Saturday, November 21, 2009

dressing conservatively

Dressing conservatively
In the United States we always seem to dress however we please thinking that there are no consequences to our actions. You see people wearing short shorts and tank tops every place you go. No one thinks twice about what their wearing because it is the cultural norm.
In many villages in Samoa they have a dress code that you must wear a lavalava (a wrap around skirt) if you step foot off of your family’s property. (This is for females). It doesn’t matter what you have under that: shorts, pants, it is still a requirement. You also must have your shoulders covered and can not wear a tank top or anything of the sort. If someone catches you dressing this way the village will fine you. For example my sister was caught walking about 20 feet from the bus to our house in sweatpants and a tank top and the woman’s committee caught her and she was fined 20 tala.
The more conservatively you dress the more respect you are given. If you wear the traditional clothes (polatasies [I still can not figure out the spelling for that word] for females and i’e lavalava [not sure if that is the correct spelling, but it is a real handsome skirt] for the males) less people will harass you at each place you go to. Many seem to give you the upmost respect and you will have the best chance to have a Samoan speak to you in Samoan. When you are out dancing people will give you your space and not dance too close to you, which is real nice when it is consistently way too hot here!
While living in Manunu (our training village more inland) we had 4 dances. The first two were put on as a fundraiser for the church. The first one was a welcoming to their community. We all had to Siva Samoa and all dressed for the part wearing traditional clothes. (I was told later that I looked like a Pastor’s wife in the outfit my family made for me. When you Siva Samoa you are called up to introduce yourself, answer some questions (the main one is have you found a Samoan boy/girl friend yet) then you slowly head to the dance floor. You attempt to do these beautifully flowing moves while people pay money into a bowl to dance with you. Females that go out there to dance do their amazing Samoan dance moves while the males remind me of apes. They jump around (sometimes on all fours) screeching and yelling things that do not make sense to me. They throw themselves on the floor for the females to dance on top of them.
When a person of the opposite sex asks you to dance we are supposed to always accept as it is the polite more traditional thing to do. However, if you dance with them for more than one song, there is a good chance their dancing with you might mean something more to them and you might be thought of as their boy/girlfriend. This dance was very nice because no one was trying to dance too close because everyone seemed to show the respect that was due based upon their outfits.
The second dance was put on for the youth group and the Pisi Koa, however several others showed up as well. Again, we were all dressed traditionally and had several people of the opposite sex join us in dancing with groups of little children. My favorite was a boy asked me to dance while I was dancing with a group of 3 year olds. I told him that I could not leave my dance partners and he could join us. He immediately joined us in holding hands and our silly three year old dance.
The last two dances in town were different. This may be due to the fact that the pastor was out of town so one of the families opened up their open fale as a dance club. It was pretty unique how they set it up. They put rain tarps all around the outside so no one could look inside. I wore the traditional clothes as my mother had just made me a new purple polatasi. However, since there was no real dress code many people wore other clothes. I began to notice that for the females wearing other clothes men began to test their boundaries with you. Dancing closer and acting more inappropriate. (On a side note the nu’u rules include no drinking alcohol. Many people from different nu’u came to this dance and did not come sober. Many of them stank of alcohol on their bodies and it was not good to be even near them.)
For the last dance we had in our village none of us wore a polatasi (we began to realize how hot we were getting wearing those outfits while dancing for several hours). Although the majority of us were still wearing long skirts and covering our shoulders with tee shirts, we still had to deal with more harassment from the boys. Many of them have seen American girls on television and in movies and those forms of media do not portray American females in the best light. They think of Americans as being loose and ready for a good time. Wearing traditional clothes was like a boundary for the Samoans. If you are dressed up in their clothes, they have a more clear understanding of not to mess with you. However that night since none of us were dressed that way, we were constantly being pushed. The night ended early for one Pisi Koa because of not being able to take the harassment from the opposite sex anymore. Even though we all had to be more on guard, it was still a good time.
Last night Corina and I decided to see what Apia nightlife was like for the first time before heading back to Manunu today. One of our trainers suggested a specific night club. After stepping foot insider there I found out why…. It was mainly for tourists and so it was full of Palagis. We had no real plans to go out and so she was still dressed in her Polatasi and I was wearing a polo shirt and capris. The other people in the club were dressed how you might see many dress in America and Corina and I were shocked to see so much skin being exposed! Dressing more conservatively was great for us because people tended to leave us alone and we were free to dance by ourselves. We had such a great time getting this extra special treatment that after swearing in we are planning to go back there dressing in Polatasis every time. Sure it gets hot wearing the traditional clothes, but it is worth it if you are given your piece of mind.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Going to the prom

