One of my best friends is a phone-itis survivor. I suspect Sefo can be considered “chronic”.
Sefo and I have shared 26 years of soul level friendship. Whether following exploration trails in the Canadian North, bunking in at a camp tent with noisy crew members, hanging from the wing of a Cessna that’s been chewed by a grizzly bear or luxuriating in the bosom of his family in the South Pacific, he finds a way to call me.
We’ve managed radio phones, landlines and now cell phones.
In the mid-1980s, I picked up the phone. Through scratching and clicking, I heard his familiar voice, “I’m on a Radio Phone!” That simple phrase meant everyone could hear both of us, an interruption would cut both of us out the conversation and anything important had to be said simply, clearly and early. The painful process whittled friendship down to bare-boned, impersonal facts.
Sefo hit my radar in a tiny mining town near Yukon. My intuition blew a gasket. Before engaging my brain, I stopped by the table where he was having lunch with a group of men, crouched down and said, “One day I am going to thank you. I don’t know for what right now, but I know it will be significant.” He looked stunned and I felt like an idiot. I dashed out of the cafeteria and raced back to my office where I hoped responsibility would reclaim my sane and sensible self. (But that story’s been written here – The Rotuma-Canada Connection.)
Sefo and I don’t plan our phone conversations. We just connect to see how the day went. We talk about Easter Island, rainy season in Vanuatu, tsunamis in the Pacific Islands, garbage containers or what we’re planning for dinner. I learn about his culture. I hear courage in starting a business. I listen to the respect he has for his business partner. I ache over his troubles in relationships. I lecture him when I think he needs it and vice versa.
Whether we’re laughing or blinking back tears, I’m reminded that I know this man better than any other human on this planet.
So he phoned the other day. His rich, deep voice was especially quiet, “Do you remember me telling you about Fred Marafono?” My heart tumbled.
“The Rotuman who was with the SAS – then served during the Blood Diamond Crisis?” I remembered Sefo telling me about this soft spoken Rotuman. He was a legend within SAS circles. He fought all over the world, from Northern Ireland to the Falklands. But it seemed his heart had been most challenged in Sierra Leone.
After the SAS, Fred had undertaken a security role and fought against the travesties and injustices around the Sierra Leonean Blood Diamond crisis. He stayed longer than his contract required because his conscience would not allow him to leave the people when they still needed him. He told the Sierra Leonean Chief Sam Hinga Norman leaving would be too much of a burden to carry for the rest of his life so stayed on under his own volition. Fred wore a lion’s tooth around his neck, given to him by Chief Norman. It was presented to signify their respect for Fred as a warrior. It confirmed his status as an honorary member of the Kamajor – a militia made up of local hunters of the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone.
No wonder Fred co-authored a book about his Sierra Leone experience: From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars, co-written with Hamish Ross.
“Yah.” Sefo responded. “Fred died in England on Wednesday.”
With only 12,000 or so Rotumans, living throughout the world, I understood how this news would stun the Rotuman community. Living in various countries, performing a variety of significant roles, Rotumans seem to be so versatile, adaptable, embracing while remaining humble. They integrate easily into new environments and cultures. They easily instill trust and steal hearts. I thought about Sefo navigating his way through the Northern bush better than Canadians with maps and compasses. He installed a set of outdoor Christmas lights outside my door in the North, bare handed, at minus 45 degrees Celsius, and came back inside with warm hands. He can be underwater so long, you’d think he’d found a cave to explore. He can be as immovable as a steel wall, determined as a kid freshly discovering freedom and quiet as a baby deer with no scent. In the midst of chaos, he can be as caring as a Methodist grandfather running a Day Care.
I imagined both Sefo and Fred, as young men, studying the horizon from their 43 square mile island home 500 miles from Fiji and deciding they wanted adventure. Each in their own way, they have excelled at anything worth doing while winning respect along with results. They learned to how to integrate within their adopted worlds without giving up their rich Rotuman souls. They don’t tarnish, these magicians of good will.
However, step onto the other side of “just” and be prepared to meet a strategic force quicker than a laser beam.
When I went to the Fijian Times to read about Fred’s death, the photo threw me off guard. I didn’t expect an ex-SAS hero to possess such disarmingly gentle eyes. I decided to put these two Rotuman men together in a frame.
These are the type of men I like as heroes…
they mine my heart diamonds.
Fijians – are gorgeous wonderful people…I assume that’s what they were as well as Rotumans – how fortunate you are to know one so well, and another such hero from a distance…
Rotumans are of Polynesian descent while Fijians are of African descent. While Rotuma did experience a time under Britain and has integrated with various aspects of Fiji, Rotuma is its own distinct entity.
I haven’t met many Fijians, but Sefo tells me of Canadians who have lived there and love going back!
Great memories are made of these type encounters…
And we’re not done building them yet, Bulldog.
A lovely tribute to Fred. Have you ever visited the island of Rotuman?
