Mahdi Ahmed

Scripting waves of imagination from the sunny side of the Maldives.


This post is long and is based on an account written by my wife on the same event.

December 16th of this year marked our eighth wedding anniversary. Unlike previous years where we celebrated just by ourselves, this time around, our son joined us. Since he’s only twenty-one months, we had an early dinner. Having him by our side, we felt a simple mutual realisation. He completes us.

Sitting here, while typing this post, when I look back at our beautiful marriage, to be honest, it seems to me that if not for our perseverance at trying to save each other some eleven days after we tied our knot, we wouldn’t have made this far, let alone blessed with an adorable son. While trying, not only did we save each other, but we also saved our marriage, with immeasurable help from an unlikeliest of sources.

Five days after we got married, we went to Patong, Phuket for our honeymoon. We stayed at Patong Resort. During our four nights’ stay there, we toured the city, visited important places and ate all we could from the famous restaurants. While Savoey was a standout seafood place, Simon Cabaret we thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any Bonds on James Bond Island.

Our departure from Phuket to Bangkok was on Boxing day at noon. Since it was our last day in Phuket, my wife insisted on going for one final walk along the Beach Road. I wanted to stay at the hotel lobby surfing the internet, but somehow I changed my mind. Unlike previous days, my wife carried our tickets, passports and all the cash in her handbag. Before that, we kept them in the safe of our room.

At around eight, we were walking down the Beach Road. It was a bit windy. The beach was almost empty. Though it was intended as a walk, my wife checked into some of the few shops that were opened. When we had walked quite a distance away from our hotel, my wife stopped by a bikini shop.

As my wife was paying for her stuff to the vendor who was a middle-aged woman, suddenly a girl dashed into the shop. She started talking to the woman frantically. Though we didn’t understand a word they were saying, we noticed the girl was in a panic and the woman reacting to her in fear.

We immediately knew something was amiss. We first thought a terrible accident had happened. Then the girl and the woman dashed out of the shop. They hurried towards the beach. By then, we started to hear people shouting in fear and the sound was beginning to intensify by the minute. We too ran out of the shop. We wanted to see what was happening. People were looking at the beach, while those who were at the beach were running inland. From the point we were standing, we didn’t notice anything strange. Then suddenly, through the line of trees, we saw a yellow speed boat sweeping towards the shore followed by another big boat.

Stupidly enough, I wanted to check it out, courtesy of a common trait we fellow Maldivians have. We always run towards the danger, not away from it. But my wife, who was working in UNDP, had done some security training, grabbed my hand and ran into the closest road. Seeing the boats coming ashore, she thought it was a terrorist attack. All this happened in a flash.

By then tourists and locals were coming out of their hotels and shops and running away from the beach. We also kept running through a lane, not knowing what disaster was behind us. We never looked back and were expecting the sound of gunfire or a bomb blast any second.

Then my wife had the idea of taking cover. She hurried to enter a nearby hotel. But a security guard there was already chasing everyone out. He kept screaming, “Waves!” That’s when we both realised what was happening. That scared us even more. We knew the only way to be safe from a wave was to reach higher ground. We could see hills ahead of us. But to reach there, we needed more running, a lot more running and we had to run faster.

There was complete panic on the road. People were shouting. Children were crying. The sound of car horns and tires screeching was deafening. We knew whatever happened, and we could not separate. So we held on to each other’s hands firmly.

A pickup truck racing by us stopped. The driver shouted at us to hop on to the back. Some locals were already in it. The truck carried fish. It raced towards the hills. After driving through some roads and lanes, it stopped at the bottom of a steep road leading to the hills. Everyone in it jumped out and started to run to the top. We reached up to the settlements on the hill very quickly. We felt that that wasn’t enough. A wave could rise even higher. So we climbed further up. As we gazed towards the horizon, the buildings blocked any clear view of the Beach Road.

Throughout the trip, we had had a mobile phone. I always charged it every night. My wife first called her office instead of informing our parents. We didn’t want to panic them. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a connection. The network was busy. Then my wife called her officemate on her mobile. She couldn’t reach her, either. Then she sent her an SMS, which she was able to send.

