Friday, May 20, 2005

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?

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