I donТt leave for the tsunami-ravaged Batticaloa district until tomorrow, but I already have one tsunami story under my belt.
I went cool off at the beach yesterday Ц at the Galle Face Green, a long stretch of lawn facing the sea where hordes gather for weekend R&R. I bought some ice cream from one of vans lined along the road, and found a seat among the loving couples that gather here on Sundays.
A pleasant, elderly man wandered along shortly and helped himself to a seat next to me. He asked me the time Ц always a reliable conversation-starter Ц and after exchanging some pleasantries, he mentioned that he was living in a camp for tsunami survivors.
He had seized my attention. He told me how he lost his wife, four of his six children, and most of his belongings to the tsunami. He told me that he had been sick for four days because of the filthy water at the camp. He told me how devastated he was that heТd never go home again. My bleeding-heart-liberal instinct was in overdrive. УTell me your troubles,Ф I imagined saying to him, УYou have my ear! You have my shoulder!Ф
And as I equated his cheerful demeanor to the tenacity of the human spirit, it turned out that what he really wanted was my money.
УOnly you can help, sir,Ф he added, and went into the same pitch I have heard countless times in Pakistan. УMy children are starving, I am hungry, sir,Ф etc. etc.
Suddenly skeptical of his story, I offered him 50 rupees Ц not a substantial amount, but enough for a roadside meal Ц and begged my leave. He refused and walked away.
I donТt know if this man was a tsunami survivor or if he was just a drifter down on his luck. I donТt know if it really matters. But itТs a shame that as calamitous a disaster, one that begs for every ounce of compassion the world can muster, can fall prey to his sales pitch and my suspicious mind.
Posted By Sarosh Syed (Sri Lanka)
Posted Jun 6th, 2005