Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tsunami Recovery, CRS Featured on Morning Edition, NPR

NPR: Two Years On, Tsunami Recovery Lags Promises

Morning Edition, December 26, 2006 .

The Asian tsunami of 2004 killed more than 170,000 people in the Indonesian province of Aceh alone, washing awaytens of thousands of homes, schools and businesses. Two years later, reconstruction is underway, but the recovery effort is not as far along as many had hoped it would be.The provincial capital Banda Aceh is booming with new stores, restaurants and hotels. There's something else new -- and not at all welcome -- in this once-sleepy city: traffic jams. All of it seemed unimaginable just two years ago, says Paul Dillon, who is with the International Organization for Migration.

"I arrived two days after the tsunami and have been here ever since," Dillon says. "And I'm constantly amazed to see the extent to which reconstruction occurred. That said, there remain major challenges when it comes to housing and infrastructure, and those are going to persist for years to come."

Families Crammed into Small Barracks

A gaggle of children greet a visitor in the muddy courtyard outside their temporary home in the town of llokgna, several miles up the coast from theprovincial capital. It took just a few minutes for the tsunami to leave a half-million homeless in Aceh.

Two years on, some 70,000 are still living intemporary wooden barracks like this one. Entire families -- sometimes more-- live in a single 10-by-20 room. Marzuki, 28, is a fisherman and widower who shares his room in the barracks with two other families. He wants to get on with his life and start a new family to replace the one he lost, he says. But he can't -- not while he has to live in such cramped conditions.

"They tell me I have to be patient," Marzuki says. "But they won't tell me when I'll get help to rebuild. It might be a few months, it might be longer. They just tell me I have to wait."

The United Nations recovery coordinator for Aceh, Eric Morris, hears Marzuki's frustration. He says things should be better.

"I would say a B+ for effort, and something less in terms of actual accomplishments for stated targets," Morris says of reconstruction efforts.

Early Promises Proved Hard to Keep

No one disputes that the initial response to the tsunami was extraordinary,and extraordinarily successful. The reconstruction phase has been less so --in part, Morris says, because of promises made early on that proved impossible to keep.

"Many of the targets -- particularly with respect to permanent new housesfor tsunami survivors --most of those targets were probably unrealistic,"Morris says. He says there was an insufficient awareness of obstacles in terms of procurement, construction supplies, logistical constraints and other issues that have prevented early expectations from being fully met. Competition between aid agencies has sometimes gotten in the way of cooperation, Morris says, as non-governmental organizations rush to build houses with money generously donated by governments and ordinary people from around the world.

"There are different ways of going about rebuilding these settlements and these communities, some of them very effective and some of them less so," says the International Organization for Migration's Paul Dillon. "And as aresult, what you have is a mishmash of different qualities and styles of construction, and that can be very problematic."

The town of Peuken Bada offers a good glimpse into the progress and problems so far. Only a handful of buildings were left standing after the tsunami. More than half of the town's population was swept away -- 10,000 people gone in an instant. Pueken Bada is on the mend. Construction crews are busy rebuilding hundreds of homes, which have sprouted like mushrooms among the marsh grass and tidalpools near the shore. Some, built early on by a south African charity that'ssince left, are so small and poorly built that they sit empty, with residents refusing to move in. Others are bigger and better.

Waiting to Start a New Life

One of the people we've been following over the past two years is Mursalin. He is the proud owner of a new house. It sits just a few feet away from the crude, one-room shack he built last year on the foundation of his old house,which was swept away -- along with his family -- when the tsunami hit. Mursalin gives a tour of his nearly completed home, one of 200 built in Peuken Bada by Catholic Relief Services. It has two bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom -- more than enough space for Mursalin, his new wife andtheir 8-month-old son.

"We were supposed to move in a few months ago," Mursalin says, "but now they tell us there's a problem with the contractor."

Mursalin says he hopes they'll be able to move sometime in January. But Catholic Relief Services Aceh Director Scott Campbell says that's not going to happen.

"We're having certain issues with the contractors based on the houses they're building," Campbell says. "CRS [Catholic Relief Services] is committed to making sure that the houses we build are structurally sound. And when those quality standards aren't met, we have to take certain actions to ensure that contractors in the field are building to a certain standard."

Campbell says it could take five or six months more to retrofit the houses in question. Mursalin is disappointed but still grateful. When it is finished, he says, it'll be a good house -- better than many here. He just wishes it would happen sooner.

A New Home Worth the Wait

A few hundred yards away, another house is nearly completed. This one will be home to Samiruddin, his wife Rohani and their two children. We've been following this family since the tsunami first hit. When their house was washed away two years ago, the family fled to the home of Rohani's mother, several miles further inland. Samiruddin is nearly done building their new home, with materials and some labor provided by Uplink, a German NGO. It has taken a while, Samiruddin says, but the wait has been worth it.

"Our old house was a little bigger, but this one is stronger," he says."It's all concrete. And the walls are much thicker than our old house, or even those new houses that CRS is building over there. So I'm pretty happy with the way things are going."

His trucking business is going well, too; Samiruddin says he has more work than he can handle. Samiruddin's 11-year-old son, Yusran, is also eager tomove back.

"This is where I used to live," he says, "so I'm happy to be coming back. I'll be able to walk to school and play more with my friends who've also come back."

Yusran says he's no longer afraid of the water, as he was immediately afterthe tsunami. His mother, Rohani, is. She's been reluctant to move back from the beginning, and is no less reluctant now.

"I'm still afraid," she says, "but not really. I'm afraid in my heart that the water will come again. I know my husband and my children want to move back. But if it were up to me, we'd just stay with my mother."

