Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Funeral (part one): Getting There

The Women line up to present the flowers

Funeral Flowers

Sunday I heard the news: the ministers’ mother in law had passed away. There would be a fa’alavelave (funeral) the coming Thursday in Apia. The church ladies would be going to comfort his wife and the high-ranking officials from the church community would be going as well. While I am neither a church lady nor a high-ranking official, I wanted to go. My faifeau’s family has been like a second family to me during my time here in the village, and to not pay my respects seemed wrong. So I asked my neighbor if she thought I would be able to tag along with the church. “Sure Sera, no problem!”

Tuesday during dinner I asked about what I should bring. Having never been to a funeral here I was unsure of the proper ways to show ones respect. Mina suggested flowers and said she had ordered some in Apia. I asked if this was something I could do too, to which she replied, “Oh, no, it is too late. You must go to town tomorrow after school to buy the flowers.”

So Wednesday I boarded the bus and headed into town with $50 in my pocket to spend on a funeral wreath. I found a beautiful display at Frankie’s, the first place I looked, and since it was within my budget I bought it and headed off to the office to relax before catching the next bus out. For some reason the 2 boat did not come so I had to wait for the buses till 5:30pm. When I finally got home I went over to Mina’s, reassured her that my flowers were safely bought and stored in the Peace Corps office in town, and inquired about the details. She said we would be taking the 6am ferry and the bus would be coming at 2am. TWO AM! I was shocked. The wharf is only an hour away from my village! But the flowers were already bought, my excuse was handed in at school; there was no backing out of this commitment. I made french toast for dinner and went to sleep by 9pm in anticipation of the 1:30am wake up I was not looking forward to.

Somehow I woke up, pounded a cup of coffee, heated my left over French toast and wrapped it in foil to be eaten on the ferry, and packed my bag. I dressed in the uniform of the day: white puletasi top with a black bottom. Mina had joked that I should dye my hair black to look more Samoan. I didn’t get that far. At 2am, Mina and Pele arrived. They asked if I had had coffee. I said yes, and they said, “oh, good! Can we have some?!” So I made two instant coffees and delivered them to the front of my house. Then Tevaga showed up and I made him a cup as well. By now it was 2:15am and I was entertaining a full house, by my standards. By three, the bus was still not here. I did the dishes and we decided to go wait on the road.

We waited and waited under the stars. It was peaceful and chilly out and I welcomed the light sweater I had brought along with me (Thank you to Clem and Fran!). At 3:30 we finally heard the sound of the bus rolling into town. The church had rented out a charter bus to take us all to and from the event, and it was winding its way through the village, stopping every 10 feet to pick up more people. By the time we loaded it was about half full. The bus stopped in front of the church, where dozens of fine mats were loaded onto the back on the bus. Then we continued through the village. Before the bus turned around, I was nominated to sit on some ones lap. They all joked that I was the lightest one and so naturally, I had to do the lap seat. I hate sitting on people, especially for such a long ride.

A painful hour and a half later we reached the wharf. It was funny doing the trip with these women who rarely leave the village; they were all so pushy about things! They insisted that I should not stand in line to wait for my ticket. Instead, we had one of the churchmen collect all of our money and deal with the ticket counter. It was a nice change, not having to fight the crowds. Once we had our tickets, I took out my French toast to have a bite to eat before the ride. Everyone marveled at the yellow bread I was eating and I offered everyone a bite. They all insisted they were not hungry and so I got to eat my whole breakfast, but they were very curious and kept asking how I made it. I think they are surprised that I know how to cook anything for myself. I promised to make all of the women French toast at some point in the near future.

When I was done, about 5am by this point, the four women I was hanging with decided we should get in line. Being that it was the big boat and no one had lined up yet, their urgency was a bit much, but we squeezed into the narrow entrance way and took a seat. When the doors opened, we were the first ones to board the boat, and so we had free pick of our seats. I chose to sit off to the side in order to have a place to rest my head. I took out my lavalava, scrunched it up into a pillow, and went to sleep for the most refreshing two hour nap of my life. 5:30am and I had already been up for 4 hours, speaking Samoan and being the butt of everyone’s’ jokes. It was time to rest.

Stay tuned for part two….

