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TSUNAMI-RAVAGED INDONESIA'S ACEH

 

Letter written by Paula Rice who is currently living in Aceh, Indonesia.

 

10 December 2005

Iíve been in Aceh now 4 months Ė Can you believe that? Thatís over one quarter of the year. I miss all my friends and family terribly; but there are problems!  Let me start telling you some of them.

The Internet rarely works and the phone line, on which it works, is located in a hot, dark, mosquito infested area of the house. You see, this is the home office in which we live and the only phone is not exactly located in my territory; a secretary or accountant occupies that strategic spot from early morning till late afternoon. And of course the fax machine greedily chews up the rest of the time when I might have bravely swung on the line.

My partnerís daytime office in which he slaves from dawn to dust is further downtown and because it is packed tightly with scores of big time Indonesian officials, they get the benefit of wireless connection internet. My partner, as a senior consultant, swings on that line all the time. Are these the only reasons I procrastinate? No! Itís more due to the fact that itís so difficult to tell you about life here. Nevertheless, Iím trying.

The first day here I rode with our driver via streets seriously damaged by the earthquake and the even more ghastly and merciless tsunami. The streets now were fringed by hundreds of rubble heaps, once two storied shop houses, and an occasional   less fragile row of the same establishment, which having partly survived the massive shake, was then totally guttered of life and content by the following deluge. With so much evidence still remaining, it was hard to accept that eight months had passed since Acehís worse disaster. And, I could not believe that this area was about four kilometres inland from where the tsunami had done its worse.  

As we approached the more coastal parts of the town, I saw scraggy clothed workmen scooping up copious amounts of sloshy mud from rubbish clogged, meter deep, drains. I noted a worker pull a mud-drenched lady's handbag from the slop. The man awkardly wobbled his way over the piles of tsunami trash, happily holding out in front of him his dripping recovery. My mind immediately went to imagining the fate of the unfortunate owner; so very unlikely to have survived the former devastation.

The countless stories I have heard about people loosing their entire family. What do you say to your cook lady who asks if you have any grandchildren and then you find that you are unable to tell her that you are not as unfortunate as her, who lost her five grandchildren her husband and all but one of her children? Taken by the tsunami. The one remaining child of twenty years, she works to support, as he lost his legs in the all-inclusive rubble being swirled and rolled back towards the sea by the retreating tidal wave. The tsunami recognised neither poverty nor wealth, rank or religion, erudite or illiterate.

During the first week here a BRR government official commandeered me with a professional interest in Tourism to give my views on that subject. At the workshop I was introduced to a young female lecturer. She showed me the photograph of her two children taken by the tsunami. The photographs, of two very cute, smiling, pre-school children were recorded in her mobile phone. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she told me that she had taken the snaps the morning before the tsunami hit. Thousands of people are buried in mass graves, the bodies unidentified. Every day there are still photographs in the local paper of either individual children,

Older people, or family groups; the heading in the classified ads section, more often than not, bears the title ďDi CariĒ meaning Ďsearching forí.  Some people here never give up hope that somewhere their loved ones are still alive.

Near the coast there is little evidence of any dwellings, maybe a particial platform of a tiled floor, a piece of metal or wood projecting from the ground, or a piece of half buried torn cloth. Itís hard to believe that thousands lived here; sometimes in large expensive two storied houses or more modest abodes Ė all suffered a similar fate. Up river, inland by possibly a few former streets, one formerly densely population section of Banda Aceh, some of its buildings, although seriously damaged had escaped total destruction.

Here life forms were not so lucky. There, I saw a ship sitting on top of a house. There was nothing much salvageable of the house, but the rooms beneath the ship were distinctly recognisable. The ship was capable of carrying about forty people and cargo. I photographed the scene. In another part of the city, a huge multi-storied electric power station was carried nearly 5 kilometres inland. A man told me that the bodies of his mother and children still lay beneath the station, and that only tunnelling under the huge metal hulk could retrieve some of the dead. His house with its occupants was irretrievable. I photographed the PowerStation. 

My partner has been working hard. He is enjoying job satisfaction and some self-actualisation. He leaves very early from the house, goes to work all day and returns home late afternoon and sleeps until we eat. He then returns to the room for some more sleep. I walk around in circles sometimes, or I go out from the air conditioned room and let the Aceh mosquitoes have a meal of my sweaty body. Returning to the room I can sit or lie and watch my partner sleep or try to sleep also. My partner gets up and works on his computer during the night for a few hours. He was previously fasting and then needed to get up at around 4 am to eat before sleeping again. That has passed and we now eat at more conventual times.

Will see you all sometime next year.

Take care,

Love - Paula

(Written by Paula Rice for AusNotebook Music & Creative)

 
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