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




Journal from the Ground
by Mazalan Kamis

April 2005

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

¬[04/20/05] [04/22/05]®


Trip to Meulaboh

This is certainly the worst day for me in Aceh. I have been having stomach discomfort for the last two days, and it just gets worse when I wake up this morning. Saiful talked about canceling the trip last night, but I objected since this could be my one and only chance to visit the place. In fact, with the recent announcement concerning the registration (read: restriction) of foreigners in Aceh, this can be my chance of a lifetime to visit as many places as possible in Aceh.

The one hour journey by a twin-otter aircraft is made possible by a UN agency. Any UN-registered non-governmental organization can utilize the service. Our arrival at the tiny airport of Meulaboh is met by a UN agency official who helps to get us around the township. I have to admit that the last thing that I expect to find in a tiny airport is a ‘Starbucks’! Yes, there it is, conspicuously placed right within the compound of the airport, the Starbucks greets every visitor to Meulaboh. We have our breakfast and lunch there.
 


Posing in front of the aircraft before taking off to Meulaboh.


 


Meulaboh has its own Starbucks! Warkop (an acronym for Warong Kopi meaning Coffee Stall) Starbucks provides delicious Acehnese meals to many visitors to Meulaboh.



Our first stop is a Meulaboh Elementary School. All the furniture on the ground floor of the building was swept away by the tsunami. Other than minor damages, the school is in a surprisingly good condition. However, many of the children we meet tell us that their houses were also swept away by the tsunami. Saiful and I have a short discussion with two teachers about the kinds of assistance the school has been receiving. However, we stop short of offering significant assistance to the school since we know that Aceh Relief Fund has a limited capacity to expand its operation into Meulaboh.
 


I am surrounded by a group of school children. They are always happy to interact with foreigners visiting their school.



Our next stop is a Medan-based relief organization that Saiful used to work with. Like many other relief organizations, it has phased out its emergency relief operation and now is focusing on building semi-permanent houses in a village in Meulaboh. Villages here are much smaller in size compared to those in Banda Aceh. For example, the village plan for reconstruction by this organization has less than twenty houses, and it is located away from the sea.
 


Listening attentively to a presentation on plan redevelopment of a village by a Medan based relief organization.


 


The plan for the semi-permanent home is drawn by a professional architect from Medan, Indonesia.



Later we tour the area worst hit by Tsunami in Meulaboh. What was once a city is now just a flat landfills brimming with rubble. Some parts have already been cleared, but for most the rubble is almost untouched. By now I have a stronger sense that the Acehese will have to continue living amidst such rubble for a lot longer. It is a pity that Jakarta has been sending mixed signals about how Aceh will eventually be rebuilt. In the mean time, the victims continue to suffer…
 


I see only rubble that stretches to the horizon.



After touring the destructive areas, we decide to pay a visit to An-Nisa, a Meulaboh based organization, specially focused on helping women rebuild their lives after the tsunami. An-Nisa has been an active women’s organization in Meulaboh even before the tsunami. The organization has extensive outreach programs to help women to participate in income generating activities, but many women are still distraught by the disaster and find it hard to participate in such activities. I am sad to learn that thus far, An-Nisa is yet to receive adequate funding to effectively finance their activities.
 


Talking to the founder of An-Nisa who is a brilliant, progressive woman with excellent oratory skills.



Upon hearing that a well-known public figure is giving a lecture on the need for a peaceful solution for the ‘new’ Aceh at Meulaboh City Hall, we decide to head to the venue. I have to admit that I am not impressed by the presentation, but am rather awestruck by the sheer size and grandeur of the venue. Situated amidst a shabby city, the Hall stands out like a sore thumb. While basic necessities for the general public remain less than satisfactory, the authority rewards itself by building a grand ‘palace’ so that they can work in great comfort!
 


A huge amount of money must have been spent to build the Meulaboh City Hall.



By late evening we are back in Banda Aceh. I succumb to bed early since besides my stomach discomfort I am also suffering from an excruciating headache. Saiful continues the night with another meeting with a group of Acehnese espousing civil rights in Aceh. Saiful has been planning to introduce me to this group, but my condition does not permit that to happen, despite the meeting being held in a room next to where I am sleeping.
 


After a long day in Meulaboh, Saiful still has the energy to chair another meeting that lasts late into the night.


 

¬[04/20/05] [04/22/05]®