After the popularity of the blog post about Khartoum, I have searched out a few more letters home this one comes from Nias, and Island off the coast of Sumatra. After initially suffering damage during the 2004 Tsunami, Nias suffered a second huge earthquake which not only destroyed much of the capital but also tilted the Island. Anyway I will let you read this letter home.
|"Nias' lush green vegetation, a subtropical paradise"|
I cannot tell you how tired I am, whilst I did my best to combat my jet lag by staying up all day yesterday it was somewhat crippled by the efforts of the Medan hoteliers who woke me a 0430 rather than 0530. Once again today I have required a siesta of 2 hours at lunch, even in the heat of the tent I slept with out dream or recollection. I arrived at 8am; it was a simple one hour flight from Medan, on a rocket like trajectory of constant climb to a pinnacle and then a steep descent into Gunung Sitoli airport. Medan had all the trappings of a city, although as you approached the edges it became clear that as the population grew they just slashed back another 200m of lush green tropical vegetation. Nias looked to be so entirely different as we landed, the lush green vegetation hardly broken for as far as the eye could see. I half expected to see Elias Barnes run from the cover of the palm canopy to be gunned down in the open (a reference to Platoon for those who aren't movie buffs).
Earthquakes are neither malevolent nor judgmental; they show no fear or favour. I don't think I have ever seen such wholesale destruction as in Gunung Sitoli. I can only compare it to accounts of carpet bombing I have heard of from the Second World War; there is mile after mile of flattened buildings in Nias' capital. Belied by the 'jungle' airport, Gunung Sitoli was clearly once a prosperous town. Many tile fronted buildings, lie shattered, subsided or shaken from their glory; their architectural features lying pathetically in the rubble whilst humble shacks are still standing between the piles of bent steel and jagged masonary. Even the buildings which remain standing are often cracked or so structurally unsound that families choose to live in one of the hundreds of tents that now line the street fronts; sleeping outside their properties, facing the dilemma of whether to destroy and rebuild their homes or to wait for a day when the shaking stops.
I guess you'll have to get used to several days emails in one day as the email is a little sketchy as I have said. The ferry between Sibolga and Nias has broken down and now I am at a little bit of a loose end. All my stock is on the main land and I really only have a fleet of four permanent cars to take care of. The planning is done and I feel to guilty to enjoy the beach. I caught up with a Swedish friend Maria, who I worked with in Sudan. She is out here with Raddnings Verket (or the Swedish rescue services agency to you and I) It was good to sip real coffee in the UN compound but I wouldn't give up my beach for all the fresh coffee in Indonesia. It is becoming clear the size of the task in hand, almost all the bridges are a best buckled at worst collapsed. The road south is all but impassible to heavy traffic but I have 60 metric tones and 10 technicians to get down there – now this is what I call fun logistics we are hiring boats, mexefloats, motorcycles and the like. I like the fact it requires a bit of lateral thinking and creativity to get things done here.
Life has a great rhythm and ironically reminds me of my time in Iraq, with out the snoring hulk of Jack in the bed next door, or the antics of Shammie. It is early starts and cold showers followed by breakfast and then straight into work (we live, eat and work in the same beachside compound), we work til 12 when we have our standard fish based lunch (those who know me well know I am not that partial to sea food but I am getting used to it) we then work til around six when I go and do some exercise for an hour before the second wash of the day and dinner. Sometimes we'll round off the work of the day after this with a few team meetings and debriefs but when we have the space the evenings are fantastic sat out on the veranda of a hotel showing the strain of constant tremors reading, chatting, occasionally an English language film on the TV that is subtitled rather than dubbed. Then I am generally in bed by 1030 and well ready for it.