Libertine in Dreams

life in e-motion


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Dad

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Today marks one year since my Father passed away.

One year since I last saw him.

It’s been one year since I last heard his voice.

A year since I last patted his head; last brushed his cheek and last felt the warmth fade slowly from his hand.

I still can’t quite believe he is gone.
We used to joke that he would be around forever to torment us with his endless chatter. That even if he fell ill and was bedridden; even if he couldn’t walk or went blind; that he would still be talking endlessly, and that would be our punishment for all the times we were unkind to him or spoke badly about him. We used to laugh about it and say he would outlive us all, just to spite us.

I wish it was true.

One year on, and I can’t count how many times I’ve wished to seek his counsel.
We clashed and disagreed all the time, but no one’s advice was more important to me than my Father’s.

All his words of wisdom have seen fruition. Especially his advice on love – “No one will love you until you learn to love yourself”.
Also, “Renate, find yourself a palagi to marry. You will have an easier life because Samoan men will only cause problems and bring pain. Faakoa e iloa lae fai le koalua i le aso a le lua faaipoipoga a e alu aku le solo a le fafige ma le fagau.” (“You will only know about his wife when she shows up on your wedding day with his children in tow”). How right he was.

Someone said to me that I have to remember all the good and forget the bad.
I have considered this at length and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an impossible ask.
Perhaps with the passage of time, a dulling of senses will render all my memories rosy. But for now, all reflections of my Father are definitely not rosy. I still hold his memory up to the light and inspect the many flaws and broken pieces.
I cannot sanctify him, even in death. That is not who he was, and it is not who he will be when I tell my children and my grandchildren of their Papa.
I will speak truly of the good, the bad, the ugly and the love. This honesty is his greatest gift to me and one I hold on to the tightest as I make my way through this life.

It’s the little things that catch me offguard.
The sound of his truck pulling in to the driveway. I still expect to see him getting out of the driver’s side and walk in to the house with his plastic bags of goodies, complaining about his workers or rejoicing at a good deal he got for his vegetable haul.

I still complain in to thin air when I find a dirty dish on the counter and for a split-second I convince myself he left it there.

I still expect to see him sitting at our round dinner table, looking outside or off in to space – deep in thought.

I have been counting down to this day for months. It has become a life beacon, of sorts.
For some time now, I have convinced myself that I just need to get to the one year mark and beyond that, I would be okay.

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So here I sit, on the beach at Tafatafa (one of Dad’s favourite places) and I am thinking about the future.
Will I be okay? Will my Mother be okay? My brothers? My sister?  I think of my nephews who loved their Papa so much, and I am sad that he won’t see them go off in to the world – to conquer and follow their dreams.

The truth is we haven’t been the same since he left.
I have not been the same.
Every feeling is more acute. Every experience is felt for what it is. Every person is held accountable.
I also see my Mother with different eyes – the eyes of someone who has accepted that one day it will be her turn, and then mine.

Perhaps it’s a morbid way to live, but it helps.

So what of the future?
Can I build on the legacy he has left behind in all of us?
Can I make him proud? Can I take care of my Mother in his absence?
I don’t know for sure. But I take all the lessons – good and bad – with me.  I hold them close and use them on my journey.

I’m grateful for the years I had with my Father, and I’m grateful for having the opportunity to learn from such an interesting, brilliant, infuriating, insightful person.
I hope to make him proud in the years ahead, and despite my disillusions and wavering belief system – I hope to see him again one day.

I miss you, Dad.

RR xx


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Relax, Renate. Relax.

I’ve been away from the office for almost two weeks now.

At one of the busiest times too (General Elections around the corner).

Oh I didn’t want to take time off. I was forced to.

You see, I’m one of those stubborn people who will keep going because ‘mind over matter’ and as long as the heart is willing then everything else should follow suit. i.e. I refuse to accept that I am merely a sack of human frailty and ought to take care of myself instead of pretending I’m a robot.

