Anchored in Sabang , on the northern tip of Sumatra with others for the yacht festival, we took a short ferry ride over to Banda Aceh. Early in the morning on that fated Boxing Day they had a huge earthquake, but it was the resulting tsunami that took the massive toll. Nearly a quarter of a million people , primarily in four districts of Sumatra, lost their lives.
We were caught off guard a bit as the smiling faces welcomed and thanked us. Everyone we met expressed gratitude for the aid that countries from all over the world responded with. The huge memorial park bears witness with flags of all the countries that helped in their hour of despair. We were humbled by the number of handshakes and thank you’s that were bestowed upon us as we traveled.
First stop was the Generator Ship. A vessel that was moored in the Harbour producing 10.5 megawatts to the city. Roughly 100 feet long and over 60 feet wide this rectangular flat bottomed ship weighs in at 2,600 tons. That morning there were seven crew working aboard when the first wave lifted it breaking most of its moorings before settling back in place as the Harbour emptied itself to dry sea bed. The seven workers abandoned ship and ran towards the city as the second, the devastating, wave surged in at height. The seven crew were never found. The ship however rose up on the wave and sailed thru the city to come to rest five kilometers inland partially on a home. It’s now a museum we’re it came to rest.
Tsunami survivors are the tour guides that lead small groups thru The ship that is now an open museum without charge. There are three levels of interactive displays as the tour guide not only describes first hand but fields all questions. Our guide was a young girl running hand in hand with her mother when the massive wall of water separated them and she washed along able to grab and climb a tree as death and destruction washed by. She apologized to our small group for her watery eyes but explained for the first few years doing this she couldn’t complete a tour without breaking down into uncontrollable crying.
We then toured the The Tsunami Museum, four floors of interactive information, photos, and testimonials. Along the main ceiling again displays the flag of each nation that came to their aid. The photos somehow taken that day are incredible in capturing destruction, frailty, despair, and bewilderment. I was glued by the riveting large black eyes of a young child, somewhere between maybe 5 to 8 years of age clinging for life in a tree engulfed in surging water. The eyes weren’t crying nor filled with fear as I could tell, but where searching for the world she had known that had disappeared somewhere beyond comprehension.
We didn’t tour the sole and lonely mosque that stood that day amidst the rushing waters. Our group took a break at a somewhat famous coffee house where the baristas pour the coffee thru fine mesh bags from arms height repeatedly before filling the cups. I stepped out front and had a pleasant leisurely conversation with a bright young professional in starched white shirt and tie and after answering all his queries about myself inquired of his experience that day. At their family gathering in their village around the coast towards evening his father asked him if he would like to go with him to take his grandmother back home to her village further inland. He was one of five children and the only one that went and the night was spent there before starting home on Sunday. As they wound down the steep road out of the hills they arrived to find no village of 13,800 friends. No mother, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, or cousins. There were only 1200 survivors from the village, and most of those were somewhere else at the time same as themselves. I found myself without words. With a gentle smile he deftly steered into another conversation before we made our parting.
We then spent the afternoon just freely wandering the town before catching the ferry. The parks, museums, the mass grave of the Unknown are all beautiful and well maintained. The new city itself out of necessity for shelter and commerce has sprung up somewhat like a diamond in the rough. It ain’t particularly pretty , but its inhabitants are grateful warm and friendly. I would have thought the survivors might have been a hard bitter lot but I couldn’t be more wrong. As a side note the tragedy ended a decades old rebellion overnight. Differences were abandoned as the rebels joined ranks in clean up and rebuild.