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02/11/05 12:00AM
Total Collected:
US$ 69,122.10

Journal from the Ground
by Saiful Mahdi

Saturday, January 8, 2005

¬[01/07/05] [01/09/05]®

5:30am. I woke up early to make sure things are in place to leave for Banda Aceh. I could not sleep very well anyway, anxious about going into Aceh by road. We have to pack necessary supplies accordingly and left some of our personal belongings at The Sudiros’ so we all will fit in the minibus with all the supplies.

7:30am We were offered a great breakfast by the Sudiros while watching the news. The Indonesian health department statistics showed staggering numbers of tsunami victims in Aceh: 95, 450 dead, some 1,174 are hospitalized for critical conditions, and some 2,460 are sick, wounded and need immediate care. (Later on, we know that the numbers keep rising and rising.)

9:15am. We left Medan for Banda Aceh. A 12 hour trip by road with a destination full of uncertainties. There are 8 of us: Firdaus, S. Gade and his uncle from Jakarta, Joyus Thomas, the nurse from London, Rusdi my brother, two drivers and Burhan an IDP who want to visit his family in Langsa, North Aceh.

10:06am. We stopped in Binjai, still part of North Sumatera to buy bottled water and some snacks for ourselves.

The minibus we rented. Banners and letters from local NGO helped us to pass through all the police and military checkpoints. This picture was taken when we stopped in Binjai. (1/8)


I sat at the front seat of the minibus, next to me is my brother, Rusdi, and Nazar the driver. Bustamam (holding the door) is another driver who sat next to Joy in the middle row. (1/8)


2:35pm. We stopped in Langsa for lunch. Joy seems to be ok. I was worried because one of her feet was swollen after her long flight from London. And traveling by minibus on the road to Aceh must be even more challenging for her. I wonder what brings her to such a commitment to help others. I know that she is from a Christian mission. There are a lot of these kind of missions coming to Aceh right now. But Joy decided to go by herself, with her own funding, with no prior information or contacts at the age of 69. Later on, I found out that she suffers from breast cancer and needs to be back in London by January 16. But she was so sure she would be back even before entering Aceh.

Around 3:45pm. We arrived in Idi and were looking for the residence of the mother of Zulfadli, my sister’s husband. Wishing to get more news since when my brother visited the house four days ago, but we heard no new development. Nobody knows the whereabouts of Zul, Mahyu, my sister, and their daughter Aiza. It’s only words that they might still be alive. After 13 days of the tsunami, we still did not hear anything from them. If they are still alive, why don’t they contact us? Or, should we just give up our hopes? I don’t want to give up, but deep in my heart I am already preparing myself for the worst.

Aiza, my missing niece. Inset, Mahyunita, my sister and her husband Zulfadli in their wedding clothes. This picture was hung on one of the walls at Zul’s mother house in Idi. We stopped here to find out any updates about their whereabouts.


Ruined sewing equipment from Mahyu’s and Zul’s tailor store in Banda Aceh collected by Zul’s family and brought to Idi, East Aceh. My sister, Mahyu, has a degree in clothes business management. She and her husband ran a small store that sold materials for clothing and sewed their customers’ clothes. I lent them some of my savings so they could get those machines and have a better business. Oh God! They are just such a hardworking couple!


5:25pm. We were entering Lhokseumawe, the capital of North Aceh district. There are already IDPs camps along the way from Lhoksukon, Buket Rata, and Geudong. Camps are made out of blue or orange plastic sheets. We could see them from the minibus. Some camps were so wet by the rain pouring almost the whole day. But we did not stop as we wanted to reach Banda Aceh asap. I asked the driver to stop at the entrance of the city, at a restaurant that I know is owned by men from my mother’s village of Kongkong, Pidie. Asked for what they might have heard about my sister and her family, they give the same explanation that they’ve heard from somebody in our village: somebody might have seen my brother in law, Zulfadli.

5:50pm. The minibus entered a small road in Lampaseh in the middle of Lhokseumawe. My brother and I wanted to make sure that our widowed aunt and her two children are safe. Some parts of Lhokseumawe were also badly hit by the tsunami. People from Pusong, a fishing village on one beach of Lhokseumawe, were alredy taking refuge in IDP camps. Some of those we saw when approaching Lhokseumawe. My aunt and her two children, Hilman and Dek Su, were fine and their part of the city was not reached by the waves.

6:10pm. We stopped at an ATM of a national bank so I can try to use the ATM card I got from Ithaca. We have been using my small savings that my brother has been taking care of for me so far. I did not have access to banks in Medan as I arrived late on Friday. Thank God, the ATM card worked fine. But I could not take out too much cash in one withdrawal. I asked my brother to use his ATM to withdraw more so we can buy some more supplies in Lhokseumawe. Joy used her time to find plastic balls that she plans to give to kids at camps. What a thoughtful lady!

7:20pm. We arrived in Matang Glumpang Dua, a small town on Medan-Aceh west bound road, still in North Aceh. We had dinner here. So far Joy and all others in my group who have just arrived in Aceh can enjoy the food. Joy was impressed by how fresh coffee was prepared for drinking in coffee shops or food stall that we stopped at. She was also asking questions about the many mosque Acehnese have along the way.

10:35pm. Rain comes and goes along the way from North Aceh to Pidie district, where my family is rooted. We stopped again in Glumpang Minyeuk where my sister and her family survived the waves. It was too late for that region. People are already in their homes. If not sleeping, they just hang around their houses. Nobody was out. Our driver said this is also an “international area”, a term for a region where independent fighters have a strong presence. Thus, you can feel the tense air. Our driver seems to be reluctant to stop and spend time at this mini town. But I want to see my sister, Murni, my brother in law, Kamaruddin, my twin nephews, Khairi (3) and Khalis (3), and my niece (11 months) who survived the wave. After knocking several times and convincing the people inside that we are Murni’s brothers and mean no harm, somebody opened the door. Only my brother and I leave the minibus. Others stay in the car waiting as it was raining outside. This is Kamaruddin’s mother house. Many of her relatives were also there as IDPs. They slept on the floor worrying about the frequent quake they can still feel. My brother in law’s family insist that we have some tea with cakes, a custom to honor your in laws. This make our driver who already worried about stopping there become more tense and worried. But I argued that I need to see my uncle, about 100 feet from that house. And they can enjoy the tea while my brother and I go there.

So, off we went to my uncle’s in laws place. It was rainy and the road was so dark. No noise at all except the frogs singing along the 100 feet of steps (Later our friends told us that my sister in laws were so worried that we went walking in the rainy night in their “international” village. And that people there usually use certain codes when going out at night to make sure they are not targeted or fired on by the rebels!) It took us half an hour to wake up people inside and get them to open the door for us. My uncle is still incapacitated by a traffic accident before tsunami hit. We did not stay long. We just want to say hello and make sure things are alright. We gave my uncle and, later, my sister some cash so they can use it during these difficult days. The cash from Aceh Relief Fund!

11:50pm. It was almost midnight when we left Glumpang Minyeuk. We all agreed not to stay there, nor to try to reach my home village in Garot. If Glumpang Minyeuk on the side of a main state road was so scary, we did not even want to imagine how it would feel to enter Garot, about 15 km off main roads to the south. We then agreed to shoot for Banda Aceh directly, something we were not so convinced of before. All three places might pose risks that we are not really sure of. After asking around, though, we thought heading right away to Banda Aceh might be less risky.

¬[01/07/05] [01/09/05]®