The Samoan word for gift is ‘meaalofa’. Things of love. Things from love. Ask any survivor of the Samoa tsunami about the help they received after their ordeal and they will tell you – there has been so much love that they have been overwhelmed. Everywhere, people reached out to give what and where they could. In the wave of goodwill that flowed through the disaster zone, there are those ‘little things’ that people remember.
A handful of nails. That someone left on a brick. Where a white flag was raised in amidst the broken remains of a home in Saleapaga. On the flag an appeal was inscribed, Need Help: Need H2O tank, food, hammer, nails, axe…Thank you! Someone passing by responded and quietly gave a handful of nails.
A hot meal. Australian volunteer paramedic Steve Williams was caring for the injured at the National Hospital on that endless Tuesday. He got a call from another pair of volunteers, Have you eaten today? Later that afternoon they came to the hospital. With a homemade meal big enough to feed a Samoan-sized family. Steve remembers, “I’ll never forget that you know? They wanted to do something to help and it was just so thoughtful…”
A ride to the hospital. One woman remembers the total stranger on the ferry ride from Savaii to Upolu island. Who noticed her distress upon hearing of the tsunami. Her tears of worry for her family in Aleipata who had been taken to the hospital. When the boat docked at Mulifanua, the man offered to take her to the hospital. A forty minute drive. Once there, he then accompanied her inside and was there to catch her when she finally collapsed with the stress of her morning. Francis Craig shrugs, “She was so upset, what else could I do? She needed some help.”
Lip balm. Wendy Pearce from Christchurch, NZ lost everything in the waves. “The only thing I had left was the lavalava I was wearing.” A woman offered to take them to the NZ High Commission. “When I asked her to stop at a shop so we could buy Vaseline for my sunburnt lips, she kindly went in and bought us shampoo, deodorant, moisturizer and a bottle of wine as well – that made us start crying again.”
A gas bottle. A veteran Red cross volunteer was moved to tears when she tried to buy two gas stoves for families hit by the tsunami. “The company wouldn’t take any money from the Red Cross. Even better, it donated ten stoves and bottles…[me] and the gas man cried together.”
A coconut. The Cedermans from Raglan, NZ fled Lalomanu beach and sought refuge in the mountain hills with many others. “No sooner had we run for our lives – then a Samoan man climbed a tree and chopped off about twenty coconuts with a machete so everybody could have a drink…and soon after someone from a nearby village on higher ground produced lots of little dumpling-like eats and suddenly it was almost like a church picnic.”
A beloved Spiderman toy. A young tsunami survivor was taken from his hospital room for an xray. When he returned it was to find that strangers had visited during his absence. A family. A six year old boy with a cheeky glint in his eyes. Who came with cookies and candy. And his favourite toy. To give to the boy “who is hurt and sad from the tsunami…maybe he can play with it and feel better.”
A lavalava. Given to a young survivor from New Zealand. Who lay in agony from her injuries after the tsunami, uncaring that all her clothing had been ripped away in the waves. “This guy came and took care of her leg first – it was pretty bad. She ended up later needing several operations. He got her leg free and then he took off his own lavalava and covered her. She said she hadn’t even realized that she was naked until that moment, and she was emotional remembering his thoughtfulness.”
A roll of toilet paper. When people go to stay at the National Hospital they take many of their own supplies. A pillow. A fan. And toilet paper. Stunned tsunami survivors, some of them brought in naked with cuts covering their entire body, were then faced with a lack of the essentials. A woman came to the tsunami ward on Wednesday morning bearing hastily assembled hygiene kits. Frangipani soap and lotion, washcloths, toothbrushes – and toilet paper.
A hot shower. A young couple escaped from Coconut’s Resort at Siumu with little more than their lives. That night, friends Rob and Katie Wetzell invited them to stay with them. “That night we had a hot shower. I washed the sand out of J's cuts and bathed him in hydrogen peroxide. Everywhere I looked he had a scratch, scrape or abrasion. We petted cats and dogs then laid down to dream of tsunamis and the events of the day.”