Thursday, April 24, 2008

Like a Boat at Sea

I was thinking the other day about the ups and downs one has as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Frustration, anger, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, loneliness, boredom, inertia – friendship, exhilaration, gratitude, kindness, satisfaction, appreciation, amusement. Sweat, lice, diarrhea, bugs, pisupo*, leg cramps**, cold showers – sea breezes, beaches, mangoes, sunsets, snorkeling, no shoes, the laughter of children.

It’s like being on a small boat at sea. Sometimes the ocean swells are coming from afar, and even though the weather is fine in Samoa, you can feel the effect of a storm thousands of miles away. Sometimes the sea is rough and your fragile boat rises with a huge wave and then plunges into the trough, over and over again. Once in awhile a storm threatens and you are caught unawares, holding on for dear life, hoping you will live to tell the tale. And sometimes, it is blessedly peaceful, and you glide over the crystal clear water with ease, a few white fluffy clouds in the brilliantly blue sky, the warmth of the sun on your back, looking to the horizon with anticipation.

*Fatty canned corned beef that looks like dog food.
** From sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Short Subjects . . .

Samoans bury their dead in elaborate graves in front of the main house of their family compound. Called tia, the graves are often two or three tiers high and are decorated with natural stone or sometimes painted. It’s a comfort that the departed are still close by and it’s a convenient place to sit in the cool of the evening.
Some of the western-style clothing and accessories worn by Samoans makes me smile. You may see a muscular 18-year old Samoan guy with a Winnie the Pooh backpack, or an old woman with a dirty slogan in English on her t-shirt. Samoans like a little flash, and sunglasses with rhinestone trim are worn by men or women. Fake Crocs are all the fashion here now and it doesn’t matter if a guy is wearing pink ones.
You can always tell when a ship from China has come with some new product. Lately the little shops have all been selling synthetic hair pieces for women – circles of curls, switches, etc. The Samoan women wear them as hair accessories, regardless of the color.
Folding money is easy to slip into the folds of a lavalava around your waist, but what do you do with the coins? Put them in your ear.
Samoan kids never get bedtime stories, a good night kiss, or get tucked into their beds at night. I know that it’s an American/European custom, but it’s a nice one. They don’t even have a set bedtime or get told to go to bed. They fall asleep whenever they feel like it, which is usually late by American standards – 10:00 pm or later. They nap in the afternoons to make up for it. Of course it’s hard to put a kid “to bed” when the whole family sleeps together on mats on the floor in the same room.
As I’ve mentioned, Samoans have an elaborate system of respect and polite interaction. So I was shocked to find that it all goes by the wayside when it comes to waiting in lines. At the movie theater people will gather in front of the ticket taker in a sort of bulbous line, and then when he begins to take tickets, there is a mad rush with people literally pushing and shoving to get in. There’s no deference to age or sex. It’s the same to get on the bus in Apia if there is a large group of people gathered waiting when the bus arrives. It’s like they were escaping from a burning building.