Journal from the Ground
by Saiful Mahdi
3am. A break in Lhok Nibong of East Aceh woke up one of my twin nephews.
As usually is the case, if one of them awakens, it means the other one
will too. Soon the fight for their father’s lap started. But when the
minibus ran again, the two stopped fighting and crying. What worried me
the most was actually Ghina, my niece, who anybody can obviously see is
very sick. She is much under-weight and is much crankier since the quake
and tsunami. After one year, she has not been able to sit yet.
Along the way, I could not sleep anymore. I was thinking about my Mom in
Mecca, Saudi Arabia. My aunt (who was with her) hasn’t let me talk to my
Mom. “She is still in shock. It’s better to wait until she can cope with
her own feelings…,” said my aunt whenever I called and wanted to talk to
my mother. I had been trying to talk to my mother since I was in the US.
My mother must have been in total shock after she learned what had
happened in Aceh. She and my other aunt who went to Mecca for pilgrimage
learned about the disaster the day after the tsunami hit. I imagine how
the three sisters must have been hysterical to learn of the loss. My
mother lost one daughter, one son, one son-in-law, one granddaughter and
her lifelong savings, her house. My aunt lost one daughter and a house.
This is not to mention their nieces and nephews, my cousins. I had been
wishing for them to stay strong until the Hajj ended so they could
perform the pilgrimage as planned. I did not want them to come back home
8:20am. We arrived in Medan. What an exhausting trip, but I was happy to
have part of our personal evacuation done. My brother’s wife (who did
not go back to Aceh after their first attempt to find our siblings and
take our sister away from Banda Aceh) was there waiting for us with
breakfast ready to be served. My brother managed to get his office guest
house in Medan so we do not have to stay at a hotel. The guest house is
well appreciated by IDPs like us…yes, we are IDPs, too, as we do not
have our own home anymore.
My sister and her family at Bank Mandiri guest house in Medan.
The twins were so attached to their father, and my niece is
almost inseparable from her mom since the quake.
We were all so tired that we had a long rest during the morning. It was
also a break for all of us from the horrific situation in Aceh,
especially Banda Aceh.
2:10pm. After lunch. I called some friends whom I know in the cell-phone
business. I need to make sure that when I get back to Aceh the second
time, I have enough communication equipment. I need an Indonesian style
charger like the one I bought in Singapore but did not fit the
electrical system we have. Silly me to forget such an obvious thing. And
I need another phone for use with a different provider as some parts of
Aceh have better signals for one provider and others for another
provider. Better to have both, advised some friends.
4:25pm. I took a rickshaw to a nearby shopping center to find a used
cell phone, buy extra pre-paid cards for the cells and make sure I know
how to operate them effectively. The next time I am back to Banda Aceh,
I will be more engrossed in helping others. I won’t have as many family
matters to occupy me anymore.
5:45pm. I am back at the guest house, and start calling my contacts to
get a rental car so we can move easily in Medan. We need to do some
shopping for my sister and her family as they have only a few clothes
donated by our relatives and salvaged from our destroyed house. I had
asked for Mr. Sudiro’s (again!) help to book flights for seven of us
except me. I also need to take care of the banking and access to funding
from Aceh Relief Fund in Ithaca. Thanks to our contacts, we get a fairly
good car with a very good rate which includes a driver.
At around 6pm, Mr. Sudiro called to invite all of us to dine at a
wonderful local restaurant. It is so nice of Mr. Sudiro and his family
to remember us at this difficult time. We agreed to meet at the
restaurant around 7:30pm as we expect to get our rental car by 6:30pm.
It was a real treat! The best Padangnese food in town all over the table
for us to enjoy. A great meal after all the emergency food and supplies
in Aceh. This reminds me that actually none of the famous Padang
restaurants were saved from the disaster in Banda Aceh.
9:15pm. It was almost too late for us to do quick shopping for our
surviving sister and her family. Most shopping centers close at 10pm in
Medan. So we had only 45 minutes. We rush to drop all except my brother.
He and I then went for a very quick shopping. It was great that we had
prepared the list while we were taking some rest this morning. So we
just went around one superstore to grab basics and must-have supplies
for the kids and their parents. Two pairs of shoes for the twins, two
sets of children and baby clothes, diapers, and sandals for the parents.
I told my brother that they should do more shopping when they arrive in
10:05pm. We left the store as the last customer!
10:45pm. Arrived back at the guest house and start packing for my
siblings and their families trip tomorrow, by air from Medan to Jakarta.