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Home Global Activities Asia Aceh Five Years Later - Great Love Village II, Neuheun

Aceh Five Years Later - Great Love Village II, Neuheun

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Article Index
Aceh Five Years Later
Great Love Village I, Panteriek
Great Love Village II, Neuheun
Great Love Village III, Meulaboh
The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 in a Nutshell
All Pages

Great Love Village II, Neuheun
We followed Angkasa to Great Love Village II, located in Neuheun, 14 kilometers (nine miles) east of Banda Aceh, in Mesjid Raya County. The village is tucked in the hills, and cattle and sheep can be seen leisurely grazing by the roadside.

Angkasa led us to Suriani’s place. About a dozen women wearing jilbabs (Muslim head scarves) welcomed us at the front door, humming traditional local greeting songs. Their sincere, warm welcome was abundantly evident in this simple ceremony.

These women have banded together and created a cottage industry making traditional Acehnese gold-thread embroidery for export. Each of the women takes home an average of 400,000 rupiahs (US$43) a month. Suriani, the founder of the group, has even been recognized by the president of Indonesia for her accomplishments. She also leads a prayer group on Friday nights to help women in the village find new warmth and hope.

Suriani used a small gazebo by her house to display many fine works of embroidery, including clothing, door screens, tablecloths, and coasters. Glittery sequins enliven embroidered patterns of flowers and butterflies. It’s no exaggeration to say that these ladies are the most creative amateur artists in the village.

The women chatted and joked with Angkasa, and for a moment I almost forgot that they were survivors of the tsunami. That is, until Dewi Puspita told us her story.

The day of the tsunami, Dewi was at her parents’ home with her eight-month-old daughter, Sinta. It was her 29th birthday. Her husband phoned her to wish her a happy birthday. He asked her if she wanted him to come and take them home, and told her that he had a present waiting at home for her. Just after they hung up, she felt the earth shaking. The shaking didn’t seem too bad, so she didn’t think any more about it. She was blissfully unaware that in Banda Aceh, two hours away by car, her husband, his parents, and their houses had all disappeared in the chaos.

Later, Dewi and Sinta moved into a tent city. Dewi often held Sinta and wept herself to sleep. She dreamed of her husband staring at her from a distance but never talking. She did not know whether the dreams were trying to tell her if he was alive or dead. An elder told her to accept that her husband had died and to pray to Allah to grant him peace.

"Never could I have imagined that he would die on my birthday,” Dewi said. “I will always remember his death every time my birthday comes around.” The thought of losing her considerate and caring husband brought her to tears yet again.

Many people, after losing their spouses to the tsunami, soon remarried as a way to heal the ache. Many men courted Dewi too, but she had no interest in returning their advances. She had heard that some people had been carried by the tsunami to far-off places and might still return. She decided to wait for her husband for two years.

Sutrisno was a volunteer at the tent city where Dewi and Sinta lived. He was from Langsa, near Medan. After meeting Dewi three times, Sutrisno decided to take care of her and Sinta for the rest of his life. “I took pity on her, and Sinta is so cute. I just want to protect them,” he said. He honored Dewi’s wish to wait. Two years after the tsunami they were married, and the family now lives in Great Love Village II.

"I’m really grateful that Sutrisno took us in,” Dewi said, smiling contentedly. “He dotes on Sinta. Sometimes when I’m about to discipline her, he tells me to go easy on her.”

Sinta is lively and active. The sight of her leading other children in singing and dancing clearly shows that she is growing up in a home full of love. Her laughter is vibrant and charming, and it speaks to the quality of life she has with her mother and stepfather.

Best of all, Sutrisno respects Dewi’s feelings towards her deceased husband. Every time she dreams of him, Sutrisno takes her to a mass grave where he might have been buried.

A few days after we first met them, we followed Dewi, Sutrisno, Suriani, and more than ten other villagers to the biggest mass grave in Banda Aceh. The sun warmed the lush lawn. It was hard to imagine how many hundreds of people had wept here as they watched layers of dirt being piled on the countless nameless corpses. Dewi sprinkled rose-water on the lawn as she gently chanted verses from the Koran to soothe the deceased. Her tears again flowed.

"I’m not even sure if my husband is buried here,” Dewi said sadly. “The best I can do is to visit every mass grave that I know. I can’t even put a tombstone down for him.” Sutrisno looked quietly at his wife as she grieved.

The women that had accompanied us to the mass grave gathered in a nearby gazebo. Suriani led the group in chanting the Koran for an hour. Then the children got popsicles, and we crossed the lawn to look at the memorial erected for those who had perished. The memorial looks as huge as the tsunami that it commemorates.

Dewi held hands with Sutrisno as they walked. I asked if they had anything to say to each other. With tears in her eyes, she gently grabbed his chest and said, "Please believe my real and sincere love for you. Sinta and I depend on you.” He softly replied, “Please rest assured that I will work hard to be a good husband and a good father.”

Sinta quickly hopped on the scooter as Sutrisno held it steady with his hands and his legs, limbs that will support the weight of the entire family for the rest of their lives. They took off together and were soon nothing more than a speck in the distance, speeding away. I believe that the couple will soon get what they both want: a second child.


 
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