Journal from the Ground
1:55am (local time) arrived at Terminal 2 of Changi airport, Singapore.
The airport was very much alive although not as crowded as usual. Some sections are so quiet with many people sleeping on chairs or floors. Spent time checking email and news. Transfer booths were not open yet. Took time to rest and refresh but did not want to sit. Well, 19 hours sitting on limited economy coach should be more than enough, I thought.
3:15am. Went to Terminal 1 where Silk Air base is and where it flies from. It’s a short morning exercise as the between terminal tram doesn’t start until 6am. My flight to Medan was confirmed for 7:30pm that day, way too long to wait at the airport. My plan was to try to switch to the earliest flight, 8:40am. Otherwise, I have to make half day stay at Singapore useful, maybe buy supplies or print more big scale satellite images, something I won’t be able to do in Aceh or even in Medan.
5:06am. A cup of coffee and a cranberry muffin from CoffeeBeans for a hungry stomach. Some parts of Changi are still very quiet. Spend more time on internet and reading last updates from friends and news. Especially what critically needed supplies to purchase in Medan or in Singapore if I cannot get an earlier flight. Not very clear yet as sources said that supplies were already there at airport warehouses but no effective distribution.
5:30am. A Silk Air transfer booth was open. I asked, well…, actually begged, to get the earliest flight instead of my confirmed flight which will require another ten hours of waiting. The ground attendant was very cooperative, especially after I told her that I am going back home to tsunami destroyed Banda Aceh. I don’t usually like to do this, but I did show her the letters like the one from Cornell ISSO mentioning my intention to find family members in Banda Aceh. Still, as much as she wanted to help, she could only put me on stand-by status for a no-show seat. She asked me to come back at 8:10am to find out. The flight is scheduled for 8:40am.
6:00am Some airport stores start to open. Look around to see what is needed from my lists. A digital camera and a cell-phone maybe. An Indonesian Red-Cross volunteer has been asking for the camera so he can update friends all over the world with pictures from destroyed areas and shelters. I need a tri-band cell phone myself to update friends in Ithaca that have been so generous and supportive.
8:00am. Stopped by the transfer booth to find out my status. The lady said there are seven seats left, but is not sure whether she can give me one just yet. Need come back at 8:10am.
8:10. The lady called my name and told me to rush to Gate F30 for immediate boarding. When I was running, I wished I could run faster and had better endurance. Yikes! The transfer booth was in section E and my flight will soon depart from F30. It is almost half of the terminal! Off I go running with luggage that seems to become heavier, passed the security check, send a short note to friend of a friend in Medan from the last computer in waiting room, and rush to the plane. Just to find out that at 8:50 the pilot announces that Polonia airport in Medan was still so crowded, our flight from Singapore has to be delayed by one hour. That is, our flight will not fly until 9:50am Singapore time and passengers may not leave the plane!
Spent time reading local news papers on Tsunami Summit in Jakarta and trying to sleep again. I hope friends who I contacted to pick me up at the airport in Medan are granted patience with all the confusion about my flight and delays. Growing concerns on security made me cautious about the exact info I can give about my arrival with the Aceh Relief Fund donations. I have US $9,800 in my bags!
9:50am Departed from Singapore, will arrive 10:00am Medan time or 11am Singapore time (1 hour time difference).
9:50 (Medan time) We were approaching Medan’s sky, about ten minutes before landing. UN-Singapore Airlines (SilkAir is a Singapore Airlines subsidiary) is circling a donation tin for tsunami relief works to passengers. Wow! I was so impressed that I asked one of the flight attendants if it is possible to announce a “thank you statement” from an Acehnese on board. I wanted to thank the UN, Singapore Airlines and the passengers for taking the seemingly small but powerful initiative like donation tin on air! Again, to my surprise, they did it by telling passengers my name and seat number and my intention to fly back half the globe to find out about my family! Soon, I got people looking at me…and an Australian journalist approaching to interview and took my picture. Well, although that was not my intention, I decided to go ahead and told the journalist and people around me what I know.
