Tsunami Update: A Thai Family, Haunted by Their Loss

The struggle to create a semblance of normalcy goes on in many coastal areas one year after a tsunami devastated much of southern Asia. One Thai family is still haunted by the loss of their infant daughter to the natural disaster.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Farai Chideya, sitting in for Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand.

Along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean, survivors, family and friends gathered today to mourn the dead and the missing. More than 200,000 of them were swept away in the tsunami which devastated 12 countries in the region one year ago today. We have two reports marking the anniversary. Coming up, the factors which produced a major outpouring of disaster relief across South Asia.

But first, in Thailand there have been several major ceremonies in the southern provinces hit hardest by the disaster. The region is recovering. The government has built tsunami warning towers along the beaches. Tourism is picking up; hotels are being repaired. Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao has spent much the past year reporting on a Thai Muslim family living in Phuket. She brings us this story.

(Soundbite of call to prayer; birds)

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO reporting:

Bahn Lagoon(ph) is a Thai Muslim fishing community nestled among palm trees and banana leaves on Phuket Island. The sounds of tropical birds such as mynahs and kohls blend with the call to prayer while rain falls softly on rows of temporary homes.

Mrs. MARIAM ADOWAY(ph): (Thai spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: `Life is better,' says Mariam Adoway. Her family is one of thousands now living in new housing provided by agencies such as CARE, World Vision and the Thai Red Cross. The 39-year-old mother of six sits outside her home, which is about the size of an average living room in the US. Before the tsunami, Mariam and her family rented a large house near Bantao Beach. They would have been described as a middle-class family. Today, as Mariam stares at what's left of her material possessions, she reflects on this past year.

Mrs. ADOWAY: (Through Translator) My life before the tsunami was much better than now. The tsunami was a nightmare, and every day since has been waking up from that dream. Everything is gone.

XAYKAOTHAO: Gone, too, is Mariam's youngest daughter, 10-month-old Huusena(ph). The baby's body was found some nine hours after the tsunami. Since the death, Mariam says her husband, Dular Adoway(ph), has suffered from depression. He forbids anyone to talk about the child now, but during an earlier visit with the family, he told me how he felt about her.

Mr. DULAR ADOWAY: (Through Translator) I'm very sad. The little one, she was the most precious. Of all the kids, I loved her the most. She was too young. I haven't forgotten her. I won't ever forget her.

XAYKAOTHAO: The Adoway family almost lost a second daughter, five-year-old Rasima(ph). After the tsunami hit, she was found severely injured. A tree and other objects had slammed into her. When doctors finally examined her, they found that part of her skull was missing. Her brain was not damaged, but as she grows, her doctor says, Rasima will need a costly operation to repair her skull. Mariam doesn't like to think about this. For now, the mother is just happy that Rasima can walk again.

Mrs. ADOWAY: (Through Translator) Rasima, she is OK now. She's getting back to normal. When I ask to take her to the beach, she's still afraid of the tsunami. She says she doesn't want to go near the water.

XAYKAOTHAO: When Rasima is given dolls to play with, she often asks about her little sister. Allah took her sister away for special reasons, Mariam says, but Rasima asks why the sister doesn't visit her in her dreams. Some days are harder than others for Mariam and Rasima.

Group of Children: (In unison) (Thai spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: At Rasima's school, children are actively engaged in learning, but Rasima is quiet and distant, sitting behind her classmates. She missed many months of school because of her injuries. Her teacher says she tries to get Rasima and other students to talk about their feelings.

Unidentified Woman: (Through Translator) The children before tsunami, all of them so happy, you know. And after tsunami, she wants to take care and look after them very, very well because almost of the children were spared, and she wants to take care, and she wants the children to tell her what happened of that day.

XAYKAOTHAO: Children affected by the tsunami, including Rasima, are getting better, says Chaiwat Moonuan. He's a child psychosocial and protection officer with the UK-based organization Save the Children.

Mr. CHAIWAT MOONUAN (Save the Children): Now most of the children that I know, I mean, most of the children, we have been working with them. They are getting better from the bad feeling. You can see, like, they would like to show people; they would like to talk with people about what they have been doing now, not about in the past.

XAYKAOTHAO: Dr. Benjaporn Panyayong agrees. She is director of the Mental Health Recovery Center in Phang Nga province, one of the worst-affected areas in southern Thailand. She says in the areas where she works, children are more playful than six months ago, and she says relief workers from many countries have helped the survivors, especially the children.

Dr. BENJAPORN PANYAYONG (Director, Mental Health Recovery Center): Many people come to here, people in Thailand, and I ask many people that--`How did you feel when someone's, like, come to visit you again and again and you talk to them?' They said that they feel good because many people concerned about them and it gives them some--gives some support to them, not like irritable or like angry with them or something like that, because someone that you invade your privacy in your country, maybe, but in Thailand it's good.

(Soundbite of traffic)

XAYKAOTHAO: Bulldozers widened roads and made additional parking for the traffic this month. Many tsunami ceremonies were held throughout affected areas. Surinan Vejajiva(ph) was responsible for those preparations. He said the commemorations were held not only to remember those who were killed, but also to show Thailand's appreciation for the assistance it received over the last year.

Mr. SURINAN VEJAJIVA: We have been very grateful for all the help we got, both foreign and both from the Thai communities, which have helped out a lot. You know, there were Thai students driving down to the south without anyone asking, voluntarily helping our people. I have met a lot of teams from all over the world, you know, Japan, Sweden, Europeans, Americans, everyone who have sent out disaster relief teams. And we would like to also say thank you to all the people who has been helping us out.

(Soundbite of surf)

XAYKAOTHAO: On this secluded beach in one of Thailand's national parks, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited with families and victims of last year's disaster. He laid the foundation stone for an expected tsunami memorial.

(Soundbite of surf)

XAYKAOTHAO: Mariam Adoway was not in the crowd at this designated beach. Instead, her family held a private religious ceremony, praying for prosperity in the new year. For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Phuket, Thailand.

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