Long road home after the Bangkok Flood
Over two months ago, I look out the window of a plane and see endless rice fields and villages inundated in the worst floods Thailand has seen in over 50 years. It looks bad, but from 25,000 feet it’s tough to get a feel for what it’s really like. After touching down in Bangkok I don’t waste much time before leaving the city on a south bound train mere days before that very track becomes impassable.
Shortly thereafter, in late October, the worst of the floods nearly bring the whole of Bangkok to its knees, and until recently three to eight feet of water sit painfully lingering in streets, homes, shops, temples, and schools. Crocodiles and water snakes were now cruising the avenues that are typically filled with motorbikes and street vendors.
From the comfort of the southern Thai islands I watch the news just about everyday, follow blogs and facebook pages written by friends living in Bangkok, and get used to hearing the Thai word for flood – nahm tuum – as often as sawasdee, the word for hello. Antsy awareness of the floods is everywhere, but at this point it has no direct effect on my life.
Until today, that is. The waters have finally receded near Don Muang Airport north of Bangkok, so this morning I set out with a friend to gauge the damage at her home in an especially hard hit neighborhood.
Once in the area, we find mountains of rotted furniture and garbage stretching as far as the eye can see. A grotty brown line on every wall and building reminds us just how high the water had been. Lifeless cars and trucks sit covered in rust, parked in the very spots where the owners last left them two months ago. A golf course resembles a muddy swamp, a gas station looks as though its been bombed, and lower lying shacks previously occupied by impoverished people are in total ruin.
Intense despair is evident in the eyes of my friend’s neighbor as she works alone in her foul smelling living room to scrub the grime and mold from the walls and floors. Frustration is found in the words of an elderly woman as she sifts through her beloved collection of Buddhist relics, many of which have turned a permanent shade of brown from sitting beneath the water for so long.
My friend stops for a moment to sigh as she rummages through her closet in search of a few important possessions she’d left behind when the fast rising water forced her to wade to safety back in October. Her house is now uninhabitable due to mold and filth, and though it’s better than nothing, the 5,000 baht ($150) government aid won’t go too far in making it a home again.
After seeing first-hand how the flood has affected the lives of real people, the sobering reality of the disaster hits home. Yet, in the aftermath of devastating disasters humanity has proven time and time again that it will rise up and rebuild, and there’s no better example of this than the resilient and amazingly positive spirit of the Thai people.
Not far from the lifeless cars and trucks, I watch mechanics happily repair some of the cars that survived. I look on as a woman’s serious face turns to excitement when a washing machine that had sat completely submerged for two months miraculously turns on when she throws the switch. I sense the sheer happiness in the eyes of a young girl as she rides her bicycle down a dry street.
As for my friend, she doesn’t cry. She doesn’t complain or pout. In fact, she just smiles and some how finds humor and hope in the situation. Everyday from now on the neighborhood will look a little better than the last. The schools will finally be opening soon. A small noodle shop is serving soup amongst the debris. Neighbors are helping each other in any way they can. Across from my friend’s house, from beneath piles of rotted garbage, a tree stands as tall and sturdy as ever, and at its tops new flowers are beginning to bud.