Thursday, April 1, 2010

Passover 2010: an epic novel


The exodus from my village began Sunday morning after an over the top to’ona’i and Ava ceremony celebrating Palm Sunday. At a to’ona’i meal, people are served their own woven tray with food piled atop a banana leaf. On a typical Sunday there will be a plate of pig, plate of raw corned beef, a piece of taro and a piece of breadfruit. However, to celebrate Palm Sunday, our plates were loaded high and dishes were placed all around us because the food could not fit on the woven tray! I was presented with three full fish, a bowl of chicken soup, oka (raw fish marinated in coconut cream with tomatoes and cucumbers), pisupo (raw corned beef), tamu (giant taro), breadfruit, and of course the staple, pig. I feasted for a good half hour but was unable to make even a dent in the large proportion they had provided me. Saying my thanks I excused myself from the circle, as I had Passover plans in mind and needed to catch the bus to town between 11 and 12. I was sent home with a basket of food: 2 cans of corned beef, 2 tropical blue fish, and the leg of a pig, all piled into a woven basket. I shoved the pig into my fridge, put the corned beef aside to give as gifts when visiting peoples’ homes in the future, and sent the fish across the street to Mina, who always makes dinner for me. I figured there was no way I could fit all this food into my fridge and I certainly wasn’t planning to bring it to Passover with me!


Racing outside to the sound of the bus passing was the first of many trials along the way. I ran to the store and asked Manuia, the clerk, if he knew of any more buses passing by. He said, “oh yes, soon.” I should have known he was giving me the “Samoan Yes,” which doesn’t mean yes at all but is meant to please an inquiring soul. From 11:30 till 12 I waited at the store, hoping a bus would come. Around 12:30 I determined I would hitch a ride since clearly no more buses were coming. From 12:30 till 2:30 I waited for any passing car to take me. Five cars passed in that entire stretch of time, 3 of which were from my village and were not going to town. The other 2 were just rude and passed right by without stopping. So around 2:30 I gave in and called a cab. I didn’t want to pay the 40 tala it would cost but I knew I had to get out of the village, and my friends were coming in on the ferry. I had no choice; I had to get to town. By 3:00 I was on my way to Lucia’s Resort in a brand new taxi, and by 3:45 I was sitting by the water sipping a beer with other Peace Corps. My 3-hour wait could have been forty years. Symbolically, perhaps, it was.


First, a shout out to those who experienced Passover 2010: Fa’asamoa style. To my Peace Corps sister Lili, thank you so much for hosting this spectacular event. Next year, may we do it again in the land of Lili! And to my other Peace Corps sister Elisa, your energy, especially in the Passover rap, will never be forgotten, I am so glad you made it! To our new friends Haile and Ethan, USP students from the states reminding us of our college years, you guys were so much fun and are definitely “uo” status. Where would our matzo or kugel have been without you guys? Lastly, to random Nate, our Christian rep, your Jewish accent and delicious applesauce are always welcome! On to the story:

The plan was to gather at Lili’s house and create our Passover feast before sunset. The menu was set and all we had to do was pick up some last minute supplies before hoping a bus to Lili’s village: Cinnamon, wine, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Simple enough you would think, yet things are never simple when you live on a small island. It was Monday so at least the stores were open. We found the potatoes, onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes at the market, then around 2pm Haile, Nate, and myself left the Peace Corps office at the bottom of the road and proceeded to walk a mile to Frankies Supermarket at the top of the road. We knew they sold box-o wine and had a feeling they would have cinnamon for us. We were so mistaken. We arrived at Frankies totally dehydrated from the mid afternoon sun, and questioning why we ever thought it would be a good idea to walk. My apologies there to Nate and Haile: I keep telling myself it’s a good idea to walk instead of taking cabs but I think I have finally learnt my lesson.

We beeline it to the wine cabinet and are pleased to find one box of wine left. What’s better is it is expired so chances are high that we will get it for cheaper than the listed price! We scout the store for cinnamon but are out of luck, the only spices to be found are salt and pepper. We decide the kugel and applesauce will have to do without and each grabbing a juice box to quench our thirst as we proceed to the check out line. Pleased with out find we announce our expired wine to the cashier and request a discount. The plan fails. They will not sell us expired wine. Totally at a loss for words we buy our juice boxes and leave the store without wine or cinnamon. We hop in a taxi and take it back to the store right next to the Peace Corps office that sells wines for cheap. We buy two reds and two whites (practically the entire stock) and then head to Le Waterfront for the most delicious hamburgers you can find in Savai’i. We enjoy our meals before heading back to the office to gather our supplies and wait for a bus. For the second time in two days the buses do not come. We wait all afternoon until finally we decide it would be best to take a cab. With five of us, it would only be 12 tala a person. So away we go in our taxi van, exhausted, hungry, and wondering what obstacles are still to come. The van had no windshield wipers, which was a bit scary when we hit a patch of rain, but other than that we reach Lili’s village with no trouble and the great cook off began.


