It was a gloomy, mist-filled, cool, and assuaging peaceful morning on December 19, 1992 when Hurricane Ofa left its scorching marks on Tutuila Pago Pago, American Samoa. The people of Tutuila had three days of hiding from the prevailing, fierce, howling winds, heavy rains, and praying to the God Almighty to save them from further destruction. It appeared as if our island had been combed with cancer because the topography and coastline all along the shores were in dissolution. Moreover, the torrential rains and tigerish winds ripped many corrugated metal from on top many palagi (European) homes and fales (Samoan huts). It was 2 o’clock in the morning when a sudden inside kick on the right and a jab on the left side of my mother’s protruding abdomen caused her to move uneasily as she painfully whispered in Papa’s ear to wake up. Papa was a light sleeper but he woke up automatically as if electricity caused spark waves in his brain to alert him if he didn’t. There had been a vicious, uneasiness movement in my mother’s womb because I couldn’t stop kicking. It was as if I wanted to be born that instant because the amniotic fluid surrounding my seventh month old fetus wanted to drown ma “Help, help!” I cried. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, it is not time for me to come to earth yet.” Suddenly, I had fallen into a deep, spiral, unconscious sleep.
Papa had taken a quick shower. Since then, mother said that the kicks had subsided. There was no chance at slowing down in driving hurriedly to the hospital. Papa drove us to the emergency room at Lyndon Baines Johnson hospital like a flying fox. Ma had an eerie feeling that something in her watermelon stomach was trying to pull her down so that she could barely stand up and walk. But, she huffed and she puffed, moaned and groaned trying her hardest to maintain her composure. At the entrance of the hospital, two hospital attendants were expecting our arrival. They arrived anxiously outside. Ma was lifted by the orderlies on a squeaky, rusty, old, four legged gurney. Ma’s round face looked like a deflated puffer fish; after she could no longer breathe; she passed out.
Hours later, Ma woke up delirious from the smell of antiseptic medicine. Papa, looking dismal, stood by her bedside. “Is there something wrong?” asked Ma. With some hesitation, Dr. Puni said, “Brace yourself, Mrs. Fano, God please forgive, your unborn child was under duress and . . .” Without finishing his sentence, Ma burst out crying in loud agony and sobbed “Oh God, my baby, my baby is DEAD!” Papa held her carefully as Ma cried on his shoulder. Ma’s tears soaked his white shirt. “Now Ma” said Papa, “I will make a telephone call to our family up in Tafeta to inform them of the sad news; please, get some rest.” “Oh, please don’t leave me!” cried, Ma. “Don’t worry, I will be sitting next to your bedside.” replied, Pa. Ma could not take Tylenol to ease her headache therefore, the nurse had given her a shot of morphine to help relieve the pain she had felt all over her body. Suddenly, she fell asleep. Because Ma had a caesarean operation, she had to stay at the Lydon Baines Tropical Hospital Maternity Ward for three days.
Papa as everyone knew him in Pago Page as Simi called Ma’s sister, Lili. Lili was sure that I was to be a girl according to the obstetrician who informed Ma from the ultra sound machine of last month’s visit to the hospital. Lili had already bought “pink” clothes: under shirts, baby shoes, bibs, dresses, socks, etc. She was the first to answer the telephone. Rrrrrrring went the telephone. “Hello?” “Lill, is that you?” said, Simi. “Yes, I woke up and discovered that your car was not outside.” “Where are you calling from?” said, Li “I’m calling from the hospital. Listen, please tell everyone; especially the old lady, Tutu, that the baby is still born.” “What!” exclaimed Lili. “Oh, I can’t believe it! because just last month everything was OK.” “There were some major complications, but I can’t talk long; please pass on the word to everyone.” said, Simi. “Ok, I am sorry, Simi. I’ll be in touch.” replied, Lili.
It was 7 AM. The morning’s rays of the sun crept up slowly. The cardinal’s chirping and roosters sharp wake-up calls for the villagers to rise had finally arrived. Many telephone poles, fallen banana and, breadfruit trees had been removed and placed alongside the cracked roads by the courageous crew of the aumaga (young men) and the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA). The ASPA crew worked round the clock to restore power throughout the territory. The American Red Cross had set up stations at the large American Samoa Community College Gym. People who worked for the Red Cross came from out of town and basically were volunteers across the world. Inside, people hurriedly stood in line to claim food and clothes vouchers for their devastated families. Tema, Lili’s other sister who lives behind the white house that my parent’s and Tutu live in, had already gone to seek help from the American Red Cross.
The first to be notified of the sad news was the old lady, Tutu. She had a terrible dream but couldn’t make out what it was. Tutu was worried about Ma in the hospital so she sent Lili to see Ma. Uncle Tei who lived upstairs was notified next. He was getting ready for work when Tutu had called him on the telephone. “Tei, did you hear the news about what had happened to the baby?” said, Tutu. “Yes,” replied Tei. “How sad, I was just talking to Lili early when she had called me this morning and that is how I found out. Unfortunately, I need to go to work because there is a very important conference call from Washington, DC. that need tending to. Nevertheless, I will be home as soon as possible”.
