Monday, January 03, 2005

OUT OF SRI LANKA

OUT OF SRI LANKA

Got that holiday season depression? Post-holiday blues? This'll wake you up.

One of the space salesmen at the office has a son who made a nice bit of change while helping out at Cranium (or maybe he didn't, but I've got to think he did) and decided to take a year off and travel around the world.

Last week, he was staying at the beach on Sri Lanka.

The salesman -- Chris Chrisman -- was worried initially, but received a quick email from his son the day after the tsunami made the news, and was relieved that Jacobe was okay.

Today Chris offered to share Jacobe's email describing the event. I'm going to reproduce it here intact, typos and all, because that seems to be the most authentic way to reproduce it. Naturally, I urge you to do what you can afford to do to help, because this is an amazing event that will leave behind it more shattered lives than the 9/11 attacks, or Columbine, or Oklahoma City, or any American event you can think of.


Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2005 08:11:49 -0800
To: Mike Flynn
From: Chris Chrisman
Subject: RE: Out of Sri Lanka, Safe in Katmandu, but off to Everest tomorrow...

This is my son's describing the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka.

>X-Originating-IP: [202.52.212.35]
>X-Originating-Email: [jacobec@msn.com]
>X-Sender: jacobec@msn.com
>From: "Jacobe Chrisman"

>Subject: RE: Out of Sri Lanka, Safe in Katmandu, but off to Everest tomorrow...
>Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2005 10:23:37 -0800
>MIME-Version: 1.0
>Thread-Index: AcTs3kOe9m6EFVZ/SYKh4kEyyGM7cAEGZ9RQAAAKgRA=
>X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V6.00.2900.2180
>X-OriginalArrivalTime: 02 Jan 2005 18:26:08.0841 (UTC) FILETIME=[8775B390:01C4F0F8]
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>From: Jacobe Chrisman [mailto:jacobec@msn.com]
> Sent: Sunday, January 02, 2005 10:22 AM
> Subject: Out of Sri Lanka, Safe in Katmandu, but off to Everest tomorrow...
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>Hello again everyone,
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>I can thankfully say that I am safe back in Katmandu, Nepal.
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>I really, really want to thank everyone for their support and generous offers to help me get out of Sri Lanka.
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>Thankfully I gathered most of my gear and most importantly my passport, cash and credit cards so I was very lucky and got a flight out of Columbo. Things are not so pretty there right now I hear. I know a lot of you wonder what my experience was like and I ve decided to just attach a portion of the journal I keep on my travels. I apologize for the poor grammar and sporadic ramblings as I wrote most of it in the jungle right after the tidal waves hit. I m also attaching a few pictures that I took that might help as well.
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Mike's Note: I wish I were able to post these pics. Maybe someone who has a Mac running System 7.6.1 can tell me how.



