Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tourists: Love 'Em or Hate 'Em

It has been a while since I wrote a post for my blog. So Captain Obvious has told me. That doesn’t, however, mean that ideas hadn’t been swirling in my mind about topics. The main one was about resentment for tourists. The thesis went something like this: Real Samoa sucks, tourists suck because they get to live in paradise at the resorts and fall in love with Samoa and fall in love with my boyfriend at the same time. Most likely needless to say, the idea for this post came about after my (ex)boyfriend decided to disappear for two weeks with an old tourist fling of his while leaving me worrying that he was dead. While the major sentiment that tourists suck is probably a little harsh, other ideas I would have thrown into the post held more water, such as the fact that tourists who just lay on the beach at the resorts really don’t get any taste for what Samoa is really like.

However today, I would like to devote this post to a group of tourists who have made me rethink the whole tourists–suck notion. As my time in Samoa winds down, I’ve decided to enjoy this place as much as possible, and yes, that includes behaving like a tourist on the beach. Tossing aside an overrated segue or transition as us literary types like to say, I spent last weekend at Taufua Beach Fales in Lalomanu on the southeast side of my island. It was the third time I’ve gone there and the first in which the other tourists were really cool. (The first time we all went there was for our one year anniversary and at one point a group of tourists told some of the other volunteers that they were acting like college kids on spring break. The second time was our year and a half anniversary and Easter in which a snarky tourist scoffed not-so-quietly under her breath, “Americans” when one of us tried unsuccessfully to give a short goodbye speech to a departing volunteer.) However, third time is cliché-fully a charm. Rachael and I went to Taufua with Emily, her friend from home. Taufua does meals a little non-traditionally with everyone sitting at one long table thus forcing you to talk to other people. Our first night at dinner, we sat next to George and Mel, a Samoan woman with her palagi husband. Funny story about them, I had actually met them briefly in front of a bank in Apia once. It took a little jogging but eventually they remembered me too. Our next stereotype-breaking tourists were Alec and Fanny (pronounced Funny). Alec is from Boston, but lived in New Zealand and Fanny was from Germany. They had eloped fifteen years ago and are now staying at the National University of Samoa for a few months. George, Mel, Alec, Fanny, Rachael, Emily and I had much spirited debate over dinner. Next comes Yanir and Yanadan, two Israelis who had just finished their service in the military. They accompanied the three of us to the To-Sua Sea Trench where the current caused all of us to become quick friends as we were bashed into each other and hands were reached out to save someone from being pulled away, while Tele, our Samoan host/friend, just kept bypassing the ladder and jumping straight into the water. Thanks for the hand Tele.

After we recouped from the trench and after Tele saved a little girl from getting hit by a car, Mika, a fellow volunteer, arrived with his mom from America! Shout out to Emily and Mika’s mom; we love when family visits! Ahem, all of my friends and family: take note.

And finally it’s Gabriel and his parents. (How we didn’t find out their names I have no idea.) Gabriel was a little blonde haired, blue eyed cutie, maybe two or three years old. His mother had been an Australian volunteer in Samoa and she and her husband were married on the beach at Taufua. Gabriel stole everyone’s heart, whether it was playing with Yanir in the water, getting pushed in the kayak by Tele, or just camping out under our fale. This exchange is worthy of being blogged: “Gabriel, I’m going to put on my swimsuit now and then I’ll come out and swim. You just stay here,” Rachael. “I suppose this is really the last age at which this kind of thing is appropriate,” Gabe’s dad. A minute or so passes and Gabe is hunkered down under our beach fale and refuses to come out for anyone.  His dad says, “This is rather a father/son moment, isn’t it? He is literally under a house.” …maybe you had to be there.

Take note, Taufua is a cool place and if you are a tourist, go there and enjoy paradise. Just don’t mess around with the guy I’m dating.

And next time you’re in Samoa, don’t stare at the white girl in the puletasi walking down the street in a village. She’s probably just a Peace Corps volunteer and she won’t smile and wave to you like the little Samoan children.

To-Sua Sea Trench.
The boys jumped from the top of the ladder.
Yanir, Yanadan, Emily, Rachael and I hold on for dear life.

