Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Turquoise & Devastation

Peace Corps serves in countries all over the world, and as a result, it must tailor each of its programs to the particular challenges which may face a volunteer in their particular region. Today we received water safety training, seeing as how we our located in the middle of the South Pacific. Water safety consisted of a training session by an expert diver and then a plunge into the turquoise waters off the shore of Samoa.
We left the hotel at 8:45a.m. on a local bus, which is basically four wheels mounted to a bunch of lumber. They are quaint and charming for the first 20 minutes, until the wooden seats and lack of shocks take a toll on you. Nonetheless, it provided us our transportation to a tropical paradise.
Our training took place in crystal blue waters that I had never seen before. The scenery looked like one of those wallpaper settings you can select for your computer. After going over the do’s and don’ts of swimming in the lagoons around the Samoan islands, a group of 23 loaded onto "Shillo II," a large sail boat with a lower cabin. The wind was brisk and made for a lot of wave action. Off in the distance, I could see the waves breaking on the reefs. Heading away from shoreline, I looked back to see the palm trees lining the sandy beach, some leaning at 45 degree angles out over the water. Once at our anchor spot, we put on snorkeling gear and plunged into the very warm water. Snorkeling can be a lot of work on a choppy day, as the waves break over your head and send salt water rushing down your snorkel. One gulp of unwanted salt water is enough to cause frustration. Three gulps was enough to remind me that I was a beginner.
Our snorkeling revealed a whole new world. Coral reefs were stacked like skyscrapers below the surface, and fish of many different colors and sizes could be seen just feet away from us. Blue star fish were nestled safely on the ocean’s bottom. Every direction I turned revealed a different part of the underwater puzzle. The water was in fact turquoise, glistening beneath the sun’s rays.
Following our snorkeling adventures, we loaded back on the bus to continue traveling around the island. We made an hour stop at another beach that had white sand and slippery rocks lining the perimeter. The waves crashed with such force it made me feel so powerless.
The power of the water was fully realized when we later drove to the Southeast side of the island to view the devastation from the tsunami which hit in late September. It has claimed over 150 deaths in Samoa. I remember watching the news coverage back in the United Sates, feeling so bad for those who lost everything in an instant. I was happy to see that the networks and cable T.V. were devoting so much time to the tragedy. Many news organizations even sent correspondents to report on location. This was good work, and helped generate assistance from around the world. The Samoans were in need of all the help they could get.
But then something happened. David Letterman admitted having sexual relations with members of his staff, and it later was reported that he was allegedly blackmailed by an executive producer at CBS News. All of a sudden, Samoa became a small side note scrolling along the ticker of the cable networks. Do you think the Samoans had their mess cleaned up as fast as Letterman got into his? No. They were still searching for bodies and cleaning up the devastation that nature’s furry had left behind. Today I saw that devastation. It was pilled up on the edges of what was dubbed a tropical paradise. It was hanging in the trees and probably still floating in the water. The devastation was still there. Those people living there weren’t able to forget about it after three days and turn their attention to some other story. Those people are forced to mull about, salvaging what they can of their possessions, and burning those things that are ruined.
As we made our way through each village, you could see exactly where the water had its grasp. Steep cliffs inland were only devastated to a certain height, and above that it was still lush and green, never having been disturbed. Below that mark, it was a tangled mess of palm trees, scrap meddle, cars, and lumber.
What reassured me that the Samoans would be ok, was when driving by, I saw families spending time together. One family’s house was half demolished, yet they were gathered around the dinner table eating a meal. Some houses had nothing but a foundation left, yet I saw kids playing with smiles on their faces. They waved at us, and I realized they didn’t know the full impact of what had happened. But I also saw parents take time to wave to us, and I knew they were aware of the impact. They had lost everything, but still waved at us as we passed by what was left of their houses. Those who were picking up the pieces of their lives weren’t as lucky as those who were picking up the latest headlines on cable T.V. They were still there, trying to make sense of nature’s wrath.
I write this with a disappointment for those who cover and report the news. I want to work as a broadcast journalist when I finish my time with the Peace Corps. I only hope that my time here will help make me a more valued employee, so that I can identify and continue addressing those stories which are in most need of being covered. For those who view the work of the news organizations, I ask that you be vigilant of those who are forgotten in an instant by the fast pace marathon that is the media.

No comments:

Post a Comment