I Got Orchid Scammed

I got scammed. Well and truly conned. Because I was a derwit. Lazy. And prideful. I’m sharing my scam story in all its lazy prideful derwitness because I care about you my fabulous three readers, and if you live in Samoa, then you will be warned and not get scammed yourself.

I was outside Lucky Foodtown when a woman with a bag full of plants approached me. Did I want to buy an orchid plant? For only ten tala? Twelve different amazing colors and kinds of orchid plants? She told me they were  easy to grow and keep alive. She told me they were splendid plants with splendid colors. She named them, pink, black, purple, yellow, red, tie-dye. Did you know there was an orchid that was color ‘tie dye’?? Me neither!! How cool was that?!!  and ONLY TEN TALA FOR ONE!!!

My first instinct was to say no thanks. Because as you all know, I have no gardening skills, I have nothing of worth growing in my front yard and I sort of don’t care that the outside of my house looks like a barren wasteland. Kind people who drive past our house every day keep offering to give us plants and making suggestions of what I can do to make our yard halfway decent. (So in other words, my yard looks awful and they’re  taking pity on me and trying to help save me from myself.)

But, instead of saying no thanks, I hesitated. A tempting thought seductively swayed into my mind. Imagine how stunning your garden would look like with lots of amazing orchids in it. People would drive by and see an array of colors and they would be so impressed with you. They would think WOW that Lani sure knows how to grow stuff. She’s so clever she grew a whole rainbow of exotic rare plants! Black orchids! Tie dye orchids even!! And then they would covet my garden and my orchid growing skills. I wouldn’t get the pitying looks anymore from the plant experts, oh no! I would be invited to join their gang. I would be known far and wide for my orchid garden. And without having to do any work at all!!! and for only ten tala each!!!

So I bought ten plants. With the Hot Man’s money that he gave me to go pay his  workshop water bill.  Sacrifices had to be made. I was sure he would understand. Especially once he too lived in a house with a garden that was famous for its orchids.

I was feeling pretty good about myself and my orchid garden until I got home and asked my brother for advice on how to plant them properly. When I started telling him about my purchase, he interrupted me and laughed. ‘a woman with plants in bags? And they all had labels on them? For only ten tala each? And she said one was black and one was tie-dye? But none of them had any flowers?  Umm, how did you know?

Turns out this woman is a regular around town, selling orchid cuttings to derwits. No, they aren’t an array of fabulous colors – they’re all the same plant. A common bush orchid plant that has tiny yellow flowers. Sort of like weeds. Nobody notices them. Nobody loves them. Nobody is in awe of them.  My brother said, “You derwit. An actual black orchid plant would never be ten tala. It would cost eighty or one hundred plus tala. Couldn’t you tell they were all the same plant by looking at the cuttings? If they were really different colored orchid plants, then the cuttings wouldn’t be all the same.” He told me he knows other derwit people who thought they were getting a great deal – but they weren’t. And he laughed some more.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

This is where I tell you that whoever all those OTHER derwits are out there who got scammed by this woman? They’re partly responsible for my situation. Dammit. They should have said something. Gone on Facebook like any other faikala ragey rant’y individual, and told everybody in the WORLD about this scammer. Written a letter to the newspaper. Or a blog. Eh.

But no, they kept quiet about it, probably because they didn’t want anyone to know they were derwits. Like me. See how much I care about you readers? I hope I get some blessings in heaven for this selfless act of service…Of course those of you who are wise in the ways of plants and orchids, and those of you are not lazy and prideful like me – you would never be conned by something like this.

But for those who are orchid-clueless? When a sly orchid seller approaches you outside Lucky Foodtown, you will know not to be tempted. Please yell at her. Real loud.

Because I’m sad. Because I  really wanted a tie-dye orchid in my garden.  (For only ten tala.)

 

 

 

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You Don’t Own your Leg. I DO.

Sometimes, being a mum makes you a horrible person.  Sometimes I don’t even recognize myself. Truly. Sometimes,  I hear things coming outta of my mouth that have me thinking, ‘What did I just say?!!”  Like this beauty –

“I got news for you girl. That’s not your leg. It’s mine. I own it. Until you have a job to pay for your own trip to the hospital and the car to take you there, until you can take your bleeding dying self to the emergency room and get stitched up all by your damn self – then NO, it’s not your leg. It belongs to me. And until you can handle ALL BY YOURSELF having your leg chopped off because it’s infected – you will do as I damn well tell you, when I tell you.”

In the interest of full disclosure, the conversation wasn’t finished. I also said this, “I don’t care how grown up you think you are. You still live under my roof and eat my food and use my cashpower. I say when your leg is allowed to rot, y’hear me?! When you move out, THEN you can hack your own leg off if you want to, I don’t care. But until then, you aren’t the boss of anything. I am.”

What brought this on?

Big Daughter got injured at work. She fell and cut a chunk out of her leg. I took her to the hospital and went through the waiting, the injections and the stiches with her. I was calm, cool and collected as a parent is supposed to be in an emergency. Reassuring, patient and NICE are all words that can best describe my #GoodMother persona on that day. Inside, I was crying and praying for her. Wishing I could take her stitches for her. Parents everywhere – you can relate right?

Fast forward a few days. Big Daughter is supposed to clean her wound and change the dressing daily. She does it fine the first few days. But then she slacks off and I have to keep reminding her. Slacking off in this country is bad. Very bad. It’s stupid. Very stupid. I’ve seen people with a tiny scratch that turned into an infection so bizarre and so dangerous that they had to get air lifted out of here and admitted into a critical care ward where everybody wears suits and masks. Like they live on Mars. Or like you have ebola. Big Daughter could not afford to slack off. More importantly (because it’s all about me) I did not want to have to be that worry-stricken devastated parent selling my soul to pay for a medivac plane and then spending days/weeks/months praying over my kid who’s in a coma.

I’m trying to be patient and nice, but the pressure is building.

One morning I remind her sternly to fix her dressing. Another reminder again in the afternoon. Then late at night after picking her up from a friend’s house, I ask, “Did you fix your leg today?”

“No,” she says. “I was too busy.”

“What do you mean, you were too busy?” She was lying in bed most of the day. On her phone. Doing nuthin useful because her leg had gotten her out of work and chores and making a useful contribution to Lani’s society. “I told you this morning to clean your leg. And again in the afternoon.”

“I didn’t want to,” she says. Nonchalant.  “I didn’t feel like it. I can do it later.”

“It’s ten o’clock at night. How much later were you planning on?” My voice is razor calm. The kind of calm that most people would recognize as a warning sign that I’m about to. Lose. My. Shit. Danger, danger, red alert…

But because Big Daughter is often quite clueless about social cues for impending death and destruction, she doesn’t notice.

Or, she doesn’t care. (Knowing Big Daughter the way I do, this is much more likely.)

“I can fix my leg when I want to. When it’s convenient for me,” she says. Then she adds this nugget of wisdom, “It’s my leg, y’know. My body.”

I almost drive off the road and kill us both.

Is this child really trying to play the feminist I-own-my-body-card with me? Me, the kickass feminist mother who’s been teaching her that her vulva belongs to her since she was two? Every body-empowerment conversation I’ve ever had with this child flashes before my eyes. How dare she throw them back in my face now? When I’m trying to save her from a flesh-eating bacteria that will get her leg amputated? And maybe fry half her brain too? Which will mean (because it’s all about me. Of course.) that then I will have to cry and pray and wish I could take her place. And then I’ll have to look after her forever and I’ll never get to escape this motherlife servitude.

Rage. “DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME THAT ITS YOUR LEG. Not after I took you to the hospital and had my heart cut out watching you get stitched up, wishing that I could take your place. You SPOILT ROTTEN BRAT!!!”

The I said alllllll those words up there from the beginning. And some more that I’m embarrassed to tell you about. Ending with, “If you’re going to be so flippant about looking after it, then I will cut your leg off myself.”

It’s moments like these that a time-out is necessary. For the parent who has Lost It. So she can breathe. Eat some ice-cream. Reflect on the conversation. And cringe as she realizes that maybe, just maybe, she went a little overboard? Which usually means she needs to apologize and make an ice-cream peace offering.

