Tag Archives: AYAD

Operation AYAD: Debrief

I just spent the weekend at a hotel in Carlton with about 90 other returned AYADs at an official “Debrief” weekend. We did all the stuff you’d expect to do at a debrief, like reflect on our experiences and how they compared to our expectations, discussed how the program could improve, etc. etc. All that stuff was fine, but the funnest part was hearing about other people’s jobs and deciding it would be fun to go off somewhere again, somewhere reeeeaally remote, and doing a job that would be reeaaally strange.

But then I remember, I live in Australia now and do fun Australian things – like see The Flaming Lips and walk on footpaths! It seems like a pretty good trade off at the moment because I really love footpaths, but you just never know what funny old job might come up next, and I suppose it makes for a better blog too!


Last Friday night Marcus and I were heading to Hermes Palace BBQ which, for a time, was a Friday night ritual for us with the beloved Jonathan. Jonathan wasn’t here this Friday so Marcus and I decided to go it alone. We’d been planning to swap music for a while too and decided to do that before hand at my house. Marcus came over but didn’t have his computer so we didn’t swap music but instead just had a drink and waited for a car to take us to the BBQ. Time passed and we decided we were hungry so we ended up eating at home. Simone was at her place (she lives with Marcus) and called to say we should join her for a couple of drinks. A Friday night hanging out with my besties, seemed perfect! Marcus and I walked over to his place and I was going on about how I would fall asleep on his couch within minutes of walking through his door.

But when I got to the door I saw this:

Michael and Lucy

Michael and Lucy as the welcoming Romans

And this:

Artist's rendition of actual events

Artist's rendition of actual events

Well, not exactly this but I was too busy being shocked to whip out my camera.

Thankfully Jess was on the case and took some other photos of me walking through the door to find a surprise farewell party for moi!

"uhhhh...what's going on guys?"

Take note of Alice’s arm in the right of the photo. They are the hand gestures of someone yelling “surprise!”.

Sarah looks like a dork with her laptop on her back

Sarah looks like a dork with her laptop on her back

Is it really a surprise part for me?!

Is it really a surprise part for me?! Marcus...were you in on this the whole time? What about Hermes Palace BBQ?

Simone...I was going to have a nap on your couch!

Simone...I was going to have a nap on your couch!

No really...is this party for me?!

No really...is this party for me?!

Oh my god, I can’t even write this post without a huge grin on my face and getting a bit weepy.

A little bit of back ground, a few weeks ago Jess and I were talking about mumus, those drapey dresses that originated in Hawaii (Wikipedia taught me that), and Homer wore in the episode of the Simpsons that he got really fat. Ibus in the village get right into them here, but I think they’re more commonly known as dusters (or something like that)…Anyway, we were talking about them with our AYAD pals Alice and Eve and somehow a plan was concocted that for my farewell party we’d all get dressed up in mumus and go to the beach. It wasn’t long after we made that plan that I vetoed it. I decided it would be a bit too much of spectacle (read: Sarah is a big square chicken).

What happened next I’m a little unclear on but it turns out that my friends decided to have a surprise party, Jess was able to convince everyone else of the greatness of a mumu party, and they convinced Jess of the greatness of having it behind closed doors (I’m adding in a lot of assumptions here). Mumus turned into togas and there we have it: a farewell surprise mumu/toga party for Sarah. Lucy, being the brains behind pretty much all social events in Banda Aceh knew how to send out a facebook invite that was private and voila a party was had and Sarah had no idea!

There were a couple of keys to the surprise not being spoiled.

1. When Enda said “I’ll see you tomorrow night” and Michael unsubtly pinched him on the leg I thought they were having a gathering that required fixed small numbers. My mind went to “How to Host a Murder”. You can’t let too many people know about that because there are only so many characters. It didn’t occur to me that no one has played How to Host a Murder since 1995. I guess the key to this was my dumbness.

2. When Marcus was acting weird on Friday night I DIDN’T GIVE IT A SECOND THOUGHT! He’s always weird.

3. Even though Jess thinks she’s not a good liar, I am going to hire her the next time I need to do something illegal. That girl can lie without an inkling of visible guilt (even though she carries around more guilt than anyone I know!)

Just because these photos are so funny, here are some more. I could keep going forever with these (but the internet is so slow today that I will eventually have to stop).

Did you guys know about this?

Did you guys know about this? Alice and Cat in flowery designs (you can't see the designs, but trust me)

very happy sarah

very happy Sarah with the leafy thing on my head (I have no idea where they found these in Banda Aceh)

Please excuse me while I get a little bit mushy. You can only hope that this post will replace a “leaving Banda Aceh” post (but I’m already composing it in my head, so not likely).

You meet plenty of fun, interesting people as you go along in life, but every once in a while you strike it lucky and find someone you hope to keep with you after you part ways. In the last few months I’ve found more than my fair share of those people. Sas moved into my house, Jess turned up as an AYAD, Simone moved in with Marcus. They just appeared in my life! It was so easy and I knew I was lucky to have stumbled upon them. But then they got together and planned me a surprise party and only then it struck me that they felt the same way about me.

