01 October 2009
I've been here before. Very lucky not to have been directly involved, but deeply affected all the same. Flashback to South East Asia. I knew something bad was happening before my students as yesterday morning I saw the earthquake on the morning news before heading off to work. My students start at 5am so I knew they had no idea. It seemed that the shaking was all a bit scary, bit there was no reported damage and there was no tsunami. By the time I got to work, the reports were getting mixed with some saying there was nothing to worry about and others giving eyewitness accounts of villages being flattened. Of course, student after student came and went and I never mentioned a thing. I didn't want them to be upset at work all day if there was no reason for it. But, by the time I got home and checked the news the mood had changed completely. The death toll was already rising and many were missing.
This morning when my first student arrived in my room (I teach one-to-one)I could just feel the sadness before he sat down. I asked if he was OK, no answer. When I asked again, with as much English as he could muster, he said, "I don't know what has happened.". At that point he pretty much broke down crying and although I'd been practically holding my breath until that point I, too, started to tear up. I got up to get a box of tissues out of my drawer so we could each partake.
His Aunt, either his sister or sister-in-law, and his 5 year old niece are missing, but since his village has been wiped out he's already decided they are dead. I felt ridiculously helpless...and sad.
I think he just wanted to sit down for a while and talk about life in Samoa. In effect, his reflections seemed to be asking why he is here in New Zealand when he should be back in Samoa where life is simple and you don't have to pay for food, housing, and water. You just build your house, grow your food, and spend time with your family.
Later I found out that another employee has heard that his father is dead and one more has a brother who is in critical condition. There's also a lovely young guy who is always singing in the cafeteria. He was reading the paper this morning at work and recognised three names in the headlining story about the deaths. Those were his three little cousins. Shocked, he changed into his street clothes and headed off home in his car.
I really don't know what to do. I know there's nothing I can do to fix this, but I guess it's human nature to keep thinking it through as if you could actually come up with something. All I can do is write this. Write to process, write to inform, and write as a memorial to those who are so loved and missed.