Journal from the Ground
by Saiful Mahdi
Around 6:30am. I woke up but wasn’t very rested. Although it was fine
for me to sleep on the floor, the heat and humidity in our
badly-ventilated command post woke me up several times. Also, last night
we had a long discussion on how to refine our post management. I tried
to emphasize the need for better housekeeping in our place. “It is true
that we need to work hard every minute we have to help the IDPs and
other victims of the disaster, but we should remember this is going to
be a long and exhausting effort, a “marathon” with a “sprint” at the
beginning,” I tried to assure my friends who are so sincere in working
for others. I know these people. They are tireless community organizers
and activists. It’s very hard to stop them.
7:15am. Tar and I went to the nearest coffee shop for some coffee and
breakfast. I am adjusting to changing my habit of eating cold milk and
cereal in Ithaca, to heavy “Nasi Gurih”, rice cooked with coconut milk
accompanied by eggs, anchovies, or chicken. Acehnese eat fish and
seafood a lot as our region is surrounded by sea. Here in Aceh, we have
barbeque with fish instead of meat. But that was in heavenly Aceh. Now,
people avoid eating seafood after the tsunami which claimed so many
By 8:30am, we were busy at our post again. Volunteers were already
engaged with their daily morning chores again. Some were assigning IDP
places where today deliveries are to be made. Others were rationing
basic supplies according to number of households or people at one IDP
site. Pickup trucks were ready and many people were coming to the post
Volunteers distributing cooking oil rations from big buckets.
Supplies flow very smoothly on trucks from Medan or other cities
in Aceh, to warehouses, to categorization, to rationing, to
pickup trucks, to IDPs at places where they are taking shelters
PCC volunteers discussing supply management and deliveries.
(Morning of 11/1).
After visiting our destroyed house for the third time, looking for our
love ones around the debris, trying to save valuable documents, but
without success, I decided to let it go for a while until I can get more
help at a later time to dig deeper under the debris. If I was burning
out already by the third day on ground zero, I could not even think what
my brother and in-laws were feeling.
Kamaruddin, in the white shirt (my surviving brother-in-law) and
my brother during our third visit to our house in devastated
Punge Jurong of Banda Aceh (11/1).
Simple databases are maintained for missing and found persons as
well as for IDPs and information regarding supplies. (11/1).
Around 10am. As I explained before, it is very hard for me to be around
the front desk of our post every morning. Too many heartbreaking stories
and scenes to hear and see there. I am especially “weakened” by seeing
people post flyers containing info of their loved ones. Once I saw a man
with folder full of flyers of his whole family missing. One could easily
notice that the man was under unbearable stress. Other people were busy
reading line-by-line postings of found people. That is why I am really
amazed by the volunteers who can bear the whole day of sitting at the
front desk serving the people. They are really the best of the Acehnese!
A posting board is available in front of our place for people to
post their own flyers or read other flyers with info. Sixteen
days after the quake and tsunami, if our love ones are still
alive, where are they? (11/1)
At times when supplies arrive, we do not have enough room to
store them before deliveries. They are then stored under a big
tent we built or just covered by plastics sheets in front of PCC
command post. This picture was taken just after we’d received
supplies from Terres des Hommes (TDH) of Germany and Holland.
Our rented car was out to transport my friends who need to visit their
relatives. I planned to visit some old friends today. But work at the
post kept me busy.
At around noon, I decided to back off from the front “office” area and
found a place at the back of a big cupboard in the middle of the first
floor. I was busy arranging to ‘evacuate’ my surviving sister, her three
kids and husband tomorrow. I also called some friends to find out their
situation and to exchange information. All of them were surprised but
happy to know that I am already in Banda Aceh. Many asked how long I was
going to be in Aceh. Well, it was a tough question to answer. I want to
stay as long as possible in our beloved Aceh, but I have to consider
many things in making my decision. My family in Ithaca, my school,
funding, and long term expectations and needs are among others. The
bottom line question for me and for most of Acehnese like me who
happened to be outside Aceh at the moment is “From where can and do we
help the most?” From outside or within Aceh at ground zero? We are torn
by this question. Some friends of mine were weeping like babies,
desperately wanting to go home, but could not due to many different
3:20pm. I met with some friends from Helen Keller International, an
international NGO which is already well known in Indonesia for having
great programs in health services. Foremost is their activity in giving
Vitamin A drops to kids under 12 years old. They wanted to hire up to
200 volunteers to help give drops around IDP shelters in camps or at
houses around Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar. The volunteers would undergo
three hours of training. PCC was requested to provide five groups of two
for next week’s pilot training sessions. The very specific service HKI
provides reminds me that I need to focus on one or two things I could do
better in helping the affected. When everybody is doing their share on
specific issues, there should be enough services for all affected
people. So far, we are tempted to do “anything” we can think of, but not
necessarily things at which we excel. Everybody is in a rush to help.
5:30pm. We dropped some basic supplies where my mother-in-law (Dian’s
mom) stayed in Montasik. She has been in charge of her whole extended
family as five of her siblings were in pilgrimage for Hajj in Mecca. She
had to take care of all her nieces and nephews as well as her mother who
just got out of the hospital before the quake and tsunami hit Banda
Aceh. After dropping the supplies, we went back to the post. Although
not as busy, the post is always a good place to end the day. Some of us
not volunteering at PCC might go anywhere during the day. But the
unwritten consensus is to get back together again at the end of the day.
To report back, share information, and chat for fun. We sometimes do
this while eating dinner or just enjoying a cup of coffee. This occasion
reminds me of Hakiem Nankoe, a very dear friend in Ithaca who said “Find
ways to keep your sanity!” Indeed, we need to hold our selves together,
reflect, and sometimes try to relax so we can keep working for our
fellow Acehnese and others who’ve been affected by the big quake and
8:55pm. My brother and I decide to go back and sleep at our sister’s
brother-in-law’s place again so we can leave for Sigli and Medan early
in the morning the next day. After a cool shower, we went directly to
bed so we could refresh ourselves for a long trip to temporarily
“evacuate” my surviving sister and her family.
9:40pm. A small quake again and this makes many people hysterical!