April 14, 2005

After the Tsunami


When I was first learning the shrink trade, I had a mentor who really impressed upon me the difference between describing something and explaining it. 

Maybe it goes against the who, what, where of journalistic convention, but this NYT article and photo (After the Tsunami: At Home, in Company of Memories – link) follows up the devastating South Asian tsunami in a way that conveys a great deal with just a few strokes of detail.  In briefly introducing us to a father and son who have lost their relatives, a girl who plays with her shadow, and a young woman who has gone mad, the story manages to convey a keen sense of the surreal aftermath of December’s catastrophe.

The girl in the photo is a 5-year-old named Tasya.  The caption says she is playing with her shadow in the ruins of her home in Banda Aceh.  Her father says that this is now her favorite place to play. The graffiti, aimed at looters, says, “Don’t seek wealth out of suffering.”

The photo is so evocative, I would be interested in your interpretations.  For example, what do you make of the flag silhouette that seems to be extending from the girl’s head?  (To see the larger, color image accompanying the on-line article, click the story link above.)

For me, the most striking element is that she appears to be missing her legs.  Maybe that’s a metaphor for what grief does — it takes out your legs, and unhinges you from the ground.  Another strange aspect is that there’s water on the ground.  Most likely, it’s from a recent rain.  Still, it’s hard not to consider it as the flood water Tasya might be looking to stay above.  I was also interested in the sticks poking up from where her feet might otherwise go.  It almost seems like Tasya could be a doll springing forward and back on this base.  Perhaps the image comes from reports of her hovering around her house, and her constant motion.  On the other hand, with the news filled with stories about injured soldiers (such as this profile of two women vets in Monday’s NYT), the “stump” could also be read as a prosthetic device.  (It’s one thing to appreciate physical disability, but it’s an altogether different issue granting emotional handicap.)   

Reading this account and studying this picture, I all-of-a-sudden realize there have been quite a few articles on Aceh lately.  Apparently, the island has yet to receive much aid relief.  (Of course it’s another association, but could the flag be a reminder that Tasya plays in the shadow of a difficult political situation?)

(image: Seth Mydans/International Herald Tribune10.10.05 in The New York Times, p. A3.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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