Friday, October 26, 2007

Coming Soon to a Tsunami-Affected Islamic Separatist Province Near You!

So I am at the end of my time here in Aceh. Nothing too thrilling happened here this week, most the usual drill of survey piloting. I don’t even have any pictures. For those of you looking for excitement, this is not the posting. For those of you that just want an update, I will offer a typical day here in Aceh.

At 4:45 in the morning the mosque next to my hotel window starts the morning prayer call. Normally this doesn’t bother me, I actually think for the muezzin that do well it is really beautiful. This one, however, is bone-jarringly loud and goes on for a half hour instead of the usual few minutes. I roll over and eventually get back to sleep, until the alarm goes of at 6:30.

I walk into the bathroom to use the squat toilet. I dump a scoop full of water from the tiled basin to flush, then dump the second scoop over my head to wash my face. I brush my teeth from my water bottle, then take another scoop of water to wash the soap and toothpaste down the drain in the floor. I put on a full length skirt and long sleeved button down shirt, my wannabe Mormon missionary get-up from Tajikistan. I twist my slightly greasy hair into a bun, liberally apply sunscreen, grab my hijab and head to breakfast.

Breakfast is leftover rice with too much chili. Normally I won’t eat much, but I skipped dinner the night before to get a couple more hours sleep. (We didn’t get in from the field until after 10.) Chili rice it is. Over breakfast we de-brief our survey team from yesterday and set out the plan for the day. Load the bags, pile into the Kijang 4x4, and head out.

The first interview I observe is with an ex-combatant from the Aceh independence movement. The top half of his arm is completely scarred and he carried a photograph of himself topless in his shirt pocket. His back looks like thatch because of the scars from a whipping he received from soldiers when he was caught as a rebel. Our survey indicated that his faith in formal government systems of justice is somewhat minimal.

Second interview is with a widow in a bamboo house. Since I can’t understand the language being spoken, I spend most of the time making faces at two little girls playing on the floor next to us – both of us trying not to get caught. When they are chased out, I spend the rest of the interview trying to figure out whether the tickling on the back on my legs is sweat or ants.

Lunch was served on the floor of the unfinished mosque. It was rice and sauce, with a piece of chicken – take-out from a nearby town that came wrapped in a banana leaf. I showed my usual dexterity eating with my hands (plus my headscarf kept falling when I leaned forward to eat.) I spend five minutes outside picking the bits of rice off of my scarf and skirt.

At the interview immediately after lunch, Dad was stuck watching the kid during the interview. Little boy was about three and his father was one of the richest and most educated people in the village. Boy starts out by knocking the tea glasses down because he doesn't have one. Then he screams and hits Dad's leg until Dad forks over what even I consider an obscene sum of money to give to a toddler. Then Boy discovers the cigarette lighter, which he is obviously an old pro at because he knows how to turn the flame all the way up and singe an eyebrow. Grandma comes home to see Boy sitting on the rug, having removed his pants, drinking a cup of ultra-caffeinated sugar tea, and trying to light the money on fire with a small blowtorch. In another testament to the universality of humanity, her expression was vintage "I can't believe my daughter married this bonehead, no matter how much money he has..."

We push through with the rest of the surveys, and just after dark, load up the car to head back to the main city, about two hours drive. We stop for duck and shrimp dinner at a roadside joint. Back in Banda Aceh, we check into a nice hotel and crash. Back up at 6 to incorporate the edits from the day before and head out to survey tsunami-effect areas.

Yeah, like I mention, not every day can be an adventure. I am heading down towards Timor Leste tomorrow (I saw towards because the Indonesian low cost carrier I am flying was naughty and customs impounded six planes from its fleet this week – throwing a bit of a wrench in the schedule…)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember her... the girl who was working on the kdp newsletter..