Monday, October 9, 2017

thoughts on Samoa

Ah, Samoa.  Have you ever been really ready to leave a place and move on to the next adventure, but at the same time know you will miss a place so much?  At about a month and a half left in our stay, that’s where I am.  I’m so glad to have lived here, to have been a part of this little country, and yet living on a little island can be so hard.  But the thought of maybe never coming back-- that’s too much to take in.

Life in Samoa has been such a series of ups and downs.  One minute I’m grumpily reflecting on the fact that there hasn’t been bacon in the shops for over a month, and then I look outside at the blue sky with white fluffy clouds floating by, and feel the silky ocean breeze-- and I’m so grateful to be here, in this gentle place.  Samoa as a country is focused on family life, and families spend so much time together, it’s lovely to watch.  But being so far from our own family and friends has made things very lonely at times.  Daniel and I have brainstormed-- how can we stay in the Pacific?  How can we see a future in this place, where violence and fear isn’t a part of life, as it can be living in Belize?  Even when opportunities come, there is always the thought that ends the discussion-- it’s too far from home.  It’s too far from our family.  But knowing that a place like this can exist, where values like respect, hospitality, and love for family are the norm, where people live together mostly peacefully.... I’m so glad we’ve seen it is possible. 

I have a lot of random thought and pictures about life here, so this post will be random too.  I don’t want to forget all these quirky, frustrating, lovely things about Samoa and our time here.

*In 2009 the government of Samoa decided to change from driving on the right side of the road to driving on the left side of the road (most of the region, like Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand drive on the left).  The thought of an entire country one day driving on the other side of the road just boggles my mind, but everyone I’ve asked about it seems really laid back about the changeover.  One guy said, “well the Prime Minister did it, so we knew we could do it too.”  I suppose it helps that people mostly drive slowly here, and that there are few roads, relatively speaking.  I haven’t had the courage to drive while we are here; even after two years being in vehicles driving on the left I still have a moment of panic when the car turns a corner and I think we are in the wrong lane.  So we’ve stuck to buses and taxis.  The one thing I’ve noticed about drivers is their puzzling attitude towards pedestrians and crosswalks.  There are two types of crosswalks here, the painted/ stripe kind, and the kind with a little lighted guy who changes from red to green when you can cross.  The painted crosswalks are treated with great respect from drivers, they will stop and wait even if you are standing at the edge, contemplating crossing.  The lighted kind, well,-- twice, without exaggeration, I’ve very nearly been hit while crossing on a green signal.  The second time I actually had to leap for the curb, and felt the side mirror brush the back of my shirt.  Cars can turn on a red light legally, and they seem to feel this means they have the right of way over pedestrians, even over pedestrians who are crossing on a green signal and were in the midst of crossing when the driver decided to turn.  In self defense, I always keep alert and make eye contact with any driver who decides to turn.  Then I give my best mom glare while I rush across.  Since I started doing that, no one has tried to run me down...

*In some villages in Samoa, there is mandatory evening prayer time, and curfew for kids.  Apia (rather confusingly) is divided up on the map into different “villages,” but in reality everything runs together.  However, locals know the names and borders.  This becomes important at certain times of the evening, because some villages don’t allow cars to drive through during evening prayer.  Wardens will wave down cars and ask them to stop at the side of the road and wait until evening prayer time has finished.  Our village doesn’t do this, or have curfew, but villages further down the same road do.  Every night at 10pm I can hear the sound of a conch shell being blown-- that is the signal for curfew for the village down the road.  From what I’ve heard, wardens are supposed to make sure teenagers are not out and about after that time... but teenagers can work around it if they are feeling sneaky :).  For me, it’s magical to hear the sound of a conch shell horn floating on the flower-scented breeze every night.  

