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

Journal from the Ground
by Saiful Mahdi

Monday, January 10, 2005 - uploaded 01/20/05 4:15PM

¬[01/09/05] [01/11/05]®

5:48am. I was awakened by a sudden shake, the worried voices of my in-laws and their kids. Everybody rushed out through the living room where some of us, including myself, were sleeping on the floor. The house shook for about 1.5 minutes. I guessed  the magnitude of the quake must be no less than 4.5 on Richter scale. I had been hearing that smaller scale quakes still often struck Banda Aceh. Still traumatized by the great quake preceding tsunami on December 26, many people get easily worried and hysterical. The trauma is very obvious, especially in children. Before we went to sleep last night, the host lady actually told me that they are still afraid of sleeping in bedrooms and prefer to sleep on the floor. Many people do not want to sleep on their third or second floor. Right after the great quake and tsunami, some even slept outside their houses.
6:30-7am. Watched TV news about debates of how the Indonesian government responded with tsunami relief. Critics said that the response is too slow and ineffective.
8:10am-12:30pm. My brother, my brother-in-law, and I went to our destroyed house to try to find our mother’s cupboard which contains my credentials, including my degree certificates and other important documents. We did not have any valuable belongings in term of material wealth. So we were not trying to find any missing gold or bank notes. But certificates in the Indonesian system are of great value. We pulled up the collapsed roof which covered some debris of our home, but I could not see the cupboard. Instead we found another dead body. Oh God! What should I do? I called one of our relatives who is a long time volunteer at the Indonesian Red Cross who has been doing evacuation for at least six years. But nothing could be done. Many corpses were still lying on accessible roadsides.
I believe the lack of leadership in Acehnese society has caused such an irony in delayed corpse evacuation. While Acehnese are mostly Muslim and believe that the proper treatment of the dead is part of community obligation (Fard Kifayah), there hasn’t been much local initiative.  Some say it has to do with most Banda Aceh residents being victims. But still, if there was strong leadership, people could have been mobilized. The long term conflict in Aceh, I am sure, eliminated local leadership structures which were replaced with military authorities. Local initiatives are gone as civil society is not developing and people are not fully in charge of their life and needs. Now, Acehnese are so accustomed to being passive, sometimes apathetic. They are waiting for others to do things for them. (This is confirmed an hour later as explained below).
1pm. We left our ruined house with some clothes belonging to my twin nephews saved by his father from the second floor. We also found my younger brother’s wallet in his school back left under the ruins. I recognize his school backpack right away because I just gave it to him last summer when I returned home from the US. In the wallet was his ATM card, student ID cards, residence ID card, and some money. I know that he usually kept his wallet in his bag when he was home. We could not, however, dig enough to find other things. We searched around our house to find clues about our missing family member and maybe the missing cupboard. There was nothing we could recognize.

Zuchdi, our youngest brother, left behind his wallet consisting of his ID, ATM, student ID card, and some money.(10/1). He was about to finish his degree in Accounting. There is as yet no information whatsoever about his (and my other sister and her family) whereabouts.

On the way back to the PCC post, I happened to see a well known ulama (religious leader) who is also one of my close friends’ father-in-law wandering around Banda Aceh market place. I asked the driver to stop, got down and introduced myself while shaking his hand. I asked about his son-in-law. He said that the son-in-law was found dead around where we met (about half mile from his mother’s house). The ulama was looking for his daughter, my close friend’s wife. Only one son of my close friend’s four children was safe. I asked him about the slow evacuation. He, who is the leader of the biggest Islamic organization in Aceh, said “What could we do in such a condition with our limited capacity? Anybody who can help should help and work together with the evacuation team. But we are all victims, so we can not push people too much.”
I thought, if this man cannot mobilize the survivors or other Acehnese who are not affected, who will? I tried to suggest my idea to mobilize ten people from each village who were not affected by the tsunami to help the evacuation of corpses. I got no clear answer. Instead, he moved forward and began to talk about surviving children. He preferred to dwell on my wish to set up a community center, particularly for children, youths, and women.
Around 1:45pm. We were along the way to the post. Corpses in body bags were seen on roadsides. They were right around where the ulama and I talked—where he was searching for his missing daughter. I know it is not right, but I didn’t feel too guilty anymore, for I too was so determined to find my missing sister and brother.


Battered Banda Aceh. Corpses in yellow body bags were still not evacuated after 10 days of the disaster. Ironically, people were collecting valuable scraps and looting nearby. Picture taken 10/1.


2:35pm. Got back to the post after lunch in the outskirt of Banda Aceh. The post was then busier as many more people came to ask for aid supplies. Sitting at the front desk of the post is extremely challenging. People come to report and talk to you about all kinds of things with all kind of stories and reasons. Some come with complaints about the slow distribution of aid supplies. Some come back to ask for their missing ones. Many come to ask for certain scarce supplies like underwear, women and baby special needs. Mothers come crying for milk and clothes for their babies. It is just unbearable for me to sit there for more than thirty minutes.

Our volunteers were loading the distribution pickup truck. Everyday, 3-6 pick up trucks are going out from PCC command post in Banda Aceh (10/1). The supplies come from people all over the world, Malaysia, the US, Australia, Germany, Japan, Germany, The Netherlands,  and beyond. Mostly from people to people across the provinces, countries and continents. Some supplies are from NGOs and from other foreign and domestic institutions alike.


Soon I feel helpless. It seemed like we had not done anything to determine the need we have to fulfill and how limited our capacity is.  I wish I had a magic stick so we could do whatever we wished, just like my children in Ithaca like to talk about.

Aceh is one of the richest regions in Indonesia. Its population, however, is more than 50% under Indonesia’s already low poverty line. It is predicted that the quake and tsunami will make the poverty level worse. Is that a justification for looting? Social solidarity has never been this low in Aceh. Social fabric seems destroyed.  A failed community? Failed by whom?


4:50pm. We went to Taman Sari where, Phi-Beta, my private course center is. The course center has been very popular among students of different grades in Banda Aceh. We provided quality tutorials for students from the fourth grade to senior high school.  The tutorials consisted of after school programs and extended lessons which prepared students for state and federal examinations.  Phi-Beta is in the center of the city just a block away from the white Grand Mosque of Baiturrahman.  The building is still there, but it is badly damage by the mud and water reached by the end tail of the tsunami wave. 

Phi-Beta course center which used to serve more than a thousand students in Taman Sari, Banda Aceh. The fences were struck down by the wave, the water was as high as one meter in the front yard. We plan to clean and renovate the building as soon as possible so we can offer it to the community as an emergency school or child friendly space (CFS).


The most valuable things in Phi-Beta are our library of books. We just started a community library in the building. Almost 95% of the books are destroyed by the water. I lent all the books I had in my personal library last summer for public access—an accumulation of 11 years as a university lecturer in Aceh.


5:45pm. It starts raining heavily. The day is already dark although the sun has not yet set. The weather is so intimidating. When you remember your loved ones last minutes being chased by the 10 meter high wave, the gloomy IDP camps, the 60% destroyed city, the separated kids—no matter how small your contribution, you do not want to stop working for others. That might be why some of my friends are still working in the rain when we returned to the post again…
9:05pm. After sending my brother back to the place where we were staying, I returned to the post. I decided to go back and sleep at the post so I can help my friends with their debriefing at the end of that day. Another hectic and exhausting day.

¬[01/09/05] [01/11/05]®