Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Yet another ship: This was an electricty ship that washed ashore. It's over 3 KM. inland!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Beachin It

Sunday, 5/29/05: 22:00: Banda Aceh
Ruby, Indra, and I went to the beach today. I was supposed to go to the island of Pulo Aceh to do an assessment, but it turns out I have to get a special security clearance to go there. But the beach was nice. It’s a sandy beach about 30 meters deep. No one actually lays out on the beach. Most people rest in the shade of pine trees and go into the water to cool off. The only women you see swimming are western… and if a local women goes into the water, she goes fully clothed… pants, long-sleeved shirt, headscarf and all.

We came back to the house around 5:00 and I made dinner. After last night’s catastrophe, I was quite careful about all the ingredients. I couldn’t use the knives in the house… they were terrible, so I went out to a shop and bought a few half decent knives. I also bought a sharpener. Anyway, I made stirfry. I fried some tofu with beef, eggplant, and mushrooms, garlic, and fresh ginger. I used the Indonesian style sweet soy sauce to make it teriyaki style. I was satisfied with the outcome and Indra and Ruby ate it with gusto. Pa Ibrahim, the landlord, showed up (he does this a lot) and I also gave him a bowl… these people can’t get over that a guy knows how to cook. He was also impressed because he was expecting it to be bland (i.e. not so spicy that it melts tastebuds)… he said, “it is not spicy, but I still like it”… if we could just get the message out to the local restaurants… I might be able to eat the food without a bottle of antacid as a refreshment!

DISASTER!!!

Saturday, 5/28/2005 23:11: Banda Aceh

We finally moved into our new house. I’m very happy. Even though it’s only semi-furnished, it’s so much nicer than the dump they call “Hotel Sulthan.” I’ll try to post some pictures shortly… and just as I write this, the power went off. But that’s just Banda Aceh. One of the first things I bought for the new house was candles! It is annoying though. No power means that the water pump doesn’t work either, which means the toilets won’t flush. Each Indonesian bathroom has a cistern to store water. They use the cistern to bathe and also to flush the toilet when the power goes out. OK, where was I. I like the house, it’s big and spacious. We also had air-conditioning installed in the bedrooms. It’s amazing how much better you sleep when the air is on.

We’re going to hire a housekeeper, but not until next week. Teh was gone for the day so I had the house to myself. I went shopping for food in the market for the first time. It’s an exciting thing to cook in your own house. I saw gigantic button style mushrooms and knew I have to have cream of mushroom soup. I also decided to accompany it with a steak salad. Indra drove all around trying to find me a meat seller. We finally found a butcher. There are no butcher shops here, just outdoor vendors with slabs of dead cow or goat hanging from them. I tried to pick a piece that was not black with flies.

I got back to the house and proceeded to cook. Shallots, the onions of the Gods, are so plentiful and so cheap here. At Meijer’s, you pay about $1.50 for two small shallots. I paid about twenty cents for a half kilo! So I sautéed the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms. I couldn’t find white flour so I had to settle for rice flour as a thickener. I added some milk. Earlier, with Indra, I had bought some low fat milk… then when I decided to make the mushroom soup, I realized that I needed cream… poor Indra, at the moment of my mushroom soup epiphany, we were in a remote area of the city on a wild goose chase for prawns. We went to all the small stores looking for milk… nothing. Finally, I saw a can that said “FULL CREAM” in big letters. I got excited and bought two. So, I’m in the kitchen cooking. I had added some milk. I opened the can of cream and poured it into the soup. I stirred it up and it thickened quite nicely. I added a bit of Maggi seasoning for flavor (you can just forget about finding chicken stock or even bouillon) and then took a taste. I spit it across the room. The soup was SWEET, I mean sickeningly SWEET. What did I do wrong? Did I substitute sugar for salt… and then a feeling of dread filled me. I looked at the now empty can of Full Cream and read the very small print at the bottom of the can “Sweetened Condensed Milk.” I then proceeded to attempt to save the soup by pouring it into a sieve and rinsing the now cooked onions and mushrooms. I re-sautéed shallots and garlic and then added the now rinsed contents. I added milk and thickener and tasted it… still sweet. The sugar had leached into the mushrooms and wasn’t coming out. In disgust, I threw the whole thing away… an hour and a half of work… for naught. Well, at least the salad was tasty!

The Ferry (but a better description is some wood on two pontoons). These two vehicles RUDELY cut in front of us... Sure, they got on the ferry... but then it broke down... here, they are trying to fix the outboard motor. Well... it serves them right!

Ruby, Our Translator: (On the right), trying to keep in the shade. She's a social butterfly and quickly met new friends.

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Thurday 5/27/2005: Banda Aceh

Well, we got up today at 6 in the morning. The ferry opens at 8 AM and we wanted to get there before it opened. We were in line at 6:45. It actually looked pretty good for us. We were about the fourth car. And then it started. Our driver was outside away from the car smoking and several cars totally pushed in front of us… with no regard for anyone… just butted in. They were followed by two Indonesian Army personnel movers. The TNI (army) is notorious for pushing to the head of the line… and since they all have live clips in their weapons, you let them! So we’re waiting…You think… no biggie, just two or three cars… but under the best conditions, it takes about thirty minutes for the ferry to load a truck or cars and cross the river and make it back. That means that four vehicles cutting can add an hour and a half to our wait. And then to top it off, the ferry broke down on the other side of the river. After about four hours waiting, the cars that had rudely cut in front of us finally got on the ferry. It proceeded to break down again… but this time, to my delight (I was gleeful because all the vehicles on the broken ferry had cut in front of us), the ferry broke down in the middle of the river. (Trust me… four hours in the hot sun, and the littlest things make you giddy with joy). They tried for over an hour to get the motor started as the ferry slowly drifted towards open sea. After five hours of waiting, with no end in sight, Ricardo made the call and we decided to turn around again and head back to Banda Aceh. But the trip wasn’t a total waste of time. I had several meetings with other NGOs who were also waiting. For example, I met Rizal, the local director of Action Contre La Faim (Action against Hunger), who was going to the same subdistrict as me to implement cash-for-work. I was quite surprised because I was coming at the behest of the UNDP. Well, it turns out that UNDP recommended this sub-district to several NGOs and since ACF will be working in Sampoinit, there’s no reason for us both to be doing cash for work initiatives in the same subdistrict. I’ll wait to see what their experience and reassess once their cash for work is finished to see if the subdistrict still needs our assistance. I’ll definitely be seeing more of him. It turns out that Rizal is my landlord’s nephew and he always stays with his uncle (three doors down) every time he is in Banda Aceh! I also met several people who have vehicles in Calang. They both said that I could hire their vehicle for a few days if I’m down in Calang. Most NGOs travel to Calang my UN helicopter. We had taken the Landcruiser down because we needed to do assessments and I had been told that you can’t find vehicles in Calang. Screw this driving… I’m flying next time.

