Thursday, June 24, 2010

Papa, fa'amalosi.

The maximum runup of the Samoa tsunami was 14.5 meters - at Lepa village and 11.4 meters at Lalomanu. A standard two-storey house is eight meters high. Set it in the Samoa tsunami at its worst hit points and you wouldn’t even know it was there. But what does that mean for a regular person like you and me? I am five feet nine. It would take at least seven of me, standing on each others shoulders before I would be able to get my head above water at Lalomanu. What does that mean for a parent with a small child? Like thirty-five year old Maua Toa?

When the wave slammed into their village, Maua grabbed his seven year old son Aukuso and ran. They were smashed into a huge, majestic-sized breadfruit tree. Maua held his son crushed between him and the tree trunk. They were underwater while the sea tried to rip them away. Maua pushed Aukuso up into the branches of the tree, helping him climb higher and higher as the second wave engulfed them again. Higher than the roof of their samoan fale. Sweeping over the edges of their neighbors two storey roof. Maua was exhausted. Debris continued to plough into him, weakening his hold on the trunk. But Aukuso was foremost in his mind.

“When I looked up the wave was on top of us. I couldn’t breathe. The only thing I wanted was some air so my son could breathe…”

Maua shoved Aukuso further up the tree until he was safe. Crying above him in the final, smallest branches. Gulping mouthfuls of the sweet morning air. As Maua battled to keep his head out of the water, he thought about letting go. Giving in. But then Aukuso called to him,“Papa, be strong. If you die, I’m going to jump down so we will die together. Fa’amalosi!”

Maua hung on. A child’s plea gave him the strength he needed. “I did what my son was saying. I ended up being saved because of what my son said, to be strong.”

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