Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Farewell to Sabang

Monday, 1 August, 2005: Banda Aceh

One week until I leave Aceh. As I right this a lump is forming in my throat. Yes, I want to be home, but it’s also bittersweet because I know many of the people I meet here I will never see again. But we’re not trying to think about it. Heck, I’m busier than I’ve been all summer and still have so much to do!

But our team took a break this weekend. We took all of our local staff to Sabang, a sleepy little island four hours by ferry off the coast of Banda Aceh. I was in Sabang for a day back in June… actually, on a dive boat off the coast, but this time we actually stayed in bungalows on the island… very much a camp feel. The bungalows are small houses on stilts. They have VERY BASIC accommodations, but you don’t need a lot of AC when you have the breeze coming off the ocean. Teh, our wat-san engineer has been on Sabang several times doing assessments. The island was also affected by the tsunami. They lost about 150 people and also have internally displaced person camps.

But… we were trying hard not to think about work. It really was about bonding as a team. Our local staff is very near and dear to my heart. After all, I hired everyone of them! They really are part of our team and we would fail miserably if it wasn’t for them. We also brought our housekeeper, Ibu Murne, and her husband and son. It truly was a great weekend. It was also Ruby’s first week back. She had been knocked out for almost a month with typhoid fever and it felt great to hear her squeals of laughter.

There is something laidback about beach culture, regardless of where you are. Aceh is a strictly Muslim province and the only women not wearing headscarves are Chinese and westerners. But as soon as the ferry docked in the port, you saw women undoing their headscarves and tossing their now-free hair in the island breeze. It had an effect on all of us. I felt like one of the characters in the Twilight Zone "Kick the Can" episode where we all revert to children. It was a refreshing that I have not experienced in years.

We drove to the bungalows over a coastal road lined with rocky cliffs on one side and jungle on the other. We passed many a monkey and ran over a two meter long snake. After we checked in, we had a late dinner of freshly caught grilled grouper and after an amazing moonlit walk on the beach, the team retired by eleven. We were up at seven to catch a dive/snorkeling boat. It dropped a group off at a natural coral garden and then took Kerry (a dive-friend of mine from Australia) and I to a great dive site. While we were diving, our drivers stayed on the boat and unsuccessfully tried to catch our dinner. They did catch two blue trigger fish… but I must say, these fish are stunning underwater… and very sad and small when their lying dead on the floor of your boat. Interestingly though, they have a very thick skin and can stay on a boat without ice for up to twenty-four hours without going bad.

After a day of diving and snorkeling, we returned back to bungalows and took naps. Teh, our grillmaster, actually insisted on bringing our charcoal grill from Banda Aceh… Unfortunately, we didn’t have anything to throw on it. We had to send a crew into the village to pick up fish. At five-thirty, right before sunset, we herded the group in our cars and drove up the north west coast of the island to “Kilometer Zero” which is the most northerly and westerly point of Indonesia. It started raining… and once we got the required photo to prove we were there, we headed back to the bungalows. Despite the sprinking, we still had a great bbq and were up till two in the morning talking… we also discovered the local hooch, a banana-chocolate liqueur… yes, it tastes as bad as it sounds! I signed off at two but several people went fishing until four in the morning. Ruby (see pic) caught a sizeable squid!

The next day was spent lazily having breakfast and talking. A few people went snorkeling from the beach… I just enjoyed not thinking of work. We sent the drivers in the morning on the car ferry and took a fast ferry in the afternoon. While the car ferry docks outside of Banda Aceh (the port is still destroyed from the tsunami), the faster passenger ferry is smaller and can dock in Ulelee, the old Banda Aceh port. It’s also in the heart of tsunami country. I cannot describe the feeling you have. You’ve just had an amazing weekend on a proverbial island paradise, taken a modern fast ferry, and you dock in place that looks like an atom bomb struck. As we got off the ferry, there was a broken down mosque in front of us… it was the only standing building in a 10 or fifteen acre radius. Utter devastation, sobering like nothing I can put into words. The tsunami actually struck while the ferry was on the way from Sabang to Banda Aceh. In the water they didn’t feel a thing… it was only when they arrived to Banda Aceh and couldn’t find the port that they realized something had gone terribly wrong. The friends who were waiting to pick them up were dead and the homes that they were coming back to were gone. Life in color, going to black and white.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

it was a truly eye opening experience. my mission was for 2 weeks on the island of Sabang, made a couple of trips to Banda where the devastation is unspeakable and as I write this a colleague of mine has just come back from there, says the situation is still status quo, not much done.

Global Sikhs

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