Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tsunamis and Impotence

I've tried and failed to write this journal entry a couple of times now, so plese excuse me if it's not up to my usual standards of cogency and coherence...

Of course I startd writing about what a great city KL is, and how much it feels like a living city, full of kinks, but some things over the last few days, both macro and micro events have made it difficult to get quite the right tone of jocularity going.

22,000 people have been killed. And I know one of them.

My stupid, flippant remarks about outrunning tidal waves seemed a lot funnier when the concept was in abstract,a nd when I didn't really know the scope of this disaster. But there's something inherently tribal in my brain (and I suspect everyone else's too).
There's an old newsroom adage that a story is news if it features 4 dead Australians, 1 dead American or 300 foreigners. I'd like to think that as a committed Internationalist that I was immune to this kind of thinking, but the truth of the matter is that my tribal brain didn't connect this tragedy with the genuine loss of life suffered until it was brought to me in a more personal form.

Looking at that lonley sentence above, it sounds ludicrous. For the hundreds of thousands of families and extended families who have lost a husband, wife, a sister or a child, who have lost entire families and circles of friends, my miniscule corner of loss must seem rather pitiful.

Sitting in the insular expat outpost of a backpacker's hostel the reports that reach me were sanitized, from "embedded" friends who had managed a lucky escape, a second hand accquaintace with a broken toe, a virtual stranger on the friends-of-friends network who had to go to hospital for his bruises and scrapes.

22,000 people had died, and I filed it in my "natural disaster" scrapbook of awful events that occur everywhere in the world, until I knew one of them.

The difficult thing I'm coming to grips with is that I didn't know Toom particularly well, didn't feel any deep affinity with her, except a memory that she was a kind, generous person, and that we had an awkward encounter that I probably faied to handle well, because of a lack of cultural awareness.
I don't expect we would have ever met again, and if I grive for her it wont be in a personal way: A concern for her family's wellbeing, for her boyfriend who loved her deeply and must now face a life without her, but 22,000 people are dead, and whilst my mind isn't equipped to grieve for it's helped me to understand on more than an abstract level that there are people nearby in need, and that compassion fatigue is
something sociologists, and not real people, suffer from.

So I'm doing the only sensible thing, the thing I wanted to do when I heard the news. I'm going to help. The ICRC say they need money, so I'm giving them money. But given that moeny is the thing I have in least supply, I'm hoping to give some time as well. I don't know for sure that I'll be more help than hindrance, and it may be that what
aid groups need is a small group of highly trained and well co-ordinated volunteers, and not an influx of blundering dilettantes.
But I want to offer, because being afraid to raise your hand is never a virtue, and the worst that can happen is that I find out I'm as impotent to help as I would have been if I"d sailed right past... And that doesn't sound like such a terrible thing.

To everyone who has more money than time, the guys at the ICRC could probably do with it. Skip out on Friday dinner and give the $50 to them instead.
I'm sorry I don't have the heart for the hard sell right now, but all I can say is that 22,000 people are dead, and their families need some help.

I'm sorry this wasn't a cheerier travelogue, and to tell the truth there's a fair collection of good stories to tell, but there's not a lot of levity in me right now, so you'll have to wait for the happy stuff.




Post a Comment

<< Home