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Capt. Ray's Indonesian Journal
'Despite all the hardship, everyone smiled'


[April 30, 2005] My first sight of the Maruta Jaya was from the plane as we flew over Sinabang harbor on the island of Simeulue. By far the largest vessel in the port, she lay at anchor awaiting our arrival. When we landed at the airport, we saw that the terminal had been leveled by the earthquake and replaced by a tent.

Care International had provided a driver to meet us. The short trip into the capital was rough, as the roads were badly damaged and the bridges were makeshift. There were huge gaps in the earth left by the quake. The streets were lined with tents and tarpaulins, and many homes were badly damaged or destroyed. The people were afraid to sleep in their homes even if they could. There have been at least two major earthquakes in the past two weeks and many aftershocks.

When we arrive at the ship, I am welcomed like a Taipan. What do I want? How can we serve you? The captain and officers were all in crisp new uniforms, the crew in new jump suits, with insignias "Windjammer Relief Effort". Everything has a fresh coat of paint, and we are looking good.

That evening I am invited to the home of the Bupati (the governor of the province). The captain, the ship's officer and I visit with Bupati and he says that he would like to visit the ship. The next morning he arrives, and after a tour of the vessel we meet in my office to discuss how we can help his island. We agree that we will take on five young men as cadets and teach them to be sailors. After a few months on board they will be rotated to the marine academy for formal training. After much ceremony and picture-taking, Bupati says he will have a special gift for us when we return.

Our mission is to deliver aid to the remote villages on the northern end of Simeulue island. Our first stop is a small village of Labayung on the northeast coast. As soon as we drop anchor, we are surrounded by dugout canoes. A crowd is gathering on the beach. We go ashore and meet the chief.

Everyone is very curious, especially the children. I am the focus of their interest, and wide eyes are staring at me. There is a mosque that had been beautifully situated right near the beach, and it is crumbled by the disaster. The village itself is set back a few hundred meters from the shore. As we walk about through the village, we see the school and many very modest homes are also badly damaged. Most houses have been abandoned, and the people live in tents or under plastic tarps.

We returned to the ship and began loading the life boats with supplies. By 10 p.m., we are finished -- exhausted, and very happy. After three months of planning and working on this project, we have put the first aid supplies in the hands of tsunami victims. They are very grateful and wish us farewell as we sail to the next village, Sembilan. It was pretty hard hit. They used to have a pier for landing, but no more and the earthquake raised the ground level about 2 meters (about 6.5 feet), so what used to be the harbor was much too shallow to get near the village. We had to wade up a river to find a place to land the supplies. After this was done, we offloaded supplies for a neighboring village that sent a boat for them.

Our next stop was Sebigo. This is a beautiful protected bay with a narrow entrance. The bay is about two miles in diameter with villages scattered about. We go ashore and the pier is destroyed again, this time by the earthquake. Many homes are in shambles with many living in tents, The mosque was completely destroyed. Despite all this hardship everyone smiled, and "Halo Mister" was heard everywhere we went. It was a long day, but we serviced eight villages, most sending their own boats, which we loaded with aid. Most of the smaller boats are long and narrow. They are powered by what they call a "robin". It is simply a five- or ten-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine, or something similar, that they carry on board and then put in the shaft and connect it to the engine. Most of these boats are a single hollowed-out log with maybe a few planks added. Very simple but very effective.

In the morning, we head up around the north point to the west side of the island to the Alafan District. Our first stop is again a big bay with many villages. This area took the full brunt of the tsunami. It was actually the closest point to the epicenter. One hundred percent of the homes were gone as if they were never there. The only structures standing when we arrived were those that were built with the debris left behind. Amazingly, few if any were killed. Because these areas are so remote, they do not have electricity and TV for entertainment. Instead they tell stories that are passed down from generation to generation. There is a legend that says, "When the sea retreats run for the hills, for she is angry and will come back and swallow you up." These simple people knew better than hundreds of thousands whose lives were lost.

Our last stop was in the surf zone. The bay had huge breakers on both sides of the entrance. We loaded the boats and headed for the shore. I was wishing I hadn't brought my camera because I was sure we would capsize in the surf, but our local guides brought us safely into a small protected area where we were able to unload. Here the effect of the earth quake was very dramatic. The land had risen a full two meters. The people walked out to meet us on the coral that was alive only a few weeks ago. On the distribution to the second village, one of the boats capsized. No one was hurt, but it took all of the next day to get the engine going again. We complete our distribution to more than 30 villages and return to Sinabang.

Arriving in the night, we berth at the town dock. In the morning I come out on the poop deck and hear a chopping sound below. I look out and see the Bupati has sent his gift. The crew is butchering a water buffalo. The horns, about four feet long, are on the hatch.

We will remain in Sinabang and discharge cargo to the local communities near the capital. We leave for Banda Aceh in about a week. I'm not sure what is next: we are looking for a new mission.



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