Gunung Sitoli Christmas

We met Agus
and Mardin who are in charge of the timber yard, both Gunungsitoli men with
University degrees. The rest of the team comprises four trained Manitu drivers,
four yard workers and the security staff who supply 24hr security at the site.

Back at Puri
Lestari we started settling in to the office and finding our way around,
meeting more local staff and starting to catch up with procedures and

At 5pm
everybody packed up and we were driven back to Laverna for dinner and the
night. Laverna is a large convent complex run by German missionaries. It has a
large chapel, a dining area to seat maybe 70 people and an accommodation area
with over twenty rooms with bathrooms and two or three beds in each.

There was a
big pre-Christmas devotees gathering in progress so the place was full. Vinod
and I shared the last room in the house and ended up talking till late. For
dinner the UNHCR team and other NGO residents were shunted off to a small
common room at the north end of the accommodation area, the main dining area
being full. There we met a couple of Germans and several Japanese NGO workers.
The Japanese are working with AMDA, which is our implementing partner for the
Nias Shelter Program so we get to know them well in the coming weeks.

On the north
end of the building large deck overhangs the jungle with views to the harbour.
One could even keep an eye on the port workers from there. We sat at one of the
large tables sipping Bintang (beer) in the gathering twilight.

The bedroom
was typical, about 3m2 with a single bed and a double bunk. The
“ensuite” is 1.5m2 with a “squatter” (Squat toilet for the
uninitiated, no toilet paper, just wash!) and a plastic tub with a small tap
over it for a Mandy (usually a tiled concrete tub about 75cmx75cmx75cm filled
with cold water with a plastic dipper to shower with) As the weather is
generally quite hot the mandy is very refreshing but sometimes it is nice to
get some hot water.


Tuesday 13th

served around 7am, was standard; rice with a fried or poached egg and tropical
fruit; usually pineapple, papaya, mango, banana and mandarins. Tea or
Indonesian style coffee.

The cars
arrived to take us all back to the office and port for an 8am start. So began
what turned out to be the longest hiatus of my life, gearing up to receive
timber and no timber arriving.

The port
needed only a few minor improvements, and in the office Vinod, being an Exel
wizard, looked at ways to simplify the paperwork for the port workers. He spent
a good deal of time enhancing an automated distribution record system to keep
track of all the timber coming in and out of the yard. It means at any time we
can see the quantity of each size of timber we have available and how much we
can distribute to each of the 13 NGOs now clamoring for supplies.

Next day a
meeting with
BRR - Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi, one of many to
be had in the following weeks, gave me an insight into how Yudhoyono is
reforming the top heavy bureaucracy in this area with a big stick. He is trying
to sweep aside endemic graft and corruption in a real effort to expedite the
international reconstruction effort. The following is a straight lift from the
BRR website,


The Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR - Badan
Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi) for Aceh and Nias was established on April 16,
2005, and its mandate is defined by Regulation in Lieu of a Law (Regulation /
Perpu) No. 2/2005 issued by the President of the Republic of Indonesia. On
April 29, 2005, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed Presidential
Regulation (Perpres) No. 34/2005 detailing the organizational structure and
mechanism of the Agency.

BRR has a fulltime staff and two Oversight Boards. The Agency, which will
operate for a four-year period, will be based in Banda Aceh, with a branch
office in Nias and a representative office in Jakarta.

BRR’s mission is to restore livelihoods and strengthen communities in
Aceh and Nias by designing and overseeing a coordinated, community-driven
reconstruction and development program implemented according to the highest
professional standards.

A coordinated approach to planning, fundraising and implementation will
ensure that the reconstruction program is effective, that duplication is
minimized, and that donor funds are used optimally.

BRR recognizes the important role of local community input and
participation in the reconstruction effort. Aceh and Nias government bodies,
community leaders, academics, religious leaders and Non-Government
Organizations (NGOs) will be continuously consulted and involved in shaping and
implementing the reconstruction plan for Aceh and Nias.

The Agency will adhere to the highest professional standards in
fulfilling its mission. This includes providing full transparency to the flow
of funds and project prioritization process, instituting effective governance
procedures for the Agency’s operations, and establishing clear project
implementation guidelines.

Gradually I am becoming familiar with the workings of this
UNHCR mission and understanding the position of the NGOs dependent on timber
being supplied by us.

