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Tsunami The aftermath

'To Hell and Back'

By Lesley Rochford

The following represents the diary of Lesley Rochford. Lesley is a trained nurse who paid her own fare to go to Banda Acheh when she saw the devastation caused by the Tsunami. Lesley teamed up with a Christian Aid and went with a colleague Gareth. Lesley has recorded her experiences for us of this most dreadful natural disaster and the events which followed. The pictures have been deleted from this account in order to facilitate a faster download time. 
This is my diary of events 23/02/05 – 11/03/05, personal,
written to help me reflect, not to help me remember as I will never forget.
Some too painful and emotional to put into words.
Some of my opinions may offend, especially the religious opinions,
but those are my feelings and I will not change my views,
if you don’t like it, don’t read it, I make no apologies for that.

We were advised that a stay of 10 – 14 days would be ample, how right was that, I hope the people who have been there from the start and there are loads, get the psychological and emotional help they will need, they have done a wonderful job.

Thanks to all of you who encouraged me in doing what I believe in, and those who helped with the financial support for me and Gareth.

My heart goes out to the people of Aceh, on the whole a gentle group of people, trying to get their lives back on track, they have nothing to offer, but their smiles of appreciation say it all!

This has been a truly humbling experience for me and a life changing one, I hope I have emerged a better person.

Don’t really know where to begin, hope the flow of words will come easier by pen than it has so far been by mouth.


I was shocked by the state of Banda Aceh airport, the crashed plane, the small baggage reclaim and those disgusting toilets, if only I knew! I’m a homely girl really, used to mod cons and home comforts, boy was I in for a shock. Gareth had by now just about got over his shock at Medan airport, I had gone inside with the girls who met us to buy some drinks, when I came out Gareth looked pale and close to tears. It transpired that some young boys had approached him and offered him sex for money. A great introduction to Indonesia.

We were met and transported to our accommodation by - - - - -, a young American who was to grow on us over the next few days and became a good friend. Conversation was a little rusty on the journey, but important landmarks were pointed out to us. It didn’t look different to any other third world country at this stage. We actually only passed areas damaged by the flood, not the tsunami, so we still hadn’t seen the magnitude of this whole event.

The house that we were to stay in was lovely, rented especially for volunteer workers, we had landed on our feet compared to other places. We had hoped to share a room as neither of us had any experience doing this kind of work and we felt a long way from home. But the rules were boys in certain rooms, girls in the others, made you feel about 8 years old. Still we had plenty of time to reflect together, on those long hot evenings on the garden swing seat!

Grace was said at supper time and we all tucked in to a delicious bowl of rice and some kind of chicken dish I think! Full of chillies, couldn’t cope with the strong chilli flavour at the start of my stay, became more accustomed towards the end! ------ one of the Indonesian translators (who was to become our closest friend) challenged - - - - - to eat one of the chillies whole. He put on a brave face as he swallowed, but the tears and red cheeks gave away the fact he couldn’t cope, then the hiccups set in and stayed with him most of the night. I felt absolutely exhausted, our flight had been delayed, we had missed our connections and were
shattered. I wanted to eat but felt quite nauseas. Was glad of the coffee, Gareth and I made our way to the garden to sit and reflect and wonder what we had got ourselves into.

We met - - - - - later that evening, she had been the doctor I had liaised with and my one and only contact. Gareth and I began to wonder if we were perhaps staying at this house under false pretences, neither of us were of strict faith, although both Christians. It had become clear to us that all of these people lived only to serve Jesus. What were we to do, no one had ever asked us directly if we were religious, so I had never commented. It was obvious to me by the emails that this was a Christian group, but they seemed to need our help and we were happy to give it to the people of Banda Aceh. The alternative was not looking good, so we kept quiet, and acknowledged God when needed. I did struggle to accept their faith, it was made obvious that these people were under the impression that God had caused the tsunami for a reason that transpired later.

Before the tsunami Banda Aceh had been under strict Islamic Law and still was to a certain degree. Women who had hair showing were publicly beaten, men and women did not show affection to each other in public, women did not make eye contact with men and were second class citizens. Now since December the 26th, the western world had made an appearance, pre tsunami, westerners had not been granted access to Banda Aceh, for the past 30 years. A white person was a bit of a novelty, known as boolay (albino), don’t know if spelling is right. The government had already got military in Aceh, who would shoot indiscriminately, the GAM (rebels) also had a strong presence in the foothills, (thankfully they had agreed to a ceasefire post tsunami).

The government didn’t like the western influence as people of Aceh were starting to get a taste of the real world! Military presence was increased young lads out of school, doing national service walking the streets with machine guns and rifles, a chilling sight and a reality check.


We were taken to the posko, (meeting point) and introduced to - - - - -, the nurse co-ordinator. Gareth and I were known as the London team, felt a bit depleted in numbers as most other teams consisted of more nurses and doctors. We then went with - - - - to the clinic, this was to be our main base over the next couple of weeks. - - - - told us that between the 6 doctors that had been at clinic the day before over 600 patients had been seen. It was Saturday and we were broken in gently as clinic only ran in the morning.

As we approached streams of people were patiently waiting their turn, queuing out into the street. Tsunami injuries were being dealt with for free, other more serious injuries or conditions that needed more extensive medical help were charged, the people had nothing, so many opted not to receive treatment, even going home to die, this was especially hard when you saw children turned away and knew exactly what their fate would be. I know this was a third world country but I was so unprepared for that!

We were introduced to some of the doctors, a nice bunch from Jakarta and - - - - the nurse we made good friends with. We also met Dr - - - - - , a doctor from Aceh who we later named Dr Death, his English was extremely poor and if no interpreter was around made communication extremely difficult. I’m not knocking it though, his English was about as good as my Indonesian. It did mean that Gareth and I could say what we liked, moan and swear, smile and he was none the wiser. This was actually what we found ourselves doing most days.

We started to see the streams of patients, mostly wanting dressing changes. Many of the wounds had been caused by the tsunami and were slow to heal, due to infection and probably poor nutrition. Others had been caused more recently by treading on the debris. I also suspected a lot of diabetic feet, but that was not addressed.
The lighting in the small room we were using was diabolical a 40 watt bulb, supplemented by torchlight. The air was humid and hot, we had a fan which seemed to make no difference at all. The window opened slightly but no air came in. The bench that we laid people on was two desks tied together and covered with a black plastic sheet. The ‘dressing trolley’ was a metal storage box, with a dressing pack opened out and taped down, the same pack would be thrown away at home, these were used time and time again. Fortunately we found clean gauze and cotton wool to be able to clean the wounds. ‘Sterile’ what was sterile, clean was the best we could hope for.

Our dirty dressings and used gauze were put into an empty box, no plastic lining, so any fluids, be it bodily or otherwise leaked out onto the floor. This was to be used for the whole day, we usually found a new one for the next day. Fortunately there was a good supply of latex gloves, small sizes, I was ok but Gareth struggled.
Looking around the clinic I did get some faith in humanity, the store room for medicines was overwhelming; almost every country on this planet had donated some kind of medicine. This made it a bit difficult at times to appreciate just what the drug was, but there were lots of interpreters from many different nations, which made life a little easier. If they weren’t around between us we seemed to manage to work it out! So much for the rigorous drug checking back home. The dispensary was outside in the open air, if given a prescription the patient would queue once again for their meds. These were taken from huge great bowls of tablets, spooned into small bags, with the drug name, dosage and how many times a day to take it. Multi vitamins were given out by the bucket load to supplement the poor diet and help aid healing.

