Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dear blog friends:

I have begun posting stories from the Asian tsunami. It has now been two years since this great natural disaster swept over Southern Asia. To read these posts in order (as from my book Hearts across the Water) you should go back in the blog and read backwards.

Let me know if you are inspired by these tales of bravery, tragedy, and inspiration.

Curt Iles

The Tsunami
December 26, 2004

It was a typical sunny tropical morning along the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia's northernmost and third largest island. Being a Muslim nation, the days around Christmas were nothing to be noticed or celebrated, especially here in the Islamic area known as "The Porch of Mecca.” Even though it was Sunday morning in Sumatra, in America it was still Christmas night. Thirteen hours behind in the Central time zone found many Louisianians still enjoying a day of eating, opening presents, and being among family.
Back in the Sumatran capital of Banda Aceh it was just before 8:00 am when the first shaking and rumbling began. Earthquakes are common in this part of the world where a great fault line lies under the mountainous island, which is why many of the most active volcanoes in the world are on this island. Off the western coast is where two giant plates of the earth's crust meet. Due to these geologic features Indonesia has always been a land of earthquakes and volcanic activity.
But the earthquake on the morning of December 26, 2004 was not just any earthquake. Measured at 9.0 on the Richter scale, it was the fourth largest recorded quake since 1900. Most earthquakes last a few seconds, but this one shook for ten minutes. The entire planet even vibrated a few centimeters back and forth.
The epicenter of this earthquake was in the Indian Ocean, just north of Simeulue Island off the western coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The center was about 150 miles southwest of Banda Aceh.
This earthquake was the result of the slipping of one of the two great land mass plates under the ocean. This sudden upward surge of a land plate nearly one hundred miles long created a huge amount of seismic energy. This energy lifted up an enormous amount of sea water that began traveling outward as a seismic sea wave, or tsunami.
As the people along the coasts of Indonesia came outside their homes to view the damage caused by the strong tremors, little did they know that within minutes, a much deadlier force was moving toward them -- A killer tsunami wave.

Simeulue Island

The small Indonesian island of Simeulue (Pronounced Sim-ah-LOO) sits about 150 miles off the coast of Sumatra surrounded by the Indian Ocean. It was the closest land to the great earthquake on the morning of December 26. Despite its proximity to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves, surprisingly only seven people died that morning.
The minimal loss of life there, and the reason for it, is an amazing story.

But first I must tell a much sadder story from the nearby coast of Sumatra.

Lampuuk (pronounced Lom-Pook) is a coastal village on the western shore of Sumatra. On the morning of December 26 it was the home of about 10,000 people. The village sits in a valley between two small mountain ranges. Thirty kilometers through this valley is the large seaport capital of Banda Aceh.
Because of its ocean setting, Lampuuk is a village of fishermen. The aqua-colored Indian Ocean is the source of life and labor for the village. Many of the fishermen were already on the ocean on the morning when the earthquake occurred.
That morning, the residents of Lampuuk ran outside during the first tremors of the earthquake. They knew it was safer outside and everyone wanted to see what was occurring. Within a few minutes of the tremors, shouting started down near the beach.
Word quickly spread that the sea had receded a long way back exposing a large area that had been underwater a few seconds earlier. The excited shouting told that flopping fish were everywhere on the newly uncovered beach areas.
Villagers, especially children, ran hurriedly to catch the fish. They grabbed buckets, nets, and even plastic bags. It was a field day of squirming fish and laughing children. The women of Lampuuk followed their children down to the beach. Anxiety showed on their faces as they wondered about their fishermen husbands out on the strangely behaving ocean.
Men who were still on the sea after the earthquake felt the first wave come under their boats. These tsunami waves were traveling over 500 miles per hour out on the open sea. The waves were only a few feet high as they went past the boats.
As the first wave began nearing land it slowed down considerably. However, the sloping continental shelf caused the wave to stack up on itself similar to what happens with a hurricane storm surge.
In the village of Lampuuk and along its beaches, everyone was unaware of the coming tragedy. A field day of fish-catching was soon to become a killing field on this beach.

Everyone was unaware except for one woman.

This woman was not a Lampuuk native. She had grown up on the nearby island of Simeulue. The strong quake coupled with the shouts about the water receding caused a jolt in her memory. As a girl she'd heard the oral history of a great tsunami of 1907 on Simeulue in which thousands died. She'd been told by older family members that an earthquake followed by the ocean's receding were the ominous signs of an incoming tsunami.
This woman grabbed her children and ran screaming in the streets of Lampuuk of the coming tsunami. Even her husband, a Lampuuk policeman, ignored her pleading and screaming as he went toward the beach.
This woman's anguished warnings were ignored by all that morning.

As you can guess, the same cries were going out throughout the coastal areas of Simeulue Island. By the time the tsunami arrived there, the coastal areas had been evacuated to the nearby higher ground. That is why only seven people died there that same morning.