Please tell me I’m not the only parent who’s Lost It with their kid?  And said some strange things?

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Ants in my Damn Pants

Every country has its predators and pests. Like lions, piranhas, crocodiles and Donald Trump. But here in Samoa?

We have ants.

Hordes of tiny determined ants that just wont die even when you spray them, smack them or sweep them out. Ants that REALLY want to come inside and be best friends with you. Eat your food, live in your cupboards, hang out in all your clothes, and have massive parties where you least expect them to.

These ants are biters and they bite waaaaay above their weight class, leaving angry red welts all over your body that have you scratching furiously all day.

Now, you may be scoffing, ‘Ants?? Who cares about a few little ants Lani! Whats wrong with ants?’

If youre a scoffer, then you clearly havent experienced an Ant Shower Attack. Like what happened the other day when I got out of the shower, grabbed my towel from the rail and started drying my hair, face and body. A few minutes later, fiery pinpricks of pain everywhere had me yelping and leaping about frantically. I had ants all over me, even in my hair biting my scalp and on my face. Brushing them off didnt work so I leapt back in the shower to wash them off. Even then some wouldnt give up the fight, they were that determined to cover me in splotchy blotches of misery. By the time I THOUGHT I had gotten rid of them all, my face had puffy bumps on it and around one eye was swollen. It looked like a bad case of acne combined with mumps. And maybe a punch in the face.

I didnt want to leave the house looking like that but I had no choice. I was teaching a class at church and it was too late to find a sub. So I slathered on lots of makeup and hoped for the best.

The best didnt happen. Instead I got the worst. Because I hadntgotten all of them.

There I was, sitting in church with my head bowed reverently. (And strategically. Hiding my ant attack trauma.) When suddenly, pin pricks of hot pain had me wriggling in discomfort.

Ouch!

Several minutes more of ouch and my suspicions were confirmed.

I had ants in my pants. Literally. And they were trying their best to inflict the most pain possible on my backside.

Quickly, I excused myself and slipped away to the restroom where a hasty search revealed two tiny creatures with a whole lot of biting power. Only two ants but daaayuum they could bite!

I went back to teach but it was difficult to focus on being spiritual when I had a scattering of itchy bites in a place I couldnt scratch at while I was in front of the class…It gave new meaning to the terms – discipline and self-mastery, and suffering for one’s religion.

So to all you visitors planning a trip to Samoa – yes this is a beautiful peaceful place. But dont be fooled. We have our predators too. Check your towels and clothes. And whatever you do, dont go to church with ants in your pants.

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2015 – The Year I Quit.

This year felt incredibly long for me. It also seemed clearly marked into two different ‘years’.

First, was the 2015 of milestones and achievements as an author and publisher, a year of hard work, book tours and some successes…

* I wrote and published two novels, my first foray into writing Women’s Lit/Contemporary Romance. The second, Scarlet Secrets, debuted on the Australian Amazon bestseller list – the first time one of my books has cracked the overall Top 100. It was also number one on the Hot New Releases Listing. In terms of my writing, Scarlet’s story marks a significant step for me in my personal author journey, as its the bravest thing I’ve written thus far and the work that’s demanded the most from me. The books are far from perfect and I still want to get a third and fourth editorial workover done…one day! But in the meantime, Im proud of both books and grateful to all the readers who have embraced them.

* I worked with a consultant who organized my records and book accounts, helped me write (the beginnings of) a business plan and generally make some sense of the wild mess that I’ve been writing and publishing books in. This was sorely needed. Whenever people ask me how many books I’ve sold and I tell them ‘I dont know’ – Im not being evasive. I really don’t know. (I still dont know but I CAN tell you how many books I sold last month!) Thank you Glenda Stanley.

* I went to America for writer stuff. I was a guest of the Salt Lake Community College and hosted by several Pacific Islander community initiatives on an author tour to Utah, my first such trip in the mainland USA. During my ten day visit, I gave a guest lecture at SLCC for Womens History Month, was the keynote speaker at the P.I High School students academic achievement conference, spoke to a Lit class at the University of Utah that are studying my book Telesa, visited two high schools to speak about writing and education, and was a guest speaker at the community focused Talanoa Session. The Utah tour was an opportunity for me to meet in person, many of my readers who have been such a great support and encouragement to me from the beginning of both my blog and my Telesa Series. I also got to travel with my big sister for the first time, Dr Tanya Wendt Samu, who came to meet with other educators who are working on similar initiatives as she is at Auckland University in NZ. Thank you to Michelle T and all those who worked tirelessly to make my Utah visit a success.

* I launched my Scarlet Series in Australia. Since Alice Burgess and Daphne Reupena first invited me to launch Telesa in their home town – Brisbane has been a shamahzing supporter of my books and this year was no exception. Thanks to Glenda Stanley and the combined effort of the P.I student groups from three different universities, the Scarlet Series was launched at the Queensland Univ of Technology. I love Brisbane readers – you always make me feel so welcome!

* I went on book tour to American Samoa for the launch of the new series. Chrissy Lutu Sanchez and Lalelei Samoa hosted me (and my super fab assistant…my daughter) on a three day trip that included a book signing and speaking at four high schools, one community college and one library. American Samoa readers are like none other in the world – their enthusiasm for both the Telesa and Scarlet Series is unparalleled. It blew me away just how many people are reading my books there and how dedicated they are to the characters. A special shoutout to the Barstow Library – theyre incredibly passionate about books and promoting literacy in the community.

* Telesa was optioned for film by a small production company in NZ who were awarded development funding to help take Telesa to the screen. An exciting few months ensued in early 2015 as the possibilities seemed to be a huge step closer to reality.

* It wasnt just a year of writing fiction. I was a guest contributor to several religious feminist blogs including Feminist Mormon Housewives and FEMWOC (Feminist Women Of Color). One of my articles was included in the Anthology of Mormon Feminism, edited by Joanna Brooks and published in September. I also started up again with being a guest columnist for the Samoa Observer.

*Aaaaand I kept blogging and 100,000+ people visited Sleepless in Samoa, keeping me company on the blog journey of ups and downs.

Then there was the OTHER 2015… The year of struggle, loss, grief, sickness and burnout. In no apparent order –

* I didnt publish the third book in the Scarlet Series like I was scheduled to. Because of several things.

* My mother Peka got very sick and passed away. We kept her company while she took just over a week to die. It doesnt matter how elderly or ill someone is, how much you are expecting or planning for their passing, when they do die – you arent prepared. You can never be ‘prepared’. I dont want Peka to be gone. Im typing this and Im crying all over again.

* I continued to struggle with horrible health issues that had me out of commission for at least ten days of every month and exhausted for the other twenty. I finally got a diagnosis and some helpful medication midway thru the year.

* I had a miscarriage / messy something happen with all kinds of associated emotional mess to muddle through.

* Our eldest daughter went away to school in NZ and we missed her heaps. She embraced all the new learning experiences wholeheartedly and was awarded two scholarships for university in 2016. But midway thru this year, she got sick and needed extra attention (and worry) to get her thru to graduation. Im grateful to my sister Tanya and her family for taking good care of our daughter.

* My social anxiety about leaving the house, going to new places and interacting with new people – got worse. To the point Im getting hives whenever Im trying to psych myself up to go to a place/event outside my comfort zone. I started turning down invites to go some places and found innovative ways to ensure I didnt need to go out of house or my car (like send my kids in the store to do the grocery shopping, call the cafe to place my order and then when I pull up they bring it to my car, have my patient friends come for dinner at my house…)

* My church did some things that broke my churchgoing heart. A heart that admittedly was already pretty fragile. Grieving for one’s religion is a very real thing. Or so I found out in 2015.

* The film option went up in smoke. It turned out that the producer and I had very different ideas about the project. After lots of excellent advice from lawyers and experienced industry professionals, I turned down the option. Which was disappointing for many excited Telesa fans but I knew it was the right choice. Still, there were days afterward when I felt like a loser…dismal failure.

