Friday, September 08, 2006

X's and O's from Banda Aceh

"Hello!" That's what we say to all the Acehnese people and they all say it back. We wanted to learn how to say hello in Bahasa Indonesia or the local dialect, Acehnese, but in Indonesian they get quite specific. There's a greeting for "Hello this morning," or "Hello this early afternoon" or "Hello this late afternoon" et cetera. We are barely wrapping our mouths around "Thank you" although we have mastered that ("Terima kasih!"). Very useful. Smiles all around.

Not a lot of blogging going on over here in my neck of the woods. But while I have this precious moment of (slo-o-o-o-w) connectivity, I'll fill you in a little.

We've been visiting a lot of CARE projects in the area. Driving there is always a bumpy affair. The roads are in disrepair and there are sometimes just massive gaping holes. The roads seem like they're all in a jumble, like a loose pile of yarn with no pattern. Everywhere we go there are half-built houses.

Goats and chickens wander. Sometimes we go into a village and see cows, and we're never more than 30 minutes from the CARE office and the home we're staying in.

I've been sweltering in long sleeves and pants in tropical weather. I practically self-shower all day long inside my clothes, I'm sweating so much. However, the women here were SEVERAL layers to be extra modest and their jilbab (or "hijab", their head covering) is TWO layers, which I didn't know until our new friend Indah took hers off to show us. There's a layer underneath which seems like it's made of something like neoprene and therefore seems sporty, and then the silky scarf on top, all firmly attached right under the chin so as not to show any neck. I want to jump into a big pile of ice just thinking about it.

The little girls in their jilbab though - they are just way too precious. All eyes and shy smiles. They are so adorable! They are a bit shyer than the boys (at least at first) who I often hear yelling "Bule!" (foreigner) when we arrive.

When I first arrived here, I was shown an aerial photo of the area immediately after the tsunami. The water left a very distinct footprint on the land. Everything on the shoreline was stripped, every single building, and it was all brown except for one shining, white jewel. The grand mosque. It seemed completely untouched and pristine in the photo - truly boggling. It starts to make sense why the people here, devoutly Muslim, believe that the tsunami was a warning from Allah.

When it comes to the death toll in this region, numbers are so large that they hardly make sense when you see them in print in the newspaper. 167 000 really starts to mean something else when you are experiencing so much generosity from the Acehnese people themselves. On our first day here, we stopped at a mass grave of 50 000. Even here, it's difficult to comprehend the numbers. But each person that we meet has their own story. I probably have enough to count on one, maybe two hands. Those stories involve many deaths. It's my tiny way of starting to understand the grief and resilience of the people I meet.

I've met one little girl who lost her mother, father and two brothers in the tsunami. They were all holding hands and trying to run when they were overcome by the wave. She says that she still felt their hands even when they were submerged, her mother and father were holding on to her hands so tightly. Until suddenly they weren't. She woke up to her concerned neighbours crowded around her. She still can't talk about it which is why a psychosocial field officer with CARE told us her story.

Plenty of people have told me about losing their mother or father or daughter quite openly. In an interview situation, we all know what questions are coming, which is why the younger ones are asked in advance whether they want to be asked about the tsunami. However, stories of loss sometimes come up unexpectedly. Our driver (lovely man!) has been taking us around all day and night for 3 days and we just today had a moment to try and communicate with him via our phrasebook (normally we have a translator but today it was just me and Anne). Anne eagerly started to make small talk. "How many children do you have?" might have been our second or third question. "Four" he gestured with his fingers. "How many girls?" she asked. "Two" he gestured. But one died in the tsunami. He was smiling when he said this. These people have told their stories so many times to so many foreigners. Anne blurted out "Sorry." And then we didn't know what else to say. I watched him today in a handicrafts class, chatting with some little girls about the bracelets they were making. Then I saw him sit in a corner and make one himself.

I think I hear him honking outside right now. Must be time to go. Hope I have time to post. Write me! (Although I truly don't know when I'll ever be able to write you back...).

xoxo from Banda Aceh.


Blogger antonella said...

this is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. these people sound so amazing & I look forward to seeing your doc.
as ct said, we miss you a heaps load! stay sweaty & safe.
<3 a.l.

10:10 AM  

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