Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rude Awakening

“Mati! Mati! MATI!” Asolima charged into the room where I was sleeping, throwing on clothes over the ones she slept in. A commotion of dog barking and men’s voices shouting outside. I checked my phone. 2:11 a.m. It was safe to assume my family had just received the same news the Peace Corps texted me about a half-hour before: There had been a large earthquake in Chile, and there was a chance a tsunami would hit Samoa. Again.

I sat up lazily and put on my t-shirt, “This about the tsunami?” I asked Asolima.

Since I already knew, and since I was pretty composed, Asolima was intrigued. “What do you know?”

“It’s not supposed to hit until tomorrow morning. Probably not for another six hours.”

After last September’s earthquake and tsunami, the entire country seems to be on edge about facing another one. On one hand, this is a good thing—there should be urgency in a situation like this. On the other hand, peoples’ lack of understanding about how tsunamis work can lead to unchecked fear and panic, and that’s no good.

My words sunk in, and Asolima seemed reassured by my calm. She took a deep breath.

By then, the whole family was awake. Mele grabbed mattresses and mosquito nets. Fialupe had turned on the radio while she packed dishes and food. The baby walked around with her diaper half off, offering every one Cheetos.

The Peace Corps Security Officer called me to make sure I’d received his text messages and was acting on them accordingly.

There was a lot more hustle and bustle, and I tried to help where I could, and stay out of the way when I couldn’t. Eventually, satisfied with everything packed in the car, my family sat in a circle in the living room. The conversation: where to go. The family’s plantation is a couple miles back from shore and well above sea level. It’s the spot the Peace Corps recommended while we were living in the village, and even the spot where the village was supposed to evacuate during the national tsunami drilll—a drill in which no one from the village participated.

“The maumaga is fine,” I told them.

“But what if the wave is REALLY big?” Asolima asked.

I shook my head. ““The maumaga is fine.”

Finally, at 3:00 a.m. we were on the move. With all the mattresses and blankets and pots and pans and mats and bags—and more importantly, with others in the village who might need a ride—it was decided Fialupe and I would walk to the maumaga and rendezvous with the van there.

I admit I enjoy emergency situations like this one—not in a creepy, morbid kind of way, but more in a Jack Johnson “Breakdown” sort of way. I’ve certainly never walked through the village at 3 a.m. and there was a full moon and there were lots of people in the streets getting ready to mobilize.

When we passed Phil’s house, his family was pouring out. Phil’s sister Fipe and another guy, Tasesa, joined Fialupe and me on the walk.

Fipe is a goofball. She cracked jokes as we dodged cow pies and cowered when she thought a lady coming down the mountain was a ghost.

When we finally arrived at my family’s maumaga, there were a troupe of elderly people waiting for us in the faleo’o. We sat around for a while, shooting the breeze and listening to the radio, which blared Celine Deon.

By then cooler heads had prevailed, and while there was a slight air of nervous tension, conversation was light and people laughed.

Eventually someone told me to go to sleep, and I was more than willing to comply.

When I woke up around 8:30, there was tea boiling and panekeke on the grill.

After breakfast I went on a hike to get water from the river with a couple other people in our party, and on our walk back I got a text message from the Peace Corps giving the All Clear.

Up until now, I’ve heard nothing about any tsunami hitting, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a couple small waves like the ones that hit Hawai’i.

I rode in the van back down the mountain, and a bus drove through the village just as Asolima and I turned on to the main road. And now I’m back in Apia, and everything seems mostly back to normal.

Maengi told me she was still awake watching a movie when the alarm bells rang. She’d been counting on sleeping well into the morning. “That plan was wrecked,” she told me. “But maybe we’ll cancel school on Monday to make up for lost sleep on Friday,” she laughed. Maybe.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The baby in the loaded van.

Me and Phil's host sister Fipe.

Akanese and Keleme in the faleo'o.

Breakfast in the faleo'o.

Getting water. This wasn't a particularly important part of the story, but I just like the picture so much.

The ride back to the village. Joad style.


Anonymous said...

Glad you are safe and well. :)

busycorner said...

American Samoa probably had better communications. No wave reported in Rapanui, Moorea, Papeete (via live web cam) Niue or the Cooks. A lot of people went down to the ocean to watch the nothing. (with cars ready to take off up hill)

But the drill was done and good for that.