Two weeks ago we had the Samoa National Kidney Foundation team in to our office to give everyone a health check. The basics like cholesterol, sugar and blood pressure tests. I was rushing around as usual and forgot about it so I went later than everyone. I took my folder of work to do while I sat and waited to be tested. Work has been hectic and I have to take advantage of any spare moments to clear off my To Do List.

I take the first test, Diabetes.

This one makes me nervous and I wait for the gentleman testing me to drop the bomb. I’m SURE I have diabetes. It’s in my family and I know my way around insulin and the sugar pills.

So there I am, trying to joke with the man testing me but inside I’m an utter wreck. I’m expecting to hear 18 or 20.

“5.3, that’s good”

I’m gobsmacked. I don’t have a sweettooth, but neither did my Dad and he succumbed to diabetes. A feeling of elation brings me back from the darkness. I’m beaming away and boasting to my colleagues who are waiting for their checks.

I’m told to collect my own urine and await the next test.

I do it. I realise I haven’t used the bathroom all day because I’ve not drunk any water nor have I eaten. I then remember that the first pee of the morning is optimal for pregnancy tests. Not sure why that popped in to my head, but it’s there, and I eventually begin to daydream about my children and passing on my superior, non-diabetic genes to them.

I return with my jar of yellow fluid. The gentleman testing it tells me I have elevated levels of something or other. I don’t understand him and for a moment I take stupid pride in being uniquely elevated. It’s then explained to me that I have high cholesterol.

Great. My love of butter and cheese is coming back to haunt me (I’m someone who zaps a chunk of cheese in the microwave and eats it with a fork).

I am taken to the next test for blood pressure.

I’ve always had low blood pressure. Even during the years I was a heavy smoker. The doctors could never explain it, and I was told several times that it was too low.

Not this time.

This time the machine shows a reading that raises the eyebrows of the lady working the machine.

She shakes her head and resets the machine.

“Is that high?” I ask.
“Yes it’s a bit high” she says, rather kindly.

Now they want to take a reading with me standing up.

They try and fail six more times. I ask her what’s happening and she said the machine can’t read my blood pressure.

It’s so fucking high the machine can’t zero in on it.

After a few more attempts, she eventually tells me to go sit in a corner and try to relax.

At this point I am anything BUT relaxed. I’m starting to freak out a little bit. When did this high blood pressure creep in? When did my body go from invincible youth to the aches and pains of middle-agedom? When did I get OLD?? I can’t remember the transition, and I sure as hell don’t appreciate the change.

I sit and ponder my mortality and sink deeper and deeper in to despair. Is my life over?

Will I now meet the same fate as my father? I didn’t have as much fun in life as he did so now I’m getting angry. It probably doesn’t help the blood pressure but I can’t help myself – must blame him one last time for something.

After twenty minutes, I go back and the machine still doesn’t take a reading. Three times we try. No luck.

At this point I’ve written my own eulogy, and make the silent decision to do whatever I want with whomever I want because I probably only have 30 days to live. Obviously.

I try to clear my mind and relax while she keeps trying. Eventually I hear her say she’s got it. And now it’s even higher than before.

Brilliant.

I now move to the line that takes me to the Doctor who will explain all the tests. I use this opportunity to go through my folder of stuff to do and manage to clear a few items off the list.

I get to the doctor and he basically tells me I should be having a stroke with my blood pressure readings. I sit there numbly and dumbly while he explains what to do and the next steps.

And they are to go to another doctor and get some pills so I can stay alive long enough to change my lifestlye.

Awesome.

I start to cry because…. I don’t know. I feel like life is a sham and stressing over work and responsibilities is truly a waste of anyone’s life.

I start to ask myself why. Why? Why care so much about my job and making people happy? Why care so much to do a good job and make the effort to be honest and go the extra mile for the benefit of someone else. Why? What am I doing this for? It is literally killing me to be this way.

So after my teary moment with the doctor I exeunt stage right and go straight to my office to stare out the window.

Existential-deep-thoughts-mode activated.

Co-workers come in and try to talk to me but at this point I’m in la la land. I just can’t worry anymore.

All the stress and drama and scheming and backstabbing of recent weeks and months has taken a physical toll on me and I can’t take it anymore.
I go home early (4pm).

