Wednesday, November 30, 2005

O lo`u fa`amavae (My farewell ceremon)

As is customary in Samoa, when someone leaves she is given a "fa`amavae" or farewell ceremony. Today the school gave me my fa`amavae. It was a two part event actually. The first half of the morning was our Parents' Day, where we sold items the children had made or cooked, performed traditional dances and songs, and displayed the children's work from the throughout the school year. It was a busy morning getting everything prepared. The teachers all camped at the school last night in order to get everything in place. They decorated the workshop with traditional Samoan plants and flowers and put everything on display. The morning went smoothly enough and my class sold nearly all our jams and pickles that we had canned. TV Samoa had been invited to come and film our Parents' Day and promote our school but they unfortunately they did not arrive on time for it.

The second portion of the event was my farewell. And just in time, TV Samoa arrived. This of course, was not the plan. Wanting to film something though, so as not to make their trip a total loss, they decided to film my fa`amavae for the national news program. I was asked to sit by myself in a chair in front of all the parents, teachers, and students. A parent began by giving me a speech and then one- by-one the students presented me with a gift while the parents sang a farewell song. I lost it immediately. Tears welled up and without warning the floodgates opened and I was a sobbing mess. I had been give at least 25 candy and flower "ula" (Hawaiian lei), 15 pieces of Samoan style fabrics, 10 Samoan purses, 2 fans, a Samoan picture frame, and 10 or so other wrapped gifts that I haven't opened yet. And all of this for the national news. (yes, news is slow here) Once all the students had finished I was asked to give my own Samoan speech. Well, I took a deep breath and thought to myself "I'm fine, I've practiced this thing all week, just do it". And I did. I spoke slowly as to not get my Samoan confused in my highly emotional state. When I had finished I realized I had only forgotten half a sentence. "Pretty good", I thought. "Glad that's done". Then I was asked to perform the closing traditional Taupo dance (see previous post). Again, I thought to myself "I can do this. No mind that I'm an awkward lanky white girl attempting to perform a traditioanl Samoan dance for all the nation to see." Afterwards, it was time to eat. "Yes", I thought, "The easy part". Oh, but not really. After being given my plate, I was immediately asked to give an interview with TV Samoa. The news girl was very sweet and said that my Samoan speech was beautiful and so could I please do the first part of the interview in Samoan. "Samoan people will like that very much", she said. "Oh, dear", I thought again. "She doesn't know that I rehearsed and memorized that speech for two weeks. It's one thing to speak broken Samoan to my students (who love me no matter what) and to taxi drivers and store clerks, but for all the nation to hear me speak like a four-year old??? I asked her to give me the question before the camera started rolling to prepare an answer. It went smoothly enough, first in Samoan and then in English. I hardly think my leaving Samoa should be on the nation's one and only news program but as my time in Samoa has taught me, it's not really my decision. This is their country. Let the people decide what they want on their TV. Nevertheless, I'm pretty excited to see myself on TV one last time. I have been by far, the most frequently filmed volunteer here because of various events my school has been involved in. Why not, have one more 5 minute spot of fame to close it all out?


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