Personal reaction to the tsunami disaster news

Culture | International | Familiarity
I suppose it is a bit unfair to judge others about their initial response to the tsunami, without posting my own thoughts.

And they’re very abstract. Thanks to global communications networks, the world grows smaller, yet the number of people, the concentration of them, and the degree of risk grows larger. Each catastrophe we face, we begin to see that we’re all on this planet together, and we need to face the same challenges together.

Sometime Sunday I must’ve heard about it… somewhere on the news. I think I was busy writing– researching the influential political sites. By Monday I got an email from Jon Lebkowsky through his activist-tech list– which has not seen any traffic for many weeks– a “Tsunami Resource Site.” I worked late and missed the news.

A funny thing happened Monday night– I called a friend who, I learned, had been home sick all day. The friend was highly upset that the Bush administration had initially send $100,000. I suggested looking into some of the facts about past giving– did you know that USAID has given $100M to the Sudan? The initial pledge was $15M; surely it would increase as we learned more. Yet the friend went on and on about how pitiful the $100,000, and how the opposition party in this country ought to make that an issue. Huh? Was this the time to be playing politics? The friend thought so, and then decided the next day to terminate the friendship. This being a friend I met through politics I was not that disturbed for the loss. But I was disturbed at the reaction, which I would hear again in random places on the Net.

Tuesday I was off from work, so I started putting together the reactions to the tsunami by bloggers and other online press. Doing this helped me see how others were seeing the story.

Some bloggers duly provided links to charities to help the wayward reader. I didn’t need links, I have unopened mail from Doctors Without Borders. We have a nice relationship: I send them a check ever year or so, they send me mail every month or so, I occasionally open a letter. I suppose that people give through, or through a blog, because that’s a richer relationship than bulk mail. I dropped a check in the mail.

I went to the supermarket to do some food shopping. I bought some buffalo meat to make a meat loaf; I felt I had to spare a cow, which Hindus see as holy. I bought the Times, and read in John Schwartz’s blog triumphalism piece of an Indian blogger, Nanda Kishore, who remarked upon seeing a picture of a buffalo and a boy online “It now seems prophetic, for according to the Hindu mythology, Lord Yama (the god of death) rides on a buffalo.”

I cooked the meatloaf, and went to evening services at my synagogue. These are quick and quiet on a weekday. One of our lay leaders started a brief talk while we waited for the minyan (quorum of ten) to show up. The talk was on this week’s portion of the Torah– the first one of the book of Exodus, Sh’mot, but I didn’t listen, I remembered that this was when Pharaoh orders the Israelite babies to be cast in the river. As we all know in the story, this is the divine punishment which is treated upon Pharaoh and his army. We prayed. I stood for the mourner’s kaddish. I don’t know if I was effectively mourning. I just knew that whole villages were just wiped out.

Driving home I wondered what sort of sacrifice I should make. Should I cook but not eat the meatloaf? As I left it in the oven (turned off), would it burn? And thus I would have a solution present itself for self-sacrifice? No, it was fine. The sages admonish us not to be ascetic, lest we be too cheap in our giving as well. So I had my comfortable dinner, watching images of India on TV– James Bond traipsing through the country in Octopussy.

I remember 9/11, how the loss of 3,000 lives changed us. How will these losses change us?

Update, January 3rd: Shame on Civilities for being so popular on Google searches. Those seeking information on the recent disaster should visit the Wikipedia article on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.