Friday, November 19, 2010

What readers are saying about 'Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi'.

Wow. I ordered Galu Afi online and received it last week. I devoured it in 4 days...during which time I shed a lot of tears, had a few laughs, but most of all, felt an overwhelming sense of admiration and love for the brave people of Samoa...some of whom I am supremely proud to call my friends and colleagues. Thank you Lani for an amazing book!
Kate Groves, Australia.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"A wild animal with huge fins, breathing black smoke."

Sapua Toilolo with her son in Malaela village, Aleipata.

There is a beast that crashes through forty-two year old Sapua Toilolo’s dreams. It clambers up out of the morning ocean, over the seawall, and the coconut trees tremble before it’s towering height. It is the color of night and the sea spray at its head, rises like a cloud of smoke. As it advances, it rips the roofs off houses, uproots trees and tramples cars. Its roar is the churning growl of machinery, crashing louder and louder as it draws near, drowning out the terrified screams of those who run before it. It is a beast that killed Sapua Toilolo’s neighbor - her cousin Fa’apopo Touli and six others in their village. It is a beast that has driven the Toilolo family to settle in the plantation bush. It is a beast that troubles Sapua’s sleep and makes her five children wake up early every morning “because if it had come at a time when we were all asleep, we would all have died, so I say to my children, remember what happened, remember what came that day, don’t ever sleep in late, we need to get up early…”

On the day the beast came to Malaela, it was only Sapua and her two sons at home. Her husband was away overseas and the other children had already left for school. Pe’epe’e her eldest boy was preparing to go to the plantation when they heard a ruckus of sound from their neighbor’s house which was closer to the ocean road. “We were sitting there to have our breakfast when we heard people screaming, I thought they were arguing down at Levao’s house because there were people running around and yelling and there we were just sitting in our house unaware of anything. I looked out and saw an old lady running past with some kids. She was only wearing a towel, like she just came from her shower.”

Pe’epe’e ran down to see what was happening, then ran back even faster/quicker. “He said to me to run there’s a big galu, a wave coming.” Sapua’s little son took off immediately up the road beside their house that led inland but Sapua wanted to see for herself what was happening/coming. “I didn’t run at that time, I looked out to make sure my son was away and then I looked out to the wharf and the galu was coming. It was very high and I knew that our houses might get affected because it was coming over the seawall but I thought maybe that was as far as it would go, so I just started walking back on the inland road.”

Sapua still wasn’t too bothered, still she thought the wave would be nothing more than a vaguely annoying surge. Then she turned her head to the left and saw it. The beast. Another wave that was rolling in over the land, travelling almost parallel to the ocean. “It was different to what was coming from the sea, it was much bigger and moving very fast.” Sapua was torn with indecision. Back in the house was a sizeable amount of money, the children’s school fees that she had been planning to go and pay that day. She ran back and had reached the verandah when her son shouted out to her.

“Run! You’ll die if you go back in the house…run!”

Sapua listened to her son. She left the money and began running with him up the inland road. They met other groups of people clustered a short distance in. “They were just standing there, they couldn’t run anymore and they thought maybe they had gone far enough, but I told them, run, be strong, let’s keep going! I looked back and I could see the wave coming and taking roofing iron off the houses like it was paper. So we all kept running.”
The wave caught some of those in her group as they ran. “The wave hit Lele’s house and it was still coming and it got some of us, that’s where I lost Fa’apopo and some others that were running with us as well. That’s what spurred me on. We crossed the bridge that goes over the mangrove stream and got up to higher ground. We stood there looking back, we saw trees being uprooted right in front of us because of the strength of the water. I saw people in other trees trying to pull up their kids to safety.”

Sapua cannot forget what she saw. “The wave that came across the land was like an animal coming up with high fins on each side, I looked at it and it scared me. I said to all those that I was running with ohmigosh, we’re all going to die from what’s coming…because I saw the coconut trees were lower than the wave. It was like a wild animal with huge fins, but it was pitch black and the mist or sea spray that was coming out of it was also black, like the smoke from a umu, it was brownish-black.”

That night the Toilolo family slept in the bush. “Once the fear had left us I went back down to the shore to see if there was anything to salvage from our house, but it was too late, everything was useful was already taken by the scroungers and they even took all the big fish as well.”

Sapua’s little son is still unwilling to return to the coast. “When the tsunami was over, I tried so hard to get him to come with me to have a look at the aftermath but he said no, no let’s not go down there, we’ll die down there. I kept telling him there was no more tsunami but he said no. Finally, a leader from our church took him for a ride to the beach in a car and he could see that nothing bad was going to happen. I don’t want him to have that fear.”

Months later though, sitting in her plantation house, Sapua herself still has those fears. Of the wild animal with huge fins that breathes smoke. “We go down to the village to get water and just clean up a bit and then come back here. I still get scared…when I hear machinery making noises because I think the galu’s coming back and I have to get up and look and then I want to hurry and get away from there.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

USA Online ordering of Book now available.

"Pacific Tsunami - Galu Afi" is now available for online ordering anywhere in the USA at the following link.

Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It looked like glass with a fierce animal inside it.

Sally Taiva’asele is seventy-one years old. She is the matriarch of her family in Malaela – her three children, their spouses, and her ten grandchildren all lived together in an assorted cluster of brick houses and open Samoan fales. She is a beautiful woman, long fair hair coiled in a bun, powdery white skin and with an easy gracefulness about her. She has lived in Malaela all her life. There were earthquakes during her childhood that were big enough to leave an impact on her memory. And she can recall other waves coming into her village. But nothing like what happened on September 29th. “Yes, I remember, there were other galu (waves) in the past, but they weren’t big, people just stood and watched them. They didn’t reach the houses, those waves ended at the road.”

