Hari Raya Doldrums


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Asia » Indonesia » Sumatra » Banda Aceh
November 2nd 2005
Published: November 9th 2005
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The following day I got in touch with Red Cross to see when I could start, and what I could do to help, but unfortunately bureaucracy got the better of me. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent had an arrangement with the local Red Cross, which meant that they couldn't accept any volunteers. Arse. The guy from the Red Cross said he'd look into other possibilities for me, but basically I was back to the drawing board.

It's probably at this point I should talk about Hari Raya (or Idul Fitri in Arabic). This happens at the end of Ramadan (the fasting month) and is like a 3 day long Christmas. Of course in my infinite planning, I'd managed to turn up in Banda Aceh right before Hari Raya. and now everything was going to close down for the better part of a week. So much for my job hunting.

Fortunately for me, I had a Plan B (always have a Plan B):
Go to a tropical Island!

But first I had to spend a rather surreal night in Banda Aceh. On the evening before Hari Raya, there was a big celebration around the Mosque. The closest thing I could compare it to would be the Santa Parade. Except without Santa, or the rampant commercialism.
Groups of young men with flaming torches, cars and motorcycles decorated as floats, or carrying drummers flooded the streets. The atmosphere was electric, I could feel in the air that this was special to the people here.
That night was one of my worst in Indonesia. I couldn't sleep at all, maybe it was the heat, maybe is was "the night before Christmas" atmosphere!
When I went out in the morning I was just in time to catch the waves of people leaving the mosque after morning prayer. I walked through the deserted city, just ahead of the tides of people. However the city stayed quiet, it was just like Christmas day.

I decided to go to the ferry terminal, to check the times to get to my tropical island. It was then I experience the full devastation of the Tsunami. Without any people around, smiling, waving at me, the places damaged by the tsunami really did look dead. However it was reassuring to think that those people were still somewhere, inside, with their families, sharing their first daytime
MosqueMosqueMosque

People leaving after morning prayer
meal in a month.

I'd already heard that there was no ferry today, but I needed to have my escape planned out for the next day. I'm not sure how long I could have kept myself entertained in Banda Aceh before turning into an insomniacal lunatic.

However when I was at the ferry terminal I met an Australian, and he spoke fluent Indonesian...

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