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
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
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
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
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.