On the fifth of August at 7:46pm I was sitting at my desk at my home writing a blog about social media marketing, when the desk started to shake and the curtains to sway. There had been a large 6.4 earthquake in Lombok on the 29th July, which had woken me from sleep, made the bed sway and the pool slosh. Twenty people were killed in that quake. This one was even bigger and longer. I grabbed my cat and ran out under the porch roof. This was perhaps not a good place to stand. So I ran further out of the house to stand between the two buildings that make up my little compound. This was an even worse place to stand since I was now a potential target for flying roof tiles. But my cat was freaking out and scratching me to hell, so I couldn’t run further out the gate because I was afraid she would leap out of my arms and run away.
At my house a few chunks of masonry fell from the roof and landed in the pool. The water in the pool was still sloshing from side to side for another 10 minutes. In Kuta 2 people were killed when part of a car park building collapsed and buried a number of scooters. It was early evening and many people were frightened. But for the people of Lombok and the Gili Islands it was a catastrophe. More than 560 people were killed and 417,000 made homeless in a matter of seconds. The scale of the destruction and the speed that it happens still blows my mind. The subject of my blog has consequently changed.
In Gili Trawangan many people ran up the hill in fear of a Tsunami. There was an instant power outage and the islands were plunged into darkness. For the first few nights in the Gili islands people were sleeping outside in fields. Over the next few days, thousands of tourists were evacuated by the Indonesian army. But once the army left, the worst of human nature became apparent, with looting and physical attacks meaning people had to stay together in groups at all times. Safe in Bali, I imagined a situation reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Finally, the police and the army returned to restore order, but in that small window of a few days many of the residents of the Gili Islands decided to evacuate, leaving behind their homes and most of their belongings, not knowing if they would be there when they returned.
I lived in Gili Trawangan for four and a half years. I have since moved to Bali and have been here for the last 2 years. Although I have relocated, I still consider Gili Trawangan and Gili Air to be very close to my heart, and my many friends in the Gili Islands to be my adopted family. My heart went out to them in this crisis. I opened my home to those that asked for refuge, and soon my lovely little villa in Sanur became known as Adi’s Refugee Camp. At its peak there were 5 people, 2 cats (plus mine makes 3) and a parrot, seeking safety from the earthquake zone in my house. It was a hectic month!
In Lombok, 400,000 people are still sleeping under tarps. The main hospital in Mataram initially survived the 6.9 quake on the 5th August. A third major quake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale which happened on August 19th seriously damaged the building and all patients were evacuated to the parking lot. They are now being treated under tarps and in tents.
In the days after the earthquake, I received many messages from Indonesian friends in Lombok asking for help. In Bali, approximately 60 ex-pat residents who had evacuated from the islands started to form a relief effort. As many of these people were my long-time friends, I did what I could to help. I photographed and filmed the relief effort, and emailed anyone I could think of in my list of media contacts. I made a short film about what the team of dive instructors and business owners from the Gili Islands were doing to help the people of Lombok, to show the world what we were doing here. To ask the world for help, for donations, which were already drying up.
The team of expats had overnight become relief workers. Not something any of us were trained for. But we were able to respond quickly to the crisis, without the slow-moving machinery and bureaucracy of government. The first few days were a melting pot of opinions and desires with everyone wanting to do something to help. But we soon became organized and started raising funds, which were then directly put into buying supplies to send to Lombok. Essential items such as food, water, clothing and tarps for shelter were boxed up and shipped on trucks and then boats to the second part of the team on the ground in Lombok. They then distributed it systematically to the people in the villages who had lost their homes, belongings and loved ones.
A huge part of the relief effort was raising money to fund our efforts. Members of the team did interviews with news agencies around the world. I made a version of the film in German (which I don’t speak, so a new challenge to overcome) for news channels in Austria and Germany. A band in Austria played at a fundraiser for the relief effort. The Blue Ocean Network published an article, and my film, to help raise funds. At last count, the relief team of dive instructors and small businesses in the Gili Islands had raised over US$80,000 for the earthquake victims in Lombok. I have never felt so proud to be part of this amazing little community.
At my house I could see the emotional stress this event has inflicted on people. Those few friends who were staying in my home exhibited different degrees of post traumatic stress. Every time the ground shook in an aftershock (we could still feel them in Bali), we all ran outside. Even I was starting to feel the fear and shock at every quake, which I wasn’t before. Their emotions were starting to rub off on me too. I could only imagine what it was like for the people in Lombok.
It is obvious to me that there are deeply hidden wounds which we cannot see. Not only have people suffered broken bones, lost homes and everything they owned, lost loved ones, and are left with just the clothes they stand up in. They are also shaken and broken on the inside. A strong wind creating ripples in the pool or a truck going past in the street making the ground shake, instantly resulted in fear among my band of refugees. The psychological trauma is equally as severe as the physical.
Surprisingly, my little community settled into a harmonious rhythm. Even the three cats seemed to get along. Well, mostly. The parrot nibbled a bit more of my bushes than my landlord would approve of, but they will grow back. We ate together and drank a few beers together, and when at last they returned home one by one, my little house suddenly seemed very empty. Adi’s refugee camp is no more.
Now that the shaking has slowly subsided and the basic needs of people are starting to be met, people are starting to return to the Gili Islands. They are rebuilding their homes and businesses. The best way they can now help the people of Lombok is to give them employment. The communities of Lombok and the Gili Islands are closely intertwined, with many of the workers on the Gili Islands coming from Lombok. Without the people of Lombok, the Gili Islands cannot operate. But without the jobs which the Gilis give to the people of Lombok, Lombok also cannot survive. The Gilis are officially reopened on the 1st September. Many businesses opened well before that. Tourists are slowly starting to come back. The Gilis need tourist dollars desperately.
In Lombok life is still not easy. The government is helping with money and machinery and starting to rebuild. But most people are still living in tents, berugas and under tarps in the open. Finding clean water is still a challenge. Cleanliness and health are starting to suffer. The very young and old are starting to get sick. So many people literally have nothing.
It seems Mother Nature has gone mad, that Gaia is taking her vengeance on the people of the earth. It’s time we started to listen and started taking better care of the oceans and our environment. Since the reefs of the Gili Islands have not been dived for a month the marine life has started immediately to return. Many sharks and schools of Mobula rays have surprised the first divers back in the water. Is this an indication that without our presence the ocean has some hope to revive? Some of the reefs have been slightly remodelled by the earthquake, with huge cracks running through the coral and underwater hot springs opening up. But this to me seems to be just part of the natural world and the way of things.
What does the future hold for Lombok? As with any natural disaster, the world is already starting to forget. New earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, mudslides and other catastrophes strike daily around the world. Lombok is old news now. But what can the people do except just keep on going? These two communities of Lombok and the Gilis will continue to work together, to rebuild, and slowly life will return to normal.
The people of Lombok still need help. If you would like to help please donate to the link below.