Saturday, February 28, 2009

Can You Speak Bahasa - Does Air Mean Water?

I had first thought that the language spoken in Indonesia was Bahasa. I got educated today by my interpreter and, the news is - everyone in the world speaks bahasa because bahasa simply means language - and everyone here speaks at least one language. In our case we speak bahasa Ingres (English) and for Indonesia the official language is bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian). Locally, in Aceh Province, they also speak bahasa Aceh (Acehnese). So, if someone asks “Can you speak bahasa?” simply reply “Of course!”

Now a test to see if you can speak bahasa Indonesia. Look at the following list of words and see how many of them you understand. I think you’ll be surprised.

Foto
Fotocopy
Brokoli
Computer
Laptop
Kamera,
Coklat (In Indonesian the “c” is pronounced like “ch”)
Es krim (think Baskin & Robbins)
Hamburger
Radio
Taksi
Villa
Violet
Video

And you thought you could only speak English. I'm learning a few phrases to get me by and, at a minimum, allow me to say hello and goodbye. Greeting someone can be confusing because you have to know what the time of day is. There are five different expressions. They are 'pagi pagi' (before 7:00am), 'pagi' (7:00am until 11:00am), 'siang' (11:00am until 3:00pm), 'sore' (3:00pm until 7:00pm), and 'malam' (after 7:00pm). If you want to say "See you tomorrow." you have to include the appropriate word for the time of day you expect to see them. 

One of the things that still makes my brain spin is the number one. The Indonesian work for one is 'satu' which is pronounced like 'sah-two'. As soon as I hear the second syllable I’m already one numeral too much. 

And, if you are wondering about the title, the Indonesian word for water is 'air' and is pronounced like 'ah-ear'.

Two final words to leave you with, that tickle my western funny bone: Doorsmeer and Pispot. Doorsmeer means carwash - do you want your doors smeared? and Pispot is a store that sells car parts - not what you were thinking.

Please Send a Money Sack!

Bring a money belt they said. It will help secure your cash! On Friday I received US$600 for expenses, and a US$700 advance for the upcoming trip to the highlands and west coast. This amounts to IR13,800,000. Here’s what it looks like...

...now I don't know about you, but a money belt with this amount of paper cash in it looks obvious. The note on the top of the pile is a IR50,000 note, which is worth about US$5. Does anyone know where I can get an inconspicuous money sac?!

Colors, Colors, Colors

Traveling around this country I'm impressed by all the vivid colors, both natural and man-made.
 
First the colors of nature: in a tropical setting, like Indonesia, the many shades of green. Green is everywhere, from the rice fields to palm trees, to banana plantations, to jungle shrubs, to majestic trees. Interspersed with all of the green is the blue of the sky, the blue-green of the ocean and dotted amongst all of this are the tropical flowers: all shades of reds, blues, pinks, and yellows.

Next to grab your eye are the flags. There’s a general election here in April and it seems the standard method for advertising your party is to put flags up along the sides of the road and down the median. There are a lot of political parties so there are a many different colored flags, all shades of red, green, yellow, white, and blue.


Finally the colors of buildings: the most common form of construction is reinforced concrete resulting in a cement gray structure. To brighten the finished buildings they paint them in a wide variety of colors, in amazing combinations that we from the west would find clashing. Pink, in all shades from coral to shocking, and orange, in all its varying shades, are most popular as are blues, greens, yellows, and reds. I especially like the Green Bay Packer d├ęcor. The most clashing combination I’ve seen, to date, is a building with orange walls and pink trim. Sorry I didn’t get a picture.

Last week I travelled 8 hours down the east coast for one final pass at all of the locations there to fix sites Glen and I hadn’t got to and to make a few final repairs to sites we'd visited but didn’t have the necessary supplies to complete. I also reprogrammed all of the radios with new and old frequencies. They’re going to reprogram all of the repeater radios with different frequencies so I want the radios to continue working after the change.

Places visited included Tamiang, Langsa, Lhokseumawe, Bireuen, and Sigli. One of the more amusing things I came across was a repeater radio that was double-locked inside a steel cabinet mounted on the wall inside a small toilet, inside a locked office, inside a government office building. No one is going to mess around with that radio!

