Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Circle is Complete

Tuesday, 9 August, 2005: Jakarta

I write these last lines from Jakarta. The proverbial “Leaving on a Jet Plane” plays in my head. And after all the shopping and gifts for Simone and others back at home, my bags are as heavy as my heart.

Banda Aceh has been a life-changing experience for this delegate. Yes, this was my summer internship, but it didn’t feel anything like that. While I have served in Germany, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Iraq, this experience has been unique. I was usually locked down on a military installation serving our troops, but here, I was out in the field, walking among the people and making friends. I found it extremely gratifying to watch a concept paper become a proposal and then become a vibrant program. It’s one thing to sit in a dusty warehouse and negotiate pick-ax prices with a vendor, but quite another thing to place two thousand of those in grateful workers’s hands. To look at village “before and after” pics and say… I had something to do with that! I also loved watching others grow as individuals. When villagers first came to us, they had a "what's in it for me" approach. Many were here because we had money. As we talked with them and worked with them, their attitudes changed greatly. They saw that we were not a "fly-by-night" NGO and that we are here to empower the community. They also realized that our projects are not about "giving them something," but about instilling community resilience and community action planning.

Aceh is also a place like no other, this goes for the people as well. If you ask a Javanese, what is the stereotypical Achenese person, they would say they are arrogant, proud, and someone who refuses to follow directions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people's smiles and laughter in the face of tragedy has humbled me and shown me a positively resilient attitude that I never would have expected. They opened their homes to me, they opened their hearts. In many ways, they have given me much more than I could ever give them. The last few days have been very tearful. My housekeeper and surrogate mom, Ibu Murne, has not stopped crying for five days. We had a small farewell on Saturday… and it was my chance for the tears to flow… and they flowed in a stop-go fashion for several hours. The house that night was heavy, heavy with love. Not love for me, but love for each other and the mission and dream we share together for rebuilding Aceh. These people have taken a foot-hold on my heart and will never let go and I don’t want them to let go either! I can’t say good-bye, I refuse… Aceh and its people are too wonderful to never NOT return.

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