This morning, I had hoped to take the new Peace Corps bike, gleaming black and still smelling of new rubber, for a spin on the main road before school while the sun had not yet realized it’s full heat. Alas, I was disappointed to wake up and hear the pattering of rain on the torso sized fan leaves outside my room. The sound was soothing though, that I quickly forgot about the bike and slipped back into a comfortable slumber. Around nine, I finally drug myself to the bathroom to freshen up and eat a hot bowl of oatmeal (which I had brought with me from Apia of course) and a cup of tea. My family marvels at me when I proceed to drink the stuff without any sugar added and I love it.
I decided to go with just a ie lavalava and a polo shirt to school, since the day before everyone had worn casual clothes and I alone hot boxed myself in a polyester puletasi. It was a short meeting with only myself, Senerita, her baby, Fili and Loli. I proceeded to try and fill out some information on the school for the Peace Corps contact form. I was amused but not surprised to discover there was no phone and no address save “Vaipua Primary School, Vaipua, Savaii” and the same went for my house.
Next, I sketched another improved version of the Vaipu’a map and included what families had water tanks. The map was cleaner and more legible this time, with a legend and everything. Fili and Senerita enjoyed looking over the map and showing me houses or important landmarks, like the piece of long cement walkway that sits on the grass where the matai sit during Sa to make sure everyone is inside and praying. We started talking about some things in Vaipu’a that they thought should be addressed. I, of course, brought up the rubbish issue along the cliff wall again.
The cliff wall spans along Vaipu’a and the neighboring villages to each side behind the houses on the north side of the road. Most families in Samoa tend to throw their garbage behind their house, dig a hole and bury it, burn it or feed it to dogs and pigs. The families that live on the north side of the road, by habit, throw their lapisi (rubbish) behind them and so it litters the walkway of the cliff and all down on the beach amongst the trees. Other than the walkway and right under the cliff stuck in the trees, the beach is pristine and hidden. The only garbage pick up is once a month and there are no bins or community dumpsters where people can put their garbage, what exists now are two tall thin table-like fixtures along the road that people put bags of trash on top of. Not many people use them though because dogs and cats tend to get at them and rip them open, leaving the trash sprawled all over the nice clean front lawns.
So, in light of all this, the project proposal I am currently devising will include a call to the garbage company in Savaii, the building of two or three rubbish bins that animals cannot get into. To jumpstart the Vaipu’a cleanup project, a group of youth and children will go one day to the cliff side and pick up all the trash. Finally, to keep things sustainable, the matai council will pass a village rule that any rubbish should be kept within the home or disposed of in the rubbish bins or by burning or composting. If any trash is found spilling out of people’s homes and into public walkways, roads or any shared environment a fine will be imposed. Of course, this is all in my head still. I have only discussed it with some teachers in the school, Tuaia actually brought it up to the committee. When I brought it up with Foni tonight at the dinner table, he seemed excited “Yes, I thought a cement stair on the cliff is a good idea. Just, I don’t know how to build something like that thing.”
We also talked gardens both at the school and at the dinner table later. Foni was all ready to jump on the idea and asked me if I would take a look at a plot in the yard that he thought might have tillable soil. He pointed to a piece of broken fence with chicken wire on it and said “We can use the wire there on the fence and make new fence for the garden”. It’s so exciting to have a positive and ready response to these small projects!
After school, the most AMAZING thing happened! Tuaia didn’t come to school for the informal meeting with her fala to weave like she said she was going to, so Senerita invited me over to her house to weave with her mother-in-law. Having nothing better to do and realizing that I had better start meeting all the families in town, I went along gladly.
We walked up the hill inland past a few houses until we reached her western inspired fale where there was a smiling, moustached man reading an enormous tattered book, a young lady breast feeding a baby, a few toddler boys running around without pants and a plump big-haired woman weaving a fine mat.
I was readily welcomed by all and took a seat in a wooden chair, grabbed my fala coil out of my bag, unwrapped the ties holding it together and started pulling long dry leaves out. When I did this, a chatter in the house erupted and Senerita translated. “Whose fala leaves are those?” and I replied “They’re mine, of course” and smiled slyly. When translated back, there was much more happy discussion about where it came from, whether or not I knew how to make a fala, when I had done it before, what I wanted to make and so on as I started weaving the corner of my mat, to everyone’s surprise and delight.
