Weekly Writing Challenge – A picture’s worth a 1000 words. “The Tiger From the Sea”
This week’s challenge is to tell a story about the picture that the challenge has posted – unfortunately this does nothing to inspire me so I’ve picked my own and written a play about my experiences in Thailand as a volunteer after the Tsunami in 2004 in th form of a short play (monologue).
Title: The Tiger from the Sea
The scene opens on an empty beach. Two broken chairs are in the foreground, one looking out to sea and other at right angle facing the beach. In the background are bent and broken palm trees. To the right of the chairs an idol, that has been washed up by the sea, stands upright.. Someone has pinned a photograph of a just married couple honeymooning in the area when the tsunami hit. They are still missing. To the left in a clearing in the background is a small bridge, all that reamins of a hotel complex. In front of the bridge lying in the sand are washed up Christmas tree lights and an oil drum with a large teddy lashed to it.
A young European women (Sarah) walks along the beach, small rucksack on her back and a large plastic bag in hand, she stops to pick up some debris, examines it and puts it in the bag. She arrives at the chair and sits down on the one facing the sea. She unzips the rucksack., fishes out a bottle of water and takes small sips of water. She then takes deep breaths of air then begins to speak to herself.
Sarah: I’ve never smelt death before. Sometimes it’s a sickly sweet smell that strangles the air. It seeps into my lungs and skin so that I can actually taste it. Sometimes it’s sour and acrid, punching the breath out of me, so hard and strong that I throw up. It’s worse when it rains, then it seems to seep out of the ground taking a physical form that makes contact and contaminates. The dead reaching out to touch us, to remind us of their presence. I could have been one of them, sending out signals to the living, crying out to be recognized. But I was lucky, I survived.
When I first came here, the bus stopped on a deserted, silent road, lined with broken houses and hotels. It was like the aftermath of an end of the world movie but without the reassuring knowledge of a happy ever after ending or a nice safe comfort zone to return home to.
Looking around I saw a man sitting behind a desk in room that only had two walls. He had set up a tourist information business just behind the bus stop in the hope of catching passing trade. Day after day in suffocating heat, sitting patiently waiting for tourists to return. But volunteers come here now. This Thai man has lost everything, his house, his family, his business yet he helped me find somewhere to stay, showed me around and told me what had happened here. He needed someone to tell. He needed to talk.
Many Thai people died here as well as tourists. Behind the trees there is a lake where they found over 1,500 bodies. In the hotel that would have been behind me 250 Thai workers had just come on shift when the wave hit. They had nowhere to run and they all died. As far as you can see (Sarah gestures in both directions) there were hotels – now there is nothing.
Today I’m beach cleaning. I found a baby’s shoe just down there. I often find clothing, underwear and luggage. I have to search everything to see if there is any identification. It’s not easy. Each item raises so many questions, who does this belong to? were they wearing them when the wave hit? are they still alive? See that teddy over there – one of my colleagues found it. He couldn’t find it in his heart to dispose of it so it sits there in memory. Just like the idol that was washed up by the sea (she gestures to the idol in the sand). No one will touch them. Not even people who come down to the sea everyday and loot what the sea rejects. We have to get here early as a deterrent as they will take identification papers with them. Three months on and the sea is still washing up personal possessions. But it needs to be done. Friends and family are still waiting for news of the missing.
(Sarah takes another drink of water) spots something in the sand and gets up to have a look at it. It is just some rubbish – so she puts it in the bag and sits back down
Sarah: I met a young man the other day, he was looking for his parents. He’d seen videos of the Tsunami – a little white line in the distance, people just standing on the beach mesmerized by it. He was in shock, fluctuating between a desperate hope that they were still alive and yet wanting some kind of closure. There are many people here still searching for friends and family.
There are disaster tours operating now. It’s upsetting for us all. Tourists come here to pose in the debris with survivors and volunteers. We jumped on one of the tour buses once, up at the police boat that got dumped 2 miles in land. We asked the occupants if they would like to visit the community shop where Thai communities living in camps sold some of their craftwork. No chance said the tourist spokesperson – we are all tired and want to get back to our hotels.
Sarah: There was another earthquake last night. The remnants of the town’s population panicked and headed for high ground. Several Thai people died in car accidents. I slept through most of it – only waking up when the occupants of the next bungalow arrived back after spending several hours in the hills. If there had been another Tsunami I wouldn’t have made it – I’d forgotten to let the volunteer centre know where I was staying. I spent the rest of the night awake prepared to run, backpack at the ready with my passport, money and essentials. It felt like a like a warped version of desert island disc. What 5 items would you take with you if you were running for your life? I learnt a lot about myself in those early hours – pondering my own mortality. Well at least I didn’t have to spend what could have been my last moments with a group of happy clappers as one friend did. At the sound of chanting, hand holding and lighted candles he hitched a lift to the nearest pub where he found some like-minded people. His thinking being that he would rather go down with a pint in his hand!
There was this volunteer was working with a Thai community where the village had been swept away. They lost everything and the survivors were living in one big temporary shelter. They compiled a list of essentials and went back later with cooking utensils, food, water and clothes. They also took pencils, paper and glitter back for the kids. Soon children and adults were painting pictures of the tsunami. One child drew the wave as a roaring tiger, racing inland with boats, houses and bodies in its maw.
Now there’s so much work to be done here. Houses, schools, health centers and boats to build, land to be cleared, people to care for, an economy to rebuild, and (with a sweep of her hand) a beach to be cleaned. (She takes a breath of air and gets up) But at least down here the air is clean and fresh – it’s a beginning. (She moves long the beach looking at the sand, picking up a shoe from some seaweed and putting it in the black bag).
The lights fade on stage.