Thursday, May 15, 2014

Gang Wathura - River Flood

Official death toll: 300 and counting
Missing: 2,000 and counting.
Homeless:  150,000 and counting.
Headlines: ‘Hospitals jammed.’ ‘Schools closed due to illness.’

I see each image.
The smiling thirteen-year-old boy. The remains of his house.
The now lazy river, which fed by days of torrential rain,
ate his father and brother. Ate his bed and the kitchen where his mother
cooked his rice, the photo of his grandfather on the wall.
Ate it all for lunch.

Still the boy smiled.
Standing there on the red-painted slab – once the floor his mother swept.
His mother gone mad. Her mind too full of images of Thaththa being swept away,
too mad to care – for herself. For her boy. For dewdrops glistening
in the early morning light.

I see them all.
Can almost feel their weight in the camera, the outline on the digital screen;
the line of people carrying food, clothing, water, boxes of schoolbooks and pens.

Walking through emerald green rice paddies.
The sun’s soft golden light on their shoulders.
Shadows dancing around them like flash card images.
The broken bridge.
The raft made from a banana tree.
The photograph of the dark-haired, dark-skinned girls, its edges curled,
Wrapped around a tree twig as if the photo were a bracelet. Sisters.
Their arms entwined. A happy time.
For a moment I thought, Maybe I can find them.

I walked away
leaving the bracelet on the tree’s wrist. Untouched.
It was not mine to disturb. Nothing was.
It all belonged to the flood.

Deniyaya, Southern Province
May 2003

This young boy lost his father and brother in the
river floods that swept his house away. His mother
lost her mind with grief. When we arrived with aid,
the villagers had taken charge of caring for the boy.
He motioned for me to photograph him standing on
what was left of his life as he had known it. I did,
but my emotions almost made it impossible to focus the camera.

The sad bracelet.

Bamboo raft that helped search for stranded neighbors.

Wet and shivering, this girl was brought
to the other side of the river by the
bamboo raft.

Bringing supplies.

The floodwaters were so high at this Sinharaja Forest
monastery, that the monastery's ten monks spent four days
perched in a Bodhi tree until the water receded.

This young monk is looking
at the devastation outside the monastery.

I went up to help with aid, with 13 monks in a van.
They are not suppose to sit next to a woman, so I had the
whole back seat to myself as they were crammed in
together. This monk is looking at the destruction. Hard to
believe it, had we not seen it.

The road had fallen down and the monks were
determining whether we could get the lorry by the collapse.

Fallen electrical lines also stopped the lorry,
full of water, clothing and food.

Boys queue for food rations, excited to see
the foreigner  in their village.

Landslides caused major damage and
fatalities during the May 2003 floods.

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