Two years in and I now know how to tie my lavalava: just tuck the damn thing into your shorts.
With only thirty-nine days left in Samoa, I think it’s time for a little waxing and waning. Not like I haven’t been doing that during this entire adventure, but now it’s time to put the last year (or two) in a nutshell.
First things first, it’s still really hard being here. Samoa did not stop testing and challenging me this second year. Second things second, I’m going to miss this place a lot when I go home.
Where to start? Regrets? Not becoming fluent in Samoan; not being able to have a conversation about meaningful things in Samoan. I’ve got enough to get by, but one of the reasons I set out on this excursion was to become fluent in a third language. I regret not participating more in my village. I regret that I’m too serious and that that characteristic held me back from being an active participant in the village lifestyle. I regret that I put so much weight on the happiness derived from the wrong places. I regret that I let myself need one particular person so much; that I couldn’t completely do this on my own….maybe that last bit isn’t anything to regret—everybody wants someone rooting in their corner. I regret that I’m not sure of myself anymore…I think two years in a foreign culture might do that to anyone.
…as I try to nutshell the past year, nothing jumps forward and I find myself staring out my window at the ocean and the only thoughts that come are of what I will miss. I will miss that ocean, that ocean that is only feet from my house. I will miss the smell my clothes have after they’ve dried on the line just feet from a small cliff next to the ocean. I bet those ocean breeze candles won’t even come close. I’ll miss the stars on the south side. I’ll miss the silver blue of the ocean at Lusia’s. Walking on the beach at Lalomanu. I’ll miss dancing at Club X. I’ll miss sitting outside of Italiano’s sharing a pizza on random school days, looking at the harbor across the way. I’ll miss CCK finds. Hanging out at the pool at Hotel Elisa. The view of the ocean as I take a bus to Apia. Killing time at Aggie Grey’s. Certain people at certain places. Sun tans. Pseudo-celebrity status. Samoan smiles. My year seven girls. It was all for you. Talking in Samoan. Talking to people who know what I’m talking about—no offense anyone back home, but talking to you about this place, these last two years of my life, won’t be the same as talking to anyone who has been a part of it, anyone who knows these places, who can picture what this is. Maybe I’ll even miss the drama that seemed to surround me this last year.
Or maybe I won’t miss the drama: falling in love, having my heart shattered, yelling at a New Zealand tourist, trying to break up a physical fight between a man and his wife outside of the club, meeting a boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, running into an ex-boyfriend’s current girlfriend, being harassed on the bus by drunk creepy men, dating a fire dancer and a bouncer and everything those relationships entailed, being told that my host-father was ashamed of me, other volunteers flirting with my boyfriends, being told by a random Samoan man that Samoa doesn’t need America’s help, basically any interaction with my principal, being continually let-down.
Another volunteer once said to me, “Sam, you may think Samoa had a negative impact on you, and even if it did, you still had a positive impact on Samoa.” Because of me, twelve year five students who were illiterate last January can now read basic English. They were left behind and I am the only reason they can now read. That’s not me being arrogant; that’s just the truth. Yes, it’s taken almost a year for them to learn phonics that they should have mastered in year two, but now they have it. Hopefully they can take those tools and continue to teach themselves how to read after I leave. My year seven girls have asked me multiple times if Falefa will get a new pisikoa after I leave. No, Falefa will not have a pisikoa any time soon. The girls pout and say, “But who will teach us English? You are the only person who really taught us.”
“When you go back to America, will you ever come back to Samoa?” This is the one question everyone asks: students, teachers, villagers, taxi drivers, friends. It seems to be the curse of a place filled with ephemeral people; people who come and go; people that Samoans are afraid to love or depend on because it’s all transient. I would like to come back, but my response is always, “Leiloa.” I don’t know. And that answer satisfies no one. And truth be told, I’m afraid to go back to what I’m supposed to know. I’m afraid to go home. There’s so much uncertainty there. Who will I be? Who I was? Who I am now? An amalgamation of both? It could be easier just to stay. But I know my life isn’t in Samoa. Now I’m not sure my life is back where home was either though.
Group 84 arrived in Samoa yesterday. I will meet them on Friday when we throw a welcome fiafia for them. It’s time to pass on the proverbial torch, or siva afi (fire dancing) stick, and while they are saying hello and getting acquainted with all things Samoa, it is time to say goodbye.
Because I’m not sure how to do that yet, I’ll end with some words already spoken that fit the tail-end of this adventure.
“And the traveler who looks back
Runs the grave risk
That his shadow will not follow him.”
-From the poem “Letters from the Poet Who Sleeps in a Chair” by Nicanor Parra
“…People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“The day is changed…when you take a swim. And that day is bound to be marked out from all the rest.”
-Ian McEwan Saturday
“What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell.”
-Yann Martel Life of Pi
“You can’t just sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over…without expecting the jungle to change you right back.”
-Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible
Tofa soifua. The most respectful goodbye in Samoan.
Tofa soifua. The most respectful goodbye in Samoan.
Misi ia oe Samoa. Fei loa’i.