The Original Road (minus one bridge!)

The Line Waiting to Board the Ferry

Frustrated Incorporated

Wednesday, 5/27/2005 22:35: Lamno

Well I’m back, that is I’ve returned, but the thing is… I never went! Before going to Calang, I talked to someone who had returned. It took them six hours to make the trip overland. Most NGOs try to go by UN helicopter, but since we needed to do assessments (and there are no vehicles to hire there), we decided to go overland. We were told to go this week because rains were forecasted for next week, making the roads impassable. We traded our SUV and our driver Indra for a 4/4 Toyota Landcruiser and an experienced off-road driver named Abu Bakkar. The Landcruisers are very adept, but hell on your rear. As soon as we left Banda Aceh, it was clear that the roads had significantly deteriorated. The road, which snakes the scenic coastline, was ripped to shreds by the tsunami. Usually the only part that remains are portions that were buffeted behind a bend or have higher elevation. Most bridges have been wiped out and you can see the remnants of steel girders rusting in the water. They have been replaced by Bailey bridges. These were put up by the military. They are a one-lane bridges that can handle one truck at a time. I’m not sure where the name comes from, but I’m guessing from a British or US Army Corps of Engineers design. Rumor has it that road reconstruction should begin within two week. I’ll believe it when I see it. The trip was uneventful. Ruby, our translator, and I were in the back. Ricardo was in the front. I had my MP3 player on and finally finished the audio book of Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix. That’s one heck of a sad book. I then tried a George Carlin book, but after the eighteenth expletive in a thirty-second interval, I turned it off.

We stopped for lunch in the town of Lamno. I had eaten several peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the way and was not really hungry, but Ricardo insisted. We went to a small restaurant that had a man stirring a huge pot with something that resembled a large cricket paddle. It smelled divine. I asked what it was… curried goat. Abu Bakkar ordered it and a took a bite… spicy, very spicy. I stuck with my Coca-Cola. I asked for the restroom and a woman pointed me to a door in the back of the restaurant. I walked out of the door and into a small alley. There, squatting close to each other were about five women. There were flies everywhere. The women were either washing dishes or frying up fish. I asked for the toilet and a woman pointed me literally to a corner with a door on it. I went inside… one problem, no toilet… not hole, nothing to resemble a latrine. I stuck my head out again and looked at the lady… “toilet?” and she nodded. I guess it’s one of those “pee-or-crap-in-the-corner-and-take-some-water-and-spray-it-away-to-your-neighbor’s-house” kind of toilet… nice! After my toilet adventure, we went to the market and Ricardo bought two bunches of lychees for the trip.

We left Lamno and little did we know how soon we would return. Five minutes outside of town we came to a wide river. Because it was too wide for a Bailey bridge, they were using a ferry to bring people across the river. Now, I use the term ferry in the loosest since. It was essentially two large pontoons with some wood on top (see picture). It can handle one truck or two vans at a time. We knew there would be a problem as soon as we arrived. There was a line of about thirty cars ahead of us. Normally that might not be bad, but only one ferry was in operation and it only had one working motor. There were also about six Indondesian military personnel movers in front of us. It would be a wait… five hours actually… WITH NOTHING TO DO! It was too hot to stay in the car. There was only one little snack stand and zero shade to sit and read. After waiting for five hours, it was 4PM. Calang was another three hours past this point. Because of rebel activity, we are not allowed to travel at night and if we made the ferry by 4:30 (which was highly unlikely) we couldn’t make it by nightfall.

We decided to camp out in Lamno and try the next morning. We found refuge at a local NGO’s office. I knew that OxFam was located here and wanted to use the opportunity to talk with them since they’ve done a lot of cash for work activities. We located David, a soft-spoken British engineer. Our delay was in some ways a blessing in disguise. We talked for over an hour about cash for work activities and practical implementation strategies. For example, some villages demanded that men be paid more than women. OxFam refused and David said that the women are much harder workers. He also said that the families actually survive on the wife’s income. She uses the money she earns to buy things for the refugee tent or a small sweet for the kids, while the men usually use their income to buy cigarettes. Their vehicle with the money had also gotten robbed a few weeks before.

The visit was also in some ways a wake-up call for me. I had been sort of jealous of his life. He’s done water sanitation in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Honduras, in Sudan, etc and had all these amazing adventures. The day before, he had called one of the GAM rebel leaders, asking them to stop raiding their supply trucks. I asked him how this lifestyle was on his marriage. He got quiet and said that his wife, who he had originally met on one of his assignments, had just let him know the night before that she was seriously considering a divorce. She’s tired of living by herself. You know, I love the adventure and I enjoy this job, but it’s not worth my marriage. I only want a job where I can take my wife with me.

