Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Move to Poutasi

September 4, 2007

It turns out that I will be living with a family in Poutasi across the road from the fale by the sea where I was originally supposed to live; the small fale will be available for me to work in, relax and read, and have meetings, etc. That will probably rescue me in the moments that I am discouraged. I have been over there nearly every day. The sea is soothing and calming in the way that it has been for millennia. The family that I am living with is very warm and welcoming.

With all of the anxiety I’ve been feeling about moving to a new village and meeting all the new people there – which is dissipating somewhat already – it’s good to remember how fortunate it is that I’m in such a beautiful place! I could be in a cold, dreary place or one that is hot and dusty and drab. This is exactly where I wanted to be. I am writing this on my laptop and will save it to my flashdrive to take to town to post on my blog. At this moment I’m sitting in the fale by the sea listening to the birds twittering in the nonu bushes, kingfishers, I think, and to the constant chattering of the coconut palm fronds as they rise and fall in the breeze. I hear the steady roar of the surf as it crashes over and over the fringing reef of the island, maybe a half mile away (I’m not good at judging distances, especially over water.). The small waves reaching the shore about 20 feet in front of me lap a continuous beat of their own. The pounding surf sounds like a waterfall upstream, ebbing and flowing slightly, but never stopping, with the small waves like a babbling brook beside me. The sound of the surf is faint enough that one can easily not hear it because you quickly become accustomed to the “white noise.” But it is always there, loud enough to be clearly heard, even from my room in the house when I stop and listen.

The ocean just about 20 feet in front of me is varying shades of blue and aqua. The Samoan word for the color blue is lanumoana, which literally means the color of the deep ocean. It is clean and clear and only about waist deep in most places all the way out to the reef. A couple of mornings I have gone for a short swim after my morning walk.

I’m looking between the palms in front of the fale at Nuu Safee Island. The island is owned by the village. It is a small uninhabited island that one can go to for a day trip by boat (I haven’t yet, but I’m looking forward to it). Sometimes visitors “rent” the island and stay there for a few days. It is the postcard version of a Pacific Island fringed by coconut palms with a wide white coral beach. The sun is slowly setting leaving a shining path on the sea. As it sinks behind the clouds, the forest below on the horizon becomes a silhouette with the tallest palms in stark relief above the tree canopy. Soon the brightness will fade to pinks and oranges as it disappears for the night. Behind me the tops of the mountain ridges are covered with clouds whose edges look like puffs of cotton. I suspect it’s raining at the summit.

There is a cool breeze blowing my troubles away – blowing them out to sea so that I can replace them with loving, calm, serene, and confident thoughts that I am being sent from my family and friends back home. Fa’afetai!

Leaving Manunu

August 17, 2007
It is absolutely amazing to realize that we have nearly completed our training, and be sworn in as official Peace Corps volunteers on Wednesday. It has been tough, but has gone by so quickly. We are in for a big change that will be perhaps more challenging than what we’ve experienced thus far. Going to our new villages on August 23rd and adapting to a new lifestyle - no more structured training calendars, meeting a whole village of new people, and starting the "job" part of our Peace Corps experience will be difficult in many ways. Nonetheless, we have gotten this far and have been given tools to use. That’s what the sometimes grueling training has been for.
Last Sunday morning the congregation of the church in our training village began to say goodbye to us. I read in Samoan, a prayer of thanks. Compared to the few words I was able to say on that very first Sunday here, even I am impressed with my abilities. (I passed our final language test at the advanced level last week - I was pleasantly surprised.) Like on our first Sunday, when we we all went to the front of the church to be welcomed, we did that again. Only this time we knew everyone who gave us a hug or a lei. It was a beautiful and moving service and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears.
Of course none of this could have happened without the village of Manunu. (Each new group of volunteers goes to a different village in Samoa for their training village.) We are each going to desperately miss our families here. I have been given an incredible honor. Baby Urima will also be given the name of Donna. I am nearly moved to tears each time I think of it. All the rest of her life she will know that she was named for this palagi (a generic term for white person - not used derisively) who once came to live with the family for a few short weeks.
We have been told by the trainers and current PC volunteers that we are having a very special experience in Manunu. Never before has a Peace Corps training group been so warmly welcomed into the whole community and made a real part of the village. We have been part of the lotu (church services), had sivas (dances) thrown just for us, and I think our goodbye fiafia (village celebration with traditional dance, etc.) next week will be a hard act to follow. It is a physically beautiful village nestled in the mountains. The traditional village structure with the homes in a circular pattern and the malae in the middle (grassy "village square" where the young people play rugby and soccer and village gatherings are held) make not only a picturesque setting, but an remarkable social network of families, Samoan style. They have literally and figuratively surrounded us with their love and kindness.
The village itself has also told us how much we will missed and that we have made a difference by being here. This week, one of the chiefs told us that for some of the people in Manunu this has been one of the happiest times of their lives. Amazing!

August 18, 2007
First came the women of the village walking across the malae singing in their matching blue puletasi (dresses) with red flowers. Some had flowers in their hair, others had fragrant leis around their necks. Their beautiful voices blended together in harmony and wafted across to us on the cool early morning breeze. The elder men of the village laid the fala papa (woven mats) on the grass across from us and took their places according to rank. The high orator of the village began to speak with his ceremonial whisk over his shoulder and his talking staff held firmly in his hand. Although at this point I can understand some of the language, one didn't need to know any of the words to understand the honor that was being bestowed upon us. Then came six young men of the village carrying a bamboo platform covered with banana leaves with a huge whole roasted pig cooked that morning in the umu (underground oven). Next other young men of the village brought woven palm leaf baskets with smaller roasted pigs and other food. And then they laid banana leaves on the grass in front of us and four young men came walking toward us with the head and front and hind quarters of a just-butcherd cow slung over their shoulders with blood running down their backs they laid it in front of us. They gave us a cow! In local tradition that is a tremendous honor. And then the women brought out expertly woven fine mats and laid them in front of us.
This small group of sixteen people who have arrived in the country only three months ago to do our best to help where we can have been so blessed to be in the village of Manunu for these past few weeks. Each of us has acquired a new Samoan family and an entire community to call our home whenever we want to return.
We sat cross-legged, Samoan style on our fala mat, awestruck with the gratitude that was begin expressed to us, when it is we who cannot express enough gratitude to the families that took us into their homes, welcomed us with open arms, taught us the Samoan language and the Samoan way of life, and provided us with food, shelter and alofa for seven weeks. To say that none of us, the people of Manunu or the Pisikoa, will ever forget this experience of the past few weeks is an understatement I am sure. The people of Manunu will tell the story over the years about the palangi who lived with them once upon a time with whom they laughed and played and who they took into their hearts. And each of us will have stories to tell our grandchildren about how we once lived in a Samoan village and taught them how to play softball, sang in the church choir, danced the siva, killed a chicken for dinner, climbed a coconut tree, had a beau with whom we sat and talked under the stars, made coconut cream from a fresh coconut, swam in the pool by the waterfall, lived in a little thatched-roof hut, had a chicken lay an egg at the foot of the bed, walked each morning in the dew-laden grass to the open fale for classes each day, or had the honor of a holding a precious baby girl in your arms who was named for you.
And this is just beginning! Next week we each go to a new village to begin our "real" Peace Corps experience