A year ago, hearing the word “Worm” conjured up images of long slimy earth worms living in the garden back home. Although gardeners would argue with me, I have never seen much in these animals. Along with spiders, they were a big reason why I never really wanted to get into gardening. I have a vivid memory of walking the track early Saturday mornings before marching band practice and having to consciously avoid all of the worms which had crawled off the football field in the early morning dew only to die on the track. Maybe that was the beginning of my lack of appreciation.
Since moving to Samoa, my immediate image of worms has changed. Instead of thinking of slimy animals in the ground, I now think of nasty bugs living inside the human body. I wonder if this is true of all Peace Corps worldwide? Although I am unsure as to whether or not I have actually had worms since coming here, I have had plenty of stomach issues, and it would be safe to assume that one tiem or another, worms may have been the blame.
However, Samoa has once again changed my minds image of the word worm. Two weeks ago was the big palolo, or sea worm, harvest. This culinary delicacy appears twice a year, around the time of the full moon in October and November. I need to double check my facts, but from what I have gathered, palolo is the sex organ of coral, and just before sunrise around the time of the full moon for a few days a year, these small worms emerge to reproduce. Due to it’s rare status, thousands of Samoans flock to the coral reefs during this palolo harvest to try their luck at capturing these worms. Those who are successful either feat on the worms within their families or sell them for huge profits. A small bag of the precious worms starts at about $100 tala, and a half-liter will sell for about $500.
People eat it live, dead, cooked, or uncooked. I had made plans to go fishing with the guys who run the store near my house, but come palolo morning, they slept through and thus I missed my opportunity to fish. Their older brother was successful in fishing though and brought about $100 worth back to the family. I was offered a small portion of the still live worms and although I pride myself in trying anything once, I just couldn’t eat the live worms. I resolved to seek out some cooked ones, however that never happened. Luckily for me, another volunteer, Supy, had gone fishing for the palolo, and brought some dead ones to our Halloween celebration. Still uncooked, yet dead, and on Halloween, it seemed fitting to give the worms a try. I took a small spoonful, swallowed, and was please to discover that it was not so bad. Pretty much, the worms tasted like salt water. Makes sense. Next year, I plan to find the palolo and prepare it the proper way – fried with butter and served up on crunchy toast. Till then, I hope to go another year without any kind of worm in my life.