Two weeks after our trip to Jogja, the ancient city was hit by a massive quake that killed thousands and made thousands more, homeless. As muslims , we can’t say that we have cheated death . We were plain lucky, insyallah , as the area of the hotel we stayed was amongst the places that were shaken by the dreaded phenomenon. Drroza was the first to encourage me to volunteer this time, unlike the 2 previous missions when she was a bit reluctant. I queried on her willingness to let me go and she replied that our recent trip there and having walked the grounds were the encouraging factors. Apparently, familiarity has created a certain degree of bond towards the people and the 'ancient' city, for us! And the calling was strong.
On arrival, we headed for Klaten (one of the hit area) and met up with the President of GPM who briefed us on things. Pak Rafaai, a physician and also head of DDI (Dewan Dakwah indonesia) strongly requested that I went up Merapi to attend to the sick villagers up there. As the rest of the entourage was reluctant to go up in view of the impending outburst of Merapi, I went alone and they headed for Jogjakarta, where GPM has a clinic running for the quake victims. Overthere, Dr Lee, the orthopedecian who came with me, had conducted several orthopedic surgeries.
At the end of the first day, after attending to a fairly heavy clinic, we recieved news of renewed activities of Merapi and I was adviced by GPM people to join them down the mountain. Having seen the villagers who badly need medical treatment, I agreed to continue rendering my service up there. But this was not after much self-deliberation. Pak Suharto, my host, had given me strong assurance that in any dire instances, they were well prepared to escape in a vehicle within seconds; the fastest route, the safest direction and the time to be taken, these were all calculated. Furthermore, he has a personal mini seismology kit that measures the seismic activity of Merapi constantly alerting us of impending eruption. But what was more reassuring was the fact that we were just 50 m away from the seismologic observation post, with personnels monitoring Merapi's activity around the clock. And there were young villagers keeping vigil to warn others as well. Throughout my 4 days stay up there, I had the life-time opportunity to see fresh flowing red lava and the sinister 'wedhus gembel' up close ! The village that I stayed was not particularly at risk from being smothered by hot lava as there was a small valley separating it from the peak. They have even erected 'paths' for the lava to flow with bridges on top!
But whatwas worrying was the horrifying hot clouds (with temperature up to 3000 deg celcius) that can travel up to an astonishing speed of 200km/hr. Again Pak Suharto, reassured me that once a hot cloud is being detected coming their way, a sirence would blare and in an instance they'd bundle up in a car and head the opposite direction. A moving hot cloud in the air will dissipate it's heat after travelling about 4 km. More dangerous, are hot clouds that do not travel in the air but roll down the mountain in great speed and would wipe out anything that comes in its path. This was what occured in the eruption of 94 where a whole village called Dusun Turgo, Kabupaten Sleman was wiped out in an instance!
At the moment, Merapi is causing much grief to the inhabitants. We do not expect it to explode like Krakatoa which destroyed itself and causing destruction hundreds of kilometres away. These people have been commuting up and down the mountain to look after their herd, crops and house daily for the past three months. They took care of their properties in the day and stayed at the 'pengungsi' for the night. Jogja and Klaten were actually facing two calamities, the earthquake and eruption of Merapi.
Kids of Merapi
Each day I saw a fairly large crowd of patients who don't understand me nor me, them! But I was assisted by several good locals like Pak Suharto's family and his sister in law Ibu Yamik . They helped me dispense medications and became my translators. Besides the usual ailments, many of them suffered from anxiety and we didn't come prepared with any psychotrophic drugs. I made note of the various drugs needed.
My young assistants were very polite when talking to elders, for instance,"Pak Dokter..., bapak tadi bilang 'marto nuwun', sama seperti terima kasih. kalau mahu, kita bisa jawab 'sama sama' atau dalam bahasa jawanya 'sami sami', smiled Umi, Putut's fiance (student at Solo University).
