Over drinks last night, conversation rolled around to Chris’s parents meeting A.J.’s parents while the two of them met and started dating here in Samoa. Chris was happy she escaped a traditionally awkward experience. The rest of us had to nod in agreement. Don’t get me wrong, I think my parents are great and with the exception of Christi who I dated in 8th grade (whose dad was a Rush Limbaugh fanatic), most of the parents of the girls I’ve dated have been rather agreeable. But inevitably having parents meet the other parents is awkward. This is the closest model I had going into today where my Samoan host family met my American family.
Since my parents made plans to come, I’ve always felt a trip out to the host village an inimitable item on the itinerary. When I tell other volunteers my parents are coming, the first question I’m always asked is, “What are you going to do with them?” And without very many other sure things, I would always answer, “I’m taking them to the host village.” This answer usually yielded a wide-eyed, admiring, fearful look in the eyes of the other volunteer. The situation was risky, but I didn’t really feel nervous until this morning.
My plan was to rent a car so there would be a clear and easily accessible exit strategy, and to stay no longer than 3 hours. The morning quickly started off on the wrong foot when both of the nearby car rentals were out of cars. We would have to take a taxi. I hailed a taxi, and the driver turned out to be amiable and completely willing to wait around on the south side of the island for the 3 hours. Cool. Also he had a Lionel Richie CD on repeat in his car. The day was looking up.
I didn’t tell my host family about my parents coming to visit until yesterday. I feared they would roll out too much of a red carpet, and when we drove up and I saw shiny sequined fabric draped over chairs, it was clear they tried their damnedest. They came out to greet us, and then we all went inside, Asolima instructing my parents to sit in the shiny chairs. Asolima was very formal about introductions at first. “Welcome to Samoa. I am Asolima, and this is my mother Mele.” She introduced the family, and then invited us to eat.
I’d already caught a glimpse of the table, which had been set for 3, so I sidled up to my parents as they crossed the open fale into the dining room/kitchen and said, “We are going to eat, and they’re going to watch us eat.” And this is what happened. The spread was excellent: bananas covered in coconut cream, rice, papaya, deep-fried fish (still hot), two omelets, a beef/green bean dish, soup, and coconuts to drink from. With 3 months training in the art of eating in front of my family, I dove in, covering my plate (also I was hungry). After a while I looked up to see how everybody was faring. My dad was working on a healthy portion of soup, my mom was hesitantly poking at a scantly covered plate of rice and what may have been beef and green beans.
The meal went pretty well. At one point my dad asked for his coconut to be split open so he could scoop out the meat inside. Tafale grabbed a knife, and my dad got all Mr. Safety about it, “No no! I just want you to—“ I had to cut him off.
“Dad. She knows what she’s doing.”
In training, we talked about how in the situation where you eat first, it may be warm and endearing to sit around while the other people eat, but it is not fa’asamoa. So I pried my parents out of there and walked them down to wander around the village while my host family did their thing.
When we got back, Asolima started an impromptu dance party, of which Joe and Patty readily watched but opted out of participating. I got Akanese to play Popo Mano with my mom, which was darling.
Desperately looking for ways to pass the 3 hours, I suggested we take a walk down to the next village over, Tafitoala. Asolima suggested we drive over and walk along the beach. This made for a perfect third act, and the taxi driver was snoozing under the family breadfruit tree when we arrived back.
All in all, the day worked out well, and was just the right amount of time to feel like everybody got to meet each other and be done meeting each other. So I guess next time there’ll be no need to be so nervous. Cool.
I hope you’re well. Pictures below.
Dad and Me on the road in Fausaga.
I like this picture.
1 year ago