Actually, Linda, Sefo and I have been talking about my visiting Rotuma. He’s very wrapped up in a new and gung-ho business right now, but he plans to build a house on Rotuma so he and/or close friends can visit. He has told me that I would be welcome to go and stay whenever I wanted. What an honour. What I would love – the culture and traditions would be actively lived. While they enjoy some modern conveniences, they’re loyal to their culture. A ferry vessel runs from Fiji to Rotuma and, not without a great deal of consideration, there is an airstrip on which smaller planes can land. So supplies are regular – and there’s WiFi.
When Sefo was a boy, a writer from California landed on Rotuma. I don’t know how much homework she’d done, but the Rotumans had to make sure she had food. The young boys fished for her and I doubt she dug for her own taro or climbed a tree to get coconuts.
I’d love to join in where I would be welcomed.
How deep the ties that bind true friends 🙂
Indeed, Winsomebella. When I said I’d thank him some day, I didn’t know that I’d have the chance to express my gratitude many times over for so many different reasons.
Fred has the most serene face…Sefo is just downright sexy!
Serene is a good description, Kathy. And after all he’d seen and experienced! As a Canadian Doctor who served with Fred during the Sierra Leone Blood Diamond wars wrote: “Beneath the accumulated scars of a lifetime of military service lay a gentle disposition, a kindness and an understanding that the needs of his neighbour defined the co-ordinates of his neighbourhood.”
Yep, even though Sefo’s wild crop of Rotuman curls is now a fringe of frosty silver, his presence commands attention. And respect – but it’s all natural.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had politicians who had such honor and respect for others as he did….he appears to have fought the good fight….had to read a bit more about him on the web…thanks for sharing his story.
Yes, Charles, and that honor and respect was the fuel that helped form him into an exceptional man.
What a remarkable life. From the link you posted, this stood out to me – “Only three months short of his seventh decade of life, he was in a helicopter gunship supporting the SAS in their daring raid Operation Barras.” Incredible
Yes, this is a man who very few people realized was a hero. Though many of his experiences have gone with him, I pray his loved ones now have enough understanding to realize the extent to which they may hold his memory with love and respectful pride.
Hi Amy .. I’ve always loved your brief forays giving us snippets of your friendship with Sefo – seems extraordinary … and I can’t understand, but I can …
I’ll have to come back and learn more about Fred … and re-read your postings about your times with Sefo …
A humbling read – Hilary
Sefo and I well know each others’ humanness and foibles. Both of us have a significant need to have our own time and space – we give lots when engaged and require ample solitary downtime to regenerate. While both of us have other very special people in our lives, unique to Sefo, I receive a sense of Love, loyalty and protection. We innately understand this about each other which contributes significantly to our friendship. We’re free to simply love and respect each other without the minutiae that comes with more complex relationships.
Sefo and his wife, a fabulous mother who is also Rotuman, raised two daughters and a son, here in Canada, who are assets to their communities and our country. These young adults are raising their own families with continued respect for their culture. When I think of all Sefo has taught me in 26 years, it’s easy to imagine the wisdom and integrity these incredible young adults are passing on to the grandchildren.
A few months ago, Sefo gave me a small book about Rotuma. It explains some of the basics about the culture. After I read it, I said to him, “Sefo, I’m going to give this book back to you.”
“Because it has such great information. It needs to be given to a member of your family.”
“It has been,” he said quietly.
Subject closed! 🙂
Incredible enlightening piece of work – thank you for opening my eyes to new things and new heroes.
Thanks for commenting, Thomas. I hope my comments on your blog have reached you… I’m not concerned about my words reaching you, but rather that you know my appreciation for your ability to write!
My condolences to Sefo and the community. Fred sounds and looks like an amazing human being.
I also love when you share some of your stories of Sefo. I’d love to meet him. Its humbling to be in the company of people who live by respecting nature and the land. I didn’t realize that Rotuma was one of those islands near Fiji. I can’t imagine being a member of a community with only a few hundred members left in the world.
Thank you, Rosie, I will make sure Sefo is aware of your condolences.
I tease Sefo that if all Rotumans returned home, the little island would sink! As Rotuma’s website states, even though the young leave to make their way into the world, they come back for visits frequently or keep tabs on their island from afar. They either know each other or “know of” each other. No Rotuman is a stranger to another Rotuman. They may have to take a few minutes to unravel the bloodlines, but it’ll click for them.
Out of interest, jhust last night he told me he bought a coconut and roasted it as Rotumans do. I never thought of roasting a coconut. He said it didn’t taste good to him. He’s used to coconuts ripened on the tree. So I wouldn’t have known whether it was good or bad tasting. We Canadians are always amazed at the taste of fresh fruit and veggies (that don’t grow here) compared to the taste of produce shipped from such distances – green.
I know the taste of a freshly picked peach vs one picked green and shipped across the country so I’m sure coconuts do not travel well.
One of the security guards at the Museum has tried to explain the beautiful scent of the rice fields in his village in Afghanistan.