After what seemed to be a long, tiring day standing in line to seek assistance from the Red Cross, Tema (sister of Tel and Lili) came home. The old lady, Tutu in her long, faded, mu’umu’u (dress) and wrap-around flowery lava lava, sat in the front of the white house pulling weeds. Tema’s old red beat up Toyota pick-up truck came noisily up the dirt road alongside the house. “Tema, cried Tutu in her loud voice. Tema, I sent your boys to find you. Did the boys give you my message?” “Oh, yes, I used the telephone at the Red Cross station, to call the hospital. I did talk to Lili for quite a while. Ma, is Ok- (this was a lie since Mema doesn’t want Tutu to worry) “What do you think about where to bury the baby? I will talk to Sione and ask what he thinks of my suggestion.” Tema said to Tutu. “Well, where ever you decide is ok by me.” said the old lady. Tema’s husband, Sione, was a deacon in the London Missionary Society church (LMS). He was well respected because he was a diligent servant of God who collected tithing from the congregation. He and Uncle Tei got along pretty well.
“Oh, Sione Si0000ne!” yelled Tema from her car.Tema was the older sister of Aunt Lili and Ma. She had the same physique as the old lady: plump, round, tall, and huge. Tema was an expert in decision making when it came around to attending a relative or friend’s funeral. She also, like Tutu, knew the fa’a Samoa. (Samoan way of doing things.) Sione just came from behind the house working with the boys to remove the plywood from the windows, “Oh, I heard about poor Ma’ baby.” said Sione. “Well, what do you think about where to bury the baby?” asked, Tema, “I think it is nice to have the boys dig a nice hole in the ground for the baby’s body to rest in peace in the front of the white house.” exclaimed,Tema. “Ok, that sounds appropriate.” cried, Sione. “I will have the boys work on the grave site right after we finish removing the plywood from the windows of our house.”
Tema’s boys: Timoteo, Porotesano, and Oa from Western Samoa– got shovels, a wheelbarrow and walked to the front of the house where the old lady was pulling weeds. “Ok, boys what did Tema say?” inquired, Tutu. Timoteo, being the oldest said, “Tema and Sione told us to dig a hole in front of your white house next to the cement, but in the middle.” “Ok,” said Tutu. The large well-kept yard had Tutu’s favorite plants:Bouganvillias-Violet, Orange, and Red, Spider orchids,Teuila, Plumeria tree on the side of the house; and a growing baby rubber tree in the middle of the yard. It was a good thing that the hurricane did not uproot her favorite rubber tree for she would have cursed at the strong wind which had subsided.
Sione had followed the boys shortly, thereafter, to make sure the hole had been dug properly. The dimensions were carefully dug like the size of a large cardboard Squeezable Soft Charmine box. The size of the box was 2 by 4 feet. The soil was soft and easy to dig deep down in the earth because it had rained the night before.
Alongside, the large white house was a cement road. The family used the road to drive through to park their cars on the other side of the white house. Next to the road was a grave site of the old lady’s husband, The Samoan fate o’o (small Samoan fale) housed the grave of ma’s father. The faleo’o had twelve beautifully carved efelele (wooden poles), Each reddish, brown pole was intricately carved by a Samoan carver and carpenter from Western Samoa. Each pole had an engraved name for each of the twelve children:Tema, Lili, Ma, Tei .. The underside of the roof was fastened by a strong intricately woven sennit (rope weaved in a braid out of the coconut husk) to keep the house intact. The thirteenth pole that stood alone outside of the faleo’o was carved to keep the evil spirits from disturbing the spirit of the old man. The roof was made out of heavy thatched coconut leaves which gave the fale an authentic look, Green grass and more Samoan ornamental plants: Lautalotalo, Teuila, Spider tree, and Pua Samoa surrounded the old man’s grave. There was no other grave on the land. It was Uncle Tie’s ingenuity that gave the faleo’o it’s grandeur.
It was 4:30 p.m. when Uncle Tei had arrived home. Although, he had a hectic day at work, Tutu was angry at him for not coming home early. But, it seemed that she had understood his work ethics. Incidentally, she wasn’t mad for long because, Tutu wanted to tell him of the days events. Especially, the burial arrangements. By this time, Slone had gone to buy cement for the grave and had not returned when Tei arrive. Tema had joined Lili and Ma at the hospital thinking that the burial place was settled.