Thirty minutes of bending over crossed legs on the floor is my limit, so I stood up to stretch and remembered that Senerita had mentioned a couple days before that she had a laptop that she didn't know how to use. I brought it up and the laptop was brought to me in a bulky black carrying case. I took it out and dusted it off, it was a thick old Dell. It turned on with the normal Windows welcome sound, showed the account page, opened to a nice flowery screen saver and I found that it was running Windows XP and had Microsoft Office 2007 on it. She kept asking questions like “Is it a good computer?” over my shoulder as I explored the applications and programs installed and when I commented on a particular feature she would ask again “Is that good?”. I opened up Microsoft Word and started typing a couple sentences. Everyone was gathered around at this point and they whispered to each other on the speed. I showed Senerita how to use the built in cursor and where to place her fingers on the keyboard. From there, I directed her to change the font, the size, the color and the placement of the sentence “My name is Senerita.” and she was so happy to find out how these small features worked. She really wanted to know if the laptop would connect to the printer in the school office, to which I responded that it very well might, but we would need a cord to connect them and the installation cd that came with the printer. I gave her 10 sentences to practice typing with fingers resting on ASDF and JKL;.
Not having seen anybody in Samoa reading a book besides the Bible or religious pamphlets, I assumed the antique book the tattooed moustache man was reading was one or the other, but I asked anyway “O le a le tusi lale?”(What’s that book there?). Senerita replied for him saying it was a book of Samoan old stories. There was a shocked pause as I took this in. Then I shot up from where I was weaving and strode over to his side asking if I could see the book for a moment. Upon inspecting the outside binding, I saw it was Kramer’s Volume 1 of Samoan folktales! The same book that I had started reading in HP’s office a few days prior, the book that wasn’t allowed out of the office because of it’s cost, rarity and value. I couldn’t believe my eyes and exclaimed “Hey! I know this book! Wow! I can’t believe you have it!” and proceeded to launch into my interests in Samoan folklore.
As it turns out, the moustached man is an alii (a high chief) and a very well known orator in Samoa. Out of twenty or so famous oral historians in Samoa, there are four on Savaii island and he is one of them (the other three are in Neiafu, Iva and some other village I can’t remember. His ancestry links him to the famous story of Mount Vaia. The story goes that before fighting in an epic battle, this man called Vaia entered a cave and grew to gigantic proportions, after the fight, he laid down to rest and became Mount Vaia, which they say looks like the profile of a man lying down. His familiarity and delivery of countless folktales is constantly sought after and he even goes to Apia to meet with a council of orators Monday through Thursday every week.
Senerita went on to translate how he wanted to make a book of his stories and sell it to New Zealand or abroad. I immediately volunteered to help with the making of this book or DVD, since that was exactly what I had in mind for my personal folklore project. We arranged that we would record the stories, 5 at a time, in a natural setting and in natural Samoan dress every so often. I would then put these videos on my computer, edit them as best I could and finally burn a DVD of the finished copy. Anticipating future expenses, I mentioned that all they would have to supply me with would be blank DVDs and the containers to put them in. But my labor and technical skill would be gladly for free. They tried to offer some percentage of profits from the DVD that I immediately declined, saying that it was for educational purposes.
We ended the day with more weaving, songs performed with guitar accompaniment by Loli, the moustached man, and a nice cold niu. They offered the use of their refrigerator to me to store vegetables and fruits for the week knowing, by the coconut wireless no doubt, that I was concerned with not being able to keep the vegetables fresh for a whole week without a refrigerator at my house. So nice! Oh, and I named their hitherto nameless kitten Smeigle and they actually knew who I was referring to from the movie Lord of the Rings and started using the name right away. Right when I got home, I told Foni about it and asked why the family didn’t have a cat and he said “Well, because there are no kittens!” and when I asked if I could keep my own kitten if there were kittens around, he told me “Absolutely!”
How to do the laundry in Samoa. Throw into an old paint bucket, add water and laundry detergent from the pipe outside, pump with fists and swish around violently, ring out and hang on a wire attached to two trees. Underwear and bras dry on the wire in my room.