terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Meulaboh, Part 5


Day 1 Dog
Feeling useless, I take a walk.

My escort, 1SG Amran of HQ Guards, tells me that he's been in-theatre since 2 January 2005. He's gotten used to the sights and the smells of the place. And the heat. He's invaluable as I wander the neighbourhood; he translates for me, and asks the locals, on my behalf, to smile for the camera:

"Senyum. Terima kasih."

I tell myself not to wander too far from the school. But the shattered land draws me further afield. I go further than it is prudent to do so. But the locals are friendlier, now that they know we have come to repair the school. They smile and wave at me while going about the grim and necessary business of rebuilding their lives.

Meulaboh Walkabout #1
Originally uploaded by Terz.

I note that entire blocks are flattened. Here, there is no one who'll rebuild. I learn from Amran that two whole villages were wiped out by the tsunamis. I also find out that when the SAF arrived in Meulaboh, they were retrieving bodies from the streets and off of trees.

Meulaboh Walkabout #2
Originally uploaded by Terz.

A man sees Amran's uniform and approaches us. He tells Amran that there is a body near his house. Or so he thinks. He cannot be sure because no one can spot it. But the smell of death is unmistakable. He asks if we could help him - he fears disease and infection; he fears for his family. He takes us to the spot. In the mess of fallen coconut trees and the wooden debris of smashed huts, the stench of rotting decomposition fills our senses. But we do not spot the body.

Meulaboh Walkabout #3
Originally uploaded by Terz.

Meulaboh Walkabout #4
Originally uploaded by Terz.

After a while, we retreat from the spot. He tells us that most of the families in this particular block survived, though not the ethnic Chinese family at the end of the street. That entire family was lost, he says matter-of-factly. He tells us that rebuilding is difficult because the infrastructure is no longer there. They have no water, nor electricity nor a functioning sewage system. They lack the materials to properly rebuild. And the streets here, I see, are choked with the same mud from the school.

Amran promises to notify the relevant authorities about his concerns and about the body and we leave to him to his current preoccupation.

We meet a few children, happy now that there are no classes at the moment. I do not think they would have happily posed for me if they'd known I had come with a group to get their school ready for lessons the next week. For now, they smile. And I marvel at their resilience. They survived. They are innocents who may not yet fully understand that their world has changed irrevocably.

My walk takes about two hours. I am sunburnt by the time I return to the school. I feel no better than I did when I started my walk. As I rest, there is a commotion from some of the other volunteers from the local chapter of the Muhammadiyah charity organisation.

We were about to see our first body.

(To be continued)



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