Friday, April 22, 2011

Farewell to the Dancing King

Sunday night while watching a movie I received a call from an unknown number. Usually I do not answer numbers I do not recognize because 9 times out of 10 it is a random taxi driver or man who has somehow come across my number. However, something compelled me to answer the phone this one time, and as it turned out, it was my host sister from my training village calling with some very sad news: my beloved host father had past away the day before and she wanted to let me know of the funeral plans.
I was overwhelmed with emotion. I knew he had been sick but I did not realize just how sick he had been. Of course I agreed to go to the funeral which was to be held Wednesday morning, all the way back in the host village. Lili and I travelled there together as she had been very close with my family as well. Unfortunately transportation can be pretty unreliable here and as a result we missed the bus to take us to the ferry, and as a result did not arrive in the village till about noon. The trip in deserves it’s own blog. In the end, we made it though and were able to spend the day with my host mother, sister, and five brothers, as well as the rest of the Manunu community.
My host father, Asa, will be remembered for his great laugh, incredible cooking, and world class dance moves. He was so good to me, and I am still in shock that he is gone. Instead of describing the funeral, I would like to capture some of the many memories we shared together in the short two months that I lived in his family home.
Asa was an incredible cook. I was the envy of all the Peace Corps in training, because while they were eating white bread and butter for three meals a day, I was served homemade pizza’s, steak, salads, tuna sandwiches (with cucumber!), and of course, his signature dish, chop-suey. Asa had been a chef at a college and I greatly benefited from his experience. Going back to the village, my brothers teased me, poking me and saying I was nice and fat when Asa fed me, but now that I have left the house I am too skinny. Maybe there is some truth in that – although as an American, it does feel great to have people constantly telling me I am too skinny!
Asa did not believe in exercise. When I first arrived, I asked his permission to go for morning runs with my friends. I would have to wake up at 5 and be out the door by 5:30, otherwise it was too hot, but at first, Asa did not approve. For my first week, he insisted that it was unhealthy to run that early in the morning, but he offered a compromise. He would let me go for a walk with him at 6am. The first time we walked, we decided to go to the new store about a 20-minute walk from our village. Leading the way up a grassy dirt road, Asa took me to the store, and although the storefront window was boarded closed (because it was only 6:30 in the morning!), Asa pounded on the window, woke the sleeping family inside, and bought me a coca cola and a bag of chicken flavored chips. Definitely not my definition of breakfast, but it was his gesture of providing for his adopted daughter. I could not refuse! He did eventually grant me permission to run, but I am glad we got to share a few morning walks.
His dancing was superior to anyone I have ever met. Asa was the dance champion of Samoa back in the 1970’s and he travelled to American Samoa to compete in a competition, which he won! Forty years later, his dance moves were a creative blend of Disco, Michael Jackson, Hip Hop, and Siva Samoa. It was truly a sight to see, and us volunteers would fight over who got to dance with him at the weekly dancing during training.
One morning I came out for breakfast and there was a beautiful flower on the table, called the Christmas Flower. He had picked it for me to wear behind my ear to school. I told him how much I loved it, and from then on, I had flowers waiting for me almost daily at breakfast.
He had a pool table behind the house and at night the villagers would come over to play. Asa made money by charging them $2 per game. I once asked to play, and he asked if I had money. I thought it was ridiculous to have to pay at my own house so I didn’t. Later that day, he told me I could play one game, but then he had to get back to his business. He was a funny guy like that.
Sometimes I would bring out my guitar, and Asa would pick it up and pretending he knew how to play, would strum wildly and laugh and sing American pop tunes.
It is a shame that he passed away so early. He was full of life and had some much love to give. He played a significant role in my adjustment to Samoan life and for that I will forever be grateful.

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