Thursday, 25 June 2009

A Trip to Banda Aceh - Locals Remember

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).

The Pade Hotel (where we stayed)
View from the courtyard

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)


Pak Zawi said...

Thanks for sharing. Would like to visit Banda Acehsoon.

Kak Teh said...

The mosque is so beautiful. I met some librarians from Acheh and they told me that some of their most important manuscripts manages to be saved because they were kept higher up.One of them told me how he and his wife just sped off on his motorbike, for he knew something not right was happening. He told his wife not to look back. when they went back to their village, it was deserted - their children were all gone.
I still find it hard to believe, almost something out of a spielberg movie.

Madam Markonah said...

My bro went to banda aceh after the calamity on an aid mission. He spoke to a non-muslim shopkeeper who embraced Islam after the tsunami. His shop was opposite the mosque. What made him revert was what he saw during the calamity. He said he saw 4 big men in white holding all 4 corners of the mosque, lifting it up high letting the water flowed underneath. How true the story, Wallahu'alam but fascinating isn't it?

Zendra said...

Salam, Pak Zawi, a pleasure to have you here, I'm very honoured. Yes do visit Banda Aceh - we met a party of Malaysians who had toured Medan as well. It was a Muslim-oriented tour headed by an Ustaz. A subuh solat jema'ah at the famed Al-Rahman mosque was part of the itinerary as well.


Zendra said...

You have to visit it Kak Teh, to appreciate the magnitude of the whole thing. The Acehnese seem undaunted by it now but for first-time visitors like me, selalu got that lump-in-the-throat feeling.

Zendra said...

Fascinating indeed MM. My sister's friend was on a mission too, but was too overcome by the sight of decaying corpses and the devastation that the person returned home much traumatised. Wasn't your brother, certainly. :)

Jeffrey Matisa said...

Dear Zendra

I remember post-tsunami Acheh with much tugging at my heartstrings. I served two tours of 14 days each, flying from Landasan Udara Sultan Iskandar Muda Blang Bintang to Meulaboh, repatriating the IDPs, freighting goods,helping set up field hospitals and a host of other tasks.

So much beauty, so much pain, much too the destruction.

I had always wondered what that land would be like if the brutality of the TNI occupation were removed.

The scale and power of what the waves had wrought was beyond my reckoning, and more apocalyptic than what Hollywood can render. Urban legends were rife. Cabbies refused to drive us into the heart of the city after dusk for fear of phanthoms.

Yes, the resilience of the people was what gave the land a tinge of hope.

Knowing that she is back on her feet is consoling.

Zendra said...

Have to salute you lah Tuan (Col? Capt?) Jeffrey Matisa. I saw the pictures of your Aceh tours in your blog, truly awesome. You were right there in the thick of it. I would have got a huge sense of satifaction had I been directly involved in the humanity aspects of it all.
Yup, I must say helicopter pilots of the Air Force are a different breed altogether. BTW, me big brother flew Caribous once upon a time.

Thanks for hovering over :)

Anonymous said...


,,,beautiful report and from the land my mother's royal bloodline came from !
,,,my buddies from MHS Helicopters were there helping out providing free flight services after the tsunami but i could not participate though i was offered to crew one of the chopper since i was proactively involved in co-developing an iLogistic software then in India. But Capt Rahmat CEO MHS has lots of pictures/stories if you are interested-lah.
,,,One thing good after the Tsunami is that it wiped off all the local pirate boats too !!. Serious, its almost pirate free now in the Straits of Malacca since then. One of them is in Kapas yaaa hahaha.


Zendra said...

So your Mum was an Acehnese princess Capt? Aceh at one time was ruled by 3 Sultanahs in succession (so I read) and once upon a time there was also a lady admiral who had commandered a fleet that defeated some enemies in battle too. So your passion for boats is quite understandable lah.

It would be nice if Capt Rahmat could share some of his photos and stories with us. I think if he has not re-visited Aceh recently, he would be surprised at the changes that have taken place.

TQ and take care.

Anonymous said...

May you tell me your brother's name that fly the Kerebau ?,,,I may know him or him of me !!
Thanks,,,so that we can share some old stories too,,,maybe he was the one that did an air drop at Fort Cabai, went my chopper was still rotor running on ground hehehe.
Not Capt.Hamid/Sulaiman/Yahaya/Syed/Kasim/Othman/????,,,who yaaaa.


Zendra said...

None of the above Capt. Bro left the Force in the 70's and joined MAS. I think he still keeps in touch with one Capt M.Nor also heli squad :)

Anonymous said...

apa nama dia ?

lanun Aceh de kapas

masterwordsmith said...

Wow! Such a beautiful place...What a pity it suffered from the tsunami but the way it has rebuilt itself is amazing.

The bride is really beautiful.

Thanks for sharing. Take care and have a good week.


Zendra said...

Do visit it if you can Paula.

And you have a wonderful week, too :D