Thoughts from Sri Lanka: Talking about the Tsunami

The beach at Unawatuna.

I’m an ocean lover.

There are those who love the water and those who love the mountains.  I live in the mountains (well, hills I guess) so I love to spend time at the ocean as much as possible.

We’ve spent the past several days of our Sri Lanka adventure in Unawatuna, enjoying a mini-vacation on the beach.  It’s a beautiful area filled with palm trees, cocnuts and panoramic views of the horizon.   We’re about 70 kilometers south of Colombo, the bustling city where I spent the first week of my trip.

The tone and pace of this area is much different from Colombo.  But, we weren’t sure when we first arrived.   Our first night here there was a huge disco/dance party on the beach a few hotels down for many of the divers that seem to gather in this area.  The sound levels have since lowered considerably 🙂

It’s a place dominated by 20-somethings from Europe, Australia and the U.S.,

looking for cheap ways to get to Thailand, Singapore and other exotic locales where they can surf and dive.  At points I’ve felt like I’m a ‘dude’ in a Keanu Reeves movie.

The water here is startling in its beauty.  I’ve been in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Caribbean but the ocean here is so salty that it allows you to float at ease.  There was also a fairly strong rip tide when we were here.  I would enter the ocean in one area and easily be carried down the beach within minutes.

As I swam and enjoyed the water, it was hard not to think about what nature unleashed on this part of the world six years ago.  It’s kind of a surreal feeling to be swimming where so many died.

While I was initially hesitant, I’ve spoken to a number of the locals here and in Colombo about the tsunami.  I recognize that the scope and scale is hard to describe — one person told me that nearly everyone she knows had someone who died.

Yet, many have described the scope of the tragedy in ways that transcends language barriers.

I’ve asked several people here about the level of devastation and they just put up their hand in flat manner and circle it all around, implying that everything was leveled.   Many of the locals walk the beach, selling their wares.  We bought some dresses shirts and tablecloths from Candy, who now lives in government housing, a little inland from the beach.

All that she made and sold was lost in the tsunami.

“It is hard,” she said about life after the tsunami.

But, like many Sri Lankans, the end of the war and the return of tourists are providing a sense of hope for the future.

About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at He also edits part-time for with the NFL and college football network.
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