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2005-01-18 Where is my massage girl now as paradise is washed away in flood?

When we learn of some horrific tragedy on the News, whether it be thousands of people killed in a Rwandan genocide, or an entire community wiped out by a mudslide in Colombia, the news is too much for us to take on board.

 

The story of the young Jewish diarist Anne Frank, immediately captures our hearts and emotions, however we could never get our heads around the suffering of the 6 million other Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Similarly, when we recently learned the full extent of the earthquake and Tsunami tragedy in the Indian ocean, it was on too vast a scale for us to even begin to comprehend.

 

Two days after the Tsunami struck, we heard numbers constantly thrown at us - 30,000 - 80,000, - 135,000, rising all the time. Something in the region of five times Sligo's population had been eradicated at last count. For me, this time it seemed a little more real, having not so long ago spent a memorable week on the tropical Thai island of Phi Phi, recently obliterated by the worst natural disaster in living memory.

 

This was not a case of me being grateful for escaping such an horrific natural disaster (as I firmly believe that if you're gonna go - you're gonna go), but more a case of remembering the beautiful, radiant and deeply spiritual islanders we met while holidaying there, who depended solely on tourism as a livelihood. I read in a paper soon after the Tsunami struck, about a Cork lady who was flung against a wall in her beach-bungalow on Phi Phi, as it was literally carried away on a wave. Miraculously, she only broke her arm.

 

I had stayed in these very beach-bungalows nine months before, and had followed the short winding sandy path to the beach every day. In the recent Christmas chaos, tourists and locals had scrambled up the hillside to the famous viewpoint, the viewpoint which had taken my breath away earlier that year, and which was now serving as a secure and safe haven for survivors, overlooking what must have been a worst nightmare scenario.

 

Watching the aerial view of the tiny tropical island on CNN after the disaster brought tears to my eyes - the little half-mile-wide inhabited central strip of Phi Phi had been violently washed away. The ferry which had brought us, as well as hundreds of back-packers, from Phuket was now being used to carry dead bodies back to the mainland. Every night on Phi Phi I had been given a full body massage on the beach at sunset, the very beach which had been hit first by the Tsunami. I had joked with my masseuse, telling her I had booked her on a flight to Ireland with me the next day, as she was coming to live with me. I wondered where that smiling lady was now.

 

And where was our little cheeky breakfast waitress, who had made fun of my accent every morning, and giggled constantly as she watched tens of stray cats trying in vain to steal our breakfast? The young girl said she had never left the island. Where was she now? Had she made her first trip off the island under the worst possible circumstances? Would she ever get her smile back?

 

The rickety pier where we first disembarked on Phi Phi, the trademark long-boat taxis, the jewellery and coral stalls, the souvenir and coffee-shops, the Internet cafe where they showed Leonardo di Caprio's "The Beach" on a loop, the Phi Phi bakery, the open-air Thai restaurants, the shanty-style dwellings on either end of the beach, the Muslim village, must all have been washed away.Phi Phi, with its azure waters, coral reefs and white sandy beaches, was the closest to paradise I have ever been. That paradise has been obliterated.

 

The world, of course, has become better at rallying around to help the victims of such disasters, but it just seems so unfair that so much irreperable damage can be inflicted on somewhere so perfect. The deeply spiritual Thai people have every right to ask their God - Why? In the back of their minds they will be wondering if it might, God forbid, happen again.

As we remember the victims of the recent disaster, spare a thought for the beautiful people on the paradise island of Phi Phi.