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MEULABOH, Indonesia — The girl who came home hardly resembled the girl who washed away.
Seven years had passed since Meri Yulanda disappeared beneath the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami’s waves. The roughly 160,000 killed by the disaster in Aceh, Indonesia, were long buried. Bodies that couldn’t be identified were laid to rest in mass graves. Meri was believed to be among them.
But in late December, Meri appeared on her grandfather’s stoop. She was alive but not well: her lips were scabby, her back purple with welts, her clothes torn and filthy. A small child when the waves struck, Meri was now 15. She spoke her Acehnese dialect in a strange garble and offered a bizarre account of abduction, enslavement and escape.
Meri was eventually dropped off at Ibrahim’s home, a sea-foam green abode rebuilt after the tsunami. That night, she was reintroduced to her parents: Tarmiyus (Ibrahim’s son) and Yusnidar. The couple’s disbelief faded only when they discovered a dark birthmark on her side — identical to their lost daughter’s, they said — and a familiar scar by her eye acquired from a nasty spill at the age of 6.
“In a way, I’m almost grateful for what Fatima did,” Tarmiyus said. “If she was loving towards Meri, she wouldn’t have come home to us. Because she was cruel, Meri came back into our lives.” His wife is less forgiving. “Meri says she can recognize Fatima,” Yusnidar said. “So if I ever find her, I’ll eat her alive.”