Do you believe in having a guardian angel? My Mum has often believed that I have one looking after me. Disasters always seemed to follow me. She used to dread me telling her I’d booked another holiday, she was worried that one day my luck would run out. So far, so good. I was remembered of my guardian angel when we spent the day in London a couple of weeks ago.
We walked past a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the Bali bombing in 2002.
I took a few moments to reflect, a few moments to read the names, so many names, a few moments to thank my guardian angel. A few minutes to explain to Daddy P and my son what had happened.
I should start at the beginning.
I had the opportunity to visit Egypt at the end of 1990 for Christmas and New Year. It had been planned for months, my ex and I would be staying with one of my customers in Cairo, and then we were travelling independently down to Luxor for a week, before returning to Cairo for the New Year. The First Gulf War then broke out. Mum, being Mum, wanted me to cancel the trip, she was convinced that we’d get blown up. I tried to explain that I was sure we’d be perfectly safe, she wasn’t convinced. I’d been mad about Ancient Egypt since I was 8 years old. No war was stopping me from going! I also got the world atlas out to show here where we’d be in relation to Iraq and Kuwait! We went, my guardian angel looked after us, we were perfectly safe.
I went to Bali with my ex for his birthday, we stayed at a quiet hotel in Nusa Dua, but as usual, we liked to explore as much as we could, and visited Kuta, we walked past the various nightclubs on the main strip. When the Bali Bombing news broke in 2002, we sat watching the pictures, we’d been there, we’d walked down that street, our guardian angel had kept us safe.
Over the years we’d been to Thailand a couple of times, staying in Phuket in a beach hotel on our first trip. We’d toured around Sri Lanka, stayed in Beruwala on the beach for a week before flying on to the Maldives.
In 2004 we decided to tour around Singapore and Malaysia in December and end our trip in Penang just after Christmas. We’d had a wonderful time in Singapore, spent time travelling up to Malaysia. We visited Kuala Lumpur and sat eating lunch by the fountains staring up at the Petronas Towers on Christmas Day. We then travelled up to Cameron Heights. We arrived at the Cameron Highlands Hotel and were due to drive down to Penang on 27th December. We had no mobile signal, and always made a point of no TV, no newspapers. A holiday was a holiday. We had a lovely evening, got up the next morning, and our guide was very quiet. There were lots of whispered conversations and a number of us were wondering what had happened.
We were made aware that there had been some sort of tidal wave and there had been some damage. I don’t think we had any idea of the scale of the ‘tidal wave’. Who would? As we crossed from the mainland onto Penang, we saw boats washed up in strange positions, people scooping out water and mud from their ruined shacks, piles of waterlogged belongings. But even then we had no real idea of what had happened. No idea of the scale of things. As we started to drop people off at various hotels, we were told that our specific hotel was the only one in that part of Penang which had been affected by the tsunami. This was a new word to us. We still didn’t really get what was going on.
We changed hotels and looked at a newspaper. We sat down in horror and disbelief. Then, god! We’d better ring home, our parents will be in a living nightmare. Luckily we got straight through and reassured everyone that we were fine. We then switched on the TV, we watched the pictures from Phuket, an island we loved. The hotel we had stayed at in Patong, was one of very few that was directly on the beach. The hotel would have been destroyed – no question. Phi Phi Island, an idyll (well before the movie The Beach ruined it), flattened. Then the TV feed went to Sri Lanka, to pictures taken from the hotel next door to the one we’d been in when we visited Beruwala. Our room had been on the ground floor. Our hotel would have been hit, our room would have been underwater.
We weren’t allowed in the sea, but let’s face it, no one wanted to go in the sea. Everyone was in shock, everyone wondered was that it, would it happen again. We watched helicopters fly overhead day after day; searching for survivors, searching for bodies. Penang got off very lightly, compared to other areas hit by the tsunami.
I remember reading the papers, day after day, watching the news feed on the TV, it was such a surreal time. To see places we had visited and fallen in love with, destroyed, wondering if the locals we had played Jenga with in the bars (you had to be there – it was fun) were ok; knowing they probably were not.
If ever there was a guardian angel looking over me, it was on 26th December 2004. We could so easily, have been on the beach in Penang, gone back to Patong or revisited Phi Phi.
I’ve always believed in fate, but sometimes you get a little reminder that life is very fragile, with the flip of a coin I could have been walking down a road in Bali, or sitting on a beach somewhere wonderful, on a different day, at a different time. This is my What’s the Story? post for the week.