Rebuilding Banda Aceh

A photography expedition

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Wrapping it up

The team has been doing some real story hunting lately as we wiggle our way into unthinkable situations and interview some very prominent people.We’ve gotten to talk with the Head of Reconstruction and Development, as well as a few directors of the Tsunami Destruction & Research Mitigation Center here in Aceh. We also managed to pull some strings to get some aerial shots done. They really speak to the rebuilding and the growth the city has been a part of. As a special bonus, we got an exclusive interview with the Mayor of Banda Aceh on Monday (in his air-conditioned office - a treat on a rather hot day). 

(Becca in the Mayor’s office)

We owe a lot of our experiences, appointments, and successes to our Acehnese friends who have been very instrumental in helping us find places and people using their networks. We are continually grateful for the crossing of our paths and wish to thank them for all their help! 

On the village front: We really feel a part of the community now, rather than strange, white-skinned outsiders. It has been a lot of fun to see the children’s faces go from a look of confused bewilderment to smiles that light up with excitement and missing teeth. It seems like every time we wander from our houses there are always a few kids that shout our names (or “Mister”) and ride their bikes (that don’t have brakes) over to observe us. There have been several afternoons spent on the porch communicating via signlanguage and Indonesian-English dictionary searching in attempts to answer simple questions. 

The memory cards and hard drives are being put to work. This is all a great joy for Chris who now has over 300 gigs on his computer of photos and interview videos.. Backing up the photos/videos on an external hard drive takes over 2.5 hours… Yikes. 

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The village we have been staying in has been getting used to seeing us everyday, and these two boys follow us around everywhere when we bike, sit or walk. Most of the kids know our names now and only sometimes call us “buleh” (ex-pat). They are wonderful kids and always keep us laughing.

It’s pretty incredible to be able to share a laugh with someone who doesn’t speak your language. 
Also, we went on a big adventure today. This has been a trip for the books, and we seem to be meeting all the right people. We got to interview the chief of reconstruction of Aceh and hopefully have a meeting with the mayor on Monday.
We also visited the Tsunami & Disaster Mitigation Research Center. We met a few members of the Professional Services Division and got shown a special presentation of the past, present and future of their center. It is absolutely incredible how much they have accomplished, and with the help of a global community. With their push for education in communities around Indonesia, they are saving hundreds of lives and making information easily available for a wide number of people. 
We are so grateful for all of the support we have been receiving for this project-in the USA and here in Aceh. 
We have been talking about where to start when we give presentations when we return. There is so much to tell, and if you didn’t put a time limit on it, we could talk for hours about all the information we are processing. 
The next 3 days are booked with meetings, travel, interviews and of course, photographs. 
Enjoy this photo of Chris and the amigos. 

The village we have been staying in has been getting used to seeing us everyday, and these two boys follow us around everywhere when we bike, sit or walk. Most of the kids know our names now and only sometimes call us “buleh” (ex-pat). They are wonderful kids and always keep us laughing.

It’s pretty incredible to be able to share a laugh with someone who doesn’t speak your language. 

Also, we went on a big adventure today. This has been a trip for the books, and we seem to be meeting all the right people. We got to interview the chief of reconstruction of Aceh and hopefully have a meeting with the mayor on Monday.

We also visited the Tsunami & Disaster Mitigation Research Center. We met a few members of the Professional Services Division and got shown a special presentation of the past, present and future of their center. It is absolutely incredible how much they have accomplished, and with the help of a global community. With their push for education in communities around Indonesia, they are saving hundreds of lives and making information easily available for a wide number of people. 

We are so grateful for all of the support we have been receiving for this project-in the USA and here in Aceh. 

We have been talking about where to start when we give presentations when we return. There is so much to tell, and if you didn’t put a time limit on it, we could talk for hours about all the information we are processing. 

The next 3 days are booked with meetings, travel, interviews and of course, photographs. 

Enjoy this photo of Chris and the amigos. 

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Western Food…

"Becca, I’ve never done this before." 

"Done what before?"

"…been on the Wendy’s website.."

I look over to see Chris, in full out craving mode, on the Wendy’s fast food website. We love the food here, don’t get us wrong. Tonight we had a big plate of octopus and we both ate a lot of coral fish (we see it as sweet revenge for the other day Chris got charged by one.) But a nice plate of french fries would be great right now.  

the sight of french fries literally gave him goosebumps.

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Mouse be gone.

Time of death: 23:00. 

R.I.P. Next time, don’t bite off more fingernail than you can chew, little mouse. 

Sound sleep here I come. 

- Chris 

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Lizard Base Camp, v2. 

Found this random climbing wall on the University Campus here. Dubbing it a v2, we were psyched to find little pieces of home everywhere. We even got to listen to a little bit of Bob Dylan from the computer, and heard someone’s cell phone ring with a Katy Perry ringtone. 

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Our wonderful guide/friend, Amir, is a big fan of Hollywood movies. We love his sense of humor and appreciate all his patience taking us from place to place! 

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Rice, kites and coconut juice

It’s difficult to describe the incredible chain of events that just took place.  While on the front porch of Becca’s homestay attempting to make sense of our budget, we were approached by a group of curious Indonesian children. Having a difficult time understanding what they were asking, we pulled out the trusty pocket Indonesian phrasebook. Before we knew it, a group of about 10 kids were looking through the book trying to help us learn different Indonesian sayings, offering us clove cigarettes and inviting us to go watch them fly kites. 

