It was time to undertake yet another trip to Samoa – my fourth. This time my older sister came with me on her first trip there. I am never sure how I will respond to a visit to Samoa. I only go there because I feel some responsibility to the Clea Salavert Library. I have no other reason to go there.
It is difficult to visit a place where everyone else is there for a holiday and the expectation is that you are there for a holiday as well. It doesn’t matter how many people you explain the reason for your visit to, there is always the expectation that you will enjoy yourself and see as much as you can. The consistent comment this time was that we were only there for four days and that we should stay longer and enjoy yourselves.
My sister was a bit concerned about how people reacted to us. She kept telling the locals and visitors that we were not in Samoa for a holiday. For us, Samoa is not a holiday. It was the first time that my sister had had to listen to people’s inability to cope with me. She was amazed at how little people understood our reasons for being in Samoa. It is only those who have also lost their children that seem to understand.
I took my sister to Lalomanu beach and we swam in the warm, clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. There was a large house brick in the ocean under our feet. There may be many other things hidden underneath that sand. We visited Anita’s Bungalows where Anita’s mother now lives and runs the business because Anita died in the tsunami. We met Anita’s aunt who is a survivor of the tsunami. She believes there are more than bricks hidden under the sand; she believes there are still people missing particularly unaccounted for foreigners. I listened.
We walked the path of my daughter’s last walk along the beach skipping in her father’s foot prints. We also visited another family but I will write a separate post on them as they mean a lot to me – someone said that I now have family in Samoa; this family.
We didn’t stay long that first day. We drove back to Apia (I have no wish to stay at Lalomanu) along the coast road where you can still see a number of concrete slabs which have not had houses rebuilt on them. The tropical forests have regrown over the devastated areas and it is difficult to see where the ocean gouged out the landscape. I tried to point out a cross where two little girls died in their car as they drove along the southern road trying to reach the Lalomanu hospital because one was sick but the foliage has invaded the escarpment and the cross is no longer visible.
How did the people along the coast road escape the massive amount of water when they lived in such a narrow strip between the beach and the escarpment? It is difficult to fathom that some people did manage to escape and it is understandable that many villages have been shifted from the sands to hills beyond.
We returned a day later to visit our legacy, the Clea Salavert Library, with staff from the Australian High Commission and the wife of the late chief, Fuataga Kasimani (who was instrumental in getting the library built). The principal and librarian were there to greet us with hot noodles in a cup, chocolate cake, biscuits and sugary coffee for morning tea. The students were on school holidays so it was very quiet. The library looks the same although a bit worn. The building will probably need a paint job over the next few years.
Inside the shelves are a bit dusty and there are many books there. I wonder how many books are used in a culture that doesn’t appreciate the reading of books (except for the bible). They do not have a reading culture and there is no concept of library use in the schools. I understand that the children use the library for reading lessons but I do not think anyone borrows the books to take home. I was pleased to see a number of books in the Samoan language as I think you are always more literate when you understand your own language first. English is their second language.
Then the late chief’s wife took us to his burial-place. He is buried in an unmarked tomb with eight other chiefs. Just there in the right-hand corner she told me, that’s where we placed him.
She then took us to Satitoa which is only up the road from Lalomanu and was also badly affected by the tsunami. She had asked me to bring some books for a preschool which I did and this was where we handed over this set of books. I was disappointed to see that the preschool was being run by the Anglican church.
We visited the tsunami memorial with Clea’s name inscribed along with the other foreigners who died that day. The memorial is high above Apia in an obscure place where I severely doubt anyone would be able to find unless they had some local knowledge.
That is the weird part about visiting Samoa; I now know Samoa very well and have no problems driving around. I know where the restaurants and the shops are. I know a number of people there. It is a familiar place to me.
Samoa is a beautiful country but it is not a holiday for us. It is simply where my daughter died. The place has terrible memories which I keep under control whilst I am there. I never know how I will react when I am there. But in the end, Clea is not there and she does not belong there. She is with me, wherever that may be.