*Samoans, on the whole, are a musical people.  I suspect this has a lot to do with the fact that the majority grew up going to church and singing in choirs at some point.  But singing is also a form of entertainment, on an island where there really isn’t anything much to do after dark. On any given night I can hear the church down the road having choir practice, or my neighbors singing evening prayer, or my other neighbor sitting on the porch playing his guitar. Dancing (in the traditional Samoan way) is also a talent that everyone is pretty much expected to have.  Every single party or celebration I have been to has involved a dance at some point. Even at special Masses at church- for example, Christmas, First Communion, and the fist vows of a Sister-- at the end of Mass, a dance is performed. Samoan traditional dancing is very elegant, mostly involving fluid motions of the arms and hands, with gently shuffling feet.  The girls have learned a bit of dancing at preschool, and I’m sure if we were here longer they would continue to learn, because it is expected that you can be called on to perform a dance at celebrations. Once we were at a party for a Sister from Papua New Guinea, and her family was visiting.  After dinner, people went around the table singing songs for them-- and then the family was quite surprised to be asked to sing a song of their own.   They were obviously not prepared for that, but gamely tried.  I was very relieved we hadn’t also been put on the spot :) At another celebration for a Sister’s 25th anniversary of vows (the girls go to a Catholic preschool, and the Sisters have taken us under their wing and invite us to all the parties!), an energetic traditional dance group was the main entertainment.  I was happily astonished to see all the sisters and priests present get up and join them... not a sight you see ordinarily as a Catholic! 

*Then, of course, there is fire dancing.  Miss M has decided she would like to be a fire dancer.  Fire dancing involves lighting knives on fire, and then throwing and twirling them around to the beat of a drum... so, we’ll see, little one.  There is a yearly competition for the title of Samoa’s best fire dancer, which we went to see this year.  The youngest competitor was TWELVE.  He was pretty awesome, too.  I love this dichotomy in Samoan traditions-- on the one hand, the restrained elegance of some dances, where the dancer basically stays in one spot the entire time, on the other hand-- hey let’s set some knives on fire and repeatedly throw them up in the air, spin them around, and oh let’s just be wearing a small loincloth type garment while we do this.  

I’ve a whole list of things to write about, so more to come

Monday, September 4, 2017

the Fugalei Market, and grocery shopping in Samoa

(I wrote this as a sort of "day in the life" post, about grocery shopping, but no one wants to see a bunch of pictures of grocery stores.  So these are pictures taken at one of the 2 main outdoor markets in Apia, the Fugalei Market.  The market is a huge open air setting, covered by a high tin roof.  Vendors at one end sell flowers, clothing and crafts, a few in the middle sell precooked food, and the other end is packed with vendors of fresh local fruits and vegetables.)

Taro leaves, Taro root, and coconut: the staples of Samoan diet

As the girls eat breakfast, I sit down and write a list of the basics we need.  I can’t menu plan, because you never really know what you will be able to get at the grocery store each week.  Some weeks you can get cheese, or chicken breasts, or cabbage, and some weeks you can’t.   We are going to the beach tomorrow, so I brainstorm some fun portable snacks. I’m also happy I picked up some cash in town yesterday-- that will save us a trip to the bank, which is a bit out of our way. 

The girls are ready fairly fast, and we luckily only wait a few minutes for the bus, which runs right by our front gate.  The buses run their routes in a loop, which means there is no set time for buses, but you usually don’t have to wait more then 20 minutes.  We luck out again-- for some reason, the buses vary in their route, and I haven’t figured out when or why they sometimes take a different street.  Today the bus goes down the street I need, with grocery store #1.  Our ride is 10 minutes and the fare costs 1 tala 50 cene (about 60 cents).

Vendor selling baked breadfruit and taro, and palusami, which is taro leaves baked in coconut cream

We jaywalk across the busy street because the nearest crosswalk is a few minutes walk down the street.  This first store nearly always has cheese in stock at decent prices (and sure enough, later I see the same cheese at a different store for 3 times the price).  I also pick up some chips, they have a nice selection.  That’s about it for this store today.

