Tiger Don’t Surf

Arugam Bay was devastated by the tsunami, but the people began to rebuild. Things were looking better, until the Tamil Tigers tried to kill the Sri Lankan army chief.

By Kevin Sites, Wed Jun 21, 11:54 AM ET

ARUGAM BAY, Sri Lanka – The sun is setting over the Indian Ocean and, for a moment, Arugam Bay is paradise. The coastline, a jagged, gray-toothed smile of crumbling walls and stone foundations destroyed by the 2004 tsunami, is bathed in the giddy, rose-colored light of dusk.

The upstairs bar at the Siam View Inn is beginning to fill up with surfers who just finished their afternoon session at the south end of the bay. It is, they know, a wonderful secret spot A?a??a?? a reward for intrepid and fearless surf travelers, a right-hand point break which can carry you into next week, if you’re lucky enough to out-paddle the other fifty hard core surfers gunning for the same peak.


The few surfers that come to Arugam Bay are rewarded. A?A? View Price of avapro 300 mg

But tonight they’re out of the water early. Mostly Aussies, along with a handful of Japanese, they’re keen to see day two of the World Cup soccer matches, Australia versus Japan, on the bar’s satellite television set.

As the first round of beers is poured, the national anthems are played before the start of the match. The Aussies sing along to the sounds of Waltzing Matilda. Everyone seems to savor the good fortune to be in this place, at this moment.

It is a well-earned moment of serenity in what has been a tumultuous two years for the people of Arugam Bay and the surrounding areas.

The Siam View Inn had 22 rooms before the tsunami hit. Now it has four. The owner, a German named Manfred, is a quiet but determined guy who knows how to get things done. He is rebuilding slowly, with the hope that if he does, they A?a??a?? the tourists A?a??a?? will come.

The reputation of having been devastated by the tsunami was obviously bad for business, and though there has been progress, the region is far from reconstructed. Officially, over 30,000 Sri Lankans were killed by the 2004 tsunami, many of them in this area on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast. Thousands more here are still living a rudimentary existence in thatch houses without water or electricity.

But businesses like the Siam View, struggling to rebuild in the aftermath of the tsunami, began to see a light at the end of the tunnel: the possibility of becoming, if not a mainstream tourist spot, at least a bragging-rights stop for the young, hip, “Lonely Planet”-type traveler.


Perfect water, shattered lives Order lozolla A?A? View

But then, in April, the Tamil Tiger rebels used a female suicide bomber, a “Black Tigress,” in an assassination attempt in Colombo against Sri Lanka’s army chief, Lt. General Sarath Fonseka. The attempt only injured Fonseka, but likely killed any hopes for rekindling a viable tourist trade in Arugam Bay.

“Sixty people canceled on me after that,” says K.M. Rifei, one of the managers at the Siam View Inn. “They were from all over the world, too A?a??a?? Germany, England, Australia.”

Rifei is troubled by the developments, but he’s seen enough tragedy in his life that his emotional range seems wisely shifted to neutral. Rifei says he lost 17 members of his family in the tsunami, including his son, who was just one-and-a-half years old.

“When the tsunami hit,” he says, as we sit on the deck of restaurant overlooking the beach, “my family was all in the water, including my son.”

Now the challenge, the same for everyone here, is surviving the tragedy after the tragedy. If the world’s most deadly natural disaster wasn’t enough, Sri Lanka’s slow slide out of a 2002 cease-fire agreement between the government and the Tamil Tigers and back into civil war now seems not only inevitable, but already in progress.

The economic costs are already high. Two pro surfing events scheduled to take place in Arugam Bay this summer have been canceled because of the violence.

“We weren’t expecting much from them, though,” says 24-year-old Asmin, whose father and uncle own the Tropicana, a small surfboard rental shop, and handful of beachside rental cabanas. “They’d probably all stay at five star hotels somewhere else.”

Asmin and his family are Muslims, like the majority of the people in this area, and so don’t directly share in the Sinhalese versus Tamil feud that has divided Sri Lanka for decades.

Jamaldeen, Asmin’s father, says the people here have a good relationship with government security forces, especially the elite police commandos known as the Special Task Force (STF), who are in charge of this area.


Left behind after the tsunami, violence now threatens Arugam Bay. A?A? View

“The Tigers aren’t active here but the government perceives this as an area in which they operate,” says Jamaldeen, “so they don’t invest a lot to help counter that reputation.”

It is, I think, a dilemma like the legendary scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” in which American Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (an avid surfer), played by Robert Duvall, covets a stretch of beach held by the enemy (Charlie) simply for its surf.

When his men protest that the beach is heavily fortified, Kilgore responds, “Charlie don’t surf!” and orders an attack on the beach.

Like Charlie, Tiger may not surf either, but the perception of potential violence here, as in other areas of the country, hasn’t made Arugam Bay seem like a safe spot for many mainstream travelers to hit the water.

Jamaldeen says that the ongoing dearth of tourists could eventually do what the tsunami did not: kill their business.

And while businesses struggle to survive, many tsunami survivors in the region are also still doing the same, even a year and a half later.

In one refugee camp a few miles from the beach, hundreds of families are just scraping by, they say, without any assistance.

Kaleander Musama says she, her husband and six children got a large water tank from the government a few days after the tsunami, but that was the last thing they ever got A?a??a?? since then there has been no one to refill it.

As I photograph the family, an angry old woman from the camp confronts me.

“You people are like the marauding elephants that come and ransack our homes and leave us with nothing,” says the woman, Yasim Bawa. “Three hundred photographers have come here and taken our picture and nothing has changed.”

I ask her why things haven’t changed, why the government hasn’t helped them more.

“You know what I got from the government after the tsunami?” she asks, half smiling now A?a??a?? “a coupon for 100 rupees (about $1).”

Things are a little better at another refugee camp further up the road where the Sri Lankan Lion’s Club has helped build dozens of new houses with concrete walls and corrugated tin roofs.

Still, the trauma of the event still lives with all of the families here.

Forty-two-year-old Mohammed Bahdurdeen, a tall, proud-faced man, makes a living as a fisherman when he can hire onto a local boat. But those days are often few and far between.

Mohammed Bahdurdeen and family

Mohammed places his hands on the shoulders of his six-year-old son Ajiwath, a boy seemingly full of energy A?a??a?? if not words.

“Since the tsunami he doesn’t speak anymore,” says Mohammed. “I think the trauma was too much for him.”

Others here can speak, but have tired of it when nothing seems to change.

Back at the Siam View Inn, the world cup match is over with the Australians beating the Japanese 3-1.

As the crowd, a few at a time, pays their tabs and heads out, there are smiles on the faces of the employees behind the bar. It was a good night A?a??a?? the kind of night they haven’t seen in quite some time A?a??a?? and with the increasing violence, may not see for some time again.

It is, however, a place stubbornly committed to optimism in the face of challenging times.

Above the bar on a whiteboard is a message in blue marker written on the day of the tsunami. It has not been wiped clean since.

It reads, “This event is not the end, just a new beginning. A great chance for all of us. Posted 20 hours, December 26, 04.”

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