Fast forward to a rice paddy filled with children, mostly boys ages 3 to 18 taking a break from their Ramadan preparation (cutting stray vegetation with barangs which are long, curved knives) to fly their homemade kites. The kites are basically rectangles formed with sticks tissue paper and attached to HUGE spools of heavy duty fishing line. When we walked with them to the fields, a group of kids that knew we were from the USA, ran up with an american flag kite. For the entire two hours we were there in the rice field, it was like a scene from a movie. The combination of unbelievable lighting and the reflections off of the flooded paddy, as well as the generous hearts of the kids, left us both speechless.

By the time we left, it seemed as if the whole village had emerged from their houses to give us a wave and “hello mister”. We were then escorted back to the homestays by several of the children; some on motorbikes and bicycles, while others simply danced all of the way back. No longer than two minutes after returning to the porch where we started, one of our new friends shimmied up a nearby tree to grab us a couple coconuts to drink.  

"Full" is the only word that describes both of our emotional states as of late. Others include: surreal, grateful, uncomfortable, challenging, and lethargic (which we attribute to the addicting, cheap, and possibly illegal Acehenese coffee…). 

Before the night was over, we revisited one of the photo locations hoping for a night shot of a mosque top. After floating two kilometers from an adjacent village during the 2004 tsunami, the locals fenced the 12 ton mosque top in the middle of their rice paddy. We had met Wan, a villager who kindly showed us around the artifact, and his son the day before. Before arriving for the night shot, we took it upon ourselves to print and frame three photos to give to Wan as a token of our gratitude. Upon receiving the gifts, his face glowed as his eyes filled with tears, nodding in our direction in absolute happiness. In that moment, we realized that such a small gift would be treasured and boasted about for years to come. Our fullness continues. 

Learning to fly a kite proves more difficult and painful than one would imagine.

A local villager rides through the kite festivities.

A post-flying drink!  

Flying kites is pretty exciting! 

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Settling in

It’s been a lot of ups and downs so far. Mostly because a lot of the photographs we are trying to recreate, now have things built around them and trees have grown like crazy in the years since the tsunami. We are over joyed to tell you that this is because Aceh has rebuilt and is thriving once again. We are still taking the photos, and it should be a huge testament to the resilience and beauty of a global community working together. 

Yesterday, we attended a international folklore dance festival at a local park. Once people found out we were from America, the cameras began to emerge from pockets and purses in hopes of snapping a photo of/with us.  Chris got tugged aside and interviewed by the local news station here in Banda Aceh, while Becca was asked for her facebook information by complete strangers. There are a couple friend requests waiting in her mailbox…. Our amazing guide and friend, Khairil, was getting quite a laugh out of it all. 

We are getting used to the food here, as spicy and questionable as it may be at times. Sort of like a guessing game every time we are at a restaurant. 

Laughing at ourselves is easy here. We don’t speak the language, and most people don’t speak English. But we are becoming good friends with Khairil, who has been a life saver for this trip, and we told his daughter, Kalya (4 yrs old), that our camera mic was a telephone, which made for some really adorable video footage and a belly aching laugh.

Tomorrow we are going to head out to Sabang (Pulau Weh) which is an island famous for it’s scuba diving and snorkeling. It’s been said that many tourists plan to only stay for a couple days, but end up extending their trip after seeing the island. It will be a good break from the long, long days we have been putting in. We get up at 6:00AM and typically stay up until 11PM, many times skipping meals because we are in transit between photo locations. We have learned what drinks are good here, and one that I’ve been getting is called “Pocari Sweat.” It’s a joke between Khairil, Chris and I since “Sweat” is pronounced “Sweet,” but it is overwhelmingly sugar-y and honestly tastes a little like it’s name.

We are off to divide and conquer the 2000 photos we have taken thus far. For now, here are some photographs from a fish market and a rice field yesterday. Everyone at the fish market was thrilled about our cameras and it was a big deal for them to be able to have their portrait taken.

Until next time, my friends.


Our guide, Khairil, works for the Indonesian Red Cross, so we got to hang out at his office for a couple hours. Super VIP style with badges. 

Chris videoing by a rice field in a little village near Lam Iseik. 

This guy really, realllllly wanted to take photos with each of us. Fish market.

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Banda Aceh, finally.

We are here, finally. We wake up to the sound of roosters crowing at 4 in the morning. It’s constantly hot and humid and never having experienced jet lag before, we are suffering a bit. We get stared at every where we go, and no one speaks English. Our limited Indonesian has proved somewhat useful, but most everyone here speaks Acehnese…not Indonesian.

Traffic laws don’t exist and horns are used as more of bat sonar than accident prevention. Drivers in what has been referred to as “the flow” constantly beep their horns, tap their brakes, and then immediately accelerate again. Traffic rarely comes to a stand still.  There is no driving age, no speed limit, and we have seen maybe 2 stop lights. Stop signs are more of a suggestion and I think both Chris and I are running on auto pilot.

The morale today could be generously described as low…but both of us are hoping that it will get better with time and it’s just the culture shock mixed with jet lag. We are both in homestays and everyone has been very kind to us.

Thanks for all your support, friends and family. -Becca and Chris