Friday, February 13, 2009

Amaile

Amaile would be our home for 8 weeks of the 11 weeks spent in training. We had another ava ceremony to welcome us into the village and then we headed to our new homes to meet our new Samoan families. My family in America is a normal sized 4 person family. That being said, whenever I tell Samoans I only have 4 people in my family they get a look of pity, especially when they find out I have no brothers. Families in Samoa are three to four times the size of my normal sized family. Remembering all the people’s names in my Samoan family was a challenge. My host parents were Sola and Sea. I had one host sister, Maseiga, and 4 host brothers, Peni, Alae, Mafutaga, and Siu. Peni’s kids were Tofai, Lesi, Tala, and Eneliko. It is easy to see how Samoans would find living alone really boring and lonely; they are used to a whole village at home.
Amaile is in the Aleipata district of Upolu. That district is said to be the most beautiful in Samoa. I can see why…white sandy beaches, good reefs for snorkeling, and a view of endless ocean made only more breathtaking by the small, uninhabited islands in the foreground. Amaile has a vaitaele (pool) which is the most gorgeous I have seen yet. The water seeps down from rocks and into a rocked off area making the pool. There is a rock wall on one side of the pool, making it perfect for jumping into the vaitaele. During high tide, little fish come in to bathe with you. Having a pool like Amaile’s was awesome during training.
There is one church in Amaile, a Catholic one. This means there is mass at 6 am everyday and two services on Sunday. That is a lot of church. Unlike other Pacific Islanders who chose to welcome Christian missionaries with a large feast, making the missionaries the main course, Samoans readily accepted the missionaries work. In every Samoan village you will find at least one church. Even in small villages of only a few hundred people, there could be three or four churches, sometimes all seven denominations present in Samoa. Sundays are a day for church and rest; you aren’t even allowed to swim in the ocean.
Peace Corps training is from 8 am to 5 pm weekdays and involves training in language, culture, technical/work, health, and safety and security. By the end of the day, one is quite tired from school. Weekends are ideal for exploring the island. Some days it would be exploring the beach, reefs, and rocky tide pools while other days were jungle adventures. My Peace Corps group like to take a little hike to what we called “our secret beach.” We started out on the beach then took a path into the jungle. There wasn’t much to see for the most part, just jungle, until we got to a staircase carved from rock (which made us think we were all Indiana Jones off to explore some lost world treasure). The path opened up and suddenly instead of the dark of the jungle there was a clearing and light. There was a mountain off to the side and the trees shot up from the ground giving a Jurassic Park feel to the adventure. Soon we were at the secret beach, which is in a small cove. We snorkeled and explored the small tide pools when the tide was out. It was just fun being able to go on an adventure in order to get to the beach.
Amaile has some nice hikes as Jenny and I found out one day. My family asked if I wanted to go for a walk to see the waterfalls, naturally I said yes. So I got Jenny and we were off on our “walk.” At first it wasn’t so bad, we just followed the path back to the plantation, which was well carved by the villagers. We crossed streams jumped over some fallen trees, but nothing intense. We got to the first waterfall with no real issues, it was a long walk but it was fun. I was thankful I had doused myself in bug spray; the mosquitoes were circling in search of fresh whiteman flesh to gnaw on. As I looked at the waterfall, I wondered where we were going to go. We had been following the stream for the hike, so unless we were going back that way I saw no path. The Samoans then started up the rocky hill around the waterfall, and so I followed. It was a steep path with no room for error in step. Clinging to the hillside, I looked down at nothing but rocks below to break your fall. And just to add some fun, we were hiking in flip flops, not really any traction whatsoever. I’m not scared of heights, but I didn’t want to break my leg this early into Peace Corps service and be sent back home. Once up on the waterfall, we were back to following to the stream. We saw the second waterfall, which was a double falls, one waterfall then another right behind it. It was really gorgeous to look at in the depths of the Samoan jungle. I again wondered where we were going to go next, when the Samoans pointed to a sheer hillside and said we were going to see the plantation up top. I thought to myself “you have to be kidding, up that.” Jenny and I looked at each other and laughed, we had no idea how we were going to get up the hillside. The slope on this hillside was basically vertical, much steeper than the first hillside. Being so steep, the only way to get up top was with no flip flops. So there I was hiking in the Samoan jungle with no shoes on. Just to add fun, it had recently rained, leaving the hill nice and slippery. It did make me feel better that the Samoans were having difficulty as well getting up the slope. We were digging our feet and hands into the mud and grabbing any root we could possibly get our hands on. I’m the adventurous type, willing to go anywhere and do anything, and this was the most intense hike ever. We got to the top, with no injuries except for a few bites from some really pissed ants which bit my foot in retaliation, leaving my foot with a stinging sensation. The view from the top of the hill was gorgeous. Through the trees we could see the ocean and then looked to the side of the valley we had just hiked through. We drank some niu (coconut) and then decided to take the road back. This sounds nice and easy, but we still had to get down a steep hill, cross the stream, climb up another steep hill, and then walk home. Needless to say, I slept like a baby that night.
No other adventures in Amalie quite lived up to that one. We had a little 4th of July celebration though. The village allowed us to play softball and volleyball that day, as well as enjoy cake and ice cream. The kids loved that day, games and food. We also had a craft day, another day the kids loved. I made balloon animals while others did masks, face painting, and coloring. Another fun day with the kids. We teamed up with the Ministry of Agriculture to help the women make a garden. We cleared some land of rocks, planted eggplant, cabbage, and other veggies. It was a good looking garden, but I have heard it wasn’t taken care of so it is no more. I taught my family how to play UNO, which went over really well. They would draw multiple cards just to get a draw two card to play on their relative. It was funny to watch. I enjoyed living with the family; they took good care of me.

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