Cov DeRamus ’94

Profile James "Cov" DeRamus '94

He's Asking You to Remember — He Will Never Forget

"I want to thank all of you who have e-mailed or called my parents. I am O.K., just really sad. I don't know how my friends and I are alive. I'm still trying to remember what happened, but all I can hear is the sound of waves and shattering glass."

On December 26, 2004, where were you? Whether digging through the holiday leftovers, standing in a line to return a gift or flipping through the channels to find a game to watch, things were probably fairly calm — what we all expect in the midst of a holiday season. The quote above from a December 28 e-mail to friends and family from Brother Cov DeRamus '94 indicates that he was far away from the comforts of home.

Following several years of working for the National Park Service and in organic farming in California, DeRamus set off early in 2004 on a yearlong journey to explore the far reaches of Asia — an endeavor that Blake Thompson '93, Ben Bridges, Trey Phillips '94 and Julian Mann '94 would expect of their friend and fellow Gamma brother.

Working to immerse himself in the variety of cultures found across Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal and India, DeRamus visited farms, helped teach English to local villagers and built community resources including a library in Laos. He has many stories to tell. "There was a Mong boy I met who had had an infection in his leg for eight years," he recounted. "His parents did not have the money to pay for the antibiotics. We found a way to get him the treatment he needed at a hospital in Thailand."

As he soon found, the work necessary to help people worldwide meet their basic needs is an endless effort. And one message repeated itself over and over: "People live to persevere and find hope," he said. "I spent four days walking through Dharavi, India's largest slum. In America, we are so very insulated from how these people live. And despite it all, they are all very kind."
Little did he know, that kindness would be exhibited in ways he never could have imagined.

As December approached, DeRamus and two friends from Australia, Simon and Rachel, planned to meet in Sri Lanka before returning to their homes. Arriving a few days before the others, DeRamus found that there were no accommodations on the beach ... a scenario that proved to be quite advantageous in the coming days. He found a family with a guesthouse on the hill and was offered a room. He connected with Simon and Rachel, and the three of them spent their days talking, reading and enjoying their host family. Then came December 26.

"We had just walked from the beach into a restaurant. Right after we walked in, we looked back, and the water was lapping up on the porch. But it all looked pretty harmless. People started running out. I just didn't understand what was happening. There was no warning. As the waves came in, I jumped up on the wooden bar that was swept violently in to the corner of the room."

"There was this 85-year-old Sri Lankan man who owned the place, and he was quite a fixture, always asleep at a table after having eaten breakfast. His chair swept past, and I was able to wrestle him onto the bar. Buildings were collapsing all around. Simon climbed up a tree, and Rachel ran off. The window finally crashed on us, but I only got a few cuts. I was sucked out, and I managed to hang on to the old man. I held him afloat with my head below water, coming up for breaths. Another wave rolled through, and I lost him. He just sunk right there, and I didn't see him again until I identified his dead body."

"We searched everywhere for Rachel over the next three hours. We found her finally and just laid on the grass on a hill sobbing. I just kept wondering why. Simon and I had planned on getting up early for a surf that morning but had overslept. And a few days before, we had almost moved to a little shack right on the beach which was obviously pulverized."

"We packed up our belongings and sat on the street looking for a ride to Colombo, the capital. A huge truck drove by with an eight-member family in the cab. They asked if we were going to Colombo. We all loaded into the flatbed. After a seven-hour trip, we made it to the airport and managed to get out on the first flight to Bangkok. We didn't sleep or eat much for two days. I was able to send a text message to my parents, which made me feel better. But we were in shock for a while afterwards. So many lives are ruined. All of the Sri Lankans were apologizing to us! They kept telling us not to forget about Sri Lanka."

Today, just a few months after the tsunami, DeRamus is continuing his studies in sustainable agriculture. "I am creating a livelihood that I think is important," he explained. "Things have to change if we care about surviving as a species." And he, Simon and Rachel are planning a return trip to Sri Lanka later this year to continue to help in the rebuilding efforts. "Americans are a generous people. We have a duty to help wherever we can."

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