The Vaiala Heroes at Culture Day

Culture Day at Vaipua Primary

Books Donated from Darien Aid

Tree Planting with funds donated from WaterCharity

Friday, May 28, 2010

Eagles Can Carry Cows?

During the first week of school the Principal said “Maybe you should just observe me today and take notes”
“Sure, that’s great.” I replied. The 10-year-old students in year seven sat cross-legged on the floor listening intently. “The eagle is the strongest of the forest animals” the teacher boomed in a halted island accent. “So strong,” he continued, “it can lift the cow.” 


When I retold this story, these are some of the replies I got.

A.J. – “A 5 lb bird could not carry a 1 ton cow. To maintain air speed velocity, the eagle must beat it’s wings 34 times per second, am I right?” (making a parody of Monty Python’s Holy Grail)

Phil – “Maybe he was talking about the eagles from Lord of the Rings”

Tsunami Evacuation in Vaipua!

Oh! I had almost forgot about the tsunami evacuation fiasco. So, I was on my way to the road to catch the red-eye bus to Salelologa which goes by my village around 3am and I get a call, at 2:45am, from our fearless leader Dale Withington, the country director. He’s telling me that there has been an large earthquake in Chile and that the whole South Pacific could be expecting a tsunami. “Stop all travel, pack up your important belongings including water and food and your EAP (Emergency Action Plan) and seek higher ground immediately. The tsunami is expected to hit at 9am.” 

So Talava, who was with me walking to the main road, and I turned back to the house and I told her what Dale had said. She turned on the radio when we got home and sure enough it was a continuous warning that tsunamis were expected in Samoa at 9am and to seek higher ground. She roused the children around 4am and started to pack things into large plastic bags. 

I walked down to Tuaia’s (the school vice principal) and knocked on her door. One thing I’ve noticed about Samoans is that they never seem to sleep. If you even whisper someone’s name, they answer as if they were wide-awake all the time. It’s crazy. Right after I had explained the situation, her phone rang. It was her sister calling from another village, saying they were evacuating up the mountain. The radio was switched on and everyone started to rouse sleepily from under their mosquito nets. Large bushes of black hair were thrown hastily into buns and Tuaia’s husband lit up a cigarette. 

“We must go to tell the faifeau and they must hit the bell” she said as we walked across the yard in the dark towards the Methodist pastors church. It must have been 4:30 but the house lights were on inside and Asi sat listening to the radio, scratching his white hair with a bored expression on the porch. He already had heard and he was waiting until 5am to ring the bell. Apparently, Digicel (One of Samoa's cell phone companies) had texted all the faifeaus about the tsunami. This was extremely interesting and I still haven’t quite figured it out. The natural disaster warning system is a mass text to the faifeaus of the village and the government does this through the cell phone company? Wow. 

We hopped over to Tupolo, the EFKS pastors, across the street and found him and his wife also awake and listening to the news surrounded by snoring children. Tupolo glanced at his phone “Go out and ring the bell, Elisa. Three long, two short. Ua iloa? (Got it?)”. I went out to the bell in the yard, a long rusty pipe suspended on a fetter from a wooden frame, and struck it five times as instructed. Shortly after, Asi rung his bell. It created flame of Gondor chain effect and I could hear bells chiming in nearby villages as the tsunami warning sped across the island.

The rest of the early morning was spent tossing random things into a duffel to take with me up the mountain. I filled up all my water bottles, brought my packet of water sanitation tablets, all the first aid supplies, good shoes, warm clothes, ie lava lavas (wrap around fabric), my laptop, camera, and some family photos I had on my wall, tucked Lulu into a cardboard box with some food and met the rest of the family out on the lawn. The house had been secured, all the windows shut, the dvd player wrapped in plastic bags and put away in a drawer and all the food in the house had been taken with us. We lugged everything on our backs for a half an hour’s walk up a steep hill to the last fale in the village before the plantations. There were already four or five families there, spread out and talking softly. Our bags were stowed away in a room with piles of others and we were all given cups of hot cocoa to sip. Our numbers steadily grew and by the time the sun had risen, there were at least 15 families crowded into four fales, the children chasing each other outside.

10 o’clock came and there was still no tsunami and it looked like there would not be one at all. The tension quickly withdrew into relief, which then turned into irritation at all the worry for nothing. When the official “all clear” everyone trudged back down the hill to their houses and clean the mess they had made in their haste to evacuate. 

