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Inland women visiting the seaside women

There was a big scare at Pillaichavadikuppam on Friday night – they saw the sea churning and strange lights and they were afraid the tsunami was going to rise and wash them all away again. They called their friends in Auroville and Village Action, who rushed to the spot. People fainted with fear, the press was there too. Some of us stayed til 10.30 till things calmed down and they felt able to let us go, leaving them with carefully written down cellphone numbers to give them a sense of security.

The next day a group of women from the Village Action women's clubs came to the village to meet the survivors of the tsunami. On the previous Tuesday they'd gotten a crash course in trauma counselling by a visiting trainer from a Madras Counselling Centre, and were prepared to listen, knowing that just telling the story, even again and again, will help many people to recover from the shock. The group of women from the inland villages talked with the other women, played with the children, shared their suffering. They talked about how the men were not going fishing – they refused to put their boats in the water. The fisher women wondered, since there is a rumour that we should not eat the fish after the tsunami, was it worth to fish? Would the other women buy their fish if they came to sell them? All the inland women assured them that they would indeed buy their fish when they came.

Fear and aversion have built up since the sea played such a dire trick on them, overstepping its boundaries so dangerously. “There seems to be a conflict now between us and the sea,” one woman remarked. So the inland women talked about how much they liked sea shells which are not available inland, and would the children help them collect some. They all went down to the shore to hunt for shells and to play. There was plenty of time to share feelings, to feel that people care about how the others are hungry and sad, and about the worries over how to pay the children's school fees.

The inland women also told their fisher sisters about how they are organised into women's clubs, which do things in the village like repair the streets, get the streetlights fixed, whitewash the school, etc. and also save money together so they can avoid taking loans at high interest from the money lenders, but most important have training sessions where they learn many new ideas.

They expressed interest in taking up some temporary employment, and there are some Auroville units which are planning to give crash courses in easy handicrafts and provide an immediate market so they can get back to gainful work. Already the fish-drying sheds have been converted into community centres where Village Action workers share toys and games with the children, and there as well, literacy programmes with the women have begun.