Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Hard at Work: Workers in Lampaya burn debris in a rice paddy. The mosque in the background towers over tent shelters. It was the only Lampayan building to survive the tsunami.

Stuck: Workers in Lampaya clear rice paddies of debris (and try to get our truck out of the mud)

Team Chainsaw: Breaking a tsunami boat apart.

Chainsaws in Lampulo: Our chainsaw team breaks apart a tsunami boat. The people in the pink house would like their front yard back!

Work of Fruition: The first task (three weeks ago) of the villagers of Mulia was to clear this field which used to contain several houses. Job Well Done. The grass is even growing back.

Works In Progress: Our villagers clear a fish pond of debris in Mulia

Monday, July 18, 2005


"Team Circumcision" -- Taking a well deserved break. They were truly a "CUT" above the rest!

A "Slice" of Life

Sunday 17 July, 2005-07-18: Desa Kadju

What can I say? I just came back from a “cutting-edge” experience. I was invited to a ritual circumcision… and hey, how often do you get an invitation like that… especially when they tell me a hundred kids are all simultaneously going under the knife!?! Unlike in the US, Indonesians do not circumcise babies, but wait until the boy is twelve years old. This is a sort of “coming-of-age” event. The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is a local NGO which has always performed circumcisions as a service. I have worked with several of their staff over the course of the summer and they invited me to come along when they did some circumcisions at one of the displaced people camps.

We traveled to the village of Kadju. I had been there before doing assessments for our Cash-for-Work program and recognized the village elders. The camp was waiting for us. All their homes were destroyed and they live in wooden long-houses that are up on stilts. The have a public building which can also double as a mosque called a Meunassah. It was there where the fun begins. The village had told PMI that approximately 100 boys would “go under the knife.” When we showed up, there were only thirty. In the middle of the Meunassah, they had erected a makeshift operating room (a few old sheets hung on clothesline) and set up tables in the room. There were six teams that set up.

In some parts of Indonesia, this is quite a ceremony. The entire family dresses in traditional clothing and the boy wears a sarong and special hat that will also be worn on his wedding day. Rich families actually distribute professionally printed invitation cards very reminiscent of wedding invites. Here in the camps, most people have lost everything, but the village leaders tried to instill as much pomp as possible. This is the most important religious event in a boy’s life… quite similar to a Catholic First Communion or a protestant confirmation. There were leaders from Banda Aceh and the District Mayor as well as the subdistrict mayor. They each took turns extolling the virtues of Islam and how this was a stepping stone towards manhood. Five boys were then selected to go before the leaders. They were then symbolically blessed by various village leaders (including women). They had rice thrown on them, then they were fed a saffron rice for strength and were anointed with water for purity. One of the boys recited verses from the Koran and then the imam lead the group in joint-prayer… then the fun begin.

The five boys who participated in the ceremony also got to go first (along with another boy). They all went without fear into the enclosure. Each got undressed and lay on the tables (head to head). Tears didn’t come until they saw the needles of lidocaine. Some boys tried to get up (but were held down) while others stoically accepted their fate. One boy (boy in pink shirt in pic) never uttered a word. He clenched his teeth and tears welled in his eyes, but not one peep ever emerged from his mouth.

The surgeries went quite fast, but they were more invasive than I thought they would be. US circumcisions are usually performed without benefit of anesthesia but here they inject the base and head of the penis with several lidocaine shots. In the US our baby circumcisions are also almost bloodless. That was not the case here. I don’t know if it was because the foreskin was larger or if they did not clamp as long, but several kids had to be sewed up because of heavy bleeding.

All in all, the day was a success… but we did have one problem. The children disappeared. As I mentioned before, when we came to the village we had been told there would be one hundred boys. Seventy didn’t show up… that gave us thirty. These thirty sat through the ceremony, but when the first cries were heard from behind the sheets… several boys SHOT out of the meunassah and literally hid from their parents. Fifteen boys hid so effectively so that we had to leave before they ever showed up. We were closing up shop and just as we were getting ready to leave, three sets of parents arrived with boys in tow. After some quick preparations, these boys also underwent the knife.