Easter Festivities

Any given Sunday you will see the dirt roads full of people dressed in white on their way to church, and in this way Easter is just the same. Everyone put on their Sunday best, including wide brimmed hat, and filled the churches. There are two in my village, unlike some that have six or seven, and so it’s easy for me to keep a good relationship with both of the faifeaus (pastors). It’s important to do this when living in the village because church is more of a social event than anything else. Show up every week (10 pts), donate plenty of money (10 pts), sing in the choir (10 pts), participate in church functions like cleaning the church, painting the church, washing the asphalt outside the church, etc (10 pts). You can see how easily not being involved in the church can hurt your social standing! I alternate between churches. Most volunteers do this so they don't get involved in any village organization more than another. There are raging rivalries between churches in Samoa because they run like businesses. The more members the more money and the more money the nicer the church. 

This last Sunday, a news crew came to our EFKS Church (pronounced Eh, Fa, Ka, Sa) to film the service and put it on TV. They go around to all the villages in Samoa and do this so people can see how nice the churches are in different villages, how well the people since and dress, etc. Like I said, it's a big competition. The flowers were done beautifully, everyone was in their absolute best white dress and members from the Methodist church, this was astounding, even joined the service to fill out the pews, boost the choir and probably to just get on TV.

Every Easter, the Methodist pastor preaches at a different church and so we had the Methodist pastor from Asau visiting. After church every week we have to’ana’i (a feast), but Easter went above and beyond (pictured above).Visitors, especially high standing ones like pastors, provide the village with an opportunity to demonstrate superior wealth and hospitality. The lavishness of the food and extravagance of the gifts given are purely demonstrations to earn the village a good reputation. It’s a competition. We must have given three ie togas (fine mats, pictured below), which take up to a year to make and were used as currency in the old days and over 5,000 tala in canned food, cooked pigs, soap, coffee, cash, sugar and other valuables. The pastor loaded up a truck and hauled it all away after giving appropriate speeches. When our village pastor came back from his visit in Sagone, we could hardly be disappointed with his bounty. It was much the same type of gifts and they were distributed to the all the matais in the village. I was even given a Costco sized box of ramen, a five pound can of salted beef and 50 tala. What I really wanted though was one of the apples. I confided this to Talava and minutes later my hands were full of round red apples! 

Happy Easter!

Passover at Lili's

Lili threw a Passover party at her house for all who wanted to come. Rachel had met some Jewish students who were studying for a semester at University of South Pacific in Apia and invited them to come. We had fun making as many Passover dishes as we could with what limited ingredients were at Frankie’s (the Savaii grocery store). Most of us had little or no experience conducting the Passover rituals, but we had a guidebook to help us! We made the sader plate, complete with horseradish. And as we read through the book, we dipped our fingers in the wine for each plague that passed over Egypt, asked the four questions to Hallie, who was the youngest, and when we had leaned left and right several times, we ate. To make the celebrations complete, we watched The Big Lebowski.

Trip to Apolima-Tai

We took a little trip to Apolima-Tai, a small island between Upolu and Savaii, a few weeks ago and it was the first time a lot of us from both islands had gotten together since New Years. It was nice to see everyone and hear news from their villages. Casey organized the trip. We met in Apolima-Uta, Casey’s village, and hired a small skiff to take us to the island. Just in case you are confused about the two Apolimas, “tai” means seaward, seaside or just near the sea and “uta” means inland.

Once we had loaded up the skiff, we were on our way propelling across the waves with the owner of the small boat manning the motor. His young son was hard at work the entire one hour trip, scooping out the water, that was rushing into the boat through the cracks and holes, with what looked like a red gas can with the top half cut off. If the leaking boat wasn’t enough to make us nervous, when we reached the entrance to the island, the boat’s engine stopped and we were all told to get inside the boat. Some of us had climbed on top of the roof and were basking in the sun during the trip. “This is the hardest part” said our captain. “See those two rocks?” and he pointed to two spans of rocks and a narrow path between them where water was crashing through. “We are going through that narrow space and I need you all inside in case we hit a rock and the boat lurches”. We looked at each other uneasily as we clambered back inside. It was clear that the man was waiting for the waves to settle before attempting the pass. Suddenly, the engine roared to life and we were speeding towards the pass. Water splashed up on both sides of the boat and soaked us as we cheered. We were through!

We went for a hike through the jungle to a lighthouse and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the island below, we were served a fish, taro and coconut lunch by the captain’s family and on the way back to Apolima-Uta the boat dropped anchor to let us swim in the warm turquoise ocean for a little while.


Drink it Down, Down, Down

Kava, called Ava in Samoa, is a Polynesian shrub that has clusters of small flowers and belongs to the pepper family from the roots of which, a narcotic drink can be made. Ava, in powder form, used to be exported from Samoa and was a big money generator but has since been made illegal. We made some a little while back to sell at the market for eight tala per small bag.

