Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mid Service Conference is "Uma" - Over!

This terrific photo was taken by another volunteer but is exactly what I see in church each Sunday.  I also wear a white puletasi and a white hat.  This week a toddler was being led into the church by his big brother when he saw me.  My Samoan garb didn't fool him.  He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me.  As he was dragged forward, he gave me a wide berth, much as you would do a dangerous wild animal.

I’m back home after five days in Apia, attending our last training until Close of Service Conference, which will be held in September.  

The training was good and most of the group were in good spirits.  The highlight of the week for me was dinner at our Country Director’s house.  Lusi, his wife, is an awesome cook and made a feast of Thai, Indonesian and other Asian dishes.  Spicy and flavorful, something I can’t say about Samoan food.  For dessert she made a tiramisu that was incredibly rich along with an orange cake, still warm from the oven.  I enjoyed meeting Lusi and eating her food so much that I asked if she’d teach me to cook Asian (she’s Indonesian) and she agreed.  I’ll be going back to Apia in a couple of weeks to join 2 other volunteers in Lusi’s kitchen.  I’m hoping this is the start of a cooking club where we can rotate kitchens and learn new dishes.

PC gave me a ride to the wharf to head back to Savaii.  The reason for that was that since all of us were coming back at one time, it was deemed safer to just haul us all in the PC van.  But, since everyone else from my island decided to stay in Apia for the weekend, I got a lift from the PC driver in the PC truck.  It was a good opportunity for me to spend an hour chatting with a middle-aged Samoan man.   I know a lot of Samoan men but it isn’t appropriate for me to have lengthy conversations with them.  If I’m seen talking to a man there are immediately rumors and speculation that I’m either sleeping with him, planning to marry him, or both, so I just steer clear. 

I’ve tried chatting with the driver before but he’s usually reluctant to talk.  On Friday, he was a chatty Cathy and it was interesting to hear his perspectives on life in Samoa vs. New Zealand (where he lived for four years); family and what is important in life.  That included children, church and sex.    I also enjoyed not being squashed into the bus in a torrential downpour which means all the windows would be up.  Imagine full-body contact with a room full of damp strangers in a sauna. 

The ferry ride home was wet but much smoother than my ride to Upolu on Monday.  That was the first time I’ve gotten sea sick on the ferry.  Didn’t urp on the boat but after the hot bus ride, lost my cookies when I got to the hotel.

My bags weighed a ton going home but I was doing fine rolling them toward the ferry until I encountered a huge puddle.  As I was shifting my backpack and trying to put down the handle of my roll-aboard, a young Samoan man offered to help.  He grabbed my big bag and carried it on board to the luggage storage space.  When I was getting off the ferry, he made a point of waiting for me by the luggage so he could carry the bag off the boat for me.  That’s the friendly, helpful fa’asamoa that I love.

I splurged and took a taxi home from the wharf in Salelologa.  When I arrived there was much yelling and waving.  One brother, who didn’t make eye contact with me for the first six months I lived here, let alone talk to me, came over to say he missed me.  The ice has thawed and I am part of the family.  Sort of like the odd old aunty who lives in the guest house out back.

I went to the market with one of my brothers on Saturday.  He was my Sherpa and carried everything I bought, which was a lot.  To give you an idea of what I eat, here’s what I bought on Saturday:
carrots, cabbage, a pineapple, avocados, mangos, oranges, potatoes, onions, lobster and a whole tuna.  For a PCV, lobster is expensive ($25 tala for 1 large/1 small lobster).  But since it would have cost me about $50 USD for the same amount of lobster in the States, I figure I might as well enjoy it now.  The tuna was a small one and cost $20 tala.  That’s $10 USD for a whole tuna.  It was a gift for my family.  They ate it raw and didn’t share.  A small piece would have been nice, since there are few things tastier than raw tuna with soy and wasabi.

The bus was crowded with back-to-school shoppers as we headed home from the market but my brother wanted to go for a ride so we passed our compound and stayed on the bus for another 45 minutes as we drove on to Pua Pua before turning around and heading back to Faga.  The last 45 minutes of the ride was stellar since the bus was almost empty and the views are spectacular.  I am still awed every time I enjoy the views of the lagoon.  From my village, all the way to Pua Pua there are houses on one side of the road and beaches, palm trees and gorgeous views of the turquoise lagoon on the other side. 

This morning I went to church for the first time in almost two months.  Between vacation and time in Apia I haven’t been around on Sundays.  Except for one and it was rainy and cool and I was lazy so I slept in.   It was my first time in the new church (up until now we’d been having services in the open fale that serves as a fellowship hall.)  The church is the most beautiful I’ve seen in Samoa.  Very large with crystal chandeliers and a built in sound system.  Nice pews made of what looks like pine. 

As I walked to church this morning my celebrity status was confirmed.  One family of kids went crazy.  about 8 pre-schoolers  yelled my name and ran along-side the road to catch up with me.   What could be more exciting than seeing the Pisi Koa go by than to have her actually wave and say hello?  I arrived at 8:55 a.m. for the 9:00 a.m. service.  We actually started about 9:20.  While waiting a nice middle-aged man came over to chat and keep me company.  He’s a matai (chief) in the village and I’ve run into him at several events.  Others watched us chat.  I’m sure I’ll hear speculation about our marriage plans tomorrow at school.

I walked home with a friend my age.  She filled me in on the gossip.  Many of her relatives from Australia were visiting.  I had to laugh when one of the teenagers from Australia asked to take my picture.  Yup, being a palagi in a puletasi in a Samoan village is photo worthy.

This weekend is ending on both sweet and sad notes.  When I said goodbye to my Year 8 kids after church I wished them well.  They’re now Year 9 and will be attending college, starting tomorrow.  I’ll miss them a lot.  Also, my favorite brother is heading off to University in Apia tomorrow.  I’ll miss him, too.   I plan to savor the next months.  I suspect they’ll fly by. 

It’s now Sunday night and I’m watching a very Samoan tradition – hair cutting.  Boys are required to have hair short enough that you can’t grab any.  During vacation, boys in my family grew out their hair and many bleached some or all of it.  Tonight, they’re getting ready for the first day of school.  Buzz cuts all around.  I offered to do the cutting but for some reason they declined.  Perhaps it was my maniacal laugh.


  1. Ah, it has been wonderful catching up with your experiences. Following your blog has been enjoyable for several reasons. Over all, your writing style and humor are worth reading even if I were not in the Peace Corps. As you know, you are one year ahead of me in your Peace Corps service, so it sort of gives me a look over the horizon in terms of what to expect despite the fact that we are on opposite sides of the world and in vastly different climates. At present, I am having the settling-in experiences you wrote about last year.
    Best wishes in the coming months before COS.

  2. Great to hear from you Lou. I hope your housing is warm and comfortable with some privacy. As much as I hate sweating all the time, I think I'd hate shivering even more. I've found that the primary stress in my life here has been self-imposed, supported by PC in some ways, although their intent is good. Don't expect too much of yourself as you get settled. The language and knowledge of how to get around (not just geographically) will come. Enjoy the time. Where can I read about your experiences?