The Vaiala Heroes at Culture Day

Culture Day at Vaipua Primary

Books Donated from Darien Aid

Tree Planting with funds donated from WaterCharity

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Big Move to Vaipu'a


After a gruesome sleepless night due to a mysterious malady of the right ear (think swollen on the inside, tender to the touch, throbbing with pain if you tried to lie on it and imagine yourself unable to lie down at all because of the pressure that goes to your head) I was up and at ‘em at 5:30, bags already packed and grateful for an excuse to just give up on sleep altogether and move on to the next day. An exciting day! At 6am, our taxi vans were promptly leaving to take the new Group 82 Savaii volunteers to their sites, for GOOD! That means ALL of our belongings and the new things acquired during the Manunu days, not to mention our medical kits, cumbersome water filters and our mountain bikes and subsequent gear. I ended up with one enormous suitcase, one gigantic duffel bag, one small pot-bellied Jansport backpack, a mountain bike, a black plastic bag full of bike accessories, a medical kit, an awkward water filter cardboard box,  a woven rug, a roll of dried coconut leaves the size of a bicycle tire,  a red adidas duffel straining against it’s seams,  a fluffy king sized pillow and two bulging carry-ons.

The van ride there was quiet, save for some random-ness Alli and I thought worthy to comment on. For example, there was a sticker on the side of the van seat that said “In case of an emergency, pull the lever to fold down the seat”. We couldn’t quite think of anything that would constitute an emergency inside a taxi van and more than that, what good would folding your seat down possibly do? Alli got a text from Casey that she had left her green sports bra back at the Pacifika. Anyway, it was uneventful.

Unloaded the van at the wafu (wharf), grabbed some Arrowhead Crackers as per usual, Benj took my bulging carry-ons to the Peace Corps vehicle when I was sinking under their weight and so I gave him the finest meat bun a tala fifty could buy. Boarded the ferry, there was a group of New Zealand raised Samoan junior high school girls who were playing clapping games non-stop, laughing, screaming and being obnoxious. The lady next to me breast fed her baby and the guy in front of me kept sneaking looks at her.

We walked off the ferry and into Salelolonga, a half a block or so up the street, past where the buses leave from and to the left into the drive way of a small unmarked business were Fata (our assistant Peace Corps director, Savaii support staff, a graying, thin, approachable and purposeful guy) Rosie, and a pile of trucks manned by unfamiliar faces. Except one, I notice excitedly! I hop over to Telefoni, grab his outstretched hand for a shake and pull him in for a side hug. “Happy Birthday!” I say and he starts a little in surprise “Oh, you remember huh? Thank you very much.” he says in a hushed voice. I introduce him to the other Peace Corps standing around and say where they are going. He was really only interested in Maka since he’s going to Asau, Foni’s home village.

We unloaded the flatbed, threw everything in our respective vehicles, exchanged a few hurried hugs and “see you soon”s before setting off. Foni and the guy who owned the nice truck we borrowed, Eli, asked if I needed to do some shopping. I really didn’t at the moment, so I asked if we could only stop at the Westpac ATM, thinking of how I would be needing to pay my month’s family contribution of 250 tala at some point. I took out 300, leaving me with only 300 left. Well, I probably have more like 500 to last me the rest of December, which is only 3 weeks and my food is all included. I just need money to go to Salelologa and use the internet and have a beer every other weekend, and of course that New Years party that we’re planning to have is coming up as well. Everything should be within budget.

Eli threw us hurdling up and around the tar-paved main road that goes around Savaii island and at one point I had to say, with faked laughter, “Eli, what’s the big hurry?” and he slows down a bit, but not before my red adidas duffel back straining against it’s seams flies out the back of the car and bounces along the road and into the bushes. Honestly I didn't’ even know what had happened until we were suddenly backing up, the music had been turned off and both Foni and Eli seemed to turn serious. My initial reaction was “What was in that bag?” and then I thought, only my sketch book, a bunch of tampons, a water bottle, some markers and other things of little consequence. Beyond a doubt, it’s the best thing that could have fallen from the truck, but I was liking how this turn of events had changed the demeanor of the two so suddenly. There were lots of apologies, a good ten minutes of rearranging and checking and re-checking the security of my belongings. The first 20 minutes of the ride, I was with sunglasses trying to get a little bit of shuteye while being bombarded every few minutes with rapid-fire k-language Samoan that I couldn't’ understand a bit, even more frustrating is that both of them spoke fine English, they were just testing me. After the bag incident,  the joking stopped. * smug look *

