Thursday, June 28, 2012

Petty Stuff

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had a cold or because of our weird, windy weather but petty stuff has been getting on my nerves this week.   Actually, it could just be because I’m kind of a petty bitch.  Once again I’ve proved that the Catholics won’t be breaking any rules to make this Methodist a saint any time soon. 

Yesterday I called in sick, which I have rarely done.  I just had a bad cold, hadn’t slept well and wanted to nap and blow my nose in privacy.  That wasn’t to be.  About an hour after school started, my boss’ boss called me.  I thought it was nice that she was checking to see how I was.  Actually, she wasn’t.  She was calling to say she needed some typing done.  I told her to send it over with some kids and I’d type it then print it the next morning when I came to school.  Two kids arrived with a letter to be typed.

An hour later, the same kids arrived with several documents and the message from my boss that he needed them typed and printed in 20 minutes.  I called him and explained that it would take at least two hours and that I was sick and in bed.  He said he had to have them and told me to come to school.  I did, although in hindsight I shouldn’t have.  He got his documents but they were served with a side order of pissy palagi.  While I typed (and helped two teachers with copy machine issues), the teachers moved off to have tea, leaving me at the computer.  When they finished, they came back to say that I was not working fast enough.  I finished the documents, turned off the computer and my boss said I was allowed to go home, since I was sick.  He did not say thank you.  He had known for months, by the way, that the documents I typed for the Ministry were due today.

This morning my day started with laundry, which had been soaking for a few days since I just hadn’t felt up to doing it.  I did change the water, though, since leaving things to soak in the tropics can result in seeing and smelling things that should only be seen in scary movies.  When I dragged the bucket of clothes and myself out to hang them up I realized there were no clothespins.  My wooden clothespins have been hanging on the line for months.  I have no idea who took them, or why.  I’m assuming that the family used my line (and pins) while I was in Apia and just collected them when they took in their laundry.

Missing clothespins is petty.  It truly is no big deal.   But in that moment, feeling unwell and unappreciated, it was huge.  The proverbial straw.  I considered firebombing the family compound and the adjacent school.  I considered obscene graffiti.  I considered long, passionate speeches about appreciation and respect.  But I was too pooped.  Instead, I went inside, had a sip of tepid tea and sat down next to the fan for a few minutes.  Then I scrounged some pins from my indoor clothesline and did a truly inelegant job of hanging multiple panties and other items from a very few pins.   At least no one seems interested in stealing granny panties.   And then I walked to school.

Where there were no teachers.  There were kids.  Lots of kids.  They carried my bags.  They rallied around me, touching, hugging and yelling in delight that I’d returned after (almost) a day off.  I’d deliberately dawdled, since I’m usually the first to arrive and since I didn’t have the keys there was no since in me getting there early.  Others were better dawdlers.  After 45 minutes, just after the bell rang for assembly, the teacher with the keys arrived.  She greeted me from behind during the first hymn, kissing one cheek and squeezing one boob. 

Today one teacher was on maternity leave, the principal was absent, and three other teachers were AWOL.  I was asked to take three classes.  I politely refused.  Instead I sniffled and sneezed my way through the day with over 50 kids from two classes.

During interval, the teachers gathered to eat and gossip.    Mostly the gossip is about who’s sleeping with whom or about money.  Happily, the speculations on my love life have dropped significantly, since it’s pretty obvious that I have no plans to get busy in Samoa.  They don’t even often suggest I sleep with every man who visits the school anymore. 

Today one of the teachers was talking about me.  She was sitting two feet away and knows that I can understand her.  She was commenting on how I hate Samoan food.  That was evidenced by the fact that I turned down a package of ramen noodles and pankeke (donut holes) to just eat an orange.  I’d explained before she arrived that I wasn’t hungry because I still have a bad cold.  Just an orange was perfect.

I found her comments annoying for a couple of reasons.  Mostly, because she didn’t refer to me by name but as “the palagi”.   Palagi is not usually used as a pejorative term.  It is used for outsiders.  And at school, we call ourselves a family so I find it somewhere between annoying and offensive to be referred to that way.  I also found it annoying, although humorous, that she was mad because I wasn’t eating Samoan food.  I think a few Asians would beg to differ when a Samoan claims ramen noodles as their own.  And donut holes?  What she didn’t realize is that before she arrived in the room there had been a fast and furious discussion about the amount of food available.  Had I not turned it down, she wouldn’t have been eating.

