When we were asked to think about memory that made us feel close to nature, the first thing that popped into my mind was the holiday I spent in Beruwela, Sri Lanka in 2004. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Beruwela is a coastal city in Sri Lanka. We planned to spend the Christmas week in a sea-side hotel in Beruwela. The ocean was beautiful, golden sand, palm trees everywhere, sea shells… The noise of the waves, I loved to close my eyes and listen to the sound of the ocean. I was 10 back then, but I still remember every single detail. All these wonderful feelings I had about the ocean just washed away on the 26th of December 2004. It was the day after Christmas, the morning was beautiful as ever, I went for a walk on the seaside with my sister. Despite the beautiful weather, I didn’t feel like continuing my walk by the ocean. I came back to our room with my sister. Our room was located on the ground floor of the hotel and was about 500 m away from the ocean. After about 10 minutes, water started gushing in from the ocean. It flooded our room. This was kind of ‘fun’ for me and my sister. We started splashing water at each other and enjoying the moment. Our parents woke up, and my dad said that this is not a good sign, he instructed us to move to the reception hall which was located in a hilly area. All at once, loud warning siren started playing. That sound was so scary, my sister and I started to panic. All the water which was flooded into our room (about 2 ft.) got sucked back to the ocean. You could literally walk about 100-200m into the ocean. There was no water but you could see a lot of dead fish. People were fascinated by this fish and they started to move towards the ocean and collect them. However my dad said that we should get to higher ground, as soon as we got into the reception hall, the beautiful ocean got so evil and the waves started to increase in height as it raced towards us. I thought that I was going to die in that moment. My dad hugged my mom, me and my sister and turned us away from the sight of the wave. The wave engulfed all the people who went to see the fish and it destroyed a lot of nearby buildings. My sister and I started to cry continuously because at that moment we knew for sure the potential of the wave. About fifteen minutes after the second wave, the third giant wave hit us. As we were in an elevated area, we were so lucky not to have hit by that wave. The hotel staff instructed us not to go to any upper floors in the building as the waves have damaged the primary structure of the building and it could collapse at any moment. All I could hear were screams and people crying. Sri Lanka had never experienced anything like this before. This was the biggest Tsunami ever recorded in the history. It was caused due to a 9.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Sumatra. This Tsunami was as tall as 50m reaching 5 km inland. I hated the sea for about 5 years, I would not even go or even look at the sea. I still don’t trust the sea. I am so lucky to still have my family with me. 30,196 people died in Sri Lanka while 21,411 got injured. Overall this Tsunami killed 230,000 people. This childhood experience made me distrust the ocean. It’s actually interesting how this was the first thing that popped into my head on Tuesday when considering all the other beautiful encounters I had with nature. I still dream at least thrice a month about Tsunami. This disaster left a huge impact in my life, about how I look at the ocean and the environment around it. My childhood experiences and the cultural beliefs made this nightmare stand apart from all the wonderful encounters I had with nature.
A M Ovini H Amarasinghe