Shockingly, at least to me, I turned 61 today. I never believed I’d live past 30. I certainly don’t feel 61. 28, maybe.
First, thanks for all the emails, cards, texts and shout outs on Facebook. I really, really appreciate it.
I knew that birthdays are not a big deal here. Other than the 21st birthday, they are not celebrated. Last year my host sister and her family gave me an amazing day that with wonderful food, including salad and cake – both very expensive here – along with a relaxing day with kids and rugby on the tube. They knew that birthdays are a big deal to palagis, plus it was my 60th. I really don’t care so much about birthdays other than decades anymore.
My day today started early. I woke up to watch the sun come up over the lagoon. I actually sipped a cup of Swiss Miss while watching the clouds over the lagoon get lighter. Then I dressed in my Halloween costume. I dressed as a palagi for school. I wore a skirt that came just below my knees. My blouse showed a tiny bit of cleavage. I felt like a hussy. And the skirt shows my white calves and tan ankles. How far I’ve come (or gone) in a year.
At school I quickly realized it was a special day for me. The Year 8 teacher was at a meeting and the Year 7 teacher was at a funeral, so I got to have 60 students for the day. I have become quite adept at dealing with surprises like this. The first hour, at the direction of the Infant Supervisor, was cleaning. She wanted the new hall cleaned. I took it a step further and had them clean the hall, my room, the Year 8 and the Year 7 rooms.
I told the kids the day was special for two reasons. Halloween and my birthday. I tried to explain Halloween and I think they got the concept. I told them I wanted a gift for my birthday.
“What do you think I want?”
All I asked was good behavior for the day. Did I get it? About as much as you’d expect when you have a group of 60 kids ages 12-14 who are at the end of their last term. Two boys did offer me their lunch money, which is very fa’asamoa and very sweet. I did not accept, by the way.
We played games for the rest of the day. First was charades. They didn’t know the game and I changed it a bit. I told one kid a sentence and he/she had to act it out. The answer had to have correct grammar. We divided into groups and the kids ate it up.
I then moved to a wildly popular “game” that the kids loved. I gave directions and the first teams to correctly follow them got a point. For example: “Make an oval, with everyone’s right hand in the middle.”
They clearly thought it was just play, but really it was education. They had to listen. They had to understand English. They had to work as a team. They had to be creative, in some cases. It was a huge success. I apologize to the teacher in the room next to mine since my 60 students were screaming like banshees.
Then I moved to a team game that was like a game show. I announced a topic (maths, social science, English, spelling, etc.) and each team nominated a member of the team to answer the question. They got points for their team if they got the answer correct. Another success.
The day was not without its challenges. The kids are used to a VERY structured environment, so when there are this many kids, playing what they think are games, they tend to get a bit out of control. Most of the time it was fine, but the kids are competitive. The worst offense of the day was when a Year 7 boy (who I love) mocked a Year 8 girl who has a speech impediment. She was in tears and he was cocky. I took him to the Year 8 teacher who is also principal for discipline. (His meeting was over and he’d come back to school, but choose not to relieve me of his class.) Not an action I would normally take, but I’m trying to help them understand that while mocking/teasing is fa’asamoa, it is not kind.
The teachers knew that it was my birthday. They commented on it but no one said happy birthday. I got a text while at school from the adult daughter of a friend. She asked “Is this really ur birthday?” I answered “Ioe”. Yes. I saw her and her mother later and neither said anything.
I’m now sitting in my fale as usual, with dinner on the stove. Chicken. What a surprise. I thought about going to the resort for pizza but decided to wait for that until this weekend in Apia.
No gifts, no hoopla. Was it sad? No. I’m happy to say that I’ve been alive for 61 years and am healthy and ready for many more. I had a good day with the kids and enjoyed volleyball with the women. I walked home with my feet crunching on shells and coral. As a child living in the desert I dreamed of living on a tropical island.