“Tutu, I’m home.” said, Tei. “What’s that hole in the front of the yard?” Tutu replied, “It is where Ma’s baby will lay to rest.” “What?” said Tei in wonderment. “It is better to dig the hole for Ma’s baby behind her pole where the old man’s grave site is; the baby is going to be so lonely if laid to rest in the front of the white house.” persisted, Tei. Mau said, “Well, the decision from Tema and Sione sounds appropriate.” Tei said, “No, mama it is better to have the baby’s grave behind Ma’s pole where her name is engraved. This way, all the family and visitors will know that . . . baby belongs to her.” Raising her voice, Tutu exclaimed, “You should have come sooner. As I told Tema and Slone it is up to them; Now, you want to change their plans? the hole is already dug!” Tel did not get excited. He calmly said, “Tutu, I will call the boys to dig a hole, behind Ma’s pole; I will take care of it.” “Well, be sure you let the others know because, Slone went to buy cement, thinking that the burial site for the baby is in the front of the house.” Tutu finished pulling weeds and went to sit on top of the old man’s white, ceramic grave. She watched the boys dig a hole as her favorite son, Tei supervised their work behind Ma’s pole. Tutu prepared herself for the forthcoming argument when the others arrived home. She realized that she should have been more assertive with Tema but Uncle Tel’s point was well favored. After all, he was her favorite oldest son. Tutu kept her thoughts to herself.
Tema and Lili came home that evening without Ma because she stayed in the Lyndon Baines Johnson hospital in Pago Pago to recover. Lili, disappointed at the “pink” clothes she had bought earlier lead her in a state of exasperation because she had found out much too late on the misinformation regarding the ultrasound. Earlier visits to the obstetrician confirmed that Ma was sure to have a baby girl. But, I was delivered out from my ma’s womb as a baby boy instead. Usually, the color pink signified that a girl was to be born and the color blue determined that a boy was to be expected. I am certain that my loving aunties would not care if I was born to be a boy or girl. Poor auntie Lili had gotten too excited shopping for pink clothes ahead of time.
As Tema and Lili approached the heap of dirt , Tema was puzzled. She did see the second hole already dug behind Ma’s wooden pole as the final resting place for me. Auntie Tema was so furious that tears of anger rolled down her uncontrollable face. “Tutu,” cried Tema. “What is the meaning of the second hole?” As Tutu, tried to explain, Tei came out of the house to reason with Tema. Tema burst more in tears and said, “You know Tei, you always come in at the last minute and change everything. You know Slone and the boys were working hard all day to make things nice for Ma’s baby; you are going against Sione’s word too! We are older than you…” On and on Tema grumbled. Tel began to speak but could not because it was best to not talk but listen to Tema’s angry words. Tutu hearing contention interjected and said, “Please, let’s not argue over the matter. It is a hard decision. Let us just do what Tei wants.” Soon thereafter, everyone burst into tears. Even Uncle Tei. But, he apologized in a low forgiving voice to his older sisters Tema and Lili. “Ok,” said Tema “Because the old lady has spoken her true thoughts, I will agree with whatever things need to be done to make our sister, Ma’s baby rest in peace,”
After hearing the dispute, Papa (Simi) had plans of his own. He told Ma that if her family in the village of Tafeta cannot decide where to bury me, he will take me to his family and bury me next to his father in Nu’uuli (my dad’s village). The burial ground there was much more grand because of the large, smooth medium sized round black volcanic rocks that surrounded my great grandfather’s grave. His dad’s body (my paternal grandfather) was wrapped in white linen and given a high chief’s burial. Since there were no coffin boxes during the olden days of Samoa, Papa wanted the same type of funeral for me. But on a smaller scale of course! Just the immediate family; the minister and his wife would be the only one’s invited to my short funeral service.
The next day, Ma was in so much emotional and physical pain that she remained in the hospital. Unfortunately, Ma was not able to attend my funeral in my village due to excruciating labor. Ma lay in her soft, comfortable bed at the hospital blaming herself. Incidentally, she was angry at God for taking me away from her. Ma cried a deep, quiet, agonizing cry of helplessness. She lay still on her hospital bed as her emotions overpowered her. I was dressed by my Aunties before they transported my lifeless body to Tafeta village where the rest of my family waited for my arrival. Finally, after all the deliberations of where to place me, I was given eternal birth into heaven by my family’s faifeau (minister). Knowing the minister was comforting because he said nice words for my departure. As the prayer sermon was explicitly being chanted, I could invisibly see my carefully dug properly made grave. My grave was beautifully lined with cemented, tiny black, round, and smooth volcanic pebbles gathered from the ocean. My girl cousin, Tatianna (10 years old) who was diligently working on a neatly written letter to God proposed a tiny message that lay on top of my white linen, wrapped tummy. I was to give the letter to God informing him to let the angels to take care of me. The letter was colorfully written in her best penmanship. Then, I was showered with Tutu’s freshly picked flowers from her garden that landed like soft feathered coconut flakes. After all the kisses, warm goodbye hugs from everyone, I was finally leaving the peril’s of Hurricane Ofa. Even though God called me back to live with him in heaven, I knew that my earthly home would perhaps be at another place in time. I will miss my earthly family that wanted so desperately to know me; especially Ma. To rest in peace- FOREVER the spirit lifts itself out of my lifeless dead body and I fly away like a heavenly angel towards the gates of a heavenly home.