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From Banda Aceh

Posted: 04/24/05 15:40

Dateline: Banda Aceh, Indonesia: A tsunami update
by Becca Young

(Becca Young, a Presbyterian minister with a degree in public health nutrition, is working for six months with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in North Sumatra and Aceh, coordinating the tsunami and earthquake relief work of three Indonesian-based church relief agencies. She worked in Minnesota last fall for MoveOn.PAC.)

So here I am in the heart of Disaster Relief Management, the eye of the storm, so to speak -- the spectacular city of Banda Aceh, once the jewel in the crown of the Sultan of Aceh (who ruled in the 1500s) and now the site of the worst natural disaster in recent history.? In the surrounding province (of which?Banda Aceh is the capital), there are 150,000 confirmed deaths, another 100,000 unaccounted for who won't be officially declared "dead" for a year.?
Banda Aceh is the city at the northernmost tip of Sumatra and now the BINGO capital of the world:? the headquarters for multitudes of Big International Non-Governmental Organizations;? everywhere we go, our SUV has to pull over to the side of the road to let bigger and fancier SUVs?of bigger and fancier INGOs pass.
Out of all the stories that I may tell you in the course of my time in Indonesia, surely this is the hardest.
Where do I start?? Perhaps with a personal story.?
Dipa is a young Acehnese woman of?21 who is now on the staff of Church World Service - Indonesia.? Her village is about 10 miles from the beach, so her family and house didn't face any danger.? But on the morning of Dec. 26, she was at her aunt's house in Banda Aceh, in order to do her final exam before?receiving her bachelor's degree in economics.??When they first felt the earth shake under their feet,?they ran out of the house in a panic.? Because they were so near the beach, it was only?a few minutes before their heard a sound they had never heard before -- like a huge wind headed their way.? They looked to the source of the sound and saw a wall of water headed straight for them, so they began to run.? When the water hit them, Dipa grabbed on to the nearest person and they tried to hold together while the other person wrapped her free arm around a tree.? But the wave tore them apart, and Dipa felt herself lifted up and placed on top of the first story of a house.? In a weird way, the wave actually saved her by placing her there.? Before she had a chance to grab on to anything, the wave lifted her further to the second story of the same house, and left her there.? Two more huge waves came crashing through the neighborhood, but neither with the height of the first.? So Dipa was then stranded on top of the roof for seven hours, through the heat of the day, all by herself.?
She said that, as she sat there and the water receded, all she could see were dead bodies strewn throughout the neighborhood, literally hundreds of them.? She had an eerie feeling that she was the only person left alive.? She said that she had to start thinking how she was going to live out the rest of her life -- the reverse of someone who is about to die and looks back on the events of their life passing by -- Dipa realized she had survived and she now had to look to the future and to how she was going to survive completely on her own.?
But after?those long agonizing hours, she heard the welcome sound of a human voice.? The owner of the house, swept away by the wave, had returned to seek his family.? His wife?was never?seen again.? In spite of his loss, he?got some rope and climbed up to the roof to lower Dipa to the ground.? Soon after?that, her friend?who?had hugged the tree also returned, safe.? They went together back to?Dipa's aunt's house, and found?the aunt also alive.? By now it was night and they tried to sleep, as if anyone could in?those?circumstances.? It is probably more accurate to say that they?simply waited for daylight to return, to face the new and unimaginably contorted circumstances of their lives.?
In the meantime, it was inevitable that Dipa's mother and father and two brothers back home heard of the awful events.??As is typical?for word-of-mouth news, they only heard the worst -- that no one had survived, that the whole coastline was a field of death.? The father refused to believe it and went looking himself, but indeed, he too saw the hundreds -- thousands -- of corpses strewn everywhere, tangled in the midst of the rubble of a thousand houses and cars tumbled over and over in the force of the dragon-like wave.? He could not make his way to the aunt's house because of the debris and broken bridges.? But he returned home to tell his wife the worst -- there was no way their only daughter could have survived.
