CARE BLOG

Returning from the Delta

6/25/08

Below, Chris Northey continues her reflections from the field while working as CARE's Emergency Team Leader in Myanmar, following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis. Chris was one of the first international aid workers permitted into the Irrawaddy
Delta, after the government's announcement that it would allow
foreign emergency teams access to all cyclone-affected areas.


It is
raining every day now in Myanmar,
very heavily; monsoon season has clearly arrived. It's not the gentle
rain we're used to at home; more like someone tipping a bucket of water over your
head. I can't help but think of people stuck outside in this rain with no
shelter - it pushes you to do more.

Since returning from the delta, I've been very busy in the office and we've
had more staff join the emergency program. It's very easy to get caught
up in the detail of budgets, proposals, warehouses, planes, carsand
procurement - and forget that a line on a budget sheet represents a village that
CARE is helping, that it represents a person and their family. The sound of the
rain reminds you of this.

Along
with the rain, you can”t ignore the sounds of chain saws, as slowly all of the
trees in Yangon that were ripped down by the cyclone are being cut up and
carted away. People tell me Yangon used
to be a green city and there were trees everywhere, but that's not the case any
more.

Last
weekend marked the one month commemoration (using the Buddhist Calendar) of the
day of the cyclone. Everywhere I went that weekendI could hear the
sound of the monks chanting; it was a peaceful sound, sad but not
upsetting. People said they felt comforted by ceremonies like this.

It”s been
difficult to hear the stories from the field. As CARE staff distribute food
andother items in the villages, they meet people who have been so
incredibly traumatized by what they have gone through. Some people are
unable to speak; others have difficulty sleeping because they still remember
how terrifying the cyclone was. People can rebuild their houses, repair
their schools, mend their fishing nets and start planting rice again, but it
takes a lot longer for them to forget their fear. It”s something that
makes you feel so frustrated because we can”t take that away - their fear.

Many
people will never find their family members. They assume that they
have diedand that they will never find their bodies. This is so
unspeakably sad. When my Dad passed away, a few years ago, I remember how
important the rituals were, the funeral, being able to say goodbye. To
not know what has happened to your wife or to your child and not even be able
to say goodbye and honour them with a ceremonyis a terrible position to
be in.

Amidst
all this heartache however, there are so many inspiring stories. Ordinary Myanmar people
are helping each other. There is a cafe near the office where I go to
have a coffee. It's a very little place, nothing special (and actually
the coffee isn't that great)but agood placeto escape.
The other day I was in there with a colleague and we saw a lot of plastic bags
full of bread piled on the counter. We asked the owner what he was doing
and he replied that this was for the people affected by the cyclone. He
has been loading up his car every other day and driving down to the Delta, a
round trip of over 200km to hand over food to a Buddhist monastery. The
monks there have been caring for people displaced by the cyclone. We
asked if he had a family connection to the area and he said no. But then
he thought about it and said, "Well, at the end, those people are my brothers
and sisters too, as much as my family here in Yangon."


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