Samoa, part II

Samoa is a place that inspires me to write. I’m constantly thinking of things I need to remember and describe, jotting down notes on the backs of receipts and scraps of paper I know I’ve lost along the way. Even before I can get to my notepad in my iphone, I’ve forgotten something important I wanted to write down, and its been an especially annoying struggle since wifi and electricity have been nearly non-existent in the beach fales I’ve now been living in for 2 weeks. The other problem with writing too much is that you forget to take pictures… oh well.

The village life is very social, and privacy is nearly non-existent in the wall-less houses people share. They live in this structures called fales, which is just an open space surrounded by beams supporting a roof over their heads, and the concept of walls or rooms only exists in the separate toilet building. There are fales to live in, nap in, go to the beach in, and for tourists. I stayed at a fale nearly every night, each on its own beautiful plot of beach or ocean-front, and for the $30 charge, your breakfast and dinner were included. They kept getting better and better, each fale with its own charm, and it didn’t matter what direction you went or how far you traveled, you could always find a serene little fale to call home for the day.

my princess bed in the beach fale I called home for the night

my princess bed in the beach fale I called home for the night

Every village had a volleyball net, and it was common to see 10 or 20 people playing a game of volleyball. Boys had the tendency to turn anything into a rugby ball and spontaneously burst into a game of rough rugby. Samoans have their own special version of cricket where dancing and singing is actually incorporated into the game plays. I saw a few cricket pitches but never stuck around to watch a whole game… they can take days to finish! Its amazing how the tanned, silky-smooth, hairless Samoan men can dance around in flowery pink lava-lavas (“sarong” in Samoan) can still look ultra-masculine. I was mesmerized watching a group of men practice for their fiafia (a dance show), and even their blurry tattoos added to their ultra-man effect.

There haven’t been many tourists here either, but I noticed a couple of men who make a holiday home and holiday family out of some village women. There was a Canadian man in Saolufata who had 3 children with a Samoan woman, but he only visited over Christmas, since he still had a wife and some grown-up kids back in Canada. Then there was the Italian guy who walked with a cane, maybe in his mid 50’s, but he had a child here and thus an entire extended family in Fao Fao village. Ex-pat Samoans were everywhere, since more Samoans live in Australia and New Zealand than in Samoa, but they keep their language and extended family ties very strong, with regular visits and family reunions both in Samoa and abroad and don’t consider themselves tourists in Samoa.

there were more tourists in Savai'i, to see attractions like these blowholes at Alofaaga

there were more tourists in Savai’i, to see attractions like these blowholes at Alofaaga

Its cyclone season, or just the hotter-humid rainy season (there haven’t been any cyclones yet), and I don’t mind one bit since the wind blows a little harder at night (making it easier to sleep in the heat), and the touristy places are underpriced and empty. Back home I’m known as more of a social butterfly, or a “do-er”, but here, Im a loner and a lazer. I’d spend more time with people if I met anyone, but the shortage of other travelers means Im left with the locals to engage with. I love the elders and the women, when they have nothing better to do than chat with me, but the younger men are always a little pushy and too flirty, and the children don’t speak much English. But everyone will exchange a smile and a talofa (“hello”) excitedly if you smile and wave, and I can’t get over how much the children can keep on smiling and seeking your attention without being able to communicate.

I love the rain, since it means the days will cool down a few degrees and the wind may even counter-act the humidity enough that you stop being sticky and sweaty. It makes it cosier to lie under your fale and listen to the rain pound down on the coconut leaf roofs, and the mosquitos may temoporarily stop flying and attacking your blood stream. I love lying in my mosquito net, which feels more like a princess chamber in paradise, and knowing I’m finally free from the risk of dengue fever and chickungunya (they’ve had an outbreak here since 2014). I thought I had chicken goonja, but my achy joints and sore muscles were just from hiking around Apia harbor for 4 hours in the blazing hot 36` sun. The only bad thing that happened to me might have been the stray dog that peed on me… not sure how that happened but he was behind me and I didn’t see it coming.

“Fa’a Samoa,” the Samoan way

There are 2 Samoas, the American one and the Independent, western one which is better known as simply “Samoa.” It was the first independent Polynesian island after all the colonies had finished dividing them up, but its funny to see the similarities between this self-identified island (who has closer connections to New Zealand and Australia) and American Samoa, which has the same cultural, linguistic and religious histories, but American Samoa, with all their big Ford trucks and diesel Dodges, tend to look down on the Samoans for having more poverty and people. The only differences I noticed was the American Samoa was less touristy but more expensive, and Samoa was a lot more social.

Samoans were so friendly, it was actually hard to match. I felt like I never smiled big enough or at enough people, since every glance, even if for a second, was met with a big toothy smile, and kids couldn’t wipe it off until you were out of sight. Sometimes the’d repeatedly yell hello and wave, or run after you to ask you your name. The adults always waved too, even at a passing bus or car, and I wouldn’t be left alone in on the street or in a village for more than 30 seconds before someone wanted to talk to me. The normal questions went pretty much exactly like this: “Whats your name? Where are you from? How old are you? How long ar you in Samoa? Do you like it? Where did you come from? Where are you going next? Where is the mister?” So after that interview formula, they knew all they needed to know about me, and then they’d ask if I needed help or if I was lost.

I got the feeling Polynesians were quiet, private and religious people, but the rumors about them being promiscuous is certainly true too. I’ve only been plain-out offerred sex once before American Samoa, by a grounds guard at the Beachcomber hotel in Tahiti. He just casually asked if he could accompany me to my room, and I just had to act equally casual about saying no, without any shock or terror in my voice, even when he asked twice more if I was sure sure sure. It happened again in Independent Samoa, this time by one of the fiafia dancers, who I nicknamed the coconut man. He could shred a coconut in about 5 seconds with his teeth and then crack it open on his head. He opened a few for me on the beach after the show, then assumed he could sleep in my fale, but I used a nervous giggle and the single mattress and narrow mosquito net as an excuse to stay alone.

fiafia dancers practicing for a big show

fiafia dancers practicing for a big show

Samoans are really friendly and hospitable in other, more acceptable, ways, and I loved traveling there. Besides sex, the normal things to be offered were usually coffee, tea, fresh bananas or tobacco in some form. If you got in a car with someone, it was a cigarette, and if you checked into your beach fale for the night, it was a cup of warm drink. If you sat with someone in their shaded fale, it could be a banana or some rolling tobacco, and they never let me stand on the side of the road waiting for a bus in the sun, so I often ended up in a fale eating or smoking with some elders while one of their children got sent to the side of the road, waiting to flag down my bus for me.

fales on the beach

fales on the beach

Samoan’s aren’t the best chefs, especially compared to neighbouring Fiji, and the quality of products (compared to Australia and New Zealand) was mediocre, and the selection of food minimal (compared to American Samoa and its super American imported super markets). Canned corned beef and instant noodles are staples, as well as anything fried, rice and taro (a rich potatoey thing). They did have very good table manners, and often sent a child or staff to stand over you fanning your food while you ate (to keep the flies off).

If you join Samoan’s for mealtime, the evening family worship has to be taken first. I attended one family service, which was all in Samoan, but I recognized the tunes of some of the hymns, and they closed with a prayer in English, which I could actually join in on since it was the Lord’s prayer. They have church service often, both at home and in church, since each village has a church or two or three. There may only be a few families in the village, and still there’s enough of a congregation to support all the churches. They’re all different denominations too – Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist, Mormon, and even Baha’i’. Its amazing that it’s already the church capita of the world, and still I saw missionaries around. I don’t know who they’re saving, but it looked like they must have been Mormons trying to convert the already redeemed souls.