Jenny Lewis sings “you are what you love, not what loves you back” and I’ve pondered that a few times, changing my mind as to whether I agree with it. But when I think about how much it means to me that these great people love me as much as I love them I’ve decided that Jenny Lewis was wrong and that it’s probably just a combination of both: I feel somewhat defined by who and what I love, but I also feel defined by who and what loves me back.

The best dressed of the night, Michael (who shared the prize with Lucy) + Marcus and Simone, two of the party planners

The best dressed of the night, Michael (who shared the prize with Lucy) + Marcus and Simone, two of the party planners

Simone with Jess, the other party planner

Simone with Jess, the other party planner

Hari Meugang Part III (Jess and Sarah’s Saturday Soiree continues)

So, continuing on from yesterday’s story…after enjoying burgers and fries by the pool, Rijal the superstar becak driver picked us up to take us home. After driving for a while we realised we weren’t heading directly home.

“Where are you taking us Rijal?”

“Jalan jalan sore” (which roughly translates as “afternoon drive/stroll”)

Jess had picked up on the very festive vibe earlier in the day (think of that meat market as a supermarket on Christmas Eve) and by 5pm the whole town was feeling silly. The cat calls to our becak were particularly ridiculous. One old man walked up to us while we were stopped in traffic and said simply “You and me? I love you, do you love me?” wiggling his finger back and forth between us both as if to say “don’t you feel the connection baby?” Best part: he was about 170 years old and didn’t seem to mind that he was declaring his love to two girls simultaneously. Instead of being creepy like these shout outs sometimes are, this day they were a bit cheeky and funny, like “it’s Hari Meugang, to hell with being serious!”

After plowing through traffic in the centre of town we headed towards the suburbs by the sea. Everything was destroyed by the tsunami in this part of town and the roads are brand new (well, they’ve probably been rebuilt three times since the tsunami but at the moment they are brand new), so we hooned around on the wide, sealed roads as the sun when down, ducking in and out of small village streets, onto big thoroughfares with beautiful views of the sea and the mountains and the sunset.

This is how much fun it was:

Jalan jalan sore

Jalan jalan sore

And then…everything fell into place. It was obvious…Jess had to drive the becak.

Jess is a natural. Could be a good second income.

Jess is a natural. Could be a good second income.

Jess was an INCREDIBLE becak driver. All was going well until the brand new road ended.

“Jess!! There’s NO MORE ROAD! STOP!”.


Fortunately, Jess handled the situation amazingly, like a real becak driver (who hasn’t figured out where the break is yet). Jess slowed down and everything was OK. Rijal resumed control of the becak and we continued on our jalan jalan sore. We went to the edge of town where the water meets the hills and Rijal showed us the entrance to a hike through the hills to a secret beach. We drove along a road built on top of a man-made sea wall that looks like it connects villages that were cut off by flooding to the rest of the town (this is 100% speculation, no facts were used to develop this theory). There is water on either side of the road as you ride along it. We saw monkeys and a lot of cows who were lucky to have survived the day (but probably didn’t survive the next). I don’t have any photos of this, sorry. Trust me when I tell you it was pretty darn nice.

THEN (yes, this day really went forever), we drove out of town to the beach where our friends Enda and Jen were having a joint farewell/birthday party. The party was at Joel’s, an icon for the foreign residents of Banda Aceh. We ate wood-fire pizza (but not a lot because we’d only eaten burgers a few hours ago) and drank beer (hence it’s iconic status for foreigners) and got a little bit creeped out by a guy who befriended us. His name was Tom. Was he friends with Enda or Jen? Yes, I am. He just wanted to make friends, but as Rijal put it “he’s a little bit crazy”.

After delicious chocolate and banana cake was served, it was 10.30pm and Sarah was TUCKERED OUT! I was so ready for bed that I hopped on Rijal’s becak and drove it home. Well…I drove it to the end of the street.

As we drove back into town, Jess and I discussed how we were going to handle the separation (our day had started at 7.30am when I arrived at her house for a hot shower and by now it was 11pm). I bid Jess adieu and Rijal drove me home. I went straight to my room and crawled into bed.



Jess and I went back to the hotel last night for the massage and facial we’d planned for Saturday…We went in a little highly strung and came out as two very chiiiilllllled individuals. I wish I had a photo of us as we practically sleep walked out of there. But I was too chilled to think about my camera…

Hari Meugang part II (or Jess and Sarah’s Saturday Soiree)

As I was lying in bed last night it occurred to me that readers might not like pictures of cow heads. If you were grossed out by my last post, I apologise and can offer the explanation that 12 months of meat markets has dulled my sense of propriety.


You thought the meat market was exciting?! Well, the adventure had barely begun! We were on our way to a house and motorbike blessing! Two recently arrived AYADs were having their new house and motorbike blessed in their very cute village on the other side of town.


