Pupoli walks up and down the beach in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka selling fruit to the tourists on a daily basis. He sold us a mango and then later in the day, another. After the second piece of fruit he asked if we minded that he sat with us and took a little break. Pupoli began telling us about his country and his village. He told us about his wife and his two children. He asked us about our life and wanted to know why we had chosen to come to Sri Lanka on vacation. Before long our conversation turned 10 years back to December 26, 2004. The day Pupoli’s life came unraveled.
On December 26, 2004 a Tsunami spread across the Indian ocean killing 230,000 people, 30,000 Sri Lankans, and Pupoli’s mother, wife, and 3 year old daughter. In 2004 Pupoli owned a restaurant on the beach in Unawatuna. He was working that morning when he noticed something was wrong with the ocean, the water had disappeared. It had receded much further than the range of normal. Pupoli didn’t know what was happening but he knew something was wrong and he knew he needed to get away from the water and get to high ground. So he ran. He was running up the hill when the wave hit. He watched his people and his town get swept away below him. His restaurant was demolished, and when he made it to his home, he realized that his family was gone. Despite his efforts to find them, they had been swept out to sea, never to be located.
Pupoli tried, along with many other Sri Lankans, to rebuild his business. However, since the deed to the land had been swept away with the rest of his life, he had no way to claim the property as his own. Thus, the government sold the land to someone else.
Pupoli has since remarried and has a 6 year old and a 1.5 year old. He sells fruit to the tourists on the beach to try and support his family.