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

Journal from the Ground
by Mazalan Kamis

April 2005

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

¬[04/09/05] [04/11/05]®

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 out.

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 astounded me.

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 to me.

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 disaster.

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 go.”

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.


¬[04/09/05] [04/11/05]®