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
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