Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Community is vital to survival.

Anna at GetJealous.com talks about her experience visiting Aleipata and reading "Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi". Anna's travelling the world and you can follw her adventures online.

"Today I woke up at 5:45 am to catch the Lalomanu bus back into Apia, the capital of Samoa. I'm on the island of Upolu, the one everyone says is "not the real Samoa" and "doesn't have the good beaches" and "blah, blah, blah". Through SERVAS (Man, I love this organization, it's made my trip), I managed to connect with a woman who runs a wellness retreat in Salea'aumua (which I can finally pronounce).

Salea'aumua (sal-ay-uh-ow-moo-ah) is in Aleipata (come on, it's not that hard, you can do it!), which is the district of Upolu that was most seriously damaged by the 2009 tsunami. Read: Aleipata was basically destroyed. Most people that died in the tsunami in Samoa, died here. One family, the Taufuas, who run a beach fale resort here, lost 13 loved ones, spanning four generations. Driving through town, the road is several meters closer to the sea than it was before (shore washed away), and the foundations of houses that were leveled are still there. People either rebuilt next to them or moved far inland to escape the unpredictability of the sea. One village, Saleapaga (sal-ay-uh-pan-gah), completely moved inland except for one determined business owner, now the only building in the old Saleapaga. These people, if they are anything, they are resilient.

I stayed with Lee Letiu for 4 nights. During that time, I had the opportunity to attend church, be treated to yet ANOTHER Sunday family umu, spend a day visiting a secondary school (at which I managed to score a copy of Samoa's secondary science curriculum goals - OMG!), and read an incredible book that wove together tsunami survivor stories (which Lee was included in). Not only did I get to experience village life where there are no resorts, I got to see a school, talk to teachers and a principal, observe classes, and most of all - learn from people who have honestly looked death in the face and somehow managed to survive.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in what the tsunami was like here, what the response was, and how people coped economically, emotionally, etc. It's called Pacific Tsunami - Galu Afi by Lani Wendt Young. It's incredibly well-written, and although I'm positive that being in the place while I read it was a big part of it's meaning, I still think everyone should read it.

Now, I come from a solid family. There was love in our house growing up, and there is still love - we are strong and united, and I know my family would support me in a heartbeat if I needed them (hell, they are right now). But I was blown away by the degree of family support outlined in the Aleipata survivors' stories. Remember the Taufua family? They lost 13 family members because they spent so much time saving their GUESTS, because they considered them as important as family. People ran from the first wave, and ran back to save family, friends, strangers - because in Samoa, the village, the district, the island is connected by extended family. Community is vital to survival. In fact, after the tsunami, there were no refugee camps - because EVERYONE had family to take them in somewhere. If they had no family left, someone was kind enough to include them in their family that day. I mean, the society is not without flaws, but the family structure is thought to have saved many people in this particular disaster just because the response was so immediate.

Anyway, it struck me as really beautiful, and sitting by the ocean reading that book on a calm day was so unnerving - when just over a year ago the ocean took a lot from these people, yet they continue to live in harmony with it, fishing, swimming..."

Lee Letiu with her copy of the book at Saleaumua.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, 11 March, 2011

To watch live footage of the tsunami sweeping through areas in Japan is to really see and understand what 29/09 survivors meant when they spoke of..."A beast that leapt out of the sea and ran towards us. It was the colour of night... 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. We saw the wave coming like fire, so we ran.” We are watching cars trying to escape the broiling onslaught of black water and churning debris. People standing on rooftops, people running, people waving and screaming for help.

It is difficult to really comprehend what we are watching. But one thing is certain. As one of my children exclaimed softly - "Mum, the tsunami that hit us in Samoa was a baby compared to this one."