The next morning I go to another doctor and he confirms it all. He prescribes me some pills (yuck, I loathe) and says I need to calm the fuck down.

I go and take more blood tests and buy my pills from the hospital (it’s very efficient and cool in there. Props to MOH for a smooth operation). Despite the usual hiccup of the blood test taking forever because of my shy veins, it was a stress-free undertaking and I was back at work by mid-morning.

By the time I got there the whole office was looking at me with pity. They all knew about my situation.

Just great. It felt like that scene in Dead Man Walking where the guy is a dead man walking.

I don’t like to show weakness so I was most unhappy that my colleagues knew I was one burst blood vessel away from a floral funeral arrangement from them all. But if it means they might understand the results of their actions and the load of work facing management (because they think it’s a walk in the goddamned park) then maybe I can accept some of their pity. For the team.

After the quiet shuffling outside my door was too much, I decided to talk to them and everyone had the same advice for me – find a husband.

“He will share your stress and you won’t suffer as much.”

These people have less white hair than me so maybe there’s something in this ridiculousness.
Five years ago I would have screamed bloody murder at such a suggestion. But 2016 Renate is seriously considering the wisdom behind such words.

I mean, maybe they’re right.

When I was coupled up, it was nice to have someone to rant to and be a cry baby to.

Not forgetting the magical nocturnal and sometimes diurnal de-stressing techniques of couples.

That helped. A LOT.

So instead of dismissing their comments as simplistic nonsense, I dismissed it as unrealistic nonsense because I don’t know where one would even go to get a husband. Is there a market? Can I buy one?

I decided to take some time off and my boss agreed with me. He even hugged me. Yikes.

So now it’s been two weeks of eating, sleeping and pleasure-seeking activities.

Honestly, I’m bored AF. But I am enjoying the down time because I don’t think I’ll have another break until Christmas.

Unless there’s a new government after elections… I’d probably be out of a job so there’ll be plenty of time to relax and tend to my garden of weeds.

If I’ve learnt anything in the past months and weeks, ignoring your mental health is a recipe for a major health disaster.

I absolutely MUST take time out every week for “me” activities and relaxation. I need to find ways to decompress. I have to socialise. I have to try new things. I have to leave my house more often!

I have to give myself some room to breathe.

Basically, I have to learn to let things go from time to time.
If you know me, you’ll know this is a big ask for me.

So anyway, that’s my tale for today.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with life, I urge you to step away from it all for a short while.

Your responsibilities will always be there.

Your family will still be there when you return.

The work will always remain.

You are not the only person who can do anything.
Take care of yourself first and you can take care of everything else after.

A huge thank you to the team at SNKF who provided a great service to our office and caught a few of us who were on the brink of disaster. Your work is truly appreciated.

If anyone out there wants to get a health check, please contact the Samoa National Kidney Foundation and have yourself tested for these common lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

So now all I have to do is find myself a husband… 😉


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New office neuroses

My office recently relocated floors in our building.
My office is now sharing an office with another office.
I am now breathing the same, reconditioned air as ten other people within five square meters and I tell you – it’s not doing my face any favours.  I look like the loose ends of a hobo’s ass.

What I discovered on the sticky floor and damaged walls of my new office:

  • Some lovely used cotton buds, complete with gooey yellow ear wax.
  • A few toothpicks fashioned from paper clips and match sticks.
  • A line of industrious worker ants, chipping away at food scraps that have fallen from the mouths of chimpanzees.
  • Curtains that have been used as napkins and handkerchiefs.
  • Windows that haven’t seen a splash of Windex or even the moist breath of an honest soul.
  • The salty taste of vindictiveness in the air.
  • Moult from a shape-shifting opportunist.
  • and Bible quotes glued to the wall.

I miss my quiet office, with nary a light-fingered soul to be seen for miles.
I miss being surrounded by smaller amounts of bullshit.
I miss the promise of not being interrupted every 10 mins for a new toilet roll or a tin of milk powder because the milk powder given just yesterday was consumed by the milk powder gremlin.
I miss walking in to my office at my optimal performance time of 9am-ish instead of the 9am time the attendance book monitor expects of me.
I miss staring out the window, deep in thought about what I want for lunch, instead of staring out the window, deep in thought about the exact number of bones I would break if I leapt out the window.