A quick dash across the street again and a 5 minute walk later, and we are at grocery store #2. I always get meat here, because their deli section seems the cleanest of all the stores.  And by cleanest, I mean on more then one occasion at various other stores, I’ve seen roaches crawl across the meat case.  Today I get some pork chops and chicken breasts, and ask them to slice some ham roll.  Lunchmeats are fairly impossible to find here, and even though the ham roll resembles spam strongly, it will work for our beach trip tomorrow (Later, unfortunately, I threw it all out because it tasted strongly of chemicals).  This store has a fairly good grocery selection, but the prices are ridiculous.  40 tala (around 16 US) for a pound of mushrooms, anyone?   The girls are asking for a drink, but better to wait till our next store.

Another 5 minute walk, and we are at the fruit and veggie market. We pick up some oranges and some coconuts.  The girls love drinking fresh coconut juice, so that will be fun for tomorrow.  I’ve forgotten to bring my backpack, and at this point I’m struggling a bit with all my bags and a kiddo hanging on to each hand.  Fortunately our last grocery store stop is right across the street.

This last stop has the best variety and most reasonable prices, so I do the bulk of my bigger purchases here.  I’m planning on taking a taxi home, so I don’t have to worry about carrying things.  Bread, eggs, flour, rice, some other odds and ends, and the long awaited strawberry milks (the girl’s drink of choice).  I wanted some canned beans but didn’t see them in any of the shops, hopefully there will be a restock soon.  

handprinted lava lavas

There are always taxis outside this store, and we hop in to air-conditioned delight.  Our driver today is the typical chatty sort, and I spend the 10 minute ride home making polite sounds of agreement to a conversation I’m not really following while trying to referee 2 little girls who both want to sit in my lap and do not want to sit nicely in their seats.  8 tala for the ride, but I wouldn’t be able to handle everything on the bus so no choice there.  

a vendor making arrangements for a church
Start to finish, about 2 hours, a pretty successful morning-- not too hot, no rain, no one had to do an emergency potty break :)  I usually do a bigger shopping trip once a week, we do have a little village shop down the street if we run out of basics mid week.   

For the curious: We spend 60-80 USD a week on groceries, cooking everything mostly from scratch and not eating a ton of meat.  People definitely live on less then this, using family farm produce such as taro or bananas and lots of ramen.  It’s also possible to spend a lot more then this, if you want imported fruits and vegetables, lots of meat and dairy, and prepackaged anything. Eating out is by far the most expensive activity to do here, so we save that for very special occasions.

More than you ever wanted to know about buses in Samoa

our village bus

We don’t have a car, and taxis can be expensive, so we ride the bus.  A lot.  This is not an experience that many non-Samoans have, I think, probably because riding the bus isn’t particularly comfortable or convenient.  Most tourists rent a car, most long term residents buy one.  I often get surprised looks, but I also usually get a seat and can sometimes avoid being sat on because people assume I’m a tourist and don’t know bus etiquette :)

Buses here have a 60/40 split between the old and the new.  The old are really old:  wooden frames build on a chassis from the 1950’s.  The outsides are brilliantly painted, and the insides are often decorated with fake fur, tinsel, or hanging ornaments. They have hard wooden bench seats, and the windows are empty unless it rains, when pieces of plexiglass are cleverly inserted into the window wells.   The new buses are air conditioned with soft seats... but lack a bit of character.  All buses probably should seat no more then 30, but during the rush hours of school time and work commutes, stacking everyone on laps 3 or so deep lets around 100 squeeze on (with a few hanging out here and there).  I’ve seen some newspaper interviews on the topic of buses, and most people seem to think each has it’s pros and cons (wooden buses- easier to escape from the windows if the bus crashes, new buses- more comfortable :)  Buses also don’t run at all on Sundays, because that is a day for Church and family, not work.  Most everything is closed on Sundays anyways, but it does make getting to Church a bit more difficult for  those of us without cars.

