Marc and I were quite anxious to leave Kuala Lumpur after spending nearly five full days there. Don’t get me wrong, KL is a great city, but a few days there is plenty. Plus, we were excited to head to Indonesia where we would be volunteering for Hands On Disaster Response (HODR). After the 7.9 earthquake that hit Western Sumatra on 30 September, 2009, HODR went there to assist survivors.
Our flight for Padang, Indonesia was scheduled to leave early, early in the morning. So Marc and I decided to take a bus—conveniently located across the street from our hostel, Pudu—the night before our flight. We figured this would save us money, as we wouldn’t have to pay for another night at our hotel, and just sleep at the airport. Save money, we did; however, I didn’t get any sleep. Marc, on the other hand, had no problem getting some shuteye. Shocker. I swear he can fall asleep anywhere. All he needed was a clear spot in order to lie down on the cold, hard airport floor. And he was out cold, too. I think I kicked him at least three times before he woke up.
Anyways, the flight to Padang was quick and painless, as we arrived in about an hour or so. Our descent was quite beautiful, as well. Indonesia looked like an amazing, scenic country. I was eager to see it. After we successfully made it through Customs and Immigration we were greeted by our driver, hired by HODR. HODR base camp is actually located about an hour and a half north of Padang, in Sungai Geringging. Once we arrived we were given a tour of the house, the rules of the house, as well as all the rudimentary procedures we were to follow in order to keep the house somewhat functional. Oh, it was also explained to us that the night we arrived would be the last night the men would be able to sleep inside the house. Apparently, the local Muslim police felt that it was improper for unmarried men and women to sleep under the same roof, regardless if they are sharing a bed or not. When in Rome, right? So the next night an enormous tent was constructed where tents and bunk beds were placed. However, the heat made it nearly impossible to get any sleep during the day. And at night, because of the humidity, the tent would trap the moisture. And it didn’t help that it was the wet season. Thus, my mattress and clothes were wet the entire night. Also, my lunges in the morning felt as if there had been a gallon of water poured into it. As one can imagine, the sleeping arrangements were not too conducive for a good night’s sleep.
Our daily itinerary at the project looked like this:
• wake up at 6:30 a.m.
• eat breakfast
• leave at 7:30 a.m. for job site
• work from 7:30-11:30
• lunch break for 2 hours
• work from 1:30-4:30
• nightly meeting at 6 p.m.
• free for the rest of the night
The people at camp told us that there had been a case of pink eye going around. Also, there had been some stomach virus going around, as well. Within three days, unfortunately, I ended up getting sick too. I decided I couldn’t make it through our second shift one day and walked back to base camp, where I threw up violently for a half hour. One of the women who worked there came outside to check on me but to find me along side the house hovering over the drainage system.
“Adam, is it bad?” she asked.
“Blaahhhh!” I responded.
“Oh, okay. It’s bad.”
I never did recover from getting ill while I was at camp.
The work we did was definitely not a cake walk. You were either sledging, chinking bricks, wheel barreling heavy rubble, etc, for seven hours a day. However, hard work is nothing new to me as I’ve been doing hard labor for nine years at UPS. That said, after I got sick, I could not perform the job to my fullest ability. And I never enjoy doing any kind of work half-ass.
The locals were really wonderful people. They seemed to be quite appreciative that we were there. Everywhere you went they shouted, “Hello, Mister!” “How are you?!” “What’s your name?!” “Where you from!?” The children especially were a joy to be around. Everyday as we rode on the back of the truck to our job sites, the children would run outside towards us in groups, waiving and shouting, “Hello, Hello!”
The people volunteering for HODR consisted mainly of people from the US and Europe, with a few from Canada and Australia. Oh, there was one girl from Lebanon as well. After conversing with many of the volunteers, I found myself amongst a group of avid travelers. As I think I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, I was turned on to HODR by my friend, Suzi, after stumbling across one of her blogs last year. You can find her blog here: http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/travlinfool/. She has been traveling for three years now. Geesh! There were many other people there who have experienced a lifetime of traveling already—at least by American standards. I think I can listen to stories of people’s travels for hours. I just love it. It’s inspiring, I think. And everyone has their own unique way as to how they fund their travels.
Marc had an unfortunate accident while out in the field (job site). He was sledging some concrete walls—which, very frequently, turn into flying shrapnel—and cut his foot. It was pretty ugly, I must say. Not only was it a long cut, it was pretty deep as well. After much debate, he opted not to go to the doctor to receive stitches. This incident also debilitated Marc from working.
Marc expressed his wishes to see more of the island of Sumatra, as he felt that his chances of traveling here again were slim to none. And because he would be leaving for Australia in a week, plus, the fact that his foot had debilitated him from working, it seemed like good timing. So in the end, with much discussion, Marc and I decided to leave the project early.
Despite leaving earlier than planned, volunteering for HODR was a great experience. It is an excellent organization that does a lot of good for a lot of people. I hope to volunteer with them again. For more information, check out the website at: http://hodr.org/.