Arioti is 73, has five children and thirteen grandchildren. Her husband died in a bike accident. When the first tsunami wave came she ran, there was no husband to save her. She lives alone in Peraliya and is very happy. She adores her family, who all want her to move in with them, but she loves her independence. If the wave came again, she says she wouldn’t run this time.
Chandra was selling his catch near the Peraliya road when the first wave came and swept away his stall. He managed to grab his bike and tried to ride it away through the rising waters. Failing to do that, he attempted to carry it on his back, but in the end had to abandon it to the flood. He lost everything, couldn’t even find the location of his house, the wave had swept it clean away. Eventually he bought a knife so that he could collect coconuts and sell them. Then a kind European bought him a bicycle to help his business. Now he goes lobster fishing on a friend’s boat. But he still needs the bike – the houses that were built after the wave are all inland. Nobody is allowed to build next to the sea any more.
The Tsunami decimated the fishing fleet. No boats meant no fish, no work for fishermen, net menders, fish sellers. The local community set up a project, with some international help, to rebuild the fishing boats. The painted catamaran is made from two hulls left over from that project. Now the Dodanduwa and Hikkaduwa Fish Markets see an astonishing range of fish landed; tuna, barracuda, squid, manta ray, swordfish, mullet, snapper, grouper.
Naleni, Pushpa and Aruni love their gardens. Aruni describes how magical it is to rise early and spend time with her plants, watering them and caring for them. When we walk past Naleni’s shop she brings us anthurium flowers – huge white, fleshy, single petals.
Surfing has transformed Hikkaduwa over the last thirty years, turning it from a quiet fishing village into a honeypot destination for chilly Northerners seeking warm seas, lively surf and hospitable people. The surfing community were in the front line of recovery after the tsunami, focussing attention, raising funds, donating vital equipment.
Mangalika shows us the photo album from her daughter’s wedding. It is lavish, glamorous, poetic. I am particularly caught by one series of images. The groom holds a sweet cake to his bride’s lips and the bride returns the gesture for her new husband. It is a beautiful reminder of the generosity required to keep the sweetness in a long partnership.