Tuesday, 24 July 2012

True confessions of a teine Samoa



So I'm going to tell you something just a little bit scandalous for a Samoan girl. I imagine that your eyes are already skipping down the screen to read my revelation.... yes I know you and your faikakala-ness so well! Well slow down and I'll share my school girl fantasy, for the very first time ....EVER.....

Oh wait.....I don't need to, because Lani Wendt-Young somehow read teenage me's mind! Then she wrote all about it in "When Water Burns"! I feel like the "bride stripped bare".  Ok I know you're all nodding in agreement and understanding, and thinking, it's Daniel.... *heavy sigh* and Keahi.... *even heavier sigh*, it's the fact that they're both super hot paddlers in an outrigger competition, and they're both super cut, that they both have tattoos, that they have super powers, and that they are fighting over me Leila....Ok I admit that may play a very very very small part in it...but kicking one of those guy's butts when he gets a bit too cheeky... now that's what extravagent and unrestrained imagination is ALL about!

The first book in the Telesa trilogy "Telesa-The Covenant Keeper" had left us on tenterhooks. Sure Daniel's responsible, and really good looking, sure he was head prefect, and sure he plays rugby, and sure he is close to perfect to take home to your parents if anyone ever does that in Samoa, in my day you'd have had to have a death wish .  Those are all great qualities, but they're not necessarily the type of qualities that will turn a girl's head in high school.  Plus I'm, I mean, Leila is a fire goddess... so he kind of needed to step up his game.  So when, at the end of Telesa the sea returns Daniel safe, I was already imagining him swimming  in various states of undress with sharks and I couldn't wait to see that birthmark again how his super powers would manifest.

When Water Burns built brilliantly on Telesa, using the clever character development and scene setting in the first book, to make this second book faster paced and even more impossible to put down.  I was smiling wryly to myself, reading about iphone 4 conversations, on the kindle app on my iphone 4s (I obviously had to get the gratuitous mention of my iphone in there, you know I did!).  Yes it was wrecking my eyes, but it was enabling reading while doing the domestic duties that desperately needed the most attention you know little things, like feeding my child.

When Water Burns delves more into the "dalacious" Simone, who really comes into her own in the second book of the series. Simone is still screamingly funny (see Tim Baice's write-up in Simone in the City for some great insights), but in this book Simone is the girlfriend we all wanted, wise and witty, making sure Leila sees sense... such as ensuring she makes appropriate arrangements for her Louboutin shoes (appropriate arrangements being willing them to Simone of course, I said wise, not lacking in self-interest!)


I'm a reader, a book worm, a super geek. I embrace it! As anyone who has ever glanced at my blog will know, for me reading has been a real joy, a comfort and a constant companion.  Perhaps it's because we all love sharing our own passions, that I loved how Telesa and When Water Burns appealed to many people who don't necessarily have those particular proclivities. It's one of the things I love about both books. Like Twilight, and The Hunger Games Series, it opened up reading to so many young Samoans, who may not have otherwise have been interested in reading.  That's an amazing thing.


But for me, an even more amazing thing, and what I liked best about When Water Burns was how it confronted the issue of sexual abuse, a serious and difficult issue, especially in Samoa.  The fact that When Water Burns wove in this issue that we avoid, that we don't address or talk about, into this Young Adult fantasy romance, that is reaching so many, really made this book more than just a great read.  As a child who was sexually abused, I know too well how this topic is taboo. How it can be swept under the carpet. How victims are too often voiceless.  I remember the deep feeling of shame I had all through school, how it was so unspeakable, because I thought this was only something that had only ever happened to me. But I grew up. And I realised that I wasn't the only one, that it had also happened to an awful lot of others, others who hadn't spoken out and stopped it as I did as a child, that it was in fact, all too common.  I realised that it's something that we, as a society, need to speak about.  Because here's the thing about all the secrecy that surrounds sexual abuse, there is an unspoken implication that it somehow reflects on those who suffered. We never hear about the survivors, or, if we do, we never hear about their successes. We only hear survivors' stories when they are recounted as part of a tragic tale about a person who has gone off the tracks.  This is why, a long time ago, I decided to no longer be silent. To say openly, I was sexually abused, and that does not define me or mean I am damaged.  To say I was sexually abused, and I refuse to be stereotyped, I am no longer ashamed, and I don't need sympathy. To say I was sexually abused, and I'm a succesful member of society. And to say that as a member of society, not just as someone who was sexually abused, I applaud an author who can bring this issue front and centre in a fun racy Young Adult romance that people will read and relate to.

