Beckoned Skyward by an Earthquake

Tsunami 2004In the early morning hours of Sunday, December 26th 2004 an earthquake of epic proportions struck below the ocean floor just off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

The resulting tsunami devastated fourteen countries and claimed the lives of over 230,000 people as this multi-directional force powered its way across the Indian Ocean.

The earthquake registered a magnitude of 9.3 and is the third largest earthquake ever recorded. The duration of the quake was longer than any other ever observed and triggered several more earthquakes around the planet.

The world citizenry responded with a humanitarian effort unlike any seen before and eventually donated more than $14 billion to the region, countries, and people affected. 

As with all major disasters, natural or otherwise, the focused outpouring of goodwill in the form of money and commodities was reassuring; going a long way to bringing the human race together as one, even if temporary and only during times of hardship.

The other edge of the sword however, is that those causes already in need of aid become forgotten or at best; less remembered.

In 2003 I had spent much of year training for a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania which I planned to undertake in February of 2004. I heard and read many stories relating to the inevitable melting of the African ice-cap and wanted to be one of the ones who could say “I saw it when…”

Filled with a sense of self-righteousness and self-imposed glory I set about seeking to summit the mountain. I knew it would be somewhat of a challenge. Not so much because of the walk up but more my own health issues interfering in the latter stages of that walk.

I have epilepsy and even though its presence in my life has not hindered me from achieving goals it is something I must consider when reaching for the sky.

I was not ever concerned about failing.

I sought ultimately to have my photo taken alongside other climbers standing next to the Uhuru sign at the summit. My concern, even though I was oblivious to it at the time, was more about success and the stories I could parlay upon my return home.  Ego was playing a major factor in my decision, my training; the reward of course was talking about it.

I was in a Chicago bar when the story broke. Footage showed the force of water breaking from ocean confines like a great flow of lava, enveloping the coast and heading inland. Wreaking havoc on everything in its path; waves as high as 30 feet rode over the shore one after the other.

The destruction was immediate and the televised images left no doubt about its devastation. Over the following days the death toll would rise into numbers that were mind-boggling.

In its final tally the world was left in shock.

Sensitivity to what was happening was high; heartstrings were primed, pocket books were open, and a global urgency  to help mushroomed. To assist in any way possible. Aid from everywhere began pouring in to the affected coastal areas. Media outlets flocked to the story and the tragic images of post-tsunami devastation filled our daily lives.

My commitment to climb Kilimanjaro came under self scrutiny. The realization that a selfish agenda was its foundation messed with my head and made my stomach rebel. I was set to depart in six weeks and it was becoming abundantly clear that I would have to find another outlet for my adventurous spirit.

One that married this adventurous spirit to a component of altruism.

Work days which should have been filled with administering the company database now turned to researching international volunteer organizations. With this entire process, from start to finish, the gentle hand of destiny guided me and so it was before very long a name popped onto my screen.

Within ten days of deciding to change my adventure I had gotten permission to extend my time off from work, arranged insurance and tickets, paid for my expedition, accumulated medical supplies from generous donors (200lbs worth of Tylenol, ibuprofen, Flintstones multi-vitamins etc) and began waiting for my departure flight bound for India.

I was going to work alongside doctors in a triage capacity as our band of medical specialists and me, visited small villages that had no access to normal health facilities or professionals. We were going to climb into the Himalayas and help those who had been all but forgotten in the face of one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters.

Organizing Myself

Dear Sir or Madam – Recently time has become available to me for which I would like to involve myself in one of your expeditions. The trip leaving on January 31st to India would be perfect timing for me and is an area I have visited as a backpacker many years ago. It would certainly be somewhat of an honor to return as part of a humanitarian effort. My name is Tim and here is my phone number: 773-549-4818
I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Tim

Dear Tim – We can accommodate you on the Outer Himalayas trip provided you can take care of all the paper work. Since we are just 3 weeks from our departure date you will have to apply for your visa for which I can forward you information on how and where to apply. I am attaching a copy of the detailed itinerary, application and release. Please complete and return the application, signed release and payment in full ASAP. Please feel free to call me and I will answer any questions that you may have and speed things up. Ravi Singh, Himalayan Health Exchange

Dear Ravi – I will bring my passport and photos with me to work today in anticipation of receiving the forms you spoke of yesterday in our conversation. I have looked up the consulate of India’s address and it is not far from my office. According to the website if I drop my information off in the morning I will be able to retrieve it that afternoon. I will call you today. I look forward to speaking to you soon. Sincerely, Tim

Dear Team – Welcome aboard and thank you for signing up on our ‘Outer Himalayas’ medical camp. This is HHE’s first winter camp and we are staying at lower altitudes to avoid extreme weather conditions and staying out of regions that are inaccessible at this time of the year. Based on my past experience and having lived in these mountains for most of my life, I will try to give you the best weather picture that I can as our travels take us from sea level to approximately 8,000 feet. Ravi Singh

Hi Tim – I will order the tickets and have them mailed out to you. Thanks for sending in your application packet. I will send you a receipt confirmation via e-mail as soon we receive it. As for items, some basic Tylenol or Ibuprofen or medicines like antacid will help. Please let me know if you need any help of any sort with your preps. Thanks, Ravi

Hi Ravi – My flight information looks good. I have my insurance purchased and will pick up my visa tomorrow afternoon. Tim

Hi Tim – Sounds great. I have your tickets ready and will have the agent mail them out to you via FEDEX. Talk to you soon, Ravi

Dear Timothy – This is to confirm receipt of your payment & application for the Lower & Outer Himalayas expedition scheduled for January 31-March 1, 2005.
Thank you, Himalayan Health Exchange

