In Hambantota there was a charity organization from Taiwan as well as a unit of the Pakistani army. Some other organizations had been there leaving not much more than a couple of tents with clearly visible logos.
A medical team from Malaysia which arrived four days after the tsunami had departed the next day to travel on to Puttalam after being told by officials that their help was not needed. They had talked to the wrong people. There was so much help needed.
We were told that UNICEF had done a good job, as they had been in the area before the tsunami.
These groups had helped to rebuild the schools with monetary contributions, and provided paper and books for the children.
The President Chandrika Kumaratunga was also there and laid foundation for 7,000 houses six kilometers away from the town on land donated by the government. Yet, three months after the tsunami, when we arrived, only two of the houses were under construction.
How this “new” community develops will only be known in future days and years.
But for some reason she did not visit the refugee tent camps.
In the area between Hambantota and the Yala Park, some 8,000 people were killed. Their survivors were full of praise for the Pakistani army. We were told that in a mere two days, the Pakistani soldiers (25-35, in number), barefoot and with trousers rolled up went into the knee deep waters of the salt lagoons to recover more than 2,000 bodies. Without their help, epidemics would have been likely.
The people of Hambantota had always lived from fishing and salt production. When will there be salt production again? Nobody knows! Before the tsunami Hambantota salt was a valued label, now nobody wants to buy it anymore.
We met a bold looking group of the Pakistani soldiers in a damaged school. While Michel was still whispering to me, “You don’t get to take pictures of army members”, the Commander came up to me and asked if we could take some pictures. He then handed us his business card with e-mail address to send the pictures to and invited us to their headquarters for tea. We will forever regret that we did not have the time to follow up on his invitation. Who else can say that they have been drinking tea with the Pakistani army?
He was particularly fond of the “shalwar” I was wearing, a ladies dress that is very common in Sri Lanka.
Cotton is commonly worn, as it makes the heat bearable. It helps keep mosquitoes off as well as “pushy” men who often have a strange idea about women from the West. On my own behalf, I would like to add that next to all the advantages of it disfiguring the body: I have not gained that much!