For the next two weeks I’m going to make a swing back up through the central highlands and drop down to the far SW corner of Aceh Province to a town called Singkil. I’ll then make my way back up the west coat to Banda Aceh visiting all of the radio installations on the way. It’ll be 15 straight days on the road. As soon as I get back to Banda Aceh it will be time to leave for Singapore to get my third, and final, Indonesian visa.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Driving In Aceh

As I’ve been driving around Aceh province with skilled local drivers, I’ve been trying to determine why there are not more accidents on the roads. The traffic appears, at first glance, to be a chaotic mix of scooters, motorcycles, cars, SUV’s, trucks, and busses. I’ve come to some conclusions as to why it works. Everyone knows “The Rules”.

First, Indonesians drive on the left side of the road, not the right as we do back home, so take that into account when I mention left and right turns. And understand, as I write, that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek …kind of…

1) You are responsible for nothing behind you and everything in front of you. Assume that everything coming at you from behind will avoid you. Whatever happens in front of you, react accordingly, avoid them and move on.
2) If you want to make a left turn just go ahead, assume the traffic coming from your right will avoid hitting you as you merge into their lane. This happens all the time as scooters appear from the left and simply turn on to the side of the major road without looking to the right at all. Cars and trucks do the same.
3) Assume everyone coming towards you might cut across in front of you to make a right turn. This happens a lot in the cities.
4) If you’re crossing the top of a “T” junction and the traffic light is red, ignore it. It’s only for people wanting to turn.
5) If you are coming to a very busy intersection, turn on your warning flashers, they will protect you.
6) Assume the road is wide enough for a car and at least one motorcycle each way, if you need to overtake - straddle the white line, if there is one, and go for it.
7) If you think you have enough clear road ahead to overtake, just go ahead, any traffic coming the other way will slow down and let you complete the pass.
8) Any animals wandering onto the road are fine, just avoid them.
9) There is no limit on how many people can be loaded onto two wheels. It’s not uncommon to see dad driving, mom on the back sitting side saddle cradling an infant in her arms, and an older brother/sister sitting between dad’s legs on the gas tank. Three on a scooter or motorbike is commonplace.
10) There is no limit to what you can carry on two wheels.
11) If your vehicle has a serious breakdown leave it in the middle of the road, erect some form of warning “triangle”, and proceed with repairs on site. I saw a truck this morning stopped in the middle of the opposite lane with its drive shaft laying on the road underneath it surrounded by tools.

The marvelous thing about all this is that it works. People don’t seem to get upset. You don’t hear angry horn honking although a gentle toot-toot is used all the time to let others know you’re passing by. 

I wouldn’t fancy my chances of not having an accident here if I were behind the wheel, so I’m happy to sit in the passenger seat and watch.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beef On The Hoof!

I didn’t think I’d be writing any more animal stories, but……… On Sunday, three AmCross folks, Ken (from New London, Wisconsin), and Fred and Anne (from the UK), picked me up and we went up near one of the NW beaches to a restaurant called Joels. To get there, you pass through an area that had been completely leveled by the tsunami except for a mosque. The aerial photo of that solitary mosque centered in a wasteland of destruction was one of the more popular photos in the post-tsunami days. The area surrounding the mosque is now a brand new village erected by the Turkish Red Crescent.
  
At the far end of the village is Joels, a restaurant aimed at expats serving pizza, spaghetti, seafood, french fries, and cold liquids of the western variety.

To get to our seating we passed by ponds containing goldfish. And as we’re eating our food we were entertained by a herd of cows that walked through the village and came to drink from the fishponds. I’m really happy that Joels is not a steak or hamburger place because this could have put me off my meal.

After their drink two of the cows and a calf decided to form a new roundabout at the junction of three roads, totally oblivious to the traffic.

This morning, Monday, I’m back on the road to hopefully complete all of the radio installations on the east coast. There are some sites that Glen and I didn’t get to and there’s some reprogramming and light maintenance to do at another. I should be back in Banda Aceh Friday afternoon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time For a Haircut!

So the time came to get a haircut, but where to go. My regular barber (Ann) is back home in Wisconsin, waiting for my return, and there is no way I can hold out for two more months, I'm already tripping over the ends! :-) Sarmad tells me he’s ready for a haircut too, so off we go to his local barber. Well, it isn’t like a haircut back home. 

The barber shop had five chairs in an area about the size of a single car garage and the front is completely open to the street.

The barber spoke absolutely no English so I made some motions about trimming the sides. He made a comment, smiled, and dove in. He trimmed the sides with an old motorized trimmer and a comb that came from a pile of tools on the counter and then finished it up with scissors. As he took the drape off I thought he was done so I made some more motions indicating I wanted the top thinned out.
 
