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.