Sunday, 9 January 2005

Happy Birthday To Me and A Letter From Singapore

Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me-e
Happy Birthday to me

finally, i've hit the big 3.. to another great decade of adventure and learning! kai says it best - read here ..

anyway, someone just forwarded me this personal account of the relief efforts going on now in Singapore, which I can only describe as wonderfully truthful, appropriately emotional, fantastically insightful and definitely a good read, no less, capturing perfectly the mood, excitement, tears and joys of a moment (in history) such as this one.. I'll put it here to share it with you all..

"I started smoking again, and am living off of whatever scraps of tidbits I had hoarded at my desk and cans of expired beer I find in corners. We are all beginning to stumble and slur from exhaustion.

But somehow we can still manage to get things done. Yesterday, we just delivered a mobile air traffic control tower to Banda Aceh. A MOBILE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWER - who even knew there were such things?

Banda Aceh Airport was badly hit, and they've been trying to control air traffic out of tents! Now, with this tower (worth millions, but I can't disclose), the airport will have all-weather capability and we will have essentially established another link from the world into Indonesia.

I say another, because over the last week, we established TWO landing sites off the coast of Meulaboh. This is pretty fucking phenomenal. Until then, the worst hit parts of Indonesia were inaccesible to the world. You couldn't reach it by air, sea, or land. With great difficulty and danger, we beached two Helicopter Landing Ships off the coast, and half or more of our national strength of Chinooks and Super Pumas are ferrying supplies and people non-stop into the place. This is not counting the C-130s that have already been deployed to fly supplies over to Indonesia and Thailand. I think we also loaned two landing craft to the TNI Navy. Among the things we bring in are ambulances, tracked vehicles (for riding straight over debris which cant be cleared), medical supplies, water bags, etc. Around now, a portable water desalination plant is being delivered to the Maldives. It will produce enough water every day to feed 1/3 of the population of the Maldives. More desalination and purification plants are on their way to the Maldives and Indonesia. Holy mother, isn't this incredible? And that's just the Singapore side of things - the mind reels when thinking about the global aggregate of action going on.

And people. We are supplying people. What people! We have disaster assistance and relief teams, medical teams, forensic teams, consular teams, disaster victim identification teams, counselling teams. We even set up a field hospital with surgical capability. As I watched a video yesterday of our boys in blue saluting the Commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force before they went off to Aceh, I choked. We are now sending 2nd and 3rd waves of people to relieve the 1st teams, but the 1st teams don't want to come back.

Back home, we all wish we could be there clearing rubble with our boys, but there is work that needs to be done too. Like manning the consular lines for next of kin who are panicking and distraught. And trying desperately to piece together a big picture of all that's happening. Receiving and trying to meet the requests for relief pouring in from the different countries, and also trying to make the logistics work for the dozens of companies and individuals who want to fly/ship out millions of dollars' worth of relief to the affected countries. So our air and sea ports are waiving all charges related to moving relief supplies, which will soon rack up to millions of dollars, I'm sure. Our air and naval bases have been opened to the world, and crafts from all over the world are stopping over for refuelling, etc. And our national carrier is stocked to spilling carrying supplies for free to tsunami-hit places. And every so often we will get millionaires telling us their private jets and staff are at our disposal.

All this is incredibly human work. You want to break down in tears, you are exploding with adrenalin. For example, someone might call and ask you what they should do with the body of their baby which they just found. Or beg you to search such and such an island for their missing relative. And you need to translate that desperation into the deployment of helicopters and armed forces personnel - if we had the time to stop and reflect on it, we would be struck dumb by what we are all doing. We would probably be paralysed.

Of course, the next generation of work must already be underway even as the emergency relief continues. By that, I mean things like the Regional Coordination Centre - everyone can see that the recovery and reconstruction work will take over a decade and billions of dollars, AND the combined effort of the world. Things like getting a UN Special Rep appointed to oversee this. Like banging down bureaucratic and political doors to make agencies and governments work together. Or even little lackeys like me quickly figuring out a way to stay alive, coherent, and useful on this amount of sleep.

Of course, Singapore is just one of many countries, all of whom are doing fantastic work. I can only tell you what Singapore is doing, because that's where I am. But everyone, everyone is in overdrive. I am always told I make a lousy diplomat because I get moved by such things, but I can't help it. You should be here. You should feel this. There is, expectedly, politics going on when so many countries are involved.

But there is also marvellous humanity and generosity at work. For an innocent like me, I only hope that the latter do not get too corrupted by dark clouds which are already beginning to gather, like the actions of terrorists and separatists, tussles between governments, games of hollow one-up-manship.

If you can't be here, find a way to do something.

Lobby your politicians to drop the games, put the news out there that what we need is regional and international coordination (whatever modalities work best, we should take them, this is not the time to split hairs), speak up for a long-term sustained commitment (I dread the next natural disaster or celebrity lawsuit, when all eyes will turn from tsunami-hit Asia), don't let people continue to talk along artificial lines like the UN vs the US (the buggers have been working together since Day 1, you can believe it), correct this unfair notion that Indonesia is not doing well in getting the supplies out to the people (understand that the roads are inaccessible, and practically the whole of the freaking health and administrative service in Aceh are wiped out), and all kinds of things.

You may not hear from me again in a while. I have a feeling I may descend further in stupour. But at a time like this, I think and miss you. I hope you all take care of yourselves and do something to help the poor and the vulnerable. If anyone knows someone who will build a home for orphans, I will run it."

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