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> * Courtyard 1 & 2 Pictures  This is exactly where I was when the waves were crashing down, I still have no idea how I made it with just a few bruises. * * Ranjiths 1 & 2 Pictures  This is the restaurant I used to eat that was just down the beach from my hotel. Completely gone now. * * Missing Restaurant Picture  This picture looks like a nice pic of the beach but that gap is actually where I had dinner the night before. * * SmallDSC00018 Picture  A picture of me working at the Siphal orphanage here in Katmandu*
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>I have more pics and video that I ll show a bit later.
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>I have been working back at the orphanage here for the past couple days and that has been very rejuvenating.
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>A lot of folks have asked if I am coming home now, but I ve decided to keep the trip going. In fact, even after the scare of a lifetime I ve decided to go on a trek to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. In fact, I leave tomorrow morning. Sorry for the short notice everyone but I had to take this opening or wait another two weeks. I ll be gone and completely out of touch for the next two weeks, I get back on Jan. 15. Myself and one of the guys from Sri Lanka who came with me to Katmandu are heading there. So in 9 days, I ll be at the base of Everest, 18,000+ feet up. Imagine that from the beaches of Sri Lanka to the base of Everest in two weeks. I like the sound of that.
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>I m thinking this will give me a little time to clear my head and recalibrate if you will.
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>I promise to write more when I return and more fully explain my experience.
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>Again, thank you everyone for all of your support, you really helped me pull through this knowing that I was not alone out here. I promise to write you all personally when I get back into Katmandu.
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>I love you all and miss you very, very much. I will talk to you very soon. Wish me luck and the next pics you ll see will be of the Himalayas and Everest!
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>Jacobe
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>--------------------------------------------Journal Blurb----------------------------------------------------
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>Sunday, December 26, 2004  Somewhere in the Jungle above Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka
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>Where do I even begin?
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>I m so scared to even write my thoughts down because then they will become real and I would much rather keep this as some surreal illusion that this never happened.
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>I am now sitting in the jungle just above Hikkaduwa with about 5 other people writing this. I can t believe how lucky I was today. I m so thirsty, so thirsty.
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>I was almost killed today in a tidal wave. Many people were killed today I m afraid. I had to dig for bodies today. I had to tell a mother that her children were gone, they were probably washed out to sea. I had to run for my life barefoot through the jungle with water crashing all around me. I don t want to ever want to have a day like this again. Do you fucking hear me! Ever!
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>Ok, I have to write this down before I begin to block it out because I am sure I will definitely need and want to block this out as soon as I can.
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>I was making my Xmas calls around 9am Sunday morning, the phone was in the restaurant which is right on the beach. I remember looking out at the ocean while talking to my mom thinking the waves looked good and I thought the surf would be good today, there were two kids and their mother and two other couples down closer to the beach all having breakfast, Neela, the elderly owner of the guesthoust, was sitting where she always sits right next to the kitchen door and near the phone I was using. Neela smiled at me in a grandmotherly way when she saw I was a bit teary eyed after talking to my mom. I briefly said good morning to Neela and then went back to my room.
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>That was the last time I saw Neela. We couldn t find her either. I don t think she made it out of the restaurant. I really pray for that family. They just lost their restaurant, their guesthouse and possibly the center of their family, Neela. I remember she was always so sweet to me and was such a proud woman.
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>I got back to my room, which was on the ground floor and maybe 15 - 20 meters from the beach, and lay down for a second on the bed and felt so alone. I hate spending Christmas alone and I felt like crying. For the first time in this trip I wanted to go home. Wait, right now I want to go home too. Oh god I wish I was home right now.
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>Then I heard a crash, water instantly came rushing past my window, slammed open my door and filled the room waist high with water before I even got off the bed. I jumped off the bed and instinctively started trying to move all my belongings onto shelves and the bed. For some weird reason I thought maybe a pipe had burst or something, my head was obviously not registering the severity of the situation.
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>Then I heard another much louder crash followed by screams and saw people  who did I see wash by, I can t remember, I Think it was that dutch couple, but I didn t see anyone else go by - along with tree limbs, roofing, bottles, broken wood, benches, tables, chairs, and a fucking fridge roar past my window. The water rose above my chest and pushed me back against the far wall. I tried to move for the door to get out and the fucking door slammed shut on me, I don t how or why but I could not get it open and there were bars on the windows and panic was starting to set in. I have never felt so trapped and alone in my life, but I kept pulling on the door and just as quickly as it shut it opened. I pulled myself outside my door holding on the door frame and all around me in pieces was the restaurant I just made my calls from. The water was still rushing pretty strong and I wasn t sure what to do, to swim for it or wait it out here and see if the water stops rising. Then I heard this women screaming in broken English for help to my right, back towards the beach where the restayrant was. For the first time I looked to my right and saw that the restaurant was completely flattened and I could actually see the ocean now from my room. I pushed against the water, dragging myself along the railing that was still erect, and all the shit coming at me, moved towards the screams and saw this women in her 50s or so, I want to remember this part, short blonde hair, had a small cut above her eye, her swimsuit was torn and was in obvious panic. She screamed at me in both German and English and I made out that she couldn t find her children and that she thought they were trapped under the now collapsed restaurant. I remember them eating breakfast, two little blonde kids, girl and boy I think. I didn t remember I was barefoot until I saw all the broken glass everywhere  don t forget to get bacterial spray from Steph - , I waded over to her, parts of chairs, bottles, coconuts, smashed wood were still hitting us and grabbed her by both arms and made her explain to me exactly what happened. She said that they saw the waves coming and they started to run but the water caught them in the small walkway between the kitchen restaurant and the other wall and that the waves knowcked her down but her kids were definitely still behind her and had to be trapped under the collapsed wall and kitchen and restaurant. The water by now was receding back into the ocean pretty rapidly and my first thought was they were not actually under the debris but were washed back into the ocean but we had to start looking. We started lifting up roofing, boards, cement blocks, yelling their names Lehnke and Brenka, dammit what were they name, I need to remember that. I realized we needed more help and started yelling at people around me who were now coming down from roofs or out of buildings and we all started to dig through the rubble for these two children. The mother was completely out of it at this point, we couldn t see into the rubble very well but it was completely full of water so we knew that if they were not crushed they would drown any second. After 30  how long was it really, fuck I can t believe this only happened 6 hours ago - minutes of digging, I figured we had to check the next door houses  cars were thrown around next door ontop of each other, like a tornado, 10 feet away hit twice as hard - maybe the kifds were washed out through the garden onto the street and ran into the next house or were picked up by someone there.
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>I ran to both houses and looked and yelled for the children, talked to the owners and people staying there, no children. I talked to a guy on the street who swore to me that no children ever left our guesthouse or were washed out by the first wave and said he saw the whole thing.
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>Now I had to go back inside knowing that the children were still somewhere in the restaurant area. Oh god, I almost broke down when the mother saw me coming back inside. She knew I went to go check around outside for them and I could see she knew that this was possibly the last hope as it now been at least 30 minutes since the first wave and if her kids were still underwater in the rubble. I didn t have the courage to tell her that I couldn t find them outside and simply told her to not worry that we would find your children. She saw right through this and immediately broke down.
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>Fucking worse position I have ever had to be in! Why the fuck was I why the one who had to do this. I climbed back on to the rubble and joined in where a few others were still trying to pull up concrete slabs, when someone screamed that another wave was coming. I briefly looked up and saw the ocean rising again, instantly everybody was scrambling away from the beach towards the road, the locals kept yelling to run for the jungle as some of the buildings were collapsing and were not safe to stay in, I grabbed the mother by the arm and pushed her in front of me and we ran past the courtyard out into the street. I briefly looked to my left and right as we crossed the street and I saw just masses of people running in the same direction across the street. I have never seen anything like it, complete pandemonium. We crossed the road and started running down this really long narrow corridor between two cement walls  I remember hearing the water rushing behind me - and broke into the jungle just as the water came crashing around us. With every step I could feel the water rising and slowing my progress, there was simply nowhere to run, I was just getting ready to try and climb a tree when all of a sudden the water slowed down and I got my footing back and started to run after the mother again, who had been washed down further. I finally caught up with her and yelled after her and she looked back once, with a completely crazed look in her eye, I can tell you there was no sanity left, and turned and ran and I never saw her again.
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>I kept running until I reached the train tracks and saw other people congregrated but it was all locals who spoke little English so I still could not gather what was really happening.
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>I don t know why but I felt I had to go back to the guesthouse and see if we could still do seomthing. I have to admit I knew I could not save those children anymore but I couldn t just stand there on those train tracks and do nothing. I also for the first time realized I didn t have any belongings anymore and maybe I should go try and get a shirt, shoes anything I could wear.
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>I ran into a guy who was eating breakfast at the same restaurant right before this happened and he told me that the other couple sitting there, were simply washed out to sea, gone. He said this like he was telling me I had a problem with my car or something, no emotions at all. So now it seemed that 5 of the 8 last people I saw were gone. While I was wishing my family and friends a merry xmas these people unknowningly were having there last meal. Why can t I remember that last couple s faces. I need to remember that.
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>I went back to the house and the water had finally fully receded and the real devastation became clear. Whole buildings were gone, the streets were cluttered with everything imaginable, cars were lifted off the ground, my house was completely fucked. The entire front was collapsed. It was eerie, there was no digging anymore, there was noone around and it was just me standing there staring at the ocean, and I felt oddly calm. Slowly people started to return and we started digging again, knowing it was useless but at least giving us something to do, something to take our minds off of reality.
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>But then someone screamed that a third wave was coming and again everyone started running. For some weird reason though, this time I ran back to my room and decided I was going to grab my gear. I opened the door not realizing there was still two or three ffeet of water still in there and water immediately rushed out and when I looked in I noticed that my bed was floating completely of the ground and turned 90 degrees with my gear still sitting perfect in the center of it. I went and started to throw everything in my pack, looked down and saw two huge fish in my room, quite a few unbroken eggs, pepsi bottles, weird shit that washed in oh and sewage from the bathroom was everywhere  Come to think of it I really stink right now. So I packed up what was left of my belongings and ran out the door.
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>The third wave never came I think or it was small. So I grabbed my bag and my surfboard and started heading back up to jungle to find high ground and some news.
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>I made it back to the train tracks and it was still chaos, nobody knew anything or where to go or anything. I had no idea where any of my friends were or where I was to go either.
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>So I just started walking along the train tracks for awhile and came across a couple Brits who were walking up this hill and followed them up the road.
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>I ve now met up with about 15 other tourists in the jungle and we setup a base camp of sorts up there. We have just finished scrounging for supplies and water and are planning to stay the night out here. I think we are enough.
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>Everyone is talking about a big aftershock that is supposed to come at 7pm tonight. It s about 4pm. I hope we are high enough in the jungle.

