Saturday, June 9, 2007

A church, a trip to Lamno, and a birthday party for the Prophet

After a three-week hiatus, I am back. I'm still not really caught up for my on-line school work, but some of the photos have been begging to be blogged, so here I am. Prodding from Pat has helped, too! ;-)

A few weeks ago, on Ascension Day (a public holiday here), I was walking around town when I blundered onto this church:

Choir rehearsal was in full swing, led by Pak (Mr.) Yuniarto. Pak Yuniarto greeted me, asked me where I was from, and then immediately told me that I was doing the first reading. Uh... I'd never been lector before! He said nonsense, anybody could do it, and that the English-language Mass was starting in about 20 minutes!

Then the parish priest, Father Fernando, came out and introduced himself. He's an elderly Italian missionary priest who's been in Banda Aceh for 20-odd years or so, preceded by about 5 years tending the souls in a leper colony in south Aceh. (He didn't say much, but I think he saw a lot of horrible things during the civil war in Aceh.) He said he and his colleagues saved themselves during the tsunami by running to the upper floors of a nearby mosque. He apologized in advance for his poor English, saying that the English-language sermons were difficult for him. A very nice fellow, Father Fernando:

Thus did I find my local parish. So don't worry, Fathers Jerry and Bob in Acme and ER, I'm in good hands! (Fr. Fernando wasn't exaggerating about his English-language sermons, unfortunately!)

I took a ride with Juan Gonzalez to another local tsunami-related oddity, the boat on the roof:

After we took the photo, we walked over to the house on which the boat is sitting. This scene is located relatively close to my Guest House, right near the fishing port of Aceh. It was deposited on the house during the horrible morning of the tsunami, December 26, 2004.

As we walked to the house, the landlord next door came out, and we had a nice chat. We sat under the boat, which is firmly lodged on the roof of the remains of a house that used to be the staff quarters of the Indonesian national oil company. The house was uninhabited at the time of the tsunami. He said that sometime before 9 a.m. (if I recall his story correctly), the big earthquake struck. Things in the house fell down, shelves and cabinets, glassware shattered, everything was a mess. Then, about 15 minutes later, people started running back from the port area, screaming that a wall of water was on the way.

The water started rising very rapidly, and his family and his neighbors ran up to the upstairs of his house, At the highest, the water reached above the second floor, and over 50 people were huddled first on that floor and then on the roof. His concrete house (and the one with the boat on it) were the only houses in the area to survive. All other houses were smashed and swept away. The 50-odd people were able to come down by late afternoon to a scene of utter devastation. He and his family were lucky because they had relatives in a kampung (village) inland from the city, and they reached their relatives at night after walking all afternoon and night. They finally had something to eat around midnight. The unlucky ones were the survivors who had nowhere else to go.

I was told that at Banda Aceh on that morning, many families and young couples had left home after the early morning prayers to the area's stunning beaches to spend a lovely Sunday morning relaxing and picnicking.
Most never came back. The World Bank estimates that 230,000 people lost their lives in Aceh Province that day, all along the west coast of that Province and in Banda Aceh itself.

Today, as you can see from the photos above, the neighborhood is rebuilding. New houses are all over the place, and pretty soon there'll be no way to move the boat out even if anybody wanted to! A typical house rebuilt with assistance from one of the NGOs (non-government organizations) that poured into the area for relief is just across the road from the house with the boat. This particular house was provided by CARE.

To show you the extent of the housing (and other) reconstruction in the countryside, I'll show you some pictures of a weekend day trip I took with a bunch of people from my office to Lamno, a district town about 70 km away from Banda Aceh. The road trip took us down the west coast of Aceh province, which took the brunt of the tsunami. We were joined by Margaret Stoffel, another former Peace Corps volunteer that served in Malaysia over 30 years ago with Juan and me. Margaret had just arrived in Banda Aceh the previous week to join our project staff. As we set out of the city, we pass some roadside fruit stands catering to motorists:

Our young driver, Mumun, is excited. He's from that area, and is muttering something about the "blue-eyed girls of Lamno:"

The coastline of the west coast of Aceh is often rugged and mountainous. We see the beginnings of the mountains as we head out:

Much of the coastal road was damaged or washed away, and temporary, unpaved roads and temporary bridges constructed by emergency repairs in the first phase of reconstruction have kept the road open. US Aid is constructing about 250 km of this highway, and Japanese aid is constructing the road further to the south. We cross numerous rivers. We only saw one intact bridge in the whole journey. Whole stretches of pavement had disappeared, carried away by the receding tsunami.