And so, just as she pays "tribute to the generosity, commitment, and fortitude of those who work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse", I pay tribute to Lani Wendt-Young, who was brave enough to write about it. To say I appreciate it and oh teenage me also appreciated the gratuitous descriptions of both Keahi and Daniel in that outrigger competiotion, and LOVES how Leila can kick ass anytime. Write on!

11 comments:

Sila Aiono said...

Fetch I nearly cried reading the end! lol
My sentiments EXACTLY! I no longer consider myself a victim nor a survivor of sexual abuse.
It happened.
I have forgiven.
I have healed.
Martin Luther King Jr said
“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”
Thank you for writing about this!

Teine Sa said...

Wow. There must be something in our Sydney water leading to confessions & "speaking out". I just posted my own blog about abuse 10 minutes ago, signed into Facebook and saw a link LWP posted for this blog piece. Reading your sad story and how you also refuse to be a victim or definted by that event makes me smile and want to send you virtual hugs. I hope it encourages more people to speak out about these matters because it does happen and unfortunately, still is happening.

Laura said...

Hard out, bringing taboo issues up - especially for Samoans is like a huge deal - because everyone will know and most likely judge you for talking about it.

Such bravery it takes for one to [rightly] speak up and out about these kinda stuffs.

I liked this post.

Teine Sa said...

(i meant defined not definted-blame
It on my teary eyes whilst reading your blog)

jo_an said...

Lovely post Teine Samoa. I really felt a sense of empowerment in your words. You speak of (life altering and shattering) truths that many others would rather avoid bringing up and I applaud you for doing so. You're a wonderful example of a strong pacific woman. I think its wonderful that you also pay tribute to Lani and her literary works for they truly are magnificent stories that capture the hearts, minds and souls of many.

Again, lovely post.

Anonymous said...

I am from Fiji, it is the same in all our pacific cultures, this is not spoken about or acknowledged. As a child you soon learn which "uncle" has a wandering eye and roving hands and to keep away from them at family gatherings. I think that letting kids know this behaviour is not acceptable and to talk about it with a trusted adult needs to be taught in the islands. We avoid all conversations about our bodies. In school in Fiji my "sex education" happened at 13yo, when all girls were gathered together and told "if you use a tampon you won't be a virgin, so don't use a tampon" and "if you have your period you should stop talking to boys" the rest happened in biology at 15years old. We were told to read these two pages, a factual and biological account of sex, and the teacher left the room and came back after 2 minutes and said.-" I don't want any questions, but that is what married people do to have a baby" and we turned the page... the rest we figured out from friends. I am in my 30's so it wasn't that long ago. I wonder if things have changed at all? I know they still use the same text books in school, so I doubt it. However, the internet will have made life a bit less mysterious for teenagers today!

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Sila, I love the Martin Luther King quote. I believe the measure of a person is not in what happens to them, but in how they deal with it. Thank you for being one of the people willing to speak out. It is only when people realise it can happen to any child that we have a better chance of protecting all our children.

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Teine-Sa, I read your blog and I was impressed by how candid you were- it's no easy thing to be so open about warring emotions, and I really admire your courage in breaking the silence and speaking out. I only hope that enough of us do this so that it no longer is something that is just swept out of sight.

Thanks Laura and Jo-an- I am grateful for the feedback. I really believe that there will be teenagers reading Lani's book who will be prompted to talk about child abuse and maybe even what happened to them for the first time.

Thanks Anonymous, I agree that all our Pacific cultures treat this topic with trepidation. I haven't heard of sex education in Samoa (ie. we didn't even have the 2 pages of biology when I was 15 but then I was in Arts) but it may have changed now. I agree that conversations about our bodies and the fact that noone has any right to touch them has to start well before high school. It's sad but true.

Lani Wendt Young said...

Just wanted to thank you. Every now and then, I come here and read this one over again. Usually when Ive gotten a crappy book review, or when somebody has reminded me that my books are 'not great literature' or when I find myself doubting my writing voice. I read this and it gives me that little shake-up reminder, that little kick-in-the-butt - that even though I have a loooong way to go before I will ever read one of my books and be completely happy with it - I am doing SOME things right. And with practise and more practise, hopefully, the next books will be better.
Awesome feedback on the book and thank you so much for highlighting my small attempts to make a 'shameful secret' topic in Samoa - come out of the darkness and enter public discourse a bit more.

Sieni A.M. said...

enjoyed this review. very insightful and thought provoking.

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Sieni, I remember you from school, and see that you and Saba are now in Israel- part of the wonderful Samoan diaspora. I am glad you enjoyed the review.

Lani,
I am humbled.
Just that
(oh and I think we should have lunch sometime :-) )