Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Trip to School

It appears that the thirst for news about the earthquake has been slaked, a chilling point for the news market. Every disaster has an expiration date for the attention, the charity, and the compassion it can draw. In Jogjakarta, that’s come sooner than I expected. I’ve been told the earthquake coverage has been pre-empted in the U.S. by a story about a terrorist cell that was captured in Toronto. They had a lot of explosives. But they didn’t get a chance to use them. I would have to say it’s an important story, but I also have to say it’s about something that didn’t happen. It's worth thinking about how many of the news stories you read are about what is happening.

An example: there’s been a spike in coverage over concerns about post-earthquake bird flu outbreaks. You should know that many of the NGO workers and PR people I talked to are rolling their eyes over this particular news angle. Again, there have been no cases reported in the quake zone. Again, this story is about something that hasn’t happened. The worry is that people are sleeping in chicken coops because they’re the only safe structure around. The quotes on this story might actually come from the WHO, but it’s certainly not the organization’s first concern right now. Outbreaks of common diseases such as diarrhea or staph are much more likely to claim lives in an area still in need of clean water and sanitation. But at this point, that hasn’t happened either.

Here’s something that is happening. People are emotionally traumatized and they need help. For background, check out this story. I spent a morning with Red Cross volunteers (actually from a federation of Red Cross agencies like the Paling Mera, the American Red Cross, and the Red Crescent Societies), most of whom had just come from Aceh. They had started a small makeshift schoolroom for child survivors in a small village called Birin. 37 of its 3-500 residents died in the earthquake. We pulled over on the town’s main artery, walked into one of the capillaries, and over a wasteland of dusty rubble. Every adult was working – cleaning dishes in fish tank, hanging wash in the latticework of a collapsed barn, frying noodles in an open courtyard that used to be someone’s bedroom.

The volunteers gathered children from the village like pied pipers. Soon their tent was squirming with 50 or more excited little things. A volunteer told me one girl jumped up when she heard there was a school, and ran to a cabinet in the remains of her house. She pulled out a plastic Popeye backpack and held it up in triumph, though there wasn’t anything to put inside.

They sang songs and clapped – which is golden kind of tape for a radio story. They also drew pictures with crayons – most of them drew scenes with volcanoes – red lava spitting out the tops of triangles. Maybe I made more of that than I should have, but it certainly struck me as a barometer of their anxiety. The kids laughed and giggled and acted like kids. There should be a word for something that breaks your heart and lifts you up at the same time. I had to step away from the tent for a while to keep from getting teary. A lot of the kids had wounds – one shy 11-year-old boy showed up on crutches dragging a broken leg, and there was a happy toddler with a nasty looking head wound. Still, it seemed like a classroom, and the kids looked to me like they’re going to be okay.

As far as I can tell, psychological services like this really should arrive at the same time as the food and water. It should be integrated with the whole first responder basic needs package. In this terrible landscape of destruction, most people aren’t sleeping through the night. A professor at Sardjito Hospital said the Jogjakartans were showing a lot of physical manifestations of emotional trauma – like headaches and raised body temperatures. He said that’s because they tend to internalize stress more than other parts of the archipelago. There’s a local saying – if you loose your arm, thank god you’ve got one left. I read a great article that leads with another Javanese aphorism: everything is good luck. Sadly, eternal optimism comes at a price. It may be harder to get the anxiety out. It’s gotta get digested somehow. That’s what’s happening in Jogjakarta now.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Weekly Wrap-Up

Here's what I've been up to this week. I'm back in Jakarta for now, but I have plenty of material to post here - so stay tuned.

Sunday: Ancient Hindu Temple Damaged in Indonesian Earthquake

Saturday: nothing filed. All day in the field.

Friday: WHO on Watch for Disease Outbreaks After Central Java Earthquake (not yet posted)

And one spot for NPR.

Thursday: US Navy and Marines Help Treat Injured After Indonesian Quake

And one spot for NPR.

