Sri Lanka mother mourns 6 children lost to tsunami
By Simon Gardner
7:42 a.m. March 24, 2005
VATHARAYAN, Sri Lanka – It has been three months since Sri Lankan housewife Viyarseeli Nadarajahlingam saw her six children swallowed up by Asia's tsunami, but crumpled in grief at a makeshift shrine, she often longs for death.
"I used to call you my little ones. Now I have no one!" she wailed on a daily visit to the bare concrete foundations of her former seaside home, razed to the ground in this tiny fishing village turned ghost town deep in Tamil Tiger rebel territory.
"When will I see you again?" she screamed desperately in her native Tamil, her hands raised in supplication and cries piercing an otherwise eerie calm as palm leaves swished in the wind and waves lapped ashore nearby.
Today is Good Friday and the abandoned,
lonely Jesus Christ as he was on the cross is abandoned, lonely and suffering in this
tsunami victim Viyarseeli Nadarajahlingam
who sits near a photograph of her six children who were swept away in the tsunami.
From their makeshift shelter which is more
like a 'tomb', Viyarseeli asks whether she
could get another womb to have another
baby or she and her husband want to die with their six children. (Reuters)
Nadarajahlingam looked on in disbelief as a towering tsunami wave eclipsed the tops of surrounding coconut palms and wrenched her children – the youngest a year old, the oldest 13 – from her arms.
She watched one son drown, tangled in fishing nets like the ones she and her husband depend on for a living. She buried four of her children in a sandy graveyard for tsunami victims nearby. The remains of two others were never found.
Nadarajahlingam was disconsolate when Reuters visited her in the days following the tsunami at a school where she and her fisherman husband, Sinnathurai, were housed along with 4,000 other displaced.
"I wish that my husband and I would die soon," she wept at the time.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
The couple have now resettled in their native village, although further inland, and live in a tent made from plastic sheeting in the shade of a palm tree. They are waiting for one of hundreds of temporary homes being built from zinc sheets and concrete.
They have little in the way of possessions. A few plastic cups and bowls, a mirror and a ceremonial oil lamp burning in front of a collage of pictures of their children.
The dream of returning to a home like the one they lost is likely years off, and the 31-year-old is plagued by the shadow of death looming over her. She has already tried to kill herself once, and continues to have dark thoughts.
"I cry all day," she said, sitting in her stiflingly hot tent, coughing violently.
"When I am alone, I always think about death. But death won't come instantly," she said. "One day I took 15 Panadols. Then they took me to hospital."
Nadarajahlingam is not alone. December's tsunami killed about 40,000 people along Sri Lanka's southern, eastern and northern shores, tearing thousands of families apart.
The bulk of the dead were women and children – husbands lost young brides and about 4,000 children lost one or both parents.
Others are making visible progress.
Seamstress Srishanthini Vetharniyam and her family have now left a tiny hut they wove from palm fronds after the tsunami and have repaired their home, which is just outside a 550-yard coastal buffer zone the Tamil Tigers have imposed.
They have laid a new roof, and are making new fishing nets. A head-high watermark on the grubby walls is a constant reminder.
"Even now I have fear," the 20-year-old said, describing how she and her neighbors ran for their lives the previous night after the latest repeat tsunami scare.
"But I need to get back to a job. I don't have sewing machines," she said. "They give us stamps for food. We eat with that."
The government says around 100,000 people are living in tents and shelters, while over 400,000 others are living with friends and relatives, most relying on handouts of dry rations.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's humanitarian arm says government food relief is getting through, but the rebels want a bigger share of aid and senior envoys are in Europe lobbying for international support.
Even before the tsunami struck, Nadarajahlingam had already been displaced four times by the Tigers' two-decade war for autonomy in the north and east.
In some places, the scars of war and the tsunami have become one. Remnants of walls torn down by waves are pockmarked with bullet holes and shrapnel from shells fired before a 2002 cease-fire plunged a civil war that killed over 64,000 people into limbo.
"When shells came onto us, I used to keep the children on the ground, lie over them and save them," she said.
Nadarajahlingam longs for more babies. But in a cruel twist of fate, she had a hysterectomy last year to focus on bringing up her three boys and three girls.
"It is only one year since I had my womb removed. If you can help me to have my womb again, and make me have children, I will bring them up," she pleaded.
"Otherwise we'll simply die."