About a month before the end of term 1, Talapusi, the year 13 maths teacher, called me over to ask how to do a problem involving distance on a coordinate plane. Until that point, every day I had sat between Vaifale, the head of the English department, and Apong, the Indian missionary who is also enduring his first year in Samoa. But Talapusi had more math problems for me each day. Thanpuii always sat next to Talapusi, but when she and Maengi left before the end of the term, I started sitting next to Talapusi. This was a much better spot to sit. I was away from the busy kitchen and Talapusi, Suasami, and Saleupolu are a bunch of neat old ladies. But now Thanpuii has returned, and I have been deported back to the seat between Vaifale and Apong. I realize this story is confusing so I diagrammed it above. It’s a big pic; click to make it large.
Samoa is full of situations that demand politeness and deference, and when if you lose focus for too long, it’s not difficult to make an ass of yourself. Nowhere is this more true than the teachers’ lounge during Interval. The place is a mine field of hidden faux pas. There are unspoken rules about who sits where and when everyone eats and who says what to whom and where you can walk and where you can’t walk and where everyone sits. So I’ve given up on getting my seat back.
Today we were served large bowls of chocolate ice cream. In the heat here, ice cream doesn’t last long, and the stuff we were served was about a quarter melted already. But I refused to give into temptation; I knew we had to wait for prayer. So then Peniamina came around with cookie-crackers, and I took two, and had nowhere to put them, and it made me anxious to have the sitting there in my hand. So I ate one. And it wasn’t until I was chewing the last bite that I realized we hadn’t prayed yet. Damn it.
While our staff seems far less dysfunctional than the places where others Peace Corps work, it is still very cliquey. So there are little groups all over the room: the punchy old ladies, the moms, the new guys, the old guys, and the group that don’t wear shoes. The old guys sit behind the new guys and it freaks me out a little because I think we probably should be deferring our table space. Not sure.
The worst part about all of these unwritten social rules is Interval is my favorite part of the day. Lunch has always been my favorite part of going to work. Whether it was at eCivis where we hated life and commiserated day in and day out, or at CNET where we sat around a gossiped for an hour, I love leaving the building (or my classroom) to eat and chat.
Although I should complain too much. Even with all the stresses, I still very much enjoy Interval. And even if I can’t chat with Talapusi and the rest of the sewing circle, I talk enough during the day. Sitting and drinking my tea in peace and quiet is just as good, I guess.
I hope you’re being polite. Happy birthday, Tanya! Pictures below.
Left to right: Suasami, Saleupolu, Thanpuii, Talapusi. Pretty much the same as having lunch with Chris.
The other side of the room. Left to right: Renita, Papalii, Tevaga, Peteru, Too.
The quarter-melted ice cream and the cookie cracker I didn't eat.
Umu-cooked breadfruit and pork for lunch today.
10 months ago