Friday, September 15, 2006

Bathroom break Aceh style

Thought you might enjoy some pictures of Rob out and about on Pulah Aceh, another island where CRS and others are building shelters. Bathrooms (as seen here) , as are most houses, are not to Western scale!

It takes about two hours on a 'ferry' to this island. On this particular day we had torrential rain storms that night, but thankfully it had cleared by the time they made it to the villages for a look-see. Rob was afraid they'd all be on motor bikes in the rain since the CRS vehicle was on the fritz. Thankfully, a contractor had a vehicle for them to use so Rob at least, wasn't dragging his feet in the mud as he trekked around the countryside!

He's been having a quite a few days out in the field. CRS has finally turned over about 50-odd houses, (the first set!) and there was a big ceremony for that. He was invited to attend as they gave the house key to one of the village recipients - in this case an older single woman. Kind of a nice gesture in such a traditional Muslim country, honestly.

Then, another village, thankful for all the work being done for them, asked CRS to attend a traditional newborn baby ceremony, so Rob got to go there, as well. (I think he just enjoys the free meals!) He ate banana tree soup and checked in on the 7 day old infant.

He's plugging along trying to get these shelters done and working long hours. He's hiring an arsenal of new staff to keep up with all the work. It's been an emotional journey, as there was quite a bit of corruption going on and many contractors split after being paid for more work than they completed. Many houses need to be retrofitted before people even move in the first time, and Rob's had many angry villagers in his office asking CRS to pull out of their villages. This is happening for all the NGOs who are building shelters.

You forget what happened here, and why it's been such a struggle to rebuild,.. but don't forget that on December 26th, 2004, half a million Acehnese were left homeless, 1 million homes were destroyed and 650 villages were completely washed away. CRS and other NGOs are here to give these people new homes that will be safe ("build back better") and in some cases, relocating entire villages.

Rob just hired a new local engineer who lost his mother and two siblings in the tsunami. When Rob tried to assign him to Puah Aceh island, he admitted he had a 'fear of the sea.' I can't even begin to imagine,....

So, it's wonderful that he is here with all his knowledge and expertise to help in areas where he is needed, but it's been the most stressful move we've ever made. So, keep him and all the NGOs here in your thoughts and prayers!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Away on Pulah Weh

*** Sorry! Just moved and no phone line, hence no postings! Thanks for your patience! ****

English phrases needing to be translated into Bahasa Indonesia for next van rental on Pulah Weh:

“Do you know where you are going?”
“Please use your low gear.”
“Do you have benzene?”
“Do you have breaks?
“I see smoke. Is there a problem?”

Ahhhhhh,... paradise! Our little family of six found a dog sitter (unheard of!) and was able to break away from Banda Aceh for the weekend with our friend Chris and three Javanese ladies from the CRS Melaboh office.

After schooling our new found best friend, Wan the dog sitter, on how to manage the dog – complete with little pictures of a clock on a piece of paper showing him when to do everything – we left Saturday morning for the island of Pulah Wah.

CRS of course sent over a pick up truck instead of a van into which we squeezed Chris, the driver, Rob, me, three boys and Sabrina ‘hyper octopus’ Richardson into the four door cab. (Reminds me of the joke we used to tell in Cairo, Egypt – “how many people can fit on a bus in Cairo? One more!”)

We made it to the ferry terminal unscathed and bought our tickets for the one hour ride; about $6.00 for adults and $3.50 for children. The ferry was very nice, with upholstered seats. It went fast and we made it to Pulah Wah, about 30 miles in the distance, in less than an hour.

As usual, everyone got out of their seats and started the mad rush for the door before the ship even hit port. It wasn’t until we started getting haggled by people for a taxi we realized they opened the front doors to let the passengers out and the back door to let the drivers in. Enlightened, we pushed ourselves into the crowd and were unceremoniously spit out into a parking lot crammed with old ‘hippy’ buses (as Jared called them) and worn looking, leathery entrepreneurs beckoning us into their own personal death traps.

After kicking a few tires and making sure side doors would close, we selected the least ominous looking ride and started on our hour long journey to Gapang Bay. No aircon, but as long as the windows were open and the bus was moving, we at least had a breeze. I took all the clothes off the baby, we requested the driver please not smoke and were on our merry way.

