TWO sisters will live to celebrate another Christmas all because of their mother's strength which saved their lives out in the open sea last Saturday.
The three were faced with a traumatic life or death situation, swimming for more than eight hours in the waters of Gau after the boat they were travelling in capsized.
They were thrown into the cold water when their boat hit a reef.
Marica Tamani, 32, and her two daughters, Asenaca, 13, and Adi Vika, 10, all from Lovu Village in Gau, were eagerly anticipating spending Christmas in the Capital City with their relatives.
At 3am on Saturday, they boarded a fibreglass boat from Lovu Village with three other men — packed, ready and looking forward to enjoying their first Christmas in the big city.
The plan was to attend Marica's grandmother's funeral on the same day at Pacific Harbour, then stay on until after Christmas.
It was an hour later, when their captain thought they had safely passed the Somosomo Reef that their traumatic experience began.
"Three big waves hit us and Orisi (one of the men in the boat) yelled out to the captain, asking him what was going on," said Ms Tamani.
She said all of them were thrown in the water when the boat hit the reef and capsized. She said the captain told the passengers to swim to shore while he went back to see if he could turn the boat over.
"Luckily for us, Waqa (the other man) was from Nawaikama. He knew the reef and the water better then all of us. He told us to aim for Somosomo village, to the hotel near the beach.
"It was still dark, the water was cold, current was strong and the stones and coral from the reef kept hitting our legs. Asenaca and Orisi had managed to grab a life jacket each when the boat capsized so they took Adi Vika on their shoulders and aimed for the beach.
"Waqa was swimming up ahead and kept calling out to us, kept swimming back checking if we were okay and if we were swimming in the right direction.
"Adi Vika was crying, she kept telling me she was hungry. I didn't know what to do.
"All I could tell her was to drink sea water and keep swimming. I was just praying, asking God to take away our hunger and fatigue and to give us the strength to keep going. I didn't want to lose my daughters and Orisi."
Ms Tamani and Adi Vika then hung onto a bamboo they had spotted floating nearby. By then, Adi Vika complained she could not go on any further as her hunger was weakening her.
"I have never prayed so hard like I did that day. All I could think about was how excited we were to get to Suva and how now, our lives were in danger.
"I didn't want to lose my daughters, I wanted to spend a good Christmas with them, I needed to save them. There were occasions when I felt like giving up, when I believed we couldn't make it but I had to be strong for my children."
"When we got to shore at Somosomo village, some women had prepared bele in coconut milk. They apologised they couldn't prepare anything else but I told them that after what we went through, anything they put on the table we would eat," Marica said.
"We found out that we had been swimming for more than eight hours. I am not a strong swimmer, so it was only through God that we managed to last that long.
"Even though we won't be spending Christmas in Suva, I am happy nonetheless that I still have both my daughters alive and well," said Ms Tamani.