The great pains of Aceh

For some reason, there’s an avalanche of stories in the Western media about Aceh in Indonesia (all after my recent visit there.)

Here’s the latest, in the Los Angeles Times, about the significance of the two large ships that have become massive memorials to the horrific 2004 tsunami (one of my pictures is here):

They are the ships that fell from the sky; two immovable objects, their very presence defying reason.

Residents call them acts of God. Most cannot fathom that the two ocean vessels were transported miles inland by floodwaters of the 2004 tsunami that ravaged this small city on Sumatra’s northern tip.

Miles apart, both have been left intact as memorials to the 170,000 residents of Aceh province who either died or disappeared in the disaster.

Five years after the waters rose to biblical heights, the city continues to rebuild, constructing schools, clinics, roads and villages in coastal areas that had been wiped clean by the invading ocean.

“Acehnese people have moved on with their lives. Most of them have returned to their homes,” said Yusriadi, a tourism office spokesman who goes by one name. “Aceh is back to normal.”

Not for everyone. Some say Banda Aceh is forever changed, harboring a newfound respect for the natural forces that surround it. Dotting the city are boats of all shapes and sizes that rode the rush of water far from their ocean habitat.

None elicit more amazement than the two behemoths.

One is revered as “Noah’s Ark,” a 100-foot wooden boat that crashed on top of a house, providing a refuge for 59 terrified people who say they would have died without its shelter.

The other is stranger still — a colossal vessel weighing 2,600 tons that plopped down two miles inland, like Dorothy’s Kansas farmhouse crash-landing in Oz.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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