Journal from the Ground
by Mazalan Kamis
Woke up early at 5 am to get ready for
my 8:30 flight to Medan. Badrul, my brother-in-law and my father-in-law
send me to the airport. Badrul was able to purchase a very cheap ticket
to Medan for me. Upon my arrival at the Kuala Lumpur International
Airport, I realized there was a catch to the ticket. The airlines only
allowed 15kg of luggage. There I was with this humongous luggage
containing the left-over donations of school supplies collected for Kari
& Kelly’s visit. I had to pay RM500 of excess luggage fees for a flight
that cost only RM200!
Arrival in Medan
Upon arrival in Medan, I was met by Saiful. He couldn’t believe that I
came with major luggage flying a no-frills airline! Apparently he’d
warned me about the catch, but I had forgotten. At the Medan Polonia
Airport, I was lucky since the porter who escorted me out of the airport
managed to thwart an attempt to get me to pay a bribe to an immigration
officer. “Nothing ma’am, this is just donated school supplies for
tsunami children in Aceh” said the porter to the officer. A short
conversation ensued between them, after which he asked me to quickly get
Flight to Aceh
From the air, Sumatra is breathtakingly beautiful. Stretches of greens
and mountains as far as the eyes can see. Upon approaching Banda Aceh, I
could already see the destruction caused by the tsunami. Outlines of
parts of the city now submerged under the sea could clearly be seen.
I coincidently met Pak Din (left) and Saiful’s
mother in-law (right) at the Aceh Airport.
Upon disembarking, I met Dian’s mom (Saiful’s mother–in-law) who was
apparently on the same flight coming back from Jakarta. While waiting
for our luggage to be picked up, I met Pak Din, Phi Beta’s Coordinator,
who was on a different flight coming back from another part of
Indonesia. The air was hot and stifling, but what is worse was the smoke
from chain-smoking Acehnese, who happen to be everywhere!
First Stop: The Mass Grave in Aceh Besar
The immensity of this mass grave
About 20 minutes ride from the airport, we stopped at a mass grave. I
was astounded by the sheer size of the mass grave. Dian’s mom narrated
to me obout how bodies were brought to the grave during the early days
of the tsunami. New holes had to be dug when bodies kept on arriving at
the site. That helped to explain why the size of the graves was beyond
what I could imagine. I felt numb when Saiful said, “Let’s say some
prayers, who knows my brother and sister could be lying in here.”
Second Stop: An Orphanage in Banda Aceh
Tsunami orphans find comfort in their new
surrounding. Zainuddin, the orphans’ caretaker is standing next
We sent Dian’s mom to her house which is located in the compound of a
boarding school for girls in Banda Aceh. I was surprised to find so many
cheerful kids playing in the compound. Apparently, an organization had
just opened a new orphanage by renting some rooms in the boarding
school. The kids were orphaned by the tsunamis. There were about 50 of
them in the schools. They had lost either one or both of their parents.
They are being looked after by Zainuddin, a 24 year old man from Sigli.
Zainuddin’s immediate relatives were not affected the tsunami, but like
many Acehnese, he lost many distant relatives and friends in the
Third Stop: The Community of Punge Jurong V
My jet lag was about to catch up with me, but I decided to fight it by
asking Saiful to take me to his destroyed village, Punge Jurong V. I
have seen many pictures and video images of this village sent by Saiful,
and also brought back by Kelly and Kari. But then again, as many have
testified, the sheer immensity of the destruction was still shocking in
real life. I was told that this was the most densely populated part of
Banda Aceh. What the tsunami had left was nothing but rubble as far as
my eyes could see.
Pak Abu, Punge Jurong head village, showing the
trace of the body (hair and blood) of a woman hugging a pillar
in the village’s mosque with a concrete slab pinning her down.
Pak Abu helped to remove the body one month after the tsunami in
a clean-up activity sponsored by ARF.
I had a long chat with the victims of the
tsunami. Every single person in this picture has sad stories to
tell that are beyond my comprehension.
We were surprised to find many people setting up tents in Punge Jurong.
Apparently, these were people who either failed to be relocated from
their shelter to a newly built barrack or had been already relocated to
a barrack but found the living arrangements there were sometimes worse
than a shelter. I talked to some of them, and my heart continued to sink
when I heard about their misery and the continued hardship that
followed. When I asked how much assistance they’d been getting, many
stared blankly back at me and then looked around them and said, “Except
for rice and canned fish….nothing more…we can stay with our relatives
for one or two weeks, but it has been more than three months…that is why
we’ve come back to our land and set up a tent. We have no where else to
After months of staying with relatives, and the
failure to get any donations at all, this lady decided to move
back to her former property two days ago. She is showing me her
family’s well, which was contaminated by the tsunami.