Computer school/homework center closes at 6pm every day. While this fact is true, it is also a total lie. Around 4:30 or 5 I typically tap out and leave the kids to play their computer games on their own. I eagerly count the minutes of my last hour and then right at 6pm I close up shop. Nights that I cook for myself I will start preparing my meal around 5:30 while the kids are still here, but nights that I eat with my neighbors I have a solid half hour to reflect on the day before jumping back into the social grind. That being said, I look forward to my meals with my neighbors. You never know exactly what you will get, but the menu doesn’t change much and it is always good.
On a typical night I stroll over around 6:30pm. The conch shell has not blown yet so kids are still playing in the streets, women are sitting in front of their houses weeding, and the older kids are running errands for their parents, picking up chicken or pisupo from the store before Sa, or curfew, hits at 7.
I cross the street, high step it over the fence built to keep pigs out of the driveway, kick off my shoes, and walk in the front door as I announce my presence with a loud, “Malo Mina! O a mai oe?” She responds, “I’m fine Sara, did you go to school today?” Of course I did, I tell her so. If Vaifale is around I ask him the same question. “Still living” is his favorite response. Vaifale is in America these days so it’s just Mina and myself for dinner. She ushers me outside, “Are you hungry? It is too hot!” I agree and tell her yes, the food smells fantastic. We sit in the outdoor kitchen. Their house is a series of four buildings. The big open fale in front serves as a store-room and place to hang laundry when it rains. To the backside of this first building is a second, western style fale with three rooms: a main living room and two bedrooms off to the sides. Leaving the house from the back you pass the bathroom and shower area and then come to the kitchen; a room with no walls, dividing into two parts: a front part with a big wooden table and a sink, and the back part with a cooking pit and all the charred pots used to make food. There is also a pile of coconut husks to be used for fuel, and chickens wander in and out of the kitchen, happy to not be dinner on this night. All around the kitchen is the family garden, planted in no particular order aside from where the seeds fell. I sit at the wooden table and look around. A Banana tree hovers over a giant taro plant, which grows next to a few pineapples and near a new breadfruit tree. Papaya trees and coconut trees are so abundant that I hardly notice them anymore. Scattered about are cabbages and green beans, laupele and ginger. Mina uses ginger in everything she makes and I love it! I once asked Vaifale how his garden grows so well and he said, “Simple! The soil is so good here, you just stick something in the ground and it grows!” Somehow I think his fence to keep pigs out has more to do with it than anything else because plenty try to grow gardens here and fail because of the pig infestation.
Returning to the food: I take my seat and am asked to say the prayer. I do a mix of Samoan and English: “Fa’afetai Iesu mo mea ai, faafetai mo aiga ma uo. Bring health and happiness to all, and bless our loved ones, wherever they may be. Amene.” A plate of boiled bananas in pe’ape’a sauce (white coconut cream) is placed in front of me. Some nights it also contains breadfruit and taro. I am served fried chicken, or chicken soup, or sometimes pig. I eat alone as Mina watches, or with Vaifale when he is around. Sometimes when Vaifale isn’t around she will join me in my meal. We eat through prayer time and once the conch shell blows signaling the end of prayer I thank Mina for the delicious food and return to my fale to watch movies, read, and sleep.