Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Work For Food, Continued

If it seems like I'm only talking about food this week, that's because that's all we're doing at school.  Here's my Tuesday:

The Year 8 exams continued today.  I didn’t eat dinner last night because I was still stuffed from the food during the day. 

The day started with the teachers busily preparing the food/table for the first round.  In typical fashion, we ate in rounds.  First the guests and the most honored (me and the Infant supervisor), next, the remaining teachers, finally, the children who served/cleaned up.  During the first round of dining, children fan us/the food to keep us cool and keep away the flies, which is almost impossible.  A teacher also sits to one side just in case we need something.  Sometimes they join in the conversation, sometimes they don’t.

Each meal starts with a prayer that lasts several minutes.  At every meal it has been given by the ranking member of the home team – the Infant Supervisor.   Following the prayer, one of the guests (they seem to be taking turns) makes a speech that lasts several minutes, thanking God, us, the parents, etc. for the food and hospitality.  Each meal ends with speeches by members of both the home and away teams.  I just sit and smile.  It’s fa’a Samoa to not look at the speaker, so I usually just watch the ocean.  

Also typical in Samoan meals, there’s not a lot of talking once the eating begins.  I have to continually remind myself of that, because I was raised to expect meal times to be a time for conversation.  It does take the pressure off, though, since there has been very little English spoken at these meals. 

One of the guests very generously commented on how well I speak Samoan.  She was just being polite.  Later two of the visitors gave me a ride to town and one said “You understand a lot more than you speak, don’t you?”  I think she was hopeful, for my sake.  Yes, and no.  I do understand more, but even that is limited.  Every once in a while, though, like this morning, they’ll make a comment or joke and assume I don’t know what they’re saying.  Always fun to point out that they can’t pretend I’m a piece of furniture since I actually do listen and sometimes understand.

Breakfast was earlier today, starting at 8:10.  We had boiled eggs, egg salad sandwiches, canned mackerel sandwiches (toasted on a sandwich maker), cracker sandwiches with both butter and peanut butter, koko Samoa, cups of ramen for the three guests and vaisalo, which is a hot soup made from the water of young coconuts, mixed with tapioca and the sort of jelly that is inside a young coconut.  Like most of the food here, it is cooked over an open fire, so has a bit of a smoky taste and is delicious.  It was also, by far, the lowest calorie item on the table.

I forgot to mention yesterday that the teachers supervising the exam were taken a “snack” mid-way through the exam.  The snack was two cans of soda, 3 small bags of chips and a package of cookies.  That’s per person.  They’ll be given the same items today.  That means breakfast at 8:10, snack at 9:30 and lunch at 11:15. 

Lunch today was fried chicken, fried whole fish, taro cooked two ways (boiled with coconut cream and baked), palusami (which I really, really like), whole roasted suckling pig, salt beef (which is big hunks of cow that’s boiled in really salty water), potato salad with hard boiled eggs and niu (young coconuts) for our beverage. 

Every Samoan I’ve met likes salt.  I love most foods, but I use salt sparingly.  I rarely cook with it when I’m cooking for myself.  I find many restaurants over-salt their food.  Today, the food was salted heavily, as usual.  And the salt on the table was used generously.  I’m guessing four people used about ¼ cup of salt at the table.

After dining, I was asked if I was headed to Salelologa and offered a ride.  The other teachers and the kids stayed to clean up and I headed off with the guests.  It was a treat to ride to town in a van rather than on the bus.  Bummer that the post office was closed for lunch when I got there, but that meant I had time to hit the high speed internet and post some photos.  I hope you enjoy them.

I stopped at the Tuisivi store on the way home and I’m happy to report they have cheese again.  Hurray!  As I was walking home, a woman I recognized called out to me.  She was headed the same direction and wanted to walk with me.  I’m not sure what shifted but the ice seems to definitely be breaking and people are being much friendlier.  I just need to keep working on the language.

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