Jazzman Jiri Stivin recounts narrow escape in Sri Lanka

Jiri Stivin

It's not just the general public that have been raising money to help the flood victims. Many well-known public figures have also been doing their bit. Among them is the famous jazzman and flute player Jiri Stivin, who had a special reason for helping. Mr Stivin was among the Czechs who returned from the disaster-affected regions in recent days. He had planned a long Christmas holiday in Sri Lanka with his girlfriend, but the tsunami disaster brought all that to an end. I met Jiri Stivin after his return and asked him about his personal experience of those appalling moments.

Jiri Stivin
"In the very moment I was in our room with my girlfriend. I was lying in bed, trying to read some books to relax when suddenly a big wave came. Then another one and the room got full of water. I was trying to get out. It was really very strange - the wall was falling....So then I went out as far as possible from the ocean."

Was the hotel where you stayed very close to the beach?

"Yes. It was very close. It was actually very nice; it just was just 30 metres from the beach. There were just palms and sand...It was very pleasant place. But we stayed on ground floor where everything was destroyed."

Were the other floors also affected?

Sri Lanka, photo: CTK
"No. Other floors were O.K. Some people managed to save all their things because they stayed upstairs. But we didn't. We were downstairs."

What did you do then?

"We lost everything, you know; cameras, passports, fly tickets, money....But anyway, they told us not to go back because there was a danger that another wave would come. So we went to some Buddhist temple on a hill. That was safe. We spent the night there and the next day we went back to our hotel hoping to find some of our things. And we did! I found my flute and my cap, and a few of other things. But no passports, no money. Everything was gone and destroyed."

How did you get back home then?

"We found a way to go to the airport in Colombo. But it was very difficult; the roads along the sea were destroyed. But we found a man who took us together with other eight Czech friends by minibus to Colombo. We went through jungle and hills, and it took us about 14 hours to get to the capital."

Were any of your Czech mates injured?

Sri Lanka, photo: CTK
"Yes. I was also injured. But there was a girl from Brno who had badly hurt her leg. Fortunately, we found some antibiotics that were well hidden in sand, so we gave them to her. Luckily, no one from our Czech group was killed. But we have seen a lot of dead people on the beach and it was very, very sad - you know - really, really horrible."

I've heard you're also planning a benefit concert to help the affected region.

"Yes. We officially asked some people to look for a possibility to make some concerts for Sri Lanka, or for Asia in general. I hope it will happen. I will organize it with other musicians, but also with galleries, charities and foundations. But we need a little bit of time to find a good place. I want to make a big concert of classical music and a concert with some different music; like blues, jazz and things like that, you know."