The following email message was written by Carmen Varley, wife of John Varley, Nathan’s Chief of Party for the USAID-funded Competitiveness Project in Sri Lanka. The Varleys, who live in Colombo, opened their home to tsunami survivors who had been visiting Sri Lanka.
January 11, 2005; 12 pm
On December 28th I met Richard Brassard and his companion, Pong, at the American Embassy in Colombo; they had flown by military helicopter from Arugam Bay on the east coast, where they had been vacationing with Richard’s 8-year old son, Cairo; they survived, but the boy did not. Their friend Bandu found his body after searching for two days along the coast and was bringing him to Colombo in a military truck. Before I could bring Richard and Pong to our apartment, we had to go to the morgue to identify Cairo.
They were with us a week and a day. Pong had cuts and bruises on her feet and legs and could hardly walk. She had ridden out the wave in a coconut tree. Bandu joined us on Wednesday in our apartment, staying until Richard and Pong flew home to Phuket and providing invaluable support and communication throughout a long week of bureaucratic haggling.
By Friday, New Year’s Eve, Richard decided to hold his son’s funeral service in Colombo. The funeral home had performed 85 funerals since Monday; the names of the deceased were listed on white boards so they could be erased and replaced with new names. Before the funeral John returned from work after handling a donation from his office to a local charity. His driver, a devout Buddhist, drove us to the funeral home. John never uses his project vehicle or driver for personal reasons, but this was different. It was a beautiful Buddhist service with the six of us honoring the short life of Cairo.
After much dickering with the airlines, Richard and Pong arranged to return to Phuket by way of a flight to Bangkok on Wednesday. We had our last meal together, and he and Pong packed their new backpacks with their new clothes. They left for the airport at 11 pm for a 3 am flight. Yesterday they sent us an email; they arrived safely in Phuket; Bandu returned to his village north of Colombo. We know it will be a long time before they can return to anything resembling normal life; we did what we could to help them through a difficult time.
John is working on a short-term proposal for managing loans to tsunami victims. Tomorrow, I will visit my friend Janaki Gallippatti, who was the vice principal of the school I worked in 2003. She and her family are helping a school in Galle that lost everything. The school year normally begins on Monday, but they are delaying until January 24.