TROPICAL Cyclone Evan was my first cyclone experience. Fingers crossed it will be my last.
Like many, I was caught off guard. I know there were many warnings issued days before Monday December 17 - and my family had prepared thanks to the weather office and the government. But the sun was out that morning and it was assumed that this was going to be just another day
Mid-morning the weather changed and within the hour the whistling turned into roaring waves of wind. The whole family, my parents and sibling were huddled in the living room, and from there we viewed our surrounding, Lovu Seaside, Lautoka.
We were fortunate as high winds only threatened our kitchen roof. The same cannot be said for our neighbours as many lost the roofs of their homes, some suffered damage to structure and some flattened to the ground. Those exposed to the elements fled to Lovu Sangam School, which served as an evacuation centre during the natural disaster. The next day when the wind settled we ventured out. Trees were uprooted or wounded, stripped off their limbs and leaves. The second thing I was grateful for was that we had no big trees near our home.
People were busy the next morning, salvaging what they could, sunning out belongings soaked by rain that had accompanied the winds. Some were already on their rooftops, fixing their roofs.
There were many stories exchanged, all relating the terrifying experience of a category four cyclone. People had a firsthand experience of watching roofs fly like paper in the air, huge trees tossed, coconut palm pulled in every direction and the horror of listening out for Evan to leave. Hovering for more than 10 hours, the never ending roar seemed like a nightmare that would never go away.
Out of the elders' mouth I heard them say this was the worst cyclone ever. I learnt later that Evan was the strongest in wind intensity to hit our shores.
But there was a common feeling shared. People were grateful - feeling blessed to be alive. Grateful they awoke to a new day with loved ones safe by their side.
The disaster also opened my eyes to another kind of awakening. There was robust giving - between families, between neighbours and between communities. This is the spirit we are known for and just watching these gestures of care was overwhelming in itself.
I am not from a rich family, we have a modest home and we live modestly.
We were without water and electricity for a few days and it made life a little more difficult.
I did not complain, though. People who had lost homes or suffered loss got up the next day and continued with life. Compared to their suffering, what was a few days without water and electricity?
Life lasting lessons were learnt out of the monster that was Evan. I have learnt to be grateful for every little that I have.
*Shayal Devi is a former student of Natabua High School. She is one of four prizewinners for Best Young Writer awards in the 2012 School's Design Your Own Newspaper competition. She was on a on a one week newsroom stint at The Fiji Times Lautoka office.