Friday, October 2, 2009

73: Tsunami (Back to School)

I was back at school today. Though I wanted to find a way to be helpful with the tsunami relief, there are hundreds of people helping with relief and I have two classes of Year 13 students looking at their final exams starting on Monday. I cannot abandon their revisions.

The morning started with a long, emotional teachers' meeting. My pule informed the teachers that the number of confirmed dead in Samoa is now 110. I would like to give you some excerpts of what my pule had to say (in English, I didn't get the parts in Samoan, which was a majority). He is speaking in reference to the tsunami, the death of one of the students from our school and the teacher's response to the evacuation orders.

"You see now the reality is this sort of thing comes around unexpectedly. We cannot take [being prepared] lightly."

"I want to express thanks to the staff who came early on Tuesday and were here to help the students. We did very well. We managed to get to the place we aimed for...We can see now the importance of having cars, the school having a truck or a bus or whatever."

"Money is nothing, but life is important."

"Just imagine if it wasn't school fees, it was only half the students. Just imagine if it was all 760 students [we had to evacuate]."
Here he is referring to the rule that sent home all students who had not paid their school fees on Monday. They are not allowed to return to school until the fees are paid.

"It is something I am never going to forget."

"It was just that small moment to strike and then that's it."

"Just imagine if it was our side of the island, with Apia. There is a message with [the Year 9 student who died]'s death. Next time it will be our side."

"Knowing that all the students, more than 700 students, their lives are in our hands."

I know just listing a bunch of quotes is a cop out, that I should write a good blog entry and incorporate them, but to be honest I am tired. Yesterday was a hard day and I didn't sleep well last night. I woke early and couldn't get back to sleep. My thoughts went out to those who were back with the relief effort today. I sent them what extra strength I had. My thoughts are also with those who lost their homes and family on the south side. I have every intention of helping in anyway I can in the coming days and my last two months of service.

After the teachers' meeting I went to open my lab, but on the way I passed a teacher sitting alone at a desk in a room. I stopped to ask her about her family and to tell her that a former RPCV who was a close friend of hers was happy to hear she was safe. She told me that she and the RPCV had spoken.

This teacher had been at home when the quake hit. She was outside in the faleo'o braiding the hair of one of her daughters. When the shaking started she rushed into the yard with her daughter in her arms. She found her husband had also run from the house holding their other daughter. The family stood in the rock scattered yard, house on one side, faleo'o on the other and they knew they held everything that was important in the world in their arms already. With out stopping to gather a single possession, they ran to the car and went inland eventually stopping at the home of a minister they knew so they could listen to the news on the radio.

I could tell that she had been wrestling with this disaster and her faith. As a faletua, wife of a minister, she has a close, daily relationship with God. Religion is an integral part of her life. She told me that God is telling Samoa to go back to the old ways. That this was in God's hands, "he has the
pule* and control over us."
*Decision, decide or decision maker. Why managers and principals are called pule

She also reiterated a common theory I have heard from several sources: There had been signs. This was not a freak accident. This had been building up for months. The Swine Flu, the road switch, the boat stuck on the reef, the appearance of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the John Williams buildings; these were all signs of the building tsunami. Mary was warning the people of Samoa, but they had not heard her warning.

When the bell rang, I saw the new computer teacher for the first time since Monday. In the short time we have known each other she already had a good read on my personality and approached me warning, "I have to give you a hug."

I could see that her emotions were still very close to the surface. At the beginning of both her classes that morning she asked a student to lead a prayer for those on the south side and in memory of the student we lost at our school. She ended the prayers brushing away tears.

She is very close to another teacher at the school. They had gone to school together and live in the same village now. The Year 9 student who passed away was in his form class. He was in the computer lab searching through the folder of photographs that I saved to the network shared folder all year. He wanted a photograph of the deceased student. Thankfully we had recently taken class photographs and she was in the 9.2 group shot. I took over, using GIMP to cut her out of the photograph and create a typical Samoan "In Loving Memory" poster. This teacher planned to go into town and print 8x10 photographs of this poster on his own dime. When the pule's wife saw it she recommend we also print the class shot as a gift for the family and said she was sure that the school could pay for the printing.

I had two classes in the afternoon. I started both by asking the students if they had family on the south side. One student had family in Aleipata and I was unable to gather if they were all ok or not. She speaks great English, but seemed hesitant to provide answers, even in private. I told the students that I know this is a hard time to studying for final exams and that if anyone has an concerns or issues or needs to talk they should come see me before the exam.

I am home now. A large group of Peace Corps will be heading south tomorrow to Erica's village. The relief efforts have focused on Lalomanu and her village has seen little to no help. I will be there in heart, but in body I will be at school preparing my students for their final exams.

— Sara


Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to all of you. I was at Papauta and Alafua 1973-76My husband was with public works by the Parliment building. How did they fair? Libby and Rich Hoops

Maya Marioka Gorton said...

Don't feel that you are "not helping enough" -- the best thing you can do is keep teaching, the kids need their routine to continue and to be able to get out of the house during times like this. You're doing important recovery work just by keeping things going!

After the 2004 tsunami I was in Thailand doing relief work and we saw that rebuilding schools was the most important thing -- until you can get the kids out of the house the parents can't start rebuilding their lives, going back to work, etc.

Keep up the good work!

Jill said...

By teaching, your giving the sense of stability & giving your students something which will help them feel safe during such a turbulant time period. Your also helping their famalies, by making it so their children are supervised in a safe environment while the can go about helping their own neighbors. Your principal's words were very true to point. I can see why you posted them. teach in California, my parents were in group 1 of the peace corps in Samoa you've been helping us with your updates & other PCV famalies keep Samoa in our hearts with more than the few quick details that have reached via local radio stations. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Since all my postings are well after you left Samoa, I would say you did a wondering job. Teaching the children is no easy job. Malo lava and faafetai tele