Visit Back to Samoa - Part Two
March 30 (Friday)
My first visit back to Uesiliana since I left October, 2007. Driving up the road to the school I was nervous. Since it's been over 4 years since I left, the only class at the school that remembers me is the current Year 13. They were Year 9 my last year there. As dad and I were walking through the halls, I could tell who the Year 13 students were versus the other students. The Year 13 yelled out, "Hello Julya!" as we walked by and the rest of the students yelled out, "Hello palagi!"
The principal, Paseto, (who was vice principal when I taught there) was out of town for the day. The other teachers were surprised and happy to see me. We chatted a bit and then dad and I toured the school.
A former student is teaching computers. The head of the computer department is a JICA. I chatted with him awhile about the computer lab. He said that when he started all of the computers didn't work. I wasn't surprised even though I left them all working. The air conditioner in the room was broken, which wasn't helpful. Dad and I loved seeing the shelf with all of the computer parts, since he helped me carry that shelf up from my house to the lab. It was fun. The JICA lives in my old house. He told me that my dog, Dog, went to live in Japan with the former JICA that taught at Uesiliana. Yay, Dog is still alive. The house next to mine is now the staff room for the Technical School.
We didn't stay long. They wanted us to come back again before we left Savai'i so they could throw us a proper welcoming lunch. So we agreed to come back on Tuesday.
Above are some Year 13 students that remembered me and wanted pictures taken of them working hard in the Library.
After we left the school we headed to Lusias Lagoon. It was a hangout we loved as volunteers. It is close to the boat wharf and seemed hidden in a little lagoon away from everything. When I was there it was owned by two Philippino brothers. Now it is locally owned. The most exciting part about staying the night there, was that dad and I met up with Clair and her friend Adrian. For the first year that I was a volunteer Clair was a Volunteer from Australia a couple of villages away. She used to bike over with another volunteer and we had girls nights together. While dad and I were back for this trip, she was also taking a vacation at the same time in Samoa... we met each other half way. It was SO fun to see her again and catch up. It was like no time had passed. This trip was Adrian's first visit to Samoa, but he seemed to be rolling with everything fine. Dad liked this part of the trip because he got to sleep in an air conditioned room, and I slept in a little hut over the water.
My "fale" over the water above. While we were visiting at Lusias, we swam in the "pool", which was a fresh well spring sectioned off with concrete. There was a turtle swimming in the pool with us, and fish that liked to nibble at Clair's feet. We ate Vi that Laupama's family had given us for our trip, and we drank cocktails on the dock. One of my old students was working at Lusia's. She was learning about tourism, and was training to take over the tourist department and outreach part for the hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, I was speaking in Samoa to the gentleman at the front desk and a couple of staff came out to chat. They asked how I knew Samoan and I said Peace Corps and that I had taught at Uesiliana. One of the staff ran into the back to get her because they knew she went to that school. She instantly recognized me. It was so fun running into students around the islands.
March 31 (Saturday)
After breakfast Dad and I continued our drive around the island to Saleaula to visit one of the old teachers, Aufata, when I was at the school. He used to be the principal of the Technical school and the wood-shop teacher. When dad visited me, the two of them hit it off. They are close in age and had a lot in common. I used to love playing with Aufata's kids so I was eager to see how big they had gotten and if his daughter was still the tomboy I remembered her being.
On the way to Aufata's village was a village a volunteer was living in. Dad still reads all of the blogs of the current volunteers in Samoa, and he had been particularly interested in visiting this volunteer. She is retired, in her 60s, and joined the Peace Corps. Her experiences as a retired volunteer are similar to what my dad would experience I think if he was to ever join. So, we visited her and chatted with her for a few hours. In true Peace Corps spirit, she asked me if I could mail a large fine mat home to a volunteer who had left the PC recently and hadn't had the chance to bring her mat with her. We would have to bring it home with us and then mail it from home. It was such an awkwardly large mat, and in my opinion not the best looking fine mat, but I would have wanted someone to do it for me, so we agreed and from then on carried that thing in the car with us.
Aufata's village is in the lava fields. The area is completely covered over by lava fields and it is a very hot and dry part of the island. Most villages have water access fairly easily, but this village uses a well that is drilled down 60 feet or so through the lava into a spring. The water is fresh and ok to drink, but the well is turned off every night.
