Greeting from New Zealand! I honestly cannot tell you how great it is to be back in New Zealand after spending the last two weeks traveling all over Samoa (s-AH-moa). Like I said in my last update, we left Kaikoura the 17th of September and we finally arrived home, back here on Saturday. Goodbye heat and humidity and hello sweatshirts!!
So when I first thought about going to Samoa, my first thought was, “Oh cool! I get to go and hang out at the beach for two solid weeks. I’ll get a really great tan, eat some great seafood, and just bask in the heat of the South Pacific.” While I did live on the beach, and I did get a really great farmer’s tan, and melt in the heat of the South Pacific, Samoa turned out to be a completely different experience than what I anticipated. One of the main reasons I was thrown for a loop was the culture in general. I have been out of the United States before, but I had really only visited different aspects of “Western culture.” I have gone shopping at Harrods in London, I have eaten cotton candy while watching the Eiffel tower glitter, and I have sipped Sangria at 1:00 AM on Las Ramblas. All of the countries I have visited have been relatively easy to assimilate into, and for the most part, I really have not stuck out like a sore thumb. That was SO not the case in Samoa. After traveling for the better part of 24 hrs, we arrived in Apia, located on the south island of Upolu, one of the islands of Western Samoa. We flew in just as the sun was rising, but surprisingly, despite the darkness it was STILL hot. When the flight attendants opened the door to the tarmack, WHOOSH. Hello humidity. I think my hair grew instantaneously. We disembarked and walked over to the tiniest airport I have ever been to. It was literally three large rooms with a couple of stands and desks. We got through customs with no problems and then made our way to the next room to pick up our bags. Even at 5:30 AM there was a little band playing for the small crowd at the airport, and I just stood there at baggage claim completely enchanted by the tropical sunrise, the Samoan music echoing through the building, and the prospect of an island adventure. That spell was quickly broken though. As soon as we stepped outside, the full heat of the sun came blasting through the open air airport, and I looked around and people were smoking everywhere. For those of you who know, I really have zero tolerance for smoking. I was at the mall with my roommate Holly when I smelled cigarette smoke and I was literally SO rude about it…right in front of the guy smoking. I just really think its an idiotic thing to do. ANYWAYS…there was cigarette smoke wafting through the air, and there was very little breeze to speak of, so it was a blessing when we boarded our little bus and made our way to Tatiana Hotel. While on the bus ride, a wave of exhaustion hit me, and I told Josh that all I wanted was a bed to sleep in. Well, ask and you shall receive. When we arrived at Tatiana, that was literally ALL that was in the room. You opened the door and there was a bed…with lime green sheets…and a ceiling fan that was so low it threatened to decapitate me multiple times. Thankfully, I was so tired that I did not notice the stains of the walls, the cockroaches scuttling about or the fact that the linoleum was coming up off the floor when Danielle and I just fell into bed. We both just passed out for a good four hours until we were woken up by the crowing of a VERY confused rooster. Upon our awakening, we boarded a bus driven by a very large Samoan man named Tau. Now Tau was an interesting guy. He had a large grey moustache, wore a very loud tropical print and sounded like he had been taught English by an Italian. When I get home, I’ll do the impression for you. Too funny. Tau drove us around the city of Apia and gave us a little intro to the history of Samoa and Apia before we finally stopped off at Samoa’s National Museum. I know that you are envisioning the Smithsonian right now, but this museum was a little different. *cough…way different. The museum was basically a two story, faded-blue building that housed a couple of displays on Samoan tattooing, cultural artifacts, fine mats, vintage pictures, and the various wildlife that inhabit the islands. I normally love museums, but I was just in such a daze that all I wanted to do was go back to bed. You know how bad it was, when I only got semi-excited about the marine life display. Uffda.
