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.”