Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Waiting to cross the street with a bunch of Samoans this afternoon, one of them looked at the other and with a perfect American accent whined, “It’s so hot here!” Natives these were not. Before RPCV Dylan from group 77 went home last year, he pointed out that with the holiday season comes hoards of visiting family members from overseas. And on Christmas Eve Eve this year, the situation is no different.

First, I should point out there seems to be a marked difference from Samoans who grew up here—the ones who lived here and then left to stake out a life in New Zealand or Australia or wherever, and are now coming back—versus those who were born overseas and have made a pilgrimage back to Mother Samoa to explore their heritage or visit extended family. The latter group understandably tends to stick out a little more, and it’s interesting to see their reaction to Samoan life.

A member of this latter group struck up a conversation with Phil on a recent ferry trip. “I can’t believe you live here!” the guy told Phil. Phil shrugged.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Phil posited while recounting the story to me. “People from your family live here. Lots of other people live here. It’s not that crazy.”

It’s a good point, but I can relate to the other guy as well. My dad immigrated to The States from Portugal and when my family made the trek back to the motherland, there was nothing familiar about it. Our expectations and our threshold of what we consider to constitute a “normal life” are so influenced by where we grow up. I empathize with the kids who come back here and feel a bit overwhelmed.

Another example is Auckland-born Quincy, who has been visiting family in Apia for the last 9 weeks. Through mutual friends, Blakey and I have spent a fair amount of time with the 19-year-old. “I think Quincy’s a little out of his element,” Blakey whispered to me shortly after I first met him. Quincy’s cousin Ailepata had driven us to a fale’oloa and told Quincy to hop out and buy a box of matches.

“What should I say?” asked Quincy.

“You should go up there,” Ailepata told him,”and tell her ‘I would like to buy some matches.’” Blakey and I hid our giggles as best we could, but my heart went out to the kid. After all, a year ago I was in the exact same boat. In fact, I think my experience as a palagi made the whole thing easier because people see me and right away know I’m not from here.

Quincy’s been a real sport though, even extending his time in Samoa to last through the holidays. And just like the rest of us, he’s gotten a lot better at maneuvering the culture.

Back on the street corner, I could also empathize with the girl who complained about the heat. It is indeed very hot here.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

For a while I seriously thought TV1 was playing a bootlegged copy of "Alvin and the Chipmunks", but then the movie ended, and it turned out the TV was just getting terrible reception.


Anonymous said...

Malo Matt, wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

Arseneault Family said...

This is part of why I enjoy your're helping me EASE my way back to the "Mother land"!! LOL!

Looking Samoan IS a different experience then looking palagi...apparently some native Samoans find whole new ways to rip us cousin - born in Samoa, raised partly in Sa partly in NZ, said he went back with his palagi wife for a visit and he said he would have Samoans approach him saying they are his long lost cousin and they needed some money!!

I can't wait to make my appearance in Samoa...I will just need air conditioning to go with it FOR SURE! I'm grumpy in the heat - i take after my polish side.