‘The office clock stopped at 9:35am on the 26 December, 2004 when the tsunami struck the hotel.’
These words were written on the Coral Sands Hotel clock in Hikkadua, Sri Lanka.
Signs of the tsunami linger along the southern coast down to Galle. It is here that the shattered remains and memories still live on in the face of bare and gaping buildings. It is along this coast that the wave that forever changed the face of this island struck.
Life has returned again to a natural rhythm since the tsunami, but stories abound from those who survived – tales of a husband, daughter, father or fellow tourist that were swept out to sea, returning to shore later with flotsam and debris.
Three times I have travelled to the island of Sri Lanka, trying to capture its essence in my Cayman home. This September 2007’s journey back along the familiar routes of a Sri Lanka land tour brought me once again along the southern coast to revisit coastal towns and villages where the tsunami rolled over the land.
People in this area are still struggling to return to life as it was ‘before the big wave’. Hikkadua, a once popular diving/beach area, is lonely and broken though tourists are returning. There is no diving yet.
In humility of spirit, the tailors and fishermen work hard to recapture business; people talk of those gone, of where they were when the wave hit; how lucky a wife was to be at church with her children at that precise time.
At the Coral Sands Hotel, where this clock is hung, the manager tours me around the newly renovated hotel and speaks of those lost.
The Sri Lankan people talk about the help from people all over the world – roads put in by the Japanese; machinery from Canada; money from school children’s lunches in the United Kingdom. The resilience of the human spirit to overcome and carry on in the face of such adversity is seen clearly in the gentle and generous people of Sri Lanka.
Life is still returning to its natural rhythm along the south coast of Sri Lanka, yet there lingers a haunting air of reverence -a whispering that many of us in Cayman may remember with Hurricane Ivan.
The essence of the island of Sri Lanka remains with me. To be in a place of such beauty where so many souls left the earth is truly awe inspiring.
Donna Mitchell at a roadside vegetable vendor. Photos: Submitted