The story of Lampuuk, sadly, is much different.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

It has now been two years since the South Asian earthquake and tsunami. In remembrance of this event, I am blogging for the next several weeks on stories of this earth-shaking event from my book, Hearts across the Water. I hope these stories of hope, inspiration, and loss cause each of us to care about others around us who are hurting - whether on another continent or in our neighborhoods. Wishing you a happy new year! Curt Iles


Introduction: Hearts across the Water

“A story is intended to stab and wound you to the heart...
So it then can stir, heal, and change you forever."
-Franz Kafka

There is nothing good to say about the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita or the Asian Tsunami.
All three natural disasters brought death, destruction, and untold human misery. The areas along the Southern Gulf coast as well as Indian Ocean areas of Southern Asia will never be the same.

No, there is nothing good about these hurricanes and this tsunami. Yet, there is much good to tell about the people that came through these storms. Their stories of "passing through the waters" should be, and must be, told.

I'm just the storyteller.
These are their stories.
It is simply my duty to share their stories
So their lives and deeds may be remembered and celebrated.

There is no way my writing and re-telling can ever adequately express their loss, grief, and heroism. My prayer and hope is that you will glimpse into their hearts and know them through the words of this book.

An Overview- Three Cities

This book is essentially about three cities.
Well, more than that, it is about the people of three cities.

First, it's about two large cities… both about the same size.
Well, about the same size until two fateful days that will mark both of them forever.

For Banda Aceh, a large city of 700,000, the fateful day was Dec. 26, 2004. Pronounced Bond-AH AH-chee, it is the capital of Sumatra, the northernmost island that makes up Indonesia. On that December day over 100,000 of its citizens died within a matter of minutes when a huge wall of water surged over the coastal areas of the city.
In March 2005, eighty days after the tsunami, I was part of a Louisiana Medical team sent to Indonesia. Although most of the tsunami-related injuries had been taken care of, many medical problems persisted due to the stress and strain of living outdoors under tropical conditions.
Upon arrival our team quickly learned that our main purpose in coming was to listen to these people and their stories. They wanted to tell their stories. Over and over they said:
“Please tell our stories in America. Do not forget us when you return home. Tell the Americans about the Achenese people and our great loss.”
This book is the partial fulfillment of that promise to remember these Indonesian friends.
May they touch your heart as they have mine.

Hearts across the Water is also about New Orleans, also a city of comparable size to Banda Aceh until the twin days of August 29-30, 2005. On that Monday Hurricane Katrina rushed through and on Tuesday the levees broke and a large American city was flooded-- and changed forever.
Thankfully, the loss of life wasn't as dramatic and sudden as at Banda Aceh. But in its own way New Orleans also experienced a death of sorts on that day, never to be the same.
12,000 miles stretch between New Orleans, Louisiana and Banda Aceh, Indonesia. It takes about thirty hours of flying with six changeovers and journeying through seven airports. To go by boat, whether through the Panama Canal and Pacific Ocean, or across the Atlantic and the Cape Horn of Africa into the Indian Ocean, would take weeks.

Two cities so diverse…
Half a world apart.
Both touched by tragedy in the period of less than a year.
Connected by a circle of water,
The waters of the Tsunami and Katrina.

This book is about three cities and I only introduced you to two.

The third one is a small southwestern Louisiana town called Dry Creek. It is more than a little ironic that a book about floods, walls of water, and the raging ocean would include a town named Dry Creek.
Dry Creek is my lifetime home.
It's the place where several hundred diverse New Orleanians came to find shelter and instead found a home, after Katrina.
We laugh that their arrival instantly doubled the population of Dry Creek.
Dry Creek is the same community where weeks later, rural coastal residents escaping from Rita came to ride out the storm with these New Orleanians. A stranger cultural mixture has probably never been combined.
Just like Banda Aceh and New Orleans, Dry Creek will never be the same. When you open your hearts, as our camp, community, and schools did, you can never return to your former state.
By the way, that stretching to a new level of compassion and understanding is good. We all need to get out of our comfort zone and get stretched in love and involvement. That is exactly what happened in our community.
But Hearts Across the Water is not really about cities, big or small.
Large masses, numbers, and statistics do not touch our hearts and connect with our soul.
But individual stories do.
These are stories of our own community and the shelter at the camp. Stories of the comfort of a good dog in the midst of the hurricane. The memory of a nineteenth-century man who built a building to withstand a storm in the twenty-first century. Reminders that you can be displaced, but never misplaced by God. Reminders of the goodness and dignity of humans as they reach out to strangers.
All joined together in stories of tears, sadness, hope, and joy.

The story of hearts joined…
Joined and connected…
Hearts Across the Water.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Jelly This story from my first book, Stories from the Creekbank, is one of the favorites of readers of all ages. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas -Curt

Of all my Christmas memories and traditions, Christmas jelly is one of my favorites. Each year I receive this special gift from a very special lady in my life. Before I share what Christmas jelly is, let me share about the special person who gives it to me each year.

