Well, I just got back from Meulaboh in Aceh, Indonesia where I spent 2 days doing construction work and another 2 days doing painting work. Here’s the lowdown on the whole thing.

On monday we got on a silkair flight to medan, small potatoes, just little bit early in the day, as a result I overslept, but still managed to make the tail end of the meeting time. So it IS possible to get up at 555am and reach the airport at 615am!

I thought I was late, turns out another group member totally overslept and was not in the fortunate position of staying near the airport. So my team leader and me (co-leader) perspired for a while over whether she would make it, after a while I figured its out of our hands. It was in the hands of the taxi driver, the staff at the check in counter and Him. She didn’t make it, I think it was probably the staff at the check in counter. I don’t envy their jobs.

Next from Medan we got on a small propellor plane that would take us to Meulaboh. There are no big carriers that fly to Meulaboh, their airport cannot handle big planes, nor do I think there is enough demand. This was a very interesting experience. This tiny plane can get blown around quite a bit by heavy winds. If winds can get strong enough to cause turbulence for big jets, imagine what it could do to a small propellor plane. The ride was a bit bumpy, but thankfully quite short.

So we arrived at Meulaboh, 245 km southest of Banda Aceh. This was the hardest hit area in the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. 2 years after the tsunami, I think life is pretty much back to normal for the people of Meulaboh. Obviously I don’t know what life was like before the tsunami, so I just have to make an estimate. I can see most people living in houses. Though some of these houses are makeshift and make of wood and planks, they are houses nonetheless. Did not see any mass tentage sites anywhere, don’t know if there still are. NGOs are now in the process of building permanent housing for the people.

And before I forget, the people there are NOT in dire need of clothing. Sure they’ll take donations, but its not an immediate need. Its not like they’re not fully clothed or something. (Singaporeans make the strangest assumptions when it comes to donations)

So we spent the rest of monday afternoon going around some of the ground zero sites, and listening to Julia, our liaison with HFH, tell us more about Meulaboh. So it turns out the the Singapore Government is supposed to help refurbish the hospital there, but progress has been slow! Get moving Singapore!

Tuesday started with a bit of anticipation of the work we were about to begin. I spent the day pushing wheelbarrows initially, and then laid part of a brickwall. Not easy stuff. Walls can go crooked very easily. I think we were giving the foreman a nightmare. (Though he denies it) Also throughout the day team leader had to stress about the flight transport back because one of the flights got cancelled, and then the member who didn’t make the flight still wanted to come, so team leader got a bit bothered by all the phone calls flying around.

Wednesday went in a similar fashion except for a minor adventure when I stepped into a ditch that was waste deep in water, so I was told to go back to the house and change out of the clothing, and to check for leeches (linta). Last team member turned up finally at lunch time. Towards the end of the day we said goodbye to the home partner because we were going to a different site on thursday and friday. We were able to help the progress of some of the walls, and I think if we had stayed another 2 or 3 days we could have finished the
structure of the house.

Thursday and Friday were boring, we painted a completed house. Painting, is quite boring, though I did get the chance to talk to the other team members more.  So it wasn’t all bad. Mask and helmet while doing sanding and scrapping work is rather suffocating though it is a necessary inconvenience.

Saturday came and went rather uneventfully.  I.e. had a safe trip home.

Reflections

I thought the trip was a good experience, it inspired me to do more extended stints in the future, and I will have to see how I can fit that into things.  HFH is projecting their stint in Meulaboh to finish in April, i.e. they will have built all the houses that they have set out to build by then.  We shall have to see.  I want to join a community that does good.  Short mission trips do benefit those people, but there is so much more that can be done.

Food in Meulaboh is good, perhaps because Julia is Singaporean, so she knows the importance of good food to the morale of a Singaporean group.  The food was not very good in the Aceh trip, except for Michael’s cooking for us.

The work we did was also much more constructive, might be because we are a smaller group and easier to supervise, so they were able to trust us with more skilled stuff such as laying bricks and mixing cement.  Mixing cement is skilled work, wrong consistency = wrong strength = bad house.  It is also very tiring.

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