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Naevuevu Fire Survivor Return From First Tour Of Duty, Reminisce How She Was Saved By Her Late Mother

Naevuevu Fire Survivor Return From First Tour Of Duty, Reminisce How She Was Saved By Her Late Mother
Aunty Ana Takala (left) with Private Meresiana Baleiyanuca at the Nadi International Airport on August 27, 2018. Photo: Waisea Nasokia
August 28
20:10 2018

If people had the abil­ity to change the course of history, Pri­vate Meresiana Baleiya­nuca would still be greet­ed by her mother with open arms today.

Returning yesterday from a year of peacekeeping duties under the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UN­AMI), with 20 other Republic of Fiji Mili­tary Forces (RFMF) personnel, Private Baleiyanuca was instead greeted with many tears of joy by her aunties at the Nadi International Airport.

For Private Baleiyanuca, the moment triggered fond memories of her late mother, Monika Matakitoga, who died in the tragic bus fire incident in 2008.

With tears, she said: “I was thinking about my mother, God rest her soul, and I can only wish that she was here to receive me with open arms.”

Private Baleiyanuca’s moth­er, who was from Moturiki, was one of 12 passengers who perished in the bus fire on August 29, 2008 at Naevue­vu near Sigatoka. Fifty-four people were on board the Rai­waqa bus.

Private Baleiyanuca, who was 12 years old at the time attending Loreto Catholic Primary School in Levuka, Ovalau, was accompanying her mother on a funeral trip to the Western Division. The bus fire incident left the en­tire nation in shock.

Her aunty, Koleta Vueti, 49, who is also a survivor of the tragic incident, said: “We are so proud of her achievement today, but I wish my sister was here as well to witness this day.”

Without hesitation, Private Baleiyanuca recalled her last moments with her mother on that fateful night.

“I was seating on the third seat from the front, with my mother next to me. I was sleeping and suddenly I heard my mother trying to wake me up. It was dark and I could not see anything,” she said.

“I was also caught by sur­prise that in a swift move, my mum grabbed me and threw me out of the bus. On the ground, I stood there out­side the bus unshaken, but in shock. I could only see the big flames and I could hear her voice.

“Looking back, I blame my­self because I did not respond to her earlier. Had I done that, she would still be here.”

Private Meresiana is the youngest of four siblings and was brought up by her grand­mother, aunty and father, Ru­siate, who is a farmer.

She joined the RFMF in 2015 and was called for her first tour of duty last year.

“It was my ambition to be a nurse and not join the Army. But one day I came to Suva and my uncle, who is an army officer, told me to join and I have no regrets,” she said.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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