A friend told me recently that she wasn’t reading my blog. She apologized but said it seemed too sanitized. She understood why but was really interested in the nitty gritty of my life in Samoa. I don’t know if she was talking about my physical (bugs, heat, etc.) or emotional (culture, language, village) lives. I do try to focus on the positive. I do try to depict a balanced view of Samoan culture, rather than allowing myself to focus on the stuff I find troublesome or don’t understand, because I see Samoa through the lens of a palagi.
But you want nitty gritty? Let me tell you about my physical life. Peace Corps documents said that we would get over things like cold showers and bugs very quickly. The cultural issues would be tougher. That’s very true. However, even after 19 months, I still have issues with some of the physical stuff.
It’s gotten much easier, that’s true. Some volunteers heat water to start off their other-wise cold shower. I’m too lazy. I just stand under the pipe (there is no shower head) and let ‘er rip. On really hot days, sometimes it’s really hot, for a few seconds. Then very cold. To my friend who said “How cold could it really be? You live in the tropics.” let me say that my water comes from springs in the mountains. It is refreshingly chilly.
I still hate bugs, spiders and all things that crawl. As I type this, a swarm of termites has been drawn to the light of my computer screen. They don’t bite but they are crawling all over me. They have kept me from reading before I sleep, which really is annoying. They also leave massive amounts of debris on the floor, in my cabinet, on my bed…everywhere.
When I’m either sleeping or out of the house for a few hours, the spiders demonstrate that they are work-aholics by spinning webs at head height throughout the main room and bathroom of the house. I have become accustomed to walking through the house flailing my arms in front of me to try to catch the webs on my arms rather than my face. That’s the kind of thing that’s hard about being a PCV. I represent my country here. And, thanks to me, people in my village think all Americans enter their homes acting like a young Patty Duke, playing Helen Keller on speed.
The large spiders in my shower don’t really bother me anymore. They tend to go completely still when they realize I’m there. I often wonder if they close their eyes to make them really invisible. Sometimes I splash water on them just to see how fast they can climb. After I shower I try to remember to squirt them with bug spray. Otherwise, I get a face full of web the next time I shower.
I complained recently to someone about being bitten by mosquitoes and other flying terrors. They suggested that I do a better job of tucking in my mosquito net. I refrained from saying “Bite me.” but my reaction was like having a ten year old IT nerd in the help department ask if your computer is plugged in when you call for help.
I’m not an idiot. I know how a mosquito net works. But most of my bites come during daylight hours and I’ve found it both hot and inconvenient to swaddle myself 24/7 with mosquito net. I also don’t think bathing in bug spray is good for my health. I do chuckle when I meet people (both here and at home) who will talk forever about eating only “pure”, organic food while dousing themselves liberally with insect repellent. Not aware that skin is porous, perhaps?
One thing I’m way better at coping with is crowded buses. Saturday I went to the market. The bus was moderately crowded. On the way home it was almost empty and the day stretched emptily ahead so I stayed on as we passed my house, heading toward Puapua and a drive with a beautiful view.
Coming back toward my village, the bus quickly started to fill. First were several families, clearly heading toward the ferry, based on the luggage. Then the rugby team. We were now full. There was no room left. But the driver didn’t hesitate to stop for everyone waiting by the road. As we got into my village, we stopped to pick up a family headed to the ferry. Mom, dad and two kids. The older girl is in Year 1. Her little brother is, perhaps, three. As he got onto the amazingly crowded bus, he spotted me. And started yelling my name, at the top of his lungs. Repeatedly. When I saw more people waiting to get in, I opted to get off and carry my market purchases the ½ mile home to make room for more people going to Salelologa. People were laughing and yelling to me. I wonder what the two palagi tourists on the bus thought.
Bottom line, when I see a 350 pound Samoan heading toward me on the bus I no longer panic. I just plan to meld into her as we squeeze onto the small seat together.