My Day: Aceh Tsunami Museum guide Raihal Fajriah

Raihal Ray Image copyright Raihal Fajriah
Image caption Raihal works as a guide for visitors at the Aceh Tsunami Museum

Raihal Fajriah was 17 when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated much of Aceh. She now works at the Aceh Tsunami Museum in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, while studying a master's degree in disaster management.

I wake at 05:30 to pray. Then I clean and sweep the house, cook, help my mother and have breakfast - rice with vegetables, fish or egg.

I head to work at the Aceh Tsunami Museum at 08:00. I work as a local guide for visitors, especially international visitors. We have a memorial hall, exhibition rooms, and a corridor that simulates what it's like being near a tsunami wave.

Our museum has three functions. It's here to educate people about how to survive and prepare for disasters, and it's a tourist attraction. But it's also been designed as an emergency evacuation point.

The museum is shaped like a boat, and it is built on several pillars, so if a tsunami hits the waves can just flow through the base of the building. The roof is an evacuation space.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The tsunami museum is boat-shaped, with evacuation spaces on the roof

I was at a boarding school in the Gue Gajah Mata Ie area when the tsunami hit - I was studying when I suddenly felt my chair shaking.

The shaking was so strong that my friends and I, and even our teacher, started crying - the building broke, it felt like the end of the world, and we were so worried for our families.

I was lucky that my boarding school was on higher land, so I was in less danger. But many of my friends lived near the coastline. We were all praying and crying because there was nothing we could do.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Much of Aceh was badly devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami

Four days after the tsunami, I finally saw my family again. My older brother came to pick me up - I was so shocked to see him alive.

My parents had managed to run to higher ground when the wave came. But many of my mother's friends weren't fast enough, and died. Some of our cousins also died.

My village, LamLhom Lhoknga in Aceh Besar, is 1.5km (0.9 miles) from the coast. Luckily, our house survived the tsunami.

'Anytime, anywhere'

When I show visitors around the museum, I tell them how to prepare for a tsunami, as well as other disasters. I explain that Aceh is on the ring of fire, so it doesn't only experience tsunamis and earthquakes - it also has storms, volcanoes, flood and landslides.

I like sharing my knowledge, because disasters can happen anytime, anywhere.

Image copyright Raihal Fajriah
Image caption Raihal Fajriah (fifth from right) with colleagues at the museum

I studied English for my degree, and initially worked as an English teacher. I started working at the museum in 2012 - because I like talking to people, and the pay is a little better.

I began studying my master's in disaster management in 2014. Education is expensive here, and my family was worried we wouldn't have enough money - but I told them not to worry, and that I'd work hard and earn money for us.

I want to continue my studies because I believe it will help my future.

During a typical work day, lunchtime is at 13:00. Normally I bring food from home, or buy lunch if I have money to spare. I eat at the museum with my friends - we'll often swap and share our lunches.

After lunch, we pray, and start work again. I finish work at 16:15, and get back home by 16:30.

Dinner is normally around 18:00 or 19:00. We always have rice - I don't particularly like bread. I also like fruits like papaya and banana that don't cost too much.

We live near the beach, so sometimes we go for a swim. Aceh has beautiful beaches - many foreigners come here for surfing.

'The long bridge'

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Celebrities including Jackie Chan visited Aceh after the disaster

The tsunami was a very sad time - more than 200,000 people in Aceh died. But it also helped bring peace - in 2005, the Gam and the Indonesian government signed a peace agreement after 30 years of fighting.

I remember growing up with the conflict. When I was a young teenager, I often had to miss school one to two days a week - whenever there was fighting near my home. I saw people being shot dead in front of my house.

Image copyright Raihal Fajriah
Image caption Raihal hopes to finish her master's programme this year

The peace agreement made us so happy - suddenly, we could go wherever we wanted.

People call the tsunami a long bridge that brought Indonesia and the Acehnese people to peace. Some people said: "Allah gave us the tsunami, so that the water could clean the blood in Aceh."

These days, we don't tell children too much about the conflict. I think it's more important they know about the tsunami, because the conflict was political, but the tsunami was natural - and could happen again.

Despite everything that has happened, I think the Acehnese people are strong.

Raihal Fajriah was talking to the BBC's Helier Cheung.

Related Topics

More on this story