Published in Mai Life Magazine - April, 2010
On Friday, the cyclone formed and school was cancelled. On Saturday,the cyclone winked and the women’s fellowship meeting was cancelled. On Sunday, despite prayers by some members of the congregation, church was not cancelled. By Monday the cyclone was officially a hurricane, everything else was cancelled. As I debated how to follow DISMAC’s instructions to secure our property (tying up thechildren?) and move my car to a secure place without breaking the curfew, I noticed people making mad dashes to the corner shop to get essential rations such as the newspapers, bread for breakfast,soft drinks and snacks to go with hastily procured DVDs. It was like watching the Great Escape in reverse.
My family battened down the hatches to our rabbit warren, while I wondered around like a handyman on steroids,taking hammer and nail or gaffer tape to anything that flapped, shook, rattled and hummed. I did pause to ponder on what my boss who art in heaven might think of the ease with which I took to pounding nail into wood.
As the wind began to pick up the emergency meeting of the Mission-Hill Disasterwatch board began with radio and torch in hand – in one hand so that the other could hold the sacred coconut cup. I realised that too much information can be a dangerous thing as we debated what was the true strength and speed of the hurricane, the correct path and what sort of storm determined a male or female name – each of us quoting newspaper, radio and internet sources,including a NASA satellite image of the Pacific. We argued as if we had taught Rajendra Prasad of the Meteorological Centre himself. The meeting was adjourned to collect more evidence as well as more kava.
Just as darkness began to fall the water was cut off, followed within minutes, by the electricity. There was momentary panic, as the realisation that there might not be enough water to mix kava, drink,bathe, wash or even mix...
er...kava (priorities!) hit,and the confusion of why,when the cyclone had not reached, the electricity was off. Was it about to hit? Had there been an accident? Did we pay the bill? Was it a conspiracy? Thankfully,it was none of the above,merely the Fiji Electricity Authority trimming branches before the night and winds came. Within 20 minutes we were assured of a night of television and DVDs for some and a basin or five of water for our powered courage for others.
The curfew started, heralding the Mission-Hill Hurricane Action Team to meet for another emergency session as one important fact seemed to have been overlooked – where to procure kava from in case our current supply ran out and it was still too wet and windy to pound more. For the next there were serious deliberations of whether the police would recognise kava shops as providing an essential service. The discussions were shelved when the media arrived.We prepared ourselves to give an update of the effect of the cyclone on Furnival Park but were disappointed when neither of the journalists appeared to be holding a pen, pad, camera or tape recorder. The frown of disappointment turned upside down when we realised that they had laid aside the tools of their trade in order to bring, hermetically sealed and attached to floats with GPRS tracking, the source of the earlier discussion on essential services – brown powdered stuff.
I feel I must, in the light of the devastation caused by Hurricane Tomas,clarify that none of us took the potential threat of the impending storm...well...lightly. We shared with each other what precautions we had taken, for the hurricane outside as well as the storm that might rage inside the house should we be gone for too long. Each of us proudly held up our torches and radios.I did think it odd that we each had our own and whetherleaving it for those in the house to use would have been a better idea. We shared stories from previous natural disasters. Eager to get involved, as one of the youngest of the MHHAT (sadly we had now begun to use acronyms), I shared my experience during the tsunami alert of 2006.
I was a final year student at the Pacific Theological College and my family was the first in the college to learn of the tsunami alert. According to my calculations the tsunami was going to hit in either 15minutes, one hour and 15 minutes, or had in fact already hit. As student body president, I informed the college principal of the situation and said that I would help in the evacuation. My family began preparations. I dashed around and woke up my fellow students and lecturers asking them to come to the community hall for an emergency meeting. By this stage the first 15 minutes were up so we were either dead or had another hour. I popped my head into my flat to find my wife trying to fit five packs of diapers, baby formula,clothes, toys and essentials into two bags, while my mother was tidying the house and putting things out of reach of the water. After a brief (in Pacific/Fiji Time) meeting we began to evacuate. I went to move my family so that I could concentrate on evacuating the rest of my family to find my mother making a cup of tea, in case she couldn’t get a decent “cuppa” for a few days. The first family to hear the news of the impending disaster were one of the last to leave the college,lightly packed with two suitcases and a duffle bag full of only baby things.
So that was the tsunami story. As for “tsunamu,” I find it just the right description for those giant two-legged mosquitoes (namu) that appear late into the evening’s session, drink your kava or (fit appropriate beverage here), choke your chaser, your cigarettes and then ask you to drop them home after. I find a sermon and a long prayer helps get rid of all but the most determined of them.Happy Easter and have a safe month!
A sunbaked, self-confessed Jesus-freak, Padre James Bhagwan spends his time between doing laps in the pool, lecturing at Davuilevu Theological College, preaching at Dudley Methodist Church, playing with his children and driving his