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>Monday, December 27, 2004  Still Somewhere in the Jungle above Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka
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>The last wave didn t reach us up here, thank god, but we heard it. Very scary, I m not sure the sound of the crashing surf will ever be the same for me.
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>All night I had nightmares, and was woken up four or five times in the night. Once by very loud crashing waves  woke everybody up actually- and once again by a growling monkey that had just killed something. So loud the jungle is here, amazing to listen to, so many different animals and sounds and smells. I heard the growling, the scream and the crunch. It was not a good night.
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>The group of us made sort of a commune in the jungle last night. We put together everything we had scrounged together and made actually a decent meal of rice, well and more rice and a couple onions and water. Best damn rice I have had in a long time. This morning though we are all talking of what to do next. Myself and about 7 others are planning to make a break for it and try and get a truck or something to carry us through the jungle to Colombo.
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>We hear the train tracks are gone as is the road along the coast as well.
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>Most locals and other tourists we have talked to are telling us there is no way out of here for some time. There is always a way.
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>Quite a few of the group are planning to stay and wait for some sort of clean up party or something, I think they think the coast guard is coming or something. I have not seen a single Sri Lankan official yet, I mean not even a police officer or aid worker or anything. Nobody has. There will be no massive mobilization of troops and aid to this town, we are so far off the beaten track, it will take days or even a week before they reach us here.
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>I am concerned because very few of the group here are concerned about the fact that there will no supplies and water very soon here, like in the next couple days and then diseases will start to spread from the bodies all around. We have to go now! Ok, will write more later, hopefully from the road.
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>Monday, December 27, 2004  Still Somewhere in the Jungle above Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka
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>We are on our way to Colombo, I followed this truck I saw on the road and then convinced the owner and the driver to take us to Columbo. Apparently there are gas shortages and he doesn t know if we will make it or not, but I told him we have to try. The Sri Lankan people are some of the most amazing people I have ever met, there are so genuine, sincere, kind and generous. Even though this man lost his restaurant, someo of his friends and family, he allowed us to use his truck to get out of here. And on top of it he charged us only the normal rate a taxi might. Nobody in Hikkaduwa gouged prices in the grocery stores as well. Simply amazing.
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>I can t wait to get to Colombo. I just hope we can actually get a flight out of here.
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>It is complete chaos on the only road out of here, traffic is horrendous, lines for gas are kilometers long.
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Copyright © 2005 by Jacobe Chrisman. (Chris tells me that Jacobe had planned to write a book about his journey; keep your eyes out. Jacobe will return to the US in August.)