The coastline is beautiful! I'm hard-pressed to imagine a wall of water coming in --- I understand it was an equally beautiful day on December 26, 2004. In some coastal areas, because of the geometry of the coastline and the layout of the coastal plains areas, the wall of water rushing in exceeded 20+ meters in height (67+ feet), and in some places it was as high as 30 m (99 feet)! Recall that in Banda Aceh, next to the house with the boat, the 50 neighbors were standing on the roof of the house.

We start to see signs of reconstruction as we pass coastal communities affected by the tsunami. While the city of Banda Aceh has erased most of its scars, the countryside is still rebuilding. The herculean efforts of the Indonesian government and the international community made emergency repairs to the smashed roads, and allowed a flood of foreign gov't aid and NGOs and private organizations to fund and supply massive amounts of new housing and basic infrastructure for the survivors. We see many signs for housing reconstruction like the following, this one with some US AID (Agency for International Development) money :

Another housing project in a fishing village, well away from the coastline, but along a river for access to the coast:

Along the temporary road here were the remains of the foundations of the fishermen's houses that had been washed away by the tsunami... the superstructures had disappeared. Whole villages disappeared without a trace on that horrific day.

More housing reconstruction, this one a partnership of Oxfam and Muslim Aid:

The houses seem pretty nice. The World Bank estimates the need for housing to be around 93,000 to 120,000 . NGOs and foreign governments have responded admirably well, and many tens of thousands of houses and buildings have already been built, and many are underway. However, the reconstruction of other civil infrastructure (roads, water supply, sewerage and sanitation, irrigation systems, drainage and flood control facilities, ports and other transportation facilities) have been much slower. NGOs know how to make houses, but are not as conversant in these other types of works. (This is where our project is supposed to help fill the gaps.)

And the US cavalry arrives! Just kidding. Well, actually, the US and Australian navies did arrive when the need was greatest, and their sea freight ability and amphibious landing equipment did
greatly help ease the dire situation in the isolated coastal communities.

The reconstruction of the terribly damaged coastal road we're on is starting, with the US AID paying for the design and construction of this highway. Unfortunately, I understand that land acquisition problems have caused a steep rise in project cost, a subsequent scaling down of the project, and a long delay in implementation. But things are finally starting! Below the "USAID" line, it says, "From the People of America," and "Construction of the Banda Aceh - Meulaboh Road."

Surveyors, grading crews, and bridge builders are all along the coastal highway:

And contractors' staging areas and equipment depots are springing up all over the place. Folks, whatever its problems, this road project is your tax dollars at work, for a very good cause!

We pass through a fishing town and go past a roadside stall selling dried fish of various types:

By this time, we're only halfway to Lamno, and we've been on this (mostly) unpaved temporary road for the past few hours. We decide to rest our weary behinds at a local waterfall attraction:

There are busloads of local school kids going to cool off at the pool of water below the waterfall:

Some of us decide to sit down for a coffee break at the local coffee shop. The group, including Yours Truly, is a hodge-podge group of project staff from office boy to team leader:

The shop owner agreed to have his picture taken, but he insisted on getting his picture taken by his big curry pot:

Refreshed, we soon resume our journey along the coast. "Bailey Bridges" like these enable us to cross coastal rivers and inlets along the temporary highway. As I noted above, we only noticed one intact bridge in the tsunami-affected area. It's hard to imagine the incredible force and violence with which the water struck...

We continue to drive along the stunningly beautiful, but scarred, coastline.

We notice what used to be (according to our driver) a beautiful coastal spot lined with coconut groves. All that remains are stumps. There are attempts to grow pine trees (the parallel lines behind the stumps) on the beach.

Many beautiful coves and beaches are similarly bare of coconut and other trees that normally adorn coastlines:

We climb to a vista point where we take a short break before we start the descent inland toward Lamno. We take photos and admire the view --- islands, coral, and crystal clear blue water !

