The day after I arrived in Banda Aceh, my colleague Bido and I took off for Lhokseumawe, a small city about 5 hours' drive away along a narrow, winding road. There I addressed a group of 50 young entrepreneurs who are participating in a business plan competition. Bido is the driving force behind our work with entrepreneurs and small businesses. He's great company and introduced me to roadside diners, where I sampled the spicy, local cuisine.
On the way back, Bido and I spent a few hours in a village where we will work on shrimp farming. The head of the village took us on a long walk among the shrimp ponds and told us about issues facing the farmers. Being here drives home the importance of our work in a way that the cube farms at headquarters cannot: here are real people trying to improve their lives in a difficult environment. This is what our work is all about, and I realize that I have made the right decision. The only downside is that I won't see much of my family in the next few months. My wife and two small children will not move to Indonesia until January, and I miss them.
My first week in Banda Aceh was really my seventh week here – I came to Banda Aceh in May and June on a six-week assignment which has now evolved into a two-year one. It took me a couple of months to wrap things up in Washington and get my family packed up and shipped off, but I have finally made it back. It really is another world. On the way to the office from the airport, the vivid sights and sounds came rushing back: the roads packed with motorbikes, the women in their fluttering headscarves, the sound of prayers from the mosques, the palm trees, the bright Acehnese sky.
Although recent news from Indonesia has been grim - earthquakes, tsunamis, bird flu, volcanoes, and so forth - my experiences earlier this year were fabulous. The people are friendly and warm, the food is good, and I have great colleagues. And there is a very real need for us to be here. This is also my first experience working in Asia, coming at a time in my life when I didn't expect anything to be new. It's all very exciting. I am grateful to Shaela, the blogmistress who started the Aceh Diary. I became interested in Aceh because of her and her blog, so she has had quite an impact on my life.