Friday, July 06, 2012

Visit back to Samoa - Part One

A bit late, but finally my update from my trip back to Samoa since I left Peace Corps December 2007.

March 23 (Friday)
Flight to Samoa - I was looking forward to going back, but also really nervous. It is a hard thing to describe to people who have not been in the Peace Corps before. But the trip was not going to be a vacation. It was a visit, a visit to friends and family. I felt like there was a lot of expectations on my part. I tried to study up on my Samoan in preparation for the visit. It's hard when I felt like I still knew Samoan, but haven't heard it spoken in 4 years really. Other than a few words here and there by fellow volunteers. I was however, really looking forward to going back.

My father and I were traveling back to Samoa together for my first visit back since I left Peace Corps. My dad had been to Samoa twice before to visit me, so nothing would be new to him, but I was still hoping he enjoyed the trip. I didn't want to only have visits with family, but also have a chance to fit in some touring and site seeing. I wished my husband was able to come with me, too. This place shaped me. It's a big part of who I am now. But I think maybe the first trip back it was better to visit with my dad who was familiar with the culture.

I was looking forward to a few things I thought I would never miss: the kids singing loudly during church (miss that so much), breadfruit, taro, palusami, etc.

March 24 (Saturday)
There were so many things I wanted to do, but everything was closed becaue it was Saturday. I should have known. Dad was really tired from all the traveling. He went to bed at 6pm before the dinner bell even rang.

First experience in the country. We arrived in Samoa. We were sitting on the shuttle at the airport to take us to our hotel. The airport is not close to the Capitol. If you can take the Aggie Greys Hotel shuttle it is so much cheaper than taking a taxi. Anyway, I was looking back at the airport and saw someone I thought I knew. I was right. I was Tasi. When I taught at Uesiliana College, he was a teacher there. So I went over to talk to him (in Samoan). He remembered me. He told me, he and his wife had actually just left the school and got a pastoralship in a village on the main island. (later in the week after talking to other teachers I found out he was teasing me. He is now the Vice Principal of the school).

For lunch I really wanted to eat at Gourmet Seafood. I always remember the fish burgers there as being THE. BEST. FISH. BURGERS. EVER. they ended up being okay. They weren't AMAZING, but they were good.

For some reason I felt nervous at first speaking Samoan. I think it must be what the Apia based volunteers felt like. Like, well everyone speaks English anyways, so it's no big deal. I felt however like I needed to force myself to be bold and speak it. The women at the front desk liked that I practiced it with them and were really helpful getting me to rememember words. The Lord did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power.

There are little things I forgot about. The rain. The rain is so loud and heavy in Samoa it overpowers your mind and soul. The ants. The ants are crazy tiny you can barely see them. They got into my toiletry bag within an hour of arriving at the hotel. The mo'os, or geckos. They make a loud chirping noise and they are all over. I had to keep reminding myself that chirping noise was the geckos. The smell of stale air in an air conditioned room. The dirt on your feet in Apia. That dryness on your hair and skin after moving from outside to an air conditioned room. How uncomfortable I always felt. I think I was uncomfortable the first entire year I was in the Peace Corps. Lots of little things like that I missed and had forgotten.

March 25 (Sunday)
It rained really hard over the night. There were rivers running in front of the hotel rooms. I also heard a dogfight in the middle of the night. I remember in Peace Corps how miserable those made me my first year because I was not able to sleep through them and they were so loud and so often. I also will never forgot the morning my neighbor asked me if I heard the dogfight in the middle of the night and I realized I had NOT! I had slept through it! My first night back in country, I was not able to sleep through it. There was something familiar about it though.

I was glad that dad had brought his coffee press with him on our trip because one thing I did not miss from my volunteer time was Nescafe. The breakfast was amazing. Panikeke, papaya, chocolate rice, and my absolute favorite Samoan food, vi! For those of you who have never had it, Vi is like a mix between a pear and an apple. And the core is spikey.

One of my students works at Aggies. Epati. I think he was my year 10 and 11 while I was there. I handed that class off to my counterpart so I didn't get to know that class as well as the year 12 and 13. He was a server at the hotel. He remembered me. I recognized him at first and then asked him if he remembered me. I was so excited to see one of my students working at a great restaurant.