* My willingness to balance my anxiety with my author PR work took a hit when a random man was extra touchy-feely at a book signing. It wasnt anything I could scream at him about (or throat punch him for) but it was enough to trigger all kinds of panicked yuck feelings. Then he wanted to put his arm around me and take a photo with me and I didnt feel I could say no. Not when we were surrounded by people and lots of them had already taken pics with me…That feeling of being trapped by one’s author persona, that I HAD TO BE NICE when I didnt want to, when all I wanted to do was bolt from the room and never return – was awful. I came away from that event shaken and sick inside, thinking I dont want to do this anymore…

* A lot of people got upset with me about my stance on certain ‘controversial issues’. They wrote to tell me how disappointed they were in me, their once favorite author. They chastened me on social media for misleading them with my blogs and books. People who had brought their kids to meet me “a great Pasifika role model”, now told me I was hanging out with Satan. As always, I was diplomatic and courteous in my responses because its my job to Be Nice to my readers. (Even when theyre not nice to me lol). But what I really wanted to say? Screw you. Just because you downloaded my book, doesnt mean you own me. Just because you read my blog or follow me on Facebook, doesnt make us best friends. You dont know me and Im sure as hell glad I dont know your racist/bigoted/homophobic self. Fk off.

* One day it all combined to hit me at once, I dont like being an author. Im sick of doing PR work. I hate being nice to people when theyre being shitty to me. Im not happy doing this. And besides, my 2nd mother is dead and we could all die at any minute. I dont want to waste any more time doing things I dont want to do and being nice to people I dont want to be nice to.

*I stopped writing fiction, quit my job as a fulltime author/publisher and applied for a real job as a Communications Manager out in the real world. My children freaked because ‘You know you cant wear your pyjamas to a real job outside?! What are you going to wear?’ I got the job but by then I had figured out that writing spin for other people if I didnt 100% support their agenda – was going to be something that would really bite. I turned it down and instead compromised with a part-time job as Darren’s Office Manager. Which means Im still the Boss of my time but Im doing a ‘proper job’ for half the day.

Which brings me to this moment, here in 2016. Looking back over my ‘two’ years of 2015, grateful for the blessings and hoping for the strength and wisdom to get thru that which continues to cause sorrow, strife, stress (and anxiety hives!!)

The good news on the book front – I’ve started writing again. Little pockets of enjoyment here and there rather than deadline-driven words. I long for a return to when writing was my treat for myself, my reward after a long day of work/kids/training. Thats what Im hoping for in this new year.

My 2015 experiences have forced me to ask –

Why did I start writing in the first place? Who was I writing for? How has it changed?

The answers are easy.

I wrote Telesa for me. Because its the book I wanted to read. Same goes for Scarlet Lies. But increasingly, the promotional work for my books and my brand (both online and in real life) has taken precedence. Too much time and worry has been spent on readers (and on deadlines, word counts, reviews, and sales numbers…)

Yes its rewarding when others read my books and even more of a thrill when they love them and connect with the characters. Thank you!

But it doesnt change the essential truth of why I write – because there’s stories I want to tell and journeys I want to explore.

The other stuff is ephemeral.

Yes, I speak for free at schools and for youth groups and community organizations because its my small way of giving back and paying it forward. I remember with gratitude, those Pasifika writers and artists who inspired, motivated and mentored me, sometimes without even knowing they were being an inspiration. Its my hope I can be that for someone else.

But that aspect of this #WriterThing should never take over. And my writing should never be driven by readers and what they want or expect.

What does this mean for me and my writing in 2016?

A whole lot more honesty on social media and in real life. A whole lot less diplomatic niceness. Saying NO to author events. (And definitely NO putting up with creepy people who pretend to be readers just so they can invade your personal space!)

Writing wont be ‘My Job’ anymore. It will be what I look forward to, my reward, my tired fierce joy after #work is done. I’m giving myself permission to write a book (or two) that probably nobody will want to read – but me.

And thats okay.

Because I cant wait to read it.

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You Were Yelling

We went to buy a Sim card for the Daughter’s new phone that she got for Christmas. From her Dad. Because we all know Im broke and cant buy anybody a phone. Because Im a writer and (most) writers are impoverished hermits who write in garrets and gutters. Unless youre J.K Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. And as my children FREQUENTLY like to point out to me, I am neither of those people.

Anyway, I digress. As usual. Back to the tale at hand.

There we were in the main headquarters of the mobile phone company. Because leaving the house makes me anxious and gives me stress hives. Because I loathe going to town and I didnt want to risk going to one of the smaller outlets in case they didnt have any SIM cards and then I would be forced to drive and park and walk inside yet another store.

We stood in line for a VERY LONG TIME. Like, watch-your-nails-grow long time. Like, do sit-ups and grow abs long time. Like, make you wish you never thought of being a good mum and getting a SIM for your kid’s phone. Like, IF YOU DONT HURRY UP IM GONNA SCREAM long time.

Finally it was our turn.

‘Sorry we dont have any SIM cards,’ said the woman.

‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVE NO SIM CARDS??? WHAT KIND OF CELL SERVICE PROVIDER ARE YOU??”

‘We’re out of stock and waiting for our new order to arrive,’ replied the woman.

‘You couldnt put up a sign to say that? So that we know as soon as we walk in that there’s no SIM cards? I’ve been waiting in line all this time. ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT I WASTED MY TIME DRIVING HERE AND WAITING SO LONG FOR NOTHING!!!???’

The woman was flustered. ‘Yes. I mean no. I mean, can you come back when we have more stock please. Or can you go to our other store and see if they have some.”

No I could not go to their other store.

Driving in town= anxiety.
Parking in town = panic.
Walking through town = anxiety + panic.

And for what? So they could tell me they got no SIMs either??

I was proud of myself that I didnt say any bad words. I really wanted to. Instead we left and I complained all the way home. About useless companies that cant use their common sense and put up a damn sign when theyve run out of their main product. Duh.

The daughters sat real quietly in the car and didnt say anything. I figured it was because they were in complete agreement with me. And mourning the fact they still had no SIM for the new phone.

But that night at family dinner when it was time for everyone to share about their day, Middle Daughter said, ‘Today was so embarassing. Mum yelled at the poor lady at the cellphone place. Everybody was looking at us.’

Yelling?? I wasnt yelling. I was speaking firmly and severely.

Bella piped up. ‘ You were yelling. People on the other side of the building were staring.’

Well thats because we had to wait FOREVER for service and…

Middle Daughter corrected me. ‘No we didnt. We were only waiting for ten minutes. I timed it. With my new phone.’

Now the whole family was staring at me. With disapproval.

I tried again to defend myself. ‘Im sure it was longer than ten minutes. Theres something wrong with the clock on your phone. Besides, thats not the point. The point is they should have a sign up saying they got no SIM cards.’

Big Son disagreed. ‘The point is you shouldnt be yelling at the poor woman. She doesnt own the company and shes not in charge of ordering stock. Its not her fault theres no SIM cards.’

Bella got up and did an impromptu Angry-Lani-impression. – Hands waving in the air. Beast face. Loud voice. ‘Ive been waiting and waiting so long. This isnt good enough!’
Then she added, ‘And the shop lady had this frozen pretend smile on her face like a Dory, Just keep smiling! Just keep smiling!’

There was nothing else I could say in my defence. And after receiving much castigating and general censure from the entire family, I had to conclude, that, Okay fine. You’re right. Maybe I was over reacting a little bit. I didnt need to be a mean customer.’

So to the customer service staff who got kinda yelled at spoken to firmly and severely yesterday. Im sorry. I was unreasonable and mean. Thank you for being patient with me.

(But I still think you should put up a damn sign when you run out of SIM cards.)

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When Cookies Make Me Sad.

Me and Bella baked cookies today. Just me and her because the rest of the Fab5 have all got actual REAL jobs. Big Son is a bartender/waiter/pool-cleaner at a fabulous hotel in town. Big Daughter is icing cakes, baking cookies, mopping floors and serving customers at the best cake store in Samoa. Middle Daughter is making creative lovely things at her grandmother’s design store Plantation House. Little Son is working for his Dad’s construction company – he sweeps, runs errands, drills holes, paints and remembers to pick up everything that his Dad forgets. I never imagined there would come a day when (almost) all my children were grown up enough to work somewhere (and be good at it!) Im grateful for awesome extended family who have awesome businesses – that have been willing to employ my children through the holidays. Jobs are hard to come by and all four of them are learning valuable life lessons that will serve them well long after these jobs are done.

