SYNOPSIS:  A visit of the Grand Mosque and the Aceh History Museum. And a hip Coffee Shop.   Meeting a few locals and two fellow travelers.  Manifesting a ride for tomorrow.

When I woke up around 3:15 AM I knew I had to do something to get more sleep.  Benadryl to the rescue.  The second time I opened my eyes — remember, this room has no windows and I can’t tell day from night — it was 10:15 AM.  I had slept for 12 hours!  Wow, that felt good.  More than anything it was the thumping from the arcade that got me up.  Without it I might have slept half the day away.

At the reception I inquired once more about a quiet room.  This time, there was a room at the end of the hall, opposite the arcade — that looked promising.  There was heavy rain coming down and I decided to write instead of venturing out.  The room was almost quiet, except for the pitter-patter of the rain and the distant thump from the arcade.  What a relief! Still, no internet…

I had only been in my new room for a mere 15 minutes when a grinding sound started right behind my wall.  At first, I thought it might be construction — that would be temporary.  But it did not stop and more and more it sounded like an industrial-sized air conditioner or a generator of sorts.  I called the busboy.  What is this noise?  He could not explain it to me in English, but he assured me that it would stop at 10:30 PM.  Just like the arcade …  All I had accomplished was to exchange one kind of noise for another.  Now I had to choose.  This grinding machine could almost qualify as “white” noise; more dark gray than white.  My earplugs fared far better with it than with the thumping arcade.  But I can’t believe I will have to make do with this for four more days.  Oh, brother!

When the rain subsided I ventured out.  The biggest tourist attraction in town is the Grand Old Mosque, or Mesjid Raya Baiturrahman.  Interestingly enough, the main part of the mosque was built by the Dutch, the colonizers of Indonesia, in 1879.  The Dutch later, in 1936, added two of the main domes.  Two more domes were added by the Indonesian government in 1957.  I am sure there is more to the story than just these bare-bone facts.  I have my doubt about any of these two powers building a mosque without at least some reason or some selfish motifs.  Regardless of motives, the mosque as it stands today is impressive and towers over much of the city.  It is mainly white with strongly contrasting liquorish-black domes.  A huge plaza between mosque and the main minaret is currently under construction which obstructs some of the vastness one likely experiences if one would approach the mosque from the minaret.  I read it can hold up to 9000 people at a time.

During prayer times the mosque is closed to visitors.  If you want to be part of the prayer you have to present yourself as a worshipper.  Only then can you experience the event from within. I went through the washing station, pretty much winging it.  And I wore one of my old Iraqi hijabs.  I was clearly identifiable as a foreigner.  But who is to ask if I am a Muslim or not?  I was early enough for the main noon prayer and sat down at the back of the mosque among the women. A lady next to me took me under her wing.  She disapproved of my attire and fetched me a beautiful outfit of a white skirt (over my black pants) and a white head-cover (over my black jacket and my black hijab).  Now I truly fit in.  I just followed her lead, getting up and down as she did.  The Muezzin did a beautiful call for prayer and the men were filing into the mosque.  First, they had only occupied the first half of the mosque; now they began to fill in the second half, slowly but surely encroaching on the few rows of women in the back.   The women left, one by one, voluntarily, gathering at an outside porch.  The lady next to me whispered that we should leave, too.  But I pointed to the few rows still available in front of us.  Why leave?  There was still room for the men.  One last row of us were holding out.  We were sitting on the right.   A few men came in and ushered out the women on the left.  Only a handful of us remained on the right.  A man, already seated to the right of us started to gesture angrily for us to leave.   Everyone but the old lady and I remained.  I gestured back equally angry.   There was still a full row in front of us and I pointed to it.   Why would he shush us out?    He kept waving his back hands at us.  I simply looked away.  What would he do now?  There were but two women left sitting.  I have to hand it to the old lady.  She sat by me.  And we stayed, the lonely two of us.

