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Listening

Sri Lanka Journal: June 2005


Sri Lanka Journal:
Entry Number 3

Sri Lanka, Saturday, June 25, 2005

We stayed at the Unawatuna Beach Resort, a locally owned place right on the Indian Ocean. It was under 15 feet of water at the time of the tsunami and things are still being rewired and repaired. Several times the power would go off in the middle of the evening meal in the open air platform which served as the dining room. The staff there was wonderful and gave us a great rate which included our meals. We decided not to move around and stay there throughout the entire trip except when we arrived and returned through Colombo. I thought the place (Unawatuna) was named as it was due to the plentiful tuna fish which was constantly being caught in the shallows of the ocean. However, the history of this place is much more complex and even symbolic than my simple assumption that English language usage is somehow attached to everything in the world.

The legendary part of the Unawatuna story is associated with how it derived that name. This is where we have to turn back the pages of time to the 2,000 year old Sanskrit epic "Ramayana" and the story of Rama and Sita and the Demon King Ravana who kidnaped Sita and brought her to his stronghold in Lanka. Rama, aided by his ally, Hanuman, waged war on Ravana to regain Sita. In the course of that war Rama's brother Lakshman was seriously wounded. The only herbs available to cure him were located on the Himalayan mountains in north India.

Rama asked Hanuman to go there and bring the necessary herbs. Hanuman complied but was unable to identify the desired herbs. In desperation he grabbed a whole chunk of the mountain and brought it back to Lanka, dropping a piece off on the southern tip. This place came to be called "Onna-wetuna", which in Sinhalese means "there it fell", and gave rise to the place name Unawatuna. The piece that dropped off is known as Rhumassala-kanda, a hill which looks quite out of place on the natural flat landscape of that region. It is coincidentally, a natural pharmacy of medicinal herbs.

Actually, something did fall there in prehistoric times, not on the land but 100 km away from Unawatuna in the sea. It has caused a huge deep pit. Sir Arthur Clarke in one of his books stated that whatever fell is still there disturbing the gravitational field of the earth. It is labeled Terran Gravitic Anomaly I, 110 meters below the zero reference on the Goddard Space Flight Centre's 3-D map of the Earth's Gravimetric Geoid.

Lahiru took Brian, Betty and I up this precipice of Rhumassala-kanda - with its expansive view of the Galle Fort harbor. On the top there is a large and recently built Cha-ithya which is one of those large white cone shaped structures found at all the Buddhist Temples in Sri Lanka. There was also a large polychromed statue of the monkey god Hanuman holding a clump of earth in his left hand as though he was about to serve it as a meal. The name of the temple is the Peace Temple and the four elevations held statues of the Buddha at various points in his life. Lahiru prayed at one of the little altars set up there. He said that a number of people came there at the time of the tsunami to see what was happening.

Having learned that the area where we were staying was named after a massive piece of land falling from the hand of a flying monkey deity and also finding out about the actual meteorite or whatever it was which formed the great oceanic crater eons ago, I had a deep sense of awe about the sacred nature of the place and the almost historic fact that the tsunami was one of a number of large earth shaking events, mythological and actual which affected this place. Like the Terran Gravitic Anomaly I which affecta gravity throughout the world, the tsunami drew me here just as certainly as gravity itself. Lahiru’s praying brought us all in touch with the immense nature of the disaster which brought us here and, for the first time, I began to realize that my time in this obscure country off the southern coast of India was part of a spiritual transformation which is going to be a part of the rest of my life. Certainly, my work in New York since September 11, 2001 has had that effect. God somehow links the seemingly disparate parts of our personal histories with larger purposes symbolized by ancient mythology and modern tragedy.

In a way the very philosophical and almost accepting name of the place itself ,"there it fell", bespeaks a people devout in faith, unique to the place in which they live and ultimately able to reach out and find history which gives continuity to immense events such as the tsunami. A problem I realized I have had for much of my life has been looking at the tragedies which befall other peoples such as the genocide in the Sudan or the AIDS epidemic in all of Africa or the holocaust of Hitler as being events somehow culturally and humanistically detached from me and the world in which I have lived. Seeing refugees from these cultures I always somehow thought that there was a certain cultural stoicism which made processing the pain and loss easier for them. That was, of course, nonsense and it has taken my experiences with the refugees of Vietnam, the people of September 11 and the tsunami to finally know I am at one with all humanity and it has always been that way.

The humbling part of our work which is basically listening to the story of disaster, loss and grief comes from the fact that we traveled here to perform this when all along there is a cultural and religious motif here which provides deep symbols for understanding the nature of these things. But, of course, it usually takes a neutral outsider to give people permission to open their broken hearts and shattered lives to introspection and inspection which is somehow healing; somehow empowering. And being able to be that vessel for another in which to process the immensity of things is something which makes me simply awe struck - a privilege and honor which I did not earn but cherish.

Charles Flood, D.Sc.

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June 2005 Journal Entries
Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5