After spending a good hour at the museum, we drove around Apia some more and Tau pointed out all the church options for us to attend for the Sunday service. If you were unaware, Samoa prides itself on its deeply religious roots. Everyone is a Christian in Samoa…you are either just a good Christian or a bad Christian. The word atheist has no meaning there. We finally finished the tour and returned back to Tatiana where I again found myself passed out in my stuffy little room. I woke up for dinner in a pile of sweat. Mmmmm For dinner we went to a local place that Tau recommended for some local “cuisine.” Due to the obvious language barrier, I somehow ended up with a gigantic plate full of beef stir-fry with literally half a chicken sitting on top. HALF. A. CHICKEN. This thing was massive, and there was really no good point of entry, so I tried the beef stir-fry first, only to discover that there were little bone chips all throughout the sauce and noodles. I unfortunately have a really bad gag reflex whenever I bite into a bone, so it was a sure-fire struggle to disguise my want to barf all over the table in front of me. Needless to say, I gave up on dinner as a whole pretty quickly. I went to bed that night with a pretty negative attitude about my whole situation. Oh Apia. How I hated thee. Hahaha The next morning, I thankfully awoke with a slightly sunnier outlook on life. We had breakfast and then headed to the nearby markets to observe and engage the Samoan culture there. The market was basically set up into three parts. On one side of the complex there was the “farmer’s market” at which you could buy taro, Samoan bananas, breadfruit, fresh coconut, beautiful flower arrangements and so much more. The middle of the complex was a dark maze of booths selling earrings, lavalavas, and other various souvenirs. This was my first time in a market outside of the U.S., so it was a little intimidating at first to feel all the eyes of vendors, hoping that I would hesitate at their booth so that they could engage me in business. Thankfully there was no bartering in the market, which greatly eased my concerns, for I am positive that I would utterly fail at bartering. While I love a bargain, I like to stumble upon them…not force it out of a person. Finally, the last part of the complex was a bunch of food vendors selling hot lunches and all manner of fried and greasy Western imports. We Americans NEED to start eating better (I’m one to talk since I am currently sitting here eating a considerably large bar of chocolate). One of my favorite parts of the market was in the back, where all the old men hung out, drinking kava, playing dominoes, and laughing their butts off. It was just funny to sit and watch these guys interact in a group. One things for sure though…Grandma Boat could show those men a thing or two when I comes to playing Mexican train.
After the market, we took off for Paolo Deep Marine Reserve, located on the outskirts of Apia. It was about an hour walk from Tatiana, but a really nice one, since you just walk along the cement retaining wall, built by the Japanese after the most recent hurricane in hopes of keeping back the Pacific. At Paolo Deep, Lauren and I snorkeled for almost 2 hours, and it was magical. I had never been snorkeling before then, and it was just a delight to see all the little fish clothed in flashy color. I just had an absolute blast swimming in the Pacific, tasting the salt water, trying not to drown when I would dive too deep, and attempting to swim at the same speed as all the little fish around me. I just wanted to touch one!! GAH! Lauren and I finally got out of the water and rinsed ourselves off in the little shower and then attempted to air dry in the humid breeze of the tropics. I will say that I did not enjoy the sticky film that covered my skin after swimming in the ocean…I could barley put my hair into a pony tail my hands were so sticky. Thankfully, I did wrangle my hair into a ponytail and got dressed so that we could go and eat dinner. Thankfully, this dinner was exponentially better. No bones to speak of…AND…we got ice cream afterwards. Yum! We headed home after ice cream and encountered a lovely drunk man that tried to grab Lauren, Courtney and my booty but was so inebriated that he completely missed. I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly. Thank goodness. That next morning, we woke up bright and early and went to an Ecumenical service that was taking place just down the road from our hotel. We got dressed up in our white shirts and lavalavas and sweated all the way there, but thankfully the church was air-conditioned. At the church we met a couple of really great girls that took us under their wings and let us sit by them during the service. They were even nice enough to periodically tell us what was going on during the service since it was entirely in Samoan. A couple of notes on Samoan churches:
1. EVERYONE goes
2. The congregation in basically a choir, and they sound beautiful
3. Kids just run up and down the aisles during the service
4. Prayers take up about 20 minutes of the service
5. You will be welcomed to the church by basically anyone of importance
Overall, we had a really good experience with our new Samoan sisters, and even went with them to a dance performance later in the evening. But the during the day, a bunch of us piled into a taxi and tried to get to a place called “Sliding Rocks.” We stopped a cabbie and asked if he knew the place, and he said yes, but then went to a 20 min little drive (he got lost and had to ask where we were going again…awesome) before we finally arrived at Sliding Rocks. Sliding Rocks was basically a waterfall that you could slide down into a really lovely little pool. Locals were jumping off it or surfing down the waterfall, but I only had the nerve to sit of my booty and slide off into the pool. Rebecca got some pretty sweet pictures of me sliding down the rock face and overall, it was just so wonderfully refreshing. Just had a great time.
The next morning, we packed up all of our stuff and headed to the National University of Samoa, where we took in two lectures and got to eat lunch with Samoan students that were our age. The lectures dealt with the economic status of Samoa, and a bunch of common questions about Fa’a Samoa (Samoan culture). We loaded back on the bus after lunch and got dropped off at the ferry that we would take across the 13 mile expanse of water separating the islands of Upolu and Savi’i. It took about 50 minutes to cross, most of which I spent looking at the incredible color of the water. The deeper water is this intense shade of cobalt blue that when stirred up in the wake of the ferry turns a pure turquoise color. The more shallow water is this beautiful shade of aquamarine that allows you to see the bottom even at a considerable depth. It was just so different than anything I had ever seen in America. Upon our arrival on Savai’i, we were greeted with leis of plumeria flowers that just smelled heavenly and thankfully guarded our noses from smelling the musty smell of the bus we clamored aboard. We drove throughout various villages until we finally reached the village of Safua and our home for the next couple of days, Safua Hotel.
