Tsunami survivors look for love

COT LAMKUWEUH VILLAGE (Indonesia): As Suwardi Johan drags a hoe through the soil in what is left of his village, he is literally digging for gold. 

The 35-year-old lost his wife of 12 years along with his young son and daughter six months ago when the earth rumbled and the sea heaved up and chased them, ripping his family from his arms.  

HAPPY TOGETHER: Suwardi and Mursidah are all smiles when met at their village hut near Banda Aceh last week. — APpic

Now, he sifts the dirt, hoping to find a nugget of gold buried by those same waves to help pay his new bride's dowry. Like many here, he longs to start life over. 

“We will try to make our village more alive, just like in the past,” he said. “Remarriage is a kind of programme to help us rebuild.” 

Like Suwardi, many widowers and bachelors in the worst-hit areas of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital on the northern tip of Sumatra island, huddle in tents or barracks at night hatching plans to woo women who survived the Dec 26 tsunami. 

In a place where women typically care for their husbands and children, these men are all alone for the first time and they are up against some tough odds.  

A recent report shows that in some villages the waves claimed three times more women than men, forcing some men to search for love in areas outside the tsunami zone. 

Suwardi, 35, met his new, previously unmarried wife Mursidah, two months ago during a friend's wedding reception in Sigli, about 125km south of his village in an area untouched by the surging water. 

The two were instantly spellbound and quickly married unceremoniously, but they continue to keep their story hushed in Cot Lamkuweuh village to hide Suwardi's shame – he still cannot afford a traditional Acehnese wedding or pay the 100gm of gold, about US$1,400 (RM5,320), required for Mursidah's hand. 

So far, he has saved 2mil rupiah (RM790) paid by an aid organisation for clearing mud, piles of splintered lumber and rusty shards of metal from the land where his three-room house once stood.  

He makes 35,000 rupiah (RM13.68) a day and with loans from friends and family, he hopes to move Mursidah, 30, into his newly donated one-room house around the holy month of Ramadan in October. 

His next-door neighbour Johan Ishak, 53, did not let the lack of a dowry stop him. He lost his wife and six children to the tsunami and met his new bride Mulliani in a refugee camp days after the disaster.  

She was a widow before the tragedy and lost one of her three daughters to the waves. 

After Johan asked for her hand, they returned to his village where they share a tiny bedroom in a temporary house made of crude planks topped with sheets of tin. 

The couple was thrilled after Mulliani, 40, quickly became pregnant.  

But their hopes of bringing new life to the village, where nearly 80% died, were dashed when she miscarried last month after falling over debris still littering the pitted ground. 

Johan said they will keep trying for a baby. 

Six months since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck, mounds of broken concrete, snapped boards and twisted metal have been cleared and the ground is visible again. 

Tents and temporary shelters dot land that was empty just three months ago.  

But men are the majority being served in a village where only 85 women survived. – AP  

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