He said something that indicated he was only half way through. Next thing I know the back of the chair was lowered to a horizontal position. More of a position to have dental work done than a haircut! A drape was spread over my chest and he finished the top while I lay prone in the chair. 

After trimming the top he put some lotion on my forehead that contained a high percentage of menthol and proceeded to give me a head massage. Very nice! Up went the back of the chair and I got a shoulder and arm massage. Some final trimming and I was done.

Now, during the haircut the barber had sprayed some water on my hair and during the massage it had dried so that I now had a spike of hair on my forehead sticking straight up. The barber handed me the comb and I tried my best to slick it down. I didn’t get too many stares at dinner so I guess it worked. And reflecting local prices the whole haircut cost me all of $1.50. 

All in all a good experience and a better haircut than I've had in many places on the road. I'll have to make one more stop here before I leave for home.

On my return from Singapore, the remains of the week was spent planning for the next three weeks. The first week I’m going to return to the east coast visiting the sites that Glen and I missed the first time, wrap up any finishing touches to the other sites. For weeks two and three I’ve planned a trip that will take us up through the interior highlands, down to the deep SW corner of Aceh, and then back along the west coast. It’s going to be a lot of driving and 15 straight days on the go, but I’ve been told that the west coast is very beautiful.

Today I'm off shopping for supplies for the next week.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Singapore - It's Visa Time!

On Monday Glen and I flew to Singapore. For Glen it's the start of his homeward journey. His four weeks in Indonesia have flown by - no pun intended. It's going to be very strange to wake up later this week and realize that I am now on my own for the duration. Glen was a great traveling companion and I think we worked well as a team. Glen's professionalism, dedication to the task, work ethic, optimism, and sense of humor will be missed.

The reason for flying to Singapore was to pick up a new entry visa into Indonesia. The Indonesia government will only issue an entry visa valid for 30 days. This means that on the 30th day visitors have to exit the country, pick up a new entry visa, and return. The IFR had arranged with a visa consultant in Singapore to turn our request around in one day.
 
This morning I turned over my documentation and US passport to the visa consultant then Glen and I went to visit one of the tech malls they have here - by lunch time we both had technology overload. We have never seen so many PC's, mobile phones, and digital cameras in one place - every make and model you can imagine, many not available in the US.

My passport with new entry visa was returned to the hotel at 4:00pm - I can make my flight tonight.

I got in last night - late last night, and am currently in the Singapore airport waiting to fly back to Medan. Tomorrow morning I'll fly back to Banda Aceh.

Note to US airports - I'm using complimentary wifi access that's freely available throughout the Singapore airport. Why can't we provide the same service! :-)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Going Ape in Bukit Lawang

What to do on Sunday? There are only a very few places left in the world where one can still view Orang-utan apes in the wild. Luckily for us there is one about 2.5 hours drive outside Medan in Gunung Leuser National Park. The destination town is Bukit Lawang. Sarmad organized a car and driver and off we went. There has been an Orang-utan preservation program running there for almost 40 years and there are currently about 5,000 orangs in the park.

We were about an hour or so from Bukit Lawang when a stern man on a motorcycle flagged down our car. Some words were exchanged with the driver in Bahasa - we were beginning to wonder what trouble we were in - then the man announced that he was a guide at Bukit Lawang and would be happy to meet us there. A true entrepreneur, or - was it organized by our driver? We're not sure.

We arrived at Bukit Lawang and there he was waiting. Some good negotiating by Sarmad and we had a guide and three fore-runners for a two to three hour jungle trek to see the Orangs.
 
The initial climb up the hill was strenuous and by the time we reached the top we were drenched in sweat. I'm guessing we walked about a mile, or so, back into the jungle on a well-worn path.  

At the top of a very steep slope the guide asked us to wait while the fore-runners descended. Much clapping and calling was followed by what we had waited to hear - a short whistle followed by "Come on down!"
 
So, we slipped and scrambled down the slope. Then he pointed off to our right and said "Orang come". We could see tree branches moving about 50 yards away, finally, we got our first glimpse - a long way off but definitely a creature of the ape variety. I tried to get closer but she disappeared. Was that it? Were we done? Not quite!

Cautiously, a female Orang was moving closer - hmmmmm, how close? She kept coming, closer, and closer, and we waited expectantly.

Real close as it turns out!












