Tuesday 21 February 2012

Atlas Shrugged

Im not refering to the work of my favourite author Ayn Rand (actually my favourite all time book is her novel, The Fountainhead) but rather to a euphamism for an earthquake. One week after the last earthquake and luckily no second earthquake. Atlas hasn't shrugged even though Atlas wasn't actually carrying the world on his shoulders but the Heavens. Zeus condemmed Atlas to carry the heavens on his shoulders after the Titans revolted against the Olympians. The Flemish cartographer Mercator famously showed an illustration of Atlas holding up what looked like the globe of the earth on the cover of collection of maps he published, but this was in fact a globe of the heavens. Mercator had actually named his collection of maps after the mythical King Atlas of Mauretania (after whom the Atlas mountains are named) who was said to have produced the first celestial globe (as opposed to terrestrial globe). The collection became known as Mercator's Atlas and after that any collection of maps was known as an atlas. Mercator was the most influential Belgium of all time, his projection of 1592 of the world being the first to show accurate latitude and longitude lines enabling accurate navigation for the first time. In 1989 US cartographic societies called for Mercator's projection to be eliminated because of its distortions and now it hardly gets usedat all. This didn't however stop NASA using it  to map that butterscotch coloured planet, Mars! Yes I know, I know! Mars looks red to us when we look at in the night sky but this is because of the red dust in the atmosphere of Mars, which is not the color of the surface. The pictures that were taken in 1976 by the cameras on board the two Viking rovers that reached Mars were actually in grey-scale. This then got put thru three colour filters and adjusted according to the artistc preference of the operators. It turns out these were slightly over-pinked and the real colour is probs closer to butterscotch. Actually the most recent photos that have been taken in situ in colour show a greeny-brown landscape interspersed with a salmon -coloured sand strewn with grey-blue rocks. As a matter of fact I been to Mars, not the planet though, but that infamous city called Cairo, which is in fact Arabic (al-Qāhirah) for Mars! Actually, getting back to Atlas shrugging, it was only because of that famous earthquake with its resulting Tsunami back in 2004 that we were able to visit my mother here in Aceh in 2007! Although she had been living here since 1998, R wouldn't let us stage an expedition to visit her due to the civil war. Aceh as a Provence wanted independence from the rest of Indonesia. It an area completely Muslim and rich in both gold and oil. Most if it's resources gets rerouted to Jakarta (Indonesia's capital) and after redistribution approximately 1% of the income generated from the region is returned to it. A heavy military presence in Aceh saw frequent fighting between the Indonesian army and GAM (pronounced GUM) the Acehnese freedom fighters. Tanks would regularly roll down the main highway in front of Lise's house and soldiers would often call sin for a coffee and to watch some television, depositing their rifles by the front door. Faridah and Lise would stand on the balcony and wave to the passing tanks, best to appear friendly to everyone, but once the soldiers began firing at the house, thinking resistance fighters were hiding in it. Lise has footage of shooting as she is running into the bathroom, the only room in the house which is concrete and therefore slightly more bullet-proof than the timber structure of the rest of the house. When she emerged after the shooting stopped she shows where the bullets have pierced the walls and ceiling. Despite being the only white woman allowed to stay in the area during the conflict, her and Faridah did go for one year when the fighting got particularly hairy and live in Lake Toba, North Sumatra.  Once the tsunami happened GAM wanted to come down (out of its mountain hiding caches) and help its people in the cleanup, so they initiated a truce with the Indonesian military in which there was to be no reprisals. The peace that ensued meant that R then allowed us to visit my mother for the first time. Lucky for her, Lise had chosen the place to build her house with Faridah well. Air Dingin sits at 3.21N & 97.07E. As it I turned out it was completely unaffected by the tsunami! The towns to both the north and south of Air Dingin had been wiped out but due to a very deep trench out in the ocean which had absorbed most of the wave from the tsunami, Air Dingin was unaffected. They did experience an unusually low and high tide with fish left on the shore, but apart from that nothing! It was three days before they had the first inkling something was amiss. As there is only one road running along the west coast of Aceh, trucks carrying supplies and goods are a daily occurrence. For three days there had been a notable absence of trucks. Finally someone got through on a mobile phone and they heard of the destruction caused by the tsunami to the north and south of them! Faridah had family up in the capital of Aceh, Bandar Aceh, so she chartered a fishing boat with some other people up the coast to see if she could find them. The road up the coast to Bandar Aceh was impassable, having been too badly damaged in many places. As the boat pulled into the Harbour of Bandar Aceh, it had to dock, the river being completely impassable due to the fact that it was choked full of bloated dead bodies. Faridah and the other passengers on the fishing boats used bra cups as masks for the intolerable stench. Most of the bodies were for some strange reason naked. The water that had surged in from the tsunami had been black and boiling, cooking the bodies! Sadly Faridahs brother and his family had been killed. Later one son, Romy, was actually found and taken back to Air Dingin to live with his grandmother, Faridahs mother. There was hardly a family in Aceh that hadn't suffered the loss of family members.

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