Sally is not in the best of health. She has diabetes and tires easily. She is alive today because of her daughter Leata who ran with her and refused to leave her. When the earthquake happened, the two women were the only ones at the Taiva’asele home. The children had already left for school. One son-in-law was away in New Zealand. Another had gone to the plantation. Leata was making breakfast for her mother when they heard the sound of the wave. “The wave made a huge noise. I didn’t see it, but I heard it, it was like machine guns going off in war.”

Leata ran outside to look. “The wave was something so different…it looked like glass with a fierce animal inside it, it was so big, it looked even bigger than the Namua island.”

People were running and screaming. Sally and Leata ran along the front road that lines parallel to the ocean, making their way towards the rough road that led to the plantations.

“I didn’t grab my bag or anything near me, I just crawled outside the fale and then we ran. I had no shoes on, we just ran and I felt I couldn’t run anymore because my feet were sore from running on the sharp rocks, but my daughter kept telling me to keep going, the wave is coming, its coming.”

At the plantation road, the two women turned inland, passing several houses with the roar of the glass animal at their backs. Sally’s strength failed her then. She stopped and told Leata that she could go no further. Leata pulled her to stand beside a knot of trees. The wave would only have been a heartbeat away, but that moment, cowering beside a tree, with the air consumed by the crackling roar of the water as it ripped through Malaela homes – seemed an eternity to Sally.

“I could hear it coming…I said to my daughter, there’s nothing more we can do, this is in God’s hands. If it is His will that we die, then we will die. What can we do? That wave was a killer coming for us. When it reached us it hit me in the back and it was such a powerful force, it was so strong, I couldn’t do anything. I felt my leg hit the trees and it got stuck there and my lavalava got ripped away. Leata was beside me, she was crying and holding onto my top, trying to keep me from going with the wave.”

Sally grabbed onto the nearest tree. Unseen sharp things slashed through her arm and something heavy crushed into her leg, pinning it to the tree. Fallen logs and other large debris began to build up all around the trees, trapping the two women behind a wall of wreckage. They were able to keep their heads above water and once the levels began to drop, Leata renewed her calls for help, someone, anyone, please help them. Sally was in a lot of pain, her arm dangled uselessly now and she couldn’t tell how badly injured her leg was, stuck as it was still, in a mass of house remnants. Finally, men came to pull them free. They had to use bush knives to reach them. “They chopped down the trees and the fue vines next to us – that was the only thing I could see, the fue and boards with nails all around us. Then they took us to dry ground and that’s when I saw how bad my leg was…”

Leata had the usual tsunami cuts and eventual bothersome chest infection – but Sally was in hospital for ten weeks. Her arm will never work properly again and half of her foot was amputated. Neighbours tell us amazedly, you know Sally has only three toes left! There is wonder that anyone could survive such an ordeal. Sally sits in a tsunami relief house, newly built by her church and tries not to remember what happened to her that day. “I don’t think about it, I try to forget about it. There was another woman in the hospital with me who was really affected by the tsunami, she is not right in her mind now. She would scream and swear at all the doctors and they couldn’t do much to help fix her mind. But for me, I try not to think too much about it, the only thing I can’t forget is running from the tsunami…”

Sally knows her family will never forget though. She motions to the cookhouse where her daughter is making the food for the evening meal. The daughter who stayed by her side as the glass beast rushed to devour them. “I know my kids can’t forget this tsunami. They think about the pain I went through and how I survived this tragedy. They worry about another natural disaster like this coming again.”

In Memory of a princely man with a rogueish smile - Sia Solialofa.

A year ago i went to the village of Vaovai in search of tsunami stories. In a rickety little fale in the inland bush, I met a man called Sia Solialofa. A princely man with a rogueish smile sitting in a wheelchair. He welcomed us warmly and sent his family to prepare us a meal. It was raining that day and Sia's son got wet during his dash to the store for pisupo, tuna and more tea. Sia shared his family's story. He had not been at their coast side home when the tsunami hit but his daughter and granddaughter were killed. As he spoke, there was confusion and sadness. "She was a strong woman, tough like a man. And a very good swimmer. She used to go fishing for the family and did all the work in the plantation, i dont understand how she died in the tsunami."

We listened and when the storytelling was done, we ate. We apologetically explained that we could not drink the tea, "because of our religion." He laughed. Pointed at the roof and told us not to worry - "God cant see you, and we wont tell Him!" Together we laughed. Then Sia sent his son out in the rain again to buy large bottles of Coke for us to drink instead. We visited with Sia for an hour. He kept us entertained with a steady stream of jokes and compliments - about whether or not we were single, why we should consider visiting Vaovai more often, about Mormons who didnt waste money on cigarettes like he did, about Mormons who couldnt enjoy a cup of tea ( or a Vailima) like he could...He told us to tell 'that pretty woman that comes on TV, Filomena Nelson" that people are going to listen to her messages better now, now that 29/09 has happened. It was a humbling reminder to me of the beauty and generousity of Samoan hospitality.Our visit with Sia was an enjoyable and memorable interlude in an often exhausting and draining process.

When we finally left, i wished i had had some money to gift him, a small mealofa to say thank you. I told him I would be back with his book one day.

Yesterday it was raining when I went back to Vaovai to take Sia Solialofa his copy of the Galu Afi book. And some money. A small mealofa to thank him for the pisupo. For the laughter we shared. But I couldn't give it to him because he had passed away. A few weeks after our interview, in December 2009. I stood in the rain at Vaovai and cried. Because I didnt know. Because I never got the chance to give him what i promised i would - his story. I left his book with his family.

Thank you Sia Solialofa for being a princely man with a rogueish smile. For giving so generously of your food. Your time and your story.

And I'm sorry. That I came back to Vaovai too late.