We were taught the phrase “‘Oiauē!” (oi-ya-way) upon our initial arrival in Sāmoa a year ago. The phrase itself is meant as an exclamation and translates to “Oh my!” but after a whirlwind past two weeks, the phrase has taken on a life of its’ own.
Let me backtrack for a second:
As we were wrapping up term three at school, I was counting down the days until our term holiday. This term break was special because I had finally accumulated enough leave days to TRAVEL. I had planned and stressed and saved and prayed and after a few bumps on the road, anxiously awaited this trip!
School ended on Friday and after MANY promises to bring back chocolate and warnings not to find a boyfriend, the following Wednesday, Stefani and I were off for 10 days to Fiji and Tonga.
After being in Sāmoa for an extended period of time (369 days to be exact), I found myself unconsciously comparing and contrasting everything to Sāmoa.
Upon our return, we caught the tail end of the GLOW conference (read about it in Sarah’s blog HERE), and I unfortunately found out that one member of my GLOW club in year 7 passed away during the break.
I was told the news in Sāmoan and it was so bluntly delivered that I had wondered at first if I misunderstood:
“Lina, do you know Vaoifi?” “Yes, why?” “She’s dead.”
But what unsettled me the most was that I initially couldn’t recall her face, nor our last interaction together.
How could I not remember what she looked like? Why weren’t people more visibly upset at the news? Why didn’t I find out sooner? She was only 12 years old, how could this happen?!
I thought I had come to terms with always being the last to know things (more on this in an upcoming blog post), but this threw my so-called integration for a loop. Add in an extra dose of grief, I started to flounder in my sadness, frustration, and guilt.
As a teacher, I may spend a year (or two) with a group of students and afterwards, I may never see them again. But rest assured, in my classes, I will spend the rest of my days entertaining visions of grandeur for each child’s future.
It’s no different here in Sāmoa.
But when a child dies, those hopes and dreams for future successes are shattered. I end up having to look backward, instead of forward. I’m left trying to remember what her voice was like, how big her smile was, how much we time we spent together, and what we talked about.
After living in this culture where people are constricted to describing to their emotions in various shades of fiafia (happy), fa’anoanoa (sad), and to’asā (angry), and that any emotional discussions and discussions about emotions are few and far between, I needed to a way to let my students–especially my GLOW club girls– know that I am there for them.
I want to let them know that I realize that life can be so fragile. Their biggest days may be the ones playing out right now or possibly 5, 10, or 15 years down the line.
They might not feel comfortable talking about their emotions to anyone else as they have never been encouraged to do so before, but I will be there every step of the way, with a kind smile and arms ready to hug.
I will be there looking for that balance between hoping for the future, but cherishing each day of their childhood (and my time with them). Because I now know that I not only can help them be ready for their bright futures and the world ahead, but first, we must do some work that fills our hearts, right here, right now.
Rest In Peace, Vaoifi. You’re our GLOW angel now! 💕🙏🏼✨