I must say, the PMI did a great job. The circumcisions were performed by either doctors or paramedics. There was one paramedic, (The Circumcision-Meister) who could complete the operation with less blood in half the time of all the doctors. They asked me if I wanted to perform a circumcision myself or just take a snip… I declined. Definitely a good day… but I’m never going to look at fried calamari the same way again!

Kadju Kuttings: The Meunassah where the circumcision ceremonies were performed. We set up a make-shift operating room with a few sheets in the middle of the building.

Kadju Kuttings: The boys waiting for the ceremony to begin try to sneak a peek at the make-shift operating room where "boys become men."

Kadju Kuttings: Setting up the operating room. The boys will lie head to head, sharing one pillow. Six teams of three will perform the circumcisions.

Kadju Kuttings: One of the boys (a future Mu'azzin) recites verses from the Koran extolling the importance of leaving boyhood and becoming men.

Kadju Kuttings: Sacraments: The food symbolizes the boys' path towards manhood.

Kadju Kuttings: The chief blesses each of the boys and feeds them a bit of saffron rice (very much like communion)

Kadju Kuttings: A woman village elder sprinkles each of the boys with water before surgery begins.

Kadju Kuttings: This boy was impressive. He put all others to shame. While he may have grimaced, narry a cry escaped from his lips.

Kadju Kuttings: Wissam undergoes his rite into manhood.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Faces of Aceh: Syarhial, my local counterpart, took me to see the remains of his home and his life. After taking a six month break to volunteer, he is back teaching chemistry at the university. The university desparately needs staff as forty percent of their professors perished in the tsunami.

This Used To Be My House: Syarhial stands in what used to be his son's bedroom. He was at a conference in Medan when the tsunami hit. They never found his wife, children, or mother-in-law.

Got Wheels: Syarhial, my local NGO Cash For Work Counterpart standing with Adam on his post-tsunami Toyota Corolla. Hey... the tires still have air.

Tsunami Tstill-Life: A Potpourri of lives lost: A child's shoe, shells from the ocean, coconuts from the palms, plates and tiles from a home.

Armless...

Thursday 14 July, 2005-07-14

My right-arm is gone… or at least currently indisposed. Ruby, the sunshine of our office, has gotten typhoid fever and is a very sick girl. If you know Ruby, you know how full of energy she is, how she is always ready to help you and has a smile for every member in our team, no matter how grumpy or annoyed they might be. There are many pics of her on the blog and she is constantly swiping my camera and taking more… she loves to be in front of a camera and often the life of the party (or at least the office). I was speechless when I first saw her in the clinic. Instead of bursting with energy, she lay asleep, almost lifeless with an IV dripping into her hand. It didn’t look like her. Her headscarf was gone, her skin waxy, and her brow damp with sweat. I’m not a father, but feelings that I can only describe as father feelings welled up in me. I had to fight back the tears as I talked with the doctor… this just wasn’t Ruby.

But Ruby needed the sleep. She had been burning her candle at both ends. She had almost been living at the clinic for three previous nights where she had been bed-sitting with a friend of hers who had been hit by a truck. Her friend, who had a broken knee, teeth, and serious lacerations, was a tsunami-orphan and had no family. The clinic is close to the sea… you never know, the long nights and the presence of bacteria might have been the kicker.

But she is doing better. I talked to her last night and her fever is under control. She most likely will be released to go home today… but she won’t be back in the office until the end of July. She has to recuperate…. She asked me quite seriously if I was going to fire her… Fat chance, I replied. She has a contract and she’s not going to get out that easy… after all… I kind of like my right arm and wanna keep it!

Team Cash for Work: The Bandar Baru ladies take time from stump burning to pose with Ruby, Adam, Dedy, and I.

Bandar Baru: Signing time sheets

Friday, July 08, 2005


Look at the Bule Bule (White people)!: The Children in Mulia watch our arrival with curiosity.