We arrived, unpacked and threw everything in the long room. I did not anticipate such a large table to be added to the furniture, but I was certainly glad of it. The bed was moved around from it’s nice tucked-away place in the far right corner, instead it was against the long wall opposite the door, a terrible use of the room space. Realizing that now, before all my things exploded everywhere, I should and had to paint,, I reluctantly started taking out brushes, tape and masking the edges of the door and moving away the nice fala mats from near the wall where they might be dripped on.

There was an impressive inscription on one of the walls that was done in permanent marker reading: “God will give me strength” and “Praise be to our Lord, who through Him we can do all things” and other little ditties like that. The color for the wall I had chosen though was not dark enough to cover something like that, so it was time for a scrub brush and to just scour that puppy right off. It was a little strange to be scratching away at the word “LORD”, making it slowly disappear. Somewhat sacrilegious don’t you think, or at least blasphemous. We got it off after an hour or so, painted a former dirty abused wall and turned it into a clean warm tan color, that perfectly matched both the flowery curtains and the interesting purplish colored fala mats all over the ground.

I brought up the money issue with Foni at the lunch table over palusami and taro. I just wanted it over with so I started out “Telefoni, let’s talk about money. Peace Corps has given me 250 tala per month to contribute to the family in order to pay for the electricity, water, food and supplies I use. I could either give you the full 250 tala and tell you all the things I need to be eating every day, or I can give you half of the money and I can use the other half for my own food shopping to supplement what food you normally serve, or I’m open to other suggestions.” He nodded throughout this and replied satisfied “How about you give us half and tell us what you like, take the other half and buy the food you like too. If that doesn’t work out well, we can change the arrangement any time you like.” Perfect, I handed over 150 tala and told them I love vegetables, fruit, taro and niu. I don’t need rice or bread or palagi food. I’m not super into meat, except fish. I don’t eat a lot of sweets or processed foods. Keep in mind that these are all lies, but in Samoa meat equals fatty on the bone mutton and turkey tails unless it’s fresh fish or chicken (with all the fat and bones), processed foods equal cheese curls and ramen, sweets equals ice cream, donuts, sweet breads, etc. So although these categories are all things I love in the States, I want to stay away from them in Samoa, so I made it known from the start.

We went for a swim after that down the cliff, I met a nice 19 year old girl who had been chilllin at my house with Talava (my “mom” or older sister, depending on how old you think she is), named Yupi. She’s quite and has no expression in her face whatsoever, but is interested, kind and offered to show me around to the youth group, to her family and to help me if I needed anything or if I had any questions.

I leant out my goggles and snorkel to Mei and Solomona, the phrase “pick your battles” rung in my head before agreeing, knowing that later I would be saying a lot of “no”s to them. About the computer, the bike, hanging in my room, etc. I met my older younger sister, who’s 16 or so and much quieter than Mei. So quiet I can’t even remember her name at the moment.

After swimming there was a brief volleyball game where I had the opportunity to meet a few young men from the village (don’t worry, nothing struck my interest especially, or at all) but it was so bright, you couldn’t really see, so we headed back home. Mei climbed a tree and plucked a ripe mango out of someone’s yard and Solomona had collected a popo (coconut) from the beach and so I ate both things as a snack when I got home and couldn't have felt more naturally hungry and healthily fed.

The room made great strides after that. Foni put in a bar for me to hang my tasi’s and other clothes on. I set up the silly water filter (I’ll be drinking way more water here than in Manunu, I’m sure because it’s the only thing here is to drink here, much better for you anyway besides niu, which would be my first choice) put away books, clothes, electronics. Gave my pots, pans and knives to Talava to her great excitement. She even lifted the pan to her head and tilted forward in the formal grateful gesture.

Well it’s dark in my room and the moonlight is spilling in, my ear is starting to hurt, so it’s time for 600 mgs of Ibuprofen before a well deserved rest. Fa!


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