Wednesday: Rural Quake Victims Still Not Getting Aid in Indonesia

An interview with World Vision.

And one spot for NPR.

Tuesday: Relief Operations Swing into Gear in Quake-Stricken Central Java

An interview for the Here and Now show from WBUR in Boston

Monday: Indonesian Hospitals Struggle to Help Quake Victims

And one spot for NPR.

Saturday: Relief Efforts Under Way After Deadly Indonesian Quake

And one spot for NPR. (news spots are not archived)

Marine Docs

Today I went to a Marine field hospital, and ended up riding with them
as they looked for injured people in Klaten. We went from local
hospital to hospital looking for patients who needed surgeries. A
team of 7 highly trained combat surgeons rode in a convoy of 5 IOM
vehicles. No patients to be found. Everyone was baffled. The TNI,
Indonesian military, had called the Marine commander in the morning,
and said that there were 7000 seriously injured and 1500 likely
injured out there somewhere. No one seemed to know where they were.
"We need food," the first clinic manager said. "Not doctors." The
commander explained that they could leave antibiotics and rubber
gloves, but didn't have any food.

I ended up being a asset to the team, because they were short on
translators, and I was able to relay driving directions to our driver.
He was really grumpy. He didn't know why we were out in the middle
of traffic looking for wounded people. He wanted to go home. He
didn't want any of the military rations for lunch. I ate my Mexican
mac-and-cheese with my hands. He thought that was very funny.

We passed through a lot of villages which had been reduced to
construction waste. I thought about how much they looked like the
piles of building materials we used to haul off when I worked for a
construction company in North Carolina. Yeah, 30 seconds. It's
really hard to wreck a building by hand. We did that a few times to
make way for additions or start a repair. Hard work. Crow bar,
hammer, pull, haul, chuck. I just think of all the calories a crew of
10 people burn doing that kind of work. Mother Earth shudders for
less than a minute and ten thousand concrete houses just lay down.

Near the end of the day, Commander Carlos Godinez got a call from the
base camp. A patient he'd seen the day before was in very bad shape.
We arrived at the hospital as 25-year old Ctsiti Nuriyoni was wheeled
in on a gurney. She was heaving – at something like 32 breaths per
minute – and rolling her eyes. Godinez noticed yesterday that she'd
been laying on a sidewalk near a hospital for four days with a tube
coming out of her chest. Someone had put the tube in to help her
breathing, but the staff wasn't able to attend to her after it was put

A wall fell on her during the quake and crushed her ribs into
splinters like crackers in soup. Her husband arrived soon afterwards
and told us their newborn baby died in the earthquake. He hadn't told
her yet, because she'd been to ill and didn't want to make it worse.
I noticed a bag of pink fluid dangling from the gurney. Looked like a
bag of Nestlees' Strawberry Quick. I asked Godinez what it meant.
"Infection," he said. "That fluid was clear enough to read a
newspaper through yesterday. She needs a bigger tube put in - right

But they didn't have a bigger tube. So he called the mobile hospital,
which is in the middle of a soccer stadium in Bantul, and asked for a
tube. It took an hour to arrive.

He thinks she's going to be okay now. But Ctsiti's condition was
preventable. She's the kind of patient that's slipping through the
cracks everywhere. She lasted for four days without drawing
attention, and it almost killed her. A broken bone can be fatal after
four days. Now it's a few days after 200-thousand people were crushed
and evicted from shelter. News interest is dropping, but the
suffering is just about to put on a new mask.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Riding with Subardjo

See below. Subardjo's the guy in front,
with the death's head t-shirt.

Bantul and beyond

Link to Chad's VOA story from this excursion

Hi, this is Trish! I'm guest-blogging for Chad, who is still working like crazy down in Yogya. My job has brought me back to Jakarta. We're both fine, health- and safety- wise.