Petty, trivial crap.   Visions of sainthood for my patience and virtue down the crapper.  Tomorrow is another day.  Another opportunity to be a better, less petty, person.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I’ll be home for Thanksgiving this year for the first time since 2009.  I plan to eat traditional food and by that I mean the cranberry jelly that makes a sucking noise when it plops out of the can, the kind of stuffing I grew up with (no cornbread or sausage, please) and the Jello salad that I started making when I was 11.  I got the recipe for the Jello salad from the Oster cook book that came with our new blender back in 1961.  I still have the cookbook and the blender but it will still be in storage this year.

I’m telling you all this not to make you jealous of the meal I have planned in my head.  I believe the perfect Thanksgiving Day meal is the one that brings back memories.  Usually good ones, but some clinkers thrown in too.  Whose family doesn’t have a little drama around the holidays?  It’s the predictability of the meal that makes it special, not necessarily the faultless cuisine or company.  What I’ll be tasting isn’t canned cranberry jelly, it’s history.

I’ve been offering my Samoan family taste tests of some of my food.  They have been polite guinea pigs but would probably starve to death if they had to exist on my palagi food.  For example, I made spaghetti sauce for palagis.  I think I told you about it.  Not my best effort but pretty good.  Since the Samoans have only tasted tinned spaghetti, to them it was gross.

I found tortilla chips in Apia.  I made salsa with canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, hot peppers and a squeeze of lime.  One bite of chip topped with salsa transported me to the every-Friday-night dinners my family had at Casa Molina in Tucson AZ.  It was spectacular.

As much as I didn’t want to share the rare chips, I offered my brother a taste.  I wanted him to be transported to nirvana, too.  That was not the case.  He didn’t spit it out, but would have if he could have figured out a way to do it without offending me.  He suggested I not bother to offer samples to the rest of the family.

Today, I was feeling puny so decided to go with comfort food.  And what could be more comforting for a southern gal than deep fried dill pickles?  I made a batch and took them out to the family to taste.  I should have also taken my video camera.  My dad was the first to try them.  The look that contorted his face said it all.  It was his first dill pickle, fried or not, and he wasn’t a fan.  His reaction did not help sell the concept to the rest of his family, but I guilted them into it.  After all, I’ve at least tasted every single item of food that has been placed in front of me in Samoa.  If I’m willing to eat a “sea worm”, they should be willing to dare to taste a vegetable.

The squinched up eyes and puckered lips were repeated by other members of the family.  One boy started making a face before it ever hit his lips.  These were very mild dill pickles and the frying makes them even mellower.  And, I offered some very expensive ranch dressing as a dip.  They decided that the ranch dressing would be stellar on fried chicken but I could keep the pickles.  More for me.

One sister was munching on a piece of plain, boiled taro when I arrived with my samples.  She was one of the ones who called my spaghetti sauce bland.  She just doesn’t have the taste of my mom’s spaghetti sauce in her memory banks to help her appreciate it.

Cold, Squared

It has been remarkably cool and windy the last few days.  Yesterday I didn’t use my electric fan at all.  I used my hand fan a bit in the evening, but by the middle of the night was using my small down blanket.

During the day, my Samoan friends have been complaining about the cold.  I think it is a delightful respite from the normal sweltering heat.  I had dinner with some palagis the other night and we were saying the weather is the perfect temperature.  By “freezing” day time temps, we’re talking about 80 degrees.  But the Samoans are wearing hoodies and coats.

I’m enjoying the coolish weather but also have a cold, which stinks.  My mother would say I got the cold because it’s chilly at night and that’s when I take my cold showers.  I think I more likely got it from one of the hundreds of snotty nosed kids I touch on a daily basis.  I just know that taking a hot shower in cool weather when you have a cold is preferable to a cold shower.  I’m actually continuing to type this as a way of putting off the cold shower that needs to take place before I head to bed.  As much as I don’t want to do it now, it would be infinitely worse in the chilly, dark air tomorrow morning.

