Day 2 – Kurt Warner and Amani Toomer Visit Indonesia
J. Ethan Medley, NY Giants
February 12, 2005
Today was our second day in Indonesia, and started with a 6AM flight from Jakarta Halim Military Airport to the coastal region of Banda Aceh on a United Nations Humanitarian Air Services plane. This gave us our first glimpse of the damage caused by the tsunami as we flew over the coastline. Vast amounts of coastal land are blackened and vacant, with the exception of an occasional structure that was sturdy enough to withstand the water’s force. Contrastly, there are areas immediately next to this land, that the water did not reach, which are spectacular to the eye: vibrant green rice patties, villages built amongst palm trees and mountains covered with vegetation that drops right into the blue ocean.Upon landing, we were met at the airport by local World Food Program staff, and helped to unload a truck of rice, cooking oil and fortified biscuit mix onto a helicopter departing for Lamno, one of the nearby coastal towns that were devastated by the tsunami. We boarded another helicopter and flew with those supplies on the 20 minute journey, landing in a field which was surrounded by local residents. Several young boys ran out to see our helicopters landing, mimicking our flight with their arms extended. They were eager to meet Kurt Warner and Amani Toomer, “the American sports stars,” and repeated every word of English that they heard. “Hello friend” and “I love you,” are common greetings from the kids who we have met so far. After unloading the food supplies into a local UN food distribution warehouse, our group jumped into the back of two pickup trucks, where we drove down the main town road, which leads to the coast.
This up-close perspective of the devastation somehow made it even more unimaginable. Some of the survivors have come back to the site of their homes and many have set their plot of land on fire in an effort to clear their land completely so they can start over. We saw others who were simply laying under larger branches of fallen trees to seek protection from the sun. Temperatures here are in the upper 80′s, and are accompanied by the overwhelming humidity of Indonesia’s current monsoon season. As we got closer to the coast, portions of the road we were traveling on would stop and start again, with the asphalt completely washed away. Our driver continued on, taking us all the way to the coast, where we reached a bridge that was completely washed away with the asphalt leading up to it evidently picked up by the water and set down 20 feet inland. It was here that we met two men who survived the tsunami. Through the help of our UN translator, they told us about the “hot black water,” discolored and heated by the escaping lava from the ocean floor, which they could hear coming from a distance. They survived by heading for high ground on the nearby hills, however the gentleman explained that he lost 20 members of his family.
On our way back from the coast, we stopped at a camp for displaced locals, where we met children who were creating artwork to express their feelings about the tsunami. This is an ongoing exercise, as their teachers and doctors try to determine which children will need more psychological support. From there, we headed to a nearby UN field-office, where we were able to enjoy the delicious water from freshly cut coconuts along with some sandwiches.
After our brief rest, we headed back to the airport, where we boarded a US military helicopter which flew us over the ocean to the nearby US Mercy, a floating military hospital. The ship was sent to the area following the disaster to provide emergency medical aid for the tsunami, and its services are still in high demand, as it has taken the place of the local hospital and numerous doctors’ offices, which were all destroyed. Kurt and Amani were hugely popular with many of the patients, but especially by the navy personnel, and the two of them made a lot of people smile by signing autographs in the galley for everyone during lunch. Their kindness was repaid by the Navy, who flew us back over the ocean in the helicopter “military style,” with both side doors wide open.
Our day came to an end with our arrival at the UN main camp in Banda Aceh, where we will stay the next two nights. After showering, the group of approximately 75 UN workers who are staying here, welcomed us with a wonderful meal of noodles, fried bananas and homemade ice cream. We will all try to get some good sleep tonight in our tents, as we have been told there is another full day planned for tomorrow.
Looking back on the day’s events and experiences, Warner shared the following thoughts, “It is overwhelming and amazing on many levels. The devastation is impossible to imagine, but at the same time, the people we have met have displayed amazing courage and an unfailing ability to smile. More than anything, I am blown away by the realization that peoples’ entire lives are gone: their family, friends, home, jobs and belongings. They have to start completely over, and where do you begin? It is an overwhelming thought. However, it is just as awesome to see and play with the kids, and everyone we have met has been extremely friendly.”
“I think what stands out most is just the vastness of everything,” added Toomer. “It is hard to imagine that much water was able to wash over the land, and hearing the first-person accounts of the tsunami was unbelievable. Entire villages are no longer there. It is all very hard to comprehend even after seeing the damage.”
Set-up in 1963, WFP is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2003, WFP fed 104 million people in 81 countries, including most of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people. Currently, WFP is helping to feed more than 850,000 people in Sri Lanka, with a large logistics network spread throughout the country. For more information on their efforts in Indonesia and throughout the world, please visit www.wfp.org.