I have heard it said that in this world, there are people who have read Harry Potter and people who have not, as if it is such a life changing adventure that once you have completed the journey you can call yourself a proud graduate of the Harry Potter series. Similarly, there are people in this world who have tattoos and people in this world who do not. Until last weekend, I belonged to neither of these not so elite clubs, but as of Saturday, I can proudly claim that I am “tat’ed up!”
Tattoos are not a form of rebellion, vanity, or self-loathing here in Samoa. Instead, they are part of Samoan culture just as ear piercing is a part of our American culture. Traditionally, warrior men would get the full body tattoo as a sign of their bravery and courage, and well-respected women would receive the maliu as a gesture of honor and respect.
Many of the Peace Corps Samoa volunteers decide to get a tattoo halfway through the Peace Corps experience as a way of honoring the culture that they have come to know and respect, as well as for a lifelong memory of the experience here.
On Saturday, I went with my friend Dana to mark ourselves permanently as Peace Corps Samoa volunteers. Dana had had a tattoo before and she decided to incorporate her new tattoo, the tauvai, around her old one. Her tattoo circles her ankle with traditional symbols of strength, power, faith, courage, and love. It looks amazing!
I had been pretty set on doing a non-traditional tattoo on my foot, where the flip-flop line would be. To me, this would not only represent Samoa, but also the drive for an endless summer, and the reminder to always stay connected to the earth. In yoga, the mountain pose is one of the most powerful poses – to an outsider, it appears that a person is just standing still, but to the practitioner, it is a pose of balanced energy, pressing your human energy against the energy of the earth pushing up against you. I loved the idea of having a foot tattoo as a constant reminder of this force. However, it was not to be.
When I arrived at the studio, I was unimpressed with the images I saw of people who had previously tattooed the flip- flop line. It seemed like something that I may still do in the future, but as a way of capturing the traditional Samoan designs, it would be a waste of creative energy, as there would not be much space to work with. I had tossed around the idea of getting a tattoo on the side of my body, and as I flipped through pages of images, I was struck with an idea: a hibiscus flower with traditional designs running up and down in wave-like curves from the flowers center. It was perfect. I talked to Paul Jr. (the artist) and he sketched it out on my upper left rib cage. Then, with a room full of support (Dana, Ali, and Lili were all there), I climbed the table and stretched out for what I feared would be the worst pain of my life. I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t painful – I had to resort to squeezing Allie’s hand REALLY hard at times, but I did not cry, and after about 45 minutes, my personal tribute to Samoa had been etched on me as an ever-lasting memory. Three days later and I am still feeling slight discomfort, similar to that of a bad sun burn, but the tattoo is doing well and looking great, and I could not be happier with my decision to go through with it.