Monday, April 9, 2012

Upstairs or Downstairs?

Today was the asiasiga or inspection.  All of the school principals, plus their two bosses stated at the end of the district and visited every school.  They were inspecting the things that the Health Ministry will be inspecting.  The toilets, the kitchen, the food the children are sold along with the classrooms.

We’d been cleaning and decorating for days leading up to today’s inspection.  We passed.  The big focus, though, was food.  We were the last stop on the tour, so we served lunch.  The parents provided the food.  There was oka which is raw fish marinated in lime, onions and coconut cream.  Fried chicken and barbequed chicken.  A whole roast pig.  Taro.  Boiled green bananas.  Soup made from vermicelli noodles and the local chicken and the pele leaf, which is much like spinach.  I was surprised to see pele.  It is not popular, because it is green and a vegetable but it is delicious and free.    There was also fried fish.  Whole reef fish, cooked in the traditional way, which means they are taken off the hook, dredged in flour and fried.  They are not cleaned or scaled.

I tried to teach lessons in the morning.  The kids were hyped up.  Most teachers were working on cleaning and decorating and their classes were on their own.  It made it hard for the kids with me to concentrate.  Not that they needed a lot of help when it comes to finding distractions.

At interval  I went to the kitchen to help with placing the food the parents had brought onto the plates for the pules – principals and SROs.  Status is a major factor here and the plates of food had to reflect it.  The top three people (2 School Resource Officers and 1 College Pule) got more food than anyone else.  They each got a bowl of soup with a chicken leg/thigh, noodles and pele.  They got another plate of taro boiled and covered in coconut cream.  They got a bowl of oka, which is the raw fish, onion, coconut cream dish.  They also had a dish of the roasted pork.  Then they got a plate with a whole fish and two pieces of chicken (leg/thigh).

The principals had bowls of soups with a piece of chicken, a bowl of oka, which is the marinated raw fish and a plate with pork, fried and barbequed chicken and taro.  Everyone also received a niu or young coconut to drink.

My job was to fan the flies away from the food as the teachers worked to create the various plates and bowls.  There was a lot of attention paid to make sure that everyone had equal amounts (except the VIPs, who got more) and that the quality of the food was good.  Personally, I would have slopped it all out and called it a day, but they spent nearly an hour making sure the plates were perfect.
The teachers, 3 Year 8 girls and I served the food.  At my school, I am treated as any other teacher.  The days of treating me as an honored guest are long gone.  No one thought anything of having me take food out to the guests.  I even used the formal language when I placed the plate in front of our school committee president.  That’s when the hoohoo hit the fan.  The principal of the high school, who was 3rd down from top dog, asked me to sit down to eat.  That made my boss and his boss ask me to sit down and eat with the guests rather than hanging with the rest of the teachers in the kitchen, waiting for left overs.

I was walking back toward the kitchen to get more plates when they started saying to come and sit down.  The problem was, there was no place to sit.  And I knew that the food had been carefully portioned out so that there wasn’t another plate in the kitchen.  I did my “No speaka le Samoa” look, which gave them time to have some kids bring in another chair and desk.   The teachers rounded up another plate and served me.  Then there was the question of how long I stayed.  Did I eat and make a run for it?  Were they going to continue their meeting after lunch and should I stay for that?    I asked the SRO when the meal was over and her response was “It’s up to you.”   I let inertia take its course and stayed.

Remember the old PBS series “Upstairs, Downstairs”?  Back in the day, there were clear lines between servers and served.  Everyone knew the boundaries.  Here   it’s not always so clear.  Sometimes I’m an honored guest.  Sometimes I’m a worker bee.  I’m not sure where I fit in and neither are the Samoans.  My school family thinks of me as one of them.  But when others see me at our school they are shocked that I’m not treated as an honored guest.

Which makes me wonder.  If Obama is your cousin, does he have to help with the dishes?

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