A few minutes later, my wife’s officemate replied with the horrifying news that panicked us even more. The Maldives was experiencing similar waves. We completely froze. We never had a clue how Maldivians could escape such a wave as the Maldives were just a few meters above sea level.

We had to be cautious with the phone’s battery power since we never knew how long we were going to be marooned on this hill. We left the phone charger at the hotel. So we made most of our communications through SMS.

At one point we even thought of going to the airport since we had the tickets, passports and all our money. But we dropped that idea when we learnt that the airport was shut down.

After staying on the hill for quite some time, we then approached a window of a local house where everyone was gathering. They were watching CNN. Reports were coming in that many countries in the Indian Ocean were severely hit, including the Maldives.

Later we stayed on the balcony of a small eat-out place. There were injured tourists. Some were crying over their loved ones who had gone missing. Their faces were as lifeless, scared and confused as ours were.

We could hear sirens wailing in the distance and helicopters were hovering over the beach area. The tourists around us kept calling their embassies and news came that their embassies were going to extract them from wherever they were. We started to panic. There was neither a Maldivian embassy nor anyone else coming to help us. We were on our own. We tried our best not to worry since we were thankful that we were still alive.

When it was around six in the evening, we could see from our vantage that a big grid of the beach area was completely blacked out. Some of the tourists decided to go back to their hotels. However, along with an Australian couple and two English girls we befriended, we decided to stay put since it would be too dangerous to go back when there was no electricity, and there were warnings now and then of another wave hit.

When night fell, we tried to get a room from nearby inns and hotels. Unfortunately, there weren’t any available. We had no place to sleep. But a local couple from one of the houses invited us to relax on their veranda along with ten or more stranded tourists. We were provided with blankets and sheets.

We could barely sleep. No one did. It felt like the longest night of our lives. I held my wife tightly as I could. Now and then we burst into tears, we cried, and we prayed.

Next day, at five in the morning, our four friends and we decided to head back to our respective hotels. We all got into a tuk-tuk that approached right at us. It first stopped at the hotel of our four friends. They stayed at Boomerang Inn. For some reason, we felt unfortunate to wave them goodbye. And I think they felt the same as they kept looking at us, looking worried. The driver then headed towards our hotel. But he dropped us at the junction of the main street. He was scared to go any further.

As we strolled towards our hotel, we saw everything around us destroyed. Jet skis and speed boats had crashed into buildings. Trucks and cars had turned over. There were fallen trees and buildings were heavily damaged. The road felt all sticky and muddy.

At our hotel’s lobby, worried guests were already checking out. Everyone was in a hurry. We followed a bellboy to our room to get our luggage. As we passed the poolside, the whole place was like a disposal site, including the pool which was filled with mud.

We took our luggage which had survived the waves and checked out of the hotel immediately. We waited at the lobby for a taxi. When we realised we wouldn’t get any, we decided to walk to the main street and get one.

We planned to go to the airport and stay there no matter what happened. We imagined the airport would be crowded. But amazingly when we reached there, the place was calm. More surprisingly, we even managed to get seats on the first flight to Bangkok.

We arrived in Bangkok, safe and sound. At the arrival gates, there were embassy representatives from almost all the countries except ours. From the airport we went straight to the hotel we had booked. While at the lobby, we went through the newspapers and only then did we understand the destruction of the tsunami and mostly how lucky we were to have survived.

We checked into our room, called our home and informed them we were safe. That’s when our mobile went dead.

We only realised the magnitude of the devastation and lives lost when we switched on the TV. The death toll kept rising. Phuket airport was now crowded with terrified tourists wanting to leave. And seeing footage of the devastation, we burst into tears. We were scared, disoriented and traumatised.

As today marks eight years since the devastating Asian tsunami, I am forever thankful for my wife. If not for her quick thinking, unbeknownst of what it was first, to drag me away from the beach, we would have certainly perished. She will always be my hero: sorry Marvel, sorry DC.

We believe that God saved us. Others might say what happened to us was nothing but a coincidence. But we consider our escape a miracle, a divine intervention.



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