Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hush That Fuss, Everybody Move to the Back of the Bus

Four am and I'm on a bus. All is dark around and as I wait for the bus I think to myself that by taking the 4am I am sure to avoid the crowds of the later buses. No such luck. I hear the bus from a mile away; it is the only thing coming down the road at such an early hour. The bus driver sees me and stops and as I hop on I am greated by the faces of all the other wearly risers. The bus is loaded with people loaded with stuff: things to sell in the market, packages to mail at the post office, luggage to take on the ferry. The rows are squished together, 8 or 9 to each row, but someone gets up in the second row and gives me their seat. I squeeze between Tevaga and two large women and settle down for the ride.
As the bus creeps away from my village the lights in the bus go off and the music comes on. I am shocked because it is not Neifoloa. Could it really be? A bus with new music? The constant skips suggest that the music is not new at all but left over from a time before Neifoloa reigned as "King of the Pasi." I savor the change knowing it will never happen again.
The only thing I can see on the bus is the Bob MArley flag hanging over the drivers head, illuminated by a single light bulb and spreading the message of "freedom." We cruise down the road and I close my eyes and smile, so grateful to be here at this moment in time.

Cicrumcise Me?

I was asked to accompany a 17 year old boy to get circumcised. The way it was phrased was that I, as a teacher, am technically a parent to every young adult here in the village, and so since his parents are “stupid,” would you please accompany him to the hospital? I politely declined, stating that although I am honored to be considered every childs’ parent, alas, I am not their mother and I cannot do it. Having failed at the parent approach it was then presented that, as a Peace Corps, I am here to represent the village, and what better way to show I care than accompany this boy? Again I declined. I hope this will not ruin my career here. Somehow I doubt it will be remembered a week from now. And thats the story of the circumcision.

Ode to Joy (aka a pocketknife)

It’s said you never realize how much you love something till it’s gone. Wednesday evening at 6:45pm as I put on the water to boil for the mashed potatoes I have been dreaming about all day it hits me, I lost my pocket knife while in Apia, I am totally knife-less, and I never realized how much I loved that knife! My dad gave me the handy contraption when I was in 7th grade, going on my first major hiking trip with Outward Bound. At the time I thought it was cool because it had tweezers and a toothpick. Over the years both items were lost but somehow the knife remained tucked away in odd drawers throughout every room I lived in. I never thought to bring it anywhere and it lay dormant for years. In my final packing for the Peace Corps I threw in the Swiss Army knife almost as a joke, thinking, yeah, I might use it on a hike at some point. Little did I know that that tiny knife would be my life savor many a night out in the bush country of Western Samoa.
And so we come to my potatoes. After a moment of panic where I realized the knife was gone, an uplifting thought struck my mind: I had tuna for lunch! What, you ask? How does tuna for lunch relate to anything? Well, as any good Peace Corps in a taro eating nation learns, the best way to peel a taro plant is with any old can (don’t worry about TB, we had plenty of shots for things like that!) And the thought struck me; if I can peel taro with an old tuna can, surely it will be the same for a potato! I dug out the most jagged-edged can I could find from the trash and washed it. Unfortunately some person thinking with a western mentality thought cans would be better with a safety guard, so I had to pry off the smooth sealed edge that had formed as a result of my can opener (another problem that would have been solved if I just had a Swiss army knife – no need for can openers, just open the can with a knife and there you go, you have a jagged-edge!) But I was already in a mess because of that knife, so no use thinking about all the things I could do if I had it. I took out my scissors and created as much of a safety hazard as possible. That being done, the potatoes were ready to peel. I write this blog as they boil away, and any minute I can finish my mashed potatoes, sit down with a coca cola (flavored with raspberry syrup, my new favorite additive to any soda), kick back and watch an episode of The Office until sleep carries me away. I miss my knife. But I love mashed potatoes!

The River's Gonna Run

“And when the thunder clouds start beating like a drum, the wind is gonna blow and the rain is gonna come, and the river’s gonna run…” FINALLY! After a month of waiting in anticipation, the dried up river which runs behind my house and which Samoans claim to be the largest river in all of Samoa (when it runs) has started flowing! And boy does it flow. I returned to my village after the mess that was Apia, struggled through the choppy ferry ride where more than once I arose from my sleeping position to ponder the benefits of grabbing a life jacket “just in case,” and crossed the then dried up river Sunday afternoon wondering how it was still dry after all these days of rain! A side note: I may be exaggerating, but on more than one occasion I definitely thought the ferry was going to tip. I love being on my island, so the boat ride is just one small price to pay, and having recently discovered Dramamine, at least my stomach, if not my mind, can handle the rough seas. So coming back to the story of the river. I arrived home and was immediately sick. I’m not sure if it was the H1N1 vaccine I received while in Apia, a bad meal, the ferry getting back at me for avoiding sickness while aboard, or just the stress of the past few days, but I was unable to move from sickness. I went to sleep with no dinner and slept through the night; the most peaceful sleep I have had in ages.
Waking to a roar around 3am I figured a cyclone had finally arrived, but I should have known better. Knowing the roar was simply due to weather and not an intruder I passed out again in my delirious sick daze and when I awoke again it was to the beautiful sound of a raging river not more than 50 yards from my back door. I made myself a cup of coffee (a new challenge being that I broke my French press in a desperate act while cutting onions the other week, so a can of baked beans which miraculously is just the right size to fit the press part of the contraption has been serving the purpose.) Coffee ready, I opened the back door, found a pillow I never use and sat down on my doorstep to watch the water race by.
An interesting fact about my village is that because the river only runs a few days out of the year, when the road was being built through the village, it was decided that there was no need for a bridge. Instead, a concrete slab covers the river bottom at the place where the river intersects with the road. Of course this causes chaos for two or three days out of the year but is no problem the rest of the year so no one really cares to change the system by putting in a real bridge. Naturally, this lack of bridge was causing a scene as no cars could pass. The island only has one road circling it and 6 of the buses for this side of the island reside in my village. That means that no one from the Northern part of the island (the tourist area) can get to Salelologa or back to the main island for that matter, when the river is running. A few brave and heavily packed buses did make the decision to cross the river in the early morning, but by noon the current was too strong and villagers sat near the crossing advising motorists to not attempt to pass. One truck however, thought it would make it and against the villagers best advise, the Vailima truck (the only beer company in Samoa) decided to brave the current. Almost immediately the truck was pushed so that it’s front tires left the small concrete area. The rest of the heavy truck, loaded with beer and passengers sitting atop of those beer crates, found itself stranded in the middle of the bridge. For an hour or so people tried to pull it out using chains. Eventually the truck was saved when a big cement mixer arrived to save the day. With the help of about 30 men and the strength of the truck the beer delivery truck was pulled to safety. The driver presumably kept his job, and the villagers who had helped were loaded up with as much free beer as they could carry away. For about 5 minutes there was a mad dash of men and young boys and then calmness as everyone returned to the routine of just watching the river. I was guaranteed that the river would stop flowing by the end of the day, which I found hard to believe. This fact proved untrue and the river, a day and a half later, is still flowing strong. Buses are still on a limited schedule and people continue to sit and stare at the water. I love it.