It was Sunday, December 26, 2004 in Aceh, Indonesia, when the eight year old Martunis (see the picture of Martunis with FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, on the left) felt that the ground under his feet was shaking badly. The furniture in his house started to fall down, followed by the pantiles. His father grabbed his hand and quickly asked him to go out. Together with his mother, brother and sister, they ran to the grandparents’ house to see whether they were alright. There had been around 30 relatives gathering in the grandparents’ house when they arrived. They hardly discussed anything yet, when shouts were heard from outside a few short minutes later, “Storm! Water…the water comes out!”
All of sudden each of them had to run for their own life, chased by the sea wave of tsunami. But human speed cannot race with the gush of water which soon flooded the whole area. Sarbini, Martunis’ father, was the first to be carried out by the wave, followed by his brother. His mother felt the urge to try to save her oldest son, and trust her youngest daughter to Martunis, who then held her.
But what could a boy do against such a nature’s wrath? A tree fell down and hit his body badly. He could not endure to keep his baby sister on his arms. Soon the three year old girl too got lost within the waves. “I could see mother and Annisa’s hands between the water. But I could not help,” he recalled sadly.
The next wave dragged him right onto a pile of wood floating on the water. He took a hold on the wood until it hit a pick-up truck which carried barrels of fish; then he moved onto it. His mother’s face filled his memory that he tried to see through the water to search for her; but he could see nothing.
The strong waves kept carrying the pick-up until it harshly hit a tree that it was almost turned reversed. Quickly Martunis hugged the tree and stayed there; even when other floating things hit his back repeatedly, including a nail from a ruin which was stuck fast into his waist. “I only let the tree go when the third wave brought a bed close to it,” he said. There were two other people who shared the bed with him, but none survived.
Martunis was never sure how long he was floating before the bed was stuck between mangrove trees in a sacred cemetery for the kings from the former kingdom of Samudera Pasai. He was completely trapped. There was 1 meter deep of water under the trees, surrounded by piles of garbage and ruins. He could not swim. Luckily, he could find a few packages of instant noodles, bread, a can of cookies and chips, and two bottles of mineral water. Ingenuously, the boy also admitted he found a piggy bank contained IDR 43,000 (USD 5). “I ate the instant noodle and drank two sips of water in the morning, and then 2 cookies and 2 sips of water in the afternoon,” he continued his story.
The rain which fell everyday helped him in surviving. On the fifteenth day, when he had run out of water, he refilled his empty bottles with the rain water. “I could still sleep, even when my clothes were wet. In the next day usually they were dried again.”
He said he was not continuously scared, the brave boy, although he saw many dead bodies floating around the tree which became his house for 19 days. “When fear almost occupied my mind; I closed the collar of my t-shirt onto my face; tried to imagine my parents’ face, and went to sleep.”
Days went by so slowly for him. Tsunami had turned the area into a huge swamp. Poor Martunis had no chance to get down. Helicopters which often flew close to his tree could never see him.
Helped came on January 13, when a rag picker came on a boat. He wanted to collect remains from the ruins when he saw Martunis was lying on top of the tree. It took a half day for him to clean the wreck before he could reach the child. Then they had to wait for a car because the rag picker was too tired after working alone.
Shortly after, a car from CBC News (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) came. They took the boy to Save the Children, a Canadian organization which was helping the tsunami victims in Aceh, which then took him to the closest hospital because of his poor condition. A both happy and sad ending for Martunis; when he eventually met his father, Sarbini, and his grandfather; but also found out that only 17 people left among his relatives.
The news was spread to the world when CBC News broadcasted it, showing helpless Martunis wearing a replica of Portuguese national soccer player’s t-shirt; Rui Costa’s. The coach of the Portuguese national soccer team, Luis Felipe Scolari, then bought a house for him and his family. The Portuguese Soccer Federation gave him EUR 40,000. Sarbini said that he saved the money for Martunis’ education in the future.
Rui Costa himself had a word over this, “The saving of the boy has special meaning for us because he was wearing our uniform. It shows that soccer has no boundary. I think such a disaster like tsunami can move everybody’s heart. This boy, just like anybody else who became victims, needs our help.”
Another player, Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, promised he would take Martunis to his house in England and show him around. For this, Sarbini responded, “If Ronaldo really invited him; I would never let Martunis to go alone to England. He is the only one I have now; I could not lose him.”
The attention toward Martunis has not ended there. On July 4 he’s invited as a special guest in the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, Portugal for the match against Slovakia on the upcoming World Cup qualifying. How was Martunis to receive so many appealing invitations? The boy who has lost his mother, brother and sister during the catastrophe answered, “I only want to see my mother.”
Note: The piece has previously appeared here