The IRC Blog: Banda Aceh - The View from My House
The IRC Blog: "There are certain things that count as 'normal' in Banda Aceh. Devastation is something that unfortunately you see each day. It has become horribly routine. Frequent earthquakes -- as many as three or four a day -- have also taken on an air of normalcy. You are asleep and the ground begins to shake. You are at work and you can hear a window rattle or feel your chair rock back and forth. There comes a moment when you become at once accustomed and highly sensitive to the shaking of the earth. You can feel the slightest tremor. Sometimes you can mistake the beating of your heart for a vibration in the ground.
Since virtually every metaphor we have for stability stems from our relationship with solid ground (think "well grounded" "good foundation" "solid as a rock") we have all tended to approach the quakes with a measure of bravado and humor that attends an unmasking. You are about to brush your teeth at the IRC compound only to see five other staff members flying out of the door as the windows behind you begin to rattle and shimmy. You wonder which would be worse -- braving the possibility of falling debris or violating cultural norms by running out into the middle of the road wearing nothing except for a tangerine-colored towel. You tighten the towel and run outside only to see your neighbors who themselves are wearing their towels. Then someone comes with cigarettes and coffee. You and your neighbors burst out into laughter. How unbecoming these earthquakes are.
In Banda Aceh, last night was different -- but not for the reasons that one would expect. To be sure, the rolling of the ground lasted longer than it had on previous occasions. And perhaps it was a shaking that was even more violent. But to be honest, those details did not define a difference. What was different was the look on people's faces afterwards. I watched them from my porch, entire families on motorbikes, children with parents, truckloads of humanity -- all making their way to higher ground. They trundled into the night, their faces gripped by fear. I looked at one of my Acehnese roommates -- his face was like a child’s. "Greg...earthquake," he said, reduced to tears. "earthquake."
Acehnese are remarkably religious people and I have known them to stop in the middle of virtually any activity simply to pray. Last night, the voices from the muezzin's microphone were telling people to return home. But people were having none of it. The trucks and the motorbikes continued uphill into the darkness and the anonymity of high ground.
The rumbling of the earth had ripped away a patina of normalcy and revealed a trembling red wound. Looking at the crowds I wondered what might be happening in other parts of Sumatra. They too would experience the "normalcy" of devastation and death."