The crew insist I become the subject of a photo instead of taking pictures of them all the time. As I see this picture, I'm amazed at how much I'm reminded of my Dad ...

An eagle soars below, and my telephoto lens captures it. I wonder if it saw the tsunami from above....

As we begin our descent toward Lamno, we view some coastal valley communities that are rebuilding. In this community, some housing and the community center are nearly complete, but the mosque is still missing its dome...

As we near the district town of Lamno, we start seeing more traffic and people.

We approach the outlying areas of the town. Our driver starts talking about the blue-eyed beauties of Lamno again.

Apparently, many girls have blue eyes when they are infants and very young, but the eye colors change as they grow older. Something to do with shipwrecked/captured Dutch/Portugese/British (pick one) sailors, and, well, you know ... I decide to see if my D40 and telephoto can be used in a quick windshield survey to capture any blue-eyed girls.

The results are inconclusive, so we adjourn to a restaurant for a late lunch before we head back to Banda Aceh. We are given plates full of rice, and we line up in front of the food display and pile whatever dish we want on the rice. We pay for what we take.

This is my lunch --- curried fish and gravy, a piece of deep-fried fish, and some cooked local veggies all placed on the rice on the plate. I figured that this place was close enough to the coast that the fish should be fresh and delicious. They were. Note the bottled water --- always a good idea when visiting an area for the first time! The plastic bag contains some crackers that are good as a condiment with the rice dishes.

On the way back, we stop and spend an hour or so at a nice, sandy beach outside Banda Aceh. The late afternoon crowd is checking out the scene:

Margaret and IT support guy Bagus take a dip. Bagus brought swimming trunks, but Margaret goes right in wearing whatever she was wearing earlier...

Elsewhere, surfers do their thing. Before the tsunami changed everything, the nearby island of Nias was an international surfing attraction.

Our secretary Santi, who organized this trip, is joined by her husband at the beach stop. Santi is the second wife of her husband.. The first wife apparently did not survive the tsunami.

Our production manager, Henny, also joins us at the beach with her fiance. Henny couldn't make it on the trip with us, because she and her fiance were picking out her wedding dress. Henny will be married in November. I am looking forward to photographing what I hope will be a traditional Acenese wedding!

Before we head back to town, we cool off with coconut water. The shopkeeper lops off the top of the coconut with a machete, exposing the cavity containing the coconut water. After drinking the cool coconut water with a straw, we use a long spoon to scrape off and eat the soft coconut flesh lining the water reservoir.

The next day, we were all invited to the house of Udin, another one of our drivers. The occasion was Maulid, the celebration of the birthday of Prophet Mohammed. Udin and his family held a kenduri, a feast inviting all neighbors, relatives, and friends to their house for a big meal. We arrived and are immediately ushered inside to the food table. Again, we are given a plate of rice and we take what we want and put them on the rice. The rice is garnished with some spices --- it itself is a festive dish.

As guests come and go, food is continually replenished. Here the hostess (Udin's wife, in green) and her mother (or is it Udin's mom?) add rice to the depleted rice pot.

Here's the dessert table. Lots of traditional Aceh sweets made from bananas, tapioca, sweet sticky rice, gelatin, and also some watermelon:

A close-up of the sweets that Santi's husband brought for Juan and me (which Juan can't eat because it's too sweet): banana that's been stewed in something very sweet (probably coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk?), some jackfruit (the yellow thing sticking up from the sweet broth), and sweet sticky rice (the white and brown stuff). Very high in calories, high in carbs, and probably also high in cholesterol. In short, a great dessert!!

The guests are continuously arriving and departing --- they eat, chat for a short time, and leave to make room for other neighbors and friends.

In one of the inner rooms, our crew sits down for the serious business of eating. Nora, at left, is our accountant who commutes every other week from her home in Bandung, on the island of Java. Henny is to Nora's right, and then Margaret. Next to Margaret is Udin, our host. Our secretary Santi is at the right.

More guests arrive and enjoy the meal. Everybody is having a good time, and stuffing their faces...

as am I !!! (Juan Gonzalez on the left, Santi's husband on the right.)