We later had our first encounter with Dr Death, word had got around that the American Dr’s who had been working at this clinic were now removing various lumps and bumps for free, people were coming out of the woodwork for this procedure, the American Dr’s had gone home and Dr Death now was the specialist! Gareth and I found it fascinating, the first op we saw, involved removing a lump from someone’s leg. The sewing up afterwards left a lot to be desired, the wound edges overlapped and sutures were pulled much too tight, either ripping the skin, or not allowing for easy removal at a later date. I had done some suturing in A&E and after some hesitation, offered to close the wound as
I felt my sewing couldn’t be any worse, don’t know if he didn’t understand or chose to ignore me. We assisted by torchlight.

Then came the shock of our lives, I went to gather the used, dirty instruments and throw away the suture, I was instructed to leave the stuff alone as it was to be used ‘on the next one’, foolishly I imagined the ladies next lump. In actual fact he meant the next patient!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We were shocked and arguments started, how could this man do this? If it was a life threatening situation, in the field or supplies were running low then I suppose this could be accepted more readily. But this man was doing elective surgery and supplies were ample.

We tried to reason with him about the introduction of HIV and Hepatitis from patient to patient. As a compromise I was able to clean instruments firstly with water, then I found 96% alcohol and a toothbrush to scrub them with, Gareth managed to soak the suture in alcohol, but as soon as his back was turned he disposed of it and opened a new one, this did not go down well at all. The instruments we were using were unfortunately rusty, probably not been stored properly, or cast offs from other countries (doing more harm than good though). The other Doctors from Jakarta also despaired at this surgeon, he was their senior and they were quite glad to see us standing up to him! Empty plastic bottles were used as our sharps bins, scalpels were left lying around as were needles.

Dr Death tended to want to use the same needle, syringe and local anaesthetic from patient to patient, we couldn’t get over this sharing, so unnecessary. Lignocaine was injected, not left to work and the cut made straight away, those poor people, what they must have been going through, but they were so grateful they didn’t even flinch or make a sound. If only they knew! In the UK all lumps are sent for histology, over there we put them into the box with the rest of the rubbish, even had a few patients pick them out and take them home!

One man was having an infected cyst removed, a drain was inserted as it was a huge cavity, the ‘drain’ was improvised using a cut off strip of ‘sterile glove’, we managed to pass him that before he got to one out of the box! At home we probably would have packed a hole like this, reducing the amount of packing as the wound granulates from the inside, Gareth and I were going to be around for the next few weeks and suggested this, we also had the supplies a nice seaweed based product. Once again it fell on deaf ears.

It actually transpired that in some Universities in Indonesia you could, if you had enough money, buy your medical degree! We have no proof, but to us this was evident in Dr Death.

We were invited to stay for lunch after our shift finished at 12 noon, I enquired what happened to the patients still queuing and waiting to be seen, they apparently come back to the next clinic (Monday) and wait to be seen all over again. The toilets at the clinic were diabolical, dirty squat loos no matter how much I tried, my aim was not good and managed to get it down my leg, good job I rolled my trouser legs up first! Fortunately that was my only encounter with that toilet, we were dehydrated most of the time and could go the whole day without having to urinate.

The Indonesians seemed to prepare very hot(chilli) food, the joke of the day would be to see how long it took me to react, run off to find water or shout out aloud as my mouth went numb. It made someone happy anyway. Woh!

After we got back to the house we met - - - -, an Indonesian from Jakarta, not really sure why he had come, to sight see mainly I think. He was religious too and knew many of the people at the house. He seemed nice at the start, but my how you can go off people. Gareth and I were starting to flag a little, it was about 3pm and the jet lag had set in. Then came the offer of the tsunami tour, a bit morbid, but at least we could perhaps appreciate a bit more of what these people had been through. They advised us to wear a mask as it was just starting to rain, the first since the tsunami and apparently they were worried about diseases etc that would be brought down with it!

We started out in good spirits but as we got closer and saw the complete and utter devastation I could no longer hold back the tears. If we had not known it had been a tidal wave, you could have been excused for thinking a nuclear bomb had gone off. I can’t even begin to imagine what those poor souls went through.
Cars that littered the ground, looked like they had just come out of a crusher, the force of the water and all the debris must have been enormous.

You would think that 8 weeks after this tragic event that things would look differently, can’t say that they do. People are wandering aimlessly, around what had at one time been their home. A few lone houses still stood, just shells really. We passed the hospital, all the nurses, Doctors and patients perished, no survivors.

We get out and take some photos, it’s the personal things that finish me off. A shoe sticking up from the mud, a child’s toy, that school tie, maroon coloured on a piece of elastic, to fit I would say a 5 year old. As we drive along the road we stop by a boat, miles from the sea, washed up by the side of the road. - - - - jumps out and wants someone to take his photo by it. What is he on? These are his people, but any kind of emotion is absent, Gareth and I look on in disbelief, he then motions to us to join him for another photo, we decline his offer. The tears are really flowing now,
- - - - asks me if I have a cold, I shake my head, he then realises I am upset, he goes on to say he has cried so many tears for his fellow countrymen, still I find it hard that he is so blasé about it.

We then come to what Gareth and I both feel was the saddest sight of all (independently of each other), an elderly man and lady, probably in their late 70’s or 80’s, alone and on what had at one time been their plot where their house would have stood. No house remains, they are sat on an old pushbike, the wife in the sidecar, it’s started to drizzle now and they have covered themselves with plastic sheeting, what are they thinking? Are they waiting in hope of more family returning? They sum up this whole situation, their destitute, painful expression says it all. How I want to take a photo, as this would truly help people to appreciate what they are going through, and what this place is like, I just cannot intrude on their grief and the moment passes as quickly as it came. I go to bed at night and still see their empty eyes looking at me, that is one thing that I will never forget.

We then came across the most amazing sight, a huge great oil tanker amongst some houses. We looked for the trench it must have caused as it is so far from the sea about 5km, there is none, It came in on the top of the wave, over all the houses and dropped, crushing some 25 houses and people in them. It can’t be moved it’s over 250,000 tons of metal. The locals have been resourceful and are using the generator onboard for electricity in the immediate location. It will probably be made into a monument to the dead or a museum. We met one man whose house was underneath and probably his family, he said if it opens as a museum, he wants to build a coffee shop at the end of it as near to where his house had once stood.

Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has lost someone close to them, some have lost everything. Through a translator a story was told of one man aimlessly looking out to sea. His wife and four children had been asleep inside the house, he was outside tinkering with his moped, as he looked out to sea he was faced with a huge wave coming directly for him. In his panic he got on the moped and raced for the hills, knowing if he had stopped to wake his wife and children he would have perished with them, he goes to this spot every day, where his house once stood, how can you ever deal with guilt like that, people tried to reason with him, tell him that he had done the right thing, who are they trying to kid, themselves or him? He will never recover from this, so tragic.

You hear stories of parents holding their children, only to have them ripped from their arms, or being faced with the decision of who to save and who to let go. How can any parent be forced to make that kind of choice, my heart goes out to those poor people. They don’t want my pity
though, don’t really know what they want, how can I even begin to imagine.

