Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I haven't talked much about the Tsunami and its devastating impact on Banda Aceh yet so here is what I've learned in the few weeks I've been here. Forgive me if some of the details are vague but I am still learning about the history of the place.

Nearly everyone in Banda Aceh lost family members in this horrific disaster. 40% of the population was killed.

People divide history into two categories: Before Tsunami and After Tsunami.

Before tsunami, Banda Aceh was in the midst of a long-running civil war. The province wanted independence from the central government of Indonesia. Aceh province was a very dangerous area, with battles going on everywhere, including Banda Aceh city. The few people I've talked to about it said that it was very risky to even leave their homes most of the time.

A peace agreement between GAM and the government was signed a few weeks after the Tsunami. This agreement still holds, but there are pockets of GAM strongholds in more rural areas that still want independence. There is a national election next year and it is anticipated that GAM representatives will win throughout Aceh province.

So the population of the province was already traumatized when the tsunami hit. The 9-meter (30 foot) wall of water wiped out a large portion of the city almost instantly. The portions that were not flooded were without water, electricity, and food for a long time before aid arrived. People searched desperately for loved ones. Livelihoods, homes, businesses, and possessions were destroyed in a few minutes.

People talk about what happened quite frankly, and the topic pops up frequently in coversations. I'm a bit reluctant to ask people about it because I know everyone lost loved ones.

Here are some pictures from the first few days after the tsunami from MSF (Medicins Sans Frontieres), who were one of the first groups on the ground. I have not posted the most horrific ones as they are far too disturbing.

Its almost as if a giant scrub brush came along and scraped the beach areas completely clean and dumped everything inland. You can see the strength of the water in the below pictures showing massive boats that were carried several kilometers inland. What is remarkable is the fact that you would hardly know that the tsunami ever happened now. The ruins have been cleared away and most of the city rebuilt. The only giveaway is the row upon row of identical freshly constructed homes lining the flats near the beach. The hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money that poured into Banda Aceh helped to reconstruct many of the homes that were demolished.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I'm alone in the house this weekend as Geraldine went to Sabang, an island off the coast, for the weekend. With the incessant Koran-reading going on all night I haven't been sleeping well, and a wee bit nervous about being alone in this huge house all by myself. So when a sound like a horse running across the roof and then someone walking around the back yard happened in the middle of the night, I was freaked out. I got up, turned on all the lights and looked around, thinking there was someone in the yard or on the roof. when it stopped i went back to sleep.

I was in the kitchen and heard the same clattering on the roof and in the yard so went out in the back yard and had a look. Couldn't see anything, so i went upstairs and looked out the window at the tree, and there was a great big animal!! I grabbed the flashlight and had a closer look, it looked like a cross between a cat and an opossum, but was much bigger than either of these, i'd say around 40lb. I looked it up on the internet and here is a picture:

much cuter than american possums!!

Monday, September 1, 2008


Ramadan started today, well, actually yesterday...night. Here is a brief description of Ramadan:

Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان, Ramaḍān) is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, believed to be the month in which the Qur'an was revealed to Angel Gabriel which later was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which Muslims don't eat or drink anything from dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the person patience and humility. Ramadan is a time to fast for the sake of God, and to offer even more prayer than usual. Also, asking forgiveness for the sins of the past, asking for guidance in the future, and asking for help with refraining from every day evils and try to purify oneself through self-restraint and good deeds is involved in Ramadan.

Muslims pray five times a day, and there is a call to prayer at each of these times, broadcast from mosques with varying loudness and intensity. Its actually a beautiful sound, the Imam (holy man/priest) calling the faithful to prayer. Click here to listen:

During Ramadan, people read and recite the entire Koran. I didn't realize, however, that some mosques broadcast this recital over the loudspeaker and it lasts all night long! We have a mosque near our house and the reading (in much the same musical voice as the call to prayer) started at sundown and went on till sunup. Despite ear plugs It was so loud that I couldn't sleep. Not to be disrespectful, but this is going to be a long month!