Banda Acheh after tsunami
I didn;t see the actual aftermath of tsunami in 2004 but from the pictures and stories told, it was quite brutal. We were in Banda Acheh for 4 days from 14 - 17 January 2014. Almost everyone we engaged in conversation in Banda Acheh has a story and experience of how tsunami hit Acheh in 2004. Many still have no closure not knowing where their love ones were buried. Some told their stories with pain in their eyes. The catastrophy was beyond words.
I was in Kinabatangan with Indra and Sharipah on that fateful day, 25 Dec 2004. I remember commenting about the frightening high level of Kinabatangan river which could flood the whole plain. At Kota Kinabalu airport on the way back to KL, I heard the word tsunami. That was the first time I heard it. Not knowing what it meant, I devoured newspaper reports and listened to radio and TV news. I couldn't imagine the severity of the destruction and the effect to the people and the country at that time.
Though Banda Acheh was hit by tsunami, it wasn't as bad as compared to those places near the sea. Masjid Baiturrahim in Ulee Lheue was hit badly but withstood the onslaught of tsunami because it was structurally designed with many pillars allowing swift current to go through. The rest of the village was swept away leaving it like ' padang jarak, padang tekukur'. Everything was gone except the mosque. It is being restored and a damaged corner was retained and became a small gallery exhibiting tsunami photos of the mosque and the village.
The grand Baiturrahman mosque in Banda Acheh was also spared and many people took refuge there.
The power and strength of tsunami current was proved by the 2,600 tons power ship anchored at the harbour at that time which was swept by tsunami 5 km away into a village where it landed on houses. The PLTD Apung now has become a tourist attraction.
Another case was a boat being repaired at the dock was swept 2.5 km from the dock and was deposited on top a house. The owner of the boat who fought for his life was able to save 59 people as the current carried the boat away. It was a story of bravery and determination with Allah's help.
Another mosque near the beach was completely destroyed but its concrete dome was swept by tsunami and deposited it intact in the middle of padi fields, including some Qurans on the wall shelves, in Gampong Gurah 2.5km away.
Tsunami destroyed the people and the country but not their spirit. With peace, foreign aids came in various forms. We visited Rahmatullah mosque which was restored fully by the Turkish government who also built houses for the victims. The village is better known as Kampung Turki or the Turkish Village. So many houses for the victims were built by different NGOs to enable them to come back to normal life. But I wonder whether normalcy is achieved fully there.
I was surprised to see that Banda Acheh is a beautiful place. The long pristine white beaches with calm blue Indian Ocean are bewitching but it hides a wrath that almost destroyed the country. The country is developing and trees are everywhere making the landscape green again. Public transport is limited but there is the labi-labi (taxi-van) like the tuktuk in the Philippines. There are a number of hotels but no 5 star hotel yet. Tourists have started coming but majority is from Malaysia and other foreign countries like Japan.
Restaurants are specilised, that means, they don't serve everything like in Malaysia. If you want to have mee, you got to go to mee restaurants. If you go to Rice restaurant, you get rice and no mee. I am not too keen about the food because they like hot and spicy. Don't be fooled by satay rice, not like the one that you get in Malaysia. They serve beef satay (chicken satay in different restaurant) with rice and soup. The peanut sauce is loose and hot. It wasn't appealing to me.
Since many institutions like orphanages, schools, mosques etc still need financial help, it would be a good idea if you bring small change in Indonesian Rupiahs or Malaysian Ringgit for donations. They don't ask but there are donation boxes everywhere. Fortunately, there are no beggers, adults or children, except one blind couple we encountered. So we were spared the hassle of avoiding them.
I really encourage those who are interested to visit Acheh. It's not far from KL, about 1 hour and 25 minutes flight. It's a good place to learn humility and compassion.
Acheh is a devout Muslim country, So dress appropriately. For Muslim ladies hijab is important. It was no problem for me. As the saying goes ' masuk kandang kerbau menguak, masuk kandang kambing mengembik'. The people are warm and friendly and very hard-working. I would like to visit Acheh again to places outside Banda Acheh like the village of Tun Sri Lanang and the mountain retreat. Insyaallah.