We returned back to the house, I hadn’t cried so much in a long time (probably since the death of my mum). A long cold beer would have gone down a treat, only it’s illegal. We find some Bingtang, 0% alcohol, put it in the fridge to cool, but it doesn’t do the trick, something we have got to get used to!

After supper, time to reflect, we are so sad and morbid, snap out of it. I think back to my plans I had made, I had wanted to come out since day 1 of this disaster. I found it extremely difficult to find an agency who would have me, they all seemed to have their designated teams. I became quite depressed, but didn’t give up. I had never felt more compelled or passionate about doing something to help in all my life, the time was right for me and I had to do it. The extra complication for me is type 1 diabetes, I’m on insulin 4 times a day, I thought most organisations wouldn’t have me in case I became unwell, the last thing I wanted was to be a burden on an already desperate situation. As a complication of diabetes I have retinopathy, my left eye is quite badly affected, don’t know how long I have left before my sight fails completely, this was probably one reason why I was so determined to do this whilst I was still able.

I didn’t know Gareth before this whole thing, he had also been trying to get out and help, but was also finding things difficult. His mum Paula overheard me telling someone of my plans and put Gareth in touch with me. Considering the age difference we got on so well, after our first conversation it felt like we were old friends. I even found myself discussing my menstrual cycle with him, (the trip had to be worked around that)! We managed to meet up a few times before we left and started to become quite close. I can honestly say that I could not have picked a nicer travelling companion and felt honoured to have him come with me. John my husband was also glad that I had a companion and wasn’t alone.

When Gareth and I felt down there were some special moments on our journey that really made us laugh as we thought back to them, probably one of those moments that you had to be there to appreciate. On the plane coming out I was moaning that my controls for my screen weren’t working, Gareth’s seemed to be fine. After trying for I don’t know how long, he started laughing at me, he then suggested that I use the other side of the control as the bit I was trying to make my TV work with was the phone side. That kept us laughing for most of the flight.

Because of our delay at Heathrow we had missed our connections and were put up in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, wide awake because of the time difference we started to watch telly, some kind of discovery channel was on, it showed natives preparing a wild boar for a feast, out of the corner of my eye I could see Gareth heaving and retching, I know I shouldn’t but I still burst out laughing each time I visualise that, it beats the alternatives!

Gareth and I are both nurses, my main background is A&E, Gareth is a community nurse and dressings a speciality of his, together we made quite a formidable team/duo. Our friendship is one I will treasure, Jenny my daughter has said I have found my soul mate! Hope my family don’t feel too left out as I go on about mine and Gareth’s adventures but he has become a big part of my life, we have shared so much over the past two weeks.


Sunday was the day of rest, no work for us, we lazed about most of the morning catching up on sleep, still a bit jet lagged. We did manage to get along to the police station and get our special ID cards made, these were supposed to protect us, the military would be less likely to shoot us if we were wearing it (nice to know)!!!

- - - - - that morning had gone with the Filipino’s to do a bit more clearing of debris at the school. He found three children’s bodies, just bones now, I hope he can cope he is so young, like the yellow men, (wear yellow t-shirts) who collect the bodies and put them into body bags. They are from the army and this has been their job since day one, no break from it yet, how much more can they take?

Most of the house had gone out with the Filipino’s to the beach as a thank you. We were not invited as we hadn’t been there long enough and hadn’t deserved to go! (that’s the impression we got). Could have argued but what was the point. Lunch was interesting, we went to the local restaurant down the road, many were springing up all over the place, to cash in on the money brought by volunteers, resourceful really, who could blame them. We were accompanied by four more senior members of the house, still haven’t really worked out their role in this.

We ordered, not really sure quite what we were getting, mine when it arrived was a sort of chicken soup (I think), Gareth’s was almost a special fried rice, he had only asked for chicken rice, and didn’t go much on the extras that had been thrown in. The drinks were a shock to me, no diet drinks, I mainly survived on water, they hadn’t added sugar to that! Every fruit juice had a sweet, sickly syrup added to it, not what a diabetic needs. We happened to look around the restaurant and recognised a lady we had seen in our local paper, just before coming away. Helene had been working in Indonesia and now was helping with the relief work. We introduced ourselves and arranged to meet up with her later.

Then came the biggest shock of our stay, please don’t think that I am having a go at peoples religious beliefs, this is so not the case, but what we heard next shocked us both deeply. I can’t remember the exact words, but basically the people we were staying with were under the impression that the tsunami had been caused to open up this part of Indonesia, allowing them, as missionaries to gain access and convert the Muslims to Christianity! Hello, reality check! Why would God want to do this? And especially allow them to prey on these people when they were at their most vulnerable, couldn’t no matter how hard I tried get my head around this one! We managed to avoid questions about our religious beliefs as I probably would have exploded if they had tried to ask me.

Gareth and I set out later to try and find Helene, with our bit of paper we managed to show the driver of the chuc chuc (moped with side car, just about big enough for two) the address, he said he knew where it was, did he heck. We headed off in vaguely the right direction, we gathered that, them came to a standstill. He was no more sure of where he was going than we were. We paid and started to do the rest on foot, it had been a scary journey anyway, rush hour and cars, mopeds coming at you from all directions. We turned off the main road and started asking for directions, got sent all over the place, then met some young lads, we were a bit intimidated at first but needn’t had been they came up trumps and showed us the way. Helene wasn’t back from her meeting, we waited a while them made our way back home, in similar sort of style as getting there. Made contact by text later and met up later in the week.

When we got back we were just in time for supper, followed by worship, neither of us wanted to attend but felt obliged to, I think they sensed our reluctance as we avoided the songs, prayers and ranting. We just said that where we go to church we worship in private, I’d have thrown up if I’d had to join in with any more discussions about converting the locals to Christianity. This went totally against anything I believed in.

One thing that did strike me as we sat there, was in a time of need how people could come to work together. In this house alone (and I know some had aims other than to help these people) we were represented by about 10 different nations, UK, USA, NZ, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan & Philippines. I was overwhelmed by this and still get a lump in my throat when I think about it, my faith in humanity had partially been restored.

Gareth and I went into the garden to reflect on the day, we were joined by - - - - - the Indonesian interpreter, we didn’t know how much we could tell him of our views and feelings as he was also deeply religious but seemed to be there firstly to help the people and secondly for religion. He told us that both his parents had died in January of this year, firstly his father of a stroke I think, then his mother 10 days later of a broken heart. They were poor people, with no house or insurance as we know it, so - - - - - was left alone, without any home or money. He did have an aunt who he sometimes spoke of. He was studying English literature at university and loved to speak in English to me and Gareth. He told us of his one room he now rents and of how he will have to find work to support himself when he returns to university.


We set off for the clinic, passed the army barracks, (makeshift tents), lots of shouts and jeers (don’t know what they made of us, didn’t really want to find out)! As we turned the corner to the clinic, people were queuing out onto the street, what a daunting task we had ahead of us. A child was rushed in with severe dehydration, she looked floppy and almost dead, paediatric equipment was not available, but this child needed urgent fluid resuscitation, a small cannula was found and fluids commenced, probably too quickly at first, we did manage to slow it down a bit so as not to overload the child, came into my own here, this was more what I was used too. The mother was told the child would need hospitalisation but she refused, saying she could not afford the treatment, lives are very cheap out here, easy come, easy go. We did manage to persuade her in the end, transport was arranged, don’t know if she ever got there though. Tried to distance myself, or it would have been another day spent in tears.

