terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Nias, Part Five

09 April 2005
Packed, ready and eager to go. After the first aftershock, my mind and emotions have been rattled by the subsequent ones; enough that I begin to fear for the safety of the medical team who are staying an additional four nights. I consider the things I'll miss about being on these assignments: the evenings spent in the kampong atmosphere, the jittery anticipation of aftershocks, the slower lifestyle and living the day-to-day in uncertainty and potential danger.

Not quite the adrenaline junkie, I am.

I wake up earlier than everyone else and spend the morning sitting in the porch, smoking my last cigarettes, and watching the town wake up around me. The pork seller across the road has brisk business; he's sold most of his meat by the time the last member of the team is awake.

The others wake up later than before. We were told the previous day that MR would be pulling out of Gunungsitoli after our medical team leaves, either Monday or Thursday, as scheduled. With the withdrawal of the RSAF helos (slated for Monday), it would become too risky for new teams to take our place - a RAMS nightmare as I know it. Much of the work at the clinic has been taken over by the Singapore Red Cross. At 0830 hours, the time we would normally be at work, the team is still in the house watching Ocean's 12 and Alexander on VCD. They stay in the house until the electricity trips in the middle of Colin Farrell's rather insipid performance as the Macedonian.

I take a walk around the neighbourhood; the first time I'm allowed to do that (it is, after all, my last day in Gunungsitoli and there isn't much left for this makeshift logistician to do). For some people, the earthquake came as a blessing, enabling them to rebuild and add another gaudy wing to an already gaudy mansion. For some, it's an opportunity for exploitating their neighbours. For others, it's something they've gotten used to.



Nias #27
Originally uploaded by Terz.



Nias #28
Originally uploaded by Terz.

We get to the airport at 1000 hours. H and W are going out the same time and we catch the first of the Chinooks landing for the day. Only to be told that she's not headed to Medan. We settle down to wait.

For six hours. At some point in time, we consider paying for a commercial flight out to Medan on Merpati Air.

But at 1700 hours, two hours after the last Merpati flight left Gunungsitoli, we finally get a place on the last Chinook of the day.


Nias #29
Originally uploaded by Terz.

We share it with two patients who are being evacuated to the hospital in Medan. The trip outbound seemed a lot faster than when we came in. Or maybe it was just a load's lifted off my back.


Nias #30
Originally uploaded by Terz.


***

We arrive in Medan a little after 1900 hours and we get whisked to the spanking new shopping mall (Sun Plaza) where the appearance of the three of us (W in his 'stolen' hospital OR bajus, and I, tracking dust from every pore and thread on my body) caused quite a stir. Only H looked the most normal until someone got to within three meters of him.

I am again reminded of what F's patient said to him. And I cannot but agree. Here in Medan, but one hour by commercial flight away, people carry on with their lives as if nothing had happened 500 km away. They look well-to-do, shopping in the most fashionable of boutiques and buying all the latest electronics, where a concert in the atrium has has-beens and never-weres belting out 60s and 70s Chinese hits at the top of their lungs.

In Gunungsitoli, it's foreign NGOs and militaries and charity workers - the YMCA and Muhammiyah groups - from other parts of Indonesia (some from as far away as Sulawesi) who's been doing all the sweating and moving.

Perplexing.

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