Marsela remembers my husband as the one who told her to run. She quickly grabbed her two month old son and tried to reach for her mother as well. Fa’aleaga grabbed his daughter. And they ran. Like us, they ran from the fast approaching water.
I remember running past their house. It was green. There were chickens and pigs in the yard. I was running holding hands with Clea and Omar. We were running because Jorge had told us to run. I remember glancing behind me to see Jordi running and Jorge picking him up in his arms as they ran past Fa’aleaga’s home.
I met Fa’aleaga 198 weeks ago. He was one of the first people I saw once the water subsided. He was on the edge of the water amongst the trees. He helped Jorge and Jordi out of the swamp. As I was calling for Clea, he told me that he was looking for his son. He was calling for Frazer. Marsela sat in the mud crying with Mary, Jordi and Omar beside her. She told me she had lost her mother. We called for our children whilst our other children sat silently and waited.
Finally, Marsela was the one who told us to follow them away from the beach up the escarpment to the village on top of the hill. We followed them through the trees and the mud. All in shock. Not knowing where we were going or why. Then we lost them. The palagi (foreigners) were sent to a refuge. Where did Fa’aleaga and his family go? They must have eventually returned to Lalomanu beach. To their lost home, and lost lives. They must have helped look for others as well as their son and our daughter. Their one year old daughter needed them as did our five-year old sons.
At that time, we did not know their names. We met them again a year later. We were trying to work out where we had run and past which houses we had run. We wandered up the drive discussing between ourselves whether this was the path we took. There was a large dark-leaved tree which we recognised and gave us a pointer to where we had landed.
Marsela was not there that day and Fa’aleaga does not speak English very well so it was difficult to talk. But he knew who we were. We did not have to tell him that we were the palagi in the tsunami with him. He led us along a path and showed us the tree that I had walked out on over the swamp calling for Clea and he showed us the tree where our children were found beneath. Frazer and Clea were found together; she was 6 ¾ and he was two months old. Prior to that, we had not known where Clea had been found. We were not expecting to be shown the site. He simply took us there.
Another year went by and this time only Jorge and I returned to Samoa. Again, we visited Fa’aleaga and his family. Marsela was there this time. She looked at Jorge and said ‘you told me to run that day’ and ‘you wore that same t-shirt’. We didn’t have to tell them who we were. Fa’aleaga cut a path through the over growth to the tree where our children were found. The remains from the flowers which I had left there the year before were still there. The tree that I had climbed was no longer there. Marsela said that her husband looked after this spot for our children and would continue to do so.
Mary was there too. She was three. We asked them if they needed anything as it was getting close to Christmas. We returned a few days later with non-perishable food and a Barbie doll for Mary.
Their house was not finished and they were living in a fale next to the concrete slab. They live in very poor circumstances across the road from the beach and down the road from the so-called resorts of Taufua and Litia. The resorts had been rebuilt and the tourists were returning but some homes had not been completed.
This year, I went on my own (with my older sister). I got out of the car, and didn’t have to tell them who I was. They never know when we are coming as they have no phone and probably do not read. The palagi simply turn up occasionally. This time their house was finished with Red Cross donated water tanks at the back and the fale is used to greet guests. My sister and I sat with them in the fale. I brought presents for Mary – three of Clea’s books and a library bag. She was very happy with her library bag on her shoulder. Mary is now five and she attends Lalomanu Primary School. Her mother told me that Mary likes the Clea Salavert Library. I think she feels some kinship with Clea as her mother tells her that Clea was found with Frazer – almost like family.
Again, Fa’aleaga took me to the place where our children were found. The tree has fallen over (probably in the cyclone) and he has created a small monument out of rocks and sand to mark the place. I placed a paper lotus flower and hibiscus flower on the mound.
From where I stood, I tried to remember running with my children. We can’t have run past this tree as the jungle is too thick and the escarpment begins a few metres ahead. It must have been here a short way past the pig yards that the water hit us. And that was it, the entire area was covered in water as the tsunami rushed up the steep hill.
Fa’aleaga and Marsela have another son now, Martin (he is one), and she is expecting another child this October. She said that if it is a girl, she will call her Clea. Marsela asks me if I visit Clea, every week I tell her. Frazer is buried with his grandmother in the front yard of the old house which is a ruin.
I meant to take ask them if I could take their photograph but forgot and did not want to return simply to take a photo. I have their images etched in my mind as they must have our images etched in theirs.
Next time one of us visits, there will be another child. There will still be Fa’aleaga, Marsela and Mary. They are almost family. If I can do something to make Mary’s life easier than her parents lives, then I will. If I can help her receive a better education, then I will. She is a little girl who needs some help and I am a mother who lost her little girl.