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 Martunis in a Portugal football jersey
Martunis in a Portugal football jersey

THIS is a place never short on miracles. Banda Aceh has borne witness to many incredible tales of survival and strength of the human spirit.

It is here that a family was reunited 10 years after the brutal waves of the tsunami ripped them apart.

Jamaliah and Septi Rangkuti were in their home on Dec 26, 2004, when they heard people shouting that the sea was coming.

They grabbed their three children and leapt onto their motorbike. They didn’t make it far before the waves engulfed them.

Septi managed to place their two youngest children on a piece of floating wood.

But as the waves receded back to sea, Septi could not hold on to the piece of wood and watched in horror as they disappeared out into the vastness of the ocean.

For almost a decade, they believed their children were lost forever.

But then, one of her uncles had a dream of meeting his missing niece for three nights.

One day, while walking, he bumped into a 14-year-old orphan that looked exactly like his niece.

Excited, he ran to tell Jamaliah and Septi. They refused to believe him, but when they met the girl, they were convinced.

The chance encounter was highlighted in the media but that wasn’t where the story ended. Yet another miracle occurred when they discovered that the girl had been found with another boy on a deserted island by fishermen. They were separated after the discovery.

They searched for the boy, who was homeless and living in squalor. They found him a decade later, and a family was reunited.

This was just one of many tales told in newspapers and television reports in Banda Aceh daily.

There is also the story of Martunis. He was 8 years old when the tsunami hit. Travelling in a car with his mother and sister, Martunis clung to debris. He was swept by the waters across the city, then out to sea.

Clinging to a sofa and various other debris, he survived for 21 days before rescuers found him washed up on a beach, wearing a Portugal football team T-shirt which had faded after so many days of exposure.

He survived by picking up bottled water as well as instant noodles he found floating in the sea. When he was found, he was handed over to aid organisation Save the Children. His favourite T-shirt which he wore on the day the tsunami struck brings him luck, he says.

Upon learning his story, Fifa took him to meet the Portuguese national team. Cristiano Ronaldo came to meet him in Indonesia, and called him “his adopted son”.

Today, Martunis is a football player. He trains at the SSO Real Madrid Foundations in Aceh three times a week in the hope that one day, he, too, will become a professional player, just like Ronaldo.

And then, there is the story of Ari Afrizal, 21, a construction worker working at a site in Banda Aceh when the tsunami picked him up and took him to sea.

He floated for two weeks, clinging on to pieces of wood and eventually ending up on an abandoned fishing raft. He was saved by one John Kennedy from New Zealand, captain of container ship Al Yamamah.

He was taken to Klang for treatment and worked in Malaysia for a while. Now, he has returned to Aceh and is working about three hours drive from Banda Aceh. By Arman Ahmad

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