The bus has a hierarchy that fascinates me, although I haven’t quite clarified every aspect.  At the front sit the older ladies, the women with small children, and respected older men.  The middle is for kids and younger women.  The back is for boys and men.  Respect and politeness are huge in Samoan society, and it is strictly observed  (and taught) on the bus.  When I get on with my girls, if there isn’t a seat open, someone will always move (in a year of riding the bus, I’ve never once had to stand).  Hands reach down to help an unsteady kiddo up the steps, and if the bus is full someone will usually grab one of the girls and plop them on their lap.  Any time an older woman gets on, someone will move to open up a front seat for her, even if there are seats open in the back.  And heaven forbid a child doesn’t pay attention and move fast enough to give up a seat to an adult-- “aunties” from all sides will poke until the little one realizes what is going on and moves.  Kids have the short stick on the bus-- they are the first to be stacked on laps when the bus starts to fill, and often end up squashed together standing in the aisles.  And it doesn’t matter in the least if you are friends with or even know the person with the free lap-- if the bus is full, prepare to be stacked.  (This is why I always travel with 2 of my own lap sitters :) It also doesn’t seem to matter if the bus is completely filled, the driver mostly will stop to let more people on even when I am really, really sure that there is no possible way more people can fit.  Somehow, more people are crammed on.  (Although once I was quite amused when sitting at the bus station, watching a police officer count people exiting a bus.  It was like a clown car-- people just kept coming and coming and coming. Apparently there are rules regulating passenger numbers, because he ticketed the driver, but in over a year of riding the bus that is the only time I’ve ever seen that happen). 

There are areas of town that I still haven’t figured out how to get to by bus, because there is no bus route map.  The buses have a name of the town or area of the final destination as identifiers, but as far as I know the only way to figure out where they stop along the way is to ride them.  And lots of buses go to similar areas, but might take a different street here or there.  If you ask someone which bus to take, you’ll get a string of words that are really hard to identify unless you speak Samoan, and tend to sound a lot alike. Moa Moa vs Mulele vs Mootutua vs Malua?  It’s a bit stressful.  The main bus station makes me amused or indignant depending on if I’m in a hurry that day. It is an open air lot by the sea, consisting mainly of a parking lot and a row of benches with a roof.  All the buses park parallel to each other in a row.  The buses park at the top, middle, or bottom of the row depending on what area they serve; so, for example, the buses that run to the area of town where the hospital is always park at the top of the row.  The problem is that buses aren’t on a timetable, and there aren’t enough spots.  3 buses might want to park in the same spot.  If there is another bus parked in its spot.... the next bus just waits for the spot to open up.  And since there is only 1 lane to access the parking spots, alllll the other buses behind have to wait too.  This adds up to a lot of sitting and waiting for buses... in Samoa, like many islands, being on time is not a thing, really :)

I have to admit though that figuring out the buses has made me feel a lot more at home here.  I feel quite smug when I figure out how to get to a new area by bus. The bus drivers from our route know me now, and often will stop when they see me walking down the road in town to check if I’m ready to ride back.  The best though is how accustomed the girls are to buses.  We’ve had a few experiences with buses breaking down (which often evolves into all the male passengers offering help, advice, and a push start).... so now whenever the bus stops for a time, Lu turns to me and asks, “Mommy, do we need to push?”  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Oh hey!  It’s been over a year since we left Belize!  This occasion was marked by me finally using the tickets to American Samoa that we were forced to buy on our crazy trip to Fiji.  The tickets expired a year from purchase, nothing like a little procrastination :)  Daniel and I have zero regrets about taking this adventure. I’m trying to convince him to keep up this slightly nomadic lifestyle, but if you know Daniel in real life, you are laughing right now.  He just wants a quiet life on his farm.  

