Working Week 06.01.06

Gill Martin

Freelance who spent six months as volunteer
communications consultant in tsunami-devastated Indonesia for child
development agency Plan International

22.12.05 Water to the
women’s mess splutters into action after a night without supply. Fight
my way through mosquitoes for a cold shower via rubber hose – the
alternative is throwing saucepans of water over myself.

Receive
an unintelligible fax of my three-page piece in News of the World’s
Sunday magazine. It follows the lives of survivors in Lambada, a
village “adopted” by the magazine’s readers.

Internet connection
is erratic, but I find an Observer article by South Asia correspondent
John Aglionby who leads his tsunami story with the “Home Alone”
schoolboy orphans I interviewed. They have been living in a shack,
scavenging for scraps among the ruins of their flattened village.
Aglionby duly credits Plan with introducing him to the lads and quotes
our web address.

23.12.05 Mango juice overdose leaves me with a
dodgy tum – only the second since my first trip in June. Not bad
considering one colleague is medivaced to Singapore with a blocked
intestine; others suffer from malaria, hepatitis, gout, diabetes, mumps
and food poisoning. I’m avoiding chicken because of avian flu in Aceh,
and there are outbreaks of bovine anthrax, polio and dengue fever.

Take
Spanish TV crew to a camp where teenage Plan teacher Irma lives with
her grandfather, who is recovering from an eye op after tsunami
“firewater” blinded him. They are the family’s only survivors.

Visit
Plan carpentry workshop and chippie Mustafa, who lost his wife,
daughter and 60 family members. He escaped after being sucked down a
well and expelled like a cork.

Gary Walker, ex-BBC World Service
and now Plan’s tsunami communications co-ordinator, feeds CNN my story
about midwife Ratna, who helped a mother give birth in a darkened
refuge hours after the waves swept away her medical equipment. She used
a Gillette razor and string from a rice bag to cut and tie off the
umbilical cord. I nominate her for a Local Hero award.

24.12.05
Spend the day with Marcelo Torres, a Brazilian TV journalist who says
“tiramisu” instead of “terima kasih” for thank-you.

We see
Plan-trained carpenter Anwar in the ruins of the home he built with his
wife, which was destroyed just three days after they moved in. He never
found her body or those of their two children. He introduces us to his
new bride – Aceh is witnessing a wedding and baby boom.

Marcelo
films Berry, a Plan education volunteer, against backdrop of Sabang
island where he’d been on a university field trip. The tsunami struck
during the ferry journey, forcing the boat to return, stranding Berry
for a week on Sabang with no news of his family. He returned to find
none had survived.

Get into global Christmas spirit, sharing a
bottle of blackmarket Californian burgundy, Neapolitan pasta, German
iced cookies and Swiss mint chocolates.

25.12.05 Hit the media
centre and meet roving Southeast Asia correspondent Nick Meo who hopes
the story of Anwar the carpenter will make one of the broadsheets. In
Santa Claus mode he gives me a new mobile phone for Anwar.

Take Marcelo to a Plan health centre where he films a traumatised woman whose leg was sliced off by a zinc roof.

Find out Agence France-Press wants all my 15 stories.

Christmas lunch is mushy banana, squashed orange and tepid bottled water.

I
do a “Mother Christmas” at a camp, giving hygiene kits to a pregnant
woman and a mother who lost two daughters and has recently given birth
to a whopping four-kilo baby.

Midwife Ratna has been chosen as a Local Hero to meet the president.

Tuck
into turkey and Ben & Jerry’s chocolate ice cream at trendy new
café in Banda Aceh with colleagues and Canadian broadcast company.

Still writing at midnight.

26.12.05 3am: text colleague to pick up midwife Ratna at 4am before presidential security cordon clamps down.

At 7.30am I drive to the beach at Ujong Batee, far from official ceremonies, to await minute’s silence at 8.16am.

The
only other soul on an otherwise deserted shore is a young man
collecting cans. He’s the local flasher, which rather spoils the
solemnity of the occasion. I think not only of the dead, but the scores
of survivors whose stories I’ve chronicled over six months.

Write up “midwife meets president” for local media.

27.12.05 Take fishing rods to “Home Alone” teens after they tell me angling saves them from stress and depression.

Canadian TV wants an interview with American colleague Brook, who has abandoned banking career to work for Plan.

Canadian
radio requests a talk with Plan-trained teacher Rita, whose bleak tale
of survival beggars belief. She lost one daughter, and another she
believed drowned was forced to work as a skivvy and was returned only
after she paid a ransom. She lives in barracks, battling breast cancer,
yet is still determined to help refugee children.

Farewell dinner at favourite restaurant, serving everything from lobster to lungs.

28.12.05
Last minute packing, with no hope of closing 16 kilo overweight luggage
without sitting on case bulging with mosquito net, sterile kit,
emergency evacuation gear and sanity-saving DVD player.

Make departure lounge mobile phone calls to finalise Canadian radio interview.

Then
the long haul: Banda Aceh, Medan, eight-hour stopover in Jakarta, four
hours in Dubai (time to buy cashmere stole as it’s snowing in UK and
I’m wearing sandals and a linen suit).

Do a Bridget Jones and
discover I’ve lost 11lbs (as well as a wallet, a mobile phone and a
laptop). Consider an offer to “parachute” into the Pakistan earthquake
zone – but not until after competing in the International Ski
Journalists’

junket in Bulgaria at the end of January.

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