terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Meulaboh, Part 6


Day 1 Easy
The Sekolah Muhammadiyah is located at one corner of a cross-junction. Directly across the road on its western side is an orphanage for boys. Across from that, and diagonal from the school, is another orphanage. For girls. Most of the orphans are enrolled at the Sekolah Muhammadiyah.

The chapter of the Muhammadiyah charity group, led by Budi Utomo from Jakarta, was in Meulaboh for a retreat when the tsunamis struck. They survived and have been helping with the retrieval and clearing process since then. They have not been vaccinated against typhoid and tetanus or given medication to prevent malaria and cholera. They have remained in Meulaboh from an overwhelming need to.

Meulaboh Town #4
Originally uploaded by Terz.

There is a commotion from the boys' orphanage next door coming from some of the Muhammadiyah workers. One of them, Rizal, approaches us to ask if we could help them remove the bodies from the mud. They have not been vaccinated. We have. Sham and I are uncertain whether or not we're allowed to even touch any recovered bodies, let alone move them, so we defer to the SAF personnel with us. Amran, who has, since our walk, removed his SBO (skeletal battle order) and has been helping out with the cleaning up at the Sekolah Muhammadiyah, tells us that if they had the proper equipment (I am to learn later that that means masks, gloves, body bags and a disinfectant spray) with them for dealing with bodies, they would have helped. Unfortunately, they aren't carrying anything of that sort in our vehicle, so we can't help in any way.

We decide to take a look anyway. I grab my cameras from the rest area in the classroom and follow Rizal to the orphanage.

Again, the smell hits us before we see the corpse. Corpses. The first had already been removed from the mud. It is a partial body*, placed under an orange body bag. The wind had blown back a corner of the body bag to reveal the grisly remains underneath. Or it could have been arranged that way for us. Only the lower left leg of the person has been recovered. From the dimensions, we know it is a child's leg. I snap off a few shots and turn away.

Rizal then tells us they have found another one.

He leads the way up piles of rubble to where the second body* lies. It's an adult this time. And almost complete. He lies on his side. His body is protected from the sun by layers of mud and is thus, mostly untouched by decomposition, though on several areas of his exposed torso, the flesh is turning dark blue. A gold ring glitters from his left hand. As does a watch from the wrist. I try not to find out if the watch still works. The smell is stronger. Much stronger. But I document the body, if necessary, for the authorities.

Meulaboh Town #7
Originally uploaded by Terz.

We stand in silence for a while and, one by one, walk away. There is nothing we can do. Fortunately we are offered a distraction to take our minds off the bodies. Rizal, clad only in black rubber boots, has stepped on a rusty nail which has penetrated the sole of the boots. We try calling Tahar on the cell phone, but the mobile connection chooses not to work at that moment. Fortunately, Tahar is already on his way over from the school. We wave frantically at him and help Rizal to the porch area at the school.

There, Tahar tends to the wound and dispenses advice, in case it becomes septic.

The first small bright moment of the day.

(To be continued)

* The photographs found at these links may be disturbing to some. Viewer discretion is advised.



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