Ladies, Gentlemen and Sasses.
When I was 16 years old, I got punched in the face by my youth leader and ended up with a bleeding nose. We were sitting down on the floor – our youth group – and the leader (who was in the 30-35yo range) was upset at my younger sister (15yo) for something that happened a few days earlier when my sister had a disagreement with an older member of our autalavou – the lady called her ‘tautalaititi’ (cheeky) and my sister yelled back ‘you overstayer!’ (which was not a lie at the time….so…..?) Anyway, back to the day in question – I sat there as the leader berated my sister like a strict principal at a girls’ convent school, and I thought ‘seeesh lady when is this lecture gonna end..’ I was staring down at the floor during all of this when suddenly I heard the words ‘you monkey’ coming from the leader’s lips aimed at my sister. My head snapped up, and without thinking, I yelled out ‘you better shut your mouth’…and within 5 seconds, I had a bleeding face. I never got the chance to defend myself because when we all got over the shock of me being attacked by the older woman, and I was able to get to my feet, the other ladies were already holding my arms back…as if I was the monster. One of the members had run out to get my mum who was at that moment driving out of the carpark after dropping us off, and flagged her down to tell her about what happened. I’ve never seen my pint-sized asthmatic non-physically-intimidating mother walk into a room like the boss that she was that day, spitting fire and going after my attacker.
Fast forward a few days, my family gets an apology from her family and accepts it. Later on that year, I get a personal heartfelt apology from her. Her reasons for lashing out that day? She was desperately trying to hang on to her marriage, the husband was unfaithful and she was at her wits end at what to do to keep the man she loved. She wasn’t herself, she hated her life and she hated herself. I accepted her apology and moved on – totally. From that moment on, I never held it against her and we remain great friends today. I could’ve easily judged her from my own point of view as a very outspoken 16 year old – I was the girl that ‘pffffft-ed’ at the fobs when they winked at me while walking past, so I confidently held the opinion that men were useless and women could live awesome lives without them. I heard what the other ladies were saying about her, speculating on why her husband left her for another woman, and I saw the way she changed that year, becoming more grouchy and less of a respected youth leader. So I did my best to accept her sincere apology.
When I look back at this memory, it makes me laugh because at home I was a monster to my younger sister. I would tease her, annoy her and make sure I won our ‘fights’ whenever we battled. But outside of our sisterly context, I was (still am) fiercely protective of her and the rest of my family. This was not the first or even the last time I challenged others who dared belittle my loved ones. As a tama’ita’i Samoa, I was expected to stay quiet and accept the words and actions of someone older than me – but I could only do this to a certain degree. Most times when these things happen, we just zip our lips and try not to show our faalii-ness right? But there are times when you do speak out because you feel so incensed at the wrongness of what is happening before you. So you MUST speak out – but then you get pushed back into your seat (or in my case, given a lovely makeover). I stayed quiet when I could, but when someone clearly crossed the line, I was ready to bump them back to their side of the line and I truly saw this as my responsibility since I was the only ‘extrovert’ in my family. Do I regret standing up for my sister that day? Hell no. I would do it again.
So – lesson from the day I got punched in the face? Before you stand up for someone, you need to literally STAND UP so then maybe the other person can’t get your precious face and instead only punch you on the arm or something…..classic case of #shewasntreaaadddyyyy