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