Life Goes On in Samoa: Post Tsunami
Story + Video, Jean Melesaine
Jan 26, 2010
It's crazy to travel back to my parents birthplace.
November is ending and winter dawns when I leave the states. I arrive to a band in the airport singing a song called "Falealili Uma", an old Samoan folk song about my fathers village, Falealili. As I wait for my luggage around the carousel, my pants begin to stick to my skin in a nasty way that I think by the way people are staring at me I'm defying a social norm in this country by wearing jeans and a green army jacket. Samoa is hot. Hella hot and I look stupid. It's 90 degrees plus and according to my aunt whom we meet at the airport and has lived there all her life, the weather's been changing and the heats been rising. Halfway around the world from this country in a small place called Copenhagen, a climate change conference will happen as a Tsunami cleanup takes place in my fathers village.
I saw a barefoot boy walking shirtless in the middle of the dirt road holding a weaved banana leave basket probably taking a walk to the market in the town of Apia to sell plantains. The town is 45 minutes away from Falealili, driving. This boy could of been my father I thought.
As we drive pass villages the houses begin to disappear marking where the Tsunami has hit. "Nothing". Thats what my mother says when describing what she saw as we pass by Fagaloa beach. Once, one of Samoa's beautiful beaches has turned to a debris filled plain with torn houses and families refusing to leave their land filled with their ancestors history. As we passed a woman showered off of the running rain water falling from her rooftop,a boy laying atop a grave was staring and talking at a photo that lay in front of him, red cross and other countries banners of where they helped. Donated by Canada,Japan,etc. A small island that huge countries love. Only from my pessimism as a liberal "bay area'n" I wondered what they wanted.
Back in my mother's village of Moamoa we sat and watched the news still focusing on affects of the Tsunami. The most evident was the lack of medical attention that was needed for surviving victims who consumed debris in their lungs. Doctors had come from New Zealand and Australia to state that they needed more funds for the necessary medical attention. The prime minister had made it known that there would be know rebuilding close to the shore. But families stayed with the graves of buried bodies amongst the vast sands of "nothing".
Life moves on. It has to here. "Ua Sa Le Fenua" signs that read "do not go on this land" in Samoan post on lands with people who died. Nearly every Samoan family on the island has a gravesite on their family's land. Death is painted in the collage of Samoan life with tombstones as my uncle marks his truck parking alligned with the graves, and my nephew and nieces have a new place to play. But the lack of dialogue and discussion about emotions on death play a role in alot of Samoan peoples outcries and outbreaks. People aren't used to dealing with feelings only in a religious setting and death is a funeral dinner with a lake of tears pretending to move on the next day. I see alot of pain in people here. "Pretending" is something that I'm keen on, only because I'm beginning to deal with my emotions in writing as of 24 years later of living as a Samoan American. In Samoa, in all its purity, I can feel its deep pain that at any time will burst. One day my people will not have to clench a cross with silent whispering to deal with pain.
I sit here in America, recently returned from Samona, contemplating constantly about the after affects of a island. I reflect on it all, from post tsunami life to all the stories and people I've met on my first time in a motherland I only knew through music my mother and father played. I comeback with a feeling of things unsaid and undone. Only being able to write about it while listening to a song that I still don't fully understand yet. A well known samoan poet from New Zealand wrote a poem after the Tsunami writing, "their loss is our loss, even the night birds feel it".
Samoa is still a "sacred heart" and as far away as we can be from this tiny island and as much as we will pretend to move on from all the catastrophes of life, "this loss is our loss". And greatness will arrive from the pain of my people.