terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Meulaboh, Part 8


Day 2 Actual
The day started with an updated version of the 'touch that tree and come back' routine of PTIs (Physical Training Instructors) from NS days, only it's the tank deck four decks down, through narrow corridors, and not a tree. Report at 0745 hours. Report at 0715 hours. Report now. Go to the tank deck. Go back to the briefing room. Left hand and right hand are getting divorced. Interesting thing is: the people supposedly in charge are conspicuously missing from the tank deck/ briefing room when this is going on. We are hot, sweaty and irritated even before we get to the shore, where no doubt, we will face more of this.

Meulaboh, Day 2 #1
Originally uploaded by Terz.

We return to the school. The pile of textbooks, so daunting on the first day, is almost dry, and we start moving them to the administrative block to prevent further damage to them. For the rest of the day, we engage in more carpentry than we'd done since woodwork classes in secondary school.

Meulaboh, Day 2 #2
Originally uploaded by Terz.

Meulaboh, Day 2 #3
Originally uploaded by Terz.

I remember Day 2 as the day of aftershocks. I first thought that it was my sea legs acting up on me. But when another aftershock hit and both Ridzuan and I, leaning against a door jamb, feel it at the same time, I had to re-evaluate. By the end of the day, the ground beneath my feet would have shifted six more times. A check with Pak Ali reveals that the locals are so used to the ground moving about under them that they're no longer surprised. Throughout the day, I fret about the drill in case another one of these aftershocks sends another series of waves our way. I send YM some SMSes which I think may have freaked her out.

It was also a day of false alarms. Two. We had been told earlier in the day that 30 bodies had been recovered and removed from the school, and that they're still not sure if every one of them has been found. So we are justifiably anxious when, digging into the mud with a changkul, Naz uncovers something which emits the smell of something we never could get used to. We stop work while a teacher rushes to inform the TNI personnel at work in the neighbourhood. Happy for the rest, on the first of the 40°C+ days we would experience, we were nevertheless completely unwilling to take a closer look at what looks like flesh underneath a layer of mud. We leave that area to the authorities. (It's only the next day that we find out that it wasn't a body after all.)

The second false alarm occurs just ten minutes later. Again, while digging into the mud, a changkul reveals something more grisly: what appears to be the armless, upper torso and head of a body. I take some pictures while the guys take another break. Twice in one day is more than we can take. While I'm taking photos, Pak Ali comes by, takes a look at the body, and... kicks it over. I nearly fall over backwards. The others are also mortified. My feeling of ill-ease does not subside even when it's revealed that what looks like the yellowed sinews of a human corpse is actually a half-rotted bunch of bananas.

Meulaboh, Day 2 #4
Originally uploaded by Terz.

I'm shocked at the casual disregard for something that could have been a body. And the nonchalant way it was done. Was it callousness on the part of Pak Ali? Or just a numbness we'll never understand? Over one-quarter of the population of Meulaboh gone, just like that, and the 30 bodies recovered from the courtyard of his school. Does this explain the seeming lack of community spirit we saw on the first day? Are neighbours whose lives have returned to normal (as normal as it can be) sitting around idle because they don't care? Or is it because too many have died, and they don't know where to begin? Are they still in a state of shock? I consider it all and I decide theirs is not for me to judge: they have seen far too much death in their lifetimes, more than I'll ever understand.

I am unable to continue. I take a break in the rest area with trembling hands, half-fumbling the cigarettes I try to light. I am smoking a pack of Marlboro reds every day - just to keep the smell out. And my nerves calm. It turns out I'm not the only one who's thinking this way.

It's becoming obvious that we are beginning to be affected by what's going on around us.

(To be continued)



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