At least I have running water.  Some of my fellow volunteers don’t, since dry season has started.  I’ll count my blessings as I stick my head under the pipe. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Apia II

Farmer Joe’s is always a treat.  If it were air conditioned, I might never leave.  I didn’t buy too much, but really enjoyed looking.  I did buy some black rice vinegar.  I love the white rice vinegar and was reluctant to switch but decided to give it a try.  I’m so glad I did.  For less than $1 USD, I got a large bottle of mild, sweet, flavorful vinegar.  I also got a small, expensive bottle of ranch dressing.  I have everything I need to make deep fried dill pickles.  The dressing is for dipping.  I’m bringing a bit of the American south to Samoa.  If you’ve never tried fried pickles, don’t sneer.  They are excellent, especially when consumed while enjoying a cold beer.

This morning, as I was checking out of the hotel I asked the clerk if there was a 2:00 p.m. boat to Savaii.  She was unsure and asked another employee.  But she didn’t ask if there was a 2:00 boat, she asked when the next bus was leaving for the wharf.  She speaks English.  This is the kind of communication gap that can be so frustrating.  Did she not understand my question?  Did she want to encourage me to leave sooner, rather than hanging around the lobby?  I don’t know.  She told me the last bus of the day was leaving in ten minutes.  Since I know there is a bus that leaves at 1:30 p.m . for the 4:00 pm. boat and it was only 9:30 a.m., I knew that she was incorrect.

I decided to go ahead and catch the bus for the noon boat.  As I was dragging my very heavy luggage the two blocks to the bus station, a young man approached me.  He was walking to the market, next to the buses.  He approached me because he wanted to carry my luggage.  That is fa’asamoa at it’s best.  He was young, didn’t speak much English, but knew that it is wrong to let an older person, especially a palagi, carry heavy things.  What a sweetheart.

I caught the bus as it was leaving.  It was packed.  A crush of people standing cheek to jowl in the aisles.  I grabbed the rack above me and was ready to stand for the 90 minute ride.  Then I heard yelling from the back of the bus.  There was a young man sitting in the front row, holding a two year old girl.  People started yelling at him to give me his seat.  I assured everyone “Aua popole!”  “Don’t worry!” but to no avail.  He gave his child to the woman sitting next to him and I got his seat.

This was a “real” bus, not the homemade variety, so it was bigger and had cushioned seats.  When I say it was packed, I’m not kidding.  I was in the front row, which is two seats, an aisle and two more seats.  In the space from my row to the front of the bus there were 21 people.  Samoan people.  We are not tiny.  Of the 21, 7 were children, the rest adults.  In the space I was sitting in (designed for two) there were six of us (1 child) and I was holding someone’s backpack on my lap.  My face was nestled cozily in the armpit of a young man I’ve never seen before.  A middle-aged man sat on my feet and used my legs as a backrest.  There was someone seating on the back of my seat, so I was leaning forward over the backpack, toward the man sitting at my feet.  I’ve come a very long way in my battle for a need for personal space.  Imagine playing Twister on a bus.  That was us.

Because the bus was so overloaded the driver couldn’t go more than 25 miles an hour because he kept bottoming out.  To avoid that, he drove slowly and only on the smoothest parts of the road, which were frequently on the wrong side.  Oncoming drivers seemed to take it in stride.  Except for the car of policemen who stopped us.  I figured they’d do something because we were so overloaded.  They just advised the driver to stay on his own side.

The ferry ride was uneventful.  Just before we docked, the rain started pouring so I got wet getting to the bus.  Ten minutes later, the sun was out and I was steaming.   Not angry.   Literally, I had steam coming off my wet clothes. 

It was good to be home and see the family.  My baby was happy to see me and I noticed they’d planted a palm tree in front of my house.  I’m not sure why there and I’m glad I won’t be here when the tree is full grown and dropping coconuts on the tin roof.

