I think it really - I mean I don't know how it took so long - really hit me that my experience as a fellow tsunami survivor was not so relevant to the situation any longer.
The discontinuity in our lives was a connecting bond, but the trajectories are far too different. I didn't need rice sacks and dahl and clean water delivered to the community shelter where I was housed with sixty families for months.
It might have happened in Hambantota, Sri Lanka that I realized quite another life experience bonded me more to survivors of natural disasters.
The west and south coast is fairly urban and one sees Army tent shelters alongside luxury gated resorts, but from Matara on, the scene changes to lush green rice paddies, stark white egrets and cocoa-dusted water buffalo. My contact lensed eyes felt refreshed after weeks of city dirt. I sunk into my seat and enjoyed a bus ride to Hambantota. (It was the bus ride from Hambantota I remarked on yesterday; that was altogether a different experience.)
Maybe the fact that 35% of the people are employed in agriculture comes alive here. This is the heartland.
There was a funeral that day. A fisherman in the neighborhood ran out of oxygen while part of a dive training program.
Death isn't foreign here. So many of the men died at market - too close to the sea - that Boxing Day, that it's mostly women in attendance today.
The monthly 'psycho-spiritual healing programme' at the temple school was running about a half-hour behind as mourners trickled in.
While the counselors and lecturer prepared, I entertained myself by glancing at posters - reminders for the teacher - such as: "A child is not a vessel to be filled - but a lamp to be lit."
As they settle, I count 28 although the numbers are in flux as kids arrive and elders depart throughout. One woman peels back her red blouse to nurse her baby as she listens attentively. Two hours glide by. Some other day I'll tell you more about those hours.
The program erases from my mind. At the end of the day, I'm introduced to a woman. Her hair is long and tucked back like most Sri Lankan woman and she wears what resembles a house-dress. She could have just walked out her bathroom. My mother snaps into focus with her signature house-dress and slippers. She is listless and numb too.
She stands there shifting slowly while the counselor speaks to me in English. The three girls are maybe eleven. Maybe twelve. They wear matching polyester blouse, skirt, black ponytails. When I was a child I would have sketched in the barefoot triplets with scrawls of burnt sienna Crayolas.
Crayola Inc adds a romantic dash to burnt sienna: The Japanese do not have a specific word named brown. Rather they use more descriptive names such as “tea-color," "fox-color," and "fallen-leaf.”
In Sri Lankan brown would be husked-coconut-color, bed-tea-color, water-buffalo-color, cinnamon-bark-color.
The three girls eyes aren't cloudy like their mother's. They mostly follow your gaze rather than look at the temple floor.
Christy was 14, Yvette was nine. I was just shy a few weeks before high school prom night when Papi died.
I'm close to that age when Mom was buying a casket for her husband at 42.
Mom's English was mangled but we understood her just fine. Her last job was teaching before she fled Cuba as a political refugee. She had a two-year teaching certificate. She didn't drive although we lived in suburban labyrinth of Miami.
There was no life insurance.
Now this life experience is much more relevant to the people I meet post-tsunami.
How to pay for my college education paled in comparison to how are we paying the mortgage and eating dinner and keeping the lights on. I feel blessed that no one was surveying us forlornly as the three of us stood to the left of our mother. But maybe it's too easy to be invisible at times like this.
One of the best things that happened to us wasn't a donation or a handout. Papi was no longer around to boom: "No, you can't have a job. Get good grades. Go to college." A man with a junior high education quickly surmises that you can't scrape by in the U.S.A. without an education.
"Can you type?" my aunt Nina asked in her chirpy Brazilian accent.