But the promised ships are not arriving. Christmas day, the
first date targeted for unloading, becomes Boxing day, then January 6th,
then 16th. Still no ships. 
Memories of the frustration in East Timor
when materials did not arrive as promised and the subsequent anger and abuse
from recipients come flooding back.

Most of the NGOs involved have international staff who have
some understanding of these problems and are more than reasonably accepting for
the present. Anger and frustration boil over at times with some people less
tolerant. The main cause of the delay is somewhat vague with a lack of
contractual honesty appearing to be the main problem. Accepting that the timber
would not arrive till the start of January, and that  we just had to find work to go on with, meant
at leat we could have Christmas in peace.


The days began to blur at the edges. Keeping a diary while
doing little is harder than when one is busy. Wednesday 14th
December was memorable for the send off party for Daryl and Terry. We held it
in the newly refurbished restaurant/living area at Puri Lestari which is soon
to become our permanent living area. With all the local port and office staff
and international staff numbering about 30 the area was well warmed with
copious consumption of Bintang and finger food. The following day was, as a
result,  somewhat hazy but Vinod and I
decided that night would be our last at Laverna and determined to move to Puri
Lestari the next day, finished or not.


Various office and port tasks completed we escaped to
Laverna to pack our gear and moved to our new haven since curiously named the
Skylab. Not sure why, it just felt like a bit of an eyrie hanging over the
city. Happily ensconsed we sat and watched the city and harbour darken through
twilight till the street and boat lights were all that was left to remind us of
our ascendancy.

The following night Reiko, Andrew and Jessie joined us and
wondered why they hadn’t moved when we had. With a retreat like this it was
shaping up to be a very enjoyable mission.

The weekend was upon us! A rest from doing nothing was
looking good. Janine had left for a two week break in Melbourne
and Andrew had hightailed it to Teluk Delam and the surfing Mecca
of the Indian ocean Lagundri bay. After a
visit to the timberyard in the morning to check on the Oxfam ‘plumber’ (more on
him later) who was installing our fire fighting equipment, Reiko, Jessie, Vinod
and I drove down to the south to a beach restaurant for lunch and then to a
quiet beach near a fishing village about 10kms south of Gunung Sitoli. The sand
is grey brown here and very fine, almost mud, so the waters edge is quite murky
and shallow. In many areas one can walk out into the sea for 100 meters to find
water deeper than one meter. The sea is tepid and there are few currents and no
waves. Reiko got bitten by something and left the water, so we all walked along
the beach for a km or more and returned without another swim. As we got into
the car Vinod said “Oh Shet, where’s my wallet”. He walked back along the beach
to a small stream flowing over the sand and spotted it on the waters edge. He
had dropped it in the creek and it had flowed out into the sea and back to
shore. Lucky boy.


The next week was spent setting up the new office in the
port with the new computer system Vinod has organised, and  training the yard staff to use and understand
the system. The we ran mock unloading scenarios from the ship to the yard with
the tally clerk counting tooth picks on the forklift. Well, we didn’t have any
timber. Did we?

We had organised a yard opening ceremony for Thursday. This
involved everybody from Bupati (Head of the Nias Islands)
to BRR Officials, AMDA and UNHCR staff. A red ribbon was tied across the main
gate. Reiko made a speech, Bupati made a speech, Pak(Mr) Yunus from BRR made a
speech all translated by Aiyub from UNHCR. The ribbon was cut by five
dignitaries wielding five pairs of Scissors. All this under an arch formed by
the two Manitu’s with their 7meter forks fully extended overhead. As the ribbon
was cut one of the guards sounded the fire alarm for special effect. Bupati and
all the entourage made a tour of the establishment then we all went home to a late


Then it was Christmas. Time flies, eh. A great deal of
planning went into Christmas dinner. Cameron (Logistics in Medan)
came over with his girlfriend Shalala from Uganda, bringing a ham, wine and
many assorted goodies. Andrew bought a monster fish at the market which we
barbequed. Reiko made genuine Nipon Sushi and her boyfriend Jeanchristophe
brought French wine. With guests Emily from Oxfam, and Paddy from UNICEF,
Christmas dinner was quite a feast.


Boxing day? What’s that? Everybody was back to work. Mostly
to make plans for the new year; who’s taking leave, who’s coming back, what the
rest will do.  We decided all who
remained would hire a car and go to Lagundri bay, at the very south of the Island. There was a chance I’d even learn to surf.