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31 March

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 2 months ago

Friday 31 March


To the Island Arabella Churchill


We get up early and pack in readiness for going to the island of Pulua Weh this afternoon. We are leaving most of our luggage here in the reception lock-up at our new hotel (where we will be taking this room again from Monday for at least a 9-day stretch hopefully) and taking only 2 smallish bags to the island.


We grab a tuk-tuk taxi and go to see Fadlullah Wilmott of Muslim Aid. Fadlullah has just arrived back from Jakarta where he has just been at meetings with Tony Blair - he is a very high-powered man, but very direct and down to earth, and he is very helpful.


Meeting Blair and Churchill


We explain that we want to undertake shows and workshops for as many tsunami-affected children as possible while we are here, and Fadlulah says he can easily arrange for us to work in lots of indigenous "traditional" Muslim schools. These are Muslim boarding schools for orphans or children from extremely poor families. The children are provided with a place to live and not only an Islamic education but the full National Curriculum. (Because of the troubles and insurgency that took place between for many years until August 2005, there were ALREADY 35,000 orphans in Aceh province BEFORE the tsunami - now there are 120,000! Here, in Aceh, children are called an "orphan" if they have lost just one parent - Fadlulah tells us that of these 120,000 orphans, 100,000 have lost one parent and 20,000 have lost both parents.)


Fadlulah fixes things


Fadlulah proposes that rather than flying back to Medan from Aceh at the end of our trip on 24 April, we instead spend the last 4 or 5 days driving back along the North/ East coast of Aceh, working at lots of traditional schools on the way. This seems a very interesting idea, and we say we will get in touch with Mochtar Rosali (who is also at our Muslim Aid meeting, and who will be our schools liaison) as soon as we have seen Save the Children on Monday and heard what they have set up for us.


When Fadlulah hears that we are heading to the island of Pulua Weh for the weekend, he asks us if we would like him to fix up some shows for us there. "Yes, please!", we say. We hadn't thought we were going to be able to get any shows performed until at least Tuesday, once we had seen Save the Children - so we are delighted. Telephone calls are swiftly made and it is arranged that we will do a show at Baluhan, very near the port, as soon as we get off the ferry this afternoon, Friday, then one at Ibor on Saturday at Ibor, and one at Kreung Raya on Sunday, before catching the ferry back to Banda Aceh on Monday morning to meet with Save the Children.


Impressed with Muslim Aid


We are very impressed with how fast this is all set up. I think Muslim Aid will be able to set up quite a few gigs for us, which is wonderful, and these gigs, with any that Save the Children are hopefully setting up, could probably fill our time - but maybe we should try to work with a few other agencies as well, so as to make as many useful contacts as possible for a larger Tour later this year? We will make more decisions once we have seen Save the Children on Monday,


A house for £4,000


Then we talk housing. Fadlulah shows us pictures of the Acehnese style housing that Muslim Aid is building. The houses are built on stilts of coconut, with wooden floorboards, walls of GRC (glass reinforced concrete), with powder coated galvanised metal roofs, with special insulation that reflects 97% of the heat away (a real boon, as it is quite incredibly hot here). The exact layout of each house can be designed by the person who will be living there. Each house costs approximately £4,000 - so Michael's money could build 25 houses. Not nearly as many as with Ides (where the money could build approximately 130 homes) but these are really quality houses, with loo, mandy, well, septic tank, insulation, electrical wiring, etc.


What kind of house?


We are taken to see some of the houses that have been built by Muslim Aid - and see at last the huge destruction that the tsunami caused - a lot of Banda Aceh is a huge flat area, and the sea just came right in and destroyed everything - many houses of different sorts being built (Muslim Aids seem to be by far the most attractive - and apparently they are what the people want). Some of the other agencies are building with bricks, which may not be satisfactory, as the bricks here are of poor quality and might not stand up well when there are earthquakes - there have been a couple of 5.5 quakes in the last 3 weeks apparently. There is still a horrendous amount of rubble and deitrus from the tsunami in this area, and there are patches of filthy water everywhere - apparently one of the NGO's is going to clear all this up - I really hope so - it's no good building lovely houses if the whole area still looks hideous and dangerous, and reminds everyone constantly of the trauma of the tsunami.


We took lots of photos for Michael and I will try to send them and notes on the housing we have seen so far off to him soon. The Muslim Aid houses are really lovely, but we worried a bit about the wood that was being used - in the 2 houses we saw, the wood was green and unseasoned. In these houses, they are trying not to use nails, but just interlocking joints, etc. ,so that they will be flexible in earthquakes - but we think they possibly need to use better, seasoned wood, as this green wood is not reacting well to the heat and the damp, even though the houses have only been up for 3 months. Sumatra has a huge amount of wood available, but whether it is ecologically sound to use it is debatable. There are so many sides to this whole housing question of which are the best houses - I am very keen on these Muslim Aid houses - they very attractive and "local" - they seem to be what the people want, and they are not too expensive - but the wood question worries me. We don't want Michael's money spent on houses that won't survive well in this climate - they need to last for at least 20 years, hopefully longer. Apparently the contractor does not get paid until well after completion - maybe there needs to be a 1 and 2 year inspection contract too? I am no expert!


Lovely houses - among Armageddon


Some of the houses have been beautifully painted and decorated by their new owners - there are flowers in pots around them, and chickens out the back. It is very cheering - save for the armageddon-like landscape that surrounds the houses. Really the damage here is unbelievable. The water just rushed in, destroying everything because the land is so low-lying. Even where we are staying in the middle of town, the water apparently came in 4 or 5 metres high - most of the buildings in the centre of town survived, but many, many died.