Eleanor Andrews is my neighbor in Dry Creek. For all of my life she has lived in the same house along Highway 113. Her house is easy to spot across the highway from the camp. It has the prettiest yard in our community. Her beautiful garden, flowers, and shrubs are examples of her love of gardening.

But Mrs. Andrews is more than just my neighbor and a lover of flowers. She is also my all-time favorite teacher. Mrs. Andrews taught fifth grade at Dry Creek High School and later at East Beauregard High. She taught practically every young person in Dry Creek for a period of a quarter century.

Now Eleanor Andrews was from the "Old School." She was stern and took no gruff or lip off any student. Everything was rigid and "down the line" in her classroom. In her class there was no doubt that she was captain of the ship. She possessed a stare (made complete with her tongue tucked firmly in her cheek) that would stop a charging grizzly bear in its tracks.
Her reputation preceded her; And she was just as strict as the older kids on the bus had described her to be when I sat in her fifth grade class. But I also saw something else: Beneath that gruff exterior were warm smiling eyes. She loved watching students learn and leading young people to new knowledge. During that year, 1967, she became my favorite teacher. And now thirty years later, she still is.

Now let me get back to that Christmas jelly- Eleanor Andrews has been retired for many years and is much older and frailer than when she ruled the fifth grade at East Beauregard. Because of her health she doesn't venture out much anymore. She lives alone in her house surrounded by her flowers and memories of a life filled with teaching and touching lives.

Each year a few weeks before Christmas I receive a phone call from Mrs. Andrews. She tells me "to drop by her house." I know that the best Christmas present of the season is now complete- Christmas jelly is ready.

Before going I cut one of the Christmas trees from my farm. I've already tagged it weeks earlier. I have carefully chosen one that will meet her exacting standards. After loading this tree in my truck, I nervously drive to her home. I hope she will approve of my tree. Once again I feel as if I'm in the fifth grade waiting to hand in an important assignment.

As I enter her living room, she greets me with that special smile I've known over the years. Always when I'm in her presence she makes me feel as if I'm the most important person in the world- That's why she's always been my favorite teacher.

Into my arms she thrusts a basket of eight jars- all filled with homemade jelly. There are all of my favorites- muscadine, mayhall, even crabapple. Included are several jars of hot pepper jelly, and to top it all off, a Ziploc bag of chocolate “Martha Washington’s” sits on top of the basket.

I look at this assortment of homemade jelly and my mouth waters thinking about all the biscuits it will top off during the coming year. Oh, the joys of homemade jelly. As Mrs. Andrews happily examines her Christmas tree, she insists on paying for it. Laughing I say, “No way, the best deal I ever make each year is trading a tree for the best home- made jelly in Dry Creek.”

After we visit for a while, I leave with my arm load of jelly jars. As I get in my truck, I think about the art of giving. Emerson said it well when he stated, “The only true gift is a portion of yourself.” As I look at the colorful decorated jars of jelly, I'm once again reminded of what Christmas is truly about. It is all about giving- Giving of ourselves and sharing what we have. I'm so glad to live in a place where gifts such as Christmas jelly abound.


Friday, December 01, 2006

"Catfish Lies"

When is the truth a lie? We talk about "little white lies" and half-truths. Is there such a thing? Here is one of my favorite stories. You decide for yourself if the parties involved told the truth or a lie:

American catfish farmers of the South are having a hard time economically. As is true in so many other fields, foreign products are selling much cheaper and undermining the American market.

About five years ago, this problem came home to catfish farming. A large influx of imported catfish hit the market and this glut depressed domestic catfish sales.

The "new catfish" was packaged and labelled "Delta raised catfish." To any catfish connoisseur, which every Southerner considers himself, Delta catfish means raised on farms in the Mississippi Delta region of Louisiana/Mississippi.

Research and reading the fine print on this new Delta catfish revealed that it was truly Delta-raised. it came straight from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam!

Secondly, it is not the same type of catfish we are used to eating. It is a species called basa, a very distant cousin of our catfish.

About this same time I traveled to Vietnam and rode in boats along the Mekong River. It is an amazing river, alive with river traffic of every size and shape. The Mekong catfish farmers live on the river in small houseboats. They have floating wooden cages where they deposit small basa fish they'd caught in nets. As they feed them, the "catfish" grow and soon become marketable... and exportable; much of it to the U.S.

And it ends up in the Southern U.S. labeled as "Delta catfish."

Once again, "truth in labelling" can mean many things!

It is a reminder to me, as a follower of Jesus, that I am to speak the truth in all things. Not some of the truth, but the total truth. As the oath administered in court states, "To tell the truth, and nothing but the truth."

So I have a new definition: let's call it "Catfish Lies": It seems the truth, but it's not.