Friday, February 13, 2009

The first glimpse of life in the South Pacific

I arrived in Samoa June 4, 2008 thrilled for my 2 years of saving the world as a Peace Corps Volunteer. We landed at around 5 am so my first glimpses of Samoa were nothing more than what the van’s headlights could reach, basically road (a good sign of actual civilization though). We got to our new home, Apia Central Hotel, checked in, and then a few of us went for a walk around town before our first day of in-country training. As we walked in the early morning light, we started to get a feel for our new home. We walked past the fish market, full of smiling Samoans eager to sell their catches. We saw the loudly painted buses, which in a few months would be our only mode of motorized transportation. We walked on the sea wall watching the fishermen toil on their boats. I was in awe at the beauty of the sun over the mountains and wondered what adventures my new home had in store for my over the next 27 months of living and working in Samoa.
We next had an ava ceremony. Ava, made from the kava root, is the traditional drink in Samoa and the ceremony is for welcoming new people. Ava is an interesting drink. It looks a lot like muddy water and pretty much tastes like dirt. The fun part of the drink is the effect it has on you. With just one half coconut shell full of the mixture, if properly prepared, your tongue will feel quite numb. Much fun can be had with many coconut shells worth of ava. We got dressed in our lava lavas and recited the words said during the ceremony, desperately hoping to not butcher the language on day one of being in Samoa. We piled in the van and drove up to the University of the South Pacific for the ceremony. I sat down on the mats, wondering how long my legs would last sitting crossed legged. I listened intently as the ceremony began, wondering what was going on as I watched the ava being mixed and saw kava roots being passed back and forth. The chiefs took their ava and said the ceremonial phrase and now it was my group’s turn to do the same. I could feel the nerves right in the gut. I listened to others and watched them drink the rooty mixture from the lacquered coconut shell. It was my turn then…I took the shell, poured out a drop as the ceremony required, and said the Samoan ava ceremony phrase. At least I hope I said the Samoan ava ceremony phrase, even right after the ceremony I wasn’t sure what exactly I said, it all just came out in one long stream of words I didn’t know…it was much like word vomit, it just kinda came out, hopefully correctly. But since this was a Peace Corps ava ceremony, it was all good. We were now officially Peace Corps Samoa trainees.

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