Friday, November 27, 2009

A Bit of Burnout

So today we were interviewing survivors in Poutasi village. We had to navigate this narrow strip of hastily thrown together 'road' ( a very pretentious term for a load of gravel and sand dumped into the sea) to make it through to the actual village. Or whats left of it.
The whole village was built on/near mangroves. Which means its actually right at sealevel. Which means when its high tide - as it was today - then the sea is very best friends with the land. And today it was raining. And the sea was high. And lapping at my tires as we carefully drove over the road. And the broken shells of homes looked vaguely threatening. And frightfully depressing. And as i looked out over the ocean, I could totally envision a wave. Coming to engulf us. And i didnt want to be there.

Then we met with a lovely family at the end of the 'road'. The mother was washing laundry at a broken pipe outside. Two daughters and a son welcomed us cheerily, running to bring a mat for us to sit on while we interviewed their father. They had to sit beside him and shout our questions because his hearing was damaged in the tsunami. He ran to warn people at the end of his 'road'. He helped a 75 yr old man climb up a poumuli tree to safety by having him climb up on his back. Then he was hit by the wave and the debris and almost had his arm ripped off. And he was sad that he couldnt reach the woman screaming for help with her children. Because his arm wasnt working properly. And there was blood everywhere.

And while Im listening to his story, my eyes are drawn to the ceiling. Where the cement beams are cracked. And crumbling. And half the roof is caving in above us. And the reinforcing is gaping through the fragmenting cement. And the ocean is right outside the door. And it looks like just could rear up and smash us to smithereens at any moment...And i could totally envision the roof deciding to give up its final gasp. And collapsing in a heap of dust. Right on top of all of us. And i didnt want to be there.

I was desperate to leave Poutasi today. I felt panic claw its way up through my chest as i drove back over the narrow road. Thinking about waves. Strong enough to roll cars. Like tumbleweed. We only did three interviews today. But it was enough.

Its been three weeks now since i started working fulltime on this project. I have met with survivors from Saleaumua. Satitoa. Lalomanu. Saleapaga. Malaela. Lepa. Vaigalu. Vavau. And Poutasi. I have seen children who were saved by parents who held them above the water while they were submerged. I have touched trees that people climbed up to evade the waters. I have taken photos of the wooden cabinet a 5 year old boy sat on and floated to safety. I have met frail old ladies in their 80's who were carried on the backs of their grandsons to safety. I have listened to mothers weep because they could not save their little ones. I have felt the anger of fathers who could not fight against a tsunami.

And I want to listen. And record their stories. And honor their experiences.

But not today. Because today I was afraid. Of the sea. And imaginary killer waves out to get me. And imaginary roofs falling down. And I am sorry that i wasnt up to it today.

And I am ashamed too. Because I didnt have to live through a tsunami. And i dont have to still live in a broken house with a fragmenting roof. So what the heck is my problem!?

I shall take a breath. And go back next week.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Your Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Theres been a lot of grief in the news lately about tsunami relief NOT getting to where it should. About people NOT getting help. While Im sure that there are many instances of wonky, misdirected aid efforts and while I know of other instances where some people are receiving - and then lying about it so they can get more....I also see and hear everyday, tsunami relief that IS getting where it should. To everyone out there who's fundraising, collecting food and clothing, buying building materials, sending money and generally giving blood, sweat and tears to help tsunami Samoa survive and rebuild - this notes for you.

I have seen - * a young mother in a wheelchair, her still-healing bandaged leg. So grateful to the plastic surgeon and the medical team from NZ and Aust. that did the skin graft, that ensured she WOULDNT need an amputation. 'They were so kind. So careful. So nice to me.' she said, voice thick with emotion.
* families living in tents in the rainforest bush. Tents donated by the Red Cross, the NZ Army and countless others. A child regards me with solemn eyes through the netted doorway of his familys tent as mozzies buzz and hum. And rain trickles down my back. And the fresh cut bush is thick and heavy around us. A 74 yr old gentleman says to me with tears. 'We dont want to become people of the bush. We mustnt become people of the bush. There - at Satitoa by the sea - that is where our homes are. That is where our grandparents are buried. That is where we should be.'
*Truckloads of wood and other building materials chugging their way over Le Mafa Pass. The first houses being built by Habitat for Humanity and Caritas and so many others.
*Huge containers being opened and distributed at various village points along the route. There are crowds of people. Patient and calm. Sitting in the sun waiting while the pulenuu unpack and give out. Boxes of clothes. Canned food. Mosquito nets. Outside one container a team of helpers are building careful stacks of for you, one for you. More than 30 stacks. A shiny new pot. A kettle. A gleaming frying pan. A handful of plates. Rows and rows of new cookware anticipating their new owners. (Dont underestimate the power of a new pot. I have one miserable broken frying pan and it drives me insane everytime i need to make pancakes.)
* A mother of 8 children say thank you for the blankets and clothes they were given on Wednesday the day after the galu lolo. At her breast is a chubby one year old with mischief in her eyes who keeps trying to grab the MP3 recorder off her mum and put it in her mouth. 'We spent the night in the bush. We were wet and cold. We had nothing. I didnt care about me but I only wanted to find a way for my children to be warm. Thank God for the clothes and blankets we received.' This is the same mother who's 4 yr old son was asleep in a galu lolo submerged-smashed-to-bits house. And then found still breathing under a pile of debris several hours later. And today, I cant grab him to take a photo because hes too busy pestering the AUST army team who are busy cleaning up cement rubble by the beachside. He skips on golden sand. And laughs by blue water.

If you had any doubts about whether or not your donation was needed. Utilized. Appreciated. If you were wondering whether or not the people of the galu lolo still need your help. Whether its a pot. Some planks of wood. A can of fruit. Your prayers and thoughts.
This notes for you.