But I digress. As usual! Back to my story…

Me and Bella were baking snickerdoodles and sprinkle cookies. We had her favorite One Direction songs on full blast and she was cracking eggs in between dance moves, and then exulting once the egg made it safely into the bowl and not onto the floor.

I looked at her and I was reminded of another day a very long time ago. Another kitchen, another small child. Big Son. A day when I taught him how to crack eggs into a bowl. How to measure butter and sugar. How to cream it. How to stir it all up and STOP EATING THE MIXTURE DAMMIT. Me and Big Son made lots of chocolate chip cookies together. Back when he was little and baking with me was a highlight of his day, his week. We havent baked together in many years and for a fleeting moment, I was sad.

I looked at Bella as she rolled cookie dough between her hands and then dropped clumsy lopsided balls into the cinnamon-sugar mix. I was reminded of other days long time ago. Other children eager to bake with me. Big Daughter, Middle Daughter and Little Son.  Eager to listen and learn. Slyly sneaking fingerfuls of cookie dough when they thought I wasnt looking.
Bella burnt her finger on the oven door today and in her quick tears, I was reminded of the times when her big brothers burnt their fingers. When her big sisters dropped eggs on the floor, spilled flour everywhere, burnt cakes because they were busy reading a book and then I yelled at them. Of course. They’re all Big Kids now. They know how to bake and they do it well. They had a good teacher! They willingly bake trays of brownies and choc chip slice for us whenever we need refreshments. They are capable, efficient and always clean up afterwards. They dont need my guidance or #BossMum-ness anymore. Im glad about that. But standing there with Bella, I looked back and for a fleeting moment, I was sad for what I would never get back.

The cookies were done and I brought them out of the oven. Me and Bella shared a cookie. Taste testers. “Delicious!” Bella said. I looked at her smile. Her mouth full of snickerdoodles. Her nose dusted with flour. The glob of butter stuck in her hair. She was happy. And I was happy.

In that moment I told my brain, my heart, my soul – to PAUSE. STOP!

Remember this. Take an endless photograph of THIS right here, right now. You and your very last baby. Baking cookies together. See how she looks up at you? See the crumbs on her apron thats too big for her so you had to fold it over and tie it twice? See that gap where her front tooth hasnt grown in yet? See how she’s delighting in every bite of that cookie that you both made together? Remember it all.

Feel. Feel this peace? Contentment? Sprinkle cookie happiness? How you love her? How fun it is to enjoy simply being with her? To stand beside her and help her roll cookie dough? Teaching, laughing and just BEING with her?
Remember it all.

Because one day. Not now. Not right away. But certainly, surely, undeniably. One day, all this will be a memory. And you will never ever have THIS back.

Perhaps one day (God willing) you will stand in a kitchen somewhere, with some other child. A grandchild perhaps? Teaching them how to bake cookies. And in the midst of that fun moment, you will remember today. You will remember baking cookies with Bella when she was eight years old.

You will remember. And for a fleeting moment, you will be sad.

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Blame it On Fiapoto? Fia Palagi? Or Fa’a Samoa?

Someone who didn’t like what I had to say in one of my newspaper columns, sent me a message. He said, “A Samoan woman shouldn’t be saying those things. Ask your father what you should write and what you should say. He’s a matai and very knowledgeable in our fa’a Samoa. He will tell you what you should write about.”

I had to laugh. This critic obviously doesn’t know my father. Yes, my Dad is a matai and ‘very knowledgeable’ about many things. But he’s never told me what to write or what to say. In fact, he’s the reason why I’m able to say most of the things I do. He taught all of his children to question, critique, think for ourselves, speak out and speak up. Why? Perhaps it came from his science teacher background, this emphasis on researching, figuring stuff out, testing and trying ideas and beliefs before accepting them? Perhaps it came from being married to a strong, confident woman who is his equal in all things? Or maybe it came from having lots of fiapoto children and he gave up trying to make us #JustListenAndObey – rather he decided to go with it and try to guide the fiapoto’ness as best he could?

I’m sure there have been times that he’s wished he hadn’t encouraged us to speak out as much as we do. He certainly doesn’t agree with everything I write. But he’s never condemned me because of my opinions, or told me to stop writing them. Rather, he’s been my earliest example of how to engage with others respectfully even when you don’t agree with them. My father also modelled the importance of making room for the voices of the smallest and the least among us. There were six of us children and he would always insist on seeking the opinion of the youngest. As a big sister, it annoyed me how he made us listen to the littlest. “She’s so disrespectful Dad!” I complained. “You need to make her listen to me cos I’m older.” But his reply was always, “Just being older doesn’t make your opinion more important. Be patient with your sister. It’s not easy to be the youngest. You all keep trying to make her be quiet and she has to fight harder to make her voice heard.” His encouragement of her voice probably helped her to be the fabulous lawyer that she is today. (And she still doesn’t listen to me and I still get #BigSister frustrated…)

It wasn’t until I grew up and became a parent, that I realized how rare my father’s parenting style is. Only until I had my own children did I find out how difficult it can be to encourage questioning and critical thinking  – when lots of times, all you want from them is TOTAL OBEDIENCE! Because it’s easier. And you’re tired, stressed and sick to bits of them all.

Only until I was a teacher in a Samoan classroom did I encounter the struggle to get students to think outside the box, engage in vigorous debate, and challenge long-held paradigms – when many of those students had never been encouraged to do that at home. Why is it so rare? Too often I think we confuse fear with respect. We think our children have to be scared of us or else they won’t listen and be willing to learn from us. We think our youth have to be threatened and strong-armed into obedience. Many times I see us discourage questions, debate and discussion – even amongst adults. Especially when those questions and critiques come from someone younger, or from someone who is a woman. We say its le fa’aaloalo, disrespectful. We even say it’s fia palagi. But is it really? What does leadership mean in a Samoan context?

I’ve seen my father serve his family as the matai. For him, it was never a title bought with a hefty financial payout that then guaranteed he would get the best cut of meat at a fa’alavelave and instant deference. No. For him it means a lifetime of service, a responsibility to watch over, counsel, support and guide his extended family. For him, being a matai means you are the first to give, to work, to organize. The first to care. I don’t often see that kind of leadership in the matai titles these days that are mass dished out to fifty people at a time.

As a kid, I’ve sat outside a few of my Dad’s village council meetings. Everybody gets to talk and share their ideas and opinions. Even the lowest ranking matai. Yes, they use eloquent language dotted with lots of lengthy proverbs and flowery descriptors to get their point across but it’s a debate and discussion all the same. Just a very respectfully expressed one. Decisions are made via consensus. I know many aiga make key decisions the same way, allowing space for even the youngest voice to speak. This kind of leadership and decision-making is not a ‘palagi thing’. It’s very Samoan.

I see now that perhaps, my father raised us the way he did BECAUSE he is a matai and ‘very knowledgeable’ about our Samoan traditions and heritage.

But sadly, there are many who use their matai title, age, seniority or even their gender – to silence others and assert their power over them. Like when a man rules over his wife and children with authoritarian brutality, using fear and intimidation to control them, simply because he’s a man and ‘o a’u o le ulu o le aiga’. They blame it on tradition and culture. They say it’s fa’a Samoa. Or they look to the Bible for backup. They reject talk of ‘human rights’ and gender equality, as being foreign concepts brought upon us by fia palagi folks. (And by fia poto writers who need to listen to their fathers better.)

We must examine what we call ‘traditional’ and ‘fa’a Samoa’ and stop blaming our culture for Samoa’s gender-based violence and abusive relationships. Yes some of our traditions are harmful and hurt women (and men). But some of our traditions are a rich strength that uplift and empower individuals and families. Culture is a living, ever-changing thing and as such it doesn’t remain constant. I love this quote from Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie – “Culture does not make people. People make culture.” We must ask, what hurts us? We must have the courage to ask the difficult questions and the strength to do something about the answers.

