31.05.2012 - 05.06.2012
No sign of the Shariah police, no sign of militants wielding AK-47s and what have you, just friendly people with warmth and smiles. After my first day in Banda Aceh, I felt more than comfortable and secure.
On the second day, I met up with a friend of a friend; a friend of one of my students actually. His name was Jimmy and he was a local Acehnese. My student and friend had told me that he'd be more than willing to show me around Banda Aceh and the surrounding lands. I left my hotel early in the morning and met him at the Masjid Raya. He arrived, and after eating, we explored Banda Aceh with me on the back of his motorcycle.
Banda Aceh is not Jakarta. First of all, it is a small city with a population of less than 200,000 (although before the tsunami of 2004 this figure was approximated to be over 250,000). Second of all, it is a pleasant and beautiful city, with well-developed roads, clean streets, and lots of trees. This gives it the feeling of a large, comfortable town as opposed to a vast urban sprawl.
As mentioned previously, the colonization of Aceh was a long and difficult process for the Dutch, so much so that many of the Acehnese people's regional heroes are warriors from this period. Interestingly, many of these heroes are women, who also fought against the Dutch. The most famous of these anti-colonial heroines is probably Cut Nyak Dien, who led a guerilla movement against the Dutch forces during the Aceh War. The Dutch suffered terrible losses during this period and it took them 30 years to finally colonize Aceh. Descriptions by Dutch soldiers from the time are rife with images of suffering and hardship. Hardship, but also surprise at how the Acehnese, who were comparatively unarmed, managed to outmaneuver the Dutch time and time again until the Dutch eventually gained full control of Aceh in in 1913. Remnants of Aceh's colonial heritage can be found in many of Banda Aceh's museums as well as old colonial houses, such as the one pictured below. Today, these are lived in by local, wealthy Acehnese.
Banda Aceh is a coastal city, which probably goes some way in explaining why the 2004 tsunami was so destructive to the city. The tsunami would have launched itself over the small wall photographed below and completely wiped out any house or building or person it came into contact with.
Since the tsunami, however, those communites which survived have managed to rebuild their homes, lives, and infrastructure. These pictures are from a small village located on the coast of Banda Aceh, next to the sea pictured above. While the village was quite literally wiped from the earth, the mosque pictured at the bottom is famous for being the only building within the vicinity which survived the tsunami intact. It was barely damaged.
About 30 minutes drive from the village by Ojek, one can find this peculiar sight (pictured below), which stands as testament to the tsunami's impact and power.
This beastly structure was carried 3km by the tsunami, and when the tsunami finally receded, it was left on shore. Today it stands as testament to natures power and a monument of the Acehnese people - quite literally, it has been turned into a regional monument by the Acehnese government - and around it, the local people have again managed to rebuild their homes and lives. When the ship was pushed on shore it inevitably came into contact with homes, other buildings, and people, and the entire village was devastated. "Hundreds of people remain buried underneath," a local Acehnese told me. He claimed that it was haunted.
I climbed up and onto the ship. Pictured above is its interior.
I only spent a day and a half in Banda Aceh. This was mainly spent in museums, looking at monuments, eating delicious food, and tracing the after effects of the tsunami. In that time, however, I met and spoke to enough friendly faces. Here are some of the most interesting.
I met these splendid chaps outside a school. They are dressed in traditional Acehnese wears and were performing the Saman, a dance which originated from Central Aceh in the 16th century. The dance (pictured below) is performed kneeling and involves singing, reciting poetry, humming, and clapping the shoulders, chest, and thighs.
I met these girls in a museum dedicated to pre-colonial Acehnese history. With the help of my friend, I chatted to them for a while - and would you believe it? They were not terrorists and they didn't try to kill me! The cute smiles and "Hello Kitty" handbag are a reminder to all those stupid, ignorant journalists who insist on denigrating Aceh as dangerous and its people as fundamentalist militants and terrorists (whatever those terms even mean).
These women were selling SIM cards and mobile phone credit. Surprisingly, I did not feel that my life was under threat.
A fine chap. He, like so many others in Indonesia, supported Manchester United. We became friends and he offered to show me around Banda Aceh. I explained that I was actually leaving Banda Aceh the next morning and heading further South or East, so we exchanged numbers and gave our goodbyes.
I met this women and her lovely daughter in the evening, at a traditional market located next to the Masjid Raya. We got chatting and she said she taught English in a State school outside of Banda Aceh. Her daughter was very, very shy, but adorable, and although it might come as a great surprise to some journalists and commentators, once again I felt safe and secure in the child's presence.
On the next morning I left Banda Aceh and took an Ojek through the country, visiting a number of villages and making my to the town of Sigli, which is on the Eastern coast of Aceh. For now, I leave you with a cheeky picture of my own fine, pure, innocent self. Farewell for now.