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!