Many of the wounds we dressed were from the tsunami, we applied our English dressings, superior by far and managed to convert Dr Death from paraffin gauze to mepital (silicone dressing) or inadine. When we had the chance, we advised people to come back in about 3 days for their dressing change, we didn’t feel daily was needed as the wound wasn’t getting a chance to heal. I do have to say this did make a difference as towards the end of our stay things were beginning to look better, bet they have reverted back to the old ways.

We also dressed endless scabs, they seemed reluctant to leave scabs open to the air and discharge anyone!
Got in trouble from Dr Death, we had started to remove some sutures (stitches) from the scalp, they had been in about 9 days and were becoming overgrown with skin. Usually head sutures can come out after about 5 days as the blood supply to that area is so good. He went mad when he saw this and told the patient to come back and have them removed at 14 days woh!

Lunchtime again, found me eating a hot chilli dish, actually only a few spoonfuls, (had helped to prepare this dish), it was too hot and humid to eat and I felt nauseas at the sight of food, woh! My screams and shouts cheered them all up anyway (little things etc). Water was always available and we needed loads of that, still didn’t need the loo though, funny that. Even the powdered coffee was a 3 in 1, coffee, sugar and creamer, so I couldn’t have any of that.

Went for a walk, as we needed to get away from the clinic, they all laughed at us, mad dogs and Englishmen, what the hell, let them. Gareth said that he had started to get nightmares, I think it was probably the antimalarials that he is on, together with the intense humid heat, lack of sleep, dehydration and a decent meal, still we have far more that a lot of people, can’t complain. Don’t think I will about anything again, at least I’m alive, have my family, my home and money!

The Jakarta lot were leaving tomorrow and were being replaced by a new team, shame they couldn’t take Dr Death with them! We were invited out on their leaving do, they had been there three weeks. We accepted and met them later at the clinic, true to Indonesian time they were running late, Gareth and I made a special effort to get there on time although we needn’t have worried. It was a laugh from start to finish, just what we needed. Firstly the mini bus would not start, with about 15 of us crammed in it the battery was dead, the men were ordered out and began pushing us along the road, if they had let us know what was going on I’m sure the women would have got out as well, eventually they managed to bump start it.

We arrived at this restaurant, typically Indonesian, I was amazed that without booking, they could accommodate what must have been around 25 – 30 people. We sat in two long lines opposite each other, items were placed at the top of the table and passed down one by one, firstly a cup of water each, then a straw, then finger bowls, then cutlery (although Indonesian style was to use your hands) a few of the doctors used knife and fork, I think to make us feel better. Food was passed down in the same way, not too sure what we ate, but was hungry and didn’t dare ask, if it moves they eat it, best not to know I think.

We offered to pay our way but they insisted on treating us, we graciously accepted. We dropped some of the people back at their accommodation, after jump starting the bus, (this time it was up a hill and took a lot more effort), the girls waited until it had started this time before climbing onboard. They didn’t admit it but I think we got slightly lost on the way home, it seem to take twice as long. We then walked for about 10 mins until we found a coffee shop. I felt quite safe with these people as they were Indonesian, but in Jakarta where they come from it is a lot more liberated and readily accepts more of a western approach. It was actually Gareth who pointed out to me that me and - - - - were the only women in this coffee shop, or in fact in the whole street, I felt quite safe though as we were with Indonesians. As it got later one of the doctors said, I think we really should go now and get me and - - - - home as they had just realised that no other women were out. I began to become a little more nervous now.

We walked back to the clinic, which was where they were staying, come in they said, we have another surprise for you. They then produced Dorian fruit, smells like rotting flesh, but tastes delicious, it is describe as smelling like hell and tasting like heaven. It’s not allowed in a lot of public places because it smells so bad, I quite liked it, Gareth didn’t and I think I actually caught him retching once again. They decided it was time for us to go as we needed to be home before midnight, it would be totally unacceptable for women to be out this late at night. As we walked back passed the army barracks there were loads of whistles and shouting, a bit unnerving as we were two women accompanied by four men, we dropped - - - - off, said our goodbyes and turned into our house, - - - - - had been worried about our safety and was sitting outside waiting for us.


Got a text message from Jenny today (my daughter) one of her old school friends had been killed in a car accident, I felt so bad for her, all I wanted to be able to do was cuddle and kiss her, but I was the other side of the world, hope she’s ok. We again attended the clinic, this time the new team of doctor’s were there, along with Dr Death. Two American nurses had shown up, - - - - and - - - - -, we soon showed them the ropes and educated them about Dr Death. They were good too, and stood for none of his antics. Today he decided to remove a really small lump from this ladies foot, really not worth bothering about! Don’t think he knew what he was doing, I certainly had no idea, especially as she only owned flip-flops, imagine what she could introduce into that freshly made wound!

As I looked out into the queues of people I spotted a rather sick looking child, limp in his mother’s arms, I called her over, took one look at the child and rushed him in. It transpired that he had been knocked over, banged his head and injured his arm. We had no paediatric equipment so I observed his vital signs the best I could. He seemed very vacant at times and his eyes started to roll. Pulse and respirations seemed ok. Through the translator I asked his name, he managed to tell me, I then asked how old he was, he didn’t know, the translator said that it wasn’t uncommon for a child not to know that, mum said he was six. The next question I asked mum not to answer, and became worried by the child’s response, I asked how many brothers and sisters he had, he told me 1 brother, 2 sisters, he was an only child, I became concerned about his confusion, the eyes started to roll again.

Pupil reaction was a little sluggish, but equal and reacting. The arm looked deformed, ? Supracondylar, radial pulse present, (this type of fracture could lead to loss of limb if serious and untreated). I found one of the new doctor’s and tried to explain that I needed him urgently to assess this child as I was worried he had a head injury, he came, the translator explained my findings and he fortunately agreed with me, we arranged to get him to hospital, but it didn’t happen straight away.

I put the arm in a sling for support and pain relief. Then Dr Death appeared, he had to get the child’s arm out of the sling and pull it about, the kid was hysterical, I asked him to leave him alone but he wouldn’t have it. When I went to put the arm back in the sling he said it wasn’t necessary, I really put my foot down and insisted it went back on. This child was probably going to be transported by moped to hospital, imagine the pain and discomfort he would have gone through with an unsupported arm.

A baby who looked about 8 months old was brought in and put on the bed next to the other child, it was undressed and laid down, he had a colostomy. This child had no rectum and had undergone surgery as a tiny baby, it now looked like he had a blockage and the colostomy wasn’t functioning. The parents were advised by the doctor that additional surgery would be required, they of course could not afford it, a pad was placed over the colostomy site, I changed it for some gauze soaked in saline, at least that would not stick, the family were turned away, my eyes welled up, couldn’t take much more of this.

I could not get over the total disrespect that Dr Death had for his fellow countrymen, or should I say women. Some women would not be treated by Gareth or male Doctors and seemed to make their way over to me, this was way out of my league. One woman only young, explained via a translator that she had not been able to conceive, I tried asking her about her menstrual cycle and history but this was lost somewhere during translation. I started to feel this woman’s tummy, it was hard, she seemed to have a uterus up to her chest, we had no pregnancy tests. I gathered that she was having periods, passing faeces and urine normally. She did look pale and tired, my concern was a uterine or ovarian tumour, I tried to look for any female Doctors who could help me.

