Thursday, August 9, 2012

Village Visitors

Written Saturday night, August 4 2012 It’s been a busy week and it made me realize how accustomed I’ve become to the slow pace of village life. On Tuesday, Sikoti (Scott), an RPCV who served in Savaii 25 years ago arrived at my school with a much appreciated gift of lots of green chiles. Along with him were his two teenage sons. We spent time with Years 7 and 8, singing, dancing, taking photos and having two of the Samoan boys weave baskets. The kids really enjoyed it and Sikoti demonstrated that even after 25 years, his Samoan is much better than mine. I’ve given up- it is a losing cause. After Sikoti spent several hours talking with a Member of Parliament who lives in my village, he and his sons decided to spend the night, rather than head back to Apia. I was walking home after reading with my normal posse of kids and met them on the road and we went back to my house for a very casual dinner of Mac and Cheese. Thank you Kraft! I was thrilled to find the Mac and Cheese in a store in Apia. I bought the only two boxes they had. It was great talking with someone who’d been a volunteer in Savaii so many years ago. It was interesting to get his take on how things have changed. In the case of food, he said they eat exactly the same things now as they did 25 years ago, with the addition of tinned mackerel and corned beef. It was also a pleasure to hear the impressions of the two teenagers. They seem to be smart, thoughtful kids with a genuine interest in travel and other cultures. I thought it interesting too, that they agreed their friends would have absolutely no interest in their experiences on this trip. Our conversation also reinforced how lucky I am to have all the modern conveniences, like electricity and running water. If you think I whine a lot now, just imagine how bad it would have been then. Of course, then, you wouldn’t have had to read about it since I wouldn’t have had a laptop or the internet. I’d store up all that whining and let ‘er rip when I got home. As Scott and his sons and I were chatting, surrounded by a gaggle of excited and curious kids, we noticed two other strangers. We started talking with Carol and her son Glenn who stopped in Samoa on their way from Taiwan (their home) to Michigan, where Glenn will attend Michigan State. Go Trojans! Two days later, they came to school, which had just gotten out early for netball practice. I showed them around the school and it was interesting to hear the value placed on education in Taiwan. A very different picture from Samoa…and most other countries, for that matter. For example, dating is strongly discouraged until after high school because it is believed it would interfere with concentrating on studies. Imagine that in the States. No prom – just finals. Also imagine ten hours a day of school, six days a week. It’s a world economy and that’s our competition. We hung out and watched netball, then the kids did some singing and dancing. Carol loves to dance and joined in with gusto, much to the kids delight. After five minutes, she was doing a much better Samoan siva than I do. Between Sikoti’s language and Carol’s dancing skills, I was feeling a bit like going home to eat worms. Carol and Glenn caught the last bus to Manase where they were staying. Sadly, it wasn’t jam packed. A Spanish couple staying at the same beach fales told them that riding a packed bus was really fun and a must do. Yeah, that might be true when you’re enjoying it as a novel cultural experience, but I can assure you the fun wears off after the 40th Samoan sits on your lap. Between school, reading center and out of country guests I was exhausted by Friday. I went to bed early last night to be ready for today, Saturday. Carol and Glenn are picking me up at 7:30 a.m. for a trip to the market and then some sightseeing around the island. In their car! Yeah, I’ll let the tourists enjoy the bus. Give me a nice, quiet, clean car any day. With no one sitting on my lap. Carol and Glenn picked me up and we headed to the market in Salelologa. I wanted to buy a fish for the family and they wanted to check out the fish market. Tuna were at a premium this week, I assume because we’ve had a lot of wind which means the fishermen can’t go out far beyond the reef. I did snag a lovely whole red snapper for $65 tala, though. That’s a whole, large red snapper for about $32 USD. It was enough to make dinner for about 12 Americans. Appetizers for 12 Samoans. We brought the fish and my other purchases back to my fale, where we just hung out and talked. It was so good to talk to well-educated, well-traveled people who have a genuine curiosity about the world. It was also interesting for me to learn about a new culture to me. We talked traditions, values, challenges and joys. We also tried to make it possible for Carol to hold Julius, my baby. He was having none of it. She’d tried to hold him the other day and he screamed. My “dad” suggested she give him some food to distract him. He liked the food but was not won over. I ended up taking him and he smiled, wiped drooly food all over my shirt and screamed whenever Carol came near. Apparently, I am his palagi. Which brings up the question of what is a palagi? People on the street have been giving Carol and Glenn the “bye bye, palagi” routine since they arrived. But people at school and at my home said they are not palagis. They are foreign and Asian. I am a palagi because I am white. Whatever the terminology, no matter how sweet and gentle Carol was, Julius was determined to scream when she approached. Carol treated Glenn and I to a lovely lunch at the Savaiian Resort. I really like the place – nice people, good service and great food. They were happy for Asian inspired dishes. I was thrilled with tuna sashimi. We stayed on after the late lunch for hours more of conversation. They were so open and candid about relationships (including their own) and the pros and cons of their country. It was a delightful time. On our way back to my place, we took a detour to Vaiola College. It’s a Mormon school, built on a hill (or small mountain, depending on your perspective) and has great views of the coast. As we started up the road, a Samoan man flagged us down. I asked Carol if it was ok to give him a ride and she readily agreed. It is fa’asamoa to help each other get to places where buses don’t often frequent. The man either didn’t speak much English or had had enough Vailima (local beer) to believe that with my stellar Samoan, English wasn’t necessary. I did discover that he knows my host family and that he went to school with my boss. Relationships and who you know are everything in a small island nation. We dropped him at his house, where he lives with a group of men who work on the buses. It gave Carol and Glenn a chance to see how people take showers in the open – with a lavalava to protect their private parts. It was hard to say goodbye to Carol and Glenn. Scott and his sons had gone, now the lovely Taiwanese mother and son were leaving. I was back to being the palagi in the village. As much as I love that, I really do miss the long and deep conversations with others who share my language and similar life experiences.

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