Ava ceremonies are an integral part of Samoan culture and drinking Ava, as unappetizing as it is, is something that boys look forward to doing as adults. Traditionally, ava is reserved for men only, unless a woman is being served during a ceremony as a guest or if she is one of the rare females with a matai (chief) title. The taupo (like a virgin princess), traditionally prepares the ava during the ceremony. Don’t feel too bad for girls not getting to drink the stuff because ava powder, mixed with water tastes like dirty water. It numbs the lips and tongue and eventually will make a person quite relaxed and soporific if you drink enough. You can find men sitting around a large carved wooden bowl and scooping the murky liquid with coconut shells in the market, smoking rolled Samoan tobacco and enjoying some in the evening after a hard days work in the plantation or being formally served it during a matai council meeting.

During an ava ceremony honored guests are announced by the orator in loud booming voices before being presented with a coconut shell full of the drink by the tau tu ava. The tau tu ava is responsible for properly delivering the ava to each guest, as they are named, without spilling a drop. The tau tu ava faces the guest from across the fale and holds the cup above his head respectfully. He then jogs to the receiver, places his left hand behind his back while bending at the waist and scooping the cup of ava in an upside down arc to the receiver with his right hand. The cup is taken by the guest, a drop or two is spilled on the ground as “Lau ava lea le atua, soifua”  (“This is Ava for the God, Good Health”)  is recited. The contents are then drunk and the cup can be either handed or thrown back to the tau tu ava.

How To Make Ava

1.     Dig up kava roots and wash them in water until all dirt is removed.
2.     Dry cleaned ava roots in the sun.
3.     Pound ava roots into ava powder.
4.     Sift ava powder into fine ava powder.
5.     Serve in various strengths

Rockin Host Family

I am so grateful for my incredible host family. We get along so well! We’re always laughing and joking around. The kids all love musicals and we watch High School Musical 3 and Sweeney Todd non-stop. They can’t get enough of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime movies, which are also my favorite. We even named the new puppy “Ponyo” after a movie character they like.

My host mom Talava is incredibly thoughtful and generous. She does my laundry and won’t hear it if I insist on doing it myself. She makes two bowls of soup, one with regular chicken with fat and bones and one for me, with fat and bones cut out. She pours me a cup of Cocoa Samoa first before she loads it with sugar because she knows I like it o’ona (bitter, like coffee). Mei and Sevai go into my room and feed my cat and tidy up when I go to town. Sevai loves to sit behind me and brush my hair. My brothers and I wrestle, tickle each other and pillow fight in the living room. Telefoni is usually gone doing some contract construction job, but when he’s home on the weekends he plays guitar (which reminds me how much I miss Dad) and sings beautiful harmonies with Talava while the children siva Samoa (do Samoan dances). Life is good.

Sevai, Ponyo and Sailiga
My youngest brother Sailiga, who is five, refuses to go to school. He went the first day and never went again. When Telefoni asked him why he didn’t want to go, he said that he didn’t like the Year One teacher Peka and that he was too busy at home doing the feau (chores) anyway. When Telefoni laughed and asked what feau he was doing, Sailiga said that he was making the saka (peeling and cooking taro and plantains) everyday and doing laundry. This is not quite true because all he does is chase Ponyo around and climb trees. Which is probably why all of his shorts have rips and tears in them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in shorts without a gigantic hole in the back. When we joke around about his bottom sticking out, he folds his arms and glares at us indignantly.

Sailiga and Moga Get a Little Over Enthusiastic with the Pig Slaughtering
Ponyo is our new addition to the family after the unfortunate murder of Reno and Fletcher. Well, at least that’s what Telefoni thinks. Our two dogs died, coughing up blood, within two days of each other last month. Telefoni, who was away in Apia building houses for tsunami victims, suspected foul play and urged extra vigilance when locking up at night. He thinks that by poisoning the dogs, the perpetrator(s) intended to decrease security around the house and make it easier to approach at night. An idea that became a little more believable when the back porch light bulb was stolen a few days later. Extra caution is being taken at night with new front and back of house lights and reinforced locks, so not to worry! Ponyo takes his job of barking at everything very seriously

Sorry for the wait!

Wow, it's been quite a while. Last post...February 6th! Sorry everyone. I've been neglecting blogger and have sent out newsletters to friends and family for the past four months, but I'm in Apia for the week and have a fast internet connection, well comparatively fast anyway. So I'll update you on the latest and greatest.

Family Photo!

Vaipu'a Women's Committee

Reaching the Last Waterfall on the River Fale Trip

River Fale Trip


Mother's Day Skit