It was so fun visiting Aufata and his family. I wish we could have stayed with them longer. When we first got there Fua (the daughter) was so excited to see me. We went walking together through the village. She showed me all of her favorite spots. She taught me some new Samoan words, introduced me to some of her friends, and we ended up playing a game of volleyball with the neighborhood kids. She is such a tomboy. Often her mom would yell at her for not doing her chores. Instead she was always out running around the yard kicking some ball around or exploring some area. I love that girl. She has a spirit similar to mine. I suspect that if I had grown up in Samoa I would have been yelled at a lot too for similar things.
That evening the kids had singing practice to prepare for White Sunday service, the next day. So dad and I wandered over and spent a good chunk of the evening watching the kids practice for church the next morning.
April 1 (Sunday) - White Sunday
We went to church with Aufata and his family in the morning. Aufata is the pastor of the Methodist church in the village. So, he preached and dad and I sat in the pews. It was crazy hot in the morning. We sat with Fua and her brother. It was fun being back in church in Samoa. I remember when I used to attend really missing my church back in the states. When I finished Peace Corps and was back in the states, I really missed church in Samoa. The singing in churches in Samoa is beautiful. I missed that so much. Everyone sings loudly and sings wonderfully. They are not ashamed to sing loud. The kids there haven't quite got the harmony down yet, but they always sing the loudest. I missed that so much back in the state. I feel like people sing in muted voices stateside.
It was White Sunday so the kids put on a lot of skits and songs. Dad and I were each given palm branches to carry into church with us. Fua took ours with her when she went to the front to perform her songs. It was so fun watching the kids sing together. The really little kids didn't really know what they were doing and they wandered around a bit, but they looked so cute through it all! After performances, dad and I took communion with them like I used to do when I was a volunteer.
After church I was starting to feel sick. We had planned on staying the entire evening, but we decided to leave when they headed to second church service in the late afternoon. During the afternoon we hung out, I helped them fix their computer, and installed a typing tutor program on it. They started having competitions against each other right away to see who could type the fastest. I think the mom is going to win that one, actually. After they left for church, dad and I headed up to a well known beach resort type area nearby to stay.
Clair was there were with Adrian, so we spent the evening together swimming, telling stories, eating great food and drinking tea. It was a great night together and what we thought would be our last night in Samoa together.
April 2 (Monday)
We visited Meaalofa today. Meaalofa was one of my best friends in Samoa. When I first arrived at my school I was teaching way more classes than I could handle. I told the principal of the school that they needed to find me a counterpart or Peace Corps would move me to a different school. (Looking back, I highly doubt that they would have, but I would not have lasted and most likely would've quit if I had to keep that old schedule from the beginning). But, luckily I had a wonderful principal and he found me Meaalofa. She lived with her father in the village nearby. She had graduated recently from the technical university in the Capitol and knew a little about computers. I ended up teaching her as much as I knew about computers and she took over half of my classes. We became great friends. I like to think that we knew each other well enough to understand culturally where the other was coming from, but also we just got each other. She was honest with me. She told me what I needed to hear sometimes, but she teased me a lot too. I like to think that her and Laupama were my best friends in country.
Anyway, we visited with her. I love her even more after this visit. She is such a strong willed, amazing woman. She is currently teaching computers at a primary school. We picked her up after school and drove her home. They live on a plantation. This was the first time I had visited anyone on a plantation. Once as a volunteer I visited the plantation that another volunteers family owned. Driving up to Meaalofa's house, dad and I parked the car and then had to walk a bit down the road to get to the house. Their plantation had bananas, cows, coconut trees, taro, cacao plants, orange trees, etc... it was pretty amazing. They had two dogs. One was big and one was about 3 months old. He was cute, but kept trying to chew on my shoes and run away with them. Every time he barked it sounded like a little kids toy. We gave them the gifts we brought. The oldest son, Andrew loved the chocolate. He kept trying to steal it away from his mom. I wish now that I had brought some pictures of us when we worked together for her to hang up around the house. We sat and chatted, looked at pictures together on our phones and around her house, ate some amazingly sweet oranges they gave us, drank coco Samoa, and just hung out. I wish I could have stayed for hours, but she had a lot to do around the house and she had to work the next day. She gave us a big bag of oranges to take with us, which we told her we wouldn't be able to eat all of them. When we got back to where we were staying, we shared them with the staff and they said they were the sweetest oranges they had eaten.