As Dipa told this part of the story, she had to stop as she was overcome by tears.? Her heart went out to her mother,?overcome by the loss of her precious daughter.?
Dipa, knowing that her?family would be devastated, hurried as quickly as she could the next morning to get back home.? But the way was difficult and long, and psychologically very difficult as she passed through miles of destruction.?
Finally she came?near the village, and like?the prodigal child?returned home,?was met by her brother on the road and brought back?into the family.? Never was there such rejoicing in the household.
Now Dipa works?with Church World Service's community-based psycho-social health program for the affected population -- of which she herself is a member.? The idea behind such a program is that of the true resiliency of humankind -- that most people when suffering such an immense tragedy, unless they are already psychologically or emotionally instable, have a great capacity for rebounding if given the chance to be active and work towards their future rather than dwelling on the past, and also?if they feel that they have control over their lives rather than being victims.
We asked?Dipa how she herself was coping with such a tragic experience.? She said that what kept her going was being able to help others who had been through the same thing.? It was quite remarkable to see her strength, a shining example of the very thing that CWS is doing through this program in several places in Aceh province.
No, CWS didn't pay me to tell this story.? I have just had the privilege of a four day trip through Aceh with several members of the board of CWS, all fellow Americans who?witnessed with me the joy and the sorrow of the Acehnese people, the?spectacular natural beauty of their land, and the many struggles they face.
Aceh is?one of two provinces in Indonesia?fighting for its independence from Indonesia.? Indonesia, although predominantly Muslim, is a secular country.? Aceh, a stronghold of Islam from the time of the Sultans, wishes to be "one nation under God."? But due to its?wealth of natural resources (primarily natural gas, but also apparently a preponderance of pot, which the?Indonesian soldiers traffic in, much to their profit,?while condemning?ordinary citizens?to death for its possession), the Indonesian military keeps a tight grip on the land and terrorizes the people.? It was for this type of military rule that the soldier I met in Nias (whom I described in my last entry for his dislike of Bush) was trained at Fort Benning's School of the Americas.? In the year 2002 alone, Indonesian soldiers killed over 1000 citizens for their presumed participation in the resistance movement, and terrorized countless others.
But they also get very rich in the process.? There is an oft-told story of an Indonesian soldier, assigned from another island to come to serve in Aceh.? Most soldiers don't want to be so far from home and consider it a hardship post, but this well-informed soldier was eager for the assignment.? His commanding officer asked, "Why are you so eager to go where others are not?"? The soldier answered, "I depart from here to there with an M-16.? I return to here from there with 16-M," as in 16 millyard (a billion) Rupiah,?or about $2 million.
As if such suffering was not enough, now the Acehnese people have the horrors of the tsunami from which they are just beginning to emerge.? Actually, the degree to which they have rebounded -- the markets have reopened, electricity is fairly dependable by now, public transport runs on time as much as it ever did before the tsunami -- is remarkable.?
Perhaps surprisingly, the Acehnese people are worried about what we, the U.S., think of them.? Just today, I stopped to buy a young coconut to drink its refreshing water (guaranteed sanitary, God's best soft drink in a to-go container).? The men gathered at the coconut stand quickly surrounded me to guess what country I was from -- France?? Holland?? Portugal?? No one managed to guess right, so I told them.? As soon as the word "America" was out of my mouth, they came closer to me with much concern in their faces.? They asked, "Is it true that the people of America hate us and fear us?? That they think we are all orthodox Muslims and therefore terrorists?? Because we are not.? We are people, just like you, not anti-American, not anti-anything.? We just want to live?healthy safe and happy lives, like anyone else.? We mean no one any harm."
I promised them that I would tell you all this about them.? And now you too know.? I only wish you could see their?beautiful faces as they open up their homes, lives and hearts, and yes even their tents! to me,?hospitable beyond belief in the midst of this awful tragedy.

