From Grieving to Weaving
Ung Chamaroeun, Cambodia
PHANG NGA, THAILAND
She smiles and laughs, but the nightmare remains. Suphon Suksanit, nicknamed “Ta,” cannot forget the tsunami, which claimed her husband, her father and her seven-month-old son in 2004.
Ta comes from Ban Nam Khem, where more than 1,500 people died and many are still missing, the highest number of deaths recorded in any village along the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand.
The 28-year-old widow works nowadays at the Saori Weaving Center, created in February 2005 by a Japanese Buddhist monk to offer occupational skills and therapy. The center employs 30 women, many of them widows or tsunami survivors.
Still suffering emotionally more than two years after the great loss in her life, Ta said she has never told her story to the media. Wearing a yellow T-shirt with the word “tsunami” on it, the weaver agreed for the first time to share her experience.
“During the tsunami, my husband went to the beach to see what happened in the sea,” Ta said. “I left home to pick up my mother at the temple. That was the time when our happiness was broken by the tidal waves.”
Green threads on the loom moved quickly under her hands while she talked.
Ta learned that her mother was not feeling well, so decided to put her into a local clinic. She was on the way home. Many people advised her to turn back because the giant waves had hit already the village.
“I had to make a difficult decision. I really wanted to see my husband, my child … at home. But I decided to turn back to my mother because I saw the waves were coming.” She crashed into many people on her motorbike on the way.
The weaver could save her life, but she became a widow.
Ta saw her son’s body at a hospital and found her father’s body in the village. Two days later, she found her big brother, who survived the tsunami. Almost a week later, she found her husband’s body – she recognized a photo of his body on a wall with hundreds of other victims, put up by government officials and volunteer groups. “But he was quite difficult to recognize,” she explained.
Their love started when they were chefs cooking in the restaurant of Le Meridien Khao Lak Resort. “I miss them but I never dream about them,” Ta said. “Now I try to be happy to continue my life in this world. I try to enjoy my work.”
But Ta is not ready to completely move on. She has already refused one man in the village who wanted to come into her life. “It’s not the time for me, because I’m still thinking about my husband,” she said.
From big family to small, the widow now lives with her old mother –
who also survived and still frequently goes to the pagoda – and her big brother, who is always fishing. They live in a new house constructed by the government.
“My former boss called me to come back to work in the old place but I feel more comfortable working here, even if the income is smaller than working in the hotel,” Ta explained. Like other weavers in the Saori Center, Ta earns 160 baht per day and has worked there for two years now.
Srirat Wiratcharassin, project coordinator of the Saori project, is worried about the future of the center because sales to tourists are down. “I can’t guarantee about the future of the center. Our problem is the weavers don’t have their own creative designs,” Srirat explained.
Ta mulls the center’s future as well.
“I don’t know what to do in the future, but working here with the loom, I feel released from stress,” she said.
The widow weaver isn’t scared about another tsunami or earthquake, because she knows how to escape, and she believes that the government’s warning system will alert people in time.