Friday, May 27, 2005


Monkey Business2: The Road to Lamno

Monkey Business: The Road to Lamno

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Camping Trip: Destination Calang

Into the Bush

I will be incommunicado for the next three days. I will be going on an assessment trip to Calang (pronounced Tchalang). Calang was a city that experienced total destruction after the tsunami. It was built on a peninsula and the tsunami came in on both sides of the peninsula, devastating the town. There is not one solid building standing. I hope to go to the subdistrict of Sampoinit and implement a Cash for Work clean-up program as soon as possible. I will be meeting with various NGOs and the local government. Ruby, our new spunky translator, will also be making her first trip into the bush. Ricardo is also along for the ride. We are taking a large land rover with snorkel exhaust pipes and serious four-wheel drive. The road was impassable a few days ago but it has dried out now. It's only about 100 km away, to the south west of Banda Aceh but will take about 6 hours to get there. In Calang we hope to stay in the UN compound. They have tents set up. If the tents are full, we'll be sleeping outside under a mosquito dome... Can't wait. With my recent queasy stomach, I'm a bit apprehensive, but I have to deal... I have a feeling my thighs are going to get a workout on this trip... Let the fun begin!

My Best Friend

When Imodium AD Doesn't Work

Ok, so I'm definitely in the tropics. I won't go into details but me and the porcelain throne are getting quite comfortable. I don't know what I ate, but it had it's effect... and I have taken the Immodium or bismuth... it works for about an hour and then it's like the dam breaks! Also got my first taste of giardia (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/healthywater/factsheets/giardia.htm
) for my first time since eighth grade when I was in Africa... essentially a parasite that I got when I was a kid in Africa. It lies dormant in your stomach for years and when exposed to it's old friends in the tropics, it flares up again... it has an iron sulphur compound which breaks down in your stomach and gives you sulphur belches... I'm not kidding, you belch and out comes a smell like rotten eggs. Quite a turn off if the pretty ladies are around... good thing I'm married and my pretty lady is already stuck! My dad asked if I wanted to take a treatment with me before I left... I said no. Now I am paying the price!

Monday, May 23, 2005


Our Chinese Methodist Church

Fellowship of the Saints

Sunday, 5/22/2005 21:36
I am still on a high. I went to church tonight. It was awesome… and I mean that in the original sense. Before coming to Banda Aceh, I was determined to try to find other Christians to hang out with. Fellowship with the Body in my lifeline in these kinds of environment. Someone has put together a master list of all the NGOs working in this area (over 180) and I was able to pick out several Christian NGOs quickly. The contact sheets have cell phone numbers (only way of communicating here) for several leaders of the groups. I called someone at Samaritan’s Purse, they were currently in the bush, but he referred me to someone who referred me to someone else. Finally I got hold of Sarah who told me where the church would be meeting. They have had some difficulties meeting. They explained that it is illegal in Indonesia to hold church services outside of a church building. The church had been meeting in various NGO offices (which are actually homes), but someone had reported them. I need to stress, this is a church for foreigners in Indonesia, the expats working in NGOs. Christian NGOs go to great length to ensure the government that they are here on a humanitarian mission, not to proselytize. The Islamic Shariah Police are watching them like hawks. So we actually met in a Chinese Methodist church at 4:30 PM. When I got to the building everyone was standing outside. They Someone explained that we couldn’t go in right away because the mosquitoes were so bad. They sent someone to a small store to buy repellent and bug spray. After fumigating for ten minutes and rubbing cream all over our bodies, we went inside.

Inside, I met Betsy, a fiery blond Texan from Houston. We had an instant connection as I mentioned I went to undergrad in Abilene… she did too… about fifteen years earlier. I went to Abilene Christian and she went to Hardin-Simmons. All said and done, we were about forty people, and we really were from everywhere, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, USA, Gautamala, Singapore, Africa… a mini United Nations, united in Christ. Betsy actually led worship and preached. She spoke on worship and how it is the most powerful weapon in our spiritual arsenal. She had guitar. We sang, and she would talk for a bit, then we would sing some more. The church building reminded me of a black Baptist church… small, white, and ringing acoustics. Once we started singing, it sounded like we were 150 strong. We sang our hearts out and it felt so good. I have really missed the power and the calming/invigorating experience of congregational singing. We sang old songs, and new songs. We sang in English, Arabic, Spanish, and Indonesian (thank God for PowerPoint... yes even in tsunami ravaged Indonesia!). At the end she discussed Isaiah 6, my new favorite chapter in the bible.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on his throne, high and exalted, and his robes filled the whole Temple. Around him flaming creatures were standing, each of which had six wings. Each creature covered its face with two wings, and the body with two, and used the others for flying. They were calling out to each other:
“Holy, Holy, Holy!
The Lord Almighty is holy!
His Glory fills the world.”
The sound of their voices made the foundation of the Temple shake (and on this Sunday after the earthquake it had particular relevance) and the Temple itself became filled with smoke.

I said, “There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet with my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the creatures flew down to me, carrying a burning coal that he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with the burning coal and said, “this has touched your lips and now your guilt is gone and your sins are forgiven.

Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom will I send? Who will be our messenger?”
I answered, “I will go! Send me!”

There was so much energy in that room tonight… and it was heavy with His presence. These people in Banda Aceh saw with their own eyes the most powerful and devastating act of nature in at least two centuries, but that power is nothing compared to Christ.

Fishing Anyone?

Indra's (our driver) Mom: The helmet is to protect her from falling rubble as she cleans up her house.

Indra (in red) with his family outside their former two story home... they were lucky, they all survived, but their subdivision used to have 1500 people living there. It now has 200!

