Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Room with a View...

I am staying in a room with a view at the moment. I can see the sea, palm trees, and lots of piles of rubble that used to be buildings. The town is Mammalapuram, the State: Tamil nadu, and the reason for the rubble: a 10 metre wave, the imapact of which is still clearly visible all around me. A lot has been rebuilt, especially the tourist hotels, restaurants etc, but the fishermen and their families, who bore the brunt of the Tsunami, are still living in makeshift tents on the edge of town. We discovered them today whilst exploring on a moped. First we met the woman who ran the school. All she had was a room with no windows made of bolted together panels that the government had provided. We promised to go back tomorrow with paper and crayons etc. Then we were invited into the tent of a smiling young fisherman's wife, feeding one baby and pregnant with a second. She offered us food despite not having enough for herself, and showed us her one remaining photo album rescued from the tsunami. They showed a happy family living in a nice house full of all the mod cons of modern life: TV, stereo, cuddly toys etc... It's weird, but it seemed so much more shocking to see a moderately well of family reduced to living in a tent than it would have done if she had been living in a shack (as many fishermen do). I guess it's becasue it made you realise that it could have been you. In India only the truly wealthy will have something as luxurious as house insurance, so when something like this happens, your on your own. Well, not quite. The local church organisations have been providing a large amount of the support, as well as international aid. The Goverment on the other hand has done very little. Apparantly they are building new houses for the refugees, but it all sounded a bit vague to me... There are lots of new boats being built for the fishermen, all sponsored by foreign investment, but in the meantime no one has a livelihood and there are lots of people lying around in the shade trying to pass the time. Despite this, everyone was very positive. I didn't see anyone looking miserable or hear one person complain about their situation.

After leaving the camp and promising to return tomorrow, we wandered along the beach where there was a small village of half destroyed, half intact houses. We were quickly invited in by one family and given soft drinks from the local shop which they refused to let us pay for. These people never cease to amaze me with their generosity and kindness. If you guys gave money to the aid effort for this disastor, good on you. But it's not finished yet, and the goverement is doing practically nothing from what I've seen. The foreign aid that gets through really does make a difference, building boats and houses and getting people back to work, so if you can, why not give some more? :)

So anyway, me and Ester, my spanish travelling companion who I'm amazed I ever manged to live without, are heading to Tirupathi tomorrow to visit the richest temple in india. Every day 100,000 pilgrims pass through the temple and have their heads shaved as a sign of devotion and a means to reduce the ego. The preists then sell the hair to foriegn wig makers, making them 6 billion rupees a year! This I have to see... I'll tell you more about it when I've seen it!

right, I'm too tired to write more.... sorry for the long silences! more soon... :)