terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Meulaboh, Part 7

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Day 1 Fox
We spend only six hours at the Sekolah Muhammadiyah on our first day.

By 1500 hours, the SAF vehicle comes by, along with instructions for us to load up. We pack up, feeling a little miffed that we've not done as much as we'd set out to do.

Before we get to the shoreline and the supposedly waiting FCUs, we make a stop at Postko, where foreign military helicopters bring much-needed aid to hard-to-reach parts of Aceh, to requisition wheelbarrows and shovels for what's needed to be done at the school the rest of the week. During the drive, we are suddenly aware of the sudden, almost arbitrary, change in the landscape. We turn a corner and find ourselves in a completely different world. Here, the buildings are intact. And the smell isn't that strong. People walk the bustling streets and visit roadside stalls as if nothing had happened to their neighbours just a block away. There is an air of nonchalance that the team finds hard to stomach.


Meulaboh, End Day 1 #1
Originally uploaded by Terz.



Meulaboh, End Day 1 #2
Originally uploaded by Terz.


Back at the shore, we find out that the other teams of NGOs have not returned. Eddie had suggested earlier that the Muslims in the team take a walk to the only remaining mosque on the shoreline to offer a quick prayer for the souls of the dead. For want of something to do, and irritated that we had been called away from the school before we could really get going, we agree and get permission from the SAF personnel ADC to the Task Force Commander.

During the walk, I am struck by the human detritus all around me: the shoe of a child's doll wedged in among concrete blocks; cooking utensils; a broken crockery; torn footwear; a woman's clothes from the shell of a building, bedraggled and scattered by the wind; more handbags; knitted purses; more water-damaged photo albums than I care to count; and prized family possessions of various forms and value.


Meulaboh, End Day 1 #3
Originally uploaded by Terz.


And all around us, the smell of death.

At one point, Eddie can't go on. I offer to go back to the waiting area with him, but he doesn't take it up. He wants to get to the mosque.


Meulaboh, End Day 1 #4
Originally uploaded by Terz.



Meulaboh, End Day 1 #5
Originally uploaded by Terz.


We arrive at the mosque and I witness a beautiful moment of the Muslims at prayer in this fragile shell of a building. We learn later that many of the victims, believing it to be the end of the world, rushed pell-mell to the mosque to pray instead of placing more distance between them and the tsunamis. Though the mosque was built on strong foundations, the walls offered inadequate protection against the fury of the sea; the waves caught up with them there and swept them away. I marvel at the suddenly flawed beauty of the mosque. It must have been beautiful once. Now it stands in the midst of all the destruction, a stark reminder of the tragedy. We spend the rest of the time in the mosque in silence, but everyone knows what the others are thinking: it may be only one school out of 153, it may be only one building out of thousands, but we will rebuild.


Meulaboh, End Day 1 #6
Originally uploaded by Terz.


It is another three hours before we're back on the Endeavour. But in that brief, wonderful moment, we became a team.

(To be continued)

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