I was invited to my first BINGO game yesterday. Apparently every other week the Church Ladies hold a friendly BINGO game. Buy in is $10. I assumed that this money goes towards prizes, which I was told included laundry soap and other domestic items that women here might want. I figured $10 was worth the publicity I would gain by going, not to mention the fact that I was running low on laundry detergent. So at 9am I met my neighbor. As I mentioned in the last post I am living on my own, but the family across the street has kind of adopted me. I have dinner there every night and they tend to look after me. I don't want to call them my host parents, but maybe I will refer to them as Aunt Mina and Uncle Vaifale. So coming back to BINGO, I met Mina at 9am. She was adamant that we not be late to BINGO, insisting that if you show up late, the price increases from $10 to $20. As we walked I got more of a sense of what the game was really about. It turns out it is more of a mandatory fundraiser for the Ladies Committee. If a woman decides she does not want to play BINGO one week, she must pay $20 for not attending! And then the real kicker: this wasn't just old ladies BINGO, it was gambling! The women, who rarely, if ever, smoke cigarettes, we're sitting around smoking, gossiping, and gambling! I learned that yes laundry detergent was on the line, but so was real money! I bought in at $10 and took my seat on a mat towards the front of the open fale. The rest of the women completed the circle around the fale with the prizes delicately placed in the middle for all to see. I was handed 10 sheets of colored news prints; each sheet contained 9 BINGO games. I thought to myself, oh my god, we are going to be playing BINGO all morning! And then the twist: turns out BINGO is played 9 games at a time! This was very different than the innocent BINGO I had played as a child. I was given an official BINGO Dotter that resembled a glue stick with red paint instead of glue at the end, marked my 9 free spaces, and the games began. I had told myself that yes, this game was going to be in Samoan but at least numbers were one area I was pretty good in. I was not prepared for the speed of the game, speed of the language, and use of the "k" dialect. The first round seemed to wiz by me! I got the sense that all the women were laughing at me, but I didn't care, the more they laugh, the more they like you (or so I've been told!) So I just went with it, and by the end of the next round, Mina was whispering the numbers in English to me. It got kind of annoying because even though it was challenging, I really was enjoying the challenge of listening and applying my little bits of Samoan language. However, like a true Samoan, she does not like to see failure, so she insisted on whispering the numbers every time. I got in the habit of trying to beat her to it, saying the number as a reconfirmation before marking my paper. She liked that, and even helped me mark my dots at times! In the end, I made out like a true beginner with no luck. Mina walked away with something like $40, not a bad profit for a Saturday morning, and I walked away with a huge smile on my face of the ridiculous morning I had just had. I can't wait till the next game!
I'm all moved in and while I wouldn't say I totally feel at home yet, I at least have my own niche in Samalae'ulu. Leaving Manunu was extremely hard. In six weeks, my family there became less of a family I was living with and more of my own family here in Samoa. My brothers were so helpful in encouraging me to learn the language, my tama was without a doubt the best cook in Samoa, and my tina was filled with so much love. The night before I left there was a big going away Fiafia where we performed for our families, doing a traditional song, dance, and sa'sa, or chant. There was dancing, lots of laughs, and everyone just enjoying everyones company one last time. My brother Samu in his poetic manner said it best: "Sister, there are no tears coming from my eyes but know that my heart is crying." I felt the same way, except I was balling because I am ridiculously emotional. Their family taught me so much and gave me so much love. I am forever grateful for their love, hospitality, and patience. I will miss them but know that I will have plenty of opportunities to visit them over the next few years. I arrived yesterday (actually Wednesday but I wrote this Thursday night) and upon arrival was immediately taken to the primary school's end of the year prize giving. Prize giving is unlike anything school related in America and it is exactly what it sounds like: a day when prizes are given to the top students of each grade. However, the prizes range from candy necklaces (given to everyone, including myself!) to pots and pans, and for the top students, bibles and trophies. Talk about incentive to do well in school! Prize giving is an event that takes months to plan. --- This just in: A Samoan version of the song "Footloose" is being performed at the Evangelical Church Show across the street from me. I will comment on this outstanding aspect of Samalae'ulu life in a minute....for now, back to prize giving! --- So, students start preparing songs and dances for the prize giving assembly about two months before school ends. Then on the last day of school, students, teachers, and the parents gather for the big event. Each grade performs and the top students are awarded. I walked in just at the end of the ceremony and was asked to give a little speech. I did my best to introduce myself and congratulate the students in Samoan and then sat down, relieved that the speech was over. My relief was short lived as I was immediately called up to perform a solo Siva Samoa! Now a Siva Samoa is kind of traditional - I can't remember the real term - but it is a dance where one or two people dance in the middle of the room and everyone else present runs up and puts money in a basket or hat at the dancers feet. If it's real traditional, the dancer will be covered in coconut oil and people will actually stick money right on the dancer! Luckily