We went to church our first Sunday in country. We went to Peace Chapel. When I was a volunteer I was fairly sick often. I was very good friends with the Peace Corps nurse. She attends that church. Whenever I was sick and had to stay the night in the Capitol, I would attend that church with her and a couple other volunteers. So, I had a good group of friends I knew that went there. Some of them were still there. It was so fun seeing them. The pastor remembered me.

During the day since everything was closed we drove over the cross-island road to see the waterfall. Last time my parents were visiting the weather was too foggy and we couldn't see it. The weather wasn't that great on the top of the mountain, but we could still see the waterfall running strongly. Then we continued over to the other side. I was amazed at how little damage was still evident from the tsunami. The country rebuilt very well.

We ate dinner at Italianos. I remembered it not being the best pizza, but cheap and a fun spot. My memory was correct. :-) But, I had my first Vailima since leaving country. It really is a decent beer. It was a cold evening. I ended up having to wear my jeans, t-shirt and long sleeve shirt.

March 26 (Monday)
We had lunch with Teuila. She told me I am not the sickest volunteer anymore. Still the only one to get malaria. But there are fewer volunteers now. There are currently only 16 volunteers in the country. There were like 60 when I was there. They only have 1 group a year come in, and there was not a group last year. They only teach in the primary schools now (which are like elementary schools).

We had dinner with an old student of mine, Togipau. She works at one of the banks in the Capitol. While we were having dinner we noticed another one of my students working at Aggies. After dinner with Togipau, I drove her home. She was staying with a former teacher I taught with, Feao. Feao left halfway thru my first year in country. I missed her so much. It was so wonderful to see her, chat in Samoan, see how huge her children had gotten, and meet her mom.

March 27 (Tuesday)
We finally got to meet up with Laupama. When I was a volunteer she was my family. She is 10 years older than me, but like a sister to me. Her family was my family. We drove around the village asking in Samoan where her house was. We stopped and asked students and asked a teacher, eventually we found her house. When we got there, we sat down with her and her kids and gave them our presents from the states. They were so happy to see us. Seti, the youngest daughter kept calling me her palagi (foreign or white) aunt.

Something happened to me today. It is hard to describe, but it is like my brain opened up and handed me my memory of the Samoan language. Dad and I were sitting in the car and words I never thought I remembered were coming back to me. For the rest of the trip speaking in Samoan wasn't a problem, until the end of the trip when I started getting tired and words stopped coming to my brain.

Laupama asked if I wanted to help her and the other pastors wives weed today. When I was a volunteer I used to love sitting with the women, weeding, chatting and being social. So I walked what seemed like 5 miles in the heat with her and a few other women, but in reality was probably only 5 or 6 blocks. We didn't weed at first. We were sweeping up the grass clippings from the mowed lawn. I had a broom. I was being stubborn and trying to keep up with the rest of the women. They kept telling me to rest. After about 15 minutes I had heat exhaustion. They were making fun of me. Rightly so. I ended up quitting and sitting with the kids who were practicing their singing. They kept teasing me the rest of the evening. Calling me stubborn. Saying I wasn't used to the Samoan sun. Which was true.

The first evening we ate dinner with Viliamu, Laupamas husband. I used to eat with the entire family. Dad said something about not treating us as guests, but family and after that we ate as a family together.

March 28 (Wednesday)
We walked over to the school. This school is the sister school to where I used to teach. I toured their computer lab. It looked great. They had two computer labs, flat screens in one of the labs, three computer teachers and one Japanese Volunteer helping teach (the Japanese Volunteers are called JICA in Samoa). One of my students was teaching at the school now! My last year in Samoa, he had received the highest marks on the international computer test out of all of the south pacific countries. He is now teaching Economics at this school, is married and has an adorable new baby boy. It was really fun to see him again, meet his wife, hear about his wedding, and catch up.

Dad and I watched Laupama coach Netball. For those of you who don't know what Netball is, it's like basketball without all the things we love about basketball. There is no dribbling, no guarding really, no contact, no backboard, etc. Dad even played a little with them, but he couldn't get over the whole no backboard thing.

