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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



Saturday, May 12, 2007

¬[05/11/07] [05/13/07]®

A black and white goat stuck its head into an open sack of flour and ate the rotting white powder for a moment before emerging with a whitened chin and sneezing. The flour sack was a 100 pound bag of flour doubled bagged and shipped to Banda Aceh, product of India stamped on its side. It was one of a dozen similar bags lying stacked at the side of two government warehouses. The goat’s lunch sack was torn open and looks at if it is visited regularly.


Some of the rest of the bags are torn and the humidity, rain and exposure to the elements have begun to rot their contents. Scattered on the ground in front of the flour sacks are small brown bottles of some type of medicine, Celaflexin, or something similar. Their expiration date is August 07 and they come from Brazil. Some are broken and on many the labels are faded.

On the other side of the warehouse, small packets of water purification powder are scattered on the ground and peering in through the cracks of the warehouse doors one can see a jumble of goods, clothing, medical supplies and debris. At the back of the second warehouse are stacks of moldering green canvas tents--big tents judging by one that is laid out on the grass.

The two tents are at the far edge of a cement fenced bounded field known as Lambaro. The field is perhaps two football fields long and half as wide. The warehouses are at the far end and there are several buildings, prayer shelters and thatched roof platforms on one end. The field is several kilometers out of the center of Banda Aceh proper, not too far from the airport. Where the back of the site meets the road are two warehouses.


Muhammed, self-appointed caretaker of the cemetery at Lambaro cares for the landscaping and oversees things.

The field is the final resting place to 46,718 people who died in the tsunami. In some places they are buried in four or five layers in deep graves dug by the government on the third or fourth day after the storm. This we were told by the thin, bare-chested white-haired farmer who has taken it upon himself to take care of the cemetery/memorial. He said he was 64 or 65 and that he was a farmer nearby. He was sitting one of the raised platforms fashioning what looked like cable for television into a handle for a bucket using a seriously sharp curved knife. He said he was making the device to water some of the plantings in the garden.

Along the edge of the back half of the fields are plantings and landscaping. The caretaker, Muhammed, said he cared for them and watched over the place during the day. Muhammed says he is not paid by the government to look after the site. He says he does it because if he did not, no one else would. He cuts the grass in the fields and uses it to feed his own animals. Fortunately, he says, he and his family did not lose anyone during the Tsunami. He has always lived in the area, across the road from the site. He is not afraid to be around so many dead bodies because they are the result of “God’s hands.” If the dead bodies had been the result of people’s hands, there would have been ghosts and he would have been afraid.

The bodies, he said, were brought in government trucks from the city on the first three days after the tsunami. Speaking rapidly in Bahasa, he told our translator how they were moved. The word backhoe was discernable and Cut Famelia confirmed that the bodies were unloaded via backhoe. He’s not sure how many truckloads of bodies came to the site, but he suspects that at least 1,000 were delivered every day. The deliveries continued for about two months.

The mass grave site is demarcated by bamboo poles and small red flags attached to their tops. We walk around an area that is not part of designated graves. Before the Tsunami, the field was also open, with more vegetation. The far borders of the site, marked by a low wall, are lined somewhat orderly with banana trees. The site is scattered with some vegetation, although where we stand, close to the flag borders, new vegetation has been planted. Not where we stand, but the site itself, is covered with uneven ground, as if the trucks that later flattened the earth couldn’t quite manage to flatten the land.

Survivors have told us of making their rounds to various places, mosques, Lambaro and others, where the bodies were laid out, searching for loved ones. But by the third and fourth day many corpses were no longer identifiable and fearful of disease; the government began to bury them.

Traffic rushes by ceaselessly and birds call but there is a silence about Lambaro. There is a sign at the entrance where a gate is rolled back in the morning, which notes that this is the burial site of so many Acehenese and Muhammed said it is visited by about 30 people a day, more on the weekends. As we walk closer to the car, Muhammed tells us that sometimes it rained when the trucks came and that it made the water in the pits black.

Scattered bottles of what looked like antibiotics lay on the ground near the padlocked doors of two warehouses near Lambaro's.

Lambaro is one of three mass graves in Banda Aceh. We visited another in Greater Banda Aceh near the site of the former hospital which has vertical panels at its gates, does not allow entry and features posts with the 99 Names of God on them. We plan to visit another one, near the Aceh Institute in the coming days.

We began Saturday by joining the Mobile Library for a Saturday school visit. We followed Ega, from Phi Beta, and four volunteers, including the driver, to an elementary school. The school was rebuilt approximately six months after the Tsunami. Prior to the Tsunami, there used to be two schools in the location which serviced 600 students. Now, there is one school of 130 children. The elementary school consists of six grades (1-6 grades) in three shared classrooms. We spent some time in one of the classrooms, the room shared by 4th and 6th graders. The room was divided by a few low bookshelves and the front of the classrooms (with appointed blackboards) faced opposite sides of the rooms. Boys and girls go to school together. In the 6th grade classroom, the girls were eager to show us one of their school projects, a folder filled with neat writing. Near where there writing hang in bright yellow folders on hooks on the wall, lay the Beatrix Potter books translated in Indonesian.

Even foreigners with video cameras and digital cameras did not dissuade kids from their books.


The young readers were quickly engrossed in their reading when the mobile library visited.

The children were thrilled with the presence of the mobile library. Their faces were filled with anticipation and joy at the visit. The excitement was palpable. The Mobile Library stopped near a group of parked motorbikes. Children sat on small blue plastic chairs or leaned on the motorbikes with their books. Many of the children immediately buried themselves in books, not minding that they were being filmed or photographed. Some read out loud to themselves. Some sat in groups and others took the books to more out of the way places and settled in for a read. The books were both English and Indonesian. A few brave older children attempted to speak to us in English. All of them seemed taken and engrossed with the presence of the Mobile Library and its offering of books.

Excited children jumped on the bus anxious to find a book and read.


In the afternoon we interview a conflict survivor. Ibrahimdin is originally from Simpang Mulieng, a hillside village in North Aceh that consists of 1000 people, about 200 households. He offers a detailed description of life during the conflict and describes his village as being a battlefield between GAM and the military. He is a fish breeder and farmer, but feared for his life sometimes when he visited his farms or fish pools. He had a wife and seven children. One of his daughters was married to a Punge Jurong resident and she, her husband, and child lived in the village. He sent three of his other children to stay with her during the conflict because the security situation in his village was so bad and, also, because of the limited educational opportunities available. He lost all four children and his grandchild in the Tsunami.

He tells a story of three teenagers in the neighboring village who were kidnapped and killed by the military. The three teenagers were working in a fish breeding business to make enough money for their education because their parents could not otherwise afford it. The bodies were found near the fish pond and the boys had been shot. Ibrahimdin says that people and children were wrongly targeted and paid for this with their lives.

Ibrahimdin’s first political memory is as a child lying down on his belly at home or in the fields when he heard sounds of battles and guns during the previous DITII conflict that lasted 8 years. He tells us that his father also fought the Dutch and that he recalls stories of how the Japanese asks for assistance from the Acehnese during World War II. He says that people used the training and guns from the Japanese to fight the Dutch later.

Regarding the Tsunami, he very strongly wanted to stress the need for government action regarding the design and implementation of a Tsunami warning system. He also impressed upon us the need for Banda Aceh to invest in its educational structure.

¬[05/11/07] [05/13/07]®