This is a public journal and documentary of my Peace Corps saga to the Island of Samoa.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Saturday, November 20, 2004
It was bound to happen
So last Thursday, at around 12pm I noticed little white things on the head of one of my students. He's three years old with Downs Syndrome and wasn't too happy when I tried to examine further. I called his teacher over to help and sure enough she told me she found the "utu" (lice.) My own head had been itching for over a week but I thought it was just because I hadn't been prudent in shampooing daily. I ran to my principal bent over and asked her to look through my head. Sure enough she said "Ema, you got 'utu'". Now, I had lice once before in my life when I was 13yrs old. I remember finding them in the morning as I was getting ready for school and then running panic stricken into my parents room. I was crying and yelled for my mom to help me. I wish I could say that at 26 years old I would react with less panic. However, Peace Corps was coming to pick me up in 30 minutes as I was to help out with a training session for the new peace corps trainees. I yelled "fa" to the kids as they got on the bus (I usually take the time to say good-bye to each one individually but not today) I ran upstairs with the lice shampoo we had at the school and quickly washed and tore apart my apartment bundling up my bed sheets, pillow cases, towels, etc. to take to the laundromat. I usually wash my clothes by hand but there was no way I could let the "utu" sit around my house until I got around to doing it. All in all I spent over 40 tala to wash and dry my laundry. I didn't even have enough Tala when I came to pick it up. But Samoa is great and the woman trusted me enought to let me come back the next day with the rest of the money. So Peace Corps gave me my "utu" comb to comb out the rest of the eggs and I'll be shampooing again in a week. My head still itches however, I still feel better that I have the resources to get the special shampoo and do not have do what the Samoans do when they get lice. You often see the girls paired up going through one anothers hair picking the little bugs out and biting them in between their front teeth. At this moment I'm happy to work for a developed nation that can purchase lice shampoo for me.
Monday, November 08, 2004
O Pasi Samoa (Samoan Busses)
It has been promised for some time that I would write a little piece about what it's like to travel by bus across Samoa. Well, wait no more because the time has come. I was just waiting for a particular experience to talk about. One can write pages upon pages on bus culture here in Samoa however, I will try to keep it brief without losing the mental image of riding a Samoan bus. First, let's start with what a bus in Samoa looks like. They are extremely colorful on the outside. Lots of bright pinks, yellows, neon greens, blues, etc. I have a picture of my bus for the village I live in posted in the photo gallery that you can refer to. They are kind of similar to school busses but a little shorter and most of them use a Toyota engine. The inside of the bus has roughly 16 two person wooden seats. The floorboards are wooden as well and on many busses the gaps between the boards are large enough to look at the road under you. Now, Samoan people on average are about 3 to 4 inches shorter than the average American. So the space between seats is not quite sufficient for a person of my stature. Even if I sit perfect straight in my seat my knees are still scrunched against the wooden seat in front of me. A Samoan bus is legally allowed to carry 33 passengers plus the driver at any one time. However, this is not what really happens. Let me describe for you what my bus ride was like to Lalomanu this weekend. (A really nice beach hangout 2 hours outside of Apia). At 2:30 Thursday afternoon my friend and I boarded the village bus to Lalomanu and it was packed. Now when I say packed I don't mean that every seat had 2 people in it. Most seats without an older person had 4 people in it. The lighter people sit on the laps of the bigger people. Older people are highly respected and are not required to be subjected to such uncomfortableness. If an older person comes onto the bus than those in the front of the bus, if they are younger, must move back to make room for the older person. Palagis (white people) are also given the same treatment because Samoans know that they don't know the bus culture rules, however, as a PCV who knows the culture we are expected to follow the rules. The soles (young single guys) sit at the very back, girls in the middle with middle aged people and the older people in the very front. So back to my story. Our bus leaves Apia and we are cruising outside town at approximately 20 miles per hour. We make a stop at a store for everyone to get snacks. I am seated in the very front seat next to the driver with another volunteer. At the shop a young Samoan girl gets on the bus and joins us in our seat. My friend sits on her lap and I am smooshed against the wooden side of the bus with an uncomfortable metal pipe thing pressing into my leg. But I have the window to throw my arm out so I'm cool. The girl loves that we are PCV's and chats with us in Samoan the entire 2 hours and makes us sing and dance to every hip hop song that the bus driver blares from his radio. Continuing out of town more people get on and there is more shifting of people to ensure that the older people have a seat without accommodating another individual on their laps. There are well over 80 people on the bus as we drive to our destination far beyond the mountains our little bus with its Toyota engine must climb. There were several moments when the bus goes "puht, puht" and I thought "dear God, were are going to stall and roll backwards down this mountain at a million miles an hour and I will crash to my death under a coconut tree". But this did not happen and our bus puht puhted all the way to Lalomanu. When I got off, I could barely walk but was thrilled to see the crystal blue water and a lovely beach fale just waiting for me to take a nap in. My friend and I left Lalomanu at 6 am on Saturday as this was the only bus back to Apia that day. Saturday is market day in Apia and so all the village people come into town to sell their taro, bananas, fruit, etc. The bus ride home was pretty much the same only this time I was sitting on my friend's lap with bags of taro under my feet and stalks of bananas sandwiching me and the other occupants. I was comfortable but I was even more uncomfortable that there were other palagis on the bus (clearly tourists who have money) taking up seats that Samoans could be sitting in. The didn't understand the bus rules and I could tell the other Samoans were frustrated (although they would never ever verbalize this to the palagis). So my view, is that if you are ever traveling through Samoa on vacation, please rent a car when going out to the far away villages. If I could afford it I definitely would, however as a volunteer I am not afforded this luxury. Although, I do have to admit I take a little pride in myself when I know the fa'aSamoa and give my seat up to an older person or tell a young kid in Samoan to stand up and give me his seat and to sit on my lap. I'm not a Palagi and I'm not a Samoan. I guess I'll have to settle for somewhere half way in between.