An unlikely time for love

By Mark Nonkes and Bartolomeus Marsudiharjo

Yudi wears a sly smile at his parents' accusations. The 14-year-old doesn’t utter a word, just grins wider. He’ll gladly take the blame. He’s responsible, his mother giggles, the reason “I met my soulmate.”


Months before Armanuzah met her soulmate, she watched in horror.

Banda Aceh was in ruins. The TV footage brutally aired stacks of dead bodies, crying children and endless wreckage. The 2004 tsunami was the worst natural disaster to hit Indonesia, the survivors’ needs overwhelming.

Armanuzah, 35 at the time, says she felt compelled. She couldn’t sit idly by. She knew too well about loss. Four years earlier her army husband was killed fighting rebels. She was left with two young boys to raise on her own.

“Before that, I was a housewife. But when my husband passed away, I had to get a job, I had to continue life. I worked in a hospital after that, in admin,” she says.

With the graphic tsunami images burned in her mind, Armanuzah boarded a bus.

“I was just thinking about how I could help others,” Armanuzah says.

She dropped her boys off with her mother and headed into the disaster zone some seven hours away.


Days earlier and a couple hundred kilometres away, Hasan started his morning routine the way he always did. He walked to the ocean, pushed his tiny blue boat into the waves, ignited the motor and, eventually, stopped to cast his nets.

The catch, as always, would be shared with his wife and six children, with the extra sold to fish merchants. He’d have to wait until the evening meal though to see the family– they were all in Banda Aceh for a party.

“Then I heard a sound, like a bomb,” Hasan remembers.

The water became a wave. Suddenly I was pushed. It was like moving five miles in five seconds.

He remembers the pull on the nets – like they could drag him into the ocean. He cut them with a knife, left them in the sea.

“I tried to turn on the motor. But the water became a wave. Suddenly I was pushed. It was like moving five miles in five seconds,” Hasan says.

Hasan’s boat smashed against a mountain that overlooks his village. All the houses, fields were submerged.

He too was pushed beneath the waves, but was able to grab hold of wood and some stones and surface. When he finally emerged from the water, Hasan hauled himself up a tree and clung for dear life.

“I thought it was doomsday but I realized I was still alive,” Hasan says.

Eventually, Hasan climbed down from the tree, found something to cover himself and began the gut-wrenching task of searching for his family.

“Five days after the tsunami, I took a boat to Banda Aceh. I found two of my girls in a camp for displaced persons.”

He doesn’t speak about his wife or four other children. But it’s clear what happened.


Armanuzah arrived in a city in catastrophe. Quickly, she joined a humanitarian organization and was assigned a role to care for some of the 170,000 Indonesian child survivors from the tsunami.

“When I saw a map, I asked to go to Lom,” Armanuzah says. “I wanted to come here because of the damage, because of the need.”

“I waited for four days in a displaced persons’ camp and on 23 January 2005 I came to Lom. I arrived at 10pm by boat with huge waves. When I got here, I stayed in the subdistrict office.

“I came to be a teacher, working under a tree. Everytime I met children I asked them to learn about something and did some activities to try and heal the trauma.

“I was a teacher for four months, and then I met my soulmate.”


Hasan returned to his devastated community and decided he couldn’t return to the ocean to fish. The memories were too painful.

“I tried to forget but it was so hard. I realized everyone should have survived,” he says softly.

He and his two girls lived in tents at first, and then were moved to temporary housing. Instead of fishing, Hasan joined the local government’s school administration team. It was there he first noticed Armanuzah.

“There were many men who were interested in her at that time,” he says with a mischievous half smile.


“There was no headmaster at a school, so when there was a problem with one of the children I was working with, I met him. That was the first time,” Armanuzah remembers.

After two months in Lom, she sent for her youngest son – Yudi – to come join her. Her older son stayed with his grandmother.

“My son slept at night and he dreamed. The next day, he came with me and I met Hasan for work. And my son said ‘that’s my father’. I was embarrassed,” Armanuzah says.

“Then, everytime after, he said, that’s my father whenever he saw him. And everytime we wanted to have lunch or dinner, Yudi asked for his father,” Armanuzah remembers.


“When Yudi called me father, the word touched my heart,” Hasan remembers. “So then we started asking about each other’s background. Finally, I asked her if she’d be my wife.”

But Armanuzah was cautious. Her boys were the most important thing to her. She needed a loving father for them. She asked her other son to come to Lom. When he arrived, she asked Hasan to meet both of them.

“I took the two sons on my own, and I brought them to a new place, to the beach,” Hasan says.

When they returned from the outing, Armanuzah asked the boys for their opinion. Would Hasan be a good father?

“They made me promise that he would be their father forever,” Armanuzah remembers.

“He’s a good man,” Yudi confirms, a boy who is now in Grade 9.


The couple married just eight months after they met. Their families blended together and not long after, they learned a recipe that would change their lives.

From a World Vision training, Armanuzah learned how to make oyster crackers.

After, she and Hasan began practicing and refining the recipe at home. Upon a chance meeting with a World Vision staff member, their oyster crackers were discovered.

Armanuzah banded together with other tsunami affected women in the community and together they produced thousands of oyster crackers – buying oysters from some 40 families from the same ocean that had destroyed so much in this community.

Ananda's oyster chips, ready for frying.

With more training on running a small business and marketing from World Vision, the business grew.

“We changed the name to Ananda after our daughter was born,” Armanuzah says. “Business started to improve after we changed our name.”

In the Acehnese language in northern Indonesian, their baby’s name, and business name – Ananda – means child who brings blessings.

Certainly, both the business and child has done this for Armanuzah and Hasan.

Today, Ananda oyster chips are sold across Asia. The recipe has won Indonesia-wide contests. Armanuzah trains other women how to start small businesses based on products found from the earth.

And Ananda, the baby from two soulmates, is now eight years old – a girl with a shy smile, who loves riding bikes and is studying in Grade 3.

“When I tell the tsunami story I become sad,” Hasan admits. “But she (Armanuzah) helps me become better. It’s like regrowth.”