I texted a friend in the village that I wasn’t coming back to school because I’d run off with Manu Samoa.  Her response text was that that was good.  At least I’d be with fa’i Samoa which is a humorous reference to how well endowed Samoan men are.  Yup, I’m home.


It was a quick trip to Apia but a nice, refreshing break from the village.  There were a couple of incidents last week that made me angry and frustrated.  The break came at a good time.

I tend to forget how different Apia is than living in my village in Savaii.  Even though the rest of the volunteers argue that I live in the Savaii ‘burbs because I’m less than an hour from Salelologa, you can’t call Sale a city.  Town would be stretching it.  Big village with a few stores is more fitting.

My day Saturday started well.  The reliable alarm on my cell phone worked and I dressed and finished packing by the time the taxi arrived promptly at 4:45 a.m.  I opted for a taxi, which costs $10 USD because it is faster, which meant I got to sleep later, it is more reliable than the bus, which doesn’t always come by for the early boat and mostly, because I HATE carrying my suitcases to the road and waiting in the dark.  It’s not the carrying or waiting that is problematic.  It’s the dogs.

They go into hyper-alert status at night, guarding the fales and families.   I’ve been attacked making the early morning trek to the road by my own dogs, who slunk away in shame when they realized they were attacking the woman who feeds them.  The neighbors dogs like to sleep in the open area in front of our compound.  They’ve attacked me as a pack in daylight hours, when I could see them and scream and throw rocks.  In the dark, it’s worse.

Anyway, the taxi showed up on time and drove right to my front door.  It was an easy, cool drive to the wharf.  There were quite a few people but not overly crowded and there was an excellent sunrise as we made the hour-long crossing to Upolu.

I got a seat on the bus and was enjoying the scenery on the ride to Apia.  I noticed the streamers and flags on homes in honor of the recent Independence Day celebrations.  Many villages had put banners across the road, wishing Samoa a happy birthday.  The Congregational religious college had put up a new sign.  “Congregational Church in Samoa.  Museum and Rain Forest.  Free.”  Does anyone else find that funny?

We passed the Methodist church that has been under construction since before December, 2010.  It was under construction when I passed it on my first trip to the wharf and still is, although there were dozens of workers hard at it and it appears close to being finished.

I love driving to Apia and checking out the vendors along the road.  They sell barbequed chicken, fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, niu (drinking coconuts), wood, etc.  We have a very limited number of entrepreneurs in Savaii because we have limited numbers of people.  I long for street vendors and frequently shop at the new stand across from the Tuisivi store near my village to encourage them.

As we got close to town I noticed what appeared to be an informal parade coming from the opposite direction.  It was about ten cars, refurbished, tricked out and brightly painted.  I found out later they have a club and drive around together regularly.  Speaking of cars, later in Apia I saw a car that had huge black plastic eyelashes attached to the hood over the headlights.  Samoans do like to decorate their cars and I give that guy a 10 for creativity.

We passed a restaurant/hotel in town that advertised “Pot Plants for Sale”.  I believe they meant potted plants but who knows? 

At the Peace Corps office I talked briefly with a man who has one of the most boring jobs in the world.  The security guard for the Peace Corps office.  He was there alone, sitting in the kitchen, reading a book out loud.  We talked briefly then I went next door to KK Mart to see what they had available.  OMG, I scored two bags of corn chips for less than $6 USD for both large bags.  The expiration date is November, so I will be in chip heaven for awhile.  Tonight, I’m making nachos!  I did not find pretzels, though.  I checked three grocery stores.  No pretzels, which I’d promised one Year 7 class who had read a story about pretzels, but didn’t know what they were.  Disappointing.

After taking care of some business at the Peace Corps office, I headed to my hotel.  Too early to check in so I dropped my bags and walked to the market.  I was checking out some cabbage because the prices were less than half of what we pay in Savaii.  I decided it wasn’t worth hauling back on the boat, though.  In the process I talked to the two women selling the cabbages, in Samoan.  They laughed.  I continued talking, in Samoan.  They kept laughing.  One wiped the tears from her eyes and said to her partner “The old palagi is speaking Samoan.”  Yes, and the old palagi is not deaf and knows what you are saying.  I explained why I speak Samoan and we had a good chuckle.