Friday, December 28, 2007

(Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)

What is life like in my Samoan village?

So what is life like in the village? Background info . . . . Apia is the only town/city in Samoa. It has about 35,000 people and the rest of the population of the country of 180,000 people live in small villages, mostly along the coastlines. My village of Poutasi has a population of 325±. On the map I’ve made of the village there are 50 family compounds some of which house one nuclear family and others an extended family. It is a lovely village – pleasing to the eye. About half of the homes, including mine, are located on the ocean and the other half up the mountain a little ways. Some of the houses are very Western in style, others are the traditional open thatched-roof fales, and most are something in between.

Some of the men and women work outside of the village during the day – in offices or shops in Apia or as school teachers, etc. Most of the women stay at home and care for the family and many men also work on their family farms or fish instead of working elsewhere. Less than half of the families have vehicles. Most people ride the bus.

A general answer to the question would be “quiet.” The only sounds normally are the muffled roar of the surf on the fringing reef, which quickly becomes white noise, roosters crowing, dogs barking, birds singing, and usually music playing somewhere. On a daily basis people go about their normal activities. For the women this would be sewing, cleaning, cooking, weaving, child care, etc. Actually cooking takes up a great deal of time. Most people, including the family that I live with, still cook on open fires or in underground ovens with hot rocks in back of the main house (we have a one-burner propane cook top inside too). The men will go fishing or to their farm, which is up the mountain a little ways. That’s usually early in the morning or when it begins to cool off late in day. In the afternoon the women will often gather in the women’s committee house (an open fale) to talk, weave, play cards, or sleep.

Church and bingo are the two big activities of the week in the village. There are two churches in the village – Catholic and Congregational (the church of the missionaries which is descended from the Puritans, if I remember correctly). There are two church services on Sunday, not including Sunday School and the Youth Group meeting after church Sunday evening. There are usually one or two other church activities during the week too, such as choir practice or the women’s fellowship. Bingo is in the church hall and is a fund raiser for the church – very well-attended!

My life in the village will always be mostly unstructured, but is probably a little more so right now because I’m still settling in and not working very aggressively on any projects yet. But this is my “routine” at this point. I wake up about 6:30 and go for a walk on the road along the ocean in the cool of the day. Then I make breakfast etc. and figure out what I’m going to do for the day. If it’s Sunday I go to church. I usually go to the Congregational Church since it reminds me of the church where I went when I was young. My Samoan family also goes there. But every now and then I go to the Catholic service to make sure I continue to get acquainted with everyone in the village. It’s really important for us to go to church since it’s such an important part of village life. On Sunday there is nothing else to do since it’s a day of rest. We come home, eat a big meal and sleep and relax until the afternoon service. In addition to not working, on Sunday there is no swimming allowed and the young people don’t play rugby or volleyball like the usually do in the afternoons.

For these first few months in the village our primary “job” is to get to know the village and the people. So what I do each day varies from visiting the primary and secondary schools, going to village meetings of the chiefs or the women’s committee, to just studying the language. Sometimes I go and visit with the women in the committee house in the afternoon. And some days I just stay at home and read or write. I usually write some each day. Lately I’ve also been reading some sample proposals from other Peace Corps projects and making phone calls to set up appointments to get information about some of the proposed projects for the village. Nearly every afternoon I sit in the open fale next to the ocean and read or write, watch the fishermen or the children playing in the sea, and watch the sunset (always spectacular!). In the evening I read, watch dvd’s, play computer games, listen to Radio Australia (like NPR), etc. The family I live with has a TV, but there’s not much to watch.

After the holidays I’ll be starting to work in earnest on funding for the Learning Centre and an environmental project along the river bank and sea shore as well as some community gardens. It’s a process.

The Bamboo Cannon

The last couple of evenings in the village I've been hearing the Samoan version of fireworks to celebrate Christmas. The “fireworks” are muffled booms – well, not so muffled if you’re up close. From my house, maybe the length of a football field away, it sounds like the noise made when fireworks are launched at a fireworks show. I went to see what was going on and saw three boys, about ten years old, having fun with fire. Here’s how they do it. Envision a stalk of dried bamboo about four to five feet long and four to six inches in diameter. Make a one-inch diameter hole in the end section, then pour in a small amount of kerosene. Fresh air is blown into the hole to activate the fumes. Then they light the gas from the top of the hole with a small flaming stick kept in the coconut husk fire nearby. Poof! Bang! And a flame shoots up a couple of feet in the air. Again, and again, with a small explosion about every five seconds. It takes some practice to make the loudest bang. It's called a "bamboo cannon" and ironically the children use it as an alternative to commerical, dangerous, fireworks which are illegal in Samoa.