Friday, March 2, 2007

Banda Aceh: One Moment In Time

Driving through the bustling, traffic-jammed streets of Banda Aceh, it is difficult to imagine that much of this city was washed away by the 2004 tsunami. So perhaps it is fitting that the Indonesian lounge singer at the first (and only) "5-star" hotel here was belting out an off-tune version of Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time" as I walked through the lobby this evening.

It took only a few moments to change the face of Aceh province forever. In the coastal areas, all that wasn't damaged by the near-record earthquake on December 26, 2004, was swept into the ocean a few hours later.

I was horrified as I watched the television coverage of the tsunami 26 months ago, so I was expecting the worst as I landed in Banda Aceh. I was surprised by the hustle and bustle. Ahmady, the local journalist guiding Jocelyn Ford and I around Aceh, is somewhat surprised too. He says there was little traffic in what is commonly called "pre-tsunami" days.

Don't get me wrong, signs of the tsunami are everywhere. Empty garbage strewn lots dot the landscape....

...while temporary housing structures of all kinds sit next to newly built homes of all sizes.

If I didn't know there was a tsunami I could easily mistake Banda Aceh as a developing, if not thriving, coastal community. But then the huge ship still sitting on top of a house roughly a mile from the beach quickly snaps me back to reality.

The post-tsunami aid is full of good intentions, but it has also created some new problems. For example, some communities get better houses than others.

As I watch the sunset on a beach on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, it is clear progress is being made, but the pace of that progress may be as difficult to judge as the time it takes to get across town in the midday rush-hour.

--Kristin McHugh

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