Rob folded his legs up as best he could, but his forehead kept hitting the tassled, red satin ribbon glued to the space above the front window. Sayings from the Khoran embossed on gold medallions dangled from the rear view mirror. Our Javanese friends asked for rock n’roll music but the driver only had three choices, house music, house music or house music.

So we ambled up the road with the blown out speakers blaring some sort of indistinguishable techno pop as we traded language lessons, such as Chris explaining , “Jalan in English means shitty road.”

Half way through our journey we stop at a side of the road ‘store’ (naked child running around, make shift pieces of plywood nailed together to form what looks like an order window with small bags of snacks hanging on strings, old men with only three or four gold teeth left among them spitting and sipping coffee) to buy bananas for the show we are anticipating ahead – monkeys!

The bananas looked good enough to eat, so I did, only to spit out my bite. They have seeds; big, black ones. Didn’t see that one coming.

Instead, I join children in hurling bananas out the window at monkeys as they jump from thick trees towards the van. Van doesn’t stop for fear monkeys will climb inside. We have already witnessed the wrath of the monkeys in Rob’s pre-move Indonesia video where one hissed at the camera.

Zach, always the creative thinker, has named these ‘spice monkeys’ (he couldn’t remember the word for hiss, and ‘spice’ filled the spot nicely in his six year old brain). The spice monkeys join the ranks of his other favorite animals, hippomopotomuses and chimporillas.

Our van climbs and descends precarious switch backs leaving me either grasping the unbolted seat with white knuckles as we careen down mountainsides or leaning forward and waving to every other car as it passes us up steep hills.

Make it to Gapang Bay Resort. Check out dive shop and beach.

After Rob unloads luggage (which basically consists of two boogie boards, toothbrushes and a couple of diapers) into our cabin, we eat at the local restaurant. Excellent! We share ‘nasi goreng special’ (fried rice with an over hard fried egg and piece of fried chicken), chicken curry, fried potatoes and watermelon juice.

Afterwards, I take the boys on their boogie boards and we snorkel right off the beach. Amazing – the boys see “Nemo” and coral and dive for starfish. Then, Rob and Chris take off for the dive boat to go SCUBA in the Indian Ocean. The kids and I spend the next three hours playing on the beach. A local brings hot-from-the-oven donuts, coconut fritters and banana cake in her plastic laundry basket for us to buy. It’s great.

We ate fish cooked over flaming coconut shells for dinner. Zach catches hermit crabs by daylight and frogs at night.

Afterwards, we retire to our ‘bungalow’, which realistically, has more in common with a yurt than an actual hotel room. Whatever, right? All you really need is a bathroom and a bed, and this contains both. The beds have mosquito nets which Sabrina mistakes for a circus tent and goes wild after being held all day.

The next morning we awaken and stay safely enshrouded in bed, as quite a population of mosquitoes is flitting around outside the nets. That morning I wave good bye to the boys and the baby and hit the dive shop for my recertification. It’s been four years and a baby since I attempted to slide into my wet suit and I say a little prayer when it fits. Have fun diving for an hour, but never see the sea turtles we were hoping to glimpse.

Coming back to the beach area, I find Sabrina holding court with Rob and about ten locals all exclaiming how cute she is. (If only they had attempted to sleep with her under the circus tent.)

Chris and his friends have whisked Jared away to go snorkeling off a boat. Rob takes the little boys out in deeper water where they see a three foot long cuttlefish that scares Kyle to death. Zach captures an eight inch long baby lizard by its tail that was swimming on the shoreline escaping from a couple of playful dogs. When he puts it back down it turns around and hisses, which causes him to scream and all the locals laugh.

We hurriedly pack up and meet our scheduled van. This van is even worse than the first. I don’t think there is a single piece of original metal on the body of the vehicle.

We make it to the terminal, buy snacks from a cart and ride home to Banda. It isn’t until I step off the ferry back in Banda that I realize how nice it has been to get away. You don’t know how oppressive it feels to live in a stressful environment until you leave and come back.

It was a lot like leaving Cairo to visit Malta during Christmas our first year overseas. It was relieving to visit such a Catholic Christian country right in the middle of the Holy season. It reminded me of my polish family in Michigan, with all the tacky Baby Jesus dolls dressed to high fashion and stored in the front windows of the homes.

There are some things that just can’t be fixed by having your friend’s gardener fashion two shrubs together to look like a Christmas tree. Sometimes you just have to get away.

I think that might be Pulah Weh for us. An amazing beach, great diving, nice people and those darned coconut fritters,.