Tuesday, January 18, 2011

War Comes to Samoa

I asked my host brother last night, "When was the last war in Samoa?" He paused for a while and then said, "I don't like history." It's kind of strange to live in a place where wars are not common knowledge, where an eleven year old child cannot ramble off the name of the wars of the last century, where one can even say "wars (PLURAL) of the last century."

I honestly don't know when the last time was that Samoa engaged in a war. Maybe it was a tribal war before colonialism. However, that doesn't mean that Samoans aren't affected by war, by our war, the War Against Terrorism. (Insert patriotic American flag here.)

Right now, I am staying with the faife'au of the EFKS church in my new village. (That's the pastor of the Congregational church.) His wife went to the States for Christmas because her children live there. A week or two ago I asked when she'd be coming back. He said that she was already supposed to have come back, but her daughter, a US citizen and member of the Navy, is getting sent to Iraq, so she stayed an extra week.

War's worldly impact.

Where Are You, Sam Neil? or Dinos, Cigarettes, and God: Belief and Doubt in Samoa

At some point before these two years are up, I really hope Sam Neil pops out of the jungle being chased by a T-Rex. No joke. Parts of Samoa look like they come straight out of "Jurassic Park." I'm just waiting to get sneezed on by a brontosaurus.

Which brings me to today's topic: Belief and Doubt in Samoa. One would be hardpressed to find a Samoan who said they didn't believe in God. Maybe you'd find someone who doesn't like to go to church, but I'm not sure anyone doubts the existence of God. He simply is, no questions asked. Samoans (and here comes an overgeneralization which I am well aware of) believe in God without needing empirical proof of his existence. It's as simple as that.

Oddly enough, we once ran into a few Samoans who asked if we believed in dinosaurs. Well, um, yes.

One of the boys, while smoking from a pack of cigarettes with a picture of a rotted lung on it, was asked, "Do you believe in that? That cigarettes can do that?" His response was, "It's not a matter of belief. That's science."

I've drawn no conclusions here, but it's interesting that the existence of dinosaurs and the deleterious affects of cigarettes, which have been scientifically proven, can be doubted, while the existence of God is believed in, unquestioned.

Is belief a choice? Or is "belief" a fancy euphemism from "indoctrinated maxim"?

"That Lady is Not Jesus"

"What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make His way home?"

There is a woman in Samoa, some would call her crazy, others, perhaps, just eccentric. I don't know if the fact that she wears her sunglasses upside down is any indication of her mental stability. Let's face it, what one day made people believe in prophets is what has sent some people to the looney bin in recent history. Give it a shot, tell people you've been talking to God. See how they respond. Anyway, this woman, if you've seen her once, you won't soon forget her. After one particular center day during training, Mika and I took the same bus back to Tafitoala. Next to him sat supine-sunglasses herself. When I saw her sit next to him, I knew he'd be in for a good ride. When we arrived in Tafitoala, Mika said she mostly said semi-crazy things, until, completely lucidly, she turned to him, mumble gone, and asked, "Do you think Jesus could still be alive today? Walking around?" I don't know what his response was, but that one question resonated with Mika. The next day in our language class, he told the story to our teacher, Lumafale. Now keep in mind, Samoa is a very religious country and Fale is no exception. Her response was, "That woman is not Jesus." She then went on to tell us psuedo-Iesu's story. This woman was once in love with a palagi (a non-Samoan person/ a white person). They were engaged to be married, but one day, out of the blue, he just up and left, went back to Australia, New Zealand, America, wherever he was from. After that, this woman who was apparently incredibly smart too, starting slipping. (Another version of the story I heard was that she got a scholarship to go to school in New Zealand and when she came back, well, by then she'd forgotten which which part of the sunglasses is designed to rest upon your nose.) Fast forward to our last day in the training village, the Tafitoala five plus Fale are in a taxi van on our way to Apia after saying our tearful goodbyes to our host families (our wonderful host families who truly did become second families to us), as we turned onto Cross Island Road, there she was, standing on the corner. Like she was wishing us luck on this next leg of our adventure.

That lady probably isn't Jesus. But then again, maybe she is. Who can really say? (Well, I'm sure the pope would have something to say about it.) During the week following Tafitoala and before we were sworn in as volunteers, one of our training sessions in Apia was about religion and culture in Samoa, something we'd seen and experienced for over two months at that point. A faife'au (pastor) gave the presentation. He definitely had his moments where I think most of us looked at him like, "Did you really just say that?" For instance, he said something, I forget exactly what, "makes it so easy for Muslims to be terrorists." He seemed to immediately realize he'd said something we weren't OK with because then he back-tracked and said, "I hope no one here is Muslim" which really meant, "Shit, I hope I didn't just offend anyone" but what sounded more like, "I hope none of you are Muslims because that's a bad religion to be." (And here again, I should probably mention that these are my observations and opinions and not those of the Peace Corps.Coincidentally enough, I'm writing this from the computer of a faife'au.) The  point I'm trying to get to in all of this is that this faife'au also said, "You can't just walk off the street and preach. You have to go to school." Is that right? Then how did the prophets of the Bible do it? I'm pretty sure they didn't go to any theological school. Maybe preachers who go to school just learn the motions; maybe the "crazy" people preaching on the street are the ones we should listen to.

"If God had a face what would it look like? And would you want to see it if seeing meant that you would have to believe?"

Dickens Said That, Right?

Contrary to what my last post would probably lead one to believe, Peace Corps on a tropical island is not just suntans and sivas. I've already had plenty of days in which I've wanted to pack it all in, to go home and live how I imagine I'd be living, days when I thought what I was doing was pointless because I witnessed, silently, injustices we'd been instructed to ignore. This hasn't been just a walk on the beach. And honestly, there were a couple of weeks where I'd cry at least once a day (which wasn't necessarily a bad thing; sometimes it was just a stress reliever). I even wrote in my journal once that if I knew then what I know now about the Peace Corps, I wouldn't have done it. I don't think I feel that way anymore, but it is true that this is not what I thought it would be; pre-conceived notions of the Peace Corps and even informed and educated judgements do not hold true to actual life in the Peace Corps.

That all being said, I am learning so much here. Everything I learned and talked about, studied and read about in college is now practice, has now become reality.

And I know this, the first three months were probably the hardest I'll experience, but they also held some of the most memorable moments. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Beach Corps

A few highlights from moments with the Beach Corps.
The Two Years Finally Begin

Mikaele (Jeter), Sene (Jenny), Sema (Sam), Lumafale, Karene (Karen), ma Mika (Mike)

Celebrating our New-Found PCV Status at Y-Not

Flute Music Drying Out after my Room in Falefa Flooded

Visiting Tafitoala for X-Mas/New Years
Poulima and Oneata
In a Dress from my Host Sister

Faleolupo, Savaii
Where we Spent New Years!!

Last Sunset of 2010

Mika and Mikaele!
In another Dress from my Host Sister

Epitome of the Beach Corps
Baseball on the Beach on New Years Day

Me and Laupama!
Love Her!
...and a photo bomber

Me and the Tafitoala Host-Sibs
Falelua, Tala, ma Jessie

Last Night visiting Tafitoala