Jan Risher: Storm in the jungle leads to heat and quiet, years later | Jan Risher


What does a beautiful photograph of three cherub children in Ireland have to do with surviving a storm in the jungle of a tropical island?

Here it is: In 2006, I spent a month in Thailand, reporting on tsunami recovery versus Louisiana’s recovery from Katrina. My travels in Thailand took me to Phi Phi Island, a small butterfly-shaped island in Lake Andaman, about 90 minutes by ferry from Phuket.

I made a series of mistakes regarding my stay at Phi Phi. One was booking accommodation for Phi Phi at Bangkok Airport. Two weeks later, I left Phuket for Phi Phi to learn that the populated part of the island would equal the body of the butterfly. The wings were mountainous and largely uninhabitable – with the exception of a few places, accessible only by boat.

The place I booked was on an island wing. I took a long boat up to the “resort,” using that broad term, to find my cabin clean and comfortable. Built on the mountainside, getting around required more energy than expected. People warned me that boats could not go from the town part of the island to my accommodation after 6 pm.

The first morning, I walked through the jungle to town to do interviews and photos. It was an intense day as I spoke with several survivors and heard poignant stories about the island which had been almost completely wiped out by the tsunami. Careful to go back in time, I got in the longboat taxi around 4 p.m.

To my surprise, about five minutes from the dock I had used the day before, the boat stopped, as if in the middle of the water. The men leading her started talking to me animatedly in sign language and Thai. I sat there, about 40-50 meters from the shore, holding the newspaper camera, my backpack, my notebooks etc. stunned.

I finally realized they were saying it was as far as they could / would take me. No amount of begging made a difference. I needed to get out of the boat into the water and reach the shore. I couldn’t see my hotel and didn’t know where it was. As I mentioned, it was a mountainous jungle.

Finally, they charaded what I understood like once on the shore, go down the beach and then use a rope to climb a “small” cliff, from there getting to my hotel was easy. I wasn’t sure how deep the water was and didn’t think I could get there without losing the expensive newspaper camera. The waters were real. One of the drivers finally jumped into the water and took the camera from me. I followed. On the shore, he pointed to the path to the cliff.

Darkness and rain set in. I was soaked – the rain didn’t matter. When I got to the cliff and the rope, I made it up and felt like I had reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I remember thinking, “It’s amazing what you can do when you have no other choice. “

The rain was falling hard, but I could see the light ahead. I walked over to the resort where the open lodge restaurant was full of people, mostly local men and two girls who looked more like me. I had something to eat and sat next to the girls, who turned out to be Irish.

The storm got stronger and the resort decided to show “The 40-year-old Virgin” by Steve Carell, dubbed in Thai with pirated English subtitles. The three of us, sitting on the floor, enjoyed the movie. The night was surreal. We were shaken, especially by the storm. We decided to go out together at night in my cabin and stayed up until the early hours to talk.

You get to know people well under these circumstances.

One of those women was Tracy Codd. We became friends on Facebook and have followed each other from afar since then. I saw Tracy go from being a single girl to a mother of three. I watched her children, Tiernan, 9, Lara, 6, and Charlie Codd, 3, grow up.

Last week, while decorating their home in Rosslare Harbor, County Wexford, on the south-east coast of Ireland, Tracy needed to “take out the trash”. She decided to take a look at her kids while she was outside. Fortunately, she had her phone to capture the moment.

The photo of these kids decorating the window of their house for the holidays warms my heart. How I feel a connection with three kids I’ve never met amazes me.

For them and for you, may all your storms lead to such warmth and tranquility.


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