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30 December 2006

Remembering the tsunami

Floating paper lanterns fill the sky over the Andaman Sea in remembrance of the Indian Ocean tsunami victims. Image source: Reuters/Chaiwat SubprasomTHE DAY I arrived in Bangkok to begin work on a project, the depression in the city was palpable. Four days earlier, a deadly tsunami hit the country and took with it, amongst thousands, the only son of the much-loved Princess Ubol Ratana, eldest daughter of the king. The traditional Bangkok Countdown marking New Year's Eve was cancelled. The city streets bustled with holiday tourists, but the familiar fever of a festive season was gone. The city—nay, the country, the entire region was in mourning.

This week, nations struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami commemorated the second anniversary of the catastrophe . . . only to be reminded of the fragile status of the region's relief systems when severe flash floods and mudslides hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra and an undersea earthquake threatened northern Philippines.

“O army of God!
When calamity striketh,
be ye patient
and composed.
With perfect confidence
in the abounding
grace of God,
brave ye
the tempest
of tribulations
and fiery ordeals.”
—‘Abdul’l-Bahá
As a Southeast Asian, I have been used to natural disasters of varying scale and form. However, the magnitude of destruction of life and property has made the Indian Ocean tsunami the most unimaginable disaster of my generation. What hurt me most was that much of this loss of precious life could have been avoided had there been effective communication channels between the many tsunami monitoring centers around the world. The former director of one of these centers said on the radio the morning I arrived in Bangkok that they had nobody to relay the news of the impending disaster to in Sri Lanka, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia. In the age of information, such statement of fact became unbearable; suddenly, the term “globalization” showed to me its premature, farcical nature.

The tragedy is yet another divine proof of the world of humanity being at one with the world of nature. My visit to Thailand, and subsequently to Cambodia, reaffirmed my belief in the spiritual nature and destiny of Southeast Asia, as shared in the musical production that I co-produced called Breezes and Bridges. Presented onstage eight weeks before the tsunami, the production showcased the spiritual ties that bind the most diversified region of the world.

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