Thursday, November 4, 2010

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.

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