Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Gap

I rented a video today. Okay, technically a friend of mine rented 3 videos which allowed her to get a fourth for the same price and she allowed me to choose it and take home. So I rented “Up,” the most recent Pixar movie. The movie was fantastic and enchanting and actually lived up to all the hype I heard when it came out 6 months ago. But I can’t help feeling a twinge of guilt for renting a movie. As Ryan tole me when he heard my assignment was teaching computers in Samoa, “This is not the Peace Corps JFK imagined.”

I realize it’s a little absurd for me to confess my guilt bout exploiting the more developed facets of Apia by signing on to the Internet from my house and blogging about it, but I maintain my life here is still pretty sparse. True, we’ve got laptops and iPods and cell phones and other modern amenitities, but we also live among geckos and strange bugs and unreliable and intermittent plumbing and trash burning and cold showers and dirty feet that cannot be cleaned no matter how hard we scrub.

Other volunteers piss and moan about how those of us living in Apia live the easy life. I can make arguments about how that’s a gross generalization and how we all face different problems, but the cold hard truth is that life in Apia is easier than life in the more rural kua of Upolu and most of rural Savai’i. The discrepancy in the lifestyles of city volunteers and country volunteers seems to be one small facet in a much bigger overarching struggle in Samoa between urbanization and westernization versus tradition and preserving the ways of the past.

I had originally planned to trek out to the training village this weekend to visit the family, but when the Rotoract Amazing Race was canceled, I changed my plans. The contrast between these two places is stark—the south side and the north side, the modest and the affluent, those who spend Saturday collecting taro at the plantation and those who can afford more leisure pastimes.

Although it’s not just an Apia-versus-everyone-else kind of deal. This problem seems to exist in the village at a micro level. Volunteers who teach computers in rural villages struggle to find a balance between helping their village secure a foothold in technology and not alienating the ways of the past. Hell, even at my school I feel like my classroom’s air conditioning is controversial. I sometimes feel a little too comfortable in my cool glass tower while other teachers toil in the heat.

I don’t bring this up to point fingers or assign blame, and I have absolutely no solutions or suggestions for alleviating the discrepancy. It’s an ongoing struggle and it’s not going to be solved any time soon. But we deal with it every day on a micro and macro basis, and it inevitably affects everyone’s Peace Corps experience in Samoa. And mostly I think we all walk that balanced line pretty well.

But I still feel a twinge of guilt when I rent a movie.

I hope you’re well. No pictures today.

3 comments:

Chris said...

jeez dont feel so guilty for ending up with such a plum post in Apia. Sure the other guys and gals are doing it tougher, but they get fed properly while you go through weeks eating only pumbkin. In fact you're being way too generous describing your living quaters anyways.

Leone said...

i know what you mean - my aiga who i stay with when i go to Apia/Samoa occupy a very small demographic Samoa- the affluent afakasi 'set'. No doubt you've become aware of particularly prominent families (with European family names) around Apia.
It bugs me every time i stay with them that there can be such a huge difference in life experience between 'us' and 'regular' Samoans. Huuuge gap. My relative feeds her dogs with tinned dog food from New Zealand for heavens sake. But then again since everyone's all related its not so bad - the wealthiest samoans still serve and have ties to humble villages...

There's no shame in renting a movie - you're only doing what other Samoans are doing. Why else would there be video stores Macdonalds Digicel etc on the island: Samoans want them there.

Anonymous said...

I once met a guy (afakasi) from Apia who said he had never been in an umukuka (traditional cooking house out the back of a village home) in his life. I thought he was pulling my leg. But then again, his faasamoa was not that flash either (he was born and bred in Samoa). As a samoan from the village, the life we grow up with in comparison with the life of some of the rich people in Apia opened my eyes. When I first saw the mansions up in Vailima, Siusega, Ululoloa Heights etc, I couldn't believe that this was still Samoa. It was like visiting a different planet.