We can model our family communication on the pattern practised by a Village Council.  Communication that is inclusive and welcomes difference, that seeks consensus after much discussion. We can teach our youth how to ask questions, challenge ideas, and discuss differing viewpoints with respect, honesty and openness. We can model leadership in our families, churches, schools and communities that is like the #oldSkool definition of what it means to be a matai – where we understand that a leader is someone who serves.

Our culture is not a stone box meant to contain us. It is not our master. Our culture is sinnet woven of many strands and like sinnet that was used in traditional construction to make everything from houses, to boats to shark traps – it is literally that which holds our community, our families together. It’s meant to strengthen and support us. Not harm, suppress and oppress. We can choose what we weave into it. For me, I choose that which has been a strength to me from each of my different ancestries of Samoan, Maori and palagi. That which is harmful, I set aside and refuse to weave into the upbringing of my children.

I’m grateful for my parents and all they taught me. I consider it a privilege to be the daughter of a Samoan matai who is ‘very knowledgeable in our fa’a Samoa’ –  (even if he did neglect to warn me that not everybody would appreciate it when a Samoan woman writes and says whatever she wants!)

 

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Grief is White Gardenia in Vaimoso

I am blessed to have two mothers. One is named Peka Siloto. Several months ago she had a massive brain haemorrhage that left her body paralysed and in a coma. The brain damage was so extensive that there was nothing the doctors could do, save for alleviate her pain and keep her comfortable. We brought her out of the hospital so she could be at peace in her home. The place where she had always fiercely guarded her independence. Once there, she coughed out her feeding tube and then rejected any food or liquid by mouth. As a family, we decided to honour her wishes and hold fast to the mantra of – What would Peka want? 

The answer to that was easy for all of us. Peka told us all many times that she wanted to die in her home. She hated the very mention of the rest home Mapuifagalele and  it hurt her deeply when her older sister had to go live there. Peka spent many years of her life caring for her mentally and physically disabled younger brother. She refused to have him admitted to a care facility and she cared for him until his death. As Peka’s health declined over the years and she fought her way back from a major stroke, it was a great frustration to her every time she had to concede another step away from her independence. She eventually became bedridden and confined to a wheelchair, requiring assistance with all her daily needs. On rough days, Peka would cry and tell us she wanted to die. She refused all offers to travel or even to go to town because she said, she might die there, and it was imperative that she die in her home.

For the last ten years, since Peka retired and she had her first major stroke, my siblings and I have tried to take care of Peka and contribute to her wellbeing. My brother Cam was the leader in this, visiting Peka three days a week and making sure all her financial needs were met, as well as taking her the chocolate cupcakes she loved (against the rules because I’m pretty sure the doctor said, Fa’asa ai meaai suamalie! )

It wasn’t  easy to make a tough woman like Peka slow down and be careful. I remember not long after she moved home after her first stroke, I stopped by and she was standing on a chair, ON THE TABLE, cleaning the ceiling with her good arm. Other times, she’d be walking up and down in the yard, a slight drag to her leg, determined to do her kolegi. (exercise).

Keeping a loved one company as they die is both an honor and a privilege. But its also an exercise in humility and faith because you must face the reality that there’s nothing you can do to heal them, or to alleviate their suffering, or to hasten the journey. Peka spent much of her life sheltering us from hurt and hunger, and yet here now, when she was at her most vulnerable – we could do nothing to help her. Except sit with her. Sing to her. Talk to her. Laugh, cry and reminisce with her.
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It’s now Day Four since removal of the food tube. Peka has sips of water and milk, but only to moisten her mouth because she has no swallowing reflex. Her house has been painted, cleaned and brightened with fresh flowers and clean linen. Her bed is in the front open fale, draped with a white mosquito net – so she can see everyone coming and going. So she can better feel the breeze on her face and smell the lilting fragrance of the frangipani on the tree outside in her garden. She is surrounded at all times by her loved ones who bathe her, dress her and massage her. Every hour she is gently turned so she doesn’t get bedsores. There’s a radio playing, with Samoan hymns and talk-back programs. Yesterday when I went over, Eminem was playing so I changed the station. I love Eminem’s music but I don’t think Peka would appreciate it!  Every evening, family gather for lotu. There are songs and prayer. Scripture reading and the shushing of restless children. There’s sharing of stories about Peka. Precious memories. Some of them funny. Some of them sad. Some of them wild.

Peka never married and she never birthed any children. She was a proactive and involved aunty to many of her nieces and nephews, and she combined generous love with strict discipline. She was the aunt who chided children home late from aoga faifeau and chased them with the salu. But she was also the aunt who bought all her nieces and nephews new clothes for White Sunday  and took them groceries on weekends. She cooked the food for their weddings and helped pay their school fees. She was the aunty who doled out hugs and kisses as easily as she barked out swear words and wielded a lala aute. She was the fierce matriarch of their extended family who understood that true leadership is founded on a love for those you lead and a commitment to serve them. Her niece Telesia called it, loto alofa.

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Peka and some of her nieces. L to R – Taevaga, Telesia, Baby, Peka, Loimata, Sis.Tina.

And then there’s us, the six children ‘of Tuao and Marita’. Peka came to look after us back when my older brother was a young boy. She was the one who helped my mother look after me when I was born. She cared for each of the Terrible Three who came after. When our mother was sick in hospital for a long time with my little sister Pele – Peka made sure we were fed, bathed and loved. When our mother went to Hawaii to take our big sister and her broken wonkily stitched arm to stay at the Children’s Hospital – Peka kept our home functioning. When our parents went overseas on work trips, Peka would come stay with us. It would be a nonstop slumber party of awesomeness with our mattresses on the floor and all of us playing cards and eating the treats Peka could always be persuaded to make for us. Outsiders who didnt know any better called Peka our babysitter, Nanny or housekeeper. But she was none of those things, all of those things and more. She was our mother. She loved us. And even though, we didn’t always show it very well – we loved her.

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Peka bathes a tiny baby Zion 13years ago. Today Zion sings to her.

Day Five. Every morning, I go sit with Peka. Sometimes the children go with me. Middle Daughter sang to Peka today. Sang to her in a voice choked with emotion, because just as Peka is my mother, she has been my children’s grandmother. Thirteen years ago, Peka told me off when I brought my daughter home from New Zealand because Peka said she was too skinny, too little, too fragile to live in Samoa. ‘Why did you take her out of the hospital?’ she chided me. She cradled my premature baby with an almost fearful embrace. For the first time, Peka was reluctant to bathe a baby, worried she would hurt her. I watched Peka care for our daughter and I was reminded of how she cared for my younger sister Pele who had been a sickly baby and then a skinny sickly child. Peka gave Pele everything – the last piece of chocolate cake, the biggest serving of Shepherd’s Pie and always when the rest of us kids complained about the obvious injustice, she said, “Se she was sick when she was a baby. She nearly die. Alofa ia lou kei, love your sister.” And then we all rolled our eyes. Of course! …Today my daughter is a strong, compassionate, clever and beautiful young woman who loves to sing. She’s nearly as tall as me. She towers over Peka. I listened to her sing and I wept as I remembered Peka singing to her. When she was done, Peka opened her eyes and did that mouth-moving thing that looks like she’s trying to speak. She was more alert and aware than I’ve seen her since the stroke. I held her hand. I told her I loved her, that all of her children loved her. I named them one by one and with everything I have, I willed her to know and feel of their love for her. I thanked her for being my mother, and asked her forgiveness – for being an inconsistent visitor, a crappy daughter. I said, “We are here, we are with you. No matter what happens, we are here.”

When I think of Peka, I usually think of food. Something savoury or sweet and always delicious. She was a legendary cook. Our mother taught her everything she knew and Peka filled in all the rest. She helped cater their dinner parties, bake Christmas treats to deliver all over town, cook for our mother’s cafe, and always – she made sure we kids were happily fed. When we came home from school each day, it was to an endless variety of ‘after-school snacks’. A platter heaped with ‘spaghetti flying saucers’ (toasted sandwiches). Or cucumber sandwiches dusted with pepper and salt, with the crusts all cut off, like afternoon tea with the Queen. Her specialty, crepes drizzled with melted butter, sprinkled with brown sugar and rolled and stacked in a heap of sweet goodness. Her servings were generous and there was always more than enough for the neighbour’s – our childhood friends, Chrissy and Salma Hazelman who lived across the hedge. Peka was always calling out to them to “Sau ai!” Come eat. Peka knew all our favorites and our kitchen was always a bustle of cooking activity.

