Waking up at 5.45 am to be ready to leave for the east coast at 7.00 am after watching Sri Lanka thrash the New Zealanders and getting to bed at close to 4 am was no mean feat, but leave we did – at 7 am, on the dot! Avid, my main man concerned with the tsunami-related work we have been involved with since December 2004, had to leave Nuwara Eliya an hour earlier to be at Flowerbook at 7 am, which meant that he had even less sleep than I did, having also watched the match to its end. Maybe it was the excitement of the outcome for him – and for me as well, combined with the effects of the little help from my friends that kept the head buzzing well into the morning, but we kept wide awake and chatted for most of the way to Monaragala, where we stopped for brekkers before heading off to Komari.
We met the Sheriff at our office in the village and together set off to view the completed homes – nearly 700 in all, set in three different locations reasonably close to each other. One was in the old village, where the residents had their homes either rebuilt or repaired and the other two locations one slightly north and the other slightly south of the old village due to the constraints brought about by the buffer-zone bullcrap that eventually petered down to 65 meters from the original 200 meters.
It was really satisfying to look at the newly established village at Selvapuram – the one south of Komari, and where not long ago was arid scrub is now a bustling village where the 160 new homes and gardens have taken on that ‘lived in’ look, the cucumber vines trailing over the fences typical for the area and unique to this part of the country. Vegetable patches had sprung up after the recent rains and chillies, manioc and other dry zone crops and recently planted fruit trees were evident in quite a few of the gardens. The little kades that have sprung up close to some of the homes appeared to be doing some amount of business and the whole feel of the place was quite changed from my past visit, just about a month before. The new roads and drains through the new settlement work very well, which is a load off the mind as they were established not according to UDA directives, but through experience, logic and commonsense, cost a tenth of what they would have and have turned out to be far more environmentally friendly that what was prescribed.
The old village of Komari, being the longer established one and where the reconstruction and rehabilitation was initiated earliest (370 new homes and 68 repaired), looked even more settled with virtually no trace of the massive destruction that overwhelmed it on that fateful day. The only evidence of change was the comparatively spiffy new homes that now dot the landscape – a far cry from the poverty-ridden and abjectly neglected village of the past. The new Community Center is being constructed and when done will have space for kindergartens, flexible space to be used for lectures, workshops, community gatherings and other village functions, the Gramasevaka’s office and right on top of the third floor will be the ‘tsunami-shelter’ that so many of the villagers demanded for their security, should another wave wreak havoc in the future. The ground floor is an open space with just columns holding up the rest of the building, so that in the event of another surge there will be no obstruction to the water which could surge through and not knock the building down. The grills surrounding the sides will serve as hand and foot-holds for the villagers to climb up to the top.
The most recently established part of Komari is at Kallugolla, barely a kilometer north of Komari where the last 79 homes have now been completed and will soon be ready for handing over to the beneficiaries. The roads and drains will get going soon and then we will be out of there.
Returning for a late lunch to Ulle and our base that will soon be dismantled, the Sheriff, Avid and I had a well deserved afternoon siesta before tea and a ride to Panama to check on a kindergarten that we had established and to look at 15 homes in the process of being built for victims of the wave who, by some strange quirk of fate, were never assisted. The rumour is that the official in charge had used the funds to build houses for his friends and relatives. Fortunately we were able to find the funds at a rather late stage of our work and are now in the process of assisting these incredibly poor folk, who, to make matters worse, are considered low-caste and hence even less able to secure livelihoods.
Getting back to base for the evening, we stopped at the Community Center that we have constructed at Ulle and where the Sinhala fisher folk had taken refuge from marauding Muslim villagers from Pottuvil following the massacre of the Muslim loggers not many months back. This building will also serve the Ulle community for various purposes, as the one at Komari and will also serve as a tsunami-shelter – in the event. An additional 21 homes are also being built in Ulle for folk who were ignored by the hosts of NGOs that were falling over each other for beneficiaries in those early days of relief-distribution.
All done, we head back for the evening shower, beverage of choice, additional enhancers of the mindset and settle down to watch the Aussies smash the Afrikaners and set in motion what should be a enthralling finale to the World Cup.
The Sheriff’s contract is up, his work done and that period of our work in the east now fading fast. Memories of the saga persist – from the shock and awe of our first glimpse of the destruction soon after the wave hit, through the compassion felt for the victims, the tireless efforts of the folk involved in our work that ensured assistance in the form of cash, medicines, food and shelter, the surveying of the villagers to ensure that bogus claims will not be considered, interactions with the LTTE and the forces, the dangers encountered during shoot-outs when the office and co-workers were in the line of fire, frustration of dealing with the bureaucrats, the greed of the beneficiaries and all manner of other experiences that made the effort seem interminable at times, but in the end mostly good memories of great times have by far surpassed the negative impressions.
More of this work has to be completed – homes in Kayankerni (close to Kalkudah), Community Centers and other facilities like kindergartens and public buildings all the way down the coast are in various stages of completion and hopefully before too long will be completed. But Komari, for various reasons, has always been close to the hearts of a few of us that were involved and the contribution made towards its rebirth has made a change in the consciousness of those of us who were part of that saga.