Dear Team – Ravi reports from India that temperatures are colder than usual and you should make sure you pack plenty of warm clothes. This includes upgrading your mid-weight jacket to heavy weight.
Thank you, Himalayan Health Exchange

63 thoughts on “Beckoned Skyward by an Earthquake

  1. Cool story Tim. I sometimes look up coverage of that tsunami on youtube, it still drops my jaw. And I admire your decision to give up one dream to pursue something else at such short notice and probably personal cost. Good on you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sure that was a very rewarding experience and not only because you helped those people but they helped you to, in a different way of course…For sure you still remember the people you helped and you learnt a lot about yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One thing you learn as a veteran traveler is to be flexible. I have friends who arrived in the Philippines for a dive trip but ended up spending weeks helping the relief efforts as best they could once they arrived. (The Tsunami hit while they were flying!) You had the benefit of preparation time and I’m sure it made your efforts all the more effective.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s very generous of you to volunteer! That’s amazing! This must be a life-changing experience for you. We need more like you. I really would love to do that one day to help. Love your post! Thank you for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thoughtful insight and reflection. I can remember that day so vividly. I was in elementary school and a sensitive child, it hit me hard. I think many of us are sometimes clouded by that selfish want to overcome an obstacle and have proof that we saw this, did that, but what stands out is that you were able to become self aware and do something that made a difference. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember that my whole family was planning a trip to Indonesia that very year, that very month, but something didn’t go right in the plans, and we decided to stay home for the New Year’s instead… and then we were watching what happened on the TV… horrible!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow. It’s great that you sacrificed your trip to help people that needed it. I don’t know to many people that would do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve often wondered what happens to other humanitarian efforts when a tragedy of such proportions occurs. I love this story. This strikes me as one of those life changing moments when you have to choose your path or forever wonder if you made the right decision. I’m guessing you don’t wonder about that, although maybe you’ll still make it to Mt. Kilimanjaro? I can’t wait to hear the rest of this story. Don’t hold back, give us all the details!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very brave and generous of you to volunteer to help out people effected by the tsunami. Mount Kilimanjaro can be conquered another day( or you mat have done this too by now!). A colleague of mine volunteered in Thailand and listening to his experience is interesting as well as frightening. I am now going to read your next chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You may have inspired many, I am sure. I know about this earthquake and I think I really can understand its affect as I have experienced my self 8 Oct, 2005 Earthquake in Kashmir it was of 7.8 magnitude.
    One day I tried to right about my experience during that earthquake but my heart did not help me to. I hope to write my experience someday.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, I remember that story well. That was just horrible. It is amazing how life can send you in directions that you never expected. It sounds like you did a great thing and through that, you experienced another amazing adventure

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Tim, what an experience this must have been for you – one that probably gave you an emotional high that lasted for a long time after returning home. You saw an opportunity to help others and grabbed it, in the meantime gaining more long-lasting satisfaction than you could ever have achieved climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Wonderful story, thanks for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Tim, what an adventure of a different kind! It must have been life-changing. I didn’t remember that the quake was 9.3. When you remember how much a single tenth increases the power, it’s hard to imagine. Good for you for changing your plans. I’m amazed by it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t mind redundant but to be clear I got a lot more out of this trip than I ever gave; things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.


  14. Wow. Thank you for what you did. You wrote that you have to consider your own health when planning an adventure such as summiting a mountain; did that play into effect when you changed your plans? Did it hinder you from changing your plans or did it nudge you closer?


    1. It was one of those decisions that almost felt out of my hands; like there was really no other option so I went with it. Turned out to be an incredible experience.


  15. The world really does need more people like you… Sometimes when a tragedy strikes everyone is talking about it, and then weeks later SILENCE. thanks for reminding us of the work that still needs to be done.,,


  16. It was such devastating news; I recall a fine very early morning and the full moon still shining in the sky and the prospect of a happy family day…we started to make tea in the bedroom and then the radio told us what had happened….it swamped the day. Two days later I received an email request from the then Secretary for Tourism for India to please return and research to write my third book on southern India…and the director of tourism for Tamil Nadu asked me to please come soon and see for myself….we went, and less than 2 years later the book was published. The Tsunami actually changed thinking in the world let alone cause huge grief and loss to those personally affected.


  17. That was well told, Tim. I always come away from your stories (true ones that they are!) with a heightened inspiration and sense that I’m living in fairy tale land protected from natural disasters. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. You never think of how a major disaster like this might affect other charities’ and places both in volunteers time and charitable donations. I expect a lot found their donations decreasing as people (understandably I guess) gave to the tsunami appeals.
    Looking forward to reading more about your experience..

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Tim, you are awesome for helping out! That is so great of you and I am sure you felt good helping those people in need. That is so sad that happened to them. However, it is a gift they have people like you to help. =)


  20. That’s really amazing what you have been doing Tim. A very selfless and inspiring act. You should be very proud of yourself. it’s rare for people to take on the world in such a way. Looking forward to hearing more


  21. I think it is wonderful that there is a person like you this world who is selfless. Living in California I went through several earthquakes but nothing to the magnitude of Sumatra, Indonesia.


  22. That is a great story and a valuable lesson about the nature of need. While so much aid delivery is media driven, need doesn’t go away once the camera lights are turned off. I would be interested in learning more about you Himalaya trip and finding out how to participate in something similar.


    1. Thanks Jonathan. The name of the organization is the Himalayan Health Exchange and they have a website with details about expeditions that are coming up. I will be posting more stories in the coming days Jonathan.


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