Thursday, January 12, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is

Me with a handful of my students after the Prizegiving ceremony.

It has been a month and two days since I boarded the plane leaving Samoa and headed home. Every day I have thought to myself, “I should really write that final blog entry,” yet self denial of the finality of my time as a Peace Corps volunteer prevented me from sitting down and concluding this twenty-seven month blog. Even today, I find myself at a loss for words. How does one summarize twenty-seven months of service? And how do I capture the lessons learned? The beautiful thing is that this blog has already captured so many of those memories and experiences.

Coming home, I expected more culture shock. I thought that I would be overwhelmed by speeding cars, technology, supermarkets, and of course, the mall at Christmastime. But when it came down to it, coming home felt more like waking from one dream to begin a new one. You might say I eased my transition a bit by road tripping through New Zealand for 16 days before coming back to New York, and maybe that is the reason I was not so overwhelmed by American life. I had anticipated a fear of driving, yet that has not been the case at all. I have been driving every day, and even took a few trips into Manhattan already! I have upgraded my Samoan monochrome cellphone to the iPhone (4s) and am LOVING the apps, games, and easy flow of information. I miss being able to throw my rubbish (oops, trash!) out my back door, but I am appreciative of the regular garbage collection, recycling collection, and composting going on here. And I cannot stress enough how amazing it has been to come home to a snow-less winter! My tan is still holding true, and I still wear my jandals around the house (so weird to wear shoes inside!) but for the most part, I am embracing boot fashion, jeans, and bubble jackets. I have seen Phish twice, Mamma Mia on Broadway, celebrated my birthday in a posh NYC nightclub, eaten pizza, sushi, bagels, and wings, and have visited the Jersey Shore. I have made cookies in an oven and washed clothes in a washing machine. And I have stopped float-testing all eggs before consumption. I have also put away all fans and embraced indoor heating.

Job-wise, I am not sure what is next. I have picked up two part time jobs from my past: dog walking (yes, dogs are friendly here!), and I will soon start working the front desk at the Rockland Conservatory of Music, now in their new location. I am slowly readjusting to the strange sensation of living in my parents’ full house once again, but I am savoring the moments we all have together and am happy to have arrived home when I did.

In a way, I now feel that I have two homes: Skyview, and Samalaeulu. I find myself missing my village and Samoan life to the point where it literally hurts my heart, yet tears do not come to me when I think of leaving. Instead, I feel gratitude for the two years I was fortunate enough to spend living in such a loving village in the South Pacific. The friends I made there and students I taught feel like a family, and thanks to technology, I have been able to stay in touch with many of them; one students, unaware of the time difference, has been calling the house at 3am in the morning! I do not know when I will return to Samoa, yet I do know that when I do, it will not be the same as my two years spent as a Pisikoa. However, the experiences shared there will forever remain in my heart. I am a proud Returned Peace Corps Volunteer! Today, the 960 photos I selected out of thousands should arrive and I will be able to relive my 27 months as a volunteer as I create my largest scrapbook to date.

This concludes my blog…. until the next adventure :)

Kicking the Cat

... It seems I forgot to post this back in November, so enjoy!
Pulega and I at Culture Day in Sasina.

With the end of service so near, many families have been inviting me over for dinner as a final farewell. It has been a great way to spend some quality time with those families that have become such an important part of my life. Last week, I ate with two families, this week I have plans with another three. My first dinner last week was with Pulega’s family, and it was as comical as ever.

Pulega has a large presence. He is very fat and a flamboyant fafafine who lives with his sisters family. He is also Ali’s principal. Ali and I often joke about the two sides of Pulega. She knows him as a firm and demanding teacher, who always wears a pristine floral shirt and ie’konga (black wrap around skirt - - - business-wear for Samoan men.) For me however, I know him only as a friend in the village – a laughing, joking, shirtless man, who has a cat and two dogs. Which brings us to the brief yet somewhat horrible (and hilarious!) story of the cat.

I showed up for diner just before sa, or evening prayer, was to begin. The sun was setting and short bursts of heavy rain were blowing through the village. I sat with Pulega in the large open fale that makes up his home, while behind the house, Pulega’s sister and children busied themselves preparing our feast in the fale kuka (cooking house.) The rain was really picking up, so I helped Pulega to lower the tarps, creating instant makesift walls surrounding the fale. The sound of the rain beating down was immense, and for half a moment I worried that the river might come, thus cutting me off from my home on the other side. I quickly brushed the worry aside, knowing full well I would have a place to stay if that was to happen. Pulega’s cat, which he affectively calls Pusi (meaning cat), crept under the tarp to avoid the rain with us. It was clear that she knew meal time was approaching and lurked closely around Pulega’s chair. He spoke to it, pet it, and showed affection towards it. And then the meal came. Pulega transformed from a loving pet owner into a ravenous territorial man almost instantaneously. The formerly loved cat looked up with begging eyes for a scrap or two and “Whack!” Pulega kicked him in the side. I was so startled I almost couldn’t eat! Then, with bravery and perhaps a bit of stupidity, the cat continued to beg with a similar outcome every time. Finally Pulega had had enough. He called over a child, who picked up the cat, and through it out of the house. The routine continued for the whole meal, and although it sounds terrible in writing, the kicking and throwing never seemed over the top animal abuse – more just comical. When Pulega wasn’t looking, I slipped the cat some chicken bones.

At the end of the meal, I was walked home by Pea (Pulegas sister) and her two children. Senara, the eldest child, held a beach umbrella sized umbrella for the three of us to walk under. Jason, to the horror of his mother bounced a ball, and she kept hissing at him “Aua! Sa!” apparently afraid of attracting the attention of ghosts with his noise at night. I walked in the middle of the three of them. Pea held my hand, as we walked home, and although it felt unnatural to be walking holding this motherly womans’ hand, I just went with it. It is common in Samoa to see two grown men walking down the street holding hands, or two girls holding hands while walking to church. As awkward as it felt, there was something really touching about the moment. I will miss Pulega, Pea, Senara, and Jason. I hope our paths will cross again one day, as they have so generously included me in their family for the past two years. Tofa soifu lo’u aiga!