     Life is going pretty well here right now. In December, we FINALLY (after 6 months of looking) found an off campus rental house, and it is quite perfect.  A big yard and porch, a kitchen with a stove, room for the girls to spread out alllll their toys.  It even came with a dog. The bus goes right past our front gate, our neighbor is a nun who brings treats over for the girls every few days, and we have a little grocery store within walking distance that sells fresh donuts in the mornings. 

     We’ve slowed down a bit on our adventuring-- since we decided to stay in Samoa for the rest of Daniel’s studies, it feels like we don’t have to rush to get everything in. (Oh yeah: we are staying in Samoa until November!) My parents were able to stay with us for almost a month in January, and the girls completely wore them out :) While my parents were here we visited several beaches and took a ferry over to Savaii (the bigger of the 2 islands that make up Samoa).  This is where I admit that even though I grew up going to the Atlantic Ocean for vacations, I think the Pacific has ruined me for beaches.  Crystal clear water that is warmer then a bath, bright blue starfish, tiny little hermit crabs scurrying about in perfect little shells..... sigh.  We don’t get to the beach as often as the girls would like, because the side of the island we live on has a rockier coast.  Although, if it were up to my babies, we would be at the beach all day every day, so I guess they will never be at the beach as often as they like.  

    We now have 3 year old and a 4 year old, and it’s been sooooo challenging.  I would say that Lu has caught up to Miss M developmentally, so it’s pretty much like having twins.    It’s crazy to see pictures from our fist few months in Fiji, when I was hauling the girls around in an Ergo carrier and a stroller.  Now they can climb up the bus steps by themselves, and confidently walk down the aisle and plop into a seat.  Lu hasn’t outgrown her klutziness, and falls off something pretty much every day.   She also is completely untrustworthy, and if she manages to disappear for 30 seconds I know I will be fishing a whole roll of toilet paper out of the toilet or scrubbing crayon off the walls.  Emma is freshly 4, and we are seeing some glimmers of rationality emerge from the “threenager” stage (so much drama.  so much screaming).  They have  outgrown  that easy bribability that I loved about the 2’s, which makes adventuring a bit more challenging when they won’t walk uphill for an hour for a cookie and a juice box.  But-- everyone is toilet trained!!!!!!  And they are always, always up for an adventure, even if it’s just a bus ride into town to the grocery store.  They were enrolled for a few months in the cutest little preschool run by Catholic Sisters, (which technically should have given me 2 free hours every weekday! ) In reality though, preschool bugs hit us hard, and after struggling for a term with the girls out sick almost every week, we decided to give it a break for a while.  I’m crossing my fingers their immune system will adapt, and we will try again next term.   I’m enjoying becoming part of our village community though the preschool, and I love that the girls are picking up bits of Samoan language and culture.  

That about catches us up!  We decided to stay in Samoa because the campus has an agricultural component, unlike Fiji, so Daniel has access to animals for research.  He’s finishing up with the research soon, and the remainder of the time will be for writing his thesis.  After a few months of ridiculously hot weather, things have started to cool down and I am loving it.  I’m looking forward to “winter” here, which so far seems like it will be sunny skies and cool breezes.  I’m trying to take some time each day to just sit quietly and absorb the beauty of this island, because I know I will miss it so much when we leave.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sliding Rocks

Want to go on an adventure?

The best thing about a 2 and 3 year old:  the answer is always YEAH!!!!
No lack of enthusiasm for Mom's ideas over here.

Anyways, the first month or so we arrived the weather was amazing and I was motivated to see as much of Samoa as possible, within a 30 minute bus ride.  Right down the street from us is Papase'ea sliding rocks, which is a stream with smooth channels in the rocks that you can slide down, like a natural water slide.

The stream is in a valley, so it is shady and cool.  It's a pretty steep hike down, but the stairs are nicely maintained, and the whole area is cleaned and landscaped by the local village's women's committee.  The entrance fee goes to this committee, and it's nice to think they are benefiting directly from all the tourism.