Next thing we know we have two female Orangs right above us. They took the small pieces of carrot we offered as a treat. Their faces are extraordinary. We spent about a half hour as their guests - a very special treat for us. Then, as quietly as they had appeared, they disappeared back into the foliage and we hiked back down the hill for a well-needed glass of fruit juice and rice/noodles for lunch.

The mountain river below the restaurant looked so inviting after the jungle trek but, alas, we didn't bring extra clothes, bummer! Hot and tired, the ride back to Medan was a lot quieter than the outbound trip - most of us took a nap!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Crocs On, Crocs Off

If the title of this post doesn't ring any bells then please read down the blog list and read the blog with a similar title.




"Enuf said - I've been Croc'd!" - well, Croc'd with an Indonesian Croc-a-like!! :-)

Where's Roger

If you're interested in where the places are that I have been commenting on in this blog then send me an email and I will send you a Google Earth .kmz file containing all the links. Unfortunately I haven't found a way to post the file on the blog! If anyone knows how please let me know.

Last Thursday we traveled back to Medan and on Friday we completed the installation of the two radio systems at the Medan PMI chapter office.

This morning (Saturday) Glen and I went through some Red Cross administration and this afternoon we visited a major shopping center that rivals anything I've been to - 7 floors containing shops of all kinds, food court, movie complex, etc. We went to the movie Hunting Party which wasn't too bad - English with Indonesian sub-titles. Their was quite a bit of bad language in the movie and we wondered if all of the words were translated exactly as spoken!

Tonight they had a major Valentines Day celebration spread throughout the hotel lobby so we had to wind our way through the party to get to the restaurant. Lots of pink decorated tables, hearts everywhere, and live music.

Tomorrow we're off to a National Park near Medan for the day. I'll report on that tomorrow night.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Teluk Dalam to Gunung Sitoli - The Better Way

On Wednesday, after making repairs to the radios at the PMI office in Teluk Dalam we headed back to Gunung Sitoli along the 'good' road up the eastern side of the island. It was indeed better than the western road, but still every single bridge had been destroyed by the earthquake and some sections of the road had obviously been closed off by landslides or eroded away by the sea.

The major attraction is that long sections of the road run alongside the ocean where only palm trees separate the road from coral outcrops and breaking waves. The sea is a mix of blue's that give an indication of the depth of the water along the shore.

Along the way we stopped at a roadside restaurant so our two Indonesian travelling companions could get a bite to eat. The view from some of the seating on the ocean-side of the road was special. It’s a part of this assignment I guess I will just have to put up with it! :-)

Gunung Sitoli to Teluk Dalam - The Hard Way!

On Tuesday Glen and I needed to travel from Gunung Sitoli in the NE of Nias, to Teluk Dalam in the south. Nias is approximately 75 miles long and 25 miles wide. There is a good road joining the two towns along the east coast. As part of our mission here we had agreed to visit a potential site for a repeater on top of the highest point on Nias called Lolomatua. This required us to take a road that crosses over the island from east to west and then travel down the west side to Teluk Dalam. The 'not good' way!

In 2005, a short three months after the major tsunami, Nias was rocked by a major earthquake that destroyed thousands of homes, killed hundreds of the islanders, and did severe damage to the roads and bridges in the interior. It did not take us long to find the damage.
 
As we drove up into the central highlands almost every bridge we had to cross was a one-lane temporary structure that required slow going. On many other sections the road bed had partially, or totally, collapsed and again the going was slow as we made our way through temporary lanes.

About two thirds of the way across the island we started our climb to Lolomatua. It was a one lane dirt road that led nowhere but up. Now, calling it a road is a stretch, the roadbed was severely eroded for almost the entire journey and basically varied between very bad to downright scary. I could not image trying to go up it in anything less that a Toyota Land Cruiser. Photos do not do the size of the ruts justice. It was a trip.

After checking out Lolomatua we descended back down the rutted road and rejoined tarmac – how smooth it felt. Going was good for a while until we hit the western side of the island where, for about 20 miles, the road was being repaired. It was not as bad as the trip up to Lolomatua but almost. For most of the way the road was torn up and the verges were being used to stack rocks, make bricks, pile gravel and sand, etc. More slow going.

We finally arrived in Teluk Dalam about mid-afternoon to begin our radio work.
 
Tuesday evening we checked in to the Sorake Beach Hotel which had, at one time, probably been a five star resort. At best it’s now a one star. I’ll write more about it in a future blog entry, it’s sad seeing such a beautiful resort fall into such disrepair. Of course the earthquake didn’t help!