I remember… having to tip toe through the kitchen and shush because there was a pavlova in the oven and Peka said the sumptuous piled dollops of white gold meringue would ‘get mad’ and ‘fall down’ if we startled it with too much noise. Watching her capable hands at work as she rolled out the sweet crust for a chocolate pie, patting pieces of fragmenting dough into the dish, and keeping a sharp eye out for my little brother Josh who was a skilful raider of the pot of chocolate custard on the stove.

I remember pleading to have a turn at stirring the batter for  cookies – so that I could sneak delicious chunks of it when she wasn’t looking. Her yelling at Sio the gardener to pick more lemons because she didn’t have enough for the lemon meringue pie, the green tanginess that filled the air as she squeezed them all by hand. The determined effort as she kept up a steady stirring at the stove, whipping up her legendary cream puffs that she would fill with custard, lace with chocolate sauce and then sprinkle with icing sugar. When we got up at 4am to go watch the Independence Parade every year – we would have Peka’s cinnamon rolls with a thermos of hot cocoa. It’s been thirty years since,  but still, every time I see the parade, I think of cinnamon rolls dunked in cocoa. The sugary dough fragmenting in your cup and the rich sweetness as you drain the last drop of chocolate.

I blame Peka for my forever association of love=food!

Day Six. It’s not all sadness at Peka’s house though. Today I helped Telesia massage her with nonu leaves. My brother Cam reminded us all of how long time ago, Peka had a misa with the faifeau of her church. She went with another woman and they took a bag of rocks and stoned the church building, smashing all the stained glass windows. Peka was arrested and had to go to court. I’m pretty sure that’s when she changed churches lol. Peka’s right arm is gnarled and stiff from her first major stroke and Cam told us how he would tease her that was the arm she used to chuck rocks at the church – and she would pretend to be mystified and forgetful about anything related to stoning churches. I said, no this is the arm she would do all the ironing with, oka so much ironing! Me and Cam laughed as we told Telesia and Loimata about how Peka was (Obsessed?) with making sure everything was ironed. She ironed sheets, tea towels, pillow cases, pyjamas and handkerchiefs. She would even iron Darren’s work overalls and shirts that were riddled with holes from welding fire splatter. Our power bill was astronomical and Darren always said it was because of Peka’s ironing. One did not tell Peka what to do. Oh no. So instead, I would squirrel away laundry from the washing line once it was dry and hide it in my bedroom so that she wouldn’t know of its existence and wouldn’t iron it. Some days I would hide the iron. Finally, I ‘accidentally’ dropped it and broke it so she couldn’t do anymore ironing. Thought I was pretty clever there! But no, with Christmas coming up in another few weeks, Peka bought us a brand new iron as a present, yay! And the mass ironing re-commenced. 

Peka didn’t just cook though. She managed our household. At various times, my parents had several staff – housekeepers, a driver, the gardener. Peka was the boss of them all. I saw her yell at them and I listened as she complained loudly when they messed up. When our housekeeper Fou (allegedly) got a boyfriend, Peka hit her with the broom and our mother had to intervene. Peka got Sio to cut us the flowers and coconuts we needed to take to school for Culture Day, and she taste-tested the fa’alifu fa’i and kalo that he cooked outside for our dinner. We had chickens and she supervised the killing and cleaning of them. I remember helping to strip their feathers and my fascinated awe at seeing a chicken’s insides. When I needed to learn how to dance the siva for the Miss Soccer pageant (at age 8), Peka organized a fabulous teacher for me – a skilful and dazzling fa’afafine who worked at the kitchen of the university canteen (our father was the Dean of the university at the time.) The lessons were held in the carport and everybody – my little brat siblings, the gardener, the housekeepers AND Peka, would sit and watch. And offer unsolicited advice.

When I was sixteen, my family moved to Washington DC and Peka went with us. We drove down the street and Peka was sad when she saw all the homeless people huddled around grates and in doorways. “Where’s their families?” she asked, bewildered. “Why aren’t their families taking care of them?”  Peka couldn’t understand how people could end up alone, hungry and cold – because she had always understood the importance and value of aiga, family. She’d always been the person who took care of her extended family and so her first instinct when seeing D.C’s homeless – was compassion and then anger at their families. In America, Peka cooked splendid meals for diplomats and helped my mother host dignitaries and visiting government leaders. She wasn’t happy there though, so cold and so far away from her home and the rest of her family. There was no Bingo circle every Saturday in D.C, no going to church with her friends, or Saturday trips to the market to buy a nice fish for the faifeau. She went back home early and we cried to see her go. I felt abandoned and afraid, unsure how we would cope without her. I missed her terribly.

Day 7. Her breathing is harsh and ragged now. A struggle. Then it slows and stills, like she’s sleeping. Then it hesitates in long pauses. I sit with her and hold her hand. But not too tight. Her skin blisters with too much pressure applied because it’s so thin, so fragile. She’s tiny and the bed seems to dwarf her, the sheets swallow her up. She’s sinking into herself, curling up like a flower that goes to sleep at the close of day. I talk to her but not too loudly in case it hurts her ears. Peka, can you hear me? Are you here? I hope you’re not hurting. I’m worried that you’re afraid. What if we made the wrong decision? What if we’re supposed to take you back to the hospital and hook you up to lots of machines and pump you full of everything you need to keep going? I don’t want you to go. I’m afraid. Who will love me the way you do? The way you always have?  Your faith in me and your love for me has been the sole constant for as long as I can remember. Now I have Darren and my children, but I’m still scared to let you go. 

Many of the memories I have from my childhood, the important occasions and the sad painful times – all have Peka in them. She gave us presents on our birthdays and at Christmas. She spoiled us on White Sunday, even though our family was Mormon and didn’t celebrate White Sunday. One of my earliest memories is of being dreadfully sick with a raging fever, and my mother hovering over me with worried eyes while Peka draped my body with towels soaked in ice water.  When I fell out of the tamaligi tree next door ( because I was trying to catch a glimpse of the tuli bird so I could check it off for my Girl Guides Birdwatching badge…) it was Peka who heard my crashing descent and came running. When my sister Rebecca fell out of the pu’a tree and broke her arm, it was Peka who carried her to the car, who stayed with her overnight in the hospital, sleeping under her bed on a woven laufala mat. When Rebecca’s arm healed, it was Peka who caught the bus with her and took her to physio sessions at the hospital. (And its probably Peka’s fault that Rebecca’s arm is still crooked because she wouldn’t have been mean enough and tough enough to force her to do everything the physio told her to…) When our mother smacked us, Peka would cry and go sit in the bedroom. Then she would tell our mother that she was going to quit and never come back because she didn’t want to see her hit us.

When I worked my butt off and came second to Dux in year 7 at Apia Primary, it was Peka who made my frangipani lei, came to the prize giving, helped me dress in the taupou outfit complete with feather kiki and crushed velvet and a sparkly headband, and then danced ai’uli for me when I had to do the siva. When I had uku’s (which happened a lot…hey, I had really long really thick hair!), it was Peka who treated my hair with nasty smelling chemicals and then patiently sat and combed out all the dead creatures, exclaiming loudly at the size of each one.

When I grew up and went through a #rottenTeenager stage, Peka’s love for me didn’t change. She still cooked nice treats for me. She still told me every day that I was ‘teine aulelei, teine poto’…a good girl, a clever girl. When I came home for school holidays from university, Peka still hugged me and praised me, rejoiced that I was home again. When my sister got drunk and tipsily made her way home after a night out, Peka would look sad, ask her please ‘aua te inu pia’, and then cook her favourite foods. Because Peka thought she was too skinny and food was a magical cure for all ills. (Including hangovers.)