Dr Death jumped in, totally against this young woman’s wishes. I think his conclusion was the same as mine, he muttered about the hospital as he walked out. I tried to get the translator to impress the importance of this woman seeking immediate medical help from the main hospital, if she was lucky she would maybe get treated by one of the overseas doctors. Once again money was an issue, I don’t know if she bothered. I’m really finding it hard now.
A woman with a breast lump comes in to see me, why me, maybe it’s the fact I’m the only woman here at the moment, I’m not a doctor, but it doesn’t take a doctor to diagnose this lump, it’s firm, large, very irregular and attached to underlying structures. I’m concerned that this is malignant, I explain via a translator that this too needs urgent medical assistance at the main hospital, ‘please try and express the importance that she attends’, I think this fell on deaf ears, money was the main issue. It is so unfair, if I’d had the money, I’d have given it to them. I really don’t want another day like today, really stressed. We decided that tomorrow we would go and do something different, clear some debris, distribute aid, we needed a break from the clinic. - - - - - and - - - - - - had agreed to cover us. On the way back to the house I cried and cried, poor Gareth. ‘Don’t do that now’, he said, ‘not here, I can’t hug you’.

We learnt that the United Nations headquarters had set up a special tent with about 10 laptops in it, especially for volunteers and aid workers to email home free of charge, we made our way over there with - - -, - - - and - - - - -. On the way home we tried to stop at a cash point machine, (there were a few around). It was still light about 6pm, a local man went up to
- - - - and Gareth when I was trying to get some money and made a fuss to them about me not covering my hair, after that I tended to walk around with a headscarf, but it was so hot! So took it off whenever I could.

That evening some new people had arrived at the house, - - - - from Malaysia, - - - - from the Philippines and - - - - from the USA. It was decided that Gareth and I would join them to distribute aid to one of the villages. - - - - was also overseeing the building of 40 new houses for these people. We had a list of every single person from that village and started to label the packs, the children’s had books, toys, sweets, toiletries, shoes, t-shirts etc. Babies had nappies, toys and baby food. The adults had toiletries, t-shirts, pants, bras, mosquito repellent, sanitary towels, shoes, batteries and other small luxury items.

After we had labelled all the bags - - - - then realised that she had written labels out which included the people who had died. I had a lump in my throat as we had to hunt through the packs and remove those of the
deceased, especially when it came to doing the babies! I didn’t have the heart to throw away their name tags, I still have them somewhere!


worse than we had previously seen, this area had been densely populated, now just a vast empty space
The village that we went to was on the west coast, we passed some totally devastated parts. Had another blonde moment, you had to be there to appreciate yet again, kept - - - - and Gareth amused for the rest of the journey. Gareth passed me his camera as I was beach side, and asked me to take a photo. I assumed the camera was the right way round, pointed and took a photo, it actually ended up taking one of me, never mind, how cool am I!

The village that we went to was called Paya Kanleng, it consisted of around 100 homes, half of these had been lost to the wave. The villagers were now only just starting to return, they had been up in the hills, living in squalid conditions, a cholera outbreak waiting to happen apparently, we didn’t venture there.

We firstly met with the village elders, I was surprised that they shook hands with the white women, but they seemed genuinely grateful and treated us with the utmost respect. They did however force their hospitality on us, not wishing to offend I indulged in some coffee, black, strong and laced with sugar. Drank what I thought would be a respectable amount and left the rest. We then gave out the packs, they were over the moon to receive such basic items. It was a lovely sight to see.

Through a translator we learnt that many had time to head for the hills, which were a lot closer to this village, many still lost their lives. They describe the wave a huge black wall coming towards them, as high as 3 palm trees. We were told of one woman, who didn’t quite make it to the hills, climbing a palm tree with her daughter and saved them both. - - - -,
- - - - and - - - - had camped out at this village a few nights before and told us of the tornado they had seen out at sea, they described the look of fear in the villagers eyes, they had not seen one of these before and thought it was connected to the tsunami, imagining it was going to happen all over again!

One thing I did find odd in this time of crisis was the infighting amongst the villagers. These houses were being built for them, by a charitable organisation, at no cost to them, some people had been well off and didn’t like the idea of downsizing, whereas others who had been less rich were getting a good deal, the pecking order had been rearranged and not appreciated, some people are never content.

It was nice to see the young children playing, they are probably too young to fully appreciate exactly what had happened 8 weeks earlier, the other children are attending a make shift tent school, don’t know what kind of facilities it has, probably not good. We saw a heavily pregnant woman, my heart went out to her, what a prospect giving birth now! We left her some vitamins and persuaded some one that it would be a good idea to get her checked up in the new clinic that would be opening up out that way in a few days, (a medical team were coming in from the US to get it up and running).

We stopped at the clinic on the way back, a lovely building, which had once been the governors house, stunning views overlooking the bay, loads of rooms some big enough to be used as overnight stays if patients needed, this could be really great.

We had the afternoon off, decided to go for a walk to the busy street/market area. As soon as we turned the corner Gareth was confronted by the fish stall, smelly and crawling with flies, people were buying it too, Gareth started retching and heaving, another one of those moments you had to be there to appreciate, (I really do not have a sick sense of humour). Bless him!

A large group of Americans from - - - - - - arrived, they seemed a nice lot, the house became alive and the mood lifted, they loved our English accent and kept getting us to talk, we really took the piss out of them trying to copy us, they were crap. The women kept going on about their fanny packs, didn’t really know what this was, maybe a new name for a tampon, turned out to be their bum bags, they couldn’t believe that’s what we called them!

Their main reason for being there too seemed to be to convert people to Christianity if they had the chance, they also had another purpose, to help the Filipino’s finish off the school, a lot of the work had been done. The site still needed clearing, painting inside and out, walls building and carpentry to some of the chairs and desks.

They hadn’t quite got the hang of only taking a little at meal times and going back for more if there was some later, Gareth and I didn’t always turn up the minute it was served, but now if you didn’t you risked getting nothing at all. Where was Jesus and his loaves when you needed him?

We sat outside in the garden and sent some text messages home, Gareth felt sorry for me and offered to write mine as it was taking me ages, took him up on it straight away, he did comment though after a while that it really was meant to be a short message, not an essay.


We decided to go out with - - - - - and the Filipino’s to the school and help with the clinic out there. Met Dr - - - and - - - the nurse, they seemed really pleased to have us along. The journey was interesting, about 20 of us crammed into a small mini bus (luby luby they call them), some people and supplies were on the roof, 3 men were hanging out the back, holding on for dear life. In comparison the clinic was quiet, did a few dressings, but were a bit more limited on supplies, did mini health care checks, Blood pressure, pulse, resps, temp if appropriate and even some blood sugars. Dr - - - was genuinely concerned for these peoples wellbeing and I warmed to him straight away. His English was excellent and he was interested to hear about life in the UK, especially when he realised I was married to a family doctor as well.

One man came in with back pain, he had some x-rays of his back, he had injured it during the tsunami, he had been knocked about 25foot off the roof, onto the floor. We looked at the films, no wonder he had pain, there was a compression fracture of L1&2, he was still able to walk. We only had paracetamol and ibuprofen for pain relief, better than nothing though. Dr - - - was studying the film, found one of his chest and looked in disbelief. This man had at the same time been suffering with TB, it was active as a cough was his other complaint. The hospital must have seen this at the time of x-ray, but as it wasn’t tsunami related they hadn’t bothered to treat. - - - - - tried to explain to this man that he needed long term and specialist antibiotic treatment, only available form the main hospital, I bet he didn’t go and get seen there.

