20 December 2007

Romancing the Survivors


I remember one book, "Lords of the Poverty" written by Graham Hancock, which opened by a misanthropical poet, entitled "The Development Set" by Ross Coggins (1976):

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I'm off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I've had all my shots
I have traveller's checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution --
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like "epigenetic"
"Micro", "macro", and "logarithmetic"

It pleasures us to be esoteric --
It's so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you're feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, "Is it really development?"

Or say, "That's fine in practice, but don't you see:
It doesn't work out in theory!"
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses - on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.

It flashed me back in early 2005, when the first time I stepped my feet on the bloody land of Aceh after the massive disastrous incidences of tsunami and earthquakes. I loss many friends. The disaster moved me. I left my lucrative job to join a group of volunteer. I thought I'd be living in survival mode, removing all fears and be a little bit dedicated for my personal mission.

I'd been prevented to go to the devastated areas, when some friends from one of the UN body found me at the airport in crowd of volunteers. They said that their organization needed a volunteer who have technical capacity to do loss assessment. It's gonna be a two-weeks job, all living costs were covered, but no honoraria. So here I were, lived in self-contained UN compound near the airport. I stayed in a tent with 24-hours air-conditioning, fully furnished, good foods and, of course, hot shower.

Until the time I have to head back home, I didn't have chance to step my feet on the devastated grounds. I watched all the suffers and sadness from the air by UN choppers. All my two-weeks fulled with air observation, taking pictures and video and long discussion and debate until midnight. Even the reporting session were done in Jakarta, million kilometers away from the devastated areas. I've never had a feeling that I stayed in devastated region. My personal mission turned into another job (though peniless).

The next opportunity, a couple months later, was a little bit close to reality, though all the drama were slightly disappearing. I worked as a senior consultant to do situational analysis in Aceh and Nias prior to the preparation of a safeguarding policy development for a bilateral aid organization. I had chance to meet all my friends. Passed my sympathy to relatives of friends who killed in the disaster. But I fell like an obsolete old guy, who retain my sadness among crowds who were engaging many hopeful rebuilding projects.

I didn't need to stay longer than a month to bear witness the true portray of misanthropical poet quoted by Graham Hancock. Not far from the airport I found about seven huge warehouse white tents owned by one of UN body. Inside the tents I saw many unused fridges (because the electric plug didn't match the local system), piled up of unused white jerrycans, undistributed foods in cans, unused water hand pumps, etc.. I also received reports from many friends complaining about the delay of food and medicines distribution due to bureaucratic custom system that had no sense of emergency.

The longer I stayed in Aceh the more nauseous portrays I saw. The past local grassroots defenders turned into rebuilding project contractors; the Aceh liberation activists turned into highly paid bureacrates in the rehabilitation and reconstruction agency. Many locals complained. "We need our house back, but they gave us amusement center!" Exactly in mid-2005 I witnessed the growing enthusiasm of bilateral and multilateral aid agencies to establish own self-contained compound. So did the local enterpreneurs with aggressive development of fully furnished, western-lifestyle standard lodging facilities. Adding to that, high-speed internet connection were provided, and made Aceh the first region in Indonesia enjoying that luxury.

All were busy providing support system, but forgot the substantive issues related to recovery and rehealing of the social and cultural disintegrity and restoring the physical environment fragmentation caused by extreme disaster. All of sudden Aceh was fulled by many SUVs and four-wheel drive double-cabin trucks. To reveal the pressure most of the humanitarian workers spend weekend in hilarious and non-stop entertainment city of Medan, some hundred kilometers south off Aceh.

I read again Ross Coggins' poet, "The Development Set." All portrays I saw were irrelevant to what are supposed to be in place. I could only think and fell eerie, "What's gonna happen by 2009, when all the donors, humanitarian workers, and international NGOs left the region?"

20 December 2007

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