I still get a kick out of calling taking a trip to another town “going on mission”. Whoever came up with that term knew how to make regular life sound really important.
Day 1: From Banda Aceh to Bireuen
I saw an elephant. Yep, don’t need to tell you much else because it doesn’t get cooler than that.
Actually, on day 1 I did other stuff that even rivaled seeing an elephant (whose name is Binkie).
We also visited a local women’s NGO, LINA. With a very small budget LINA is doing many things including teaching women how to use computers and speak basic English. An impressively high percentage of the women who go through the training go on to work in government offices and local development projects which is great for two reasons:
1) They have gained meaningful employment
2) There is a greater representation of women and hence they will be able to represent the views and needs of women in the local area.
One of the women took us home to her village which had been off limits up until just a couple of years ago. It was a centre of activity for GAM (Free Aceh Movement) during the conflict. This woman (who could have actually been a girl, she looked very young) had even fought in the conflict herself. At the village we were met by the head of the local Pesantran (Islamic Boarding School) and other village leaders. Not the kind of opportunity you get every day!
To top off a great day we had a seafood dinner that was tastier (and cheaper!) than anything I’ve eaten in Banda Aceh.
Back in the hotel, I found this great sign:
TO BE PAID ATTENTION TO:
1. One room chamber is only agreed to 2 (two) people
2. Payment in the face of/at the time of check in
3. Small goods and money, securities kept and taken care of by person
4. Clock expiry 14.00 WB pass from the clock counted/calculated by 1 (one) full of day
5. [Is] not agreed to bring the alcoholic drink, cold steel, dangerous objects, penginap can be released from hotel of if generating atmosphere is not balmy
6. All loss do not become the unrightious responsibility of hotel
Day 2: Bireuen and Lhoksumawe
In addition to helping women get jobs, LINA also has a kindergarten! I was glad we visited first thing in the morning. 50 kids counting to 10 in the loudest voices they can muster will wake anyone up. Look at their cute uniforms!
After another busy day of visiting, this time to a great NGO is Lhoksumawe, I called my friend Dedek and we went out for dinner. The photo below is blurry but it’s the best I had of all three of Dedek’s kids. Her baby loved me! She thought I was hilarious. The oldest girl loved me too…until I showed her (in the middle of a restaurant) how Binkie the elephant danced for me. She was SOOO embarrassed.
Day 3: The Widow’s Kampong and back to Banda
Our last business before we returned to Banda Aceh was to visit a village known as the “widow’s village”. We had been told it was called that because many of the village’s men had been killed in the conflict. Turns out that’s not really true at all. Apparently the Indonesian soldiers in the area gave the village that name as a kind of threat. Well, the name stuck, so I guess it worked. Here is a photo of some women from the village working in a field.
I knew I was going to have fun in the village when a man started yelling “orang putih, orang putih!” (white person, white person!) when he saw me in the car. Just like the kids in the kindergarten, the kids in village were great posers for photos because nothing could distract them from staring at me.
After meeting and talking to the women in the village for a while it was time to head back to Banda Aceh.
Now, I love the UNIFEM driver, Pak Halim, but in all fairness he nearly killed us. And he was driving more carefully than usual because my boss and I were in the car. To remind me just how risky driving on the roads of Aceh is, we saw two guys come off a motorbike when a car rammed the back of them. I’ve travelled at some breakneck speeds in my time (thank you Malaysian taxi drivers), but nothing I’ve seen compares to Aceh drivers. For that reason I was glad to make it home.
As they say in the classics, penginap can be released from hotel of if generating atmosphere is not balmy.