These pictures are views from the school where we did the clinic.

All that’s left!
Once was a joyful place, you can imagine the sound of children’s voices, if only!

The Americans turned up, they soon got into action, started painting the walls and building steps. - - - - - came over to me and Gareth, he said he had back pain and asked it we had any strong painkillers, we told him paracetamol and ibuprofen, he said he needed more as it was a chronic condition! Doh! If your going to do labouring work and you have back pain, bring your own!!!! He then went and asked the doctor if he had any, and was given the same response.

Lunch was served, the women had done us proud, with limited resources they had managed a hot cooked meal, squid, fish heads and rice. We had the rice, followed by a piece of fresh fruit, yummy!

- - - - - told us that in this school 120 children’s bodies had been found, their wouldn’t be many returning when it was up and running. We walked around the school site, it was looking good, furniture had been repaired, classrooms repainted and the trophy cabinet done up.
Apparently one of the patients we had seen that morning was the school principal, she had invited everyone to tea at her house. Gareth and I didn’t go as it was the first time we had worked at the school and the others had been making good over the past few weeks. We though we hadn’t earned that privilege.

Some people turned up to be seen, as well as health checks I managed to administer some tetanus shots. But as we looked outside, young children were running around barefoot, on all that metal and broken glass and who knows that else, swallow hard. The wells had been contaminated with dirty, muddy, sea water, they will never function again, this underground supply is now useless, fresh water will be a problem.

We saw - - - - - and asked if he had managed to get anything for his back, ‘oh yeh’ he said, ‘- - - - - gave me one of his methadone tablets’, our mouths must have dropped, ‘that’s a bit drastic, have you had it before?’ ‘Yeh, loads of times’. It then hit us, these are all born again Christians who had been saved, what other secrets did they have?

Gareth and I left and decided to go to the shops, - - - - - and the others went for tea at the Principals house. It wasn’t until - - - - - got back that we learnt the afternoon tea that we didn’t attend, had actually been in our honour (boolay). We did feel bad, but nothing we could do now.

- - - - - approached us and expressed his concern over his own health. His eyes were looking a little jaundiced, prior to leaving home he had no vaccinations done, a matter of money yet again, many of the Philippino, needed vaccinations as well. Gareth and I made it our mission to make sure these people got some blood tests and vaccines.


 - - - was heading off to Sigley today, a braver woman than I, she would be sleeping under the stars, no toilet or washing facilities, I did want to go but unfortunately I don’t do bugs, still makes my skin crawl at the thought of it.

We headed off to the main clinic, reprieved, Dr Death wasn’t there, the Americans said it was the prayer they had said the night before, we will never know! Felt more in control today, saw some improvements in the wounds we had dressed.

Then the women started coming to me again, showing me lesions and infections in intimate places. I did diagnose scabies in one and ringworm in another, appropriate creams were given, one lady came, don’t really know what her condition was, it was only under one arm, I think probably a dermatitis, hope so as I had no back up and gave a steroid cream!

We left clinic early, found - - - - - and Dr - - - , headed out to the main hospital. All we needed was to find the lab, collect blood bottles and try and get them to process the results for us, Gareth and I were quite prepared to take the blood. After being sent all over the place, bumped into a (boolay Doctor), he turned out to be an Aussie, he was more than happy to help us, told us to try and track down Dr - - -, a Haematologist.
As we walked around the hospital the smells really hit me, poor Gareth I bet he’s struggling, (saw no evidence of it though) ha ha!

Dr - - - told us that they would do the bloods free of charge, gave us about 12 blood bottles, and told us how to return the blood. He asked after mine and Gareth’s health, ‘nice touch’, he was impressed that we had taken dukoral for cholera, said it was also helping travellers diarrhoea, ‘so thanks John’. He also reassured us that we were in a low risk malarial area, not so when we travelled to the villages, or came more in land. Apparently the mosquito couldn’t reproduce in the brackish water and had died out. But as time went on they were beginning to find there way back again, interesting. We had on our travels around the hospital today met some German Medics who had vaccines that they were willing to administer after bloods had been taken, camaraderie, got that lump in my throat again.

Passed some body bags by the side of the road as we walked home, waiting for collection.
- - - - - had said the latest update from the UN, stated they were still finding around 300 bodies a day, especially now mud was being dug up and deeper debris cleared. How much longer can this go on?

We did read in the Jakarta News an English paper, of one young boy who had recently been reunited with his uncle, after being abducted in the early days, taken to Medan and made to beg and perform sexual acts. Was that the case of those boys who approached Gareth on our arrival? We sat outside after supper, having a deep and meaningful conversation; we did tend to have lots of those. Gareth sent a few more texts for me, thanks mate.


This was probably the best day of my stay, we were going to visit an IDP camp, (internally displaced persons). We met at the posko, all the volunteers put on orange T-shirts. Hot meals had been prepared and wrapped in leaves. We grabbed some medicines and dressings, never miss an opportunity out here. Gareth made friends with a sweet little old lady, suffering with post traumatic stress syndrome.

Gareth and I overcame our height and communication problems easily, if I walked on the pavement and Gareth on the road, he could hear me and I didn’t get neck ache.

Dressed for the occasion, didn’t need to keep it on for long, thank goodness

Went in about four different vehicles, had all the food, water and play equipment. Held onto - - - - - so he didn’t fall out.

The people were pleased to see us, we had to meet the elders firstly, then started to unload all the stuff. The children’s, swing and slide were put together, tried to pump up the ball pond, the pump was broken, so - - - and - - - - , got stuck in, brilliant.

The girls took the mickey out of my bunches bless them! At least they were smiling, something that was hard to get a lot of the kids to do, maybe they were the lucky one’s who still had close family .
We gave out the lunch, unfortunately after playing Frisbee, football and volley ball our hands were filthy, it had rained recently and we were muddy. With nowhere to wash our hands we declined lunch, had a banana that I could hold while it was still in its skin.

Got Gareth doing some juggling.

Me and - - - - tried to teach the kids a song and dance!

One little girl that I met I fell in love with, she seemed so sad, she had apparently lost her mother, father and sister and was now under the care of her auntie and uncle. How I wished I could help her, show her how to have fun, she wasn’t having any of it, she just did not find anything worth smiling about.

This IDP camp was in an idyllic setting, just in front of the mountains, in a small valley. I was shocked later when Gareth told me
- - - - - had shown him some chilling sights, in the area where we had been playing with the children, bullet holes could be seen in many of the trees, glad I hadn’t noticed that. Apparently before the tsunami this had been the GAM rebel area, they had since retreated more into the hills. I really enjoyed playing with those children today, such a natural thing to do, laughter came freely to some, alas not to others.


Sunday, mother’s day, I sobbed when I remembered, found the cards the girls had given me and the present. I opened it, it was a small photo frame with a lovely picture of them in it, thanks girls. I really wanted to be with them. Don’t really take much notice normally at home, I think not being able to see or hear them and knowing how far away I was finished me off.

The text messages started coming, so did even more tears. Even - - - was moved by my tears and gave me a cuddle, first time for everything. Gareth was fighting back the tears as he had a text from his mum, it was only mother’s day in the UK, no one else was affected.

