"What were you doing when the tsunami hit?" It’s a reoccurring question asked among the Samoan people. What happened on the 29th of September 2009 will mark this nation’s history. It is awful to say, the Tsunami put Samoa on the international map.
I was in Australia, when the news broke. I saw the devastation and the plea of the Samoan people. It bought me sadness and compassion for what they had endured. I donated to the Channel Nine telephone appeal.
Many felt the same way and donated to charitable organizations. Off shore relief efforts generated millions. News reports in the days and weeks that followed heralded the charity of Samoa’s pacific neighbors. We were shown footage of the clean up and early re-building projects. It made me feel good about contributing, I felt pleased that things were getting tided up.
So, naively when I was invited to see where the tsunami had hit six months ago, I half expected to see the framework of a new city. I thought perhaps I would see bustling building sites where new homes were being constructed. In reality what I found affected me so much, it has taken a full week to write about.
The most startling thing is the emptiness of the coast. Some villages have been abandoned. What is left is crumbling concrete structures and debris everywhere. I see a stereo speaker, a cooking spatula, and one white sneaker – all signs of those who have left their costal life. I could sense the heaviness of what happened there. The land is battered. It has been hurt badly. Fearful survivors have walked off family land, leaving a graveyard of broken homes behind.
It is in my genetic makeup to look for a solution, that’s who I am. I wanted to collect up all the rubble and clear it away, to get rid of the memory of what happened there. But is that a solution? Perhaps in a Western framework, it would be neatly cleared and an appropriate memorial constructed, life could go on. In Samoa it is not that simple.
Samoa is a unique place that is processing this in its own way. Perhaps the rubble is a reminder of what the ocean can do. Perhaps it is a tribute to those that were lost, that they have not forgotten. Religion and superstition plays heavily in to local’s reasoning. I have heard explanations beyond what I can comprehend. Some believe God has punished them for working on a Sunday.
It cannot be any ones mission to save the Samoans. They do not need rescuing. What they need is time. Time to come to terms with great loss, to feel and experience and process what has happened. Not on my terms, not on anyone’s terms but their own.