Remaking Neighbourhoods in Banda Aceh: Post-tsunami Reconstruction of Everyday Life
Three years after the devastating tsunami of 26 December 2004, a lot of visible reconstruction was taking place in Aceh’s capital, Banda Aceh. Its coastal neighbourhoods, that had been swept away by the tsunami waves, were replaced by hundreds of almost uniform houses built by aid agencies. Signs and billboards indicated which aid agency was responsible for which building, and houses differed accordingly. Some neighbourhoods were even referred to in relation to their donor, such as ‘the Turkish houses’, the ‘Buddha Tzu Chi neighbourhood’ or the ‘Jackie Chan houses’. Government buildings were rebuilt and roads were improved. Reconstruction seems to equal ‘constructing’ or rebuilding the urban environment, and this has been the main focus of the authorities as well as aid organizations from the time they started to plan the post-tsunami reconstruction of Aceh, a couple of weeks after the disaster. However, apart from the visible, built environment, ‘reconstruction’ is also a less visible social, psychological and everyday process. Banda Aceh’s residents did not sit and wait for their society to be reconstructed. Indeed, because people form the society they live in, only they themselves can rebuild it. Or, as Dorothea Hilhorst proposed in her inaugural lecture (2007): ‘Societies reconstruct, they are not being reconstructed, even though most writings make us believe that reconstruction is a project to completely renew and fix a country, like the Marshall Plan planned and driven by external aid.’ In the same line of thought, this chapter will argue that the efforts that affected people themselves undertake to remake their society are the most crucial part of the reconstruction process; and that without them any form of reconstruction is not possible.