We had a day off today and had been invited to the beach later that afternoon for a service on the beach. Bugger that, I just wanted to go to the beach. This morning though we decided to go to a small IDP camp and give out some more aid. Once again we were met by the elders, after a bit of confusion, gave out the goods, again gratefully received. This camp was tragic, this settlement of people had been one of 8,000, all that remained were 61, all living together under one big tent.

The kids seemed happy here though. The concern as a medical person looking in, was seeing them in these cramped living conditions. I would imagine disease was rife out here.

Gareth found some smoking buddies!

We had a picnic at the new clinic, showed the Americans around and then headed to the beach. Parked under some trees and made our way down to the sand. My swimming costume for that day was shorts and t-shirt, not too much flesh was to be shown in public, personally I think it turned into a wet t-shirt contest. We wanted to avoid the service.

Gareth and I headed off along the beach, we had walked quite a way when he told me a few minutes earlier he had sprained his ankle. Going over on it in the sea.

It was already swollen and becoming painful. We rested, looking down the beach you could be excused if you thought nothing had happened on this beach 9 weeks earlier, turn back to face the land and all was revealed. The current had changed since the tsunami, it was almost impossible to walk against it. The locals were afraid to go too far out to sea. It was so rough, I did wonder what I might be treading on.

The property didn’t look too badly devastated, but as
you got closer nothing had withstood the
force of the wave.

We met back at the bus, we were asked where we had got to, we told them about Gareth’s ankle, and how he had to rest it, we told them the two of us had our own quiet moment on the beach. His ankle was now quite swollen and he was limping, I found some ibuprofen in my bag and gave him some. Gareth then said to me ‘keep still, there’s a lizard right behind your foot’ as he said it ran up my leg, I don’t know who was the most scared, me, the lizard or the people around who I frightened when I screamed. I didn’t want that going up my shorts!

I sat next to - - - - on the way back and heard about her trip to Sigley, while she had been there she had tried to get a vaccination history from the villagers. Many knew they had one injection in the past but had no idea what it was for. None of the people under 19 yrs had had any vaccinations. Apparently, one child had an injection in 1986, ?? Polio and became crippled shortly after, this was all the local witch doctor/medicine man needed as ammunition against such programs. Many of the people from this fishing village are still in the rain forest, too afraid to return to the village by the sea, 25% of the population are dead, the children apparently don’t smile or play in Sigley.

As we drove through the unaffected side of Banda Aceh, Gareth’s eyes widened, he almost started to drool. He had spotted what must be the only fast food place in the whole of Aceh, a Kentucky Fried Chicken. We enquired more, apparently you could not have fries with your chicken, only rice and sometimes they run out of chicken! He decided to wait the couple of days we have left and perhaps get some kind of junk food at Kuala Lumpur airport.

That evening we went down to the restaurant for dinner with the whole house, it was a good evening. We had strapped Gareth’s ankle up, it was quite painful and throbbing, dosed him up with some more medication.

After we got back to the house, many of them went off to bed, me, Gareth and - - - - - sat on the porch and played cards. This went well for a while, them some men who were passing in the street came in and accused us of gambling, another thing against the law. - - - - - did the talking and persuaded them otherwise, he said that they stunk of alcohol (also against the law), what double standards some people have. That cut our evening entertainment short, so the three of us sat and talked to the early hours.


I didn’t know if Gareth would be well enough to go to work, the bruising had come out and it had become stiff overnight. Encouraged him to take regular analgesia and rice (rest, ice, compression, elevation) he decided the alternative to stay at the house was not a good one, so he limped along the streets with me to the posko. We talked to - - - - - and today we went with - - - - - and the Filipino’s to the clinic at the school.

We had another case of TB, followed by a triple A (abdominal, aortic, aneurysm), a woman in her early 50’s, presenting with abdominal and back pain. At home all systems would be go by now, she would probably be in theatre. For this lady with the pulsating abdominal mass it just was not an option. Dr - - - decided not to tell her, and sent her away with vitamins!

Went for a walk this lunchtime, didn’t realise how close we were to the oil tanker. Love the way the locals are setting up drink stalls and trying to charge for parking!
Loads more blood pressures, blood sugars were taken, some were found to be raised, I must admit I wasn’t sure by how much as the machines we were using were in mg/lt, I was used to mmols/lt. The Americans turned up and gave out loads of candy to the kids in the waiting room. I did get a bit pi**** off, as they munched their way through the sweets, papers were just discarded where they sat, along with the drinks bottles, tissues and the sweets they had not liked and spat out.

Sorry to say this made my blood boil, not a lot had phased me so far (apart from all the heartache I suffered on a daily basis), but these volunteers had put so much work, effort and time into making this school half decent again and the people were just abusing it. I got on my hands and knees and started clearing up the mess they had just made, along with some filthy looks, they started to realise I was not impressed and started to clear up. I did feel bad to a certain degree, it was just their culture, and I suppose I shouldn’t have imposed mine on them, but I was getting a bit pi**** off seeing them just sit back and let everyone else do the work around them!

- - - - another American nurse had done a home visit that day. To a relative of the driver attached to our house. He was a young man, about 28, he had a compound fracture of his left lower leg, he had had this since the tsunami and had been on bed rest. His brother who had also received an identical injury had attended the local hospital, had his leg amputated and died. This scenario was put to this young man and he refused, he didn’t want to go the same way as his brother. Basically he was told not to waste their time and go home.

- - - - took one look at this man and decided he needed immediate treatment if he was going to survive. There was a big US navy hospital ship called the Mercy that Jen was trying to get him onto, it was full and was a matter of waiting till someone got better or more likely died. Someone suggested the Danish Hospital, we hadn’t heard of that one, but what a brilliant discovery. - - - - took him in the bus, he was seem straight away and scheduled for surgery the next day. Well done - - - -, what a result. I have decided that we do not give ourselves and others enough praise for a job well done, she and the Danish surgeons have definitely saved this young mans life!

Left Gareth to rest his ankle and made my way to the shops. It’s the first time I had gone out alone, I was appropriately dressed, head scarf, baggy t-shirt, long trousers. Never again, not wise to go anywhere on your own, I actually feel dressing as I did brought more attention to the fact I was a western woman. Got back to the house at the end of a long hot day and took a shower before dinner. Shower, well it involves getting a bucket of water out of a trough and tipping it over yourself. Hard at first, but I did learn to be quite economical, you just could never judge when the water would stop or the electricity go off.

Some of the Americans had heard of a souvenir shop recently opened in the town and asked if I wanted to go along. I said no thanks, I really didn’t think souvenirs were appropriate, maybe when we get to Medan I will think about taking some little gifts home, my memories are quite enough for me, as I’m sure all the photo’s will be.


The Americans are leaving today, I will miss them, especially - - - - with his droning voice, why he attached himself to me I don’t know, must attract the heart sink, ex crack heads, he did make me mad at times though when I wanted a quiet, private moment, I’d turn round and he’d be there ready to give me another sad, depressing story. I wanted to tell him to piss off, but thought better of it. - - - - , - - - - - and - - - were all staying, which I was pleased about. Me and Gareth had one more day left, I really wanted to be going now, the past two weeks had been an emotional turmoil for me.

Gareth and I set off for our last day at the clinic. Dr Death was having a few days off and would be back later in the week, shame we will miss him!!! The clinic was shutting at noon today as they were relocating to another area, more inaccessible for the people to attend I feared.