We arrived just in time to see the blessing of the motor bike. This old lady (from here on in called “the Ibu” which literally means “the mother”) from my friends’ kampong (village/neighbourhood) conducted the blessing and didn’t take crap from anyone…Not the busy body women standing next to her (who tried unsuccessfully to boss her around), or….
Ibu sprinkles rice over the bike (one of the many stages of a tradtional bike blessing)

Ibu sprinkles rice over the bike (one of the many stages of a traditional bike blessing which also included sticky rice, coconut milk, a flour/water combination etc)

The film crew. Look at the way she stares down the camera.
Ibu gives the camera a dirty look

Ibu gives the camera a dirty look

Yes, there was a film crew present. One of the girls was the subject of a documentary about the AYAD program and the arrival of the film crew cleverly fell in line with the house/bike blessing. The documentary will probably screen on Channel 10 (Australia) early next year.
Australian film crew

Australian film crew

After the bike was blessed the Ibu moved inside to bless the house which meant using a bunch of leaves/flowers to spray a mixture of flour and water over the walls, furniture, people.  (By then my camera ran out of batteries…) Then we all feasted on fruit and sticky rice and some truly sensational chicken cooked in coconut milk (that apparently takes many hours to prepare but I think it was worth the effort). Mum, dads, kids, aunties, Ibus all crammed inside the house and found some space on the floor to enjoy the food.

And in true Aceh style, they ate, they cleaned, they dispersed. Acehnese really know how to celebrate and really know how to get it over and done with. I love this so much. Jess and I were discussing how we might carry this practice back to Australia. Arrive at someone’s house for dinner at 8pm, eat at 8.30pm, finish food, gather dishes and wash them all at 8.45pm, out the door at 9pm. Efficient no?

Unfortunately the Australians bucked the trend and sat on the couch drinking coffee for four hours. Eventually, after all that relaxing, we headed off to the next plan for our day…massages and facials at the four star hotel, Hermes Palace. We had planned to do this around 11am, but by now it was 2.30pm and unsurprisingly, the spa was fully booked for the day….So we headed upstairs to the restaurant and ate burgers and fries by the pool. Not a bad compromise (and possibly as good for the soul).

The Jess and Sarah Saturday Soiree continued for many hours to come, but I have no photo evidence. So I will wait until I can get the photos from Jess to continue the story, which contained one of the greatest moments in Sarah’s Aceh experience…

more about the bloody PM

Today’s post was going to be about the rehearsal for the PM’s visit but alas…

First of all, I will finally give some details about this visit (I realise I’ve been vague about it, but I didn’t really know much about it other than ‘I’m meeting the PM!’)

So, as you’ve probably seen in the news, Kevin travelled to Japan earlier this week and today he is in Indonesia. Australia gives aid to a whole range of countries, as one could expect, and until very recently Australia gave more of its aid dollars to Papua New Guinea than any other country. But that’s recently changed. Now Australia gives more money to Indonesia than PNG. That isn’t entirely surprising considering the difference in size of the two countries, but it is quite symbolic because it means that Indonesia, out of all the countries in the world, is a priority country for Australia. One could write a very long list of reasons why this is, but you can probably think of a couple of reasons off the top of your head and they’d probably be right.

So, further to that, within the context of a large Australia aid program in Indonesia, one of the identified priority locations is Aceh. Again, I can think of a few reasons for this and they’re probably right, but there are probably more complex reasons for this that I’m not privy to. One thing I do know is that Australia is extremely proud of its work in Aceh, and it’s fairly justified. There have been many, many successes and failures in Aceh, but Australia has had a pretty good run, and there are more than a few stories that would make you feel pretty happy about how your tax dollars have been spent here. So when Prime Minister Rudd decided to go on a trip to Indonesia it makes sense that he chooses to drop into Aceh (only for a few hours) to highlight one of the jewels in the crown.

That’s where I come in. Even though I work for someone else (quiet separate from Australia and its aid program), as an AYAD I am part of Australia’s aid web. My guess is that a memo has recently gone around AusAID about increasing the visibility of the AYAD program, because after months with no contact with them at all I’ve been called to participate in two events in one week. Furthermore, although I haven’t received official confirmation, in provisional schedules the AYADs have been specifically singled out for time with the big man. Cool, but very unexpected.

I will report back on whether this eventuates or whether I end up taking a photo from across a crowded room. We were supposed to have the rehearsal this afternoon — at which I was expecting to find out more information so I could start to get nervous accordingly — but it’s been postponed to later this evening. We’ve been told to be on standby for a few hours until we get the call.*

*It turns out that if you’re organising an event with the PM you can pretty much expect people to do anything, even on a Friday night, and they will be obliging.

P.S. I found a nice dress in my housemate’s wardrobe that will be just right for meeting Kevin. Thanks to Lars for the note about the stockings in the last post. I’m going to follow your advice.