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

Journal from the Ground
by Lisa Loomis and Sorayya Khan



Thursday, May 10, 2007

¬[05/09/07] [05/11/07]®

The sunrise was beautiful this morning. The sky was a spectacular gold. The morning air is soft and the coffee is strong. Not a bad way to wake up! It’s been raining off and on here for the last two or three days. The rain cools things down briefly but also makes people nervous – or so we’ve been told.

We heard from Cut Famelia of the Aceh Institute that the rain makes her nervous and we heard it again interviewing tsunami survivors at Punge Jurong yesterday. Today, during an interview with an English speaking survivor we learned that on the day of the tsunami, it began raining around 5pm and that it rained hard. Many people associate hard rain with that day apparently.

It rained hard here today, several times, most notably in the afternoon and early evening. The power was out sporadically this afternoon. The power and the rain delayed our interviews this afternoon a bit.

We spent our morning on a pirated internet connection painstakingly sending pictures one at a time to be posted on this journal. We felt quite lucky that we’d had such success getting at least 8 or 10 pictures sent.

We have met many of the staff and managers of the Oasis Hotel where we’re staying and they are very helpful. Our first interview today was scheduled at noon and while we’d intended to conduct it in the hotel dining room, we realized we needed a quieter place. Hotel staff arranged for us to use a small meeting room which we set up with the video camera and the rest of our equipment.

All was well until we realized there was piped in music coming over the loudspeakers. To call it elevator music would be too complimentary! We asked hotel staff if it could be turned off or down in our room and found that the volume switch in the meeting room was wired to so that on and off, high and low volume was reversed. We were able to turn it down, but unfortunately, not all the way, so it plays in the background of a very intense and detailed interview.

Our subject told a story that reflects, like so many of the stories we’ve been told, the randomness of who survived and how they survived. He told us of people behaving heroically towards each other, helping each other to higher ground (or rubble), helping those who could not swim, carrying the wounded and tending to friends and family before taking care of themselves. He also told of provocateurs who shouted ‘water, water,’ to the hundreds sheltering in the Grand Mosque on the night of December 26.

After the quake, our interviewee went to the marketplace where he found dozens of buildings in rubble. His father, who was lost in the tsunami, used to have a stall at the marketplace.


After the quake, this survivor’s grandmother suggested that an earthquake on a Sunday is the sign of the Final Day. He made a joke about that and his grandmother said she was serious. His grandmother did not survive the tsunami. He left home to go check on his employer after the quake and was in the market when the water came.

“We could see the water coming; it was 3-5 meters high and full of rubbish. We thought that the water would not be so high when it reached us. We climbed up on some of the rubble from collapsed buildings. The water kept coming very fast. We saw people falling down. The water reached where we were and suddenly we were struck by water from behind,” the survivor said.

He was separated from his employer and family who were with him on the rubble. The water was incredibly strong and pulled him down along with a woman who could not swim who was holding on to him. He was able to get his feet on something solid after both of them had been pushed down three times. He pushed her up to a roof and got on the roof himself.

We asked him about the water itself and he said he could remember it very well. He said it was salty and oily and dirty and very, very dark.

Like so many he went to the Great Mosque when he was able. He lost his father and a brother, an aunt and uncle and four cousins, his grandmother and two other uncles. He said he considers himself lucky compared to others who lost their entire families.

Many, many people escaped to the Great Mosque after the tsunami. The injured and the dead were brought there as well. It became a gathering place for people seeking news and loved ones.


“This is my story and I have to accept it,” he concluded.

The idea of acceptance was repeated in our next round of interviews, conducted that afternoon at the Aceh Institute. We interviewed a trio of trishaw drivers about their tsunami experiences and also about the micro-loan program they have participated in. They are recipients of ARF loans.

One man spoke of the water sweeping him away from his house and towards the Mosque, only to be pulled back towards his house in the undertow. He was injured and could not move, BMI troops brought him back to the Great Mosque. When they heard shouts that the water was coming again, they put him up on an upper level balcony.

“I said to myself that if this is the time for me to die, I accept that,” he told our translator. This survivor lost his wife, his 14 year old daughter and his 11 year old son.

Another man we interviewed today ended up at the Grand Mosque after repeatedly looking for his family. There were many bodies at the mosque and more being brought there. He was frantically looking for his family, stopping only on the advice of someone who told the story of people looking for a woman dressed for her wedding. The people looking for the bride had been told by others that they’d seen such a woman (deceased) and kept looking and looking where they’d been told, only to find other deceased women, but not the bride. The message his friend was imparting was for him to stop frantically making the rounds.

“It seems God will not allow certain of us to see or meet the dead bodies of our families because we’re not strong enough. God does not want me to look crazily for my family,” he told Syahrul.

“The tsunami was a disaster. It’s set; it was something decided by God so we accept it. Many people from the rest of the world have come to Aceh and we can learn how they are and they can learn about us. This friendship of the world opens our minds,” the third man in our afternoon interview session said.

He said that he’d lost his family and that God has a right to take them back and he had to accept it with an open heart and an open mind.

Trishaw drivers from Punge Jurong were recipients of micro-loans from BQB/Aceh Relief. They drive newer, more economical trishaws than prior to the tsunami.


The three men we spoke to in the afternoon were also trishaw drivers who had received micro-loans from BQB using funds from the Aceh Relief Fund. Prior to the tsunami, the three worked as drivers of a similar type of transportation, one which was pedaled and also had an engine which ran on gas mixed with something like two-stroke oil.

After the tsunami they received loans for IR 14 million for a newer type of trishaw which has an engine running just on gasoline. They pay their loans back at a rate of IR450,000 per month and they earn IR30,000-70,000 per day (IR900,000-2,100,000 per month). On a typical day they will use two liters of gas a day and gas costs between IR4500-5000 per liter. Gas was more expensive prior to the tsunami.

We asked if they were able to support themselves and their families and asked how many times a month they earned the higher end of their daily range. They said it was sometime difficult but that in general they could manage and said at the beginning of the month when people were paid their salaries, they tended to have more riders and hence more money.

From left Ismail, and Abdul relate their tsunami stories and their post-tsunami experiences with micro-credit.


We asked about competition among drivers and how they built their businesses. We were told that they have to be diligent and work hard at it and they said that they worked hard to build a base of regular customers who rely on them.

Our interviews came to an end and we took our leave of the survivors and Aceh Institute staff. We bid farewell to Syahrul, a great translator and an incredibly hard-working and fun man. We very much enjoyed meeting him and working with him.

¬[05/09/07] [05/11/07]®