I first saw her crying at the mosque’s stairs while hugging a woman in a white shirt in the afternoon. I can’t really hear what they’re talking about, but one thing I knew was that both are the survivors of the tsunami that hit Banten in 22nd Dec 2018, that killed more than 400 people.
We were actively distributing relief items to the people affected by the tsunami that day in Nurul Falah Mosque, Kalanganyer Village, Pandeglang Sub-District, Banten Province.
She was crying amid the masses grappling for the relief aid. The woman with a white shirt was no longer there. I plucked my courage and sat next to her. Obviously, she still traumatized by the disaster.
“Have you got your relief items, ma’am?”, I tried to break the ice.
She showed me the plastic bag that contained hygiene kit, biscuits, and blanket together with the folded mat.
“Yes. Thank you again. It is very helpful.”
She answered with a smile. But I can still see the tears in her eyes.
“Where did you live before ma’am?”
“Teluk Village”, she answered.
“And now, where do you stay ma’am?”
“At my sister’s house. Together with my husband and son”, she answered.
Then carefully, I asked the million-dollar question. “Did all your family survive mam?”
There’s something about trying to find the stories behind each faces post-disaster. Deep down in your heart, you want a tragic story that can grab the audience to read. But deeper down inside, you really wish that everyone survives.
“Alhamdulillah. Everyone was safe”, she smiled.
I smiled back to her as she told me she wants to leave. I continued to help the distribution.
Later after the distribution, the village chief told me and my team to wait as he promised to bring a survivor to be interviewed by us and it turned out to be her, the lady that cried at the mosque’s stairs.
We prepared her and apologized for taking her time. We told her to calmly introduce herself and tell us the situation during the night of the tsunami.
“My name is Ratna. I’m 44 years old. We were eating when the water came” then she started to stutter. We told her it’s okay. Just tell the story like how you usually tell. All the formality obviously made her nervous. She inhaled deeply and started again.
“My name is Ratna. I’m 44 years old. We were eating when the water came. We didn’t hear the sound of tsunami coming. When I heard people screaming, ’Tsunami is coming’, I rushed to the front door and opened it. It was too late. The water gushed in and in a matter of a second, the water was already at my chest level. I found my husband and my son. We try to evacuate but due to his illness, my husband couldn’t barely walk and me myself couldn’t walk as fast as before. We decided to hug the house pole so that we’ll not carried by the water. I remember telling my husband and my 10 years old son that if this is the end of our lives, we must accept it as long as we’re together. My son cried as he holds tightly to the house pole. As I prayed, my elder son that lives with his family in the different house came and put my husband on his back and pulled me and my youngest son’s hand. We evacuated to the higher ground. My elder son, he saved us.”
I listened to her story with a lot of things in my mind. It was getting dark and people started to come to the mosque for Maghrib prayer. We thanked her and took a photo of her and her 10 years old son. As she walked away, I asked myself, if I were in her shoes, what would I do? My husband couldn’t barely walk, I couldn’t barely walk, my son is too young to evacuate alone. What would I do?
Nas ‘Aqilah Ismail
Islamic Relief Malaysia