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Sunday, 5/22/2005 16:30: Banda Aceh

So I finally got to experience one! A few days ago Teh had told me that we had experienced a small earthquake but I didn’t feel it. I had also slept through another trembler. Today, I got my taste. BOOM! That’s what it first sounded like. It woke me right up at 6 in the morning. The hotel was truly shaking. Yeah, you Californians are used to this, but Michiganders don’t really get earthquakes. Pipes in my bathroom cracked and started spraying water everywhere and the windows sounded like they would break. It was only a 5.6, but the epicenter was right outside Banda Aceh. In retrospect, I was totally ill-prepared. Ricardo had told me to keep a bag by my bed with all my valuables and identity documents. I didn’t… I had changed pants the night before and stuff was separated into pants. So the hotel’s shaking and in the dark… I should have gotten my pajama-butt out of the building ASAP, but no, I’m trying to find my pants, my passport, my money, and my room key! When I finally grab everything and open the door to leave, the earthquake stops. Shaken, I go back to bed but I couldn’t get to sleep for another hour. This morning as I walked down to breakfast, the plaster had cracked throughout the hotel. This hotel barely survived the last earthquake… I don’t know how many more of these she can take.

After breakfast, Teh and I went out to do some more exploring. It’s the first day of having a car. Indra, our driver, speaks a little English. He’s really a great guy and always smiling. He fractured his leg in a motorcycle accident five years ago. He refused to let them amputate his leg, but now we walks with a painful limp. We checked out another part of the city. I was stunned at the some the sights. One of the most impressive was a fishing boat (see picture), perched precariously on the roof of a home. Indra (see picture), brought us to his home. His family was clearing rubble around what’s left of their house. They were the lucky ones. Their neighbor saw the wave approaching and called them to come to his second story. They got in the house just in time, but the second story wasn’t high enough. They had to climb to the roof… where they waited for ten hours. It was 94 degrees today. I can’t imagine what that must have been like sitting on a corrugated zinc roof, the sun reflecting on the hot room while you watch your dead friends and family float away in the water below you. Their section of town had 1500 before the wave hit, it now has 200. His family was lucky, they survived, but his father died of a stress heart attack a few weeks following the tsunami.
We then continued on up the coast. A lot of aid groups have built seahuts for the homeless. Seahuts, named after the Seabees, who originally designed them, are long row houses, built on stilts. The house is then separted into 4-6 big rooms. Each family gets one room in these seahuts. I actually lived in one when I was in Kosovo, but I had a whole room to myself! We also saw a lot of the fish hatcheries and nurseries that were also devastated… recovery is so much more than building houses, it’s the rebuilding of the infrastructure and the rebuilding of a way of life… a way of life that might be gone for ever.

A Beca (pronounced bay cha). This motorcycle taxi was donated by a Lion's Club doing their part for the tsunami.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Kiblats and Bits and Bits and Bits!

5/21/2005: 12:41 PM: Banda Aceh
My hotel is a trip. This place really is falling apart at the seams. The housekeepers seem to forget that lodgers need basic necessities like towels AND TOILET PAPER. I mean, come on, this is diarrhea town… we need TP. Of course, I have this constant fear that the toilet will fall apart when I sit.

On my ceiling there’s a Kiblat. This points the direction to Mecca for prayers. In Jakarta, the Kiblat was a sticker, attached to the nightstand drawer… you know the one next to the bed where a Gideon bible should be! But I mean, at least the hotel is solid. Most other large structures did not fare so well when the 9.0 hit and they continue to crumble with the resulting aftershocks. How do they say it… the second floor is now the lobby?

And earthquakes are definitely common. I’m just frustrated that I haven’t really felt them… yes, I know, I should count my blessings, but how can I participate in the “yeah man, I was in my underwear in the middle of the street after it hit” conversations if I don’t feel them. We’ve had three. A 6.2 (while I was on the highway so I didn’t feel it) one 5.0 two mornings ago (I barely felt it… I thought someone was just bumping the table, and then this morning are 6:30… I guess that one actually shook the hotel… but I slept right through it… sort of like I slept through the SCUD alerts in Kuwait. Maybe I’ll score later this week… one can only hope!

Saturday, May 21, 2005


A Kiblat on my ceiling, pointing the way to Mecca

Friday, May 20, 2005

Mommy, Where Do Tsunamis Come from?

Thursday 5/19/2005 22:00: Banda Aceh
I got an education today on how the Tsunami works. I had always pictured something out of the movies, like a giant tidal wave, fifty feet high crashing down upon villagers. That might have been the case if the epicenter had been right off the shore. But this deep-sea earthquake suddenly displaced thousands of cubit kilometric water. The water rose and stated rushing in all directions. If you had been deep-sea diving or were on a cruise ship directly over the epicenter, you would not have felt much. As the water got closer to shore, the ocean became shallower. There was no place for the water to go so it rose up higher and gained force. When it finally hit the shore, it was like a high tide, coming in at 600 km/h! The water just kept coming. It was not like a normal wave that goes in and then comes back out. Like a tide, it stayed, with crushing force for over 45 minutes. This is what caused the majority of the drownings. Aceh was the closest landmass. The earthquake happened at 9:45 on Sunday morning. There was one church in Banda Aceh (rare in this Muslim stronghold) that ran out of their church when the earthquake hit. After it was over, they returned to the church to pray for victims of the earthquake. Fifteen minutes later, the Tsunami struck Banda Aceh and everyone in the church died. You know… I can’t think of a better way to go.

We Got Wheels!!!

Thursday 5/19/2005: 20:51 Banda Aceh
I just got back with an informal meeting with an Chinese-Indonesian wholesale importer named Foo-Yung Kennedy. Yes, Kennedy. I asked him if he was Irish. Teh explained that in the 1960’s the Indonesian government forced Chinese to take last names in the Western style. The government wanted them to take Indonesian sounding names but the Chinese resisted and made up or took new names… ergo Kennedy!

Wow, yesterday we decided on a house, today we decided on a driver. Murphy from the hotel is quite the business man. After the tsunami, he stopped his studies in Economics at the university and joined the post-Tsunami opportunistic whirlwind. Just on credit, he bought eight SUVs and rents them in turn to NGOs. He is furnishing a Swiss NGO with five and OxFam with three. Rates are slowly coming down in Aceh and we negotiated considerably down. Some of the poorer NGOs are upset with the larger ones because the larger ones do not negotiate. They just pay whatever the seller wants. We really have to be concerned about how the money is spent. I have no problem bargaining down the price of a house or car because I know the donor dollar is at stake. And what I can save on a car (which is a necessity), I can give to a family recovering from the tsunami.

