Everyone experiences loss, in different ways and at different times. Each loss has a different meaning. I’d worked in Aurukun about a year and a half and decided I’d stay for another year and a half. I bought a Toyota landcruiser, rescued a camp dog puppy and was given a scrawny bedraggled looking black kitten, with a car and pets I was ready to settle for a bit longer in a place far from home. Fasi and I nursed our puppy named with the Samoan word for baby, Pepe, to health. We delighted in her antics, Fasi even let her sleep on him. When she was about six months old I went to Samoa for a few weeks to visit Fasi as he’d returned to care for his elderly mother, and arranged for a nurse who lived next door to care for her.
Apparently all went well until the day before I was due to fly back into the community, Pepe became unwell with gastro symptoms. I wasn’t contacted. I had only her to look forward to seeing when I returned, as Fasi had left Aurukun permanently. I kept imagining her joyful welcome during the long flights from Brisbane to Cairns to Aurukun.
As soon as I reached the gate to my yard in the semi-dark of a Cape York evening I knew there was something wrong. The manager of the clinic came across and told me she put Pepe to sleep herself that morning. She hadn’t bothered to phone me.
I walked away and up my steps and sunk to the floor once inside and sobbed. I phoned Fasi in Samoa to tell him and we both cried. It seemed such an unnecessarily cruel thing to do, normally the nurses do all they can to save each others dogs.
I lasted a few days and handed in my resignation, I couldn’t work with the attitude of that manager.
There isn’t just one side to a loss. I felt Pepe’s death keenly, especially the way she died and the thoughtlessness of a nurse from whom people would expect better. After a few days Fasi rightly pointed out that Pepe would have kept me in Aurukun had she lived, I couldn’t travel with a dog. So I reluctantly turned to the next stage in my remote area nursing journey and took up life as an agency nurse, travelling over the top end of Australia experiencing places and people I barely knew existed.
Thank you Pepe.
Have you ever had the experience of a few simple words changing your life? I have, over five years ago sitting on a red Weston’s flour drum at the landing in Aurukun, Fasi was sitting next to me watching local women fish as the November sun set. They were his words, “In my country we have a saying, when the sun goes down it’s the end of the day.” He first spoke them softly in Samoan and I thought I’d never heard anything so wise and sweet. I won’t tell you the rest of the story, except to say, I can still hear the whispered words in my imagination and their simplicity still makes me smile and it’s become a joke between us. I fell in love with him that evening.
My first weekend in Aurukun I wondered how I was going to fill in the time where there were no café, cinemas or friends. But I was invited to go fishing with another nurse and the two Samoan guards. I caught my first fish, a Trevally, and began a habit of walking down with the boys most weekends and spending time with a rod among the mangroves. Fasi and Tupe were fun to be around. They laughed, joked and told stories of Samoa. The time with them went too quickly.
I soon looked forward to having a chat with Fasi, on the clinic verandah on my way back home after seeing patients after hours. His English was better than Tupe’s and he told me stories about working on the family plantation in his village of Tuan’ai on the island of Upolu, before and after school. Of the long walk there and the need to please his often angry father. Being taught to dive by him, to spear fish and octopus to feed the family. He taught me a few Samoan words and laughed at my pronunciation. He talked about breadfruit, taro and coconut cream and other Samoan foods.
A month or so after I arrived Fasi and I walked down to the landing most afternoons after work if we weren’t on duty. The landing was where we fished and where the locals put their boats into the Archer river and headed off closer to the Gulf waters. On a slow wander along a red dirt track one afternoon we found a tall breadfruit tree, covered with green fruit the size and shape of small basketballs. Fasi was excited to see what he called in Samoan, an ulu tree. He knocked down four with a long forked stick and we carried them back to his flat. I had my first lesson in Samoan food preparation. The tiny kitchen soon filled with the warm scent of baking ulu. The next thing to do was to find coconuts to scrape the flesh and make cream to dip the ulu in, take fish out of the freezer and an island style feast would be ready in no time.