We gave Meaalofa a ride to her pastors church, she's the Sunday School teacher and had practice that evening. Turns out the pastor of her village is another teacher from the school I taught at. So, we stopped and hung out with him for awhile. His son was in my class (very smart kid, but didn't like to study) and was graduating from the University that weekend. They had pictures of their kids all over the house and a few pictures of their son were pictures I had taken! That was fun to see. We didn't stay very long, but long enough to chat about American politics and the influence of America in Samoa. I was slightly uncomfortable when we left, but it was still good to see him.
That evening dad and I were staying at Vaimoana Beach Fales, which literally means blue water beach houses. The place was gorgeous. It was not there when I was a volunteer. The owner of the place gave us a discount however, because I had been a Peace Corps volunteer. It was so nice of him. His daughter Ruby was adorable and kept running around with us keeping us company. The place was beautiful. One of the staff was currently a student at Uesiliana. She obviously did not remember me, but she said the teachers still talked about me. That was fun to hear. I chatted with some of the staff for awhile after we dropped off the oranges. They knew who Meaalofa was. They told us the owner often bought his oranges from her family because they were known to have the sweetest oranges in town.
If we had the chance to stay on Savai'i longer, we would have stayed here. It was not expensive, it was gorgeous, they had tons of options for beach houses (air conditioned, fans, open over the water, fans and open over the water, etc), they had a swimming beach, kayaks, fishing trips, etc. We went swimming for a little bit. Dad can tell you more about that.
April 3 (Tuesday)
I woke up really early in the morning, like 4am. I couldn't sleep. I had a headache, took some Excedrin and then my heart started racing. The next time I come back to Samoa, I will definitely try to stay at Vaimoana Beach Fales.
Laupama had asked us while we were on Savai'i, to stop in Sagone and visit her daughter's grave. I am so glad I know Samoan. This next paragraph of interactions took place entirely in Samoan. I could not remember where the grave-site was. As we were driving through Sagone, I stopped a woman on the street and asked her where the grave of the daughter of Laupama was. (I had to look up the word for grave, not a word I used often). She got in the car with us and directed us (dad was driving) to the women's committee house. Laupama's mom was at the Women's Committee house. She walked out and introduced herself to us. She said her daughter and grand-kids talked of me often so she was happy to finally meet me. She got in the car. She directed us left, right, up a driveway and we finally stopped in front of a house. Paepae's grave was next to Laupama's dad's grave. We stood around, chatted for awhile, then she asked if she could get a ride back. I asked her if I could take a picture of her for Laupama and then we all hoped back in the car (fine mat is still in the back taking up most of the back half of the car). We dropped her off, gave her some of Meaalofa's oranges and headed on our way to Uesiliana.
Our second visit back to Uesiliana was not what we were expecting. We arrived just as the afternoon break was occurring and... nothing. So, we walked around for awhile. Said hi to some of the teachers that were not there when we stopped by the last time, and then headed on our way. I have a pretty strong theory as to why, but will not post about it on this public of a forum.
We stopped at the market in Salelologa to check out the new location and look around for some presents for friends back home. As we were walking around this woman came up to me and started chatting in Samoan and asked if it was my dad that was with me visiting. I was confused and wasn't sure what she meant by visiting. I asked her, and she said, I am the Peace Corps volunteer that lives in Satupaitea (the village my school was in) and was that my dad who I was with visiting me. I was shocked. I said, yes, I am that volunteer, but I do not live there anymore. I returned back to the states about 4 years ago. We talked for awhile after that and then moved on. I couldn't believe that she remembered me. I didn't live in the village, I lived on a compound, but I did bike all over the village and walked around and taught kids from the village. I loved that she remembered me and thought that I still lived there! She was very surprised I still remembered Samoan after leaving 4 years ago. I was really happy that I did remember it as well as I had.
Our last night on Savai'i we stayed at Lusia's again. I cupcaked out and stayed in the big air-conditioned room with dad. The trip was starting to wear on me. Mentally I was exhausted. It was hard staying with friends most of the trip. The next time I, we, whoever comes back with me, most of the trip I think will be spent staying at places like Lusia's and Vaimoana's.
There is a lot for me to write about in our adventures over the next three days. It must happen in another post. Until next time...