The water is cool and clear.  When we were there the water level was low, so you couldn't go down all of the slides,  That was fine with us, we just paddled about with the girls.  Until I got it in my head that I had to at least go down one big slide, the biggest one there, because you can't go to the sliding rocks and not slide down the rocks, right?

the slide from the top

Well.  Once was enough.  Turns out the rocks are so slippery that there is no friction to slow you down, so it is more like a water drop then water slide.  One second I was at the top of a 20 ft cliff, the next second I was at the bottom, with the wind knocked out of me and a nose full of water.  Not... as much fun as I was expecting :)

Just looking at these pictures makes me want to go back this weekend.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

the Samoan way

Apia harbor

Well. Things just got away from me for a while there.  After having some mentally rough weeks, the thought occurred to me, "Ah.  This is culture shock.  It is normal and ok and things will be fine."  And things are fine.  I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me that we might have an adjustment period, I guess I figured I could handle Belize and Fiji I could handle any tropical country.  And also we were so busy worrying about other things, like visas and adoptions, that I never took time to sit down and learn a bit about the country we were traveling to.  The thing I love about Samoa, but which has also made adjusting a bit more difficult:  Samoa has an amazing, deep culture.  There are traditions and rules that are fascinating, and also good to know about lest you accidentally offend someone.  I am very grateful to the patient Samoans we have met, who have answered many questions and not taken offense at our ignorance, and also laughed at us a bit.  

Ice cream made from Samoan chocolate

I'm very glad we landed in relatively cushy circumstances in Fiji as our first stop over in the South Pacific, because if Samoa had been our first stop I most likely would have had a breakdown, just because our situation here has been much more sink or swim.  In Fiji, we were in a fully furnished and equipped house, steps away from buses and shopping and everything.  That was the ideal way to start, get rid of jet lag, and learn a bit about life in the Pacific.  USP Samoa ushered us to little house on campus that had obviously sat vacant for a while (read: fairly filthy), and was mostly (completely) empty.  Our total household furnishing included: 2 bed frames with a 3 inch foam "mattress," 1 table, and 4 curtains.  We did some frantic shopping (and I did frantic curtain sewing after I realized that there are 15 windows in our house and all our neighbors are male students) and now I'm actually kinda enjoying living with the absolute minimum.  It's fun to think about what I would add, if I could, and how small the list is: a mixer, an oven (we are using a 2 burner cooktop), a cushy armchair.  Maybe a large cutting board.  I plan on making a list of everything we have right now so I don't forget: these are the absolute essentials, life really doesn't require much more.

preschool game day

  Also helping with my new, improved mood : our house now seems relatively luxurious, because for a month we had to share with a bunch of roommates.  It's amazing the attitude adjustment that can happen when you think, "things can't possibly be worse" and then things get worse.  When everything goes back to the way it was, it's wonderful.  I'm not saying our roommates were rough, in fact we loved them a lot, they spoiled the girls rotten and we had so many great conversations.  The problem is our house is TINY (a 12x 16ft common area, four 10x8 bedrooms, two 10x10 kitchen areas, and two bathrooms.  Two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom are "ours," and all the rooms are arranged around the perimeter of the common area, so there is no separation of living areas.) At one point I think there were about 6 extra people living in the house, joined for almost every meal by at least 6 more people.  I don't really even  know how many people were staying here, which is SO Samoan.  Sharing is a huge, huge part of the culture, and personal space and privacy aren't at all what we are used to in the western world.  An example: Daniel and I were surprised to be asked by multiple people (including random taxi drivers) the first weeks we were here how much rent we are paying, and how much money Daniel gets as a monthly stipend.  Here, this is not a rude question. I also quickly learned that our bedroom isn't considered private; if you have the door closed, expect a quick knock and then the door will be opened, ready or not.  So anyways, the point is that people who needed a place to stay (teachers taking an accelerated course  here on campus, placed in our house by administration) just bunked in together in the 2 spare bedrooms and made big communal meals for those staying elsewhere.  Every night we were presented with a huge plate of food, even if we had already eaten, because, "that is the Samoan way."  The girls were fussed over and presented with a special treat every time someone came back from an errant.  The girls learned more about sharing in the last month then I've been able to teach them in the last 2 years, and are actually much better about sharing with each other now. (They rather unfortunately have also realized that if they want something another child has, they just hold out their hand and ask.  If the child refuses to share, a mama or teacher will swoop in and scold the little one. Since I'm not too big on giving the girls chips and candy, they often take ruthless advantage of other kiddos at preschool snack time.) All in all, I'm really glad we got our crash course in Samoan life, but also really glad we have our house back to ourselves for a while.

