Indonesian Red Cross staff and volunteers are leading clean up efforts in the aftermath of massive quakes and aftershocks in Lombok, Indonesia. (Pic: Rosemarie North/IFRC)
Indonesian Red Cross staff and volunteers are leading clean up efforts in the aftermath of massive quakes and aftershocks in Lombok, Indonesia. (Pic: Rosemarie North/IFRC)

Lombok survivors are ‘living on the edge’

A SMALL dark shadow darts across the wall and behind a curtain.

Like a moth. I pull back the curtain. Nothing.

It unnerves me. Fear is everywhere here on Lombok island in Indonesia.

Four more major earthquakes last weekend and daily tremors leave survivors living on the edge.

In a remote village, I feel a whopping aftershock to the July 29 and August 5 earthquakes. Nothing moves in that village. No glass cracks, no bricks tumble. It has all been shaken to the ground by the big tremors and hundreds of aftershocks.

People don't really move either. They lie under plastic sheeting or tarpaulins in an open space between rubble and dry paddy fields. Or they sit at small wooden structures that look like bus stops. The village's name, Dangiang, means "waiting for love".

At Lombok’s Dangiang village, Indonesian Red Cross medical staff examine Fakeh Khairil Rohman, 4, who has a dislocated knee. He is staying with his family in a shelter on a field with Nukek’s mother. (Pic: Rosemarie North/IFRC)
At Lombok’s Dangiang village, Indonesian Red Cross medical staff examine Fakeh Khairil Rohman, 4, who has a dislocated knee. He is staying with his family in a shelter on a field with Nukek’s mother. (Pic: Rosemarie North/IFRC)

During the aftershock, people cry out and chickens squawk. Then silence. A skinny dog lopes along the road, warier than ever.

Around the corner, I see a girl in her mother's lap, her face buried in her shoulder, the woman's arms around her. The girl raises her tearstained face for an instant.

A van waits for a last passenger, door open. Inside, a woman stares out, her face inconsolable. Our eyes meet. I reach out my hand and she rouses herself to take it. We share a wordless understanding. Then she lets go and the van slides by.

All around, the unspoken: death, loss, grief, haunted looks, those who are no longer here, a life gone.

All around, ugly heaps of concrete, glass, corrugated iron. Rubble that used to be homes of sanctuary, safe rooms for shared meals and family life, restoration from work, refuge from the outside world, repositories of memories and treasures.

Baisaripatul lost her daughter, Mazraatul Akhirah, seven, in recent Lombok earthquake, after finding her in the rubble where her home used to stand. (Pic: Aulia Arriani/PMI/Husni/IFRC)
Baisaripatul lost her daughter, Mazraatul Akhirah, seven, in recent Lombok earthquake, after finding her in the rubble where her home used to stand. (Pic: Aulia Arriani/PMI/Husni/IFRC)

Still, people stay nearby. Some say a tsunami warning was a hoax designed to give thieves a chance to take motorbikes and cattle. They can't risk leaving unattended what little they have left.

Families don't want to send an injured child to hospital. It would mean leaving their precious ruins or splitting up their family.

So Indonesian Red Cross comes to them. A medic checks out people's injuries, evacuating them to hospital if necessary.

Other members of the Red Cross team fan out across the village to assess damage and needs, distributing sleeping mats and tarpaulins, distracting children with songs. Football is played with plastic wrapped around a rock and basic schooling's offered amid the debris.

A bunch of Red Cross volunteers rally locals to help clear space for more emergency shelters.

Taufik, 18, heaves ceramic tiles and bricks. He asks for a selfie and in it, I look pale and sweaty next to him. His nose is delightfully crinkled. He seems relieved to be taking action, and I feel the stirring of his energy and initiative.

Indonesian Red Cross staff and volunteers building a model shelter out of bamboo, while leading the community clean up effort. (Pic: Rosemarie North/IFRC)
Indonesian Red Cross staff and volunteers building a model shelter out of bamboo, while leading the community clean up effort. (Pic: Rosemarie North/IFRC)

Around the corner, under the guidance of disaster-experienced Indonesian Red Cross, a group of older men build a shelter to serve as a demonstration for their community.

Instead of slinging a tarpaulin over a rope and huddling underneath, families dig bamboo stakes into the ground, lash and nail some bamboo horizontals, and quickly erect an earthquake-resistant, roomy shelter. It offers a little more comfort, privacy and security. With the rainy season due to start in a month, it's needed.

A massive Red Cross aid program is underway here; shelter, livelihoods, clean water, restoring toilets, hygiene and other assistance. If you have to start somewhere, you might as well start with home.

When the new house skeleton is up and covered with plastic, the local blokes stand around proudly. Seeing my smartphone, they ask for a group shot, giving a cheery thumbs-up. The shelter is an achievement in a town that desperately needs some good news.

It's time to hit the road yet the day's aftershock has caused more subsidence and cracks. The journey is painfully slow, the 60 kilometres around the sole coastal road takes three bumpy hours.

Back in my guesthouse room, the fleeting shadows return. This time I outrun them. They're geckos, nimble experts at survival and adaptation. I exhale.

Rosemarie North is an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies aid worker in Lombok, Indonesia. To donate to the Red Cross Indonesian Earthquakes Appeal: redcross.org.au



Patients given notice as doctor shortage causes closure

premium_icon Patients given notice as doctor shortage causes closure

Doctor shortage causes Bargara centre to close

'Heartless govt experiment': Candidate slams cashless card

premium_icon 'Heartless govt experiment': Candidate slams cashless card

No support for indue card in Hinkler say Greens

JEWEL: Experts gagged from explaining 'no demand' conclusion

premium_icon JEWEL: Experts gagged from explaining 'no demand' conclusion

Questions deflected on how Jewel position was formed