Monday, July 26, 2010

I felt like an intruder.

Gradually throughout those few days after 29/09, others came to volunteer. To walk the line. To dig, forage and hack their way through Lalomanu. Matthew Leal came as a Red Cross volunteer. “We were assigned to go to Lalomanu and help with ‘clean up efforts’. We later found this was a euphemism for picking through rubble searching for the deceased.” He quickly realized this was not work for the faint of heart –or of body. “Searching for the dead is difficult in many different ways. Most rubble is heavy and haphazard and jagged. Sifting through, lifting and dropping and finding footholds is strenuous and Samoan humidity doesn’t help. The scene is surreal. Dead fish, left behind by the ocean litter the affected area. And then there’s the emotional leap required to look for dead bodies.”

Matthew had been one of a relay team that had run through Aleipata only a few weeks earlier on a 103 km race from Siumu to Apia. The difference between then and now, was mind-numbing. And digging through the personal leftovers of people’s lives, felt intrusive. Almost criminal.

“More than anything, I felt like an intruder. I’d driven by the area we searched many times before the earthquake, but never did I stop to search a family’s possessions or prod through their kitchen. And yet there I was today, finding family photos and Quiksilver baseball caps,condoms and notebooks and novels and gin. Two days ago, it would have been completely unacceptable for me to trudge into these people’s lives. It’s as though with the loss brought on by the tsunami comes the loss of one’s dignity. I felt like I was snooping.”

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