Night before last we headed into Bantul, which has become ground zero for aid workers and journalists. We weren't sure what we were looking for ... just something to record. What we found was a beat-up pickup truck full of teenagers, and a guy named Subardjo.

Subardjo is the kind of person reporters love. He makes things happen. Even though he has no formal education - his parents were too poor to send him to school - he's managed to start what's obviously a pretty lucrative business as a master woodworker. Oh, and he taught himself English on the side. Subardjo had gotten a million rupiah (about a hundred dollars) from a client earlier that day, so he'd promptly gone out and bought water, medical supplies and that Indonesian staple, ramen noodles. He was driving around to all the little villages where he knows people, dropping off supplies.

"Jump in," he said. How could we say no? We jumped in.

The truck turned up a narrow dirt road. There's no electricity, hence no electric lights, so the stars were really bright. We were in the truck bed, with the whole sky open above us. I just stared up and gorged myself on stars, because we never see them in Jakarta. Then we passed an open field with hundreds of fireflies: stars above, stars below.

When we got to the village, everybody came out to say hello. There were tarps strung up to make big tents; it looked like twenty or thirty people per tent. Candles and oil lamps provided the only light. Pretty soon we were standing around in a big circle of people; everybody chatting, dandling babies, and holding the hands of bigger kids, who stared at us. We did some interviews. Then some of the guys took us around to see the quake damage. The pictures don't do it justice. That's partly because it was really dark, so I couldn't tell what was in my viewfinder when I pressed the button. But really, none of the pictures do it justice. It's disturbing to stand in front of a house that's completely flattened, and have someone describe how it happened in just thirty seconds. All that brick and metal coming down on you, in thirty seconds.

I believe only 12 people died in that village, which is miraculous, because nearly every building was destroyed, and there are 350 residents.

"Excuse me for wearing this helmet," said one guy we interviewed, a teacher at the local school. He had on one of the cheezy white motorcycle helmets they sell here, which have all the
bulk and structural integrity of Kleenex. "It's just that I have to protect my head because of this injury." Then he took the helmet off and showed us a deep gash in his scalp.

"I scooped up my children when the earthquake hit," he said, "and I ran for the door, but something hit me on the way out."

We talked with people, we took pictures, but in the end there's nothing that can make you understand what it feels like to have the whole world fall on your head. I hope I never find out for myself.

(His children are fine, by the way.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Earthquake update and interactive map

VOA news has an update on the relief efforts and an interesting link (heavy use of Flash) to a map of the affected area with some geologic background.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Quake help links and translation tools

My friend Ndesanjo just sent me these great links to post on the blog.

The first is a wiki created to track news, links to aid organizations, and resources for people who need more information about the event.

And this online translation tool to translate from English to Indonesian (and reverse).
As with any web app, use it with a grain of salt and make allowances for crazy translation.
Halo kepada semua pembaca Indonesia. Harapan alat ini menolong
dan tidak menjengkelkan. Makasih

And for those of you who need some sort of visual reference for the things we are talking about, I came across these maps created by the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System.


(image from USGS Earthquake Center)


Today I saw a lot of bodies and a lot of suffering people. The Bantul
district was flattened by the quake, and only a few buildings like the
hospital I visited remain intact. There were hundreds of people with
head wounds and crushed limbs in the ward – all spread out on blankets
and straw mats around the floor. There were open air surgeries going
on all over the place – mostly sutures and fracture setting business.
There's clearly not a lot of pain killers around because the people,
many of them kids, were screaming while the doctors worked.

Hundreds of people have turned to begging for aid. This morning
international aid still hadn't been distributed, and it's clear most
had gone hungry since Saturday. Even the people at the hospital
hadn't eaten since their previous breakfast 24 hours and a long night
ago. I talked to some of the people on the roadside, gave them what I
could. People who are not used to begging are especially emotional
about it. It's a line many people don't expect to cross. Even with
so many people crossing the line at once, the resulting humility can
be expensive.

