Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Painful Memories in Banda Aceh – Indonesia

Today my thoughts are with our friends in Banda Aceh, Indonesia who suffered yet another earthquake last night at a magnitude of 8.6 and an aftershock at 8.3. Although there are no reports yet of death or injury, or even extensive damage, I know all too well how frightening it can be for the people who’ve suffered the effects of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. I experienced a very small earthquake in Banda Aceh in 2007 when I was there managing a post-tsunami reconstruction program for houses and markets, and remember clearly the panic and fear it caused. It also opened old wounds for those who lost their family, their home and their livelihoods in the disaster. I’m sure those wounds are felt again today.

During my time in Aceh, it was very sad for me to listen to tales about the tsunami, about how most men were out to sea fishing and came home to swept away villages and lost their wives and children. Whenever I met someone and asked how many children they had, they would always respond with the total number of children followed by a solemn explanation of how many they lost and how many were still alive, if any. One man who worked at the cement factory close to the sea described how he saw the wave coming and he climbed one of the smoke stacks as high as he could, holding on as tightly as he could when the wave hit him. When he opened his eyes and looked all around there was nothing, just a receding sea and debris. He trudged home knee deep in mud for the whole day to find his family, luckily unharmed on high ground.

It is these kinds of memories that caused a near panic in the streets back in 2007 when I was there. I was in the center of town at lunch time when all of a sudden people started running outside. I hadn’t even felt the earthquake myself but could guess by everyone’s reaction. It was a mere 5.0 and negligible but it still caused mayhem and near panic in the streets. People rushed home to their families or to pick up children from school. Days afterward there were reports of people so disturbed by the earthquake and tsunami alarms that were triggered by the earthquake that they decided to destroy them. This is not a very logical thing to do when living in a disaster-prone area, but people’s fears and emotions get the best of them and they want to remove any remnants of a tortured memory.

I know that time heals old wounds but to my friends in Banda Aceh I want to say that I know how you must be feeling today. I hope that you are all OK. I’m thinking of you and sending you all big big hugs.

Lampageu, Aceh - Indonesia, December 2006

Previously written on 1/23/2007: The location of these pictures is one of the hardest hit spots around the city of Banda Aceh.  Tiny rises of city buildings lie behind the distant palm trees and my imagination conjures up scenes of the 100 foot wave crashing down onto the coast, flooding the city and carrying the villages that would have once been in these photos out to sea.  I see this scene every time I visit this village where we train women to weave rattan as an income generation activity.

Along my drive out to other project sites, I often marvel at the beautiful scenery around me and think, “And this is work?”  The pristine beaches, aqua blue ocean, swelling waves and sparkling sand against a backdrop of tropical forest where the locals claim to spot tigers.  The Western or sometimes referred to as Southern (confusion due to its South/West orientation) coastline is rugged.  Surf is always up and the beaches ladened with shells – a surfer’s and beach comber’s paradise.  I’m grateful to experience the purity but selfishly hope it never succumbs to the ravages of tourism.  This euphoria over working in paradise lasts a pleasurable two minutes as my daydream fades into reality…

The stony footprints of crushed houses peaking through the underbrush of beach bushes, the dead trunks of coconut trees snapped in half, the rows of temporary shelter barracks, and the scattered boxy, cement houses built by NGO’s  all remind me that this place is not exactly paradise lost, but rather devastation found.


3 comments on “Painful Memories in Banda Aceh – Indonesia

  1. allthingsboys
    April 12, 2012

    Such a sad reality…

    • Wanderlustress
      April 17, 2012

      It is so sad to remember such tragedies but there are a lot of hopeful things, too. The people are so lovely and resilient and the place is just so beautiful.

  2. travelladywithbaby
    April 11, 2012

    Heartbreaking – I was called into work to answer phones. Most of us wept during our breaks, I don’t know what it would be like to have survived it.

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