I almost died in the Boxing Day tsunami – and it gave me a reason to live

Two men in fishing boat by the beach - Martin Turzak / Alamy Stock Photo

Two men in fishing boat by the beach – Martin Turzak / Alamy Stock Photo

In 2004, my world was completely turned upside down. I was working as a journalist, quit my job at the BBC a few years ago and was struggling with depression. The end of the year was approaching, England was cold and dark, and I felt like I needed to get further away than ever before.

So I booked myself a flight, and on Christmas Eve – in a summer dress and peacock blue flip-flops – I disembarked and set off for Sri Lanka. for my attention Warm, busy and full of life, Sri Lanka is a place that beats your senses. It was exactly what I needed.

From the airport along the east coast, the road winding through lush hills where elephants and buffaloes swarmed alongside carts and tourists exchanged with locals for fresh coconuts by the roadside. I arrived at Arugam Bay, a remote peninsula on the east coast, and spent Christmas Day celebrating the season with my friends, drinking, talking, and watching the sun set over the bay, and finally fell asleep in my little concrete cottage on the beach. Boxing Day was born.

It was just before 9am – confused and hungover – I started fidgeting, suddenly aware of a commotion: loud noises and a low roar. I was still half asleep, I couldn’t tell what the noise was – and then, suddenly, the sea slammed into the room, ripped the door off its hinges, tore my clothes, lifted me out of the bed like a doll. I was under water in the split second to come to my senses.

It was like a grain of rice thrown into the washing machine. The sheer force of the water—a dark, swirling, roaring soup—made swimming impossible, and everything was pitch black. The concrete hut started to fill with water, the furniture hit me, and I desperately tried to figure out which way was up. My whole body engulfed until the water in the hut started to agitate less as it rose higher, which made me rise to the surface and take a hasty breath from the remaining thin pocket. The water continued to creep forward until only two inches of air remained. I realized I was going to drown.

As someone in the throes of depression – and a functioning depressive for years – I thought of ending everything, slipping into the water unnoticed; another person to drown. Then suddenly I heard a voice, something intuitive, saying: “Remember this moment, Ani. You don’t want to die.” And then I started to fight, I fought with all my might to survive.

That’s when the power of the water overpowered the little hut, breaking its pieces so that the pieces of light began to pierce the darkness like a lifeline. I was able to orient myself by kicking towards the surface of the water to get more air, until eventually the tsunami completely destroyed the walls around me and I was washed inland.
People ask how time flies while you’re fighting for your life: I tell them when you’re trying to survive, times have changed; seems to go on forever.

I was lucky enough to finally be thrown into the path of a tree – and I was able to hold on even though I was out of breath. Even though the water was trying to tear me apart at what seemed like hundreds of miles an hour, I wouldn’t let go.

Incredibly, I was able to see my distant friends and tried to move towards them. The ground was covered with debris and broken glass, and death was everywhere.

When I reached out to people I knew, I immediately started crying. My friend Sri, who owns a nearby hotel, was three months pregnant and threw himself into a ball when the water hit to protect her baby. Her partner was trying to get back to the hotel and she kept saying, “There’s no hotel to go back to,” but their unborn baby survived. He is now 17 years old.

I was agitated when reality began to be cleared and I realized that I survived, even though many others did not. As soon as we reached safety, my journalistic instincts kicked in and the shock was over.

I knew we had to call for help right away, so I borrowed a cell phone and called – I still remember the BBC switch’s number – and I said, “Listen very carefully: there’s been a tsunami; I need you to connect me to the British High Commission.”

The High Commissioner called me and I kept in touch with the commission all night, collecting names and details, and making news announcements over the radio of a Norwegian peacekeeper. Gradually, a group gathered around me, and I was, in the midst of it, broadcasting the news again. Helping in the midst of all this tragedy has helped give me purpose and keep me focused. It carried me.

Ani sat at a table with a smile

Ani sat at a table with a smile

Back home, I began to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivors’ guilt: I couldn’t help thinking why I was living when so many hadn’t – so I decided once again to channel those emotions, to give myself a purpose. .

During the war I worked for an NGO in Iraq, then as head of projects at Cancer Research UK, helping people see beyond the darkness to find purpose and joy – and gradually tried to face my own trauma, to reflect on the past. How I fought to live while I wanted to die, until that moment in the cabin.

That day in 2004 changed me in more ways than I could have imagined – but by showing me a way out of the darkness, it made me who I am today.

As told to Margarita Mitchel Pollock

Ani Naqvi is the CEO and founder of Ultimate Results Group (ultimateresultsgroup.com); He dedicated his life to impacting the lives of 250,000 people in honor of those who died in the Boxing Day tsunami. Contact samaritans.org for mental health assistance

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