A Family Profile

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
Trip End Apr 26, 2005

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, March 7, 2005

KIRINDA: Interview with a Local Family

When the December 26th tsunami struck, Ansar was lounging outside his house, chatting with friends and enjoying the sunny morning. When a neighbor began to shout "Water is coming!", Ansar and his friends immediately ran toward the harbor to check on their boats. Not anticipating the magnitude of the wave, the men were shocked when met by a wall of water; Ansar quickly turned around, gathered his family from their home, and ran inland. After hoisting his wife and two young boys over the local mosque's two-meter wall, Ansar quickly waded back through the incoming water and debris in a desperate attempt to help others. Though he managed to save several lives, he unfortunately couldn't save everyone; his neighbor, an elderly woman, was torn from his grasp and carried away by the water. However, nothing deterred Ansar's will to continue. While shuttling people over the mosque's wall, the force of the water destroyed the concrete. The wall collapsed on his legs and the water carried him over a hundred yards where he managed to climb to the roof of one of the few houses still standing in the village. All this occurred in a matter of minutes.

In the hours following the tsunami, Ansar was reunited with his wife, Rizwana Cassim. However, they could not locate their boys Shakir and Bashid. Someone suggested they check Kirinda's Buddhist temple which sits on a hilltop of boulders high above the water. Hope faded with each passing moment; with no sign of either boy, Ansar and Rizwana began to fear the worst. It was not until 6:00 PM -- after an agonizingly long day of searching everywhere possible -- that they were reunited with their sons. They learned how their sons had escaped when the tsunami's water crashed through the mosque wall. The boys, separated from their mother, were taken to safety in a nearby village where they waited, shocked and enveloped by fear and chaos. However, at the end of the day, the family was reunited. They had lost all of their possessions -- their home, boat, motor, and thousands of dollars worth of scuba equipment -- but they were alive. They felt incredibly lucky.

Ansar is a shell fisherman by profession. While a majority of Kirinda's fishermen use nets to catch fish, Ansar uses scuba gear to dive over 100 meters for conch shells. Before the tsunami he owned a boat, motor, and enough scuba equipment to employ 16 employees. Shell fishing is a lucrative business, but it can only be done seasonally. Conveniently, the high season for fishing coincides with the low season for shell diving, and vice versa. When conditions are right, Ansar rents five or six boats from local fishermen for his employees to use. In the off-season, he and the other shell divers rented their boats to local fishermen. This is just one example of how the tsunami affected Kirinda; in a small way, it illustrates the complexity of the fishing industry, putting into perspective how much remains to be done. For now, Ansar and his family are living with several different families in a small, local home. They patiently wait for help to arrive.

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