terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Meulaboh, Part 4


Day 1 Charlie
We had been assigned to clean up a school, the Sekolah Muhammadiyah, one of only seven of the 153 schools still structurally sound, to get it ready for use on Monday, 24 January 2005.

It is located in the neighbourhood hardest hit by the tsunamis. As we drive in, there is at least three feet of dark mud piled on both sides of the lane. Locals either eye us with suspicion, or with open welcome.

We get to the school and are suddenly struck dumb by the enormity of the job before us. The school from the outside, is nondescript. The same three feet of mud is all over the front of the school, along with the skeletal remains of a mud-caked fishing boat, lying on its port side, right next to the stone signboard of the school, which it had knocked down while carried inland by the force of the tsunami. As we climb off the SAF vehicle, labourers hired by the school's principal are hauling away the boat's engine.

Meulaboh, Sekolah Muhammadiyah #1
Originally uploaded by Terz.

Meulaboh, Sekolah Muhammadiyah #2
Originally uploaded by Terz.

We pause for a moment when we see what's inside the school: there are four buildings, each forming one side of the quadrangle in which there once was a volleyball court/ assembly area. The entrance is through the administrative block, with the principal's office and teachers' staff rooms. To our right are the science laboratories. Directly ahead of us is a two-storey building containing 7 classrooms. To our left, the library block and the classroom for religious lessons. That building bore the brunt of the tsunamis, the pillars facing the main road outside were bent at an angle - like someone had taken a sledgehammer to them, smashing them in at about 4 feet off the ground - forcing the roof to tilt dangerously in that direction.

Meulaboh, Sekolah Muhammadiyah #3
Originally uploaded by Terz.

The principal, Pak Ali, tells us what is needed to be done: the tables and chairs need to be returned to the classrooms, cleaned and free of mud for the first time in three weeks; the mud in the quadrangle (I learn later that the same mud held 30 bodies - I resist trying to find out if these bodies had been affiliated in any way to the school) needed to be cleared; and the books that now line the entire right side of the quadrangle needed to be dried, cleaned and checked for usability.

We were told that we could leave our belongings on the second storey classrooms and get to work immediately. I let my team go up first; after all, my role was not to get dirty. I take more pictures of the quadrangle. When I do get up the stairs, the first thing I see is the abandoned handbag and the photographs scattered all around it.

Meulaboh, Sekolah Muhammadiyah #4
Originally uploaded by Terz.

For a moment, my legs are leaden.

The photographs are of someone's wedding. Someone's child as a baby. Someone's child in a soldier's costume. Happy family moments.

All the photographs bear signs of water damage.

For the first time in over ten years, I pause to whisper a prayer.

(To be continued)



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