Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Review by Nadine Millar

A harrowing read, as you'd expect, but beautifully and sensitively put together by the author Lani Wendt Young. This is a meticulously researched book published only a year after the Tsunami - in other words, while the memories of the day were still raw for the survivors. It's hard to ascertain how many people were interviewed for this book but it seems like hundreds - from those who were directly in the path of the Galu Afi - Wave of Fire to those who were a part of the rescue and recovery effort. Sources include first-hand interviews with survivors and emergency and aid workers, as well as material from television and print media, journals, government reports, and seismic, meteorological and geological data.

The book is organised chronologically - an historical foundation is laid first (i.e. what experience the Samoan people had had of Tsunami prior to 2009 and therefore how prepared they were), followed by "The Earthquake", "Evacuation", "The Wave", through to "First Response", "How will we cope", "The Hospital", and so on until the closing chapters of "We Remember the Dead" and "After. Thoughts". In total there are 25 chapters, each one made up of different voices telling their individual stories.

I wouldn't have envied Wendt Young's task - she had to weigh up one story against another against another. It might have been tempting to devote whole pages to one family's tale - even, arguably, disrespectful not to - but Wendt Young doesn't allow the reader to dwell too long in one story. Or when the going gets tough she'll leave a family in peace, as if allowing them the privacy to grieve, coming back to their story in a few pages time. The desire for this book to be something other than the the literary equivalent of a bad car accident depicted in morbid detail for the benefit of nosy, insensitive onlookers is clearly evident. Likewise, Wendt Young manages to tell the most heart breaking of stories without succumbing to pity - if that makes sense. She just tells the story - or, more accurately, allows the stories to be told as they are, without layers and layers of thick, overbearing emotive language. You'll still cry though. Here, for example, Sili recalls how, trapped by debris with his 4 year old nephew in his arms, he had no choice but to let him go.

"When I looked up the water was about two meters above me and I didn't know what to do with my nephew. When I thought he may have a chance, I just released him, I pushed him up towards the light".

Sili's nephew never made it.

If you've ever been to Samoa, ever stayed at Lalomanu, this book will have an even greater impact on you. You know that stretch of beach, you woke up to all that white sand and the turquoise water peaking through the drop-blinds of the fale. As you read this book, you can picture yourself being there. For me, having lived in Samoa for four years and recognising a number of people whose stories are told in these pages, including Sili & Tai's, it's not an easy trip to take at all. If you're Samoan, on the other hand, I could actually imagine this book being impossibly tough to read. You would know so many of these families if not personally, then in some way or another - the community is that small.

The upshot of all this, is that you should beg, borrow or steal yourself a copy of this book however you can. That may be easier said than done however - my edition was published with funding from Ausaid... and it's registering unavailable on Fishpond or Amazon. Thanks to Marion for sending me this copy, always could count on you! Good luck tracking it down folks, and if any commercial publishers are reading this here's a piece of gold for you!

You can find the original review posted on Goodreads, here: Goodreads.

Friday, September 30, 2011

29/09 "I don't want to remember. It's too hard."

Photo by Pele Wendt.

I didnt want to do this. I didnt want to talk about this. I didnt want to remember that today marks a year since the release of the 'Pacific Tsunami' book. And two years since the event which changed so many peoples lives, so drastically - forever. I didnt want to think that tomorrow morning, Samoan time - families in many different places around the world, will pause to reflect on what happened that morning when the earth shook and the ocean answered.

I didnt want to remember what I was doing. What I was thinking. What I was feeling when my natural disaster paranoia was actually realized and yes, a tsunami really did happen. And people were dead. And villages were wiped out. I didnt want to open my mind to the memory of organizing with an amazing group of women to make soup and hotdogs, going to the disaster zone - like so many others - with nothing but the fragile hope that we could try to help, in some small way, any way, possible. I didnt want to think about the woman sitting by the side of the road. Watching. Waiting, "for them to find my baby." The uselessness of giving her a cup of soup. Her thanks. Her dead smile. The useless hug I gave her. I didnt want to remember the tears I cried as we drove away. The same useless tears Im crying now.

