Can’t begin to Imagine

As the roads wound deeper into Palu, the horror of the tsunami slowly began to dawn on me. The scale of destruction is like nothing I’ve seen before, houses ripped from their foundations, schools reduced to rubble, and I couldn’t help but think to myself “I can’t begin to imagine what these people must have felt” That age old remark to victims of natural disasters, they must have heard it a hundred times.

But, what did it feel like? What does run through your head when you’re being tossed around like a ragdoll and watching your entire life crumble around you? Not finding a suitable explanation I decided to put it out of my mind and continue our sombre journey onto the camps.

Looking out of the car window, the extraordinarily beautiful coastline had me captivated. The serene waters enticing you with its playful blue waves and horseshoe coastline luring thousands of tourists to flock to Palu to enjoy this little bit of paradise every year. I opened the window to be greeted with a soothing, salty touch on my face and the familiar smells of the sea. Closing my eyes, I allowed the warm breeze to calm my senses but again that remark crawled back into my mind: “I can’t begin to imagine what these people must have felt”.

Turning my gaze inland, the scene could not have been starker. What was once a sprawling city was now a baron wasteland crushed under the might of the unstoppable tsunami. Nothing stood in its way – houses, mosques, cars, all fell victim to the tsunami’, even the very land on which we were now driving could not withstand its absolute power, liquefaction causing the earth to wave and snake like the tsunami itself.

As we drove deeper into the wasteland, one image struck home like no other; a mosque, the very foundation of our faith, that bastion of hope for all our ummah, tossed around and dragged hundreds of metres, and yet the mosque still stood. The minarets still stand proudly, reaching to the sky in prayer to Allah. The dome still pointing to the heavens. The doors still wide and welcoming. The mosque still standing as a testament to peace and love even surrounded by this destruction.

“What must they have felt” I thought to myself. I start to put myself in their shoes and try to imagine being dragged under water by the waves gasping for air, I imagine myself trying to shield my loved ones from the disaster.

Finally, we arrived at the camp. At this point I was so overwhelmed by the contrasting scenes I’d witnessed along the way that I could hardly bring myself to smile. As we entered the camp I was greeted with the sound of children’s laughter as they began to surround the car, cheering and clapping so happily that everything that I’d witnessed vanished in an instant, I could see hope in their eyes, that with every difficulty comes ease. The happiness was so intoxicating that couldn’t help but join in with the children.

I went on to speak with the survivors of the tsunami who all shared their stories of loss and grief, vividly describing their hopes and fears as they battled to save their families lives. As I continued to listen, I finally grasped a little of what they must have felt. The pain of losing your loved ones, the physical torture of being in the jaws of death, fighting till the last breath to save your children and then finally the relief of safety. I began to feel their loss, to feel what they felt, to see the anguish in their eyes made it all too real.

The resilience shown by these survivors is truly awe inspiring. They fought and they fought but they never gave up. They reminded me of the mosque that stood defiantly against the destructive power of the tsunami. Holding their heads up proudly and extending their hands in thanks to Allah just like the hands of the minaret.

Returning to the airport I finally had clarity. Once we begin to really imagine what they went through can we truly understand what we must do. I have purpose now. We need to educate others so they too can imagine what is felt like for these brave individuals to lose everything, only then can we start rebuilding their lives to give them a chance to look to the future with confidence.

It’s sad to leave Indonesia, I’ve made some wonderful friends and met some truly inspiring individuals, but I will be safe in the knowledge that I will be returning with hope for a better future for all those who have suffered.

Ihram Iqbal

21st March 2019