I had an interesting conversation this morning with an American woman from Jakarta. She retired to Jakarta after a life as a banker. She loves Indonesia and has dedicated her life-savings to rebuilding Aceh. It was eye-opening talking to her. She talked with a passion and a conviction that I sometimes feel lacks in my own conversational style. She had just returned from Aceh Jaya, to which she referred as the land that people forgot. She expressed concerned that many NGOs are concentrating on the town of Banda Aceh because it’s easy. They can live in a big house or hotel and feel good about selves. She said she had just returnd to a village that had had 900 people. They now have 22. These villages are still party inaccessible. People are living in tarp tents in a half meter of mud. I had posted pictures of these kind of living conditions before. She gave me a lot of insight into the psyche of the Tsunami.

Aceh province lost about 25% of it’s total population. Many coastal villages lost almost everyone. Of the casualties, 50% were children, and of the remaining fifty percent, the majority were women. Some believe that when the mothers saw their children swept away, they lost all desire to fight and died themselves. She also mentioned the problems in post-tsunami rural Aceh. One village has 12 women and 74 men. Several of the women have been raped. How does one start to rebuild their life?

Thursday, May 19, 2005


This was a village. + 80% Casualties

A Mosque among Many: This is the town where the tsunami came in deepest (7 km). The only structure left standing was the mosque.

The Force of Tsunami: A coal freighter and fishing boat washed upon the main highway to Aceh Jaya.

TLF: Temporary Living Facilities. These tents are ovens.

New Homes on the outskirts of Banda Aceh

House Hunting

Wednesday 5/18/2005: 21:40 Banda Aceh
It’s been a busy day. Yesterday The and I finally decided on a house to rent. It’s brand new, so that means it’s unfurnished. Most of the NGOs have been renting homes from local families here. The family essentially leaves the house as is (including random rug paintings, obligatory paintings of the Kaba, and the fifteen various types of tea service). Families then move down to a smaller house or even leave the city. From what I can gather, prices of a furnished house pre-tsunami was about 2000-3000 dollars per year. That price has skyrocketed to about 25 million Rupiah per year or about $2000 a month! But in the long run, houses are a much better and cheaper option than hotels. We have looked at a dozen houses. It’s really quite fascinating. I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to visit so many unique homes, especially furnished in traditional Indonesian ways, if I hadn’t had to go house-hunting. The homes we looked at were all beautiful from the inside. Most had lush gardens with mango and papaya trees growing in the front or back yard. This is definitely a “keeping up with the Jones’s” kind of place. Each house tries to be brasher and larger than the next. Many sustain damage from the earthquake but others are untouched.

When you walk into most houses, they have an ornate formal reception/living room… these do not looked used. You go down a hallway and then come to a large central room. This is almost like an inner courtyard, but is usually used as a family room. On all sides are bedrooms and the kitchen. Many houses had bedrooms with a bathroom en suite. One of our problems was finding houses with western style toilets. While I don’t mind the adventure of a squatter for a few months, the person who comes after me might not be as appreciative. Most houses do not have air-conditioning… which surprises me given the beauty of them. I saw one home that had a stunning modern three meter tall chandelier, but mold was growing up the walls. A lot of houses are not wired for air conditioners either. Most houses have 6-10 amperes… I don’t know that much about electricity… but a hot water cooker and a microwave on at the same time would blow the electricity for an entire house, not just one fuse!

So the house we decided on is new… no landscaping, but good security (which is absolutely necessary). One of our co-workers was robbed in the middle of the night while she slept. Some crawled through a window space that was not more than a foot-wide and stole her cell phone and Rupiah. Interestingly, they left her laptop and visa cards. They want something that they can change quickly. So ALL windows must have bars. The thing I like about this house is that it has so much light coming through the windows. Most houses here use dark mahoganies, which are beautiful, but the fluorescent ceiling lighting casts a pallor on the interiors making them dark and dingy. The owner, Pa Ibrahim, has also agreed to furnish the house with all basic necessities… I feel good about that because the inventory would be hell and I’d hate to deny grandma her eight different tea sets!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Refreshing Feel of Dripping Sweat

Tuesday, 18 May, 2005: 21:35 Banda Aceh

I’m in the hotel restaurant writing this. They call it a family restaurant… and in Tsunami devastated Banda Aceh, it seems surreal. It reminds me of one of those Italian pizzerias in a New York basement. Exposed brick, checkered table clothes, candles. They have a semi-western style menu. I ordered what was called a “Local Beef Filet.” Probably should have been called regional shoe… because that’s what it’s texture was like. That’s OK, they have beer, even though it’s four times the Jakarta price. Our managment gave us a security briefing and we are allowed to consume alcohol… as long it is in a private hotel or a private residence… we must not be seen from the outside. To add to the surreality, there is this Indonesian lounge singer. He’s heavy set, has a big belly, and about four golden chains around his neck. He actually has a decent voice but the mike is so loud that you have to shout to your neighbor to be heard. His repertoire is Indonesian and Sinatra-style songs. Again, there are things you can only appreciate when you’ve been abroad… for example he sang a stirring rendition of “I am your lady and you are my man,” oblivious to the gender-specific lyrics. I sat with Murphy who has helped us renting a car and is also one of our four locals scouting out possible houses for our team.

