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.

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