore, the water reached to the ceiling. An American presswoman stops by, asks my name, and when told by one of the Oriyas, thinks it is "Maria." I am called by a wide variety of names here, having told people my Indian middle name, Meena. I have been called "Aliyah," "Meena," "Meenakshi," "Maria," "Arya," even "Alice!"
At five-thirty we are ready to leave when again the call goes out: "Dead body!" We go to the shore, where the corpse has been found. This body is extremely decayed, little more than bones and some rotten flesh, and is in several pieces, a leg here, a skull there. They never find all of it. The smell is horrible, and I begin to feel a little sick. A gold anklet and earrings are found with the body; it was a woman. One of our workers takes the jewelry, intending to give it to the District Collector so that it might be identified, others argue with him, saying that it should be burned with the body. We end up giving the gold to Krishnammal, worrying that if it were given to the Collector, the villagers might never see it.
After we cremate the body, we climb onto the bus and return to Kuthur. I am very tired and sore from two days of work.
In the Light,
Aliyah

1 Comments:

Blogger elizabeth said...

Aliyah,
This is Elizabeth from Baldwin house. Thank you so much for sharing the stories of your work. I have been following along. I wish that I was there to help, too. (Before I returned to Smith for my interterm class I tried to contact the Red Cross to see if I could volunteer...but it seems like for now they are only looking for people with disaster relief experience.) The people are so blessed to have you there! I am interested in how you say that you can feel god's presence there. The Tsunami has really challenged my belief in god, and I am not even experiencing it firsthand. When there is tragedy, usually there is someone to blame (ie god gives people free will, and people fail). And even though I understand the geologic events that caused the Tsunami, it is just hard to make sense of it all as I see god and nature as being so intertwined.
Thank you again for the images of beauty and hope amidst devastation and for reminding me of how god can be truly present in a situaiton like this one. My prayers are with you.

blessings,
elizabeth

6:12 PM, January 07, 2005  

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