There was no restaurant at the hotel so Glen and I walked down the road about a quarter mile to a restaurant overlooking the prime attraction of the area – a major surf break that attracts surfers from all over the world. Glen claims his pizza was one of the best he’s tasted. I claimed it was the company but he wasn’t having any of that! We had to walk back to the hotel down an unlit road in total darkness. Every single person we met, or passed by, shared a smile and a warm greeting.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Meet the Fokkers

The time had come to fly from Medan to Nias Island. Nias is a large island off the west coast of Sumatra. Up until now the flights within the region had all been on medium-size Airbus-type aircraft. I had been told that the flight to Nias used much smaller aircraft and that it would probably be a Fokker. I had this picture of a small passenger plane with a minimal capacity flown by a pilot who looked way too young. The recollection of Bob Newhart’s famous routine about the “Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airways and Storm Door Company” also passed through my mind.

When they called our flight and we headed to board the bus it became quickly apparent that this was not a tiny aircraft – way too many people!
 
We were bussed out to a small terminal building where a Riau Airline Fokker 50 was waiting. Two aside seating and two flight attendants – much better than I expected. The Fokker 50 is an over-wing aircraft so we had great unobstructed views of Sumatra as we crossed over from east to west. It was a wonderful flight. The baggage claim area at the airport on Nias was nothing more than a low wooden counter – they really don’t need any more given the few flights a day that come here.

After landing we had a 30 minute drive north to Gunung Sitoli where we will be checking out radios on Monday. The staff of the PMI branch were all at a wedding so the office was locked for the day – Glen and I were forced to sit and read on the hotel patio. 

One thing we noticed as we drove from the airport was the lack of roadside animals – none. But we did see goats on the narrow beach outside our hotel later. We also saw at least four churches. In all of Aceh that we have travelled so far we had seen only one church. I’m sure there are more – we just haven’t passed by. It seemed odd to see so many churches in such a short distance. A reminder that not all of Indonesia has such a large percentage of the population being Muslim as does Aceh.

Our hotel in Gunung Sitoli is right on the ocean so I can hear the waves from my room. Bummer huh! Rooms on the ground floor close to the beach were still available so Glen and I took those. Our travelling companion Pak Edho headed for the 2nd floor. Later we concluded that perhaps the memories of the tsunami are still fresh enough that some people are uncomfortable being low and close to the sea. We know that Pak Edho lost quite a few family members in the tsunami in Banda Aceh so he has a right to head for higher ground if it makes him more comfortable.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sea Containers

OK. So you have a number of sea containers and you're not sure what to do with them. As you may know, there's a business in it's infancy in the US where empty sea containers are being turned into homes. Well here at the Ajun compound of the IFRC in Banda Aceh they made use of several of them. 

In these photos of the office buildings, you can see that sea containers are used as the prime building material. They're almost unnoticeable at first. No argument here as to how wide your office is. It's the width of a container.

In the first photo the lady in the foreground is Odette Cyr, a French-Canadian from the Gaspe area of Quebec who's been living in this part of the world for a long time. Odette was in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit and got caught up in it, but luckily was one of the survivors. Since then she has been involved in the tsunami recovery programs in the region and currently works for the IFRC. She's very typical of the people you meet here, separated from their families but intensely dedicated to helping people less fortunate. Her husband is still in Sri Lanka. Odette is a hoot and I think speaks Bahasa with a French-Canadian accent. 

Last Friday Glen and I went to the main Indonesian Red Cross offices in Banda Aceh and completed all of the work required to their radio installations. At the end of the afternoon we were able to declare that we had a working radio network as we had a clear conversation over the HF radios with the Red Cross branch in Takengon up in the mountains. As of right now we only have two radios on the network but this will change over the coming weeks.

Yesterday (Saturday) we flew to Medan, the largest city on Sumatra in transit to Nias Island today where we have radios to set up in two cities.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mountains and Trees...

On Wednesday and Thursday we spent the day in Takengon in the central highlands of Aceh. It was a spectacular drive up and back on a twisty two lane road that had some major washouts in the first 20 km or so. After that the road improved and wasn’t bad but the going was slow due to the many trucks making their way up the mountain.

In Yellowstone Park, years ago, Ann had bought a t-shirt with the slogan “Mountains and Trees are Good for the Soul” imprinted on it. The trip up to the mountains reminded me of it as there is definitely something restorative about high country. The views and the cool, clean mountain air are good for you. If only we had time for a hike!! The forest is nothing close to back home as it’s heavily dotted with palm trees. It’s really more of a jungle. The strangest thing was the lack of any wildlife. We saw minimal birds and nothing much else. Perhaps they have the good sense to stay away from roads with the trucks belching black smoke! :-) It was a little hazy but there were some beautiful vistas to see.

