Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

10 December 2006

Disaster and the Politics of Forgetting

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the screening last week of Tsunami: The Aftermath, the BBC TV drama series written by Bafta winner Abi Morgan (Sex Traffic and Murder).

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a father searching for his missing child in Tsunami, The Aftermath

Was it shown too soon after the disaster (it is only the second anniversary of the Tsunami that devastated so many coastlines in 2004)?

A photo from the 2004 tsunamiDid it disregard the feelings of survivors and families of those who died?

A long, long time ago, I wrote an article about a tsunami.

It was rather ignominous journalism — I reported from the comfort of my desk at the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Manila, telephoning the mayor’s office in Tacloban, Leyte hundreds of miles away, to get the stats from a garrulous PR person. Earthquake out there in the sea. Very high on the richter scale. Drove a giant wave to the shore. Hundreds dead, so many casualties. Property destroyed. It was automatic writing as far as I was concerned. Then he said, wait a minute, there’s a man here who was a witness.

The man was sitting in the mayor’s waiting room, hoping to ask the mayor for some help. He took the phone and told me how he and his family took shelter behind a thick concrete wall, thinking the water would simply wash over them. But the wave was so strong, the concrete bowed inwards and cracked. His family ran. They made it but lost everything, their animals, their home. "I don’t know what to do," he said. "What should I do?," "Thanks for talking to me," I replied, eyeing the clock above the subs’ desk to check how much time I had left to file the story.

He was one of the lucky ones.When my piece came out on the front page of the following day’s paper, people complimented me on how moving it was. They said they were so touched they donated money to the tsunami relief effort.

The story was accompanied by a photograph. Four tiny white coffins in a church hall, a woman kneeling, head touching the ground. Weeping for her four dead children.

The photograph was like an accusation.

What did I know about how it felt, to have your life wiped away by an unexpected act of fate?

I knew nothing. I had no idea.

Sometimes I comfort myself, thinking, that photograph, that article, must have moved many to donate money towards helping those poor people.

But I was not to know. The story was over: even as people began reading the article in their morning papers, I was already working on the next story. Something about a clash between government troops and insurgents.

But of course, the victims of that tsunami had not moved on. They were in the thick of their ruined lives. They may still be picking up the pieces to this day, 20 plus years on.

Was it too soon for the BBC to remind the world about the 2004 tsunami? It’s never too soon.

Disaster is not an end. It’s the beginning of a long process of survival.

Please give generously to the Philippine Red Cross appeal for victims of the recent Typhoon Reming Disaster. From the UK, you can contact my trusted Filipino remittance company London Manila Express and cheaply arrange a transfer of funds to the Red Cross account.

Photo of Tsunami, The Aftermath © the BBC, photo of the tsunami in 2004 from freerepublic.com.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was a well made film. my critique is that despite it's thai storyline it was still very euro-centric. but can you blame them when the audiences will primarily be in the west? anyway as you said, it helps remind everyone that the disaster is still in progress. thanks for the blog. made me think.

Tuesday, 12 December, 2006  

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