Playing with the Camera

Friday 8 July, 2005 13:07: Banda Aceh

I just posted a few pics of one of our field visits yesterday. People are hard at work and seem to be enjoying having something to do. I've been playing around with my light filter... hence the black and white pictures. It's great walking through the villages and the people are starting to get to know me... I could never sneak in because the children herald our arrival. Cries of "Bule Bule (Boo-lay)" or "The White Man is Coming!" greet me each time. But I love it. I was again present as remains were discovered. The day before they had found a full set of remains in a field. His identity card was still legible and they were able to present his remains to his mother. When we found the remains yesterday, they were in a drainage ditch... right next to a waterlogged stuffed puppy. Judging by the size of the bones, they probably belonged to the small owner of the stuffed animal. You think you're desensitized enough, but then you see something like that in your face... and it really is like a cold shower.

Hard at Work: One of our Cash For Work laborers breaks down the remains of an old house. Behind him was the bathroom.

Victims of the Tsunami: Close to the stuffed animal, a worker collects human remains which have just been discovered.

Victims of the Tsunami: This stuffed puppy dog was found waterlogged and muddied in one of the drainage ditches.

Hard at Work: Our Cash for Work Laborers cleaning a drainage ditch. Yes, that's a boat behind them. It's only three kilometers inland!

Pay Day

Saturday 9 July, 2005: Bandar Baru

Well, we have a full week of Cash For Work finished and we are now paying people… it’s quite a new headache. But Dedy is doing a great job. We chose the village of Bandar Baru to do payments first. Unfortunately, Indonesia is infamous for corruption and we (and the villages) have taken many safeguards to ensure that all the money that we deliver goes directly into the hands of the villagers. We have witnesses and recountings galore, ensuing that when we leave a village, the everyone knows exactly how much money the leaders have and we also post everyone’s payments on a large boards so you will know if Abdullah or Heni got more or less than they should have.

After distributing the funds, we took a walk through the town. It’s exciting to see real progress being made. We’ve also been a bit frustrated because some of the equipment that we bought is breaking. Of course, hoes were meant to break up dirt, not concrete homes. Took a picture of some of the women working. They love it when we come to visit and are so happy to be finally working. Definitely a good day.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Cash for Work in Rukoh: This was the offiical opening ceremony... Hopefully my last for a while!

Cash For Work in Lamdingin: Curried goat for lunch in the field kitchen.

Cash For Work Lamdingin: The women have set up a collective field kitchen to cook for the workers.

More Ceremonies

Tuesday 5 July, 2005: Rukoh Village, Syiah Kuala

OK, I’m definitively going to have to get the flowered hat. Not just because I feel like a head of state, but because this sun is so blinding. My face is fried thanks to two more Cash for Work opening ceremonies. Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic that things are going well and I enjoy each one, but standing in the 110 degree sun with sweat dripping down my face and into every crack and crevice of my body can be quite annoying.

Really though, things are going well. It’s great to see the villagers so excited about working. Now the hard part comes… we have to figure out all the paying and make sure that that goes smoothly… they are working, but the people are going to want their money. Dedy’s doing great though and I’m confident that we will have a smooth transition.

Cash For Work: Opening Ceremony for our program in Lamdingin. I'm telling you... I need some flowers in the hat!

A Bit of National Party Pride!

Monday 4 July, 2005: Banda Aceh

Happy Fourth of July! Doesn’t really feel like one here. No banners or flags flying. VERY subdued. But we did show a bit of color this weekend. The Americans finally had their party. Our sister societies usually take turns hosting parties. I’ve been to a Russian, German, Norwegian, and two Australian ones. It was about time that we did our fare share. In retrospect, I would say that our party was a screaming success. We now have eleven staff. What a change from the first month when it was just Teh and me! Of course, having so many local staff and expats means that we can spread the costs a bit more evenly among the group.

We tried to be as American as possible without being fascist. We were able to talk to a local baker who made hamburger buns and a butcher who would grind beef. So we had hamburgers, beef hotdogs, Fried Chicken, and potato salad. It was a lot of work. A few of our local staff worked almost full-time, getting preparations in order. Have have a few good logistics friends who helped me secure “certain effervescent beverages” as well. We still are very cogniscent of where we are. All drinks were served in plastic cups and we made sure that the noise level got out of hand. We also let the local police and our landlord know that we were having a little party.
The BBQ started at five, but people are such workaholics here, that people didn’t really start arriving till seven. Sujata and I had put a “mellow mix” and a “happy mix ” Itunes playlist together and had a decent pair of speakers. Eddie, our new admin assistant, also secured a karaoke set… dangerous amongst Indonesians. There was dancing and a lot of fun had by all. We ended up having about a hundred people there. The beauty of Aceh is, there is a twelve o’clock curfew for Ex-pats… so the party didn’t go into the wee hours of the morning. Although we did have to push along some drunk South African pilots!

