The Digital Journalist
How Much More?
February 2005

by David Dare Parker

When I got news of the Tsunami striking Aceh, my thoughts were, "how much more can these people take?" They had been living through a long-running war between the Indonesian Military and GAM (Free Aceh Movement), and now this. I had worked in Aceh before, covering the conflict and knew Banda Aceh well. I have vivid memories of its cafes, restaurants, markets and people.

Before heading back there, I had seen the satellite images showing the scale of the destruction caused by the killer wave. I had read that the Earth was still ringing like a bell. What I saw on the ground in Aceh altered me.

Bodies lay in waterways, on rooftops, twisted inside cars, and buried beneath rubble. You might not have been able to see them all but you were constantly reminded they were there. That smell of death stays with you. It saturates your clothes, boots, even your equipment. The mask you are wearing to protect you from the smell eventually reeks of it.

Mass grave of Tsunami victims. Lhoknga, Lamkruet. Aceh January 8 2005

Photo by David Dare Parker / OnAsia Images
You start to frame bodies into strong compositions. You justify it by telling yourself your images might make a difference; encourage people to dig deeper when donating money to the various aid agencies that are starting to work there. You begin to take in details. A man's belt buckle has you visualising the start of his day. Putting on his trousers, his singlet, the shirt he is wearing. In the centre of town the body of a woman is placed outside the shop where she was found, ready to be collected and taken to a mass grave on the outskirts of town. Although it is now muddied, she still wears the floral dress she put on her last morning. I notice a delicate gold bracelet around her ankle. In yet another place a man lies beside the body of a child, giving the impression he may have died trying to protect it. There are many more bodies in bags; red bags, blue bags, black bags and yellow bags, different sizes, some of which are pathetically small, lined up near the wreckage, ready to be taken away in the back of trucks.

A woman and her son sit in shock beside the body of her husband, a victim of the Tsunami. Kesdam Military Hospital, Banda Aceh.

Photo by David Dare Parker / OnAsia Images
Survivors of the Tsunami point to the tree tops to show how high the wave was. They show fingers outstretched to tell how many family members are missing, or dead. They stand among the ruins of their houses, faces covered to ward off the smell of the dead. The eyes that look out over their masks suggest they are still in shock. They pick carefully through the debris in an effort to reclaim what's left of their possessions, aware that the remains of their loved ones may be buried beneath the rubble they stand on. The word Tsunami and the date it struck, December 26th, 2004, are written on the side of a fishing boat delivered inland, kilometres from the sea.

At Kesdam Hospital there are noticeboards where survivors put up images of the missing. Two women visit the children's ward. One of the women suddenly breaks down and cries uncontrollably. The other tries to console her, tears in her eyes. The crying woman tries to tell me something. I don't fully understand. She holds up four fingers. It is overwhelming. It is impossible to fully comprehend what these people are going through, to survive something as catastrophic as this and attempt to rebuild, and to go on living despite what they have lost. This place breaks your heart.

© David Dare Parker

David Dare Parker is an Australian freelance photojournalist. He is represented by OnAsia Images.

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