Today was a great introduction to Indonesian bureaucracy. A bit of background, Aceh was closed to foreigners the last few years due to the separatist civil war that has been going on for the last 25 years. Only ICRC (International Committee of Red Cross/Red Crescent) was allowed to operate here. We must register with the department of foreign affairs and obtain a security badge from the police. According to others at our offices, the police had been trying to get bribes from us to process the badges but we have flatly refused and reported it to the BRR, the special governmental organization responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of Tsunami-stricken Indonesia. We got to the Foreign Affairs office and promptly had to wait for an hour and a half for the signatory official to return from his break. After that we went to the Police (on the other side of town) for our badges. They have a truck that processes the IDs. Unfortunately, they also had decided to take a three hour break and would return at 2:30. We came back at 2:30 and then they said that my paperwork was insufficient and I will have to return again tomorrow to process it.

Back at the ranch, at our office, the air conditioners blew our power and busted our water pump. We’ve been without running water for the toilets for two days and also without AC… not that I mind being drenched in sweat. For some reason, our base power and Wireless were working… then that died as well. My computer lasted for about an hour and a half and then shut down. Since I couldn’t work, I decided to orient myself with Aceh. I’ve seen some of the damage but not really the main coastal area where most of the Tsunami damage was.

Taxis are in short supply so most people take the tricycle taxis. Imagine a rickshaw-style sidecar attached to a scooter. They belch diesel and gasoline like there is no tomorrow but can actually go a nice little speed. Of course, they have no seatbelt and you are not offered a helmet. I went to the Baiturahman mosque which was shown in so much of the post-Tsunami TV footage. The mosque sustained minimal damage but a sizeable minaret in front of it is teetering on the verge of collapse due to the earthquake. I went through the open market… Right next to the mosque there is a lot of energy and you can tell that the stores have re-opened. As you walk about two blocks away from the mosque towards the sea, the scene changes drastically… here you start to get a feel for the devastation. This was a bustling open air market, but the two story buildings lie crumbling, some teetering precariously waiting to collapse. They are uninhabitable… you see these empty storefronts with the apartments above and think… a family used to live here. That family is no dead. All of them. As you get closer to the coast the devastation is absolute. Most buildings collapsed either from the earthquake or from the force of the Tsunami. Here, the few who survived have erected tents and short-term shelters. The logistical nightmare of resettlement has yet to happen. Most homes never had an official deed or title. And if there was a title, it was destroyed with the home or the bank/government office that had it. How do you prove that you used to live somewhere?

I walked back through the market… sweating in the 100 degree temperature. I was looking for a handkerchief… a necessity in this dirty and sweaty area… didn’t score a handkerchief but was able to buy a disk towel… which essentially does the same trick. I wandered a little farther down and then took a tricycle taxi to the only supermarket in town… of course supermarket is a misnomer… it’s a two-story dry goods store. I bought some laundry detergent and toilet paper (there never seems to be any here). I then wandered a bit away. My white faces sticks out in the crowd and shouts of “Hey Mister where you from” and “Welcome Mister” surround me. Some men ask if I’d like some coffee… Acehense coffee is supposed to be legendary… why not, I have time. I sit down and get to know Mohammed. He’s ethnic Arab, but his family has been in Aceh for five hundred years. He’s a character and his English is quite good. He translates for his five friends and we sit down and talk about Aceh and its history. He tells me that ACEH should really stand for: Arab Chinese European Hindu. This coastal province is extremely heterogeneous due to its strategic location of the straits leading to Malaysia. He also wants to help us find a house. I’m meeting with him tomorrow and he hopes to show us a few places.
I made my way back to the hotel and called Teh. His diarrhea has taken a turn for the worse and he went back to the hotel early to try to get better. He was running a fever and took some rehydration tables. I picked up a big bottle of water for him. As I get towards the hotel I hear my cell phone ringing. It’s Simone, she finally got through but the connection was so bad, we lost each other… after her trying three more times to reach me, I called her on the cell phone. We talked for about five minutes, promptly draining my prepaid card, but again, it was worth it. She has a job interview today so I wanted to wish her luck. She’s going to do awesome… I know. I just wish I was there in person to cheer her on. Even though this is an awesome experience and I’m learning so much, it’s frustrating to be here and not there, back in MI where she is.

Well, it’s 10:30 PM. I told Simone she better call me to tell me how the interview went. That means a call about 3 in the morning. I can’t wait.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Banda Aceh here I am!!!

Monday, 17 May, 2005: 20:08 Banda Aceh

I’m here. Wow… I’m really here. For the last few weeks, this has been a place on a map, a place of my internship, place in the news… I’m here. I’m really here. I’m not sure what I’m feeling. Reality is definitely hitting me.

We arrived to Banda Aceh on Sunday. We flew up via Medan. The four o’clock wake-up call was having an effect on me so I tried I downed a diet coke and the Indonesian equivalent of Red Bull… It worked and I was wired until about 4PM. Ricardo brought me to our offices here to meet some people. This is the official day off but there were about ten people in the office. We have rented out two large houses and turned them into offices. We has one room in the smaller of the two houses. The room must have belonged to a little kid before because there are Pokemon stickers and Barbie stickers still attached to the walls. We share space with the Health Delegation, Water Sanitation (WatSAN), British, Australian, and Hong Kongese NGO offices. In the other house there is logistics, admin, information, the Germans, and Norwegians as well.

We moved into the Sulthan Hotel… Simone and I were in Slovakia last hear. I thought the hotel was bad then… but this one has that one beat. The two good hotels were destroyed in the earthquake. The Sultan remained standing… barely. There are visible cracks throughout the building. I have a room on the third floor. No windows. It gives drab a new meaning. The walls carpet is a stained dark green. The showerhead has actually fallen out of the wall and I’m afraid to lean too hard on the sink because it may fall out too. The bed is clean and the air-conditioning works. The pillows are hard like rocks. I’m so glad I brought my own. Ricardo ribbed me about bringing my pillow… but I slept well… he didn’t!