for me, there was no oil involved, and I had learned some Samoan dance moves for our final farewell to Manunu village. So I pleased the crowd, embarrassed myself, and thats all that is required to make a nice entrance to your new village. Let me describe my house. I am living in a two room house next to the Fale Komite (the house where the women's committee meets, weaves, etc). The front room of the house serves as the office to the pulenu'u (village mayor) and then my room has an entrance through his office. There are 3 locks on my bedroom door so even with this shared arrangement I feel pretty safe. My room is kind of like a glorified dorm room. When you walk in, the wall to the right serves as a small kitchen with a table, sink and shelves for pots and pans. To the left is a table that holds all of my books and will serve as a desk. In the far left corner is my bed, covered in a mosquito net, and to the right of the bed is my dresser. Pass the dresser and you come to the bathroom, divided from my room by a door frame with a shower curtain hanging in it. So it's a room. A cozy, pretty little thing of a room. But enough about the living space, I need to comment on the spectacular event that is going on just down the road tonight. For three nights only, Samalae'ulu is being ROCKED by an Evangelical traveling show. And when I say show I am not kidding. Last night was opening night and there was such a mixture of musical acts it would be impossible to summarize it all. I saw one youth group perform that looked like America's Next Best Dance Crew. To be honest, they were probably better than all those MTV crews because not only did they dance like them, but they sang praises in 6 part harmony while doing it! I am sorry I did not think to video it. You can bet if they do go on again tonight I will be running out there to take a video! Then there were traditional gospel style choir's and lots of really animated preachers. Of course I had no idea what they were saying but I did feel kind of like I was in that scene from Borat where people are speaking in tongues. Everyone was really digging what the preachers had to say apparently, and all this in a village with 4 different religious denominations already! Tonight is more of the same and tomorrow night will be the grand finale. I will make another appearance tomorrow, but too much religion is bad for the soul so I'm not going out there tonight. Adjusting to life here was hard last night. Even with the amazing show, I was utterly exhausted and wanted to get to bed relatively early. However, the village did not think it would be safe for me to stay alone and so they insisted that one of the girls from the village sleep in my room. After a long day of traveling and just dealing with the unexpected that is the last thing I wanted. I felt guilty for having this stranger sleeping on my floor and all I wanted was to have some alone time. I went about my normal business and went to bed but it was strange. Then in the morning, she wouldn't leave! I eventually told her that I needed to make a private phone call and so she went home, only to return two hours later asking if I would go to the 10am Mass at the Catholic Church. Now heres the problem, I want to be respectful and I want to integrate into the community but I need to stay true to myself too. So I have decided that yes I will go to church, but only on Sundays, and as far as that goes, I will rotate churches so as to meet as much of the community as possible. That means, no church during the week! So I stayed true to my beliefs and instead took a nice nap. Tonight they wanted her to stay here again but I was firm and convinced them that I will be safe. I appreciate the concern, but there are 7 locks between me and the outside world; I think I will be okay, and I really need my time to reflect if I am going to make this work! Today I went and visited my neighbors across the street and it was the best move I could have made. They opened their doors to me with open arms and offered me the sweetest pineapple I have ever tasted, refills of coffee, and a chance to watch Rambo. If you can believe it, I have never actually seen that movie and it's a favorite here, so I guess I will have to learn to love the blood and violence. It's kind of ridiculous though! After the movie, we took a trip to collect coconuts and went to the black sand beach that as it turns out is only about 3 miles from my house. I was so concerned about being so far away, turns out I really did not need to worry! The waves were majestic, crashing into the polished lava rocks and shooting spray up way over our heads. It was more beautiful than anything I have ever imagined. Next time I go I will have a camera in hand! Returning home, the family was concerned that I did not have a stove, so they invited me over for a dinner of fried chicken, taro and ulu (breadfruit). Tomorrow morning I will stop by their house for morning tea before heading out to Salaeologa to do some shopping and pick up my bike that I left n the Peace Corps Office. It is going to suck taking it on the already crowded buses, but I don't have any other option, so thats what will happen. My favorite Samoan Tevaga is coming with to help me navigate the situation so I'm sure it will work out. I'm finding it hard to believe that the Holiday season has arrived. I heard more Christmas music in October than I have recently, and I see no christmas lights or commercials (because I have no tv!) I almost feel stuck in time, like I have gone backwards to a place in time where internet is dial up, people grow their own food and kill their own meat to eat, if you need a pillow or chair, you make it, clothing is made from your own designs, and less is definitely, definitely more! Chivalry and respect for ones elders still exist, and the fear of God is very real. Incase I do not get the opportunity to write again before the holidays hit, Happy Channuka, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! I miss you all, send some love this way, you all have my address! Lots of love, Rachel