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 maybe...it 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.