Journal from the Ground
by Saiful Mahdi
8:30am. I went out to find money changer. Bringing dollars always gives
one an unexpected headache. Indonesia is a place of many idiosyncrasies.
If you want to exchange your US dollars to rupiahs, the money changer
will not accept small bills. They usually prefer hundred dollar bills.
If the bills are wrinkled, folded, dirty, marked, then the exchange rate
will decrease. If the exchange market for US $ 1 = IDR 9,200, then
wrinkled bills might be valued at IDR 9000 only. That is not all.
Certain series of the bills, older series maybe, might even be rejected
10:05am. I went back to the guest house to help clean and do last minute
packing. We need to be at the airport at 11am as my sister, brother and
their family’s flight is at 12:35pm.
11:20am. We arrived at crowded Polonia airport in Medan. The airport had
been overcrowded before the disaster in Aceh and is now overwhelmingly
more crowded. But that was not a big deal at all compared to the
uncertainty of the flights themselves. Delayed and cancelled flights are
unimaginably high. And what can be worse in that situation than
traveling with kids and baby? My sister’s flight was delayed thrice.
After waiting outside the departure hall until 2pm, we decided to move
into the hall so the kids could get cooler air. It was hot and humid
like usual outside. And people were smoking everywhere.
2:45pm. Knowing the flight was delayed again until an “unspecified
time”, I decided to go out from the airport to take care of some banking
arrangements so that Aceh Relief Fund can wire the funds more easily. I
went to the same bank we opened our account in in Ithaca. There,
however, the service and paper work was not as simple. The biggest
problem is my Indonesian address. As my mother’s house has been
destroyed, I do not have a permanent address anymore! And again, I could
not deposit all the dollar bills I brought from Ithaca. The bank did not
want “bad” bills and rejected certain series of the bills! While I was
at the bank, my brother called to let me know that the flight was
leaving at 4:35pm. It was scheduled for 12:35pm!
My surviving sister and family were waiting for the flight to
Jakarta in Medan’s Polonia airport. I used to write essays on
Aceh’s IDPs. Now, my family members and I are all IDPs. Although
not in nearly as bad condition as the IDPs at the shelters. Many
of them are not as lucky as us to have such generous and kind
support from CNY communities. Thank you!
5:10pm. Eko Fariadianto, my boy scout teammate during middle school
years in Banda Aceh called to meet. An Acehnese student studying in
Germany. He arrived in Medan last night from Jakarta after flying from
Munich, Germany, Singapore and Jakarta. I asked him to meet me at the
bank and then decided to go to KKSP, our Medan partner for supplies and
volunteer deployment. KKSP stands for Kelompok Kerja Sosial Perkotaan
(Working Group on Urban Social). It has been working for street and
abandoned children in Medan since 1973. Still well known as KKSP
Foundation, its name was actually changed in the 90s to Education and
Information Center for Children’s Rights. The Center has been working
with many Acehnese NGOs network.
KKSP Foundation office in Medan. The Foundation has been helping
our networks on the ground by purchasing and trucking supplies
to our posts in Aceh and help deploying national and
international volunteers to work in Aceh.
Eko is a great friend. He is so very positive and passionate about
everything. Cheerful and is willing to do anything to be useful to other
people. Just like Eko I remember when we were at SMP 1 and SMA 3 Banda
Aceh 1981-1987. He is now studying in Germany. He is coming home to Aceh
to bring relief supplies and funds donated by Munich communities.
With donated money from Munich, Germany, Eko bought supplies in
Medan with KKSP helping with the shopping and trucking to Aceh.
10:30pm. I was in one of the internet rental stations near North
Sumatera University when I got a call from Eko saying that he was still
at KKSP office making sure all the supplies he bought are in order to be
transported to Aceh’s PCC post.
It was almost midnight. But Eko, an Achense student studying in
Germany is as hardworking as I remember. He was observing the
transfer of supplies from KKSP’s shopping pickup truck to one of
the trucks heading to Banda Aceh. The supplies will be unloaded
in the Banda Aceh PCC command post and Eko wanted to deliver
them directly to IDPs.
Having Eko home is re-energizing me. And I am expecting more of my
colleagues will be coming home soon to mobilize local participation in
the relief work.