The best part, however, was when another flight attendant told me that there were some volunteers on the plane who wanted to go to Aceh but have no idea and no contacts whatsoever to help them get through. And they were so happy to hear that there was an Acehnese on flight and asked for help to enter Aceh. I told the stewardess that I would only help in my capacity and would not be able to guarantee access as they wish. That was how I get to know Joyus Thomas, a 69 year old nurse from London who decided to go to Aceh to volunteer after seeing unimaginable images on the news about the tsunami in Aceh. More on the ‘magnificent’ Joy later!
10:10am. We were still circling above Medan. The pilot announced that we could not land right away as the airport below us was very busy. I did see some jets around our plane very close to each other, leaving and approaching Medan. I know from the news that Polonia airport in Medan has quadrupled its services from around 100-150 flights a day to more than 400 flights. It now operates 24/7. So, for anybody to visit Aceh via Medan, be prepared for delays and even cancellations.
10:54am. At last….we landed in Medan.
11:10am. Somebody waved a small banner with my name on it. Yes, a courier of Mr. Bambang was there to pick me up. Mr. Bambang himself was waiting outside the arrival hall. He is a friend of Mas Yoyok’s brother whom I’d never met before. A middle age man with sincere heart and a wide network in Medan. Somebody you can count on in the chaotic situation in Medan airport.
11:20am-12:50pm. Helped out Joyus Thomas who had never been to Indonesia, let alone Medan and Aceh at this difficult time. Also help out the journalist who interviewed me on the flight who wanted to go to Nias, an island off west shore of North Sumatera that also hit by tsunami. There was also Rita Hayati, an Acehnese woman married to an Australian man who brought supplies donated by their neighbors including a bag full of medicine. After Joyus, aka Joy, had her visa on arrival settled, we went into the arrival hall to find a crowd from all over the world. A group of Korean volunteers, Australian air force, groups of Indonesia volunteers from all over the archipelago, representing various kind of organizations, ethnic, religious, political, cultural affiliations. Everybody seemed to be on the way to Aceh.
1:05-1:30pm. Went out to find lunch, but ended up at Mr. Sudiro’s home as some restaurants we wanted to go to were closed for Friday prayer (North Sumatera, a province next to Aceh has a 50:50 population of Muslim and Christian. Medan is its capital and it is the most functional city closest to Aceh.)
1:30-2pm. Rusdi, my brother, came with Dian’s brother and sister in law and the rented minibus. I can directly tell that my brother is in a very stressful condition. You could hardly see him as a middle manager banker of the biggest state bank in Indonesia. When I asked him some questions about our missing sister and brother and other family members, he could hardly speak. Rusdi is considered tough in my family, but I could see tears around this, my very beloved brother. I tried to hold myself as strong as possible so I did not make him feel more helpless. I assured him that we would do this together from now on. I feel so angry at myself for giving him the distressing task of finding our missing loved ones.
2-2:30pm. Helped out Rita and her husband who apparently could not send their donated supplies through Australian Air force as they planned. I told them before, that I can have the supplies channeled directly to victims in Aceh through my network. And that’s what happened in the end. They have to give up expecting the Aussie Air Force to take their donated supplies as this will require lengthy red tape and much paper work. Rita called me from her hotel and wanted me to take the supplies.
Thanks to Mr. Sudiro who called one of his company’s box-truck to pick up the supplies and drop them off at our Medan-based NGO partner. I saw the supplies arriving two days after that in Banda Aceh myself (see pictures).
2:30-7:45pm. Visited CofSA (The Coalition for Save Aceh) office and warehouse in one of the busiest streets in Medan. This is a group of Acehnese students in Medan and other cities in Indonesia setting up a warehouse and office to buy and stock supplies to be delivered to Aceh with trucks. We donated some money here to buy supplies and rent a pick up truck and chipped in the rent of a bigger truck. (See pictures)
8:30-9:00 Picked up 3 friends coming from
Jakarta. They are my classmates during middle schools and are from the
same boy scout group. Firdaus, S. Gade and his uncle came from Jakarta
with supplies I had asked them to buy when I was still in Ithaca.