Journal from the Ground
5:48am. I was awakened by a sudden shake, the worried voices of my in-laws and their kids. Everybody rushed out through the living room where some of us, including myself, were sleeping on the floor. The house shook for about 1.5 minutes. I guessed the magnitude of the quake must be no less than 4.5 on Richter scale. I had been hearing that smaller scale quakes still often struck Banda Aceh. Still traumatized by the great quake preceding tsunami on December 26, many people get easily worried and hysterical. The trauma is very obvious, especially in children. Before we went to sleep last night, the host lady actually told me that they are still afraid of sleeping in bedrooms and prefer to sleep on the floor. Many people do not want to sleep on their third or second floor. Right after the great quake and tsunami, some even slept outside their houses.
6:30-7am. Watched TV news about debates of how the Indonesian government responded with tsunami relief. Critics said that the response is too slow and ineffective.
8:10am-12:30pm. My brother, my brother-in-law, and I went to our destroyed house to try to find our mother’s cupboard which contains my credentials, including my degree certificates and other important documents. We did not have any valuable belongings in term of material wealth. So we were not trying to find any missing gold or bank notes. But certificates in the Indonesian system are of great value. We pulled up the collapsed roof which covered some debris of our home, but I could not see the cupboard. Instead we found another dead body. Oh God! What should I do? I called one of our relatives who is a long time volunteer at the Indonesian Red Cross who has been doing evacuation for at least six years. But nothing could be done. Many corpses were still lying on accessible roadsides.
I believe the lack of leadership in Acehnese society has caused such an irony in delayed corpse evacuation. While Acehnese are mostly Muslim and believe that the proper treatment of the dead is part of community obligation (Fard Kifayah), there hasn’t been much local initiative. Some say it has to do with most Banda Aceh residents being victims. But still, if there was strong leadership, people could have been mobilized. The long term conflict in Aceh, I am sure, eliminated local leadership structures which were replaced with military authorities. Local initiatives are gone as civil society is not developing and people are not fully in charge of their life and needs. Now, Acehnese are so accustomed to being passive, sometimes apathetic. They are waiting for others to do things for them. (This is confirmed an hour later as explained below).
1pm. We left our ruined house with some clothes belonging to my twin nephews saved by his father from the second floor. We also found my younger brother’s wallet in his school back left under the ruins. I recognize his school backpack right away because I just gave it to him last summer when I returned home from the US. In the wallet was his ATM card, student ID cards, residence ID card, and some money. I know that he usually kept his wallet in his bag when he was home. We could not, however, dig enough to find other things. We searched around our house to find clues about our missing family member and maybe the missing cupboard. There was nothing we could recognize.
On the way back to the PCC post, I
happened to see a well known ulama (religious leader) who is also one of
my close friends’ father-in-law wandering around Banda Aceh market
place. I asked the driver to stop, got down and introduced myself while
shaking his hand. I asked about his son-in-law. He said that the
son-in-law was found dead around where we met (about half mile from his
mother’s house). The ulama was looking for his daughter, my close
friend’s wife. Only one son of my close friend’s four children was safe.
I asked him about the slow evacuation. He, who is the leader of the
biggest Islamic organization in Aceh, said “What could we do in such a
condition with our limited capacity? Anybody who can help should help
and work together with the evacuation team. But we are all victims, so
we can not push people too much.”
2:35pm. Got back to the post after lunch in the outskirt of Banda Aceh.
The post was then busier as many more people came to ask for aid
supplies. Sitting at the front desk of the post is extremely
challenging. People come to report and talk to you about all kinds of
things with all kind of stories and reasons. Some come with complaints
about the slow distribution of aid supplies. Some come back to ask for
their missing ones. Many come to ask for certain scarce supplies like
underwear, women and baby special needs. Mothers come crying for milk
and clothes for their babies. It is just unbearable for me to sit there
for more than thirty minutes.
Soon I feel helpless. It seemed like we had not done anything to
determine the need we have to fulfill and how limited our capacity is.
I wish I had a magic stick so we could do whatever we wished, just like
my children in Ithaca like to talk about.
4:50pm. We went to Taman Sari where, Phi-Beta, my private course center
is. The course center has been very popular among students of different
grades in Banda Aceh. We provided quality tutorials for students from
the fourth grade to senior high school. The tutorials consisted of
after school programs and extended lessons which prepared students for
state and federal examinations. Phi-Beta is in the center of the city
just a block away from the white Grand Mosque of Baiturrahman. The
building is still there, but it is badly damage by the mud and water
reached by the end tail of the tsunami wave.
5:45pm. It starts raining heavily. The day is already dark although the
sun has not yet set. The weather is so intimidating. When you remember
your loved ones last minutes being chased by the 10 meter high wave, the
gloomy IDP camps, the 60% destroyed city, the separated kids—no matter
how small your contribution, you do not want to stop working for others.
That might be why some of my friends are still working in the rain when
we returned to the post again…