Sat, 05 Mar 2005

Tsunami couple's cafe helps family cope

Tiarma Siboro and Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

Everyone deals with grief differently. Some block out painful episodes, while others choose to relive their personal traumas to get their grief out.

An Acehnese couple Maimun (28) and his wife Desi (26) have memorialized the place they lost their three-year-old daughter, Munira Rizkina, by setting up a modest coffee shop there named the "Tsunami Cafe."

The couple set up the shop just a week after the calamity in a bid to help bring back a sense of normality to the area.

The cafe, or warung kopi, is located in a ruined Lamdingin housing complex in Banda Aceh -- a place where around 1,800 people from a total population of 2,000 perished on Dec. 26.

"I lost my daughter...I thought I lost my wife, too. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw my wife among thousands of refugees at a camp located in the local council compound. It was two days after the tsunami. All we could do afterwards was just cry and cry until we realized that tears won't bring back our daughter," Maimun said.

"My wife told me that Munira slipped from her hands when the giant wave came and swept through our housing area. The water also swept away my wife, but she survived when some young people reached out to her and pulled her from the torrent," he said.

"We will never forget our misery and the pain of countless others. I saw volunteers helping the victims. Bodies were counted. I came to this area and saw hundreds of my neighbors had perished. I couldn't find my baby and I knew that she had died," Maimun said.

Learning that the volunteers and foreign troops might be tired after working day and night in the heat, Maimun decided with his wife to set up a coffee shop along with his elder brother, Sulaiman, 30, and his wife who also lost their daughter.

Determined to continue on with life they moved out of the refugee camp and set up a tent in front of their ruined house.

Maimun was previously a farmer but the plot of land he tended is now ruined by mud and seawater.

To set up the shop, the couples borrowed money from their relatives and collected around Rp 300,000 (about US$33) in starting capital. Since their houses were badly damaged, they used a partly ruined two-story house abandoned by their neighbor as its location.

They needed no additional funds to purchase furniture, they said, as they recovered chairs and desks collected from piles of debris.

"While our wives were preparing coffee and other supplementary drinks for our customers, me and my brother helped volunteers pick up the bodies lying in front of our cafe," Maimun said.

The shop, in the shell of a house without a roof and still surrounded by debris, has proved popular. Besides providing cups of Acehnese coffee, it also offers breakfast and lunch.

Each cup of coffee is priced at Rp 1,000, higher than the usual price of around Rp 700.

Meanwhile, prices of meals range from Rp 3,000 to Rp 5,000. The couples cook the meals in their tents and serve it in wrapped paper.

Some of the volunteers also wanted supplementary energy drinks and traditional snacks, such as fried tempeh and banana, and Indonesian soldiers and foreign troops have become regular customers.

The couples have to close the shop when night comes because there is still no power in the area.

During the first days after the shop opened, the couples were able to collect around Rp 1 million a day. But as the volunteers, soldiers and foreign troops gradually left the province, revenue reduced to about Rp 600,000.

However, the Maimun and his wife say they are happy. Their cafe has become a social center, a meeting place for survivors who discuss many things, including what they should do now, after the disaster.

"It is good for us. All benefit -- the volunteers, the troops, me, my brother and our wives," Maimun said.





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