The first thing that greeted us when we stepped onto Sumatra soil.
I can only write from my perspective, and I know others on this same trip saw and heard a different Aceh than I, and vise-versa. I made the trip to the other side of the world for some simple reasons, number one being to experience something so out of the ordinary I knew I couldn’t find anywhere else. I also wanted as close to immersion as I dare go into the Muslim culture.
I had no idea what I could offer the people of this region. That was discovered as the journey unfolded. And I 'll post about that later.
Banda is a very dirty city. Leaded gas is still used and the fumes from those alone kept me nauseated nearly the entire time. There was an open sewer right next to our front door with the sun continually cooking up more toxic fumes, and garbage everywhere. I never saw a garbage can once. It’s just piled in the streets, for the dogs, chickens and the homeless to weed through and find what they needed. I don’t understand open sewage when all it would take is some grating to cover it, boards … anything. People fall in. People are shoved in. Steph, on my team, said it all, “If I fall in while I’m here, just leave me there to die.”
These sewers run all through town, and are covered at some places but I had to be very careful where I stepped because partially broken boards sat precariously over the ditch. It got to the point, I felt safer walking in the streets rather than the “sidewalk” and that took on a whole ‘nuther risk because drivers don’t wait for pedestrians. Four painted lines across the road might mean four lanes of traffic in America, but not in Aceh. You drive where ever you see an open spot. And you honk constantly. It’s not out of anger, but to let a driver know you’re coming through and not stopping. The horns were another constant source of headache material.
The condition of the city is not just because of the tsunami either. The city of Banda was underwater, but because it’s located more centrally and away from the coast, the force of the wave did little damage. It was the villages that suffered the worst. No, Banda Aceh stench was there before the tsunami.
I learned the Acehneese people are the outcasts, even despised among the Indonesian people. There are assorted reasons why that I’ll write about later, but they’ve chosen to isolate themselves for a reason. Most Indonesians avoided Aceh and when I asked why, fear was the primary reason. This is the home of the rebels, the Gam (pronounced Gom) and if you’re an Indonesian living in Aceh, you’re Muslim. Although there are four allowed religions, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Protestant, only the non Indos are not Muslims. In fact, you have to be something. Sorry, Duccio. It’s even required for your driver’s license.