Mika and His Lovely Mother

Emily, Me, Mika's Mom, Rachael

Gabriel jamming on his guitar during the Fiafia show.

The boys take a go at Siva Samoa.
Yanir and Yanadan

Gabe's mom is on the far left and Mel is on the far right.
I'm in the middle with awesome hand position.

Yanadan and Alec

Maybe You Really Can't Go Home Again

Sitting around a long table, wearing a wet swim suit modestly covered by a lavalava after an early morning swim, while eating breakfast and discussing the pros and cons of Marmite, a Finnish couple, the man sporting long brown dreadlocks, the woman a meek Scandinavian blonde, laugh when Rachael and I, the two Peace Corps volunteers at the table, say that “we only have six months left.” They scoff, “Only?!”
As I write this, we now have less than six months left on this island, this island that has been both hell and paradise. I’m not sure Dante nor Milton ever visited Samoa, but I think I could add a little to their tales. However, with roughly a week left of the school break, I have already fallen into the don’t-take-this-for-granted stage of my Peace Corps service. Now, instead of marveling over how my ears are being assaulted by someone else’s too-loud music on the bus on the way to Apia, I stare at the ocean waves knowing that this will never happen again. In less than six months it will be November and I will be in Minnesota. Need I say more? Typing this now, sitting beneath my mosquito net, rain drips from my roof and waves crash literally twenty feet from my window. These are the moments. These ones, right now. These are the moments that I will look back on and miss. I have lived through Peace Corps purgatory and Peace Corps Hell and I dare say I have waged battle against Satan herself, but with mere months to go, I can’t let any of the beauty go unnoticed.
With the end bearing down, I can’t help think about after. After Samoa. Six different master’s programs at three different grad schools have my academic mind atwitter. Yet, the excitement that affords and the anticipation of a semi-return to my old life are not what I think about when I think about going home. When you join the Peace Corps you never fathom the goodbyes on the other end. You never expect the pain of saying goodbye here. Good riddance and peace out to some people, but how do you just leave other people who have so influenced your life??? 
Since I came back to Samoa after Christmas my life has been a whirlwind. My host father told me I was a disappointment and he was ashamed of me. Why, I’m sure you all ask? Because I didn’t have relationships with people in the church congregation. Did I mention my host father is the pastor? I was also traveling to other places too much, Savaii in particular. This comment finally made me reveal to him that I was dating a boy, Samoan nonetheless, in Savaii. And cliché enough, he ended up breaking my heart. The details of which I’m sure would have made for great reality television. I was also told in a moment of anger by the person I cared about most in this country (ahem, it might have been that ex-boyfriend) that I was the worst Peace Corps volunteer he had ever known. That moment was perhaps the most ashamed I have ever felt in my life. Being told that you have done nothing for your village, you have had an impact on no one and that what you have done doesn’t matter is not something any Peace Corps volunteer ever wants or imagines of hearing. In a rousing display of her old self, my principal also told me I could only teach for a half an hour a day. Don’t tell her, but I didn’t listen to that. My worthlessness as a volunteer seemingly made clear to me, my year seven girls were there to prove all my skeptics wrong. Not a week goes by where these girls don’t tell me how much they love me, or write me letters, or tell me that they’ll never forget me. It’s for them that I stayed. And it’s for them that I came.
This all being said, blatantly, it will suck when I go home in the fall and the people I care about are here and the thought that I might never see them again and that they’ll be moving on with their lives and will I ever have so much adventure again and was I just another fling-type thing for Tele and maybe something special for a while to Tui but who he hurt anyway? And how will I ever forget either of them? These thoughts tumble in my mind.
And how I don’t know how I’ll move on from Samoa.
How do you say goodbye to something that has had moments of paradise?
I haven’t done much, but I have played a part in some people’s lives. I don’t want to be forgotten either.
What will my life be like when Samoa really is just a memory? When I can’t feel imaginary waves crashing against my legs after a day in the ocean? When I can’t make a sentence in Samoan (not that I'm fluent now)? When my tan lines have completely disappeared? When I don’t find hidden grains of sand in my water bottle? When I can’t text the other volunteers about weekend plans at the beach or at Lusia’s? When I can’t call Samoan friends? When we’ll all be reduced to good old fashioned Facebook stalking?
How do you go back to a life once lived?