Monday, May 30, 2005

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 They have been replaced by Bailey bridges.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.

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