I’ve resorted to streaming classical music to relax.

Okay, here’s hoping next week doesn’t turn me in to a raging tyrant.


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Second Letter to the Editor

18 February 2015

Editor of the Samoa Observer
PO Box 1972
APIA

Dear Editor,

Re: “If you want advice Rivers, ask your boss Tuilaepa. He knows.”

I thoroughly enjoyed and was greatly amused by your lengthy diatribe in today’s Observer.
If I was easily cowed and unsure of my own mind, I would have been shamed by your public chastisement.  Luckily for me, I have been blessed with a strong and independent spirit, and I don’t scare easily.
Respectfully, I don’t need to ask the Prime Minister for his advice on this matter because this woman is capable of thinking and speaking for herself.
I won’t resort to personal attacks, because I have too much respect for you as a wizened wordsmith and an embattled media sage (and also because it’s not my style).  However if you would be so kind, I would like to address a few of your comments:
1. Like most Government offices, yes, my office is tax-payer funded.  And to a great extent, so is yours.  Where do you think the POs come from to pay for all those Government ads in the Observer?  That is tax-payer money:  yours AND mine.
2.  In reference to: “For someone who’s just barged in…..as if she’s Tuilaepa’s gift to the media.”  Well, thank you.  I’ve never considered myself to be a gift.  But now that you mention it, you might as well enjoy my presence.
3.  No one is forcing the Observer to print what you consider to be “page filler” Press Releases from Government.  And by Government, I am referring to any informational release from any Ministry, Authority, Corporation etc.  If you believe their work is not worthy of your “free” publicity, then you are well within your rights to decline them in place of your own news items.  Far be it for any Government agency to clutter your paper with what you deem to be “trash” such as national development news, community projects, educational programmes, health initiatives etc etc etc.  It may not be the “hard news” you prefer, the kind that guarantees your newsprint to sell out, but in my most humble opinion – it’s valuable and important information for the greater community who deserve more than the latest titillating, sensational headline.

Whilst you have made your feelings very clear in today’s editorial devoted entirely to me, I’ll tell you now that it doesn’t faze me.  At all.
I will remain a loyal servant to the public and continue to go about fulfilling my duties.  And to reiterate, those duties include clarifying some of the misinformation or worse, disinformation, put out there as ‘news’ about Government.  After all, that was the onus of my letter to your office from 15/02/15 – to clarify that my office did not request the Observer to “hold your presses”, as your newspaper erroneously claimed.

To wrap – I consider you all colleagues, and yes that means the Observer’s reporters too.  I know them all, and they know me.
My office serves many other media organisations.  The Observer is but one.

Here’s wishing you an unceasingly prosperous 2015, Savea.  May you continue to show us your wise, patient and profound thoughts in your editorials, for years to come.

Faithfully yours,

Renate Rivers


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Letter to the Editor (of the Samoa Observer)

16 February 2014

Editor of the Samoa Observer
PO BOX 1972
APIA

Dear Editor,

Re: Editorial “Setting the record straight.”

I read, with great interest, the editorial in today’s Observer by Mrs. Moore where she is “setting the record straight”, and after reading through to the end, I would like to take this opportunity to fulfill that promise.
Firstly, thank you for printing the Savali Newspaper interview of the Prime Minister from Saturday 14/02/15.  As the only daily in Samoa, your newspaper has the widest circulation in Apia so your front page splash of the Prime Minister’s interview boosted our audience numbers significantly.
Secondly, I wish to make clear that the email sent from my office to the Observer’s editorial triumvirate of Savea, Mataafa and Marjorie on Saturday evening did not ask for the Observer to “hold the presses”, nor did the email request for a front page.

