Friday, June 8, 2012


My family's fale which is between my house and the lagoon. 
I haven’t been hearing the 6 a.m. church bells.  I assume I have just been sleeping through them, since it’s been cool and rainy at that time of the morning.  This morning, though, I heard the conch shell being blown.  I looked at my phone a few minutes later and it was about 6:15 a.m.  Odd, I thought, since the shell usually signals it’s time for the fishermen to head out, but it was too early for that.  Maybe the Catholics had switched from bell to shell?

After enjoying the luxury of snuggling under the sheet for a few minutes, I got up and started my day.  Typical, chores first, including laundry.  While I worked I heard what sounded like the school bell, but as if it was rung accidentally, quietly.  I looked over past my neighbor’s house, to see if maybe school had started after all.

No, the school yard was filled with young men.  No shirts, just lavalavas.  A beautiful sight.  These are young men from the village, late teens and twenties and they work in their family’s plantations.  Hard, physical work, so they are in great shape.  The shell was blown to call them to the school to do yard work.  They were using machetes to cut the grass on the playground.

I kept cleaning and heard yelling and laughing coming from the school.  I looked over again and realized the work was done and they were playing rugby.  They don’t get paid for doing this work.  It’s an obligation for the village to maintain the school.  They were up just before dawn to work and celebrated by playing.  No complaining, no whining.  That’s the way it is here.  Why complain about not having pizza when it just isn’t an option?  Why complain about doing chores when they’re your job?  Samoans have an amazing way of accepting what they have and being happy with it.  I’m trying to learn from that.

After my chores were done and a passing shower had gone through, I headed out to walk the mile+ to the store in Tuisivi.  I didn’t really need anything, but it was something to do.  And a way to see people and chat.

The kids, as they always are during break, were funny.  I don’t know if they’ve been told not to bother me, although I suspect that could be true, but they seem to hang back a bit.  Friendly, yelling my name, but not running up to talk as they usually do during school.  It could also be that they haven’t spoken or heard English in a month and are leery of starting a conversation with me.

Anyway, I walked and stopped occasionally to chat with the kids and also the women who were busy weeding near the road.  Usually weeding is an evening activity but at almost every house, the women were outside in the yard.  Samoans take great pride in their landscaping.  Since the seawall was put in just down the street, the women in the village have been planting a variety of shrubs in front of the rocks of the seawall.  It’s amazing how you can shove what looks like a dead stick into the sand and within days it is flourishing.

I felt like a one-woman parade as I walked and waved, yelled hello and occasionally stopped to chat.  Everyone asked where I was going. 
“I’m walking to the store in Tuisivi.”
“That’s too far to walk” everyone said.
“I’m too fat and I need the exercise” I’d respond, patting my hefty backside.

Most just laughed at that but one woman said “Yes, you really are fat and eat too much!”  That’s Samoa.  They hold no punches.  She was saying it with a smile and really meant no harm.  She was simply pointing out the obvious.  That’s the kind of comment that 18 months ago would have had me in tears, because I’d take it personally, as an insult.

By the time I got to the market I knew I was back in Samoa.  Even though it was really windy, walking next to the sea, I was hot and sweating.  I leaned down to adjust my bag and sweat ran off my forehead onto my glass’ lens. 

I didn’t buy much at the store.  I did buy dill pickles for the first time here.  I can take or leave dill pickles usually but I’ve been craving comfort food.  Nothing new there.  In particular, deep fried dill pickles.  I remember sitting in the “pickle place” as we call the Shady Oaks restaurant on the St. John’s river near my home in Florida.  Nothing like sharing icy cold beer and fried pickles so hot they’ll burn your tongue if you’re not careful, while enjoying a view of the river.

I’ve never made fried pickles, but I’ve made fried zucchini.  How different can it be?  And I figure the teachers will love them.  They’re fried.  They’re salty.  Perfect.  And so good for my diet.

When I finished shopping, I walked up to a group of people near the store.  “Waiting for the bus?” I asked in Samoan.  “Yes,” one responded, while they all laughed.  I’ve grown accustomed to that reaction when strangers hear me speak Samoan.  I don’t take it personally any more, which has been a hard lesson to learn because it feels very personal.  But they just laugh because they’re surprised.  Or because I mispronounced a word and said something dirty.

I waited with them for about 15 minutes and saw my bus coming, so ran for it.  It was full but people shifted seats so I had a place to sit in the front.  Then we drove the 50 yards to the hospital where we stopped again.  A group of older women, including one much older woman were waiting to get on.  No one on the bus was moving.  Most people already had someone on their lap. 

I couldn’t let a woman who looked significantly older than me get on and walk past me on the bus.  It would be too disrespectful.  So I got up and headed toward the back of the bus.  No seats.  I could stand with no problem but that would make people really uncomfortable.  A woman not much younger than me got up and headed even further back and I took her seat.   
My brother, Junior, was making new panels for the thatched roof.  Behind him you can see one of the sleeping mats that they roll out on the floor at night.

When I got home, the boys were working on replacing parts of the roof.  It’s a thatched roof so that involves going to the plantation to gather the proper long, thin leaves.  Then sewing them together to make panels.  That work is done.  Later, they’ll use a ladder and long stick to shove the new panels in among the old, leaky panels.  Surprisingly, the thatched panels will last for over three years.
My youngest sister, Esther, was helping.  That's my house in the background.

A better photo of Esther who's in my Year 3 class.
  I spent my day cleaning, shopping, walking and then writing blog entries while listening to This American Life podcasts.  That would explain all the typos.   While I was typing I saw a lot of women from my village and their youngest children walking down the street.  I went outside and asked my sister what was going on.  “An asiasiga,” she explained.  That means an inspection.  The Women’s Committee was checking the weeding and landscaping that each family had done.  If it wasn’t finished or not up to snuff, the family will be fined.  I’m typing this on Saturday morning.  My sister just came by to ask if I was going into the market, which I typically do on Saturdays.  She wanted to come with me.  She mostly wanted to come because our mother needs to borrow $100 to pay the fine.  Our family had weeded but not planted the shrubs next to the sea wall.  If she doesn’t pay the fine her penalty will be to be kicked off the Women’s Co. for a period of time.  Since she just got off “suspension”, that would be bad, so I’ll pay the fine.

The young men responsible for caring for the school – a common area.  Women responsible for keeping the area along the main road tidy.  Fines if you don’t do your part.  Not that much different than a Homeowners’ Association (HOA) don’t you think?

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