Life Carries on
Just two weeks later, Nate shared his harrowing experience on The Oprah Winfrey Show. His vivid firsthand account put a face on the horror millions of viewers were witnessing halfway around the world.
In March 2006, Nate made an emotional journey back to the remote island where his life changed forever. A tough decision
So Nate embarks on a 20-hour flight halfway around the globe to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, and the city where he stayed for six days after surviving the tsunami.
In shock and wearing only shorts, Nate says Dr. Jayasinghe provided him with a clean shirt and flip-flops. It was a simple act of kindness that left a lasting impression on Nate.
"I couldn't believe how great that was—I actually started to cry when you gave me the shirt," Nate tells Dr. Jayasinghe. "The one thing that I was very touched by was the kindness of everyone here in your country. You're a hero to me, so thank you so much."
Now, Nate returns to the spot where the cabana he and Fernando stayed in once stood. He is greeted by Merete, the owner of the Stardust and fellow survivor. A visit with Merete, who lost her husband of 26 years, Per, in the tsunami, reminds Nate that life goes on.
Due to the higher elevation, Nate says many people flocked to this spot in hopes of reuniting with loved ones. Sadly, it also became the spot where countless dead bodies were laid out. "It's definitely hard for me to be standing where I am right now," Nate says.
"It was a veneer of survival that I think everyone has when they've experienced something like that, but it wasn't wafer thin," Nate says. "It was living life again with a sense of purpose, a sense of forgiveness for having survived."
Part of Nate's mission was also to report back on the progress of Oprah's Angel Network's tsunami projects, led by three international charities. Mercy Corps is helping small businesses get back on their feet and boost local tourism. When the tsunami hit, there were only five hotels left standing. One year later, there are 42 hotels and 53 restaurants.
Thanks to Mercy Corps, this 70-year-old widow can run her tea shop on the beach, serving breakfast to fishermen. And a baker whose shop was flattened is back baking 600 loaves of bread a day.
"This really represents a future for him and his family," Nate says. "That's why I'm back here conquering my own fears, dealing with my own issues, to walk the streets again and see exactly what's been done since I left last time."
One 20-year-old student says the classes have offered her the chance to learn outside of the home that typically is not encouraged by her culture. "Because of the center, we would be able to get our certificates and work and take care of our families," she says. "This makes us really happy. It is a really big blessing for us."