But most of all, I didnt want to think about the hours, days, weeks, months spent interviewing people. As they opened their shattered lives and hearts - to me - and to you. Sharing their stories. Of loss, pain, suffering, faith, heroism, hope, anger and bitterness. The three hours spent with Jared and Netta Schwalger as they relived the day the wave took their two children and their parents. The days spent searching for the body of their son. The nights filled with dreams as a little boy called to them from a mangrove swamp, 'Daddy, Mummy where are you? Why arent you coming to get me?" The month spent in hospital as volunteer specialists from NZ and Australia battled to save Netta's leg. All the times I listened to that audio recording of their interview. Again and again. Not wanting to get their story wrong. Not wanting to mess it up. Not wanting to somehow write it any less than what it was. An experience repeated many times over with others and their stories. With Mika and Ave from Lalomanu who lost their two children -the father who's little boy was never found. Who went to the morgue every day to wait. To look at just one more body. One more incomplete piece of a person. In the hopes that his child would be found. And Ave who could hold her remaining son and say with assurance and faith - "The tsunami took two of my children but I thank God that He has left me this one. This is the child that will have a future." With Taitasi from Leone in American Samoa building a bonfire so that her missing daughter would not "be lost and afraid in the dark." With rescuers like Comm Tony Hill and Vaughn Simpson. Doctors like Ben Matalavea and Riki Puni. Nurses like Henrietta Aviga. Public health responders like Andrew Peteru. Counsellors like Elena Peteru and Malia Manuleleua. So many people. So many stories.

No, I dont want to do this.

Anniversaries and memorials are important things. They are there to remind us. To make sure we don't forget. Events, people, experiences, emotions. But for some people the tsunami lasted longer than for others. For those living with the loss of their children. Their parents and extended family. For those struggling to rebuild a life, a home, a village, a community. For those who battle nightmares. Of working with the search teams. The body recovery. For too many people, the tsunami is something they want, they need - to forget.

A year ago, I went back to give people their copy of the book.Two weeks ago I went back again. To give money from the book sales to survivors who had shared their stories. Many greeted me with smiles and welcoming hugs. Many confessed to me, that they could not remember ever being interviewed. One mother said, "When I got my copy of the book and saw my picture and read my story, I couldnt believe it because I cant remember telling it to you. Its like I've blocked so much out from that bad time. I dont want to remember any of it. I am saving this book for my children and their children. I never want them to forget what happened here. What happened to our family and to our village. But me? I dont want to remember. Its too hard."

I continue to be grateful for the opportunity of being chosen to be a gatherer - a recorder - and then a storyteller for so many people of the Galu Afi of 29/09. The experience has changed me, changed my life, my perspective in so many ways. I continue to be humbled by the trust that so many survivors and rescuers placed in me, and in you - the readers of this book. I still feel that the book could have and should been so much better. Could have and should have spoken so much more powerfully about so many people's strength, courage and endurance. I read it and I see errors. And names and faces of people that were left out. And Im sorry that the record wasnt better. More accurate. I wish I could have been a stronger person, a better writer. I went with Lagi So'oalo and interviewed people and I cried. I wrote their stories and I cried. I proofed and edited with Joe and Celine Keil - and there were more tears. If I hadnt done so much crying, maybe it would have been a better book. One more worthy of the stories shared.

I have stayed close to one family in particular from the tsunami project. Mika and Ave from Lalomanu. My sister Pele paid for their children's schoolfees after the tsunami. Sent money for gifts of food, clothing and other essentials. On my last trip back, I met Ave's newest son. A little boy they have named Aleki - after the son they lost. The son who is on the Missing Persons list from 29/09. I held him in my arms, soothed him while he fussed for his mum and was humbled by the blessing, the miracle of new life. Mika and Ave live in a small, rough house built with tsunami funds. Yes, they are struggling to move on. To rebuild. To make a new life for themselves. But Ave said it best, "I hold this boy, and I remember the baby I lost. And I think about my daughter who died. But the Lord has given us another child. We have a new life to look forward to. Blessings and praise be to God."

There is a lot of reasons why we honor this anniversary. Why we pause to remember. We remember those who died. Those who served and gave so much of themselves. We ensure lessons learned are being put into action.

