Merapi Evacuation


Last May we spent a week visiting Yogyakarta in Indonesia. On the second day, while strolling through the bird market we met Bowo (a nickname from Wibowo, his last name) who became our guide to Yogyakarta and Indonesian culture for the rest of the week. We went to his village outside the city, met his parents and wife and learned things about Indonesia we never would have on our own. I can say in retrospect that meeting him made Yogyakarta a highlight of all our travels, and reminded me of the amazing things that can happen when you travel with an open mind and no plans.

Like much of Indonesia, Yogyakarta lies in a region ripe for natural disasters. The highly active Mount Merapi looms in the distance. Merapi is often called a “decade volcano” because it erupts roughly every 10 years. So, last week when I read that Merapi erupted, I immediately emailed Bowo to see that he and his family were OK. They were, but Bowo’s work in disaster recovery put him on the front lines of the evacuation efforts.

Last week he sent photographs of the reality there which I have included in this post. From his email, he said refugees now number over 100,000 and Merapi is still spewing toxic gases and ash. The probability of a second eruption remains high.

CNN and BBC have covered details of the disaster. My purpose in writing isn’t to cover the events, but to reflect on the connections made through travel. While its nice to visit sites, the most lasting impressions are from those you meet along the way. News reaches you in a different way when you know someone living through the stories.

The news articles bring everything back to mind – the shopowners, taxi drivers, children and everyone you saw living there. The fact remains: there is not much we can do from thousands of miles away, but Bowo, his family, and the thousands of refugees are in our thoughts and prayers.

Nov 17, 2010

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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