Lenni survived the tsunami partly because she was lucky and partly because she is a woman of great courage who knew she needed to survive for the sake of her children.
She clearly recalled her story one Tuesday afternoon in April while her youngest child slept peacefully in a hammock on the porch of the barracks where she lives with four of her six children. UMCOR is helping her restore her life along with the other families living in the Cadek Permai temporary living center just outside of the city of Banda Aceh. Her two oldest children are married and live away from home.
Lenni remembers being awakened that Sunday morning by an earthquake. She and her husband gathered the children and ran outside to safety. When it seemed that the shaking had stopped they returned to the house to clean up. While they were returning fallen dishes to their shelves they felt a second tremor. Once again Lenni and her family went outside, only this time they saw people running toward the town. She says they were quiet, no one was shouting, just people running and cars and trucks loaded with people heading away from the ocean. She asked her neighbor what was going on. Her neighbor went to the road to find out but never came back. So, Lenni and her husband gathered their children and put them on a truck and told them to go to their grandmother’s house in town.
Lenni went back with her husband to get on their motorbike to follow the crowd. They had to go slowly because there were so many people. Then the wave came. They were at the edge of it and so it only knocked them down. Lenni was thrown some distance in the crash and her husband was underneath the bike trying to get out when the next wave came. She saw it coming like a wall of water. She says she saw pieces of her neighborhood rolling in it. Lenni recalls hearing her husband yell instructions for her to hang on to anything she could grab. Then she heard him crying out to God for her protection. It would be the last time she heard her husband’s voice.
She describes the water that enveloped her as hot, black and sulfurous. It pulled her under and sucked her out toward the sea. She saw the third and the largest wave to wash into Banda Aceh that morning roll in from the sea. “I thought it was the end of the world,” Lenni said of the sight. The third wave pushed her down again. She tried to swim up, but the force of the wave kept pushing her down.
Alone in the Water
When she finally got to the surface Lenni says she was confused if she was alive or dead. Then she tried to swim and realized how badly her right leg had been injured in the waves. She tried to stay afloat with the use of only one leg. She looked around and saw no one, no houses or trees, only black water and blue sky. “God saved me,” she says.
Lenni found a floating tree to use as a raft and over time began to talk to the tree because she felt so alone. She said, “Bring me somewhere safe.” She either passed out or fell asleep when she heard a voice saying “Wake up! Hold on to the tree or you will fall into the water.” In her recollection the man who spoke to her was wearing white with a long beard. She clung tighter to the tree as it drifted to a nearby mountain.
She carefully climbed off the tree she had clung to for so many hours and found that she could not walk because of her injured leg, which would later become so infected that it had to be amputated. She found a wire lying on the ground and used it and some sticks to make a splint so she could use her leg.
Then she saw people in the distance. She cried for help but they were too busy looking for their loved ones to stop and help a stranger. So, she spent the night at an empty house. In the morning she heard a voice yelling “Is anyone here?” “Is anyone alive?” She cried back, “I’m here!” but she hid herself because the force of the waves left her naked and she was embarrassed. The man called back, “Are you a ghost or a person?” because he could not see her. She answered, “I am not a ghost, I am still alive!” Lenni asked the man to throw her some clothes because she was naked and ashamed. The man told her not to worry that everyone was naked from the waves.
The man called to some nearby people and they carried her to a medical post where she received the medical attention she so desperately needed. Her children found her at this site. They were all safe from the tsunami because they went ahead on the truck.
Lenni said, “A new life started after the tsunami.” Indeed it has. She is courageously pulling the pieces of her life together. She is able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg and is making plans for the future. She wants to go back to her business of baking cakes and supplying local shops with them. UMCOR is assisting her and the people in the temporary living center where she lives with housing, jobs and other needs.
UMCOR is working on assisting displaced people in Indonesia and other places in South Asia to rebuild their lives and return to farming, fishing, or other work. United Methodists can get involved in ministries like these through giving to UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response. United Methodist Committee on Relief is a 501(c)(3) charity and all contributions are fully tax deductible. Checks may be mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10187-9068. Donors using a credit card may call toll free 800-554-8583.