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cash Power

In Samoa, prepaid electricity can be bought just like a calling card. You go to a store, ask for the amount you want to spend, and like that, you are given a card with an area to scratch off to reveal your code to top up. Or at least that’s what I thought. My cash power was running low so I decided to top up for the first time over the weekend. I found a store that sold the little cards, went home, scratched to find my number, and then realized that things were actually much more complicated than I thought. The cash power box has a number pad on it, so naturally, I thought you would punch in the 10 digit code from the card. I was wrong. After finding your code, you then call the electric company. You enter in your cash power boxes’ code and then enter your prepaid card number. Following this process, you then receive a SIXTY DIGIT code to type in. I thought I had misheard the first time, and asked for clarification: “You mean 16?” I asked the woman on the other end of the phone. “No, 60. You ready?” I scrambled around to find a pen and wrote down the absurdly long code. After hanging up, I made my way to the power box and began entering in the numbers, twenty at a time. I was worried I would make a mistake and have to start all over again, so each digit was pressed with care. At last, the 60th number was entered, and just like that, my power supply went from 2.3 to 29.7! Relieved, I went back into my room and turned the computer, fan, and lights on. In a country so small, I have no idea why a sixty-digit code is necessary for ANYTHING. Fa’a Samoa.

Riding the Bars

Every afternoon walking home I marvel at the parents who pick up their kids from school by bike. There are three fathers who wait at the store across from school and when the younger children get out, they each load up three children to their bikes (so 9 in total) and proceed to ride home. In my mind I call them The Bike Brigade and I look forward to seeing them every day, although I also worry that their cheerful waves might cause serious injury to themselves and their small passengers!
I have always wondered just how they can balance so many children safely and this weekend, I had the opportunity to learn first hand! I had greedily taken a late afternoon swim at Lucia’s before heading back to the wharf to catch the last bus home. I knew I was cutting it close time wise, but I thought it would be a shame to miss an opportunity for some tranquil ocean swimming, after all, the opportunity only comes but once a week for people like me who live inland!

I quickly changed, paid my bill and hit the road to walk the mile back to the wharf. Another Peace Corps, AJ rode by on his way home and I strolled along enjoying the peaceful road. And then I rounded a corner and saw a dreadful sight: the ferry docking! When the ferry docks, you have maybe 5 minutes tops before the buses leave. And I still needed to stop in the office! I cursed my luck and started to make a run for in, big red tote bag in one hand, the other holding up my lavalava and sandals. Desperate to make the bus I continued the awkward shuffle for about 2 minutes before AJ came into view: “If you are going to make the bus, you need to get on my handle bars, now!” Neither of us had ever attempted this feat, but I knew it was my only shot. I climbed onto his bike as you would climb a tree. We tried to balance but we couldn’t get it, so I changed my position to sit facing forward on the handles with nothing to hold onto. I think we glided for an inch or two before we decided it was hopeless. AJ offered me his bike but I refused, thinking that even with the bike, I would miss my chance at the bus. It looked like I would be spending the night in town after all. He pedaled off and I accepted the fact that I would be missing the bus.

Then, my luck turned around. A Samoan family was driving down the road in the opposite direction. I flagged them down, and begged them for a ride to the wharf, explaining I was a Peace Corps and could not miss this last bus. The wife jumped out and sat in the back of the car as the husband flipped a quick K-Turn, and to the tune of my repeated thanks, sped off to catch my bus. I ran into the Peace Corps office, grabbed my shopping from the weekend, realized I had no money, and darted towards the buses. I figured the driver would let me ride for free this one time, but then I saw Lili on her bus and quickly spat out, “I have no money! Can you pay my bus fare?” Without hesitation she handed me a ten, and smiled. Lili is my life savor; I seriously do not know what I would do without her! Then again, I would have done the same for her if she had been in my situation. I jumped on the already crowded bus, took a seat towards the back, and breathed. I had made it. Goal for the next year: learn how to ride handlebars.

Don't Crash into Me!

Friday afternoon as I sat on the bus waiting to go to Supy’s I heard a crash. The buses waiting for the ferry pack themselves into a tiny parking lot and then as they fill up, they back out instead of driving forward to exit. I don’t know who thought this was a good idea, but the result is about 15 buses fighting to leave through one small gate as fast as possible. So I am actually surprised that I have not witnessed more accidents. However, Friday’s crash proved my first glimpse into insurance coverage Savaii style. We heard a crash and immediately the startled people waiting on the buses turned towards the back of the lot. At first we could not see anything, and then as the driver backed up further, it came into view: one of the wooden buses with a drop down wooden flank in the back had loaded a bike onto the wood jutting out behind the bus. Unaccustomed to this extra load, he had backed up and accidentally crashed the bike tire right through the window of a waiting taxi! The taxi driver looked pissed. He got out of the cab and walked over to the bus drivers’ plastic drop down window. He pounded on the window and the ashamed driver dropped it down. No sooner had the plastic hit the bus frame than, WHAM! The taxi driver popped him with a right hand blow to the face. Everyone just watched, amused at the afternoons entertainment. And I learned a lesson: do not damage someone’s’ car unless you are ready to take a beating.