new best friend

Before life got away from me, we were going on lots of "adventures," as the girls like to say, and I have tons of pictures which I will post soon.  I also have lots more to say about some of the challenges of life, but we will leave that for another time :)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Talofa Samoa

On the flight over-- Miss M's mind is blown when she is served a giant pink marshmallow.  For breakfast.

View on the drive from the airport
Pacific Islands seem to be my thing, because I really like Samoa.  We've settled in a bit now. We know our bus route, the girls are attending a preschool a few days a week, I have a library card, and we've found 3 playgrounds.  Samoa is very different from Fiji.  For starters, Apia is a bit smaller city, and we are living on the outskirts on the USP campus, which has animals.  Daniel is so happy.  Whenever the cows graze in the field by our house it feels just like Belize.  As promised, the people here are super friendly.  It seems to manifest the most in a chatty curiosity-- most everyone (even those encountered for a few minutes, like grocery store tellers or taxi drivers) want to know where we are from, where we are staying, how our day is going, what our plans are, and how we like Samoa.  Everyone is super curious about Miss M and Lu, and how we ended up as a family.

Ocean front playground

Lu coordinates her flower with her outfit

Miss M prefers flowers the size of her face

The thing I enjoy most so far is the creativity of the people of Samoa.  There are so many beautiful crafts.  Every single grocery store sells fabric-- bright, beautiful tropical prints.  Samoa is known for the intricately printed designs painted on fabric, which are sold everywhere and worn by men and women both.  There is also a lot of weaving.  We bought a woven mat for the girl's room that makes the whole room smell like freshly chopped hay.  Everyone uses baskets woven from coconut palm leaves to carry produce at the market, and I am dying to learn how to make one.  They are so common that they are thrown out just like plastic bags.

beautifully printed fabrics at one of the markets
It is much more hot and humid here—probably due to the huge jungle covered mountains that project like fingers through the settlement of Apia. (funny aside-- before we got here, I looked at google maps trying to figure out the distance of a school for the girls from where we are staying.  There is a big blank peninsula- shaped space on the map, right between where we are and where the school is, with no roads shown.  I figured the map was incomplete and the roads were small.  Turns out, that "space" is a huge mountain.  You have to go around it.)  Because of this climate it seems a majority of daily living is done in open air buildings called Fales.  Fales are  like palapas-  an earth or concrete base, with poles supporting a thatch or zinc roof.  Most lots have a fale, and in many the fale is the center of activity, with a small house crouched behind like an afterthought.   The other architectural feature that is predominate is churches.  In the half hour drive into the city from the airport, I counted at least a dozen huge, beautiful churches.   Religion is very much a part of everyone’s life, in fact on Sundays most everything is closed and buses don’t even run.

