Journal from the Ground
by Saiful Mahdi
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
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.
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
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
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
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.