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I Remember Aceh MAG
The scorching sun shone down on a makeshift clinic, a small hut where I sat on the wooden floor. The sweat poured down my flushed face as the humidity mercilessly surrounded me. I listened intently to each person who had either suffered injury or illness from the tsunami four months before and had not yet gotten treatment, or who had complaints like rashes or sores. I came to help these people whose lives were completely shattered.
I was with my mother at the northern tip of Sumatra – Banda Aceh – which had suffered tremendous losses after the gigantic tsunami. Literally everything was in ruins; all that was left of the homes were their foundations. Only the palm trees remained standing. Cows and dogs wandered along the roads looking like skeletons, barely able to walk because they were so weak with hunger.
While driving to the next clinic, I could see clusters of tents where families were living because not enough barracks had been built to shelter everyone. Some families chose to place their tents where their homes had been so no one would seize the land. I could only imagine the lack of privacy. Hygiene was obviously another problem. A shortage of water made it difficult to stay clean. It made me so thankful for what I had at home, where the tsunami had not damaged anything.
We passed several mass graves, and I felt like crying. I thought about the pain that the locals felt, knowing that their friends and family were buried there. At the entrance of these sites, the government erected an Indonesian flag and several wooden placards, which told how many people were buried there and reminded the Acehnese people to have hope. I was amazed how they tried to continue with their lives as best they could despite this horrendous tragedy.
With the arrival of the nurses, doctors, and translators, we began to set up the mobile clinic. While my mother helped set up the pharmacy, I assisted in laying out floor mats for patients. Eventually the staff was ready to invite the sick and wounded to come in for help. Many complained about small infected cuts that had not been properly treated, others were covered with rashes, and some were in pain because of serious wounds.
I sat beside one of the American nurses and translated for her as each person came to our mat. An old woman hobbled up and sat down.
“How can we help you?” I asked.
“I was frying some food and the oil spilled and burned my foot,” she said with such anguish that I could almost feel her pain.
I asked, “Could you please remove the bandage?” She slowly unwrapped the filthy cloth and I could see that most of her foot was burned and infected. I asked her more questions before sending her to a nurse who cleaned and bandaged her wound.
I had to take a break. I felt sick. I got my water bottle and took a long drink. I wiped the sweat off my face, took a few deep breaths, and returned to the mat.
The next day our team set up another clinic in a different area.
“How can we help you?” I asked a man who had been caught in the tsunami.
“I am having stomach pain and I am afraid I swallowed rocks while being tossed in the waves,” he said. I tried to imagine how large the waves must have been to fling a man around like a rag doll.
I described this to the nurse. She replied, “Even if he swallowed rocks, his body is capable of crushing them. We will give him medicine for the pain, and hopefully he will be better soon.”
That evening, a woman about to give birth to twins came in. I was asked to translate for an American midwife and several Indonesian nurses. The woman was sweating profusely, so I wiped her forehead and fanned her with a piece of cardboard. It seemed like an eternity before we could see the first baby.
“Tell her to push,” one of the nurses told me.
“Push, push!” I yelled in Indonesian.
The woman’s face turned crimson as she pushed. She was tired, but she focused all of her strength. Finally, the first baby was born. The nurses and midwives looked relieved, but their job wasn’t finished. About nine laborious minutes later, the second baby’s foot appeared. He was having more difficulty. His head and one arm remained trapped, and the midwife was unable to pull him out because his arm was stuck behind his head.
“If he doesn’t come out soon, I’ll have to break his arm,” the midwife said. I was scared, and caught up in the excitement. Thoughts raced through my head quicker than I had time to consider them. What if the baby is born dead? What if the mother has complications and dies?
Minutes passed with no progress. The midwife positioned herself on the table and carefully yanked the baby out, breaking his arm. After both were cleaned and wrapped in blankets, we saw that the second boy’s face was bruised from his difficult birth. The mother had lost quite a bit of blood.
To me, these babies were a symbol of hope. Born miles from their home, which was probably no more than a tent or part of a barrack, these precious infants represented life after hundreds of thousands of people had died. I knew that I would never forget that incredible experience.
After days of translating for the nurses at the mobile clinics, it was time to go home. Following a long, grueling trip, my mother and I arrived. We were glad to be reunited with family, but unfortunately, our water system was not functioning properly so we were unable to shower.
“I have been traveling all day, I am hot and tired, and the water isn’t working!” I complained. Why hadn’t anyone made sure it was working? After thinking about my frustration, I remembered the Acehnese people who literally had nothing. I was complaining about not being able to shower while they often had difficulty finding water to drink, let alone a private place to bathe. I felt guilt leap into my heart and I apologized for getting upset. I will always remember Aceh and how the people there changed my life.