We were faced with much of the same, a young lad came in with a nastily infected finger, it must have been throbbing so much, it was decided that we would lance, then dress it to try and help any pus drain out. This was explained via an interpreter. Gareth started to cut the finger, the lad went pale, we tried to lay him down in case he fainted. I had never seen anyone react in this way in my life, he freaked, went almost hysterical. It transpired that he has not been able to lay down since the tsunami as he was asleep in bed when it happened. Looking at this boy you would think he was fine, you just don’t know what will trigger flashbacks and memories for these people.

Another lump turned up for incision, came over to me, via the interpreter I explained I would talk to one of the doctors and see if they were prepared to do it, I didn’t even know if they were continuing to remove the lumps any more. A young doctor seemed quite keen, but seeing where the lump was (at the side of the eye) he decided it would be better to wait for Dr Death next week. It was explained to the patient he needed to come back in a few days and see the specialist. If I hadn’t been so dehydrated I’d have wet myself laughing!

That afternoon we said our goodbyes to the medical team and returned to the house. Did some packing and sorted some documents out, I then noticed that some dollars had been taken out of my case, I wondered who had taken them, didn’t really care anymore, things like that seemed insignificant, I just hoped they were making good use of them and spending them wisely.

Word was going around that the Indonesian government wanted all foreign volunteers out of their country by 26 March, 3 months after the event. There was still so much to do, if that happens I can’t ever see this province getting back on its feet, still maybe that’s the impetus they need. I was deeply concerned for the welfare of some of these people. During a prayer meeting Gareth and I attended the other day, there was excitement, as apparently word had got round, that eight people had been converted to Christianity, I feel whoever is responsible for this action, come the 26th March, has in fact signed these peoples death sentence!

A new man - - - - - had arrived, he had been living in the southern part of Sumatra for the past eight years, working as a missionary, his aim at the moment was to work with a small team and try and prepare some land for agricultural use. He had no idea of the task that lay ahead for him, I wish him well. He was offered the tsunami tour, Gareth and I decided to tag along as we thought we would be able to handle it better this time.

It looked no different to me than that day when we had our first look at hell, just shows, no matter what frame of mind you are in, when faced with devastation like this you can never fully comprehend the magnitude of the whole situation. We came across a group of people, including the yellow men, another body must have been discovered, it will only be bones by now, they have given up trying to identify the bodies, it’s just not a viable option. Seeing other photos from early days I can now see that some improvement all be it small has happened.

Much of the debris has been burnt, crunched, compacted or taken to flatten an area elsewhere.

Much of this area is still under water, it should not be here it was a densely populated part of town.

Now is the time when even more bodies are being found as rubble and debris are moved.

Really hard to believe even though I’ve been there and seen it, people were actually living here, normal people, like you and me, from all walks of life, going about their daily business until December 26th 2004. This wave spared no one in its path, totally indiscriminate in who it chose to take with it.

Those who are capable and in the right frame of mind are starting to try and rebuild their lives, it will take a lot more than these materials to help them do that. Indonesians have been training as councillors to help these people get through this, it’s not in their culture to discuss their problems with strangers, trouble is though, many have no family or close friends left to do it with!

We get back to the house, I’m really glad I went and saw these sights again, it did look a little more positive today, but I can honestly say, I really can’t see where any of that money has gone that was so generously donated by the public, I hope other areas have benefited and it’s not been swallowed up by rich government officials!

- - - - - decided to go to the Danish hospital this evening to take our driver to see his relative with the broken leg. I asked if I could come along. I was so glad I did, the UK has a lot it could learn from the Danes.
The hospital they had been working and living at came in a box from Denmark, it was in six containers flown out by two huge military aircraft. It had been set up in the university grounds. They needed fuel for the generator, then they were totally self sufficient. Complete with 24 bedded ward, operating theatre (with hard floor), portable x-ray equipment, scanner, water de-sanitiser could drink sewage after it had been through this process (informed it tasted like crap though)! They also had an autoclave, beats cleaning surgical equipment with a toothbrush. It also came with living quarters, kitchen and laundry facilities, I had never seen anything like it before. This is the fourth time in eleven years it had been used. Something else that really touched me, was the accommodation set out for relatives, this was the first time loved ones had been acknowledged as far as I had seen.

It was manned by orthopaedic surgeons who had over their 2 month stay (doing 3 weekly rotations) helped about 150 patients, it was hard to discharge some now as they had no where to go, one young girl about 16 sat by her 12 year old brothers bed, it was just the two of them now and this had become their home.

Then we say our chap, he had surgery at noon that day, it was 8pm, he sat there large as life looking so well, huge beaming smile, I well up now as I see his face. My worry though is the aftercare of these people. The Danes are leaving in 2 weeks, what will happen to all the external fixations that these people are walking around with. I asked, shoulders are shrugged, ‘we are hoping the local hospital will take over the care’ it’s not for definite though. What will fate have in store for them!


We said our goodbyes to - - - - and - - - - -, an emotional moment, - - - came with us to see us off, pretty much like day one when he met us. Gave him a big hug as we were dropped off, waved them goodbye. We do plan to have a kind of reunion in a year or so, will it ever happen though ?

Have never been to a more confusing airport, (probably because we didn’t speak the language). After waiting and waiting, eventually got on a flight, don’t know if it was the right one, but it was heading for Medan.
Was relieved to be out of Banda Aceh and on my way home to my family and friends, couldn’t wait to see them again.

We had a night in a hotel in Medan, when we arrived the girls who met us from the airport showed us up to the room. The organisation as a thank you was paying for accommodation. They had given us two rooms, both twin bedded. We said that we really didn’t mind sharing. They said that they couldn’t possibly let us do that, then said ‘it’s not that we don’t trust you but this is what we’ve been instructed to do’. I did remind them that I was old enough to be Gareth’s mother!!!

We went for a walk, found a huge shopping complex, had missed that, Gareth didn’t seem to mind walking round the shops either. We weren’t hungry as we had been taken out by the girls for a late lunch. We did buy some munchies for later and then spotted some bottles of Heineken, bought a couple, had trouble getting the tops off. Warm beer just isn’t the same. Still I didn’t complain. Was a bit scared to be out after dark, we didn’t know what this city was like, so we stayed in the hotel.

When it came to bed time I really didn’t want to be in a room by myself, I asked Gareth if I could share his room, he seemed glad of the company. We laid in bed talking for hours about all that had happened. There was a notice on the desk, Indonesian on one side, English on the other. When we read the English side it said; ‘it is illegal for men and women of the opposite sex to share a room if not married’ summed this place up really, don’t care any more.


Went and had McDonalds for lunch.

Were then met back at the hotel, left Medan to fly to Kuala Lumpur, what a good feeling that was. Had six hours to kill at the airport. Didn’t mind,

First thing we spotted was a pub, felt great to have our first ice cold beer, sat and chilled, sent some texts to say we are on our way.

We were met at Heathrow by Gareth’s mum and Brian, very emotional reunion. Sat in the car talking the whole way home, couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed, before I knew it we were at my house. The girls were still at home and hadn’t left for college and Uni yet, John had also taken the morning off work. It was so good to be back home.

I walked Gareth to the car, gave him a big hug. My parting words were,
‘we’ve been to hell and back, don’t be a stranger’.