Monday, April 30, 2012

Cultural Differences


After a relaxing weekend in Apia, I had a very enjoyable trip back to Savaii.   I made it the market in Apia Sunday to wait for the bus to the wharf.  I met a lovely woman from American Samoa who is the principal of a private primary school.  She was looking for an English teacher and said she wanted to keep in touch and send me photos and information about the school.  I don’t know that anything will come out of it, but nice to know there options out there. 

On board the ferry, I met a really nice Canadian women who is leading a group of nursing students in their practicum in Samoa at the hospital near my village.  She’s been coming for several years and since it’s a very small country, it wasn’t a surprise that we know several of the same people.

The bus home was packed and I had a little girl on my lap for most of the trip.  She was about 4 and was very uncomfortable sitting on a palagi lap.  Kids on the bus stare.  It’s not unusual that sitting next to me on the bus is the closest they’ve ever come to a white foreigner.  Some adults stare too but I attribute that to my dazzling beauty. 

Sometimes I’ll feel a small hand touch my hair or skin.   Even the kids at school who are used to seeing me will occasionally sneak a touch of my hair.  It is baby fine and very different than Samoan hair.  When I want a laugh from kids or adults, I just demonstrate how puny a bun I’d have if I tried to wear my hair the traditional way.

When I got home a group of the boys/young men of my family were lounging near the road.  They watched me carrying my suitcase filled with books.  I told them they were cheeky and requested help.  I asked the brother who helped me who had the new keys to my house.  He pointed to where his mother was sleeping in their open fale.  I hated to wake her up but didn’t want to sit outside either.  Her daughter called her name to wake her.  I never hear kids here, even young ones, call their mom anything but their first name, or nickname. 

She woke and told me they hadn’t fixed the locks and they couldn’t get the back door to shut so it had been open all weekend.  She also told me that they’d gone in to check on things and noticed the refrigerator was turned off and leaking.  She said they’d swept for me.  I thanked her.

When I got to my house I noticed the smell first.  Yes, the refrigerator had been off (no idea how that happened) and as a result all the meat in the freezer had thawed and was starting to rot in the tropical heat.  My cheese was toast.  Damn.  I should probably also toss the new jar of mayonnaise but mayo here is about $9 US a jar and I’m cheap.  The dogs enjoyed the meat.

I also noticed that someone had been using my bathroom.  I figured that out when I saw the toothbrushes on the sink, next to the newly opened extra tube of toothpaste I had purchased.  Someone also seems to have checked out a suitcase where I keep some clothes and other small items.

Here’s the cultural difference.  To me, it is incredibly rude to just go into someone’s house without permission and use their stuff.  I have dear friends who have given me spare keys to their homes.  It would never occur to me to snoop or use their house just because I know they’re out of town.  There’s a reason that the bit George Carlin did on “stuff” is a classic.  We Americans take our stuff seriously and it is ours.  Keep your mitts off.  How many siblings have shared a room with a tape line down the middle and death matches if someone encroaches on the other side?

Samoa, on the hand, has a communal culture.  Individuals don’t own stuff, everybody owns it.  I think I could live here forever and not really get that. 

I have, by far, the nicest bathroom in my compound.  The other families have flush toilets that are in “outhouses”.  They have a separate shower which has tin walls but no roof.  Teeth brushing is done at the spigot behind the house.  Technically, I’m a guest in their home.  If the door is wide open and that nice bathroom beckons, why not use it?

I want to stress that nothing was missing.  Cameras and computer were still here.  My family watches out for me.  We just have different views about privacy and boundaries. 

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