But for me? If Im being totally honest. On this anniversary of the 29/09 tsunami?

I dont want to remember. I dont want to talk about it. Because I'm still trying really hard to forget.

Remembering 29/09

Mika and Ave in 2009.

An interview with Radio Australia on the anniversary of 29/09. An interview with Mika from Lalomanu.

'Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi'

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lani Goes Back to the People of the Galu Afi

From the Samoa Observer - 7th Sept, 2011.

Faletaulupe with her mother Suliane in 2009. Saleaumua..

“This is a blessing for us at a very sad time, thank you so much.” These were the words of Faletaulupe Lui of Saleaumua on Friday 2nd of September, as she gratefully accepted her monetary gift from the sale profits of the book Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi .

Two years ago, author Lani Wendt Young interviewed Faletaulupe and her elderly mother Suliane about their tsunami survivor story. “Both women were so welcoming of me and generously shared their 29/09 experiences. Suliane was over 95yrs old and so I was particularly interested in speaking with her about her recollections of previous historical tsunami events in the area.”

In October 2010, Lani returned to Saleaumua to gift the family with their complimentary copies of the book and once again, was able to visit with Faletaulupe and her mother. “To be able to give survivors a copy of the book that contained their story was the most personally rewarding part of this project. People had entrusted their stories to a complete stranger, not knowing whether a book would really happen. Many people were moved to tears when they were able to see their experiences recorded in a book that has an international audience. I’m grateful to the Australian Govt Aid program that funded the printing of the books, making it possible for us to give away over 200 copies to survivors and rescuers in Samoa and American Samoa.”

As originally envisioned by Mr Joe Keil – the owner and editor of the book – the purpose of the project was “to ensure that a record was made of the disaster and any profits from the books sale were to be given back to those survivors who featured in the book.”

It has been a year since Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi was launched and Lani has spent the last two days, travelling to Aleipata and Falealili districts, giving over sixty different families a monetary gift. Mr Keil explained, “We have not yet sold all the 5,000 books but we wanted to give people a mealofa on the tsunami anniversary month, something that could be helpful for their families as they continue to rebuild their lives. Hopefully next year as book sales continue, we will again be able to do something similar.”

People were pleasantly surprised to receive the money. Tina Niusila of Saleapaga said, “I never expected this money. I was so happy to get my copy of the book last year and I share it with my family. It’s very important that we have a record like this, I never want my children to forget these things that happened.” 9yrold Perota Susuga of Saleapaga was the youngest person interviewed for the book and he was thrilled to also be remembered with his envelope. Lotolua Niumatapele of Lepa said, “I treasure my copy of the book because it’s a valuable record for all of us. I encourage everyone to read it and I even lent my book to the principal of our village school so that she could share it with the students.”

Lani is now based in New Zealand and she appreciated the opportunity to travel to Samoa and meet again with families she had interviewed for the book. It was a bittersweet visit with Faletaulupe’s family though as they were preparing for a funeral – Suliane died on Sunday last week, passing away peacefully in her sleep. Lani said, “I was sorry to have missed seeing Suliane again and I’m glad that the book project is able to help her family in some small way at this sad time.”
Tofilau Afatasi of Poutasi with his book and money.
Lotolua Niumatapele of Lepa with her gift.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Short Fiction up on Amazon

An announcement of amazonian proportions...I'm very happy to tell you that I (finally) figured out how to publish stuff on Amazon and there are FIVE of my short stories now listed.

*The Beast that came from the Sea.
*Sina the Snake Killer
*High School is a Jungle
*Don't Tell
*A True Samoan Woman

Humbled to see that a few readers have already taken the time to read and review them, thank you very much for the love! Coming soon: A complete collection of short fiction...20 pieces of sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes painful, sometimes nutty writing - all from me. Entitled: A True Samoan Woman.

I always appreciate hearing from fellow readers and writers - whether it's a blog comment or a writing review...so here's hoping more of you...make some noise!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What people are saying about "Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi"

Thoughts on his reading experience, from someone who was there. Who lived through it, worked through it - and then shared his story in the book.

I wanted to thank you for the great work you had done in putting this book together.

