Ia Manuia le Iupeli Auro o le Malo o Samoa!

A hearty congratulations to Samoa–50 years ago, they became the first nation in the South Pacific to gain independence. And let me tell you, they are damn proud of it! (As they should be.) The ‘Golden Jubilee’ celebrations over the last few days have definitely put to shame any 4th of July that I’ve ever seen. It started with a ‘march past’ parade for government officials (translation: 6 hours of standing/sitting in the sun, enduring a 1+ hour prayer, watching schoolchildren pass out, and almost getting into a group rumble after SPBD decided to cut in line) that it seemed like almost the entire country participated in, included a UB40 concert that brought visitors in by the hundreds from American Samoa, ended in a dramatic fautasi race (long boat with like 60 men rowing) and generally swelled Apia’s population to a size that caused me, at times, to feel like I was in the middle of Times Square. A very small Times Square, to be sure, but still. Things I have learned over this 5-day national holiday/celebration:

  • ‘Island time’ holds fast even during official events. You will be expected to show up early to ‘get a good seat’, but they are not expected to start until at least an hour after the designated start time. This applied to waiting 1.5 hours for a fa’afafine pageant to start (Samoan drag show), showing up at 4am to meet my coworkers for the parade….while no one else got there until 5am, ‘lining up’ for a parade at 6 and not marching until 11:30, watching the 10pm fireworks at 11pm………..the list could go on.
  • FINALLY, how to properly wear a lavalava. Of course, the theory of it is easier than in practice….
  • Samoan pastors/government officials may be the most long-winded beings alive. Not even swooning schoolchildren can put them off their epic prayers/pronouncements.
  • The public arena is fair game for a ‘pants off dance off.’
  • How ‘ava (kava) tastes. Which, by the way, is EXACTLY how it looks. Like muddy water.
  • I love my country, but I have never experienced the pure pride and wholehearted joyfulness that I’ve seen in Samoans as they celebrate Samoa’s birth.

This will be a short entry because, of course, these are my last days in Samoa, so I will have a longer farewell post for you later this week. In the meantime, I will let pictures serve as the thousands of words that the Samoan independence celebration truly deserves. Continue on for pictures

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Samoa: Definitely More Than a Cookie

You can walk along the seawall for almost the entire span of the harbor...

Wow! My first weekend in Samoa has been a sunny one, with blue skies and equator-strength sun streaming full force. I haven’t decided if the lower temperature of rainy days is worth the humidity and grey sky…my inclination is always towards sun but considering how intensely the heat slices you down, we’ll see how I feel in a month. The weekend was also full of firsts, starting with my first day of work with SPBD on Friday.

1)  First day of work–To be honest, it was disappointingly slow. I’m sure, or at least I hope, many of my fellow KF17ers can commiserate with getting super excited for your first day and then not doing too much. I showed up at 8:30, shockingly sweaty (lesson learned that taking a taxi to work is advisable in humid climates) and ready for duty. I waited about an hour for the Kiva Coordinator (who is the liaison between Kiva and the MFI) to show up, talked with her for awhile, met everyone in the office, and then sat there for about 6 hours. I alternated between trying to figure out how to make the time productive and just accepting the down time as a consequence of first days, Fridays, and ‘adjustment time.’ I definitely expect next week to be a little more active and am looking forward to shadowing loan officers out in the field!

2) First taro–Or TALO, as they call it here in Samoa! Yes, this is the key to the name of my blog. Taro root is definitely a staple here, and actually used to be the main export until a blight wiped out crops and forced diversification a couple decades ago. I ate a solid lunch of taro with a side of chicken cooked with taro leaves, which was fairly tasty. The taro was cut in half lengthwise and probably baked in an outdoor oven (umu) using hot rocks. I’ve eaten plenty of taro in my life but nothing like this–it was dense, dry, and not even purple! I really had to muscle it to break it apart. Many meals are eaten with your hands, so taro is broken into pieces and used like an edible spoon. Pictures to come.

The things that aren't coconut halves are breadfruit!

3) First breadfruit–The other staple of Samoa is a fruit that grows EVERYWHERE. I doubt if there is a family in Samoa that doesn’t have a breadfruit tree accessible to them. Calling it fruit is a slight misnomer to my Western mind, as breadfruit is not the least sweet. When boiled, it has the consistency of a potato, kind of, and is generally eaten with coconut cream. When baked, it’s a bit lighter and not so mealy. It honestly doesn’t have a taste that I could describe, as it’s quite bland. It does have an interesting look to it, and I think pictures are definitely better than words in this case–I don’t have a great picture right now but will attempt to document it more next time.

What other firsts could there possibly be??

Scattered Rains and Scattered Thoughts

Talofa lava! ‘O a mai ‘oe?

I’ve been in Apia for just over 24 hours now and it has been both overwhelming and slow. I don’t start in the office until tomorrow morning, and the time is passing quite slowly as I have already coated myself in the sticky layer of sweat that will be my companion until I leave. On the other hand, I am definitely not in Kansas anymore and it’s all getting real! If this post is somewhat scattered as a result, I apologize–I’m basically word-vomiting my first impressions.

Home sweet (sweaty) home, for now.

Currently I am renting a room from the MacDonalds, a Samoan family (don’t let the name confuse you!) in Vaiala village on the outskirts of Apia. The walk into town is a bit long at 35-40 minutes–although I can do most of it along the seawall, which gives me a nice breeze–and while most Samoans seem to take taxis everywhere despite the relatively close proximity of everything, I do prefer walking… I may look into other living options after this month, but for now I am lucky enough to have cold showers, a fan and a mosquito net to keep the humid, mosquito-filled nights pleasant. I suspect that I will come, as well, to love the acrid smoke of mosquito coils, as I was being served for dinner to my winged nemeses before coils were lit. I have the misfortune of being particularly tasty and I’m sure this battle will take up a good amount of energy through my four months here.

Let me start at the beginning…