There are no “international food isles” in supermarkets here in Samoa so we knew we were up for a challenge when we decided to make a traditional feast for Passover. Food to be prepared included matzo, matzo kugel, charoses, potato pancakes, applesauce for the pancakes, oka, hard-boiled eggs, bitter herbs, and a lamb shank. I found a horseradish condiment spread at a store in Apia so we were covered there. For bitter herbs, cabbage made due, and the matzo was surprisingly easy to make. We made as much as possible, taking advantage of the fact that Lili had an oven to cook it in. I can’t make matzo at my house. For the kugel we used our homemade matzo and added eggs and apples. Mixing coarsely chopped apples, pineapples, walnuts, honey, and a drop of red wine, we made the charoses.

The cooking began almost immediately upon arrival at Lili’s house. We all fell naturally into place around the dining room table peeling apples, chopping nuts, rolling out the matzo dough and grating potatoes and onions – by far the worst task of the evening. With snacks of pineapple, we plowed through the cooking tasks like pro chefs, proving that you can cook anything if you put your mind to it! We were only interrupted by one semi serious disaster when Ethan decided he should pop the blood blister that had been growing all day on his foot. Haile acted as doctor while Elisa filmed the event and I stayed out of the way, not eager to see this particular event. Let wine represent blood for me on Passover! Round after round of matzo went into the oven, with Lili’s Samoan brother monitoring the progress for us. The applesauce was the first thing ready and was delicious. Towards dinnertime we turned on the small frying pan and the larger George Forman type grill and began making our potato pancakes. We grilled up a piece of lamb bought from the store down the road from Lili’s house and pretty soon it was time to set the table.

Haile and I created the Seder plate and wrapped three pieces of matzo in tinfoil. A large round metal tray served as the Seder plate and we loaded it up with pretty glass bowls filled with cabbage, horseradish, charoses, an egg, and in the center a tall wine glass for Elijah. We then made individual plates for each member of our group, poured the wine, and started bringing the food to the table. Lili took out the Haggadah left to her from Max, a former PCV, and with Lili representing the “father role” we sat down to retell the story.


In true Passover style we passed the Haggadah around the table, taking turns reading the story. The Haggadah proved to be a bit ridiculous at parts and so we decided that judgment as to what to read and what to leave out should be determined by the reader of the moment. In this particular Haggadah, the aspect of “leaning to the left” while drinking wine was stressed, which was new to all of us, and by the fourth glass of wine we could hardly hold ourselves together from the laughter that each “lean” created.

I am proud to say that we preformed a solid retelling of the story, mixing the serious side of the story with the light hearted nature of Samoan life. From dipped herbs and eggs to a hidden afikomen (which I found!), every last bit was a success. We sang a broken version of Dienu and amazed ourselves that after so many years of singing the same song, we all still only know the chorus! We even had our fair share of plagues! Ethan’s blood blister clearly marked both blood and boils. Lili’s family has a running concern for Lili getting lice, so there is the lice aspect. The giant cockroaches found here can symbolize the locusts, fleas are found on almost all cats and dogs, unpredictable blackouts represent the darkness, serious rain the hail, and the lack of buses became symbolic of the long trip out of Egypt.

Halfway through the Seder we paused for the meal. I give so much credit to all who helped cook because it was so delicious! The prize for finding the afikomen was two pieces of candy from a care package Lili received from her friend. I carefully chose sour patch kids and a rice crispy treat. Lili, I love your friends!

We finished up the Seder with lots of laughs and ended up performing an impromptu rap of the song “It Happened At Midnight” with Haile as the lead and Elisa as percussion. It was ridiculously funny. I haven’t laughed as hard as I did that night in years and I know I will never forget this Passover. We realized that we were probably performing the last Seder of the first night being that chances were slim that anyone else in Samoa was hosting a Passover Seder and that was a cool realization. In short, it was unlike anything that has ever come before and I doubt anything like it will ever happen again, although a great standard has been set and next year, may we do it again in the land of Lili!

1 comment:

  1. Hello my fellow Peace Corp Volunteer. I hope this message finds you well. My name is Farfum Ladroma and I am an education volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. I am writing to you all today because I need your help! My students and I at GPS MATAMAKA (an outer-island Government Primary School in Vava’u) are pursuing a “POSTCARD PROJECT.” I am asking for other PCVs outside of Tonga to please send us a postcard from your host country. We are trying to collect as many postcards from around the world, especially in countries where Peace Corps is currently operating. This project will help enhance my student’s understanding of other cultures and share what Peace Corps volunteers do all across the globe. I will keep a running list of all the postcards received with their origin on my blog at: You may check if your postcard successfully makes it to Tonga. This will be a great cultural exchange for everyone involved and a lot of fun. Please help out if you can and tell everyone you know (even your friends and families back home)! I would greatly appreciate your participation. Thank you very much and malo ‘aupito mei Tonga.
    Please send postcards to:
    c/o Peace Corps
    P.O. Box 136
    Neiafu, VAVA’U

    -Farfum (aka Feleti)