Asia
5:05 am
Thu January 16, 2014

2004 Tsunami Leaves Many Worse Off Than Before

Originally published on Thu January 16, 2014 1:07 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It was one of the most stunning disasters of the last decade. The day after Christmas 2004, the Asian Tsunami killed nearly a quarter of a million people. Most of them, more than 175,000, died in the Indonesia's Aceh Province.

In the two years following that utter devastation, reporter Michael Sullivan spent time with several people, tracking, for MORNING EDITION, their recovery from the disaster. And he returned again, a few weeks ago.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Did you feel the earthquake this morning, my interpreter asked when we met. No, I said. I missed it. It was about 4:30 this morning, Firda said.

FIRDA: Every time there's an earthquake I get scared. It's like trauma for me. So every earthquake happen again, even if it's not too hard, it still makes me scared.

SULLIVAN: I'd either slept through it or don't remember waking. The smell of thousands of rotting corpses, that one I remember. Firda and I had come to Peukan Bada looking for familiar faces. To a place I described nine years ago as chewed up, spit out, gone.

For about a half a mile in either direction, there are only concrete foundations where houses once stood, and bits and pieces of people's lives, violently torn from them last Sunday morning. A red child's bike, a toy truck, schoolbooks. Survivors poke through the wreckage, kerchiefs over their faces to ward off the stench.

Samiruddin and his wife Rohani were among the first I met back then. The family stayed at her mother's house, farther inland, until their house could be rebuilt with help from a German NGO. It took almost two years. But when they finally moved in, they were happy.

SAMIRUDDIN: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: Our old house was a little bigger, but this one is stronger Samiruddin said. And the walls are much thicker than the old house.

In 2006, Samiruddin's trucking business was doing well, too. Everybody was busy back then. There was lots of work rebuilding.

Fast forward seven years. The NGOS involved in the recovery effort are long gone. And so is Samiruddin's trucking business. It dried up when the foreign aid workers left and then Samiruddin got sick.

ROHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: Stomach problems and hypertension, his wife Rohani says, that often leave her husband unable to sit up at night on his own. The family now ekes out a living running a small grocery on the main highway. They sleep - two adults, three children - in a room above the store. Then each morning, she comes back here, to her rebuilt home to cook and wash and clean. And it's exhausting.

ROHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

(LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: Yes, she says, I'm tired all the time. But I can't cook at the shop because the water there is dirty, so I have to come here to make meals and get the kids ready for school. I'd rather be living here, she says, but I have to take care of my husband. And he has to stay at the shop at night so people don't break in.

I ask why their oldest boy - Yusran, now 18 - can't stay at the shop so the rest of the family can be together here and make things easier for her. She doesn't answer. The boy does. He says he doesn't want to.

YUSRAN: I'm not happy here.

(LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: And suddenly it's clear: the sweet 10-year-old I remember is now an 18-year-old, unhelpful bully. Rohani is embarrassed. And I'm embarrassed for her. Not what I was hoping for. So I go looking for another family I'd know then, hoping for a different outcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKENS)

SULLIVAN: And I get one. At the home of 40-year-old Mursulin, who lives just a few hundred yards and a whole world away. There's a big yard, lots of trees, a hen house, even a slide for the kids. Tucked into the lot on the right is the small shack Mursulin built just after the tsunami. And the simple but strong two bedroom house an American NGO built for him two years later. He's even added two more bedrooms to accommodate his new and expanding family.

Mursulin lost his first wife and son during the tsunami. Now he's remarried with three new children. And life, he says, is good.

MURSULIN: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: After the tsunami, he says, it took a while to feel normal. It was hard to get up in the morning and I didn't want to do anything, he says. Now, he says, I know I have to earn to take care of my family. And so he does.

MURSULIN: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: He's been working as a subcontractor for a local construction company, he says. And while we talk, I'm struck by how often he smiles. All the while, his arm draped around his oldest. Mursulin almost never smiled when I first met him.

MURSULIN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

(LAUGHTER)

MURSULIN: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: We laugh when I remind him of his dark humor after the tsunami. Back then, he told me: Yes, the tsunami took everything, but now at least I've got a great view of the mountains. Not anymore. His neighbors who survived have almost all come back rebuilt. And they've planted new trees, too. And Mursulin's view of the mountains has been spoiled. And that's a good thing, he says, I'm happy about that. And I'm happy for him.

For NPR news, I'm Michael Sullivan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.