I think it is amazing how the Lord put us all where we needed to be at such a time. How many of any of us in our lifetime of professions and as individuals get to witness and manage a tsunami or a pandemic of global proportions? It is very likely that these things won’t happen for another 150 years, which makes your book ever so valuable.

I read the Pago and Tongan parts of the book last. Interestingly enough the images from these accounts are the most vivid to me even though I am not familiar with these places and people. You did great justice to these countries.

After all the footage that was taken by us and others, and my own experience on the day of the tsunami, this book was able to put many of the peices together. I have new respect for colleagues and people who did the most amazing things.

I don’t like to reflect worthlessly on what happened; it has to be constructive. This is why I really appreciate your book. It ties emotion with advice, lessons learnt and stories of heroism. I can’t wait to read the book once it is translated.

So well done Lani, you’ve done the most brave and honest of tasks! Your book will greatly benefit our future generations, and that is why it brings a more complete sense of closure for me. Our descendents will read about a part of our professional lives that otherwise only a few would have known, and they too will be encouraged to stand up to the challenges of their time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Community is vital to survival.

Anna at GetJealous.com talks about her experience visiting Aleipata and reading "Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi". Anna's travelling the world and you can follw her adventures online.

"Today I woke up at 5:45 am to catch the Lalomanu bus back into Apia, the capital of Samoa. I'm on the island of Upolu, the one everyone says is "not the real Samoa" and "doesn't have the good beaches" and "blah, blah, blah". Through SERVAS (Man, I love this organization, it's made my trip), I managed to connect with a woman who runs a wellness retreat in Salea'aumua (which I can finally pronounce).

Salea'aumua (sal-ay-uh-ow-moo-ah) is in Aleipata (come on, it's not that hard, you can do it!), which is the district of Upolu that was most seriously damaged by the 2009 tsunami. Read: Aleipata was basically destroyed. Most people that died in the tsunami in Samoa, died here. One family, the Taufuas, who run a beach fale resort here, lost 13 loved ones, spanning four generations. Driving through town, the road is several meters closer to the sea than it was before (shore washed away), and the foundations of houses that were leveled are still there. People either rebuilt next to them or moved far inland to escape the unpredictability of the sea. One village, Saleapaga (sal-ay-uh-pan-gah), completely moved inland except for one determined business owner, now the only building in the old Saleapaga. These people, if they are anything, they are resilient.

I stayed with Lee Letiu for 4 nights. During that time, I had the opportunity to attend church, be treated to yet ANOTHER Sunday family umu, spend a day visiting a secondary school (at which I managed to score a copy of Samoa's secondary science curriculum goals - OMG!), and read an incredible book that wove together tsunami survivor stories (which Lee was included in). Not only did I get to experience village life where there are no resorts, I got to see a school, talk to teachers and a principal, observe classes, and most of all - learn from people who have honestly looked death in the face and somehow managed to survive.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in what the tsunami was like here, what the response was, and how people coped economically, emotionally, etc. It's called Pacific Tsunami - Galu Afi by Lani Wendt Young. It's incredibly well-written, and although I'm positive that being in the place while I read it was a big part of it's meaning, I still think everyone should read it.

Now, I come from a solid family. There was love in our house growing up, and there is still love - we are strong and united, and I know my family would support me in a heartbeat if I needed them (hell, they are right now). But I was blown away by the degree of family support outlined in the Aleipata survivors' stories. Remember the Taufua family? They lost 13 family members because they spent so much time saving their GUESTS, because they considered them as important as family. People ran from the first wave, and ran back to save family, friends, strangers - because in Samoa, the village, the district, the island is connected by extended family. Community is vital to survival. In fact, after the tsunami, there were no refugee camps - because EVERYONE had family to take them in somewhere. If they had no family left, someone was kind enough to include them in their family that day. I mean, the society is not without flaws, but the family structure is thought to have saved many people in this particular disaster just because the response was so immediate.

Anyway, it struck me as really beautiful, and sitting by the ocean reading that book on a calm day was so unnerving - when just over a year ago the ocean took a lot from these people, yet they continue to live in harmony with it, fishing, swimming..."

Lee Letiu with her copy of the book at Saleaumua.