Hello Dave, this is Steve Sviggum....

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 04/22/05 16:13, Edited: 04/23/05 12:39

by Dave Mindeman

I answered my work phone and there he was, ready to tell me all the errors of my ways. I was a little surprised that he had taken time from his busy schedule... you know, working out a way to kill the minimum wage bill or guest speaking at the latest gay bashing rally.

You see, I had called his office earlier in the day. I talked to his receptionist and asked if "the speaker was really going to send the minimum wage bill back to committee over a $119,000 'fiscal note' I had read about". His receptionist fell silent for a minute and so I asked, "Do you know what I am referring to?". She said, "Well no, but would you like the speaker to call you back?". Assuming this would be the usual dodge, I said, "that would be fine.. I just want to know why he would take a bill off the floor for a $119,000 fiscal note. Thanks." I left my number and hung up assuming that would be the end of that.

But later that afternoon, to my surprise, there was that tell-tale "folksy" voice ready to answer all my questions....

(SS) "Hello, Dave, this is Steve Sviggum, what can I do for you?"

(Me) "uh..hello, Mr. Speaker, I was just calling to see if you are really going to send the minimum wage bill back to committee over that fiscal note."

(SS)"Why, yes, Dave, yes I am."

(Me)"But I am assuming that will kill the bill..."

(SS)"Oh, not necessarily, Dave, it will get a fair hearing."

(Me)"But the session is nearing an end and.."

(SS)"But, Dave, those are the rules. You want me to follow the rules don't you?"

(Me)"I know there are rules, but.. $119,000.. that isn't a lot of money in the scheme of things..."

(SS)"No, Dave, no, it's not. But a fiscal note was requested and it came back with a monetary figure that I am not allowed to ignore."

(Me)"You mean that bills always have fiscal note requests on them?"

(SS)"No, not always."

(Me)"So, some bills with extra expenses still get through?"

(SS)"Yes, Dave, yes they do; I take it, Dave, that your concern indicates you are a supporter of an increase in the minimum wage?"

(Me)"I sure am, Mr. Speaker, nobody can live on $5.15 an hour and it has been 7 years...."

(SS)"But, Dave, you know that 1/4 of those jobs are basically summer employment, another 1/4 are jobs with piece work, and then there's waitresses -- we both know that with tips, they make more than than minimum wage.... and besides if we raise $5 jobs to $7, then the $7 jobs will want 9, and the $9 ones will want still more. You know that's going to happen and pretty soon the low end jobs are just gone."

(I was speechless. I had heard that argument too many times, but the way he casually ticked off the list.... well it just sounded like he would just as soon write those people off.)

(Me)"Excuse me, but your fiscal note indicates some of the extra costs would come from employment at DNR."

(SS)"That's right, but again it is mostly summer employees-- you know students getting a little extra spending money."

(That attitude -- as though those jobs were totally irrelevant.)

He went on..(SS)"c'mon, Dave, you work at a (grocery chain), you know those clerks make more than minimum wage already."

(Me)"Yes, sir, they do, but that is more because we have a union here."

(SS)"Union!!, ha, ha. Guess I had better find another grocery store... ha, ha!"

(Me)"But really, sir, some of your own caucus have said they will support the bill, doesn't that say anything?"

(SS)"Sure, some of our own caucus are supporting it. We have an open caucus with diverse opinions..."
(I am trying very hard not to laugh)

(SS)"we aren't like the Democrats, who only vote how Big Labor tells them to."

(My thoughts went to MCCL, Chamber of Commerce, Taxpayers League, etc., but it looked pointless...)

(Me)"I know we are going to disagree on this, but let me ask one more question. How many of your caucus would support the bill?"

(SS)"Oh, I am pretty sure there would be about 6 votes in favor."

(Me)"So, in other words if the bill had a vote on the floor, it would pass."

(SS)"Oh, yes, Dave, I am sure it would."

(Me)"Would you guarantee that the bill will get out of committee and back on the floor?"

(SS)"(ha, ha!) Dave, Dave, unless you are a more important person than I think you are, you know I can't make any guarantees...(ha, ha...)"

I didn't try to figure out exactly what that meant...

(Me)"Well, I won't take any more of your time, Mr. Speaker, thank you for calling me back."

(SS)"Anytime, Dave, anytime."


Microsoft Backs Off In Response to Right-Wing Christian Threats

Category: US Politics
Posted: 04/22/05 11:39

Microsoft Corporation, based in Redmond, Washington, has a history of strong support within the company for equal rights for gays and lesbians. And until recently, it was a strong supporter in its home state for legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A bill, which has been introduced repeatedly over the last three decades, lost again this week, this time by one vote in the state Senate. What was most disappointing to many was the position of Microsoft, which withdrew its support of the bill for the first time. Why?

According the the New York Times article, Microsoft bowed to pressure from a large evangelical church located near its headquarters. The church, Antioch Bible Church, has employees that work at Microsoft. The pastor of the church has also been a national leader in the attempt to block equal rights, and marriage rights, for gays and lesbians. The Times reports that state Representative Ed Murray, a sponsor of the bill, was told by Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel, that the company was under pressure from the church and its employees to withdraw support.

The money quote comes from the pastor of the church, who said he threatened in meetings with Microsoft officials to organize a nationwide boycott of Microsoft products. After that, he said "they backed off." Then: "I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about."

I don't know what is worse about this story -- Bill Gates showing his true stripes, money over principle -- or another right-wing "Christian" bringing shame on my Christian faith.


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