The imam gave a speech which I did not understand.  The word “Islam” came up a few times.  That was all I could make out.  Some men came late.  But they found spots here and there.  Nobody sat in front of us.  After the final prayer was over, and most of the men had left, some of the women came back in.  The old lady was joined by a friend of hers.  She asked if I would join them in prayer first for the deceased and then for the people in our respective countries.  And so I stayed and participated in two more rounds of prayer.  After that it was picture time.  Everyone wanted a picture with them and me in it.  I tried to get some of the ladies to take a picture or two with my camera, but people who only know how to press cell phone camera buttons always mess up my old-fashioned digital.  Oh well.  I have at least one or two blurry proofs of this visit.  What matters was the experience.  And that, was telling.

The lady scribbled her name on a sheet of paper and her phone number.  Send me an SMS she said.  Wow, she certainly has both of her feet in the 21st century.  When I get internet, or should I say if, I will surely do just that.

The two hours in the mosque had passed quickly.  A rain shower had soaked all of our shoes …  Most people had come with waterproof slippers.  My waterproof Keens were holding out.  The day was still young and I kept fighting my way through traffic towards the Museum Negeri Banda Aceh, the local history museum.  There are no traffic lights for pedestrians and for some reason on the main roads, there seems to be no pedestrians.  Everyone, from old lady to young boy seems to move around on motorbikes.  Getting out of traffic’s way without harm is often one of my biggest concerns while traveling.  St. Christopher — I hope you are with me on this.  I will need you here.   

A beautiful small cemetery, a cultural library, and a traditional house on stilts (Rumah Aceh) are part of the museum complex.  I dillydallied around so much that the museum closed just when I was ready to go in.  It was 4 PM.  My guide book said 5 PM …  The very kind museum curator who happened to be right there, opened up again for me to run through the three stories of the museum in 10 minutes.   That’s what I did.  There were no English explanations.  It was just as well.  I got a glimpse of some beautiful household brass items, a whole array of local costumes, some swords, funerary steles, an impressive sarcophagus and some animal specimens, the most intriguing perhaps, a double-headed baby buffalo; a Siamese twin, so to speak.  If there is more time than I know what to do with, I might go back to spend a bit more time there. 

The Rumah Aceh was most interesting.  It was filled with craft items, a wedding throne, woven baskets and the like.  Surprisingly again, it had been built by the Dutch for a Colonial Exhibition in Semaran in 1914, showcasing Acehnese culture.  It won several gold and silver medals.  The Dutch then donated it and many more artifacts to Aceh, to form the nucleus of this cultural museum.   

Back at the hotel: noise and no internet… 

So I went out for a bite to eat and came across the most hip-style Western establishment with local flavor I could have imagined in Sharia-ruled Banda Aceh; a place called Break Time.  And that is its name, not a translation.   This looked like a coffee shop from Ann Arbor!  No kidding.  The bar looks like a bar, the chalk-written menu sported Hamburgers and Cafe Lattes.  The place was cram-packed full with young people, couples, small groups.  The only difference — you could be sure there was no alcohol and every female in the establishment wore her colorful hijab.  The owner, a former dentist, quit her job to follow her dream.  She is running this place which is less than a year old, and if looks are not deceiving, she is making a killing!

There I met Maika and Rene, two Dutch girls who had just returned from one of the snorkeling islands and got stranded in town.  They were glad they did not just blast through as they had anticipated but had the chance to experience some of this welcoming town.  Luck would have it that they had met a rickshaw driver who spoke reasonable English!   Rickshaws are three-wheeled, motorized vehicles called Becak around here.  All day I had been thinking that I should rent one of those for sightseeing around town.  They must be one of the reasons that there are no pedestrians anywhere.  But I wanted one I could communicate with.  And here he was:  Auyi.  We will meet up at 10 AM tomorrow.  Things are falling into place.  Yeah. 

Back at the hotel:  Noise and no internet …

I am taking another sleeping pill and hope for the best.

Good night.