The buses are great-- they are brightly painted and decorated and made of wood!  The chassis are apparently from the 1950's, and the whole bus structure, from floors to seats to roof, is wood.  There aren't any windows, and when it rains there are pieces of plexi glass that you can lift into the window frame.  The bus costs 1 tala a ride (around 40 cents US) and don't run on any timetable, they just loop around their route all day.  That means if you aren't lucky and just miss a bus, you have to sit and wait for another to show.  The most I've had to wait on our route is about 1/2 an hour.  I'm glad so far we don't have any set appointments we have to reach on time, cause you can't really predict how long it will take you to get  somewhere by bus. Since the buses don't run on Sunday, though, we have to take a taxi to church.  Taxis are really expensive here, the same route that costs 1 tala by bus costs 10 tala by taxi, so we try to take the bus when we can.  But the absolute BEST part about the bus is that when it gets crowded, people sit on eachother's laps.  I had read about this before I came, and told Daniel, but he thought it was just something people told to tourists.  NOPE. It's totally a thing.  One day we took a trip into town just as the 2 all boys high schools down the street from us got out for the day.  Normal capacity for the bus is maybe about 35 with 2 people per (small) bench seat.  That day, we found out people don't wait for the next bus, they just squeeeeeze in.   2 guys would sit on the bench, and then 2 more guys would sit on their laps, so now there are 4 people crammed into a maybe 3 ft by 1 1/2 ft space.  Then everyone squeezes into the aisle, and when absolutely no more fit, people stand on the bus steps, and the poor guy on the end hangs on the the door frame for dear life.  There were 15 people in the 3-seat area around me, and well over a hundred on the bus. Everyone is pretty blase about it, I had to laugh thinking about the fistfights that would inevitable break out if you tried that with Belizean highschoolers! I did make the mistake of traveling when school let out by myself another day, and ended up with a very heavy 10 year old on my lap! So, pro-tip:  travel with a toddler on your lap, so you don't end up with a very close seatmate!

Much more to come, we have been going on lots of adventures, but internet is painfully slow and sometimes non-existent.

Friday, July 1, 2016

off to Samoa!

My Mom, who took the picture:  You look like an interesting family
Me: Mom,  we ARE an interesting family.
Mom: well... (remains unconvinced.)
On Monday we leave Fiji for Samoa!  We are fairly sure we will be in Samoa until December, and then return to Fiji for 2017, but us + planning ahead = HAHAHA

Anyways.  It has been such a wonderful few months in Fiji.  I think this time abroad is exactly what our family needs.  This summer Daniel and I will be married 8 years, and this is the first time we have been out of Belize for an extended time.  Every aspect of our lives has been different here--  city living, a big house, no getting up at 5am to milk cows..... we were living under so much pressure, which we didn't even realize until we left.  Farm life is nice in some ways, but it is also unrelenting, Now we have a chance to put our heads up, take a deep breath and look around.

We have found Fijians as a whole are so friendly, but when Fijians find out we are traveling to Samoa, they all say we will love it there because Samoans are super friendly. I'm expecting some epic levels of friendliness.  I am going to miss Fiji, but I am so excited to be able to visit another island in the South Pacific.  My serious lack of geographical knowledge means that I keep getting surprised by countries.  Someone will mention they just came from Kiribati, or New Caledonia, or Vanuatu, and I have to google it.  I'm also spending time googling small local airways, looking for bargain fares between islands, because even though we have no budget for side trips I am dying to experience some of these places.  How fun would it be to visit a country you didn't even know existed a few months ago, right? Crossed fingers.  

I am sad that we won't be in Fiji for the Olympics though.  This is the first year that rugby will be an Olympic sport, and the #1 ranked 7's rugby team in the world is.... Fiji!  Rugby is SO major here, that even I follow it now.  It's hard not to when you have 2 tv channels, and 85% of the time both channels are showing rugby.  People here follow rugby the same way Belize follows the World Cup:  when a game is on, you don't need to watch it to know the score, because you can hear the cheering/ groaning from everyone else up and down the street. We live right up the street from the stadium, and know whenever the team is on the move because they get an official police escort, including sirens on and speeding through red lights.  Anyways, we are going to miss a major party in August, but we will be cheering Fiji on in Samoa!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A few weeks ago my parents came to visit, and we visited the beach for the first time in Fiji.  (Suva, where we stay, has a rocky coast line).

This place.... is pretty much perfect.  All I have to say is-- if you ever have the opportunity to visit the South Pacific, GO.

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