Agam's Gecko
Thursday, December 30, 2004
As long as I'm asking for miracles, I guess it behooves me to make prominent note of the sort of miracle I'm looking for.

UPDATE: 10pm. Some folks in Padang, the port city in West Sumatra province, are organising relief by ship, which could be a method to deliver more volume than the airdrops. Mentawai Aceh (there's another map).:END OF UPDATE

Almost 15 years ago, I visited Indonesia for the first time. After a long, slow journey on a long, slow boat from Malaysia, I spent a night in Medan and decided I wanted to travel in the opposite direction from the throngs of tourists / travellers there. I listened carefully to overhear their plans -- Berastagi ... Lake Toba ... Bohorok ... Bukittinggi ... Hmm, all southwards. Next day I was on a bus north, to Banda Aceh. One of the better decisions I've made in my life.

From Banda I took the ferry to Sabang (mentioned alongside the map I posted on Tuesday, scroll down a bit for that), and then to the far side of Pulau Weh (Weh Island). A small fishing village named Iboih was to be the location for my first crash course in Indonesian language and way of life -- and ten days there gave me a good start.

From a comment on Tsunami Help, a new blog (which has been added to the sidebar along with other disaster relief links):
I was in Pulau Weh when the sunami struck, in the ferry on the way to Banda Aceh. We had to go back to the island. I had been staying in Gapang (a tiny beach resort well-known by divers) with Ton and Marjan from the Lumba Lumba diveshop. Everybody was ok in Gapang, I was told by a Canadian couple, Joanne and Greg, who were there at the time of the tsunami. Everybody was also ok in Ibioh, a British tourist and a local told me.

The island is quite high and people managed to climb the hills and get saved. A police officer told me that only 4 people died in the whole island. Houses near the sea front have been destroyed. Phones were not working but there was still electricity, water and food in the island. Having seen the death and devastation in Banda Aceh, just across the sea from Pulau Weh, it is a real miracle.

Antonia Paradela antoniaparadela@yahoo.es
So you see? They can happen. And it's great to get word from Pulau Weh and Iboih, the place of my first Aceh experiences. But there was more of Aceh waiting for me then. Back to the capital for a series of bus and microbus journeys to the west coast. This area was more spectacularly beautiful than even the rumours had indicated, and after a long day of travelling I overnighted in the little coastal city Calang. A really pleasant little town, I was told there were a number of Canadians working there on a gas or oil project (though I never met them). The following day I would continue south, change transport in Meulaboh, and finally arrive in Tapaktuan late in the day. And that, of course, was the beginning of a deep and solid attachment to that place and so many of its people. That's where Agam was born.

A report today on Indonesia's Metro TV, said that Calang is gone. Just plain gone. Meulaboh we heard about, and saw the pictures, yesterday -- not quite gone, but almost. We haven't heard about any of the innumerable smaller towns and villages along the whole length of this coast, and until today there is still no report, pictures or communication with Tapaktuan. The only real information is from the Bupati's call to Azly yesterday (must have been a satellite phone), that they didn't get hit too hard and that our family is ok. I sure hope that information holds up. It's hard to find anything to be thankful for, as the death toll in Aceh alone now exceeds 45,000.

A new section is now on the sidebar, with some links for information on relief efforts, donation channels, missing persons contacts, etc. The Wikipedia page is constantly updated, also with sections on humanitarian aid orgs and ways to help. DO NOT fall for appeals arriving in your mailbox without seriously checking it out -- the scammers are already onto this. Bastards.

I've just spoken with our family in Jakarta, and there has as yet been no further word from home. Azly said he was told that Tapaktuan was "tidak apa apa" (no problem!), but I'm sure I caught a glimpse of an aerial shot of the town today -- the clue being the radio tower on a high hill above the town. It sure looked like Tapaktuan to me (Uddin and I used to go up that hill often), and it did not look like "tidak apa apa". Between the hill and the beach, everything was gone.

Any suggestions for other ways to help, or any links to good, credible aid organisations will be gratefully received by email.

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