Thursday, October 6, 2011

365 Days of a Samoan Summer

I write this on the eve of our one year anniversary; when it’ll make it to blog form is unknown. I’m not sure I’m willing to offer any great abstract concepts at the current time about what one year stuck on an island in a foreign culture has taught me. I’ve learned things about myself as well as lost things (or perhaps they’re just dormant for the time being). I’ve wished I hadn’t come here while already knowing what I’ll miss, while already dreading a few goodbyes at the airport, already knowing there will be people I will never see again, but who I will miss for a lifetime.
I’ve been to four of Samoa’s ten islands (Upolu, Savaii, Manono, Namu’a). I’ve tipped a dug-out canoe…twice…by accident. I’ve swum under a freshwater waterfall. I’ve heard the ghosts of Samoa singing under moonlight. I’ve eaten palolo and sea urchin; I’ve declined fruit bat. I’ve been stung by one giant centipede and killed a dozen more. (As I write this, there is a dead giant spider on my windowsill.) My possessions have been gnawed on by rats. I’ve been to the national hospital and three different clinics. I have not gotten typhoid or ghiardia, two of the weight-loss programs Samoa offers. I’ve been to a circus and a hip hop dance competition. I have frequented YNot, VBar, On the Rocks, and EvaEva, but I have yet to step foot in Crabbers. I’ve been proposed to and I’ve climbed a coconut tree (just kidding, the coconut tree is a lie.) I’ve opened a coconut with a machete, strangled a chicken with my bare hand, and failed to weave a palm leaf basket. I’ve been to Samoan fa’alavelaves: weddings, funerals, riding the bus. I’ve been on a bus that broke down and another that blew a tire. I’ve been awoken in the middle of the night by a drunk guy wanting me to come outside (he was then fined $1000 tala by the village –nobody messes with the Peace Corps). I have “gone local,” dating two Samoan boys, one of whom has become my best Samoan friend. I’ve tried to impress people with my Spanish when my Samoan wasn’t good enough. I’ve marched in the Samoan Independence Day parade. I’ve performed the “Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy” by Franz Doppler on national television. I’ve met a Minnesotan who played under Dr. Nimmo. I led the flute section of the National Samoan Orchestra at the Fourth of July celebration at the ambassador’s house. I’ve been very rudely asked to leave the ambassador’s house (some people would call this being kicked out). I’ve learned the dance to “Thriller” with members of the orchestra. I’ve danced a Samoan taupo, a sasa, and a dance to the song “Fa’amalolosi.” I’ve lost a grandmother. I’ve said goodbye to another volunteer. I’ve missed the births of new family members, and the wedding of a cousin. I’ve watched children be hit with hands, rocks, sticks, and pipes. I’ve wanted to hit children. I haven’t hit any children. I’ve read sixty-four books, and watched almost two seasons of “Glee.” I thought I was going to be trampled at the wharf Easter weekend. I have run and jumped off a very high dock numerous times at the legendary Peace Corps hangout of Lucia’s (best stress reliever in Samoa). I requested a village transfer. I’ve been told “You are doing more harm than good.” I’ve been told how pretty I am, that I have cat eyes. I was among the last people on earth to say goodbye to 2010. I had my very first truly snowless Christmas, but my twenty-fourth birthday did not disappoint. I’ve gotten used to everything not going as you expect it to.
Warm showers are a luxury. Bingo paper, no matter what some people do, will never be toilet paper. Ants can and will go everywhere. The mosquito net is your friend. Rain pounding on a tin roof is a sound of relief, of renewal. Brown-bottle Vailima is better than green. The rhyme “I love you, I love you, I love you, I do, but don’t get excited, I love monkeys too,” is always a hit. Teaching every subject in English when half the class doesn’t understand still doesn’t make sense to me. Taro will never be as good as a potato. Always wear blue when Manu Samoa plays. Always. Getting a package or a letter will make any day better. Always clean the leaves out of your yard. Always. McDonalds is a guilty pleasure and the Yacht Club is the best restaurant in the country. Fish and chips is its own food group. Cereal covered in ants is not to be thrown away. The Peace Corps medical manual and kit are saviors. You can never smell too good. You can never have too much phone credit, but don’t let anyone know that. CCK rocks. People you’ve never seen before will know your name and what you had for dinner last night. Everywhere you go there will be someone who knows you. The world is not small; this is just an island. Do whatever you want on Sundays (after you go to church), just don’t let anyone know you aren’t sleeping. People do not eat grubs, contrary to the episode of “Bizarre Foods.” The current season of “Survivor” was filmed on my island. As much and as often as you clean up those little effing millipedes, there will be more in the morning. Mortein will kill cockroaches in a blink and probably an entire country, but it still won’t kill those tiny brown ants. What’s up with that?
And now for my very serious and honest one-year-in advice to Peace Corps prospective. You will not change the world in the Peace Corps. If you’re lucky you might make a difference. You will win no cultural battles; you won’t even be able to begin to fight them. But when it comes to your everyday life, you must never be a push-over. This is an experience unlike any other; it will throw every challenge at you that it can, and more. Survivor Samoa. Who knew?
One year in and I still can’t put my lavalava on right.