January 05, 2005
Jeff's letter

My prodigal roomate sent a letter explaining the events of the days after the tsunami as he joined in the relief efforts. I got his permission to publish it here.

Hey, y'all. Yup, I am still alive. We are all trying to help our fellow human beings heal and restart their lives. Check out http://www.auroville.org/tsunami/crisis_2.htm Here's a timeline of this week:

Sunday December 26 -- the tsunami hit the coast of Tamil Nadu, wiping out countless villages and communities within a kilometer of the shoreline. It was 3 hours after the earthquake, and still no warning nor communication was transmitted. I was told that there is no international emergency response system set up in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etc.. No serious police or emergency action was spent on relief in the evening -- certainly not enough to stop the riots that ensued here. Tourists were getting beaten, and there were thousands of panicking, frustrated people without a clue of what to do. No pre-organized relief or response teams were present. People searching for an opportunity to help came up dry, as these throngs ran inland for shelter. Finally, a relief effort on behalf of Auroville started. Refugee camps were set up by nightfall, but it was all improvised.

Monday December 27 -- Most of the newly-homeless villagers all left in the morning, to see their broken homes. Most remained in the villages, but some stayed in the camp (since they were getting 3 meals/day, supervision, and even television). A large amount of contradictory information was being given and received. Rumors started about possible aftershocks. No one seemed to have any real information about scientific data, etc..

Tuesday, December 28 -- Teams were finally sent out to start assessing damage in the nearby villages. The data would be compiled through Friday. The camp was accepting a few villagers. Beyond that, very little direct relief was given to the villages on our behalf. We were still waiting to get real data. The Indian government started to drop off clean water.

Wednesday, December 29 -- Still waiting. People have been helping some Aurovillian communities on the beach, but most people were still too scared to return. Attempts to find any organized help were few and far between. Still no sign at all of the Red Cross, Salvation Army, AmeriCares, etc..

Thursday, December 30 -- Another warning of the tsunami was serious this time. The police, this time, responded diligently, and evacuated all the recently-returned villagers back to the refugee camp. We sorted and distributed donated clothes and food. I played with 60 children, shaking their hands, laughing, and playing hundreds of games of paddy-cake with them. We fed 2 meals to 2000 people that day. Finally, we started to receive some authentic data about the extent of damage and needs of each particular village.

Friday, December 31 -- All the people returned to their villages. We discussed many options on how to continue assessing and compiling data out in the field, and simultaneously, sending teams out to help the villages directly. Sorting more donated clothes seemed to take priority today.

In Auroville proper (which, for the most part, is 3 kilometers from the shoreline), New Year's Eve festivities ensued. The Indian government decreed that all parties, celebrations, and "cheery" type gatherings were banned for the evening, in the entire country. Hmmmm.....
Instead, the Tibetan Pavilion and the Matrimandir grounds held candlelit vigils. Many people sat, meditated, prayed for peace and relief. There were still some actual parties, though. After I meditated for 2 hours, I took my guitar straight into the Green Belt Forest and made a party happen. Dancing, drinking, and monkey-play still happened with some people.

Saturday, January 1 -- The first direct action team (that's MY team!) from the Auroville Tsumani Disaster Relief Team was sent to a hard-hit village. We cleared all their main roads and burned debris. All the villagers were grateful and very willing to help. We worked all day cutting, smashing, hauling, throwing, yelling, and we still only made a small dent. The devastation of this village is catastrophic, to say the least. It is clear that the entire economy of this whole coastline is gone. All fish have to be assumed to be contaminated by the thousands of dead bodies in the water. There are no buildings left to house most people and many sources of clean water have been contaminated, so rumors of epedemic are spreading rapidly. We decided to work our way through each village, clear roads, rebuild, decontaminate, and help in any way we can. The real information is now coming in, so we know more accurately who needs blankets, food, water, clothing, etc.. Every village needs rebuilding supplies. In my estimation, it will take years to just to make the villages "look" the same again, and that is just skimming the top.

International donations were banned at first here in Tamil Nadu. The Indian government has insisted that no contributions should be accepted by relief organizations from overseas, to prevent fraud. This was severely inhibiting, as the Auroville Relief Team is relying on such monies for our work here. So, it took a while of convincing and processing in the beaurocracy, but we finally were allowed to be an exception. I can personally vouch for the Auroville Disaster Relief Fund, because that money is spent by us and those supplies go right into our hands and into theirs. Please send a donation to:

T.N. 605101
If you want to do a bank transfer:

Branch Code - 03160
Swift Code - SBININBB474
Account Number - 01000060095
Description: "Tsunami Relief"

This is very different than Europe and the USA. No warning system, no emergency services, no communications, no pre-organized emergeny response teams, no reserve power, no reserve food or water, no reserve money, language barriers, etc.. The facilities here are basically nil, as well. There is no Hospice, no funeral homes, etc.. There were 300 dead bodies in a mass grave nearby, waiting to be identified by relatives. They had to be ID'd within 24 hours, or else they were buried with only a fingerprint and a picture taken.

Can you imagine? This is a third-world country... and this is exactly what "third-world" means. They were already devastated before the tsunami hit, and now this.

So... I quit rehearsals for "The Tempest" and "Mother's Day." I quit teaching at the elementary and high schools. I quit teaching at the Language Lab. I quit yoga. I am now working full time with the Disaster Relief Team.

Soon, school starts back up, and we will be delivering school supplies and clothes to all the villages. Our "relief" phase is now changing to "rehab." Rebuilding, restoration, and the like will be happening for the next several weeks and months.

Please send a donation to the above address. I can vouch for it. We need it.
Hope you are all well.
I will report again soon.

Check out http://www.auroville.org/tsunami/crisis_2.htm
love and Happy New Year,

"Hope is the thing with feathers which perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all." -- E. Dickinson

In another email, Jeff provided http://www.auroville.org/tsunami/how_to_help.htm as a place to visit to learn how to help. Good luck, man. It's strange how such a seemingly far-off event could hit so close to home, but it's also a very good thing.

Posted by Barry at January 05, 2005 10:02 AM | Trackback
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