(A 110 years old lady seeking treatment at at Posko Kesihatan and
I am using layers to blur and lighten the background.)
I am using layers to blur and lighten the background.)
After the Fajr Prayers, I walked up Merapi to enjoy the scenic sunrise. Putut and his friends took me up the mountain to good spots where professional photographers wait for 'the moment.' It was about 5 km from the peak and on my third day, we went until about 3 km from the peak and Putut said, "Pak Dokter, kita sekarang berada di perut Merapi. Di sini agak merbahaya kerana laluan evakuasinya kurang baik." That day was a bit quiet with no hot cloud to be seen. Just the rumbling sound within Merapi when the hardened lava rocks falling hitting each other.
Pak Suharto is a teacher at a primary school by profession. He is the chaiman of Forum Peduli Merapi aimed to improve the livelihood of the Merapi population living at Kecamatan Kemalang, Kabupaten Klaten. The name of his kampung or desa is Deles Indah, as beautiful as the name. The family members are bright, hardworking, polite, caring and artistic. The kids play guitar and have great voices. The voice of Putut and Isna, our medical team described as 'gemersik' but to me sounds like the lead singer of sheila on 7. Ditta's voice is strong, better than Siti's,( sorry la to Siti's fan). A simple description is just 'meremang bulu roma mendengarnya.' At night, after the Isya', the verandah became a meeting place for the village volounteers and people watching the world cup. At Ibu Yamik's home, she had a collection of gamelan instruments bigger than those i saw played in Malaysia.
On the fourth day, I had to take leave as I needed to do administrative tasks for GPM based in Jogja. Overthere, I visited and reported to the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia base. It's mandatory for any organizations operating in a foreign land to report to their military body as we are answerable to them once outside Malaysia. Also made contact with the Turkish NGOs' and held discussions with the doctors and staffs. They voiced their dismay saying that they hardly get to see many patients each day and felt as though they were wasting time. But I managed to boost their morale by saying that no matter how small the number of people you have helped, it was still significant because if we muslims don't help other muslims in times of needs, then others will fill in. And of course, this is one of the ways to cement our 'ukhwah' with muslims of another country. After much searching I managed to make contact with the OIC field representative.
One of my task was to convey the donations given by some friends (3 bloggers and another friend) to Anang and other quake victims. Having made contact, Anang came to see me. He was touched by the donations and felt bad that he can't reciprocate with any gifts. His exact words were " Saya minta maaf Pak, dalam keadaan sekarang saya tidak bisa menyedia sebarang ole-ole. Harap bapak memahami."
On the last day I was still preoccupied with making reports on the mission. However, the last day was also alotted for the mission members to do some sight-seeing and shopping(R&R) and since I have recent experience with the city, they have persuaded me to bring them around! Thus I ended up being their tourist guide, imparting knowledge that I had gathered previously from Anang. Imagine! I was a doctor, mission-leader, a trainer and tourist guide, all rolled in one!! However, due to some new assignments, my field officer trainee and I had to miss the shopping in the morning to complete the tasks. no shopping for me and Kuza, the trainee.
We went to Desa Canden, Kecamatan Bantul to see the progress of 150 temporary houses donated through GPM. The progress was excellent. Within 3 days 1 house was almost complete, 3 houses 70% complete and the rest had the foundations of the houses prepared. The initial arrangement was for 4 houses followed by the rest if the progress is according to schedule. At the meantime they stayed in tents and nearby mosques.
I was proud to have Dr. Lee, Dr. Suryasmi, Dr. Ishak, Sister June and Sdri Kuza under my team for they have served whole heartedly for the success of this mission.
Even now that I am back home, safe and sound, I still think about those people of Merapi. I feel for their desperation. Their yearn for things to normalize. I pray for their safety and that Merapi's fiery angst will subside soon even though it makes good subject for photography, eh Paul Moss?? :-) My body is here but part of me is still with them, feeling their misery.