terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Meulaboh, Part 14


Day 4 Actual
I wake up at 0515 hours this morning, 45 minutes before the wakey-wakey pipe, and only 4 hours after I fall asleep. It had been a restless night. And not just for me. Some of the guys in our mess are getting disturbed in their sleep too, with A getting it the worst. He hasn't slept much since we left Singapore, averaging about 2 hours every night, if he's lucky.

It's the final day onshore for those of us who are not Muslim. Tomorrow is Hari Raya Haji and there is a special ceremony planned for the Muslims at the mosque, then at Posko and later at one of the mass burial sites. I am also informed via SMS that we should expect the arrival of a VVIP at the school, and that I should take photos of the visit. I let the others know about the possible visit and accompanying media circus. Like me, they are not impressed. In the end, the VVIP does not show up, and we are glad for it.

On the shore, we are told the story of the battalion of soldiers who had been barracked, with their families, in the TNI camp along the coast. Like the firefighters who ran into the burning WTC towers on September 11, these men were too busy helping the people of Meulaboh (of want-away Aceh) after the earthquake to notice the waves coming in. Of the 700, only 8 survived. We'd spotted another body, only the day before, on our way back to the shore and it was clad in army fatigues. I wonder if he had been one of the 692 lost, washed and deposited more than 1.5 km inland.

Meulaboh, Day 3 #7
Originally uploaded by Terz.

I make the decision not to shoot too many photos today and to help my teammates on the last day of our efforts in the school. The Indonesian volunteers have come back as well and the work is moving at a pretty quick pace. By lunch, though, I have become my worst nightmare: I am burning books in the courtyard. I'm bound for a special place in Hell reserved for Qin Shi Huang Di, Nazis and fundamentalist, ultra-right Christians. Kim quotes Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), "Wherever they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn people." Not exactly. But close enough. It's ironic, but fitting as well, I guess, for an ex-teacher. Books which are deemed irrecoverable are tossed into the flames. It's with some sadness I watch the pages curl and turn black, then to ash, from the flames.

Meulaboh, Day 3 #8
Originally uploaded by Terz.

We must have made an impression on the people in the neighbourhood. A boy cycles up to the school and shyly hands over a packet of USAid Daily Rations to us. It's a small thing, but it brightens our day: we know we're doing something right.

Meulaboh, Day 3 #9
Originally uploaded by Terz.

No one wants to eat the lentil stew and bean salad though.

(To be continued)

Having used up the 10MB that Flickr has given me for this month, the next installment will be posted only on 1 March 2005.



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