The content of the email was simply a courtesy note, letting you all know that the Savali Newspaper had just wrapped an interview with the Prime Minister, and if you were interested – it would be issued within the hour.  I invite you to read the email again and let me know exactly how you extracted “hold the press” from it.  In fact, your own Editor-in-Chief wrote back to me, and then even called me up to say that the Observer would wait for the Interview.  Although appreciated, the eagerness of the Observer to “hold the presses” had nothing to do with me or my powers of persuasion.  I suspect it was more to do with the fact that the Prime Minister’s interview would make for better reading on a Sunday, than “other news of interest”.  And while on the topic, what other “news of interest” did you have to reshuffle?  Was it a rugby story?

Let’s just call a spade a spade and admit that the Observer needs news and the Government is the news.  We’re practically in a relationship.  So despite your paper’s attempts to distance yourselves from the warm bosom of Government’s stream of information, I’m afraid you’re as reliant as a child on the nourishment it provides.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Observer and other media organisations rely on Government for their news.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Samoa is a small country from a big region in a huge world.  Comparatively speaking there’s not much to report on, unless of course you are wizened and clever and manage to create the news yourself.
Browsing quickly through my cherished pile of Observers next to my desk, I can tell you off hand that since Thursday last week – there have been approximately 20 different stories relating to Government.  And that doesn’t include the different Press Releases and court stories you print.  Also I note that on Friday last week the Observer printed a total of three (3) stories that were written by your reporters.  The other four (for a total of seven) were Press Releases.
I’m not so tactless as to outline what kind of revenue was collected from an edition that prints three original news stories (two of which were about Government), but perhaps your powerhouse trio of editors could explain why the good people of Samoa should overlook the fact that your newspaper makes a living off Government, and yet you insist that we – my office in particular – are basically begging you to “hold” your impressive state-of-the-art presses?

We, as a courteous and efficient office of Government, work hard to maintain great rapport with our media colleagues.  We recognise that the media’s role in society is important, and we work hard to ensure your newspapers and radio shows and television programs are supplied with news on a regular basis.
In fact, I usually correspond with Mataafa.  The only reason I specifically copied Savea and Marjorie in to my email was because I had not received a response from Mataafa from earlier last week when I had written to him and questioned the objectivity of one of the Observer reporters’ story lines.  Our office does not favour any particular media organisation, nor do we provide scoops or special breaking news to any particular reporter.  We issue our news to everyone on our media mailing list on the same day, at the same time, and by the same method.  We also provide the same information to the public, government agencies, diplomatic corps, our overseas missions, civil society and the private sector through mailing lists, the Government Website, social media accounts and hard copies should anyone wander through our doors and want to know what’s going on.
Currently we provide Government news to around 20 different Samoan news organisations here and abroad (dozens of reporters) as well as regional news outlets.  If any of your readership gather their news from alternative sources, they would have seen that the Newsline also ran the interview in their Sunday paper.

My office and I are here to help the media.  All of the media.  We don’t need to curry favour from any newspaper, radio or television station.  So to my colleagues at the Samoa Observer, I ask that you don’t forget relationships that have been forged since time immemorial.  Or perhaps only as far back as 1978.
The Observer is only one of a long list of news outlets that my office serves, and there are plenty of other media representatives who share our Press Releases, our news of Government initiatives, development projects and community programmes with those who matter the most – the people of Samoa.

Faithfully yours,

Renate Rivers
Government of Samoa


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Editorial

(Savali Newspaper)
If the first two weeks of 2015 are any indication of what’s ahead, this year is going to be a hectic and eventful time for the people of Samoa.  This week’s editorial will touch on three different topics – the media saturated issue of the SSLC Mathematics result, the Citizenship Investment Bill and the Media Council Bill.

