Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dancing With Mormons

Tuesday I was told that there would be a dance at the Mormon Church on Friday to celebrate White Sunday. Being that I have a newfound obsession with dancing, there was no question as to where I would be spending my Friday night. Plus I had come up for the name for this blog sometime Wednesday afternoon, so for the sake of the blog, I had to go dance with the Mormons. And “Dancing With the Stars” has nothing on us!

As the day drew closer I began to get cold feet. I had never actually been to the Mormon Church and I was not sure how many people I would know there as a result. I run past the Mormon Church when I am in the mood for a long run, but other than that, I do not get to that part of town too often. Then there was the question of dance styles. I was reassured many times that it would be “just like a night club,” meaning “siva palagi” (foreign dancing) would be in full effect. I have been to a fair share of dances between my time in Manunu, dances in Apia, and dances in Salelologa, and each has it’s own distinct flavor. In most cases you can expect an exceptionally loud base, drunken sole’s inappropriately groping at least one or two times, favorite songs played on repeat, and a fluctuating level of alcohol. I knew that the Mormon church would be free of the drunken sole’s and thus free of groping, but I knew nothing else.

The dance was scheduled to start at 4pm and go till midnight, but when I went for my run at 6:30 no one was at the church yet, although music was blaring loudly to draw people in. I ran home, ate a Cliff Bar for dinner with a bag of Doritos for dessert, and went to pump up my bike tires as I planned to meet Vern and bike over with him. I was most nervous about biking to his house because the dogs at night are vicious in Samoa and I had no headlight. Lucky for me and unlucky for Vern, my bike tires were flat as could be and my pump was not working, so Vern came to fix my bike up for me and I did not have to bike by myself.

We arrived at the dance around 8:30 and of course only a handful of people were there. The music was off and it sounded like prayers were going on. We biked right into the Mormon complex and pulled up our bikes next to the open fale. As we entered we were greeted by the smiles of many of my children and their parents, and I even recognized a few women who have signed on to my health project! A Peace Corps cannot go anywhere and not have a fuss made over them, so naturally I was called up to perform the opening dance and thus start the night. I felt like a queen arriving amongst my people. I have learned to expect this solo dance whenever I am a guest of honor yet I am still uncomfortable with the Siva Samoa. My body just does not move that gracefully! So as I made my way to the dance floor I made the decision to wow the crowds with some true palagi dance moves, and I performed a horrible cross between siva samoa and siva palagi. However, my dance had the effect I desired and people were cracking up at my ridiculously foreign moves. Before I knew it, I had at least 10 back up dancers and for the first time the song did not feel painfully long as it usually does.

Shortly after my initiation dance my student Gerald slipped word to the DJ that Waka Waka is my favorite song and must be played. The DJ began playing clips of the intro to Waka Waka in anticipation of the songs debut for the evening, and then bam, it was on us, blasting in all its glory. Vern and I did the Jazzercize routine we created for the women and a few of our ladies joined in, too. As the night progressed, Waka Waka was played 4 times. Like I said, Samoan’s are not shy to appreciate a good thing!

Other highlights of the evening were dancing with the children (who copied every move I did) to “Mambo Number 5” and “The Vegabus” (at least I think that’s what it is called, it has been a long time since I have heard that song…yet tonight, I heard it 3 times!) A touch of Samoa that I really liked was seeing two children passed out in the corner of the dance floor, as if there was not a pounding base rattling the floor around them. Their mothers sat protectfully by making sure no dancers got too close.

The night ended too soon, around 11, with a prayer from the faifeau and blessings for this special weekend. As I mounted my bike, my reoccurring break problem kicked in and a loud squeaking resistance met my every pedal. I dismounted and unhinged the back break, reminding myself to not ride too fast home. There was no hurry though and on this moonless night, the stars were shining extra bright, as if to light our way by their light alone. Thankfully Vern accompanied me home so I did not have to brave the dogs and his bike light helped us avoid hitting the groups of people hanging out on the road. I felt like I Could bike forever in the cool night air with the magical stars overhead.
Since moving to the village I have spent almost every evening by myself: watching movies, reading books, or going too sleep early to forget that I have nothing else to do at night. This past week has been a real eye opener for me as to all that I have been missing in my reclusiveness. For one, my Samoan language has taken leaps and bounds just this week by getting out there and hanging with people. I am embarrassed that I was not doing this all along as much as I am now, but I had to go at my own pace to feel comfortable. Monday I enjoyed an afternoon sipping Koko and weaving with some neighbors whom I had never met. Tuesday and Wednesday night I watched movies with some of the high school kids and although it was maddening at times (they are proud of the English they know and constantly wanted to fill me in on what was about to happen in the movie, thus taking away all elements of surprise), it was actually a lot of fun to do what I always do, just with people. Thursday night deserves its own blog, as it was spent at the Assembly of God’s (Worship Center’s) White Sunday show. It was my first time returning to the “Pati Pati Church” since I boldly went last Christmas, and I was reminded why I do not go. However, it was a nice evening, especially because I got to spend time with the students who I do not see on a weekly basis at EFKS, and their parents. I will try to blog about that experience later, but no promises.

As you can see, this week has been a true turning point in my Peace Corps experience. I feel more and more integrated as the days pass and less eager to leave the village and hang out in town. While those days will always be special days with my Peace Corps family, I am finding that my village has become a home away from home like I never imagined it could be. Plus I cleaned and rearranged my room today so I don’t have the disgusting mess to avoid anymore…!

Continuing the trend of new church experiences, I have agreed to attend the Seventh Day Adventist service tomorrow, which will also be a White Sunday celebration. And Sunday I will return to my home base, EFKS, to celebrate with my most familiar congregation. A few weeks ago, I would have dreaded a weekend like this. But now, I could not be happier.

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