Introducing Banda Aceh
The provincial capital of Banda Aceh is not frequently paired in the international press with good times. The city was close enough to the sea and the epicentre of the earthquake to have suffered a double punch from the 2004 Boxing Day disaster. The earthquake toppled most of the buildings taller than three storeys and the tsunami gobbled up coastal development across middle-class suburbs. In Banda Aceh alone, 61, 000 people were killed and development outside of the city centre was reduced to a wasteland in a matter of a few hours. This scale of destruction usually takes humans years of warfare to match.
However, Banda Aceh is on the mend. The usual hustle and bustle of an Indonesian town is up to full volume now and enough aid workers have arrived to kick-start an economy catering to non-governmentalorganisations (NGOs). Prices have swollen to soak up spendthrift per diems and bilingual Acehnese are finding handsome work as drivers and interpreters.
There is still grief and an obliterated landscape, but the city residents are blessed with courage. If at times being a tourist feels superficial, viewing the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami provides a necessary grounding in history and human drama. Residents will share their stories of loss and ask for nothing in return but an open heart.
What will Banda Aceh look like in a few years’ time? After one year, the city had passed through the initial disaster phase: debris had been removed, the dead buried, and some businesses reopened. But rebuilding homes and infrastructure was moving at an imperceptible pace. Aid organisations anticipate being in the area until 2008, but no-one is sure if this is a realistic timeline.
What’s certain, though, is that Banda Aceh will challenge any stereotypes you may have about Islam. In this devoutly Muslim city, the hassles are few and the people are friendly and easy-going. You’ll see headscarfed policewomen directing traffic or sit next to a well-educated Muslim woman travelling without a male companion. Even when the city shuts down for important prayer times, locals use the afternoon break to visit with friends while the sermons are broadcast in the background.
Last updated: Sep 25, 2008