My friend Jes had lived in Khao Lak before moving to Phuket. She has
many good friends there. We heard Khao Lak got hit hard, so we went to
deliver some supplies, see if we could help, and bring Jes to see her
friends as phone lines were down and she had no idea who was still alive.
We saw many dead bodies, most beyond recognition or identification. They were bagging them because most were too bloated to fit in the wood caskets. We tried to find out what or how the identification process worked, but it wasn't clear. My other friend Chaya had worked a couple days at a rescue center and was in charge of photographing corpses, she said they were collecting photographs along with dna & hair samples, personal artifacts and finger prints... but as time goes on, I *think* they are giving up on this process.
We asked the driver of a truck full of bodies where they were going, he said to the temple to burn them... I inquired about the identification process before burning them, he either didn't want to answer or couldn't speak English well enough to understand my questioning, I asked several of the other guys, got Jes to translate, I couldn't get a clear answer. Jes said they were just going straight to burning the bodies without ID. I couldn't bring myself to believe this.
After viewing the "wall of the missing", you get a feel for how important it is to have closure, just to know with 100% certainty the situation of a loved one. Even if dead, at least you won't wonder for years to come if just maybe they got washed up on some deserted island or are still in the mountains with a broken leg, but alive. You can put all questions to rest and move on. I struggled with this, what could I do, should I go police them and make sure the identification process is still taking place, and being done so correctly, do I have a role in this? a responsibility? Do I make it my responsibility?
Thousands got washed out to sea and will never be found, does it really matter if the few more that are being found are identified? If you collect dna, how do you match it? against what? how is that all done? Dental records? how would we do that? These questions continued to grow and became very difficult for me, but I kept concluding that there must be some high level people who are on top of this and getting these things done... Maybe they are sitting in remote air conditioned underground bunkers smoking cigars and managing whole teams of lab technicians plugging away on the database.
We visited Jes's friends house, what
can one say. These were Jes's neighbors and friends. But we were
relieved that we did manage to find some of her other friends alive and
their houses still standing, luckily on slight hillsides. One girl was
at the beach and got swept 1.5 km inland... and survived. This was the
only way for Jes to communicate with these people, face to face, they
have no mobile phones, so we were all pleased that some good fortune
came from such otherwise hopeless despair.
It was another example of Thai culture.
Any American doing such work realizing a camera was on them would act
out the scene, I mean, who would want to be captured bright eyed and
cheery amongst bags of corpses? CNN certainly wouldn't show images of
rescue workers flashing P-Diddy style gangsta poses, that would cut down
on donations. Thai's don't take life as a right, but as a gift, and
they celebrate it. It doesn't show disrespect to the unfortunate, it
shows a genuine sense of respect for humanity and a happiness we should
all have for still being alive. I made it a point to try and not censor
my photos or put a slant on them in any way.