Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Have I really gotten used to this?

Life in Samoa, as in any South Pacific country, moves very slowly. Patience is a virtue everywhere, but even more so here. I’ve learned not to push too hard for anything, because it will happen in time just maybe not this second. There is taimi palagi (western time, 5 o’clock means 5 o’clock) and taimi Samoa (5 o’clock is 6 or 7 o’clock). I learn to just chill, things will happen when they happen. When the village has a tausala (dance to raise money), I ask the start time and then show up an hour or two later when it actually does start. Things like this you just get used to. The 10 o’clock bus comes sometime around 10, but maybe not until 10:30. So you just wait. I almost missed it once because it came at 9:50; I was so shocked it was actually early.

It is funny what Samoa does to people. I have always been pretty laid back, but have had my times of complete neurotic freaking out over little things that don’t matter, that is just human nature. Now in Samoa, I am even more filemu or take it easy. Things that I should do now turn into “I’ll do that later” or “whatever, doesn’t matter.” I’ve gotten into the carefree, easy going Samoan lifestyle. That has been good and bad.

My shower faucet broke within the first month of me getting to the village. I could still use it there was just a little trick to it. Same thing with the sink faucet, still usable but you had to remember which way to turn the handle or water would go everywhere. Every house (even my little hut on the Pacific) has its kinks. Well, over the course of the past year, the faucets have gotten worse and worse, finally ending in me having to use a wrench to turn my shower on. When I have to ask myself before I shower if I have my wrench, I think it is time to change the faucet.

So I asked my PC committee if they could help me install the new faucets when I got back from Apia. They said they would be there that evening to help. Ok, I get back with the faucets and wait. No one comes. Ok maybe tomorrow. Nope. So I ask again. “Ok, tomorrow” they say. Nope. In the course of a month and a half I asked committee members seven times for help and still never got anywhere.

So, that was the time for being a teine palagi (white girl), forget the patience and just do it myself. I went to Apia, bought a hacksaw, PVC pipe glue, & seal tape. People laughed when I told them I was going to fix my pipes myself or said I was so talented and had many skills (both with the tone I was crazy & didn’t know what I was doing). Thing is, piping here consists of PVC. All one has to do to change the faucet is cut the pipe and add the new faucet, not complicated and takes about five minutes. So I’m sure Dad is proud that I fixed my own pipes.

My computer has been out of commission for a month now (the computer doesn’t recognize it is plugged in anymore). I was freaking out a little when I realized it was slowly dying, but now that I don’t have it there really isn’t anything I can do, so what is the point of freaking out about it? It was nice for entertainment purposes and for little things like work (reports, who wants to do those anyway?). I can always come into Apia to use the Peace Corps office computers for work & e-mail (as I’m doing now).

Reading has become the entertainment. I already read a lot, but now it is the main form on entertainment. I had forgotten how nice it is to sit down with a book and just read. I have always enjoyed a good book, but back in the US it is sometimes hard to find the time and energy for your brain to process the words on the page. When I tell people my computer is broken, they give me a look of “wow! That sucks, how are you passing the time?” This is a somewhat sad reflection on our over-stimulated society. I thought I would miss the computer more, but it has been a nice break. That being said, I will enjoy having it fixed so that I can watch movies or tv shows from my hard drive, or more importantly write grants and reports. But for now, lying in my hammock with a good book is just fine with me.

Another thing you get used to include sitting on some stranger’s lap. That is not something I thought I’d ever say is normal and not odd. Some would say “Didn’t you ever sit on Santa’s lap at the mall? He was a stranger.” While this is technically true the man dressed as Santa was a stranger, but I thought he was Santa and when you are a kid Santa is no stranger; he is SANTA, the man with the ability to fly around the whole world in one night stopping at everyone’s house & delivering joy wrapped in red & green.

Anyway, as I’ve posted before the bus can get really full. The capacity for the bus is only 33 people, but a full bus is more around 50 or 60 people. How is this accomplished? A very involved process of shifting and sitting (really, it does get involved just sit on a bus at peak time and you will see just how involved it can be). In the front of the bus sit the old ladies and matai. If a young woman is sitting up there when someone older gets on and the seats up front are taken, she will move to the back of the bus. A young man (sole) will automatically go to the back of the bus.

I usually sit in the middle of the bus, although the palagi seat is in the front I try not to occupy it seeing as how I live here and am not a tourist. Middle is good for me; too far back and I’m stuck with the cheeky boys. I don’t realize how full a bus gets sometimes as I see people get on and disappear behind me. It isn’t until I look back that I see everyone is sitting on each other’s laps and pretty soon I am going to have to as well.

The involved process of the bus comes from the delicate positioning of everyone to sit on each other’s lap. There is always a sole that helps the driver. He is in charge of helping people get their stuff off the bus and is also the director of the sitting. As a bus starts to get full, he will tell people to move and who’s lap to sit on; he will move cargo around so people can sit on it. It really is funny to watch sometimes the effort and intricate process of bus riding.

A full bus is one where not only does each bench have two people, but those two people also have people on their lap (or sometimes one, single person will have two little kids on his or her lap, ultra space saving there). The boys and girls in the back are the first ones to start sitting on laps and the process works up to the front, up until the old ladies and matai (they don’t usually have people sitting on laps, kids maybe, but no one my age). I’ve had to sit on many strangers laps and as uncomfortable as it is (on most buses a bar sticks out to support the back of the bench and that bar always will jab straight into my thigh) it isn’t really odd anymore, just a part of life.

I’ve gotten used to other ways of Samoa as well. Eating off of a leaf is again not odd. I eat to’ona’i (the meal after chuch) with the matai or one of the women’s groups in the village. The meal is served on a leaf as that is tradition. I’m not sure when that became routine for me. I was eating to’ona’i the other day and realized I was eating off of a leaf. Made me wonder when it became something I didn’t notice anymore.

Being touched all the time is routine (although it still bothers me most of the time). I’m not big on being touched; like most palagi I like my bubble of personal space. That bubble doesn’t exist here. In church, people reach over me for a songbook and rest their arms on lap while someone hands it to them. The bus, as you can imagine from above, has no allotment for personal space. Samoan handshakes last the whole conversation. During singing practice for the church choir, we sit really close together and usually are squished together even if there isn’t anyone else on the bench. Yes, we have to share songbooks, but that doesn’t require us to be squished together. Why we do this in a country as hot as this I will never understand, especially when there is room on the bench to scoot over. Something one just has to get used to.


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  2. I'm just dying with laughter. I love your blog, woman! I was born and raised in Samoa, grew up near Apia as an afakasi and moved to the US after high school where I've been living since 1986. My dad was Samoan and my mom is an Idaho farm girl who lived in Samoa longer than she has in the US. Reading your blog reminds me so much of the adjustments and experiences my poor mom had to endure as the resident 'palagi'. ha. I grew up with everything you're talking about above and didn't think much of it until you reminded me how that appears to someone not accustomed to it. The whole, no private space and "Samoan handshakes". Classic!
    My experience with PCV's while growing up in Samoa was the hottie that lived next door to my cousins in Vaimoso and the amble supply of basketball players for our club team. My dad was always so appreciative to all the PCV's over the years that have unselfishly helped our people, I'd also like to chime in with my own big 'Fa'amalo' to all you guys.....and thanks for a great blog, Erica!