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

Journal from the Ground
by Lisa Loomis and Sorayya Khan



Sunday, May 6, 2007

¬[05/05/07] [05/07/07]®

We started with a tsunami tour on the east side of the coast of Banda Aceh, viewing various types of homes built from various aid agencies. We started in Lingke and saw massive amounts of reconstruction as well as large swathes of emptiness. The types of housing varies based on which NGO is doing the work as do the degrees of readiness when people are taking occupancy.

There are large plastic water tanks visible everywhere, they were donated by various organizations and are currently the water source for many people in the affected areas. The coastal areas are incredibly flat and empty – save where reconstruction is underway. High up on the foothills of the mountains are visible rows upon rows of housing that has been reconstructed. Some/many people are afraid to resettle near the water or return to the water.

A young girl washes at a public water tank on the east coast of Banda Aceh.

We traveled further east and talked to a fisherman who lost his wife during the tsunami he was remarried, caught fish, and sold them in a small eatery near the road. He was able to open the business because he’d received a small loan from the Greeks. His wife/kids were playing/working at the back of the lunch place while he cleaned fish down by the water. He showed us his catch and threw the plastic bags onto the shore.

Driving further east, we saw some traditional Acehnese houses, some fishing boats built on pontoons like catarmans. With Famelia and Nora we discussed aid houses built with and without infrastructure (utilities) and how people waited until their turn for a house but only if they had land already.

Double hulled fishing boats, Palongs, along the coast

“If you have land you’ll get a new house. If you don’t have land, you won’t get one, that’s part of the problem,” Famelia told us.

Land near Banda Aceh costs approximately 700,000 per square meter. In the more rural areas it costs 50,000 – 100,000 per square meter. It will cost about 80,000,000 to build a 36 square meter, two room house.

If you have land, you can qualify for a new/reconstruction house, but you must have land.

We went to the harbor/port of Malahayati, named after an Acehnese heroine, where big boats unload cars, larger cargo and containers are unloaded on Sabang Island. Cars are not that expensive, but taxes are prohibitive we were told.

Along the coast there are small ponds defined by earthen berms which are spawning areas for shrimp and fish. There are also areas where reforestation is evident. Wood is scarce and timber construction is now more expensive than cement. Cement is one of the products of Aceh.

Aceh can not feed itself at present. The province has a lot of natural resources, but does not reap all the benefits. In addition to natural gas, agriculture produces chili, nuts, long beans, soy beans.

Gasoline costs 5000 IR per liter, according to Jol, who is driving us. Jol is married and has one child. He is from Sabang and has been in Banda Aceh for 25 years. During the tsunami he was fishing and saw the water coming. He jumped in a car and drove away to the Great Mosque.

“Many people escaped themselves to the Great Mosque,’ Famelia told us. When asked why, she said “It’s a holy place.” The water came up to the gates of the mosque. Many people were seeking refuge inside.

Nora told us of an eight year boy who was so scared after the tsunami that he refused to return to Banda Aceh until recently and even now, he is afraid of rain.

We returned to Dian’s mother’s for lunch and a tour of her girl’s dormitory. She had prepared a feast which we enjoyed. She had prepared rice, chicken, fried squid, vegetables and shrimp, potato puffs and some kind of flattened out (pounded) fruit that when fried turned into something like a potato chip. She also made cucumber juice and a seaweed based (agar) jelly.

After lunch while some prayed, we viewed a computer slide show of Nora’s pics, including kids using the mobile lib. In the afternoon, Dian’s mother, whom everyone calls Mami took time to join us and we toured the west side of Banda Aceh where the tsunami damage was the worst.

Our first stop was a ship which ended up in the middle of a neighborhood and has been left as a memorial. It’s about a soccer field long, 50-60 ft wide and 5-6 stories tall. It is festooned with flags and is completely intact, anchors and all. The ship was swirling on water that was said to be 40-50 ft high. It took out a bunch of houses and landed on 4 houses and some cars. The road now bends around it and a vendor has set up next to it as it has become ‘the’ tsunami memorial to visit. There is a house close to it that stands, half destroyed with a tile bathroom and broken porcelain toilet visible. At the rudder end of the boat is a handmade memorial, donation structure on which there is an acronym for tsunami which Nora translated about less than observant/pious humans learning to heed god and become more devout. People have gotten married on the boat and Jol jokingly asked Famelia to do so. I saw a young couple pose their son on a step on the side of the boat and then take a photograph.

If you have land, you can qualify for a new/reconstruction house, but you must have land.

We went to another neighborhood very close to the ocean which was completely destroyed and has been rebuilt in neat rows which were not there before. The water runs through newly dug drainage ditches and much construction is still underway. We saw a mass grave memorial cemetery w/ the 99 names of God on pillars. There were movable panels that swung vertically at the entrance to the graveyard, they moved with the breeze. No one was allowed in. There was one palm tree left standing in this neighborhood. We toured thru the newly built homes, some on stilts, others on the ground.

A mass grave, memorial near the coast on the northwest side of Banda Aceh. Entry is forbidden, the vertical doors swing with the wind. The destroyed hospital is at the back of the site and pillars with the 100 names of god circular the site.

Prior to the tsunami, the population of Aceh was about four million. An estimated 250,000-300,000 people died in the event and another 200,000 were left homeless. Although living in barracks is apparently abysmal, people are not fleeing (as they have in storm ravaged New Orleans for example.).

“Patriotism is the thing that kept people here. They are seeing this as a blessing from God, after the tsunami, the reconstruction is a gift,” Famelia said.

We headed out of the city to the worst part of where the tsunami hit. There were hand built stone foundations left as well as paved driveways to nowhere. We saw an island/reef that had been cut in half by the tsunami. The devastation was immense, with a section of the mountain eaten away by the force of the water. The landscape and the coast line are spectacularly lush and beautiful. We passed the single lone deciduous tree that remains standing between the road/the oceans and the foothills. Trees and shrubs are beginning to grow back and more reforestation is evident.

We stopped at a mosque in an area with a history linked to Turkey. The Turkish Red Cross did much of the initial reconstruction work and also is helping with the mosque reconstruction. Some people were saying their prayers including women who put on white clothes over their regular clothes to pray.

The road on this western side is strewn with debris, it almost seems like it is on purpose because it acts as a traffic calming measure - people slow down. Driving is almost a contact sport here. The configurations of people on scooters and motorbikes is hard to describe. Women drive with the same élan and verve as men, albeit headscarves and some are helmeted.



¬[05/05/07] [05/07/07]®