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Unbreakable

Indonesia, November 10, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps Indonesia  </span>
    Part of our emergency response team in Mentawai. I'm in the middle. Photo: Mercy Corps Indonesia
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Julisa Tambunan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Immanuel Tegar, a three-week-old infant who was saved by the army in Munte Baru-baru, one of the most devastated villages. Photo: Julisa Tambunan/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Julisa Tambunan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Fourteen-year-old Liesda, who lost two sisters in the tsunami that wrecked her whole village of Sabeugunggung Photo: Julisa Tambunan/Mercy Corps

I have spent more than 10 days in the Mentawai Islands now as part of Mercy Corps’ emergency response team. Today is exactly two weeks after I left Jakarta. Everything at home almost seems surreal to me now. Mercy Corps is staying for a minimum of six months to conduct a recovery program in these tsunami-stricken islands.

Last weekend, we moved to a more appropriate place in Sikakap and set up a new “office” there. It’s a local village-style house, but the owner doesn’t live there anymore. A pretty, pretty place. It’s up on the hill with the view of the sea upfront. Everything is minimal, but that’s all we need.

Our team has grown into six people now. Each day, I come to a realization that I’m working alongside such amazing human beings. Under a lot of stress, we managed to laugh things off and keep the good spirit. “The biggest fear here is not the storm, it’s an invitation of endless coordination meetings!” one of us joked. For the last week, we've taken good care of each other — keeping one another strong, regardless of how helpless we often feel. These guys are unbreakable.

And that is exactly one of the most wonderful things I have learned while I’m here, how unbreakable human spirit is. I’m looking at a whole bunch of people who came all the way from many parts of Indonesia to help the survivors here. They are doctors, nurses, teachers, soldiers, college students and others with different expertise. Like us, these people are fighting the tropical cyclone and malaria threats daily to deliver assistance to the survivors. These people have restored my faith in humanity.

The other day, I went to an emergency hospital in Sikakap, where survivors who needed special treatments were flown here from their villages. This emergency hospital is actually a community church, used temporarily to treat the severely injured survivors.

I saw kids with bandages all over their faces who were laughing and playing with their toys. I saw Immanuel Tegar (roughly translated as “strong as rock”), a three-week-old infant who was saved by the army in Munte Baru-baru, one of the most devastated villages. His parents were found dead not long after. Immanuel himself was found in a gutter still alive and breathing, with only a scratch on his forehead. I thought about Harry Potter —the boy who lived.

There, I also talked to a 14-year-old girl named Liesda, who lost two sisters in the tsunami that wrecked her whole village of Sabeugunggung. The disaster severely injured her right leg. When I asked her what would be the first thing to do if she could walk again, she said, “I want to wash my clothes, they are dirty. And I want to cook, I want to eat what I want to eat. And I’ll go back to school.” She showed no trace of despair, only hope.

These unbreakable people, along with unbreakable support from loved ones at home, are the things that keep me going and keep me strong — entering my third week here now.

I’ve been sneezing really badly all morning today. Could be an allergy, could be a symptom of flu, could be something worse. But on my Twitter account, I wrote: “I’m made of steel, no malaria can break me!”. Then I took antibiotics.