Okay, now I dare you to complain that your latté doesn't have enough foam.


1 comment:

Jim Chadwick said...

Amazing report.

I don't want to get into comparing disasters at all because, well, it flirts with dangerously tasteless territory. But even the earliest reports on the Tsunami that I recall already were showing higher fatalities than the combined American events you listed. Meanwhile, the news stations were giving equal time to the inconvenience that holiday travelers were forced to suffer through because of airline sick outs and computer glitches. I kept thinking (1) "At least you're not dead" and (2) we Americans demanded world sympathy for 9/11 as the worst event ever in human history, while we seemed to just nod and shake our heads over the Tsunami. I don't think that is true any longer. But it was almost like the body count was required to pass a certain tipping point before we started to regard it as a comparable tragedy. To my mind though (and not to belittle the disaster at all), this was mother nature once again flaunting her superiority, our own plans and assumed mastery of our destiny be damned. There's no real blame or value judgement you can put on it. (With the exception, in some cases I guess, of shoody construction.) The other events you sited--particularly 9/11-- may have been more shocking (to those who didn't actually have to live through it, of course) because they were the results of deliberate acts of immeasurable hate. Nature doing such things is a wake-up call to our true position on this planet; men doing such things to each other reminds us that even among our own species, we have no control of our fates.

Fuck. They are all terrible. The best any of us can hope for is to not be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if we are, then to have luck on our side.