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Students look to religion after tsunami

In a thatched-roof cafe in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, college students talk about faith as their city recovers from the deadly December wave.

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The Roments Cafe is not the sort of place where you would typically go to have a theological conversation. It's a college hangout, a bit like that coffee shop on the American sitcom "Friends" but with a few decidedly Acehnese touches: a large open-air courtyard with a thatched roof of palm leaves, a water buffalo grazing in a rice paddy out back, and a wide array of snacks steamed in banana leaves.

But it was in this unlikely setting, on a recent afternoon, that a table full of college students - business students Rully and Taufan, and architecture students Vida and Sarah - found themselves talking about their faith, and how it had become even stronger after the devastating tsunami of Dec. 26.

"I was born a Muslim in my family, so of course, I believe in God," says Rully, an economics student who sports a terminally hip goatee and a black T-shirt and jeans. "After the tsunami disaster, I know my faith is getting stronger, because I see all disaster, it's a sign of the power of God. Human beings are controlled by God. We cannot do anything without God."

Surprising as these words may seem to an outsider, they reflect a common sentiment here in Aceh, the most Islamic province in the largest Muslim country in the world.

Those who viewed the tsunami disaster on their television sets may find themselves challenged by the question: How could God let this happen? Yet those who have lived through the tragedy - and the city of Banda Aceh lost more than 200,000 people, more than all the other countries of the Indian Ocean combined - view it in a much more benign manner. For them, the shaking earth and the fearsome wave were a reminder both of God's power, and of God's overpowering love.

The atmosphere at Roments helps these college kids forget the overwhelming damage created by the massive tsunami, at least for a while.

Roments is pronounced like the English word "romance," and there is a fair amount of people-watching going on at any given hour on any given day. Unlike in many stricter Muslim countries, there is no rule here that forbids "nice girls" from visiting a place without a male relative. Friends can chat here, flirt here, talk about ideas here.

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