TOP TEN THINGS ABOUT SAFUA HOTEL (in no certain order)
- You get to live in fales, but you still get the luxury of an indoor bathroom
- There is this great tree in the backyard with a rope swing
- Coconut cookies that you get periodically throughout the day
- The lemon drink you get in the afternoon
- The band that plays songs while you eat and dance
- Etae’s granddaughter, Hazel
- The geckos that click and eat the mosquitoes
- The ice cream parlor is just a 10 minute walk from your room
- The roosters crow and it sound like their saying “Happy Birthday”
10. Warren, and 80 year old man who has more spunk and sass than most teenagers
While Safua was pretty great, I think I had more fun on the various field trips we went on during our stay there. We got to visit a lot of amazing places, and I couldn’t help but want my family to be right there seeing and experiencing all of these incredible adventures. Our guide, Warren, took us on adventures to the island’s lava fields, a lava tube, and arguably the coolest place, the blowholes which shoot water a good 140 ft. into the air. We also visited the only waterfall on Savi’i that runs into the ocean, the most western inhabited place on the globe, and the most beautiful palce I have ever been to. Ever. This waterfall was set a good 15 minute walk away from the road. The water pours down into this amazing pool of deep, cool water that is a beautiful emerald green/blue color. Etae, Josh, Allie, Kayla, Tyler, and myself played Frisbee in the water for a good hour…which the entire time I tred in the middle of the pool. I almost had to be dragged out of the water when it was time to go. I just did not want to leave; it was that beautiful. I imagine heaven looks like that, but with a pod of dolphins swimming around in the pool and I can walk on water. Yep…heaven.
We stayed at Safua for a good five days or so before re-packing and heading for the nearby village of Faga (pron. Fa-ng-ga). Upon our arrival, we were ushered in to an ava ceremony where we drank the kava juice and greeted all of the high chiefs and other matai from the village. After the ceremony, we were split up into pairs and then led away by various families from the village. Karleigh and I got to stay right on the beach in a wonderful fale with great views of the ocean and surrounding village. As time progressed, we actually got to have two fales, one for sleeping, and one for relaxing. How spoiled does that sound. The only bad part was that we were split up for meal times, which tends to be a VERY akward time in Samoa. Since we were honored guests, the family does not eat with you; rather, they sit in a nearby fale and watch you eat while various members take turns fanning you and your food while you eat. And did I mention the portion size? AH! They wanted you to eat, and eat, and eat, and EAT! You really had to learn “maona fa’a fetai” which means, “I’m full, thank you.” There were multiple times I thought I would burst. The rest of the time in Faga we were followed around by two 20-something year olds named Rosa and Linda, and a whole pack of children screaming “palagi!” and pulling on your arms, legs, hair, face….you name it. Needless to say there was little down time to speak of. While we did go snorkeling daily and got to eat to our hearts content (or discontent), it was just a crazy couple of days in Faga. Culture shock really set in there, and out entire group really had to do a lot of serious processing. The fact that I was so uncomfortable really made me question my future. All I really want to do is host a Travel Channel show, however, if I am not comfortable in this culture, how would it be if I were to go to other countries, try other food, and meet other people. How adaptable am I? Paired with the treatment of kids, the abuse of animals, the lack of loving relationships, and the overall culture/language barrier, made the entire Faga experience a growing one. Honestly, it was probably one of the hardest experiences of my life, but definitely a beneficial one.
In conclusion I really found it interesting how my attitudes towards the culture and the experience changed over the duration of the trip. I came into Apia with a pretty negative attitude that I wasn’t expecting. Weird feelings of superiority came over me, and I just couldn’t help but think that America was better, a very intolerant attitude that I was deeply uncomfortable with. However, in seeing the beauty around me, noticing the smiles of the people, and really seeking God to change and heal my attitudes I really began to appreciate Samoa for it was and is. It is part of God’s beautiful creation. These people are a people loved by God, and we really aren’t so different, it’s only when we look for the differences will we find them. I found that through humbling myself to the culture that I was able to see the gifts and the insights God provided everyday. It just took a lot of work on my part to see the gifts and take joy in those blessings throughout the trip.
TOP TEN THINGS TO TAKE JOY IN FROM FAGA (in no certain order)
- Fresh cocoa Samoa
- Hermit crabs that scuttle around the beach…Sheldon!!!
- Sunrise that paints the sky orange and pink
- Wearing a large white hat to church
- The cool sea breeze that flows freely through the fale
- Singing “Tatale tale” with Keka and Avu
- The roar of the surf hitting the out-lying coral reef
- Fia Fia
- Bingo with all the town ladies
- Star gazing