Author: Jamie Kohler

Tsunami Up Close and Personal – Bande Ache, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tsunami Up Close and Personal
Bande Ache, Sumatra, Indonesia

The earth shook with the smell of sulfur and the cries of those caught in the path.

The fires began.

Bodies burned, voices cried out for loved ones and then the water. Lives forever changed. Children torn from parents arms. Arms and legs ripped from bodies, lungs filled with suffocating mud. Legs running for shelter, family, hope.

Their collective passing brought the world to attention. Individuals, countries, communities reached out.

Girl at the Hospital
Girl at the Hospital
Some with finances, some with prayer and others with personal sacrifice.

20,000, 80,000, 120,000, 230,000 dead or missing. No one really knows. Will we ever know? The worst natural disaster in the history of the world.

5 weeks later and bodies were still being pulled from the mud and debris. These grim discoveries continue today.

We only met the survivors. We helped them to breathe; infused their veins with powerful antibiotics; removed their tumors, and limbs; released their contractures; set their fractures; even treated their worms.

We listened to their stories: how they clung to trees, threatened by snakes and alligators; inhaled the brackish waters; dug out of the rubble; and found their best friends and families in piles of the dead.

Patients on Flight Deck
Patients on Flight Deck
We met their parents, siblings, aunts and uncles. In some cases all that was left of family. Their losses almost too much to bear: children ripped from arms; whole families gone; people returning with tents to their devastated land, close to the water, because for generations, home had always been there.

And we saw the beginnings of healing, of hope. In the wards the patients and their families cared for each other; fed and bathed each other; prayed together, five times a day, each time in clean hospital scrubs. They drew pictures, played cards, played guitar and sang.

Fractured lives starting anew.

The art told us much. From the little town of Lamno, south of Banda Aceh, a child’s drawing of water, boats and ocean says: “Our world before the tsunami. It is gone now.” And the 15-year-old artist’s sketch of herself, before finding her best friend, dead in the rubble, “Where is my family? Help me please.”

Crushed Car
Crushed Car
Cared for, they show their love and gratitude through art. “I love nurses USA. Thank you. People Aceh.” On a T-shirt: “Mercy, thank you all!” as they left the ship to return to what was left of “home”.

A people in chaos, infrastructure lost, roads gone, hospitals buried.

A proud people, these Acehinese, determined to recover.

And an Indonesian government determined to help them regain their dignity, asking us all to leave soon, so they can take over, rebuild this people’s country.

They are survivors.

Lives were not lost in vain; no one will ever be the same again. Life will not be the same.