That evening after dad and I helped Laupama get the evening church service space ready for church, we made Easter eggs. I had brought an egg coloring kit with me as one of my gifts. When I was a volunteer one of the activities I had done with the girls was color eggs on Easter. They loved it. They didn't want to eat the eggs and brought them to school the next day. Since Easter was soon after I would leave country, I thought the coloring kit was an appropriate gift. All day long, while we were visiting, Seti kept asking when we could color them. The oldest girl, Lesa, is an amazing artist and she was really being articulate with the eggs. I hadn't seen such detail in a long time. We made a mess and decorated every egg Laupama had in her house. It was one of my favorite evenings in country.

March 29 (Thursday)
Dad and I got up early to take the boat over to Savai'i. Laupama packed us a lunch for the trip. It was chicken and it was amazing. We kept telling her, at her own prodding, that she should open up her own restaurant.

I was really excited while the boat docked into Salelologa on Savai'i. It was a trip I had taken so often while in Peace Corps and it still felt so familiar. The coast line of Salelologa had changed, but it hadn't changed. There was a new building. One building was a different color. The side road I used to bike down was now the main road, but it was still undeveloped except the outdoor market had moved there. The market has a nice parking lot and bus area.

As we drove to Gataivai where we were staying for the night, it was similar. The church that was under construction my entire 2 years of service was still under construction, abandoned now really. The pasture of cows were still there. I remember Lesa teaching me the Samoan word for cows at that pasture, Povi. Palauli had a new police station and a very large new church, but for the most part, nothing had really changed. And I liked that.

We briefly took the side rode through Satupaitea on our way to Gataivai. School was getting out. I missed that view of the crater and the bay.

Our first night on Savai'i, we stayed in Gataivai with the pastor of the village, who had been the principal of my school when I was there. It was a nice house. He wasn't home yet when we arrived so we drove up to the blowholes in Taga for the afternoon. The last time my father was visiting we went to the blowholes, but they were not going. They were really going this time. When you first get to the road down to the blowholes one of the elders of the village gets in the car with you to accompany you down there. That threw dad off a bit, but he rolled with it. This elder remembered me. I used to visit the volunteer that lived in Taga often. I would ride my bike up, stay a night or two and ride back. Once I got in trouble with the male teachers at my school for riding my bike back from her village early in the morning in the dark... in the rain... without a flashlight. I never did that again. Anyway, this man remembered me and he definitely remembered her. She still stays in touch with members of her village. Dad and I got some great shots of the water and coconuts shooting up hundreds of feet in the air.

When we arrived back at the pastors house I helped him (or tried) to fix a few computers and electronics. Two teachers from my school were staying there that evening because the village was having a huge wedding the next day and the teachers were building a bed as a gift for the couple from the pastor. It was so fun to see them. One was married with a daughter. He has been to Japan since I left and stayed with the japanese volunteer that lived at the school the same time I did. The other teacher was still single and they teased him often about looking for a wife. A former student from my school stopped by to say hi, too. I didn't teach him, but he remembered me. He is learning the piano and writing his own songs. He was really good.

That evening dad and I wandered over to the singing practice that was taking place next to the pastors house. Dad loves listening to Samoans sing. They are so harmonized. While we were sitting there watching the singing some of the men of the village were sitting behind us drinking 'ava. I noticed people motioning for them to offer some to dad, so I let him know it was coming. I told him to drink the cup all at once and not to sip it. He did. The kids watching loved it! The men offered him a second cup and he drank that as well. The kids were dying. They offered him a third cup and he declined politely. He was so happy they offered him 'ava. First time for him.

I heard one of my students is training to be a pastor. I am so proud of my students. Seeing them working different jobs around the country has been awesome.

I could hear the waves from the house. I missed that. Hearing the waves every night crashing on the reef. Very loud, close, but in the distance.

More tomorrow on the rest of the trip. Until then... Hope you are staying cool. God bless air con.


At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Aunt Susan said...

Julya, thanks so much for writing this update of your trip to Samoa -- I enjoyed it so much, and I'm really looking forward to the next installment!


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