We had Ibu Murne, our housekeeper, and her family actually work the party for us. They were life savers and they ensured that it was success. They came the day after and cleaned everything up as well. Sunday was the most relaxing day I have had yet. We did NOTHING. I think Sujata, Teh, and I laid on the couch for about four hours. After all the excitement and craziness of party, it felt great to do nothing… I need to try to do that more often.

2nd of July Party: Strike a Pose. Adi figuring out karaoke, Indra looking very Calvin Klein-esque, and Eddie... being Eddie.

2nd of July Party: Our local staff knows how to have a good time!

2nd of July Party: Disco time... who would've thought that our living room would become the "happening-est" dance floor in Aceh!

2nd of July Party: Yes, we KNOW we're beautiful!

2nd of July Party: People slowly arriving... two hours later, it was packed!

2nd of July Party: The Spread

2nd of July Party: Getting the salads ready. Jeff, Ibu Murne, Me, and Ibu Murne's son.

Life Savers: Ibu Murne and her family did all the prep work... cutting over 20 kg of potatoes and so much more!

2nd of July Party: It's a BBQ silly! Jeff showing Lena from Greece and Gulnara from Kazikstan how a REAL hamburger is made.

Wedding: Aceh Style

Saturday 2 July, 2005: Banda Aceh

This is going to be a crazy day. We have our party this evening. I just got back from an Indonesian wedding. Actually, more of a reception. Ayu, Sujata’s assistant, knew the sister of the bride. I felt like I was more at a convention than a wedding ceremony. The reception was in a huge hall. There was a giant stage where the bride and groom were in this little house. The two pairs of parents were in smaller houses to the left and right of the bride and groom. They spent the whole time on the stage. There were periodical dances interrupted with karaoke or people coming to pay their respects. I don’t think I ever saw the bride and groom touch. Both were dressed in traditional wedding costumes. He had the classic Acehenese man’s wedding cap (which I found out that they also wear for their ritual circumcision at age 12!). The bride was beautiful. She truly looked like a china doll. I can see why she didn’t more that much, she had a giant headdress on… I would have been frightened that it would fall off! Interestingly, her bridesmaids were dressed western style blue. And for Aceh, their clothes were quite revealing. Of course, everything is relative. Any other day, the women would only show their hands and face. But here, you could see the lower third of their leg and their arms were bared. They also were not wearing a headcovering. Since this was my first wedding, I don’t know if this was a religious or cultural choice.

I’m glad I went. The food was great and the reception was definitely educational… but I was also surprised. The reception was all pomp and ceremony but no heart. The Acehenese are a passionate people… but this was totally devoid of passion. I felt more like I was at some kind of Indonesian cultural expo. People wandered in and out of the hall… people ate, people left. There were no dining tables set up. Just chairs facing the stage… people got food, sat down, walked around. There was no emotion, no father of the bride dance. In no way was it work, but it was just different.

Wedding--Aceh Style: Ruby, Ayu, the bridal couble, Sujata, and myself (I swear, I look like an overstuffed olive!)

Wedding--Aceh Style: Bride and groom... are we having fun yet?

Wedding--Aceh Style: Dancer performing traditional dances of Aceh.

Wedding--Aceh Style: Dancers perform for the wedding party. His parents are on the left and hers are on the right.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Mulia--Cash for Work in Action: Clearing Debris (photo courtesy of our press office)

Mulia--Cash for Work in Action: Wheelbarrows, sledgehammers, and hoes, the tools of recovery

Mulia--Cash for Work in Action: Distribution of Safety Equipment (photo courtesy of our press office)

Mulia--Cash for Work in Action: Barbara distributing token wheelbarrows to female villagers. (courtesy of our press officer)

Mulia--Cash for Work in Action: Clearing debris on the first day of work (photo courtesy our our press office)

Mulia: Me, trying to be eloquent!