Survivor not victim

Komodo mountains

Did I just die and go to heaven?

As the sun rose, there was this surreal contrast between the serenity and utter peacefulness of the surrounding chocolaty–velvety green with a hint of brown hills, turquoise waters, echoing silence, something so completely ’’unseen-before’’ – and the turbulent, improbable, unspeakable events of the night before. The crashing waves, the sound of torrential rain on the deck, plates shattering, fighting with the waves that want to swallow me up, jagged rocks cutting into my palms, legs shaking, a mind panicking and giving up.

In retrospect, I always say jokingly, I had to jump into fucking shark-infested waters and swim out to an island inhabited by fierce giant lizards capable of eating a man on a pitch black stormy night in the pounding rain. The sharks are quite timid, and the dragons don’t walk around on the rocks at night in the rain anyway, but it makes it sound more like an adventure. A way to take the edge off. But no, I still can’t take it off. I would have died if someone hadn’t helped me.

And then for a year I couldn’t sleep. First, at all. Later, only when it rained. Like, the whole couple of months of the monsoon season.
I had to go back to break the spell. And, hell, to see those hills burnt into my mind again, without the shock. Take pictures.

(And that return set in motion a chain of events that will probably affect the rest of my life, and let’s not even try getting into this, because I will start screaming.)

So, a year later, before we landed, this time, in a plane, and I was shaking and convinced we would crash into the hill with the blasted-off top, the stranger whose hand I was holding on to, shaking, with the shining blue eyes, looked at me and said, ’’I know you, you are one of the survivors!’’ You see, we got kinda famous around town, and some people – many people! – even remembered me a year on.

In that one year, I had never considered myself a survivor. I was still a victim. Someone who had been left with a wet passport, wad of cash, keys, broken camera, torn sarong, sandals, comb, a soaked Lonely Planet, and the clothes on her back. And a life I had never really known how much I still wanted.

I resented people telling me that the people in the Japanese earthquake lost so much more. What the heck did I care for anyone else’s suffering. Not in comparison. It doesn’t work like that. It still makes me want to punch their face, when someone tries to rub it in, ’’there are many others out there who have suffered a lot more’’. Pardon me, but I insist on the privilege of indulging in my own suffering, if I so please.

But I can also see myself as a survivor. Shaking and screaming every time I get into a boat or ship, and there are waves. Holding on to strangers’ hands, and telling my story just to pass the time (and no doubt, freaking them out). But I still do it. Crying and shaking, I still get into those boats again and again, and then swear never again. No choice if I want to get to the best places on Earth. Faraway little beaches, chill-out islands, psychedelic snorkelling, blinding white sands, hidden cave-beach inside the island (here, you even need to swim in the complete darkness, through a tunnel, to get there, with the waves crashing into the walls with a thunder). There is no way I would give up the beaches, the sand, the sea, the snorkelling, the colours…. life itself. I might as well be dying if I do that.

I’m not sure I would mind being dead. But I don’t want to be dying, I sure know that.



2 thoughts on “Survivor not victim”

  1. Wow, sounds like a stressful experience. I wouldn’t have liked being in your shoes here. I don’t think you mentioned in the writing, but was this in a huge storm?

    1. it wasn’t huge but yes, raining, wind and big waves. we had been throwing up all night. the captain screwed up when we were about 200 metres from safety and got the boat stuck on a reef or rock. a google search for “perama shipwreck” should still bring up a detailed account by a blogger called Adventurous Kate for anyone interested in the details. I still can’t bear to think about it. 🙂

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