Monday, November 14, 2011

Church Lady

Okay, not the most flattering look, but my family said I looked beautiful and I think they really meant it.  I'm standing in the doorway of my home.

I wrapped myself in my new hand-me-down white puletasi, grabbed my church gear and headed out at 8:30 last Sunday, as usual. 

I strolled in the early morning humidity under a partly cloudy sky, enjoying the sea breeze.  The tide was in and I enjoyed the sound of the surf at the reef and the small waves lapping at the shore just a few feet from the road.

I was distracted as I walked.  It takes certain skills, which I don’t have, to pull off wearing a hat in a stiff sea breeze, while trying to keep my wrap-around skirt wrapped-around.  At the same time, I was trying not to drop my purse, fan, bible or umbrella.  Samoan women do it with grace and style. 

I finally gave up, snatched off the hat and let the wind do what it would to my skirt.  If somebody got a glimpse of bare knee, lucky them.  As I focused more on my surroundings I realized that there weren’t a lot of other folks wearing white, walking in the same direction I was.  As I approached the church I saw that it was empty.  Not a soul to be saved.  I climbed into a beach fale and dropped all my church paraphernalia beside me.

A minute later, an attractive young man approached me.  I asked if there was no church today.  He said there was but it was in Sasaai, a village a couple miles or more up the road.  Last year I’d attended a similar service there when all the churches of the district come together.

The charming young man offered to walk with me.  I said it was too far, not really wanting to do the hat/skirt/sweating thing for a few miles.  He assured me it wasn’t that far and since I was young and strong it would be a nice walk.  Actually, since the conversation was in Samoan, I’m doing some loose interpretation here…in my favor.

We had a nice chat as we walked.  It was typical of my conversations here.  A little English, a little Samoan, a few hand gestures (severely limited by my hat/bible/fan/umbrella situation).  As we approached the church there was a group of youth standing outside.  It was not a surprise that as soon as I turned to walk up the steps into the church I heard hooting and hollering.  He was paying the price for walking the old white broad to church.

The service was interesting.  Well, to be honest, after the first two hours I was ready to call it a day and hike home.  I think the woman next to me was also ready, since she kept sighing, squirming and at one point, turned to the women behind us and whispered “I’m hungry – let’s go!”  I don’t believe she knows I speak any Samoan.

The service was to celebrate the money raised by the churches in attendance.  It was over $200,000 tala.  Wonder where the money goes in this poor country?  As in many poor countries – to the church. 

The event was also an opportunity for the choirs to show off.  I attend the EFKS or Congregational church and they’re known for their great singing.  I really like it, although as it stretched into three hours, I was squirming and sighing along with my neighbor.

As I walked home with a woman from  my village, I asked about what the pastor was saying.  “Was he really saying that the choir from >>>> village was bad?” 

“Yes!  He said their voices were terrible and that’s why everyone laughed.  He gave grades to all the choirs.  Our church got the best grade.”

Tourists and visitors are welcome in churches in Samoa.  They actually advertise tours to visit a church and hear the singing.  At this event, each choir did two hymns.  The first was always fairly traditional.  Slow, 4-part harmony, churchy.  The second was always very Samoan.  Very up tempo and foot tappingly good. 

I never realized until I came here that I tend to “chair dance”.  You know, that just moving with the music thing you do while sitting.  Or I do.  The other teachers have commented on it, since there’s frequently music playing.  Strangers on the bus have commented.  They seem to like it since they take it (correctly) that I’m enjoying the music.

I realized I was doing a little “pew dancing” along with the hymns, when the lady behind me leaned forward and asked “Mania le pesi?” (Nice song?)  “Ioi. O te fia fia tele.”  (Yes, I like it a lot).  She and the other ladies in our pews just chuckled.  They were doing some pew dancing of their own.

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