Our own speaker system


We go and buy a small speaker system that we can plug our ipod into, so that we can have amplified music for Haggis's shows, and also a microphone so that we will be able to broadcast instructions for the games and activities (well, as long as we get a translater!) These only cost about £45 as we don't need cd player or amplifier, and luckily they are not too heavy. The sound is not going to be immense, but hopefully schools, where there will presumably be the largest audiences, may have their own sound systems - we will see!



Back to hotel and frantic re-packing in the reception area now we are going to be doing shows over the weekend on Pulua Weh - a chaotic rush! We are now carrying 4 bags and the box with the speakers - so much for travelling light for the weekend!



We are slightly nervous about doing a show this afternoon, as we don't feel completely prepared - but we are pleased to be able to reach children so much sooner than we expected.


Ground Zero


We take a taxi to the harbour of Ule Llewa, just 15 minutes drive from the middle of Bandas Aceh - this is what they call "Ground Zero" and where the tsunami caused most damage - really total devastation. It is heartening to see houses being built everywhere, but I think it is essential that the UN or someone does a big clean-up job soon - I am sure that that would really raise morale.



The people here are amazing - they have obviously gone through huge trauma, and almost everyone has lost one person, if not several people, who were close to them (the waiter at the first nasty hotel came from an area just a little further West than this port, and he told me he had lost his entire family - parents, wife, children) and yet they go on - life continues and they get on with it. They are still pleasant, they still smile and laugh - how hard this must be with the weight of sorrow they are cayying! (Mind you, they had been traumatised for a long time before the tsunami as the Gam/military situation, which only ended in August 2006, killed many, created many orphans and many thousands of people had to leave their homes. One NGO told me that the military trauma was actually greater for the Acehnese than the tsunami.)


(For background on Aceh and Gam see Wikipedia)


Lessons for life


I think the two main things these post-tsunami Children's World International Tours have taught me are, firstly, how extraordinarily wonderful people are, how strong and resilient - and how strong and wonderful the human spirit is; and, secondly, how important it is that we try to live each day as though it were our last. Death can come at any time, so we must try to use each day as though it were our last - that way we will live life to the full, do as much good as we can, and have no regrets.


Stares in the cafe


We are very early for the ferry, so we sit in the tiny cafe and cut out the paper badge centres and draw circles on them, and insert the pins into the backs of the badges - people stare at us in amazement, but we just press on. I make an example badge to try to explain what we are doing. Hags does a bit of juggling for the people who are waiting for the ferry - they love it! There is much applause and many raucous hoots of laughter.



The ferry journey from Ule Llewa to the port on Pulau Weh takes about 50 minutes - we go and stand on deck as we leave, looking back at the huge expanse of devastation behind us, realising that almost everyhone on this boat must have lost friends and familiy during the tsunami. So sad.


Saril and Fir


We arrive at the port on Pulau Weh, and are met by Saril of Muslim Aid (who has bought paraffin for the fire-swinging part of the show) and Fir our lovely driver in his not so lovely taxi - there are no springs at all in the back seats and the engine sounds as though it is going to die at any moment!



We drive just 5k down the road to Baluhan for the first show. The road surfaces are dreadful the moment we are out of the town - huge cracks and potholes all the way, meaning you can't travel at much more than 25k per hour. Baluhan is a village where many houses were lost to the tsunami - families are living in tents on wooden platforms. Haggis is given a tent to change in, so as to save Muslim sensibilities, and I am left with the iPod (which has all the music for the show on it) and the new speaker system to sort out and set up - eek, I am the world's most un-together technician! I eventually sort it out, with help from Mr. Fir and Saril.


How clever is that?


There is no central or open space to perform in, so Haggis does the show on the road at the entrance to the camp. This gives him endless opportunities for humorous additions to the show, as motorbikes and lorries drive by (at one stage he even lies down in the road to stop traffic, which has the audience in stitches). Hags does really well - lots of brilliant juggling and lots of good humour. The show was very funny, and was very much enjoyed by an audience of about 75 children and 75 adults. He was literally pouring with sweat, which made it even funnier - well, for the audience at least! We are not sure whether the Acehnese have ever seen juggling before. The audience certainly have no idea of the skill level involved - they are no more impressed by a 7-ball trick (which is incredibly hard) than by a 3-ball trick (which is relatively "a piece of cake"). But they seem to like the juggling love the humour and comedy, and luckily Haggis is a bit of a natural clown, and has enormous charm, even when dripping with sweat. It's a great relief to know that the shows will go down well. I see Saril talking excitedly into his mobile phone during the show. He tells me afterwards that he was ringing Fadlulah, the head of Muslim Aid out here, to let him know how well the show was going and let him hear the audience's laughter. Excellent!



We wave goodbye to our friendly audience (once we have mopped poor Haggis down a bit) and continue our 70- minute journey to Gapang Beach - it's not that far really, but the car has to go really slowly because of the awful roads. A stop of 10 minutes so that Mr. Fir can pray at a mosque - we sit in the car outside the mosque, listening to the chanting and watching huge bats land on the trees in the copse next to us. Wonderful foreign smells and sounds! Eventually we arrive at Gapang Beach and check into our hotel - it is dark, so we can't see our surroundings. Our room is fine though, and far cheaper than rooms in Banda Aceh, costing only £11.50 per night.




We arrange that Mr Fir will come and collect us at 3.30 tomorrow, to take us to Ibor for the 4.00 pm show. We ask him to buy a couple of extension leads for us in Sabang, as today at the camp there was only one place we could draw electricity from, and we couldn't get the sound system close enough to Haggis, and he had difficulty hearing the music for some of his routines. A quick dinner and then straight to bed, as we are exhausted.










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