The view from the Air-Asia flight as we approached Sultan Iskandarmuda International Airport was one of peace and serenity: there lay Banda Aceh, at the northern end of Sumatra where the Straits of Melaka meet the Indian Ocean, hugged by green hills below which rice-fields nestled.
I was in Banda Aceh, the capital of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, for about 4 days with my eldest sister and her husband to attend a wedding reception. The bride is the daughter of Pak Amir (extreme left),
an acquaintance of my husband whose respective companies were involved in the construction of an orphanage in Sigli 150 km to the east of Banda Aceh. (Hubby joined us on the day of the reception and stayed one night).
Right-click here for an Encarta map of Aceh in relation to Peninsular Malaysia.
Pak Amir had graciously provided us the use of a car and a guide-cum-driver, Pak Hatta. Upon fetching us at the airport, Pak Hatta, a young father of two, took us on a quick tour of the part of Banda Aceh that was devastated by the great Tsunami of 26/12/2004. We noted that some houses had been re-built but mostly what we saw were roofless concrete structures - much-damaged and apparently abandoned; their occupants, likely to have been whole families, probably perished, according to Pak Hatta. Off course houses made of timber simply disintegrated and were washed as far as 7 km inland.
Pak Hatta remembered that the earthquake preceding the tsunami was extremely powerful, at first shaking front to back and then side-ways and after that the earth shook in powerful wave-like motions for what seemed a long time. There was no other thought in his mind except that hari kiamat was upon them. He was fortunate that he had run for dear life when he heard screams of "LARI! LARI!" when the tsunami came. Of his family only one cousin could not be found.
Not so with Pak Amir. He was fleeing with his family when they were swept by the water which engulfed the whole lower floor of his double-storey house, to a height of about 12 ft. He himself had clung to a tall tree while his three children had managed to save themselves, though unfortunately his wife (Al-marhummah Nurbaiti) had fallen down while running and was never found after that. Pak Amir, who has since re-married to Ibu Widyanti (extreme right in the wedding photo above) has built a 12 ft high wall on one side of his house as a reminder of the calamity.
As with the Al-Rahman mosque (photo below), Pak Amir's house had withstood the onslaught of the tsunami. It was there that hubby had camped in the early days of the orphanage project amidst the rubble of destroyed homes and shop-houses, with dirt-tracks passing for roads. In fact those days he had to travel by road all the way from Medan, a journey of 600 km distance dotted with army check-points and took about 14 hours. There were no hotels and everywhere was army personnel. No wonder he didn't let me tag along on his trips then.
But ever since Aceh province was granted autonomy by the Indonesian Parliament in 2006, whereby the local government enjoys 70 per cent of the revenues from the province's huge natural reserves, hubby noticed a very much more rapid pace of rebuilding, in Banda Aceh at least.
There are now many hotels, double-laned roads, an international airport, absolutely no soldiers, and people seemed to go about their businesses much more enthusiastically than before. Many overseas Acehnese have returned to contribute in the development and one of them eventually became the Governor of Aceh. Also not forgetting one who may have learnt a thing or two in Malaysia and that is the owner of a restaurant called Mamak Canai (alas we couldn't stop to take a photo of the shop when we were passing by).
Although some may feel that achieving autonomy as a hikmah of the tsunami, Pak Amir remarked that he still feels the trauma of his harrowing experience and is living with hypertension now. A lady still wanders among the traffic at a busy roundabout in town as if searching for something or someone, a loved one perhaps?
(Continued in next post)