Ricardo wants us to find housing as soon as possible. Because Sultan is about the only game in town, it is charging big city prices. I pay the same price for this broken down dump as I did for the four-star hotel in Jakarta, about $65.00/a night. We need to get a furnished house. A lot of families are willing to rent their homes to us because they need the income. Before the Tsunami, you could rent a villa for 600 dollars a month, now some places are charging upwards of $3000 a month. We won’t pay that, but putting our workers up in a home is much cheaper than shelling out 60 bucks a day for the Sultan.

I met Teh today. He’s our WatSan guy. Ricardo got to know Teh when he was working with a Malaysian NGO in the months directly following the Tsunami. He’s a riot. He’s ethnically Chinese and went to school at Ohio University to study Engineering. He worked in New York for a while and then returned to Malaysia. Poor Teh… he calls himself the “Sh** Man.” He’s not had it easy the last few weeks… in his words, I’m either running like water or stopped like a drain” Since Indonesian and Malaysian are very similar, he’ has been a godsend because he can effectively communicate with locals.

We looked at several houses. Two looked promising. We’ll see what happens. We also went to a Water Sanitation Meeting. There were about twenty NGOs represented (there are over 150 registered NGOs in Banda Aceh).

We went to eat at Banda Aceh Fish Restaurant. They have an impressive range of fish from this coastal province. We split up our food. We got giant prawns (shrimps which are about half the size of lobster), fish in ginger sauce, and crabs in black pepper sauce. They reminded me of Maryland blue crabs and were fantastic.

Ricardo returned to Jakarta today. I’m tired now and I’m signing off.

House Hunting

Wednesday 5/18/2005: 21:40 Banda Aceh
It’s been a busy day. Yesterday The and I finally decided on a house to rent. It’s brand new, so that means it’s unfurnished. Most of the NGOs have been renting homes from local families here. The family essentially leaves the house as is (including random rug paintings, obligatory paintings of the Kaba, and the fifteen various types of tea service). Families then move down to a smaller house or even leave the city. From what I can gather, prices of a furnished house pre-tsunami was about 2000-3000 dollars per year. That price has skyrocketed to about 25 million Rupiah per year or about $2000 a month! But in the long run, houses are a much better and cheaper option than hotels. We have looked at a dozen houses. It’s really quite fascinating. I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to visit so many unique homes, especially furnished in traditional Indonesian ways, if I hadn’t had to go house-hunting. The homes we looked at were all beautiful from the inside. Most had lush gardens with mango and papaya trees growing in the front or back yard. This is definitely a “keeping up with the Jones’s” kind of place. Each house tries to be brasher and larger than the next. Many sustain damage from the earthquake but others are untouched.

When you walk into most houses, they have an ornate formal reception/living room… these do not looked used. You go down a hallway and then come to a large central room. This is almost like an inner courtyard, but is usually used as a family room. On all sides are bedrooms and the kitchen. Many houses had bedrooms with a bathroom en suite. One of our problems was finding houses with western style toilets. While I don’t mind the adventure of a squatter for a few months, the person who comes after me might not be as appreciative. Most houses do not have air-conditioning… which surprises me given the beauty of them. I saw one home that had a stunning modern three meter tall chandelier, but mold was growing up the walls. A lot of houses are not wired for air conditioners either. Most houses have 6-10 amperes… I don’t know that much about electricity… but a hot water cooker and a microwave on at the same time would blow the electricity for an entire house, not just one fuse!

So the house we decided on is new… no landscaping, but good security (which is absolutely necessary). One of our co-workers was robbed in the middle of the night while she slept. Some crawled through a window space that was not more than a foot-wide and stole her cell phone and Rupiah. Interestingly, they left her laptop and visa cards. They want something that they can change quickly. So ALL windows must have bars. The thing I like about this house is that it has so much light coming through the windows. Most houses here use dark mahoganies, which are beautiful, but the fluorescent ceiling lighting casts a pallor on the interiors making them dark and dingy. The owner, Pa Ibrahim, has also agreed to furnish the house with all basic necessities… I feel good about that because the inventory would be hell and I’d hate to deny grandma her eight different tea sets!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Port Call

Saturday, 14 May, 2005: 22:30

Today was my last full day in Jakarta. We leave for Banda Aceh tomorrow morning at 6 AM. It was a free day. Tom, one of our capacity building experts from DC is recovering from a nasty three days of GI problems. He definitely looks the worse for wear, but has been holed up in the bathroom for the last three days and wanted to get out. Barbara, Tom, and I went to the old Jakarta port. There are dozens of schooners from the early 1900s docked at the port. They are still used to carry lumber and supplies to and from the outlying islands. Some travel as far as Japan… They are old and we’re talking old school. They have masts and sails. From what we could glean, they are in port for about 21 days… that’s how long it takes to load and unload the boats. There is a narrow food wide gang plank to and from the ships. We saw workers carrying one or two pies of wood from the ship at a time. We also checked out a local market. The river was so filthy. You can’t even begin to describe. I saw human excrement, diapers, you name it. I also saw my first rat… at least I can’t ever remember seeing one in my life… of course, I knew a girl in middle school who had a pet rat… but this one of those scary-disease carrying varieties.

We ended up at the Café Batavia. This is the a landmark in Jakarta. It was outside the Dutch Governor’s residence and you truly feel like you are walking back in time when you go in. Dark mahogany interiors, paneled walls, ceiling fans. You somehow expect Cary Grant or Greta Garbo to walk to you and ask for a light. Beautiful bathroom… Tom and I both had to go, but the urinal was trough style and mirrored from floor to ceiling. I’m just getting to know Tom and that was just a bit too much for me. I used the stall instead.

We met Ricardo at a big shopping mall. They have a floor with different theme restaurants. After much deliberation, we decided to go for Japanese Shabu. It’s a lot of fun, sort of a cook your own experience. You sit at tables with a pot of boiling water in front of you. You order your meat and vegetables and essentially cook your food. The Swiss have something very similar called “Fondue Chinoise.” At the end, your water is pretty murky. You add the rest of your vegetables, a few seasonings, and then presto, you have an awesome soup. A nice way to end my time in Jakarta. I’ve heard that Banda Aceh is a pretty big city… but I somehow doubt that they will have Shabu.


