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New hope in Aceh, five years after tsunami

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami, the BBC's Indonesia correspondent Karishma Vaswani returned to the worst-hit province of Aceh - where more than 100,000 people died - to find out how the community has coped since the disaster.

Lampuuk, in the aftermath of the tsunami and now
Lampuuk has changed beyond recognition in five years

The tsunami which struck 13 countries on 26 December 2004 was one of the worst natural disasters in living memory.

But what a difference five years can make. During morning rush hour on Banda Aceh's high street, motorcyclists jostle with one another on the roads.

Young women sporting jilbabs and blue jeans link arms as they stroll through the shopping district, browsing for bargains.

But five years ago, this area was one of the worst affected by the tsunami.

Giant waves of black water engulfed the shopping district, and washed away everything in their trail.

In a single instant the high street, along with much of Aceh, was turned into a wasteland.

Dead bodies littered the streets while those who survived were left with nothing.

Junaidi's new shop
Junaidi has rebuilt his shop, and his life

It was like a scene from an end-of-the-world film - a nightmarish landscape.

The memories of the stench can still cause people to retch, even today.

But where once there was nothing, there is now a city bustling with life.

Junaidi is one of Aceh's success stories. He owned a store on the high street before the tsunami - but it was washed away in the disaster, as were many of his friends and family.

He lost everything - except hope. Five years on, his store Istana Kado is one of the biggest in the city - selling everything from pots and pans to fine china.

But Junaidi says the success of the present cannot erase the pain of the past.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "Nothing like that had ever happened to us before. We lost everything. We had to rebuild all that we owned…"

He broke off, unable to finish his sentence as memories of the past came rushing back. Grief was etched on his face.

'Why didn't I die?'

Even outside the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, it is clear that people are getting back on their feet.

Lampuuk was one of the villages that felt the full force of the tsunami. An estimated 5,000 villagers were killed, and the mosque was the only building left standing.

In place of that desolate landscape, there are now rows and rows of newly-built houses, red and blue roofs glinting in the sunlight.

Mariyanti with her two children
Mairyanti has a new family, but cannot forget the past

Mariyanti was two months pregnant with her daughter Fadilah when the tsunami struck Lampuuk. Although she survived by holding onto a plank of wood, her mother, father, husband and little boy all died.

Today, Mariyanti has a new life. She has a tailoring business thanks to a grant from the British Red Cross, and a new home, built with international aid money, on the spot where her old one stood.

She has also remarried, and now has another little girl.

But even with her new family and a better income, she says her life has not been easy.

"When the tsunami happened, I felt like my life had no meaning," she told me, her two little girls on her lap, each vying for her attention.

"I was alone, pregnant - I thought to myself, why didn't I die? I am better off now, but I am still sad because I lost my family."

These tales of rebuilding and almost miraculous stories of persistence and survival are repeated everywhere in Aceh.

But there are still many people who are struggling.

The charity Save the Children estimates that 85% of all children placed in Aceh's orphanages after the tsunami have at least one living parent. Many are still there.

Yunita Raillan, the head of an orphanage in Lhoksamaauwe, says this is because the children's parents cannot afford to keep them.

"Many of the parents had no money after the tsunami and still haven't been able to get back on their feet," he said.

Thazura, 14, was finally reunited with her family earlier this year, and now rides home every day after lessons.

When it rains, her house leaks, and her parents can only afford to feed her rice and vegetables - they never have meat - but Thazura still says life at home is better than in the orphanage.

"The orphanage wasn't nice - mum wasn't there," she said.

Five years on, many in Aceh have already rebuilt their lives.

But others are not so fortunate, and the scars of the tsunami will never completely fade here.



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