19 October 2005
Today a few of us headed to the "beach" to attempt to restore some calm in our lives amidst our busy schedules. It seems like a luxury. It also seems quite ironic, that this large body of water, the Indian Ocean, is capable of so much destruction yet can be a source of ease. We sat on the rocks and the concrete ruins and rubble along the shore, amidst the fishermen and the children playing in the waves.
For the Acehnese around me, the children and fishermen and many others, their lives must continue, after loss and grieving, there's really no choice. I have wondered, but been hesitant to ask, if people are "angry" at the sea, for taking away their family, their friends, their homes, and their livelihoods. But alas, it seems easier to "forgive" the sea. For the sea has no choice or will. It is huge and vast and powerful and calm we have to accept it as it is.
And across the waters, I think about the survivors in Islamabad and Kashmir, whose lives have been drastically changed this week. A catastophic disaster and a tragic reminder that our lives can change or come to an end at any time. As the world comes together again to provide aid to those in need, I can only hope those in need receive help, and that in Kashmir, like in Aceh, peace will be restored after years of conflict.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Ramadhan begins with an earthquake
Today was an emotional day. Not just because it was the first day of Ramadhan, but because we just had a pretty strong earthquake.
Of the dozen or so earthquakes that I have experienced in my 3 months in Aceh, this was by far the scariest. This was a "vertical" earthquake; something quite different form the gentle rocking ones that I've grown accustomed to.
As I was running to get out of the office, I heard glass breaking, and things falling as the building trembled. I was definitely scared. Scared that something would drop on my head, and scared that I may have to deal with a very serious situation.
Luckily, the shaking subsided and everyone got out of the building safely. There is nothing like an earthquake to bring everyone together. I'm not yet sure if this "gumpa" wreaked damage in other places. After an inspection of the office building, we returned back to our tasks while local staff made calls to check on their loved ones.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
The eve of Ramadhan
This is the first time that I will spend Ramadhan in a Muslim country. Aceh itself is 99% Muslim, so everyone is preparing for the month of fasting. It hasn't even started, but already it is a different experience.
People are actually excited about fasting. To be honest, living in the States, I used to dread it. It is hard to not eat when everyone else around you is eating! But now, because of the energy here, I am actually excited.
Like many Muslims, I view Ramadhan as a time for cleansing, renewal, and simplification and I am hopeful that it will bring about positive changes in my life. I can only guess that it will be very emotional and powerful for the survivors here, as it is the first Ramadhan since the Tsunami.
Tonight on the eve before the start of Ramadhan, local staff are going around the office asking for forgiveness. I will do the same. And tonight, a few of us will head to the Bait al-Rahman Mosque, which is a very beautiful and historical mosque at the centre of Banda Aceh.
You may have seen it on the news. This mosque is where many survivors sought safety when so many buildings around it were destroyed by the powerful waves. The mosque was also used as a staging area for recovered bodies. Tonight, I expect that the mosque will be a place of healing.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Islamic Relief in for the long haul
A few months ago, I was in the States where I live, and I mentioned to a neighbour that I was heading to Indonesia to help the survivors of the tsunami. He looked at me with a surprised expression, and asked, "Haven't they finished that by now?" It was June, 6 months since the tsunami, he figured they'd be finished cleaning up by now. Since the Tsunami was no longer in the news, I guess he assumed that everything was back to normal. He couldn't have been further from the truth.
About 200,000 people died here. Over 400,000 survivors have been left without homes. Over 800,000 lost their source of income and livelihood. To put it in perspective for my fellow Americans who recently were so sadly affected by Hurricane Katrina, the damage here was about 200 times greater in scale than the tragedy in the New Orleans area.
Islamic Relief, along with many other aid agencies, government agencies, and the local survivors are making steady progress in the recovery effort. We are rebuilding homes, health clinics, schools, and also supporting small businesses and teaching vocational skills so the people can help themselves.
Islamic Relief worked in Indonesia before the tsunami, even in the conflict zone of Banda Aceh, and we are committed to stay working with the poor, even after the region has fully recovered from the tsunami.
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