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'Destruction gets more likes': Indonesia's tsunami selfie-seekers
The Guardian - December 26, 2018
Their hijabs were striking: one pink, one green. One of the gang was ready with a 'V' finger peace sign. And most importantly, in the background was a scene of utter carnage: a flooded field scattered with cars and farm equipment smashed up by the tsunami that devastated the province's coast on Saturday night, killing almost 500 people.
The field, full of floating detritus and overlooking the choppy waves of the Sunda Strait, is now a graveyard for farm vehicles previously stored in a huge barn, that were swept away by the deadly waves.
Since then it has been visited by a stream of Indonesian selfie-seekers, many travelling for hours to share online photos of themselves at the site of the tsunami, which was caused by land shifting on the nearby volcano Anak Krakatoa.
Solihat, 40, said she had travelled two hours to the site from the city of Cilegon. She and her friends from a Cilegon women's Islamic group took clothing donations for people displaced by the tsunami. "The photo is on Facebook as proof that we are really here and gave the aid," she said.
She added that despite many people viewing selfies as shallow, her unusual choice of photo background showed depth. "When people see photos of destruction they realise that they're in a better place. Pictures of destruction will get more likes. Maybe it's because it reminds people to be grateful."
Since Saturday's disaster, many dead bodies have been washed up on the same short stretch of beach and road that the selfie spot field is located on. With 154 people in the wider tsunami zone still unaccounted for, many search and rescue vehicles tasked with grim duties drove past the selfie takers yesterday.
When asked if it was appropriate to be taking selfies in front of a body of water that could be hiding undiscovered corpses, Solihat said: "It depends on your intention. If you take selfies for showing off, then don't do it. But if you do it to share grief with other people, it's OK."
Not many of the selfie-takers crowding the field yesterday struck poses suggesting that they were attempting to share grief. One woman in army-style camouflage clothes spent half an hour wading around the middle of the field in knee-length water, seemingly to get closer to the crumpled SUV at the centre of the field, to better take a selfie with it.
The owner of the car, Bahrudin, 40, head of the local farmers' union, was not impressed with the photo tourists. Standing in the water in a pair of yellow wellington boots, he repeatedly said the word "Disappointed" when asked what he thought of the field's new social media fame.
Valentina Anastasia, 18, from central Java, was not disappointed with her decision to leave Jakarta where she was on holiday and make the three-hour car journey to Banten. "I want to see the destruction and the people affected," she said.
When asked how many selfies she had taken in the area she laughed heartily. "A lot! For social media, WhatsApp groups...". She scrolled through a cascade of selfies on her phone, revealing many with a mutilated, partly-submerged yellow digger vehicle in the background.