Saturday, October 3, 2009


While I viewing my collapsed house Thursday with a couple of the Peace Corps staff and letting them check out my new residence, we decided to come back Friday with a team of volunteers to break my house apart and see what we can find and salvage. I told my village I'd be back, not to touch my house, we’d clean it up the next day. So Peace Corps comes out strong, 2 cars, 12 or so volunteers, prepared with gloves & hammers, ready to break my house apart (we also donated food and clothing to the other family). We get there, not only is my house already apart, everything is gone. Anything I could have salvaged was gone. Now I know a lot of my stuff was taken by the waves, but I saw things in the wreckage, just couldn't get to them until we broke the house apart. All that was gone. I asked about where everything was, including stuff I saw Tuesday and Thursday...response" Leai se mea" there is nothing. They said they found my computer on the steps of the church (I know the computer won’t work, but I want the hard drive to see if I can get anything off of it); I asked where it was…response “I don’t know.” This is heartbreaking, not because everything I own is gone, but because my house was looted by my own village.

I would have thought after a year of living in the village, going to church every Sunday, doing projects for the village (including getting them $4,000 tala worth of sewing machines), and just generally being around these people and thinking I might be a friend my things would have been returned to me. They found some things, like my backpack and wallet, but $100 tala was missing from my wallet once returned. Getting my things looted and stolen by members of my own community hurts more than losing everything I own.

I was very disappointed by the behavior of my village. I know it was probably only a few bad people in the village, but it still hurts. I’m going to do my best to ask around and see if things will be returned to me, but I’m not hopeful. Yesterday was a sad day. I had some hope of getting some things back, but my village took care of all that hope. Only two houses were destroyed, mine and another families’; one would think the village would rally and take care of us. I guess at the end of the day, no matter how much I do for the village, how many times I go to church with them, or how many hugs I get from the little kids, I will always be just a palagi.


  1. Erica- We were distraught to read of your near-call on the day of the tsunami, and now to read the latest in your struggle to rebuild is just heartbreaking. You might want to ask Philip how he handled the break-in at his home in Tuasivi. I know the local matai got involved, the thief was finally caught, and the items were all recovered. Of course, in your situation, more people have wandered into the area due to the tsunami relief effort, so it may take some doing to pursue it. You are in our thoughts.

  2. Hi Erica, I read the post of your frightening experience and was glad that you were okay. My husband and I were in group 44 in WS and taught at STC/PTC and lived in Vaivase-tai. But I was terribly sorry to hear about your belongings going missing before you could salvage anything. I know it is disheartening, when you feel like you have done so much. But perhaps it was not your village at all - get the locals involved and maybe you will get some answers. I hope you do. I'll be checking in on your blog - it was amazing to read so much about your experiences - and made me relive being there 20 years ago (we were there during Cyclones Gina & Ofa but nothing, I'm sure could compare to this) Good luck to you. Fa. Denise Malloy, Group 44

  3. erika, i've just happened to your blog reading your updates about the tsunami. (i'm palagi married to samoan) anyhow i'm so very sorry to hear about your stuff being gone...this is something that should be brought to the matai. its something completely unacceptable and shameful! my father-in-law is a matai. your situation "represents" your matai, and he will want to make it right, you'll have the most effective response through him. i'm hoping it may not be what it seems, some may have done the initial clean up in good intention to help you and then others took advantage of your belongings. again i'm so sorry.

  4. Erica,
    Take it from a Peace Corps Volunteer experienced in a having stuff stolen, it is all part of your Samoan adventure. The items were probably taken by someone you know and trust. Who else would dare?
    Best to you.
    Nick Shuraleff (78)

  5. hey erica, im really sorry to hear about your stuff i was trying to look up some updates on whats happening in Salesatele and to tell you the truth it makes me ashamed to say im from there! i know its been about a month now since you posted this but i hope you have some of your things really sorry about what those very stupid people did to you...i know it may have been only a few people of the village who might have taken your stuff but it puts the whole village at shame! hope u have your things back.

    take care

  6. As someone who grew up in Samoa I never did get the 'sticky fingers' bit that to some seemed to be an after though. Reading your ordeal made my blood boil as well and I'm sorry you had that happen to you.

    In situations like this I'd probably use the "Mataga" angle with the village or Matai, because that's really what it is....shameful and a classless act by a few knuckle heads.