When I dated a #BadBoy that had my parents in panic mode, Peka would go outside to see him when he came to pick me up. She told him he was a good boy and to please ‘look after Lani and be good to her.’ When I married that #BadBoy, Peka helped cook the food for our wedding. She cried when we left and reminded my husband, ‘Vaai fa’alelei Lani…’  be a good boy and take good care of Lani. Twenty-two years later, the house that Peka loves and protects so fiercely, is the house that my husband helped renovate and build for her when she had her first major stroke several years ago. His gift to her.

My little sister Rebecca is named after Peka.  When Rebecca got married, Peka walked her down the aisle. (Our actual mother didn’t attend the wedding because she was mad about something that seemed very important at the time, but probably makes no sense now.) Rebecca lives in the Cook Islands. We haven’t spoken to each other for about two years. We aren’t Facebook friends and the only way we know about what each other’s children are up to, is from listening to third-hand stories from our parents and other siblings. I can’t quite remember what made us break up with each other as sisters, but I know it was bad. I tell my husband that I don’t care if I never talk to her again – and I mean it. Then Peka’s brain erupts and her imminent death slams us all. In the hospital, Peka’s caregiver niece Telesia says that Peka is waiting for me and Rebecca to forgive each other. She laughs but she’s not joking.

fofo Peka’s feet with vanilla coconut lotion and think about how meaningless sister-fights are in the face of weightier eternal things like life, dying, death, and love. I think about how many times in my life, from childhood to teenager to young mother to being Peka’s inconsistent visitor – how many times I probably hurt Peka’s feelings (or drove her up the wall…), and yet still, she loved me. Still she watched and waited for me. Still she hugged me and cried every time I visited…

Rebecca arrives from the Cook Islands. We meet at the hospital. We hug. We don’t talk about all the crap from the past. We don’t have to. We are Peka’s children and she loves us. “See Peka?” I say, “Me and Peta are good now. You don’t have to worry about us. If that’s one of the things you’re worried about, then you don’t need to and you can go whenever you’re ready.”

Why am I telling her she can go? When all I want her to do – is stay.

Rebecca helps look after Peka in the hospital. She bathes her and sits vigil by her bedside. At night she sleeps by her bed, just like Peka did for her all those many years ago.

When I was pregnant and sick with hyperemesis, drowning in depression and choking on vomit all day every day, Peka would hold my hair back while I threw up. She wiped my face with a cold cloth, emptied bowls of vomit and told me I would be alright – even as she had tears in her voice and in her eyes. She would make me French toast, the one food that my body didn’t reject. She would cut it into bite-size pieces and bring it to my bedside. Faced with my tears that didn’t seem to have a reason or an end, Peka would brush my hair and mutter about how I should make sure to never have any more babies after this…

Peka helped me care for my children. I had read every single book in the library about babies and parenting yet I still had no clue what I was doing. She bathed my babies and sang to them. She thought feeding routines were ridiculous and ‘leaving a baby to cry itself to sleep’ – was a horrible crime that only horrible palagi people subjected their children to. She baked golden pumpkin and mashed it with a pat of butter, a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, for my son’s first try at eating solids.  She wanted to make him custard. Even though I earnestly explained to her that the baby nutrition book said, DONT GIVE BABIES BUTTER OR SALT OR SUGAR. (She had a very low opinion of baby expert books. A whole lotta rubbish made up by people who had no clue what they were talking about.) She made my children pancakes, chocolate cake and spaghetti flying saucers. She got mad at me when I made them do chores, when I made them weed the garden. She was outraged when I said they should iron their own school uniforms ( or wear them wrinkly…I don’t care!) When their baby teeth fell out, she threw them into the bush at the back of our house and called for the  rat spirit to come get them. (Because that would guarantee their next teeth would grow strong and healthy.) When the ve’a bird made the mistake of wandering close to our house and crying it’s distinctive cry, Peka would go chuck stones at it – to keep my children safe, because EVERYONE knows that when a ve’a cries outside your house, it means someone’s going to die. She changed their sheets every two days – even if they weren’t dirty, and she got them clean towels twice a day. (Because children need to be treated like they’re living at the Hilton, y’know!) Our baby-care ideas may have differed sometimes, but if there’s one thing that she knew above all else, one thing that Peka was an expert at? – How to love children. She showed me how to love my children better. If I am any kinda good mother to my Fabulous Five, it’s because of Peka and what she taught me.
Day Seven. Darren and I go to Peka’s family plot at the cemetery behind her church at Vaimoso. Peka’s oldest niece Loimata shows us where they want Peka to be buried. Darren’s team of workers includes a capable trio who on weekends, moonlight as builders of graves. Our contribution to Peka’s farewell will be her gravesite. There’s a line of graves. Peka’s parents – Manori Siloto who came to Samoa from the Solomon Islands. He met a young woman called Loimata from the Tamasese family and they had a Romeo and Juliet style love affair, but with a happy ending as they got married and had a family. Sadly though, they both died when their children were young and Peka and her siblings were raised by aunties and uncles. Peka’s sister and brothers are buried here. Peka will lie next to her younger brother Maligi, the brother she spent half a lifetime caring for.

Day 8

I get the phone call at about 6:20. Come quick, Peka’s fading. The time is now. Me and the girls get in the car and go to Peka’s house. We walk in and her nieces are standing around her bed. Crying. No, is it too late? Has she gone already?  They make space for us and I sit beside her. I hold her hand. I say, “Peka, I love you. Peka, I’m here. We are all here. You can’t see them or hear them, but I bring with me all my sisters and brothers. They’re here too. Tanya, Cam, Pele, Joshua and Peta. Thank you for being our mum.” Peka’s breathing is a harsh rattling sound. Her face is gaunt and drawn. Cam’s car drives in. He gets out and comes up the steps. I lean forward and say, “Peka, ua sau Cam. Cam is here.”

Peka’s eyes open in a sudden startled expression. She leans forward with a slight arch of her neck and cries out. She draws in a single loud breath that never releases. And she dies. Just like that.

I thought death was supposed to be peaceful and that the next life… step …phase.. .whatever you call it – was supposed to be glorious. But all I see in Peka’s eyes is shock. An abrupt full stop in the middle of a sentence thats nowhere near finished.

There’s loud weeping and wailing. One of Peka’s nieces throws herself on Peka’s body, pleading for forgiveness as she recites her past wrongdoings. Cam steps in, calm and reassuring, with reminders that Peka needs us to be strong and farewell her with love and even happiness. “Don’t tie her here with your sadness. Let her go. Let her rest.” He wishes Peka well on her journey, “Manuia lou malaga.” I’m glad he is here.

I look up at the ceiling. Then outside at the frangipani tree that rustles in the night breeze. They say the spirit lingers awhile near the body. And I believe it. It doesn’t feel like she’s rushed away. Not yet. Stay awhile Peka. Please?

We sing hymns while we wait for the pastor to come and give Peka a blessing. I am a rush of messy emotions. Ive hated seeing Peka die slowly. I’ve prayed she would rest and be at peace. But now? I’m angry. And guilty. I prayed for the wrong things. I should have prayed for a miracle. For her to be well. For her to stay with us.

Monday 21 September 2015. My brother Cam writes –

“Today I carried Peka into her Church at Vaimoso, the Church that she loved and gave much tautua. As I listened to the beautiful singing it occurred to me that its been more than 2 years since Peka last came to Church. And I felt sad knowing how much Peka liked to go to Church but wasnt able to.
Today I carried Peka out of the Church that she loved so much to her final resting place where she was laid alongside her brothers and sister who had gone before her. For many years Peka carried my sisters and brother with so much alofa. It was  an honor to be able to do the same for her at her sauniga mulimuli.


Today I carried Peka as she made her last trip. I did so with gentlness and thanksgiving and was deeply humbled by the experience.” Cam Wendt.

Dec 6th 2015
Today I was driving through Peka’s village, Vaimoso – and I saw a cluster of flowering gardenia bushes. White blooms redolent with their distinctive fragrance. I remembered how Peka would bring a handful of gardenia when she came to work. She would put them in glasses of water and dot them throughout the house. Gardenia in the bathroom, in the kitchen, and on the dining table. Such beautiful perfume.

I drove through Vaimoso and I started to cry. Because Peka’s far away, probably making her famous chocolate pie and pancakes in heaven for any and all who need to be loved and nurtured. Reminding those who need reminding, that they’re worthy of love.

