Nine thousand miles from home, Rifti Ali flashed back to memories of the large scale destruction he has seen in his own life.
Ali, 24, from Sri Lanka, a small island nation off the coast of India, was born into a devastating Sri Lankan civil war which killed an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 combatants and civilians during its 25-year run, according to United Nations reports. The war, which began in the 1980’s, ended only four years ago.
Ali visited the Oklahoma City National Museum and Memorial on May 31 with a group of students from his home country, along with several others from India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The students, who arrived in Oklahoma on May 18, are visiting the United States on a grant through the Gaylord College of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma to study new media.
The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which the memorial commemorates, occurred April 19, 1995. The blast killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.
Though Ali had no knowledge of the attack before he visited the memorial, it’s only human to admonish the worst of man’s capabilities.
“It’s not acceptable, the thing this is,” he said.
Ali and the rest of the visiting students arrived in Oklahoma only two days before the May 20 tornado that swept across Moore, killing 24 and grabbing international media attention.
During the storm, Ali and his classmates took shelter inside an OU restroom. Priyam Goswami-Chaudhury, visiting fromIndia, joked about putting their new media skills to work while the storm hit. She suggested they start tweeting with “#SafeInTheBathroom.”
“I was very worried,” Ali said. “I had no tornado experience and I had only heard about them. It reminded me of our tsunamis.”
Sri Lankans, he said, prepare for tsunamis in the same way Oklahomans receive tornadoes. They have tsunami drills in their schools. Sirens alert citizens of an approaching wave. In the aftermath, communities rise up to stitch their lives back together. It’s a familiar trait Ali recognized in the people of Oklahoma.
“They are very good,” he said. “Very helpful, very kind.”