[OUTLOOK]Even after tragedy, life goes onLate last month, I went to Banda Aceh, the region hardest hit in Indonesia by the tsunami. I went there because I was a friendship ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund. Frankly, I didn’t want to go at first.
I thought it wouldn’t be so selfish to avoid seeing the tragic scenes because I had seen enough bad things when I was young.
I was reluctant to go because it was obvious that I would see disturbing scenes. But I could not flatly refuse because I had the daring ardor unique to seniors of how much good I would be able to do afterwards.
When I actually saw devastated Banda Aceh state government buildings and residential areas, I regretted coming to the place indeed.
What good would come from my presence if I could not describe the scene later in writing and speech?
The content of the damage report we received was more dreadful. The day we visited the region was on Jan. 26, a month after the tidal wave struck. To that day, the casualties numbered more than 200,000 people, including the missing, in the region alone.
I recalled the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that took more than 5,000 lives and seized the entire world with fear. Why was it so quiet here where as many have died per day?
In my sight, it seemed almost impossible for any life to be still buried alive in the area where more than 60-foot high waves were said to have come and gone three to four times. Perhaps for this reason, the region was quiet and deserted.
I was more concerned about the people than the disappeared city: How were the survivors doing? People came first and then the city, not vice versa. Everyone carried on, sadly eating meals together after burying their children in the ground.
But when parents or children are gone one day all of a sudden, when relatives or neighbors they have trusted and relied on are nowhere to be found, and when they can see no longer everything that has become familiar in everyday life, would they be able to accept the reality and continue to lead a normal life after such tragedy?
Even if we did not experience it directly, the answer is self-evident: They would never be able to do so. Asking the reason is like asking why you are a human being.
For the life of me, I could not sleep that night. The remains of a once-prosperous city that had vanished in an instant were different from the ruins made by the touch and passage of time.
Wouldn’t nature have also regretted to see what she had done? How could water have shattered the seemingly solid concrete buildings and iron bars into pieces?
I thought it unbelievable, which led to a sense of fear: I wondered if my own home in Korea that I had left was still safe or if it existed at all.
Because of fear, uneasiness and the heat of the accommodation, I was tossing and turning when the bed shook lightly several times at dawn. It was the aftershock that I had only heard of.
I was scared but comforted myself, asking what could possibly happen when a good person like Ahn Sung-ki, an actor and friendship ambassador, was sleeping under the same roof. Although I saw so clearly that natural disasters do not distinguish good people from bad ones, good people can be a comfort and also a strength by only being near us.
I truly wish we also could be a good country that gives strength and comfort to the numerous disaster-stricken people, particularly children.
I hope we will be able to give strength to the survivors from the disaster by expressing our warm kindness without reservation and be remembered as people of a good country, particularly by children, instead of a country that pours support to show off its wealth or to promote its future interests.
On the next day, we visited an area where Unicef was conducting relief efforts. Unicef was involved in emergency relief and administrative affairs as well because the function of the state government itself had been paralyzed in the area.
As the most urgent task next to rescuing people, Unicef was actively working for public health, prevention of epidemics, children’s health and education and family searching.
Seeing our young doctors and volunteers rush from across the world to help Unicef, I was proud that our country is one that has the capability to quickly dispatch medical personnel and volunteers to the devastated areas.
On the same day, I also smiled broadly for the first time to see an angelic smile on the face of a newborn baby in a refugee camp. How amazing and beautiful it is that despite all, life goes on!
* The writer is a novelist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Wan-suh