The first morning in Banda Aceh, we woke to the haunting and lyrical sound of the 4am morning prayer humming from the Great Mosque’s loudspeakers. I found myself thinking excitedly, “Todo, we’re not in Kansas anymore!” The heavy humid air clings relentlessly to the layers of denim and long sleeves we donned to cover up our scandalous elbows and knees. 86% of Indonesia is Muslim and Banda Aceh has a history of being one of the strictest regions. It seems strange to think that in some of the hottest places on earth, women are required to wear the most clothes.
We set foot on Indonesian soil for the first time on Dec. 26th…a day marking the 6th year anniversary of the 2004 tsunami that nearly wiped out Banda Aceh. For the first week we stayed with some of Inge’s in-laws who work in the area. As unfortunate and devastating as the tsunami was for the region, it ended almost three decades of civil war and for an area that had isolated itself from the rest of the world and had not allowed foreigners to enter, this day also marked an in-pouring of of foreigners who came to help rebuild. To this day the peace still holds despite a few recent shootings targeting foreigners. Locals say Banda Aceh is in a fragile balance and that one false move by the government could cause the the conflict to erupt all over again, but while we were there all was quiet and even though we represented a culture, religion, and conflict that many Muslims oppose, the people we met were curious and kind with a touch of suspicion.
Our island hopping journey from snowy South Korea took us through the Philippines, Malaysia, and finally to sunny, tropical Indonesia. Indonesia: land of delicious fruit, coconut milk soup, banana pancakes, Banda Aceh coffee, hammocks on sunny beaches, and some of the most beautiful aqua blue seas I’ve ever seen! Next time I decide to move to a foreign country and teach English, could someone please remind me to move to a TROPICAL foreign country?! This whole sub arctic Korean winter stuff does not exactly put me in the mood to throw parties! There’s only so many frostbite drive-by’s one person can handle in a 6 month time period! 😉