Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saturday Night Fever

My Saturday nights are usually pretty much like any other night.  I’m in my house by 6 or 7, make dinner, take a shower, eat dinner while watching something on my computer, trade the floor lamp for my headlamp about 9 and then read under the mosquito net until about 10:30.  Not exciting but very comfortable.

Last night was different.  My village’s 7th Day Adventist church was hosting a week-long conference.  I was invited to the grand finale – a concert on Saturday night.  I was told it was a concert and sort of Star Search competition.  The woman who invited me was very excited because one of her daughters was a contestant.

The evening started with the challenge of getting me to the church. The event was ½ mile from my house, on the main road.  In daylight, no problem.  But it started at 7:30 and it’s full dark by then.  My host “mother” was originally going but something came up.  She was planning to send her 17 year old son to walk me, but he was needed to run the family store.  I assured them I’d be fine and headed off.
It was a dark night but there are occasional street lights and lots of people on the road so I felt very safe.  After I walked about 200 yards, one of my Year 6 girls and her 15 year old sister joined me.  I thought they just happened to be going in the same direction but then realized the truth.  Their mother had seen me walking alone, in the dark, and sent them to escort me.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of the concert but assumed it would be similar to the New Year’s Eve event at the EFKS (Congregational) church.  The choir singing, youth group dancing and a few individuals singing.  Inside the church.

I was incorrect.  First I noticed the lights.  As we approached the church we could see that the grounds were lit up like a county fair.  Then I noticed the busses.  If you’re thinking of Bret Michael’s bus on Rock of Love, think again.  These were the same busses I ride every day, but pressed into special evening duty to transport people from nearby villages.  Next I noticed the people.  Hundreds of them.  More than the population of my whole village was assembled for the event.

Which had already started, by the way.  I arrived at 7:30, the official start time.  I figured it might get rolling about 9.  Nope, it started a bit early.  I will never be on time for anything during my two year stay here.

I didn’t see the friend who’d invited me, so I joined the adults standing in the back of the crowd and tried to ignore the small stir my arrival caused.  There were people from around the island at the event and apparently not everyone knew a palagi lived in the village so there were a fair number of whispers and stares.  Not in a negative way, just in a “I’ll be darned, Bob, look at that. There’s a palagi here.” way.  

It took only a few minutes for someone to show up carrying a folding chair for me.  It would not be fa’a Samoa to make the palagi stand.  The only problem was that I would have been sitting in the back of all the standing adults, unable to see anything, so I politely, in Samoan, declined the chair.  A few minutes later I was literally taken by the hand to a chair with a better view.  I gratefully sat down and exchanged greetings with the woman sitting next to me. 

After a couple of performances I realized that the “concert” was actually a show put on by the church school.  It was a fund raiser organized by the PTA.  Churches, schools, families, etc. hold events like this.  

The format for these types of events is always similar.  Acts come on and as they perform, members of the audience come up and place money in a basket on the stage.  Or in the clothes of the performer, sort of like slipping a five into a dancers g-string.  Except, in this case, the performers were fully dressed 5 year olds.  As the evening goes on, amounts donated for each performer are tallied and announced.  At the end of the night, the act that raised the most money is declared the winner.  It’s entertainment for the village, gives people something to do as they plan and rehearse and raises money for the church or whoever.  Everyone’s a winner.

The acts were typical grade school stuff.  Singing, skits.  Some choreographed dancing by the older youth.  And, as typical, there were some moments of boredom and even more of absolute hilarity.  Some intended, some not.  Like the tiny five year old girl, dressed to the nines, who was not the least bit intimidated by the crowd.  She took the stage and in the loudest voice she could muster yelled intro the microphone “My name is >>>> and I’m from >>>>>>!” and then burst into song.  The emcee who had started to introduce her just let her go for it and the accompanist tried to catch up with her.  The crowd roared approval and ran to the stage with money.

Two key differences from any school function I’ve seen in the US.  First, because people are constantly approaching the stage to donate money, there’s a lot of movement.  People talking, milling about and just enjoying a very casual atmosphere.  The people approaching the stage also sometimes became part of the show.  The head of the PTA, coordinating the baskets where money was placed, had a microphone and would occasionally comment on someone.  Or a woman would start dancing with him, or tucking money into his clothes, while people cheered.  Meanwhile the act on stage continued.  

The second thing is the mild sexual allusions/humor.  For example, while the tiny kids were performing, the PTA president was exhorting people to come and bring money.  He was trying to get the ball rolling.  And to do that, started flirting/dancing with the moms bringing money up.  That encouraged more moms.  It was a bit like having the Chippendales appear on Sesame Street.  Disconcerting but fun to watch.

Yes, I went up to donate for a few acts.  No, I did not get involved in the dancing.  The first time I went forward I could hear a buzz.  By the third time it was no big deal – just someone else participating in a fun evening.

My friend and her daughters walked me home on a beautiful night in the South Pacific.  Her daughter had been one of the performers to raise the most money, so received a prize.  It was free school fees for the next term.   I think PTAs in the States should consider this as their next fund raising event.  Sure beats the old candy bar/wrapping paper sales.

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