Travels with V

Indonesia & Singapore

Disaster. And rebirth.

Medan - Banda Aceh

We arrive at the hotel in Bukit Lawang soaked as drenched kittens. It’s dark and raining like hell. We take hot showers to regain our body warmth, then fall asleep instantly. Next morning we are transported to the modern hospital in the big city of Medan.

Everything at this hospital is super-efficient, they bring us in immediately – and just as quickly they bring out the credit card reader. They x-ray the hand, and ask for the card again. The doctor confirms what we already guessed – it’s a radius fracture, and we get two options for treatment. We choose the safest one, and say hello to the card reader again.

POST OPERATION
DOWNTOWN MEDAN

We have called SOS International, and they tell us they will “send someone over to the hospital”, but this person unfortunately never materializes. So we have to pay for the bills, including one night at the hospital (not cheap!) and just hope and pray that our insurance company will be understanding (which they are, thankfully).

But now we must leave, V:s arm in a sling, because we have an appointment for an interview in Banda Aceh later that day.

Banda Aceh lies at the tip of northwestern Sumatra, and is famous, some would say infamous, for two things. One, a fierce guerilla war 1976 – 2005 where the GAM group fought the Indonesian army for independence. At the time the GAM leaders sat in Stockholm directing the struggle. And two, because the tsunami at Christmas 2004 destroyed most of the city, and 167 000 persons died. In the Tsunami Museum we witness the destruction, here we compare aerial shots from before and after.

A CENTRAL PART OF THE CITY BEFORE THE TSUNAMI
THE SAME PART AFTER THE TSUNAMI
IN BANDA ACEH’S TSUNAMI MUSEUM THIS ROOM HAVE THE NAMES OF VICTIMS ON THE WALLS
A MEMORIAL WITH THANKS FOR HUMANITARIAN AID
AFTER THE TSUNAMI (PHOTO UNKNOWN)
THE MOSQUE TODAY

It has been said that the almighty one’s power saved the mosque when everything around it was crushed by the waves. Islam is strong and very conservative in the Aceh region, so this was a symbol of enormous impact.

The tsunami disaster had one positive consequence as it stopped the war and the government made a deal with the GAM leaders that gave the region a significant amount of self determination. Unfortunately this has led to sharia laws being adopted. Moral police arrest women who don’t cove their hair, and warn young people who sit to close on a motorcycle. No alcohol is served in restaurants.

Though with a little hush-hush we managed to have a few beers at a rooftop restaurant, but it was served in innocent-looking thermo mugs.

SECRET BEER
BANDA ACEH TODAY – A PROSPEROUS CITY

In spite of it all, we find Banda Aceh is a very friendly and neat city. The gardens are kept and there’s not much rubbish in the streets. And for the lack of bars there are lots of cafés where people meet. And he coffee here is fantastic!

When we’re in Banda Aceh the Baiturrahman mosque (that was spared in the tsunami) is renovated and the surrounding gardens are rebuilt. It’s a stunningly beautiful place with fountains and grass lawns, where gigantic umbrellas provide cool shadow. It’s a place where people meet and children play.

But the appointment we had booked in Banda Aceh never happened. We were supposed to meet and interview one of the previous GAM leaders, who has also been Governor of the province. But it turned out he was in Stockholm, so we had to find something else to write about.

Luckily as we were exploring our neighbourhoods we passed a protestant church, and there we met Olivia and David, who told us about a Christian’s life in the Islamic city. They were extremely nice and explained how they coped with that. Olivia had to show her ID-card to the moral police if she went to the market without a hijab or a shawl. But they said that basically their religion was tolerated. And during the tsunami their church had been a salvation for many people who sought refuge there.

OLIVIA AND DAVID
THE METHODIST CHURCH IN ACEH

In the next part of our journey, we leave Sumatra for that tourist jewel in the middle of Indonesia – Bali. 

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