ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 33

It’s the little things that matter

Nothing In The World by Carrie Lock. Reviewed by Ayesha R. Rafiq

The rickety bus ambles its way up the winding hill passes to Haputale. Dust-streaked faces stare out of grimy windows, willing the bus to go faster, quicker, and travel-weary heads nod in sweat-drenched sleep. But one freckled white face, incongruous among the sea of berry brown, is lively and alert, and thriving on the noisy hubbub around her.

Carrie Lock turns around to the little boy seated behind her, and offers him a packet of sweets she has just bought from a persuasive vendor. Surprised to find that her limited Sinhalese suffices, she enthusiastically engages the little boy and his parents in conversation and by the end of the journey has happily mastered more of the vernacular.

As she recounts the incident towards the tail end of our conversation, it seems to me that this is so typically Carrie.

Throwing herself wholeheartedly into her experiences, she is determined to explore her stay here in the most Sri Lankan of ways, whether that involves a bumpy bus ride, using pit toilets in remote villages, mastering hair raising traffic manoeuvres on her 49cc motorbike, or listening over and over again to heart wrenching stories of loss and despair, faith and hope until the stories flow from memory.

A native Australian, Carrie has taken on a ‘journey of the spirit’ in Sri Lanka. Her book, ‘Nothing in the World’, launched just last month, is an emotional insight into the heart wrenching human drama behind one of history’s worst natural disasters, the Asian tsunami of 2004.

Carrie’s mission through the book, which is compiled from stories of the people of Matara, one of the worst hit areas in the tsunami, is to ‘touch people’s hearts’ with the unknown stories of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of indescribable tragedy and loss.

Although Carrie arrived in Sri Lanka for the first time early this year, her connections with the country reach far into the past. Her father, a naval officer captivated by his stay in India during World War II, returned a decade later, and then made his way to Sri Lanka. Here, he met his future wife when the ship on which she was emigrating from England to Australia, docked at the Colombo Harbour. “Dad loved the culture of Sri Lanka and India, so much so that he only wore sarongs at home in Australia, and we grew up eating curry,” Carrie laughs.

“Since I was a child, and spurred on in part by my father’s tales of his adventures in India and Ceylon, I had dreamt of spending some time working in Asia as a volunteer.” So when opportunity knocked in the form of a voluntary assignment in Matara, she grabbed the chance. “I never realised how attuned I had become to Sri Lanka through my dad, until my first morning here. My first semi-conscious waking thought was ‘it’s nice to be home’,” she says, glad to have found herself so instantly comfortable in a foreign land.

Once here, a parish priest convinced her to record people’s experiences of the tsunami, a testimony of the emotional devastation that accompanied the physical damage wreaked by the killer waves. “Now is the time to capture these stories, now that people’s minds and hearts have settled, and before too much time has passed,” he told her.

Carrie agreed at once, and unknowingly embarked on a life changing journey. The stories in the book are amazing, unique in the way they capture the variety and complexity of human emotions, all different responses to one common situation.

Among the stories, is that of a six-year-old boy, who prior to the tsunami, told his parents he was learning to swim so that when the sea entered his house he could swim to the second floor and stubbornly insisted that his grandfather would not be alive on his birthday on December 28.

Another is that of a family who saved a woman in a gutter, later to find that she was the mother of Sanath Jayasuriya, and another of a prisoner who chose to carry the injured to safety rather than take his chance and escape.

Why the enigmatic title ‘Nothing in the world’, I ask her. “Throughout the stories, the one thing that struck me is how those who had lost everything, gave so much to those around them. One man who had barely enough to eat himself, wrapped up his food and gave it to a hungry person, another couple housed and fed more than fifty people. The only things people had in those times were their faith, hope and love for each other. They are nothing tangible in the world, but they can overcome the biggest obstacles,” she explained.

Writing and compiling the book has had a profound impact on Carrie. “The book was my life – I lived it and breathed it,” she says. Realising the impermanence of life, the futility of material possessions, she has learnt to slow down, enjoy people and above all, live for the moment. “We don’t all have to be Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela, but make a difference day by day, in the little things.” She points out that’s why she loves Sri Lanka so much, because she finds that spirituality is an open part of everyday life, and people are sensitive to the needs of others.

While writing the book, Carrie also suffered her own personal losses, losing a dear friend to cancer. But she has philosophically taken it in her stride, acknowledging that hardship and challenge make you grow. “I also feel that I had to be struggling myself to be able to understand to write enough about the struggles of other people. I feel that if we can each feel the suffering of others, we can have peace.” In a way, she says, the book is a prayer for peace, carrying the message that life is to be lived for the moment, and that hope, faith and love can overcome anything.

To echo the words of Kumar as he told Carrie how he lost his wife and three children to the waves, ‘by talking to you, the story of my wife and children will remain. ….others will know what happened here, and how we lost the people’. And Carrie’s book is a lasting reminder of the lesson that so many learnt so bitterly that December day, that ‘nothing is for ever’.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.