I must write this story before I go any further. This one encounter sealed the deal for me. I knew I made a difference.
On the two-hour ferry boat ride to the island, I found a place next to a young man, reading the Koran, praying. When I sat down he looked at me and smiled and I nodded. After the boat got on its way, he pulled out a bag of hard candy and asked if I wanted one. I thanked him and declined. About ½ hour into the trip I turned to him and told him I read somewhere that if you start to feel seasick, keep your eyes on the horizon. He said, yes and that is why he eats “sugar candy.” I then asked him if I could have one, my stomach was just starting to do some flip flops. We talked briefly about where I came from, he knew of Governor Schwarzenegger, what NGO I was working with and other small talks. At some point in the conversation, he asked me if I saw the tsunami on the television in America.
I’m quite sure by this time he knew the answer to that question, but when trying to converse with someone who speaks very little English, I try not to assume the meaning behind words too much. But that question really hit my heart.
I turned to him and looked him right in the eyes and keeping my words as simple as I could and speaking slowly said, “Yes, my friends watched the tsunami and were very, very sad. Very sad. So many children died. Moms and dads died. Everything is gone.” As I was talking my eyes started leaking.
The emotional punch of that disaster really hit me hard those two weeks I was in Sumatra. I would sit outside at night and watch the interactions between family members and it put faces, to the devastation. So as I was telling this young Muslim about the sadness that swept across America, I couldn’t disengage my emotions. I truly was heartsick. The losses were enormous.
He saw that compassion. I’m a good reader of body language and knew he was moved. He kept looking at my eyes well up with tears.
All of Aceh has witnessed the relief efforts brought to their country from the Western World. But this one-on-one encounter with Armon was the pinnacle for me. This was why I was there. As an ambassador for America to a nation that has hated us.
I don’t recall Armon’s words back to me but I knew he was touched. He nodded a few times and said thank you.
We finished the ride together with some small talk. He understood English well, but he was so soft-spoken I kept having to get closer to him to hear what he was saying, and I know that’s a no-no, so most of what he was saying I couldn’t understand. He was such a sweet man. I’ll never forget that face, but at the end of the ferry ride, I asked if I could take his picture because he had been so nice to me. He was shy, and the lighting was bad, but I snapped one shot.