On Wednesday we went to the Aceh Tengah branch to check their HF and VHF radios. As we pulled in to the car park we could see no HF antenna. We asked the leader where the radio was and his response was “in the boxes”. A good project lay ahead as we had to install the complete radio system: Radio, power supply, mast, antenna, cabling and programming.

During part of the installation we needed to lower the mast to make one correction. Glen explained what he wanted and seconds later one of the local Red Cross team had shinnied to the top of the mast, made the fix, and climbed down. Glen made a comment that he was quick as a monkey and discovered that everyone knew the word ‘monkey’ and then joked with the climber.

Yesterday we drove down out of the mountains to rejoin the heat in Bireuen then back home to Banda Aceh. On the way we paused for a few minutes to feed some monkeys and to get a photo of an Indonesian elephant beside the road.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shoes On, Shoes Off.

One of the customs here in Indonesia is that people do not wear shoes into their homes. The shoes are deposited near the front door and you walk bare foot or in your socks. This custom is also observed in many of the Red Cross branches we have visited. When we’re working on the radios we are constantly going inside then outside, then back inside, on and on. Each time we transit the door we have to remember to shed the shoes going in and re-don them going out.

More than once I’ve found myself two, or three, steps into an office only to stop dead and beat a retreat to the door. No one has said anything but we’re trying to observe their customs as best we can. Fortunately the one pair of shoes I brought along can have the laces tied very loose so I can step in and out of the shoes easily. Glen brought along some Teva sandals and they work very well. A pair of Crocs would be wonderful.

In most branches the toilets are out of the back door and require shoes. Perhaps more on that in a future blog but then again that may be TMI. You have to remember to go to the front door, collect your shoes, carry them to the back door and put them on there before heading into the loo.

Today in the Bener Mariah branch the branch leader insisted that we did not take off our shoes and I can tell you it was a funny feeling to walk through the door into the inside of the building and walk around in shoes.

Today we fixed the radio installation in Bireuen then drove up into the mountains from sea level to over 5000’ over a winding, sometimes rough, narrow road full of trucks. The drive from Bireuen to Takengon is 101 km and took us almost 4 hours. The scenery was spectacular and the time went quickly. We kept hoping a Sumatran tiger would leap across the road but no luck. In fact we saw almost no wildlife at all.

We fixed the radio installation at Bener Mariah before heading to our hotel on the shores of the lake called "Danau Laut Tawar" some 4600’ up.

Animals, Animals, and More Animals

Note: I only have a slow dial-up connection, so I'll add photos when I return to Banda Aceh.

Traveling the roads over the last week and Monday we’ve seen large numbers of domestic animals along the sides of the roads, mainly cows and goats, and a few sheep. They all are left loose to graze where they like. Some even graze along the narrow medians found in some towns. They seem to have good instincts around traffic, unlike our deer! They’ll wait patiently until you pass or, if they feel they have enough time, they’ll wander across the road. The cars avoid them with minimal honking of horns. Along with the fore mentioned animals we’ve also seen monkeys, chickens, and water buffalo, not to mention one horse, a few dogs, and some cats. 

In Banda Aceh cats are everywhere. The people here seem to have high regard for the cat, so they are well fed and enjoy a good scratch if offered. Many of the cats have bobbed tails. When we questioned one of the IFRC staff, he told us (with a straight face) that the Indonesians consider cats to be perfect but since only Allah can be perfect they cut off the cats’ tail to give it a slight imperfection. When we tried to verify this with our two interpreters they laughed and said the cats have natural bobbed tails and that our compatriot was just kidding us. I'll have to do more research.

You see very few dogs around, it appears that Muslims don’t like the dogs. If a dog’s saliva gets on their hand they have to go through a ritual of seven washes to cleanse them. What must they think of us and our pets!

Monday was a good day on the road. We travelled from Banda Aceh to Bireuen with a stop at Sigli to properly ground their radio and antenna mast. In Bireuen, at an empty hotel, the girl behind the reception desk refused to rent rooms to Glen and I, she would not even make eye contact with us. This is very unusual as the Acehnese people have been very friendly, especially if you can say “Hello!” in Bahasa, their faces break into smiles. So, we went to another hotel that did welcome our business.