Revisiting the ghosts of Aceh
I remember well the 2004 tsunami in Aceh. I stayed for more than six weeks in Banda Aceh and then flew back to Jakarta to recover. In Jakarta, I cried everywhere when nobody was around me; at the office, at home, on the street, I was always crying. The situation was embarrassing, but I couldnât stop the tears. They were automatic.
My brain couldn’t run from the images that I took of the tsunami aftermath. The counselor told me that I must go back to Aceh to take different pictures; positive pictures. Like people building their houses or shop stalls, children going back to school or singing songs happily.
Last week, I flew back to Aceh to cover the 8.6 magnitude earthquake. When I heard confirmation that there was no resulting tsunami, I was happy because I would not be taking pictures of sadness again here, in Aceh.
Upon arrival I drove around Banda Aceh city looking for pictures. After more than three hours, I was still having difficulty finding any damaged buildings or clear indications that the area had been hit by a massive earthquake, except for a collapsed prison wall. Shops were open, people were on the street, men fished at the port, and youths enjoyed a day at the beach. Life looked normal.
It was different from after the 2004 tsunami when it was difficult to even find a car on the street due to heavy road damage and debris. A lot of people died on the street and the injured were everywhere.
Jupri, my driver, said Aceh is much better now than before the 2004 tsunami struck. Today, there is a new 130 km (80 miles) west coast road between Banda Aceh and Calang. There are new houses with proper construction to withstand earthquakes, a new museum, and a big, new port. There are even a lot of coffee shops with internet connection in the city now. But, they still fear being struck by a second tsunami. The idea of a tsunami is just too scary for me, and also for the Acehnese.
After taking photos of youths enjoying a day at the beach, I managed to send pictures with happiness as for today, there is no more sadness from Aceh.