Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Everything Happens for a Reason

If that little platitude is part of your cosmological outlook then calamitous events like the Boxing Day tsunami should force you to scrutinise it quite closely.

Last night BBC1 aired a stunning documentary by Kevin Sim on the great wave and its aftermath: Tsunami:7 Hours on Boxing Day. Sim gently pushed a rather interesting notion: that animists encode the behaviour of Nature rather better than monotheists.

The last hundred or so indigenous inhabitants of the Andaman Islands were expected to have been wiped out by the wave, but in the end not a single one perished. Spotting the sudden retreat of the tide and interpreting it as a tilt in the relationship between land and sea, they immediately anticipated a violent return of the wet element and headed inland for cover. Less 'primitive' settlers on the islands were less fortunate. Indeed across the region observant Hindus, Muslims and Christians all struggled to comprehend the enormity of the disaster as it occurred and tended to internalise its meaning afterwards as part of a narrative of moral castigation.

One of the most striking images in the whole film was a little dog sitting, gaze-down, in a pile of debris. The animal was so obviously depressed that it made you wonder how canine consciousness deals with such devastation and loss.

For me one of the big lessons from 9-11, 7-7 and the tsunami is that if your morning starts with something unusually bad happening, always assume that things are going to get a lot worse: don't be one of the people that get taken out by the second plane/wave or hop on the bus to get away from the Tube bombers.

It was a bit of an accident that prevented us from going to Thailand last Christmas. I had found what I thought was a good deal on a last minute flight to Bangkok, but V insisted that I allow her to spend a morning calling up some of the agencies she'd used in the past in order to see if she could better it. One of these was Journey Latin America, who duly informed her that they only handle westbound flights. Rather than acknowledging the error and hanging up, V decided to check what it would cost us to go back to Guatemala for Christmas, something that until that moment she had vehemently opposed. That's how we ended up spending Boxing Day in Antigua and not somewhere in the path of the tsunami.

It killed 227, 000 people - roughly a quarter of the death-toll of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, which will be the topic of a future post.

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