I cried for Peka all the way home. Because I miss her and I love her. Because I miss being loved by her.
Because today, grief is white gardenia bushes in Vaimoso.

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Essential Cyclone Tuni Preparation

We had an almost cyclone here. It’s name was Tuni. It gave us a lot of rain and flooding. The power went off a couple of times. Thankfully it never went past being a Category One and it only brushed by us rather than hitting Samoa direct. But the biggest thing it did was show me just how #firstWorld my kids are. The younger ones have never been in a cyclone. They were little when Samoa had a tsunami. Then they went and lived in NZ for three years. Now we’re here and Tuni was our first cyclone.

We got ready for the cyclone as soon as we heard about it. We made a list of essentials we needed to stock up on. Stuff like batteries, candles, lanterns and cheap $3 torches from Frankies. Cans of baked beans. Bread. A sack of rice and a box of tuna. Other important stuff.

Got home and Bella demanded loudly, “Why did you buy so much Doritos and Diet Coke mum? How is that gonna save us in a cyclone?”

Be quiet. #Fiapoto.

Little Daughter wanted to know, “Why do we need so many batteries?”

“Because the power will probably go off. Possibly for a long time.”

She was cool with that. Until she had the horrifying realization. “Wait, does that mean the wifi wont work?! How will I update my stories on Wattpad? I have readers to write for!”

Little Son who is even more fiapoto than Bella said, “We don’t need torches or batteries. Dad has a generator at his work. We can use that. So we can still play Xbox.”

Wifi? Play Xbox? Me and Darren looked at each other. Aww hell, these kids have a lot to learn… “Aint nobody gonna be playing Xbox during a cyclone!”

We sent the kids to put out bins and buckets to fill up with rainwater. Bella asked, “Why? We have a big water tank.”

Darren explained that if the cyclone is bad enough then the water supply will be disrupted. For a long time. We will need every bit of water that we can get. “But those bins are dirty,” said Little Daughter with a yuck face.

“We’ll use that water to flush the toilets,” said their Dad. “And we’ll have to kaele using buckets of water. A plastic cup.”

More horrified looks from the children. “Kaele with a bucket? And a cup? Flush the toilet with dirty water from outside? Who does that?!”

We told them all about how we did that when were kids. All the time. Because the power and the water would shut off all the time. They gave us looks of disbelief. And thinly veiled panic. “Is that what a cyclone does??” they asked.

“That and a whole lot more,” we said. “During powercuts, you play cards. You read books. You go to sleep early. We didn’t have TV when we were kids. XBox wasnt invented. We entertained ourselves without any of those gadgets! In a really bad cyclone, your main focus is on staying safe. Staying alive. If its not a bad cyclone, its about keeping dry and keeping indoors. That’s what you’ll do in the cyclone and during the aftermath.” The children did not look enthused.

Then lots of rain came. Some wind. When the power went off, we used our candles and torches so we could play cards together. A rowdy game of ka-isu. Swipi. Fish. Speed. The usual favorites. We ate a lot of Doritos. I drank a lot of Diet Coke. We laughed a lot. Then we went to sleep early.

By the second day of rain, we were tired of playing cards. I was sick of eating Doritos. The children were annoyed by the mere sound of each other’s breathing. Thankfully, the power was on. So we sent them all to play Xbox. While we watched an entire season of ‘How to Get Away With Murder’.  When the power went off again, I whispered to Darren that if it took a long time coming back on, could he please get the generator? So I could keep watching TV shows? And the children could keep playing Xbox? Because I may have grown up a #BushChild without TV and such mind-numbing gadgets, but I’m a #firstWorldWoman now and I WANT TO WATCH TV WHEN THE POWER GOES OFF, DAMMIT!

So, how was your cyclone Tuni experience?

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Can We have a Quiet Baby This Time?

“Can we have a quiet baby this time? You know, one that doesn’t make a lot of noise or be real naughty like Zach?” Questions your children ask when you tell them you’re going to have another baby and they already know that pregnancy could kill you. I stumbled across this long-ago entry from 2007. It made me realize how valuable our journals and blogs are, for capturing memories and giving one the opportunity to relive precious experiences. If you don’t have a journal or anything similar, then I encourage you to start one. Quick.

Birthing Bella Beast

This entry is dedicated to my four amazing children – who have been amazing me even more than usual in the past two weeks. All four of them have appointed themselves ‘guardian of the sickly pregnant mother’. Initially, the older two responded to the news of the impending new lifeform with frankness and honesty – “But mum you cant have another baby because you’ll die. The doctor said no more.”

Ummm yeees…but life kind of had other plans for us…Heavenly Father sent us another one!

Big Daughter was rather befuddled – “but then maybe you should send it back then?!”

 After the initial parent- child talks the topic then turned to okay, so we’re stuck with a baby on the way mum, so what should we do about it? Big Son wistfully asked – “Can we have a quiet baby this time? You know, one that doesnt make a lot of noise or be real naughty like Zach?” (Oh Big Son – there can only be ONE Zach….he is one unique and special darling which we can never replicate….thank goodness.) 
Big Daughter was troubled – “but if we have a baby, then that means we cant go to the beach anymore…” (my poor deprived children – we only take them to the beach once a year and now even that is under threat of extinction…sigh)

But they have rallied to the cause. Now, I have four willing errand runners, drink-of-water-fetchers, hair-brushers, comfort-givers, and hugs and kisses galore. All iIhave to do is cough really loud and Little Son comes running yelling at the top of his lungs “Mama’s throwing up! Help her, quick, mums throwing up!” Then if it’s a false alarm he wants to give me some love – grubby, sweaty, goober filled kisses….Okay thank you son – no go away and play far away please! Yesterday he wanted to be helpful, so he dished a big plate of spaghetti bolognaise and then dumped it on the floor of my living room and let the puppy in to eat it -“But Darth Vader’s hungry!”

Big Son is improving his culinary skills day by day. He cooks all the meals. He knows how to make steak and rice, spaghetti bolognaise, pancakes, french toast, sausages and rice, toasted sadnwiches, tuna and rice – oh and did I mention steak and rice? Not only does he cook the food, but he then supervises feeding all the others so iIdont have to smell it. This afternoon I asked the chef – so what shall you cook for us tonight son? He said,”How about pizza from Giordannos?” Every chef needs a night off!

Little Daughter is Florence Nightingale – the flowing, ethereal, lovely versions of her. (as opposed to the ones where she actually sweats and cleans up blood and grime in the Crimea war fields…) She loves to come and pat my head  and speak softly to me…”oh poor mummy is so sick…dont worry your darling Zion is here to make you happy…” She brings lots of flowers from the garden for my room and insists on telling me every rotten thing her little brother has done that day to get on her nerves because she knows I was sick and missed it. She whispers in my ear – “Mummy, zachie was a naughty boy and he ate three marshmallows but you never said he could…but dont worry i will send him to time out,okay” She asks me everyday – “so what does ‘our’ baby look like today mum? Does she have long hair like me?” She has even tried to commandeer the marital bed and kick her dad out of the room to forage for sleeping space elsewhere “Dad – I have to sleep with mummy so i can hug her when she feels sad or sick okay!” So her father has been sleeping in the glorious pink glitter princess bed. (Lucky him)

Big Daughter is my right hand woman. She baths little ones, sorts laundry, takes little ones outside to play, and then when she has a spare moment – comes to sit with me in the air condition and talk about deep and meaningful things that I never even considered when i was that age. Today she asked, “why is it that we have to be us forever? Like why do we have to be only the same person for the rest of our lives, even when we die and go to the spirit world? Wouldn’t’ it be nice to be someone different in the future?” Maybe I should tell her about reincarnation? 
All in all, the past few weeks have given me the opportunity to get to know my children a little better in new and interesting ways. There’s been a lot less mother-yellng and nagging going on and the home is way more peaceful. Best of all, my children are becoming more self-sufficient, selfless and responsible. Well at least the older two are!  The two younger Z’s are battling it out on the trampoline right now as I write. Shes got him in a Rock-lockdown and is pummeling the heck out of his stomach and I think hes laughing…or is that a scream for help?

 

 

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