Jakarta: Home Sweet Home

An Old Fisherman Waits

Loading the Schooners

Friday, May 13, 2005

Don't Tread on Me!

Friday 13 May, 2005. 10PM

It’s Friday the 13th today. I wonder if Indonesians are superstitious like us. I woke up at 4 AM. This is getting annoying. I want the jet leg to be over NOW. Simone and I have gotten into a nice rhythm of calling. We can actually talk twice a day, When it’s 6 AM in Michigan, it’s 5 PM for me. Yes, it’s expensive, but hearing her voice is absolutely worth the price.

Breakfast at the hotel is great. A true mixture of cultures. The buffet had Pad Thai, chicken congee (Chinese rice porridge), omelettes, sushi, hard rolls, donuts, croissants, beef bacon, and more. Of course, I feel I need to try everything.

I spent the day trying explaining the back-up system for computers and trying to develop a format for our business cards… yes, that sounds superficial, but you can’t understand how important business cards are. Everyone has mobile phones and you can’t keep track of the alphabet soup of organizations that are located here.

Someone has a sense of humor. One of the delegates printed up a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and taped it on our office door while we were out for lunch. Ricardo suspects the Canadians, but I think it has a British smell to it.

We had a happy hour at the office today… got to know the Aussies and Bruce, a Canadian working for a Korean NGO… it’s a long story. Good time… they asked me to use the computer for music… I didn’t realize how bad my internal speakers sucked until we tried turned them up to full blast. Natasha, head of the Australian delegation, was very miffed that I didn’t have the Pogues or AC/DC. We ended up listening to a country mix… despite moans and groans. But all in all, a good time had by all.


Three Women

British Humor

Jet Lag

Thursday 12 May, 2005 10PM

Jakarta: I woke up at 4 PM… wide awake. Couldn’t get to sleep. I called Simone. I was amazed by the excellent connection. It felt so good to hear her voice. We’ve been separated less than a week but her voice always makes my spirit sing. We went into the office today. Our offices are co-located with other international NGOs. The offices are definitely a work in progress. We have one room. But it’s all wireless and even though internet is almost as slow as dial-up, it’s still internet.

Wow, what an international office. We have Aussies, Brits, Saudis, Koreans, Portuguese, Norwegians, and a few more than I’ve forgotten. You get a feel for how amazing the humanitarian movement is.

The building is a former Indonesian Army (TNI) training center. Strangely enough, two doors down is Indonesian MTV. They have a huge Sponge Bob Square Pants sign outside of their office. Workers sit on the floor outside of it, chain smoking their clove cigarettes. The smell is so heady… I think I might have to try one for old times sake. Our offices are sparse to say the least. We need a back-up system, external power supplies, and some thumb-sized jump drives. I went to the Ratu plaza… it’s sort of like a mall. I found about twenty various computer stores... all with different products… bought two jump drives, a battery charger, and two 120 GB hard drives. They actually built them as I waited… and this mall, it has thousands of bootleg DVDs/CDs… yes, I gave in… I’m going to be here a long time with out TV. Just me and my computer. DVDs cost 10,000 Rupiah each. (About a buck). Amy and Rachel from my kinship group at Vineyard talk incessantly about Alias. I’ve never seen it. So, I got the first season, as well as Band of Brothers and two Michael Moore flicks. Yes, I can’t stand the guy, but how can I rage against him when I’ve never seen his movies… I plan to break “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9-11” in ten thousand pieces… as soon as I finish watching. But really, they have EVERYTHING. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Racing Stripes,” and “Monster-In-Law” were already out on DVD.

I had traditional Indonesian for dinner… a grilled fish covered in smoothing like Thai peanut sauce with fried onions and hot peppers. It was excellent. I had a beer as well.. I know I won’t have it when I get to Aceh, so drink up now!

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Jakarta, City of Smog!

View from my room in Jakarta

Jakarta Nights

Wednesday 5/11/2005 2300 Jakarta Time (+ 11 hours from Michigan)

Arrival in Jakarta today at 6 PM. Jakarta has a beautiful airport. It’s like dozens of ornate wooden huts strung together. I exited the airport and entered a clove cigarette smoke filled haze of chaos. Wow, clove cigarettes. In high school we would drive to Grand Haven, about 20 minutes away from home, just to get Djarums. For us they were exotic rebellion. We would sneak into the garage, take out one to share (they were too expensive for each to have their own) and light them. They crackled when you lit them, the taste on the filter sweet on the lips. The clove smell would fill our lungs with its acrid smoke. Déjà vu!

I grabbed a cab to the hotel. Ricardo, my supervisor, had told me that it would cost about 100,000 Rupiah… my gosh, that’s A LOT of money, I thought… actually, it’s not, it’s about ten dollars. Indonesia went through a financial crisis in the late 1990’s where their Rupiah essentially tanked… they are now slowly emerging from this crisis.

Jakarta is smells and sounds. Loud and bossy, chaotic and frenetic. Driving on the left-side has thrown me for a loop. From previous experience, it’s not the driving that’s dangerous… it’s the crossing of the street. In America we usually look left then right… here you MUST look right then left.

I arrived at the Park Lane hotel. It’s on the outskirts of Jakarta, an impressive 20 story hotel with all modern amenities. My room has a great view of Jakarta and the pool 14 floors below. I called Ricardo, who was having a late dinner in the restaurant. I went down and met him. He’s a gregarious Argentine with a strong accent and a great sense of humor. He was with our financial delegate, Barbara, who got in country two days before me. It was seafood night. All you can eat! How am I going to lose weight with all you can eat prawns and sushi?!? We talked for an hour, getting to know each other. You know how you just get good vibes with people? I felt that with both of them. I’m looking forward to working with them.

Well, it's off to bed now.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


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