There was also a mosque that had been turned into a morgue. I thought
it was stacks of supplies at first, maybe tents, because Muslim people
wrap their dead in a way that's still not immediately familiar to me.
In plain cloth, sort of bundled. Thousands of people died here. I saw
just a few dozen.

I feel like such details may be too sensational to put up here- the
kind of thing that ends up on bad disaster TV anyway. But the fact is
it's all I can think about. I've never seen anything like it. These
people are having a terrible week. I held my sensations at bay for
most of the day, but they poked through at awkward times otherwise.
While reading stories for the network, for example, it's best not to
weep. If you do, they'll accuse you of sensationalism.

An update of sorts

Not much personal news to report.
I chatted briefly with Trish this morning.
She had just arrived in Yogya to help Chad out for a few days.
She said Chad was okay, but exhausted.
Sounds like he's been working non-stop since he arrived.

News of the quake disaster seems to be slowing down and focusing on the disaster relief that is slowly trickling in.
Activity in Mount Merapi has picked up, and scientists and officials are keeping a worried eye on it.

For updated news and images from the area I've been following these links -
Godote at flickr has posted an amazing series of images from the quake. The one I used for this post knocked the wind out of me.
VOA - Chad's story for Voice of America
Indonesia Help - This seems to be a really good compilation site that contains links and info from a number of different sites and mailing lists focusing on the disaster.
The Jakarta Post - they have some great reporting on the event. This quote jumped out at me -

Though desperate, many people continue to display the traditional Javanese spirit of accepting fate and seeking the positive, no matter how dire the circumstances.

With his sarong tied between tree branches to provide some cover, 75-year-old Paryo remained defiant in spirit.

"We should be ashamed of begging, even to the government. We must bear our fate," the old man insisted.

Time Asia

Everybody take care and stay tuned.

(image via Godote @ flickr)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Back in Jogja

I arrived in Jogjakarta early this evening after an epic plane and
taxi trip via Solo, about an hour (in normal circumstances) east of
the royal city. We sat on the runway for almost an hour waiting for UN
planes to offload aid supplies at the terminal. It was hot in there,
but it's hard to complain about that kind of delay. Hundreds of
people were lined up against a chain link fence outside the terminal,
waiting for transportation out of the area. It's bad here. Looks
like the number of deaths could pass 5000.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Indonesia Help

Here's a website with updated information on the quake, missing person lists, and pictures/videos.

Earthquake relief

So, if you're like me, you've spent the morning freaking out.
To break myself out of this state, I've decided to do some research and find some resources to help out. When I did a search for organizations doing disaster relief, I came across this BBC page. This post was in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. There are a bunch of great links to a number of different organizations who can help out in this time of crisis. I've also put a link to the IFRC donation page on the sidebar if you want to support their efforts.
I'd also like to open this topic to the readers of this blog. Do you have any links or resources you would like to share? Pass them on and I'll post them.

Indonesian earthquake report

Here's a link to a Voice of America story about the quake with links to an audio report by Chad.
Feels good to hear his voice.

Massive earthquake in central Indonesia.

Hey folks, Daydreamthief here doing a quick guest post for Chad.
If you haven't heard the news yet, there was a 6.2 earthquake that struck near Jogjakarta in central Indonesia early Saturday morning. Initial reports estimate the death toll around 2700-3000 and with thousands injured and trapped. Officials with the ministry's geological division are concerned that the seismic activity will trigger a larger eruption of Mount Merapi.
I talked to Chad this morning in Jakarta, and he was fine but getting ready to head back to Jogjakarta to report on the disaster. As you can imagine that region is completely chaotic, so communication with Chad might be a little difficult, but we'll try to keep the information updated on this site. If you would like to help I'll put a link to the International Red Cross/Red Crescent donation page. Trish will probably be in better contact with Chad so be sure to check out her blog when you can.
Here are some news links to keep you up to date.
The Jakarta Post
BBC News
Guardian Unlimited
New York Times

(image via The Jakarta Post)