But many survivors don't have a choice. They will continue living with relatives or in barracks for some time to come. Initial estimates put recovery time for the battered province at three to five years. Officials now say it may take a decade -- and even that depends, to a large extent, on whether a post-tsunami peace agreement between Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian government continues to hold. Most Acehnese hope it does. Between that decades-long conflict and the tsunami, they reckon they've suffered enough.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas is Coming and the Chicken Turkey's Getting Fat!

Tomorrow is Christmas! Even our little corner of this island is starting to feel festive. We found a ‘tree’ at a nursery and that helped the spirit quite a bit. Then we found ‘chasing lights’ to put on the tree. Basically, your every day Christmas tree lights, but the package says ‘chasing’ instead of ‘Christmas’ here in Sharia land.

We made a couple of ornaments out of homemade salt clay. It’s so humid we had to leave them out to dry for days. After awhile you forget about them. By the time we remembered they were on the floor on top of a piece of cardboard, there were only a few left, thanks to Sabrina and the dog sampling them. So, whatever the dog and Sabrina didn’t eat we put on the tree.

I made a garland with some fuzzy white yarn left over from my never finished scarf I was attempting during Jared’s football practices, and some sequins. We cut out snowflakes and made an angel out of a toilet paper roll. Very high brow!

Then on to the kitchen. Christmas to me has always meant baking and cooking, but here with my Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven and a house full of boys, I’ve realized I have to adjust my wants to meet my reality. In this household a few batches of homemade red and green playdough and some red and green frosting covered cupcakes fit the bill quite nicely.

I did have high hopes. I scoured the Internet and found a fudge recipe not requiring marshmallows (very hard to find and when you do they will put you back about $8 US a bag.) that turned out quite nicely. I did the cooked eggnog so as not to show up at tonight’s holiday party with a “Merry Christmas, would you like some rum with your Avian Flu punch?”

Rob thinks the eggnog is much better with the rum than without as it cuts the flavor of the UHT milk. I think rum makes pretty much everything taste better.

Tonight’s Christmas Eve party is all about not eating rice and rendang, but recreating the best we can the foods we are familiar with. I am in charge of the traditional if not kitschy green bean casserole. My friend who is hosting the party called me up excitedly to tell me a package from her sister in law just arrived and is complete with the Durkee French Fried Onions. Now that is the sign of a good Christmas.

Next is my traditional fruit salad inherited from my mother. She discovered it while living in Alaska when I was a baby. It has everything in it a grown up person isn’t supposed to eat; marshmallows, cream cheese, canned fruit. The story I got from her is it was so hard to find fruit in Alaska way back in the late ‘60’s they relied on the canned variety and spiced it up a bit. My thought is, if the cans of fruit cocktail needed ‘spicing up’ by being smothered with cream cheese and marshmallows, I question the intelligence of eating them in the first place. At any rate, now I’m addicted and I too must have the fruit salad.

I’ve replaced the walnuts with cashews, since there aren’t any walnut trees anywhere on the island. I couldn’t find the canned pineapple, but I did find a can of tropical fruit and picked out all the weird gelatinous white fruits so they wouldn’t mar my memory of the coveted fruit salad. Canned papaya? Fine. Canned chewy fruit de cacao? Nope.

I tried to make marshmallows. Twice. All I can say is it’s impossible with a cooktop that goes from hot to hotter, no electric mixer and no candy thermometer. My second attempt looked promising; the sugar water/gelatin concoction was starting to turn white and grow. But just as my shoulder was starting to burn from the frenzied fork whipping and I excitedly called Jared into the kitchen, the froth of sticky whiteness collapsed in a heap of escaped steam and I was left with sugary sand stuck to the bottom of the pot.

I don’t know what kind of chemical reaction happened in my kitchen, as I am an Arts major, but I won’t be attempting that again any time soon.

So, yes in the spirit of the holidays, I sucked it up, bought the $8 US bag of marshmallows and admitted I am no Martha Stewart.

The cupcakes took five hours since I could only cook about eight at a time in the Easy Bake.

It is kind of funny how much food matters, especially living in stressful environments. I’ve done this all before; boiled down enormous squash to make ‘pumpkin’ pie; snuck ham underneath my underwear in luggage destined for other Muslim countries; traveled three hours by hot van just to find spegettios for my children. I’ve thought nothing of going over the weight limit on the airplane if it meant bringing back a few extra jars of peanut butter. I’ve been known to pay $15 US for pop tarts.

That, I must say, is the true test of honesty in a relationship. Do you confess to your spouse that you were idiotic enough to pay that much for some lousy pop tarts? You’ve got to really love somebody if you allow them to eat a pop tart when they are $3 US a piece.

Our language instructor asked what we were eating for Christmas. I told him turkey, which translates to ‘kalkun’ in Indonesian. Here they call them ‘ayam kalkun’ which means ‘chicken turkey.’

This discussion of course digressed into the various types of chickens you have here on the island. You have the ‘ayam pudong’, which is the big, white chicken. (Know as the KFC chicken, or as I joked, the bule ‘foreigner’ chicken).

Then you’ve got the ‘ayam kampung’ – the ‘roaming chicken’ which here could be called the ‘garbage eating chicken’ but in more polite societies we’ll call it the ‘free range chicken.’

Then of course, you have your ‘ayam kampus’ or ‘wandering chicken’ which translates to the loose woman of the village.

At any rate, we’re happy to have found not only a chicken turkey, but a friend who does not have an Easy Bake oven. It is, after all, the simple things in life that make you happy. Merry Christmas!