75% Failure
Teachers and students of Samoa have had a busy week of successes and failures.  Whilst teachers were celebrating their 7% pay-increase (as part of a three-year roll out totaling 21%), approximately three quarters of students who sat the Secondary School Leaving Certificate were mourning their mathematics results.  Everyone seems to have an opinion on what went wrong and the finger-pointing is well underway. 
Of interest is the fact that for the first time in recent memory, these exam results were based on raw marks and were not scaled.  If the 75% failure rate is any reflection of the “true” results of previous years, then scaling has masked any real insight in to what our future leaders are learning and retaining.  A scary thought.  Although a little scarier is the thought that there are thousands of former students, from previous years, currently among us with ‘scaled’ mathematics results.
It would be interesting to see how the other SSLC subjects were marked. 
Mathematics is a great indicator of the cohesive and functioning relationship between the teacher and the student.  Simplistically – you are taught how to work out a problem and you arrive at the established answer.  In numeracy, you’re either right or you’re wrong.  There is no in-between or interpretive dance around a possible scenario that may or may not apply depending on personal feeling or how the wind blows on any given day.  It’s not English. 
If this Mathematics result is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the educational prowess of our future leaders, then we should all start panicking now.  If this is difficult to stomach, perhaps you should check your future leader’s social media pages and work it out for yourself. 

Citizenship Investment Bill
As the topic of deliberate and calculated scaremongering by some newspapers, it’s disappointing to see that this Bill has been further cheapened as a political tool for next year’s elections.  Certain Parliamentarians (and would-be election candidates?) are riding the wave of media-incited alarm by openly encouraging racist feeling towards foreigners, or more precisely and somewhat poignantly – Chinese people.
The great French General, Charles De Gaulle once said that “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first and nationalism is when hate for people other than your own comes first.”
Disdain for other beliefs, other cultures, other people is what causes most of the suffering in the world.  Blurring the line between concern for country as a patriot, and contempt for foreigners does not take much skill or effort.  It’s easy to be ignorant.  Fear of the unknown can keep you boxed within a prison of self-imposed limitations.
The claim that Samoa is being sold to foreigners is a shared paranoia of xenophobes. 
Some critics come to the party with innocent intentions.  Others are determined to exploit the debate for their own gain.  Others still offer their opinions without contributing anything useful at all.
At the heart of the matter is the fear of Samoa being for sale.  That some part of our identity as Samoans will be made available to anyone with a few million tala. 
Such melodrama. 
Citizenship is not what makes Samoa special.  A passport does not separate you from the rest as a true Samoan.  It is not measina. 
What makes us special as Samoans can never be sold – it’s the spirit of Samoa, it’s the lands of our forefathers and the honour of matai.  It’s the sense of respect we value in each other and ourselves.  There is no bounty on that. 
A passport is simply a bound booklet, handy for travel and useful as ID when collecting your gift from the local money transfer.  That’s all.
Samoa needs investors.  Whether by virtue of this Bill, or any other method, Samoa needs investors to bolster the economy and create jobs.  Even if our graduates are failures at arithmetic, they still need work.  The faalavelaves don’t wait.  The church donations don’t halt.  The bills don’t stop.  Ever.

Media Council Bill
The special Parliamentary Committee tasked with examining the Bill has been holding consultations in recent weeks, working through the minutiae of differing opinions for and against media regulation.
As we await to hear from them, we should consider the difficult road that brought us here. 
After years of industry-led consultations and numerous drafts of a working Bill, during which the proposed regulation was endlessly scrutinised by the media, the hard slog by Samoa’s journalists to see a positive step towards raising the standards of journalism, is almost over. 
The media industry is full of highly opinionated, egotistical, stubborn, scheming, charming, dedicated, amazingly talented, passionate personalities.  It’s basically Politics, without the official passport.
So you can imagine how difficult it is to come to a consensus on anything, let alone regulations that will determine how your industry is guided.  It wasn’t easy.
As the Fourth Estate, the media is burdened with glorious purpose.  To watch, to inform, to report, to forum, to advise, to entertain.  These responsibilities are not to be taken lightly – not by the government, not by the media and most of all, not by the people of Samoa. 
Should this Bill pass in to law the only change will be in the extra pause by reporters, before submitting an article.  More so than before, they will have to reconsider whether their story is going to measure up to the standards of responsible and ethical reporting.
Proposed regulations in the Bill, as agreed upon by the majority of local media organisations and individuals , will ensure that professionalism in the industry and journalistic standards are raised to respectable levels.  There is little doubt that anyone would object to that.