Going to the Prom
It all began on Friday the 13th. It was a day of excitement because we knew the information we were about to find out would shape the way for our next two years. Our amazing leaders put up two maps; one of Upolu and one of Savai’i. It had listed the names of current volunteers and the names of cities we were destined to go to. One by one they called out the name of the village, gave a little bit of information about it and one person began to jump for joy as they now knew more about the place they would live. We then put a picture of ourselves on the map so that way we could see where we would be in relation to one another.
When they called out my name, I began to jump for joy not even realizing what nu’u they were placing me in. Finally my subconscious clicked in. They said Gagaemalae which was my first choice for villages. I quickly put up my picture while doing a quick little dance then ran to my seat of the floor neglecting to pick up my information packet of the new village. Feeling silly, I walked back to get the information.
That weekend we had the tough jobs of telling our families that we have grown so attached to that some of us were heading far away. They continued to tell us that they would miss us, and tell us how much they love us. They all made us promise to visit as much as possible.
On Monday we embarked on a voyage to see our new homes. Some of us would find a new family to take us in as their sons and daughters, others would find community members to help them settle into their new homes. My sisters walked me to the trainers’ fale at 3:30 in the morning to take our van ride to the market. Once we got to the market we hopped on the pasio va’a (bus to the ferry). This was my first real bus experience here and busses in Samoa are very unique. Everyone is very accommodating to make sure there is room for everyone. People sometimes seat 4 to a seat while still keeping that smile on their faces.
We then took the 8a.m. ferry to Savai’i. It was a beautiful ride. (This was probably because we were on the bigger ferry boat that does not rock quite as much.) Afterwards we had to rush to our next bus. I asked some locals questions about the bus and it was funny because I was ask them questions in Samoan and they would respond in English. There are a two people working on the bus, the driver and the helper. The helper helps everyone load their packages onto the bus and makes sure everyone who is old, young, or Palagi has a seat. The helper also runs errands for what seems like his entire nu’u. He was constantly jumping off the bus to drop off a propane tank, or buy items from several stores.
The helper was the one who told me we had made it to my primary school. (It was close to 11:00) I was so confused because I was expecting to be let off right at the school and there I was being left off on the road. To my left was this amazingly blue ocean and to my right was a dirt path covered in trees. I headed down the path anxious to see what was going to be in store for me when I came across this old wooden blue building. As soon as I stepped into the gates of the school children began crawling out from every crevice of the building wondering why a Palagi was on their property. Soon after a few teacher came out of their classrooms to welcome me to their school and walk me into the teachers’ lounge. I talked with the pule (principal) for a bit as she was going to be my new tina. Soon after the other teachers began to show up and and we were showered with food that the students prepared for us. After eating we chatted for a little bit and then headed home. (Schools in Samoa let out early during exam time.) We had about a ten minute walk to my new fale.
My new family was very welcoming and are very intelligent. I have 4 new sisters (two of them are living at home now) and 2 older brothers. I really enjoyed spending the two days with my family. When I returned back to Apia on Wednesday I was excited to find out that they still wanted to spend time with me. My brother Joe invited me to an event on Thursday night which his sister would also be at that I have never met. I could not understand what the event was and obviously did not know how to dress for the night.
Joe picked me up in a cab with his cousin. Apparently his cousin had the wrong idea and thought I was Joseph’s date. I must have said tuagane (brother) about 100 times during the trip! We showed up to this giant parking lot (Well giant for Samoa..) and I see people heading up this amazing staircase in formalwear. Upon entering I realized we were at the University’s Prom. I had an amazing time dancing with my brother and sister. It reminded me of how a dance would be in the States with the similar music and dancing. My family took amazing care of me making sure no stranger would dance with me to keep me safe. I had such a great time and I will never forget my first prom of Samoa….where I wore Capri pants and a tee shirt!


Walking around Samoa you will hear the word Palagi used quite a bit. At first a lot of us thought it was something offensive and wondering why others called us that. Not only are we called Palagi, but the English language is also called Palagi. When asking school children to say something in English, they might look at you funny because they do not know what that word is…but as soon as you say Palagi, they will sometimes start chatting away.
We were very confused about this term and wanted to know the facts behind it. We talked to some of our trainers and they were telling us how it is actually the opposite. The term came about when all the Missionaries were invading Samoa. They said it was like a beautiful sea of white people.
Being a Palagi you are definitely recognized everywhere you go. You are always getting the maximum amount of attention. People stop you to talk to you walking around the streets, at a fia fia (party) everyone is always approaching you to siva (dance), and children will just follow you to wherever you may be heading to next. It feels as though you are a celebrity.
It also does have its negative effects as well. You are assumed to have a lot of money. If you are heading to the shop to get a snack those children who are following you will also expect you to purchase them a stack as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

o lo'u nu'u o Foailolo

O lo’u nu’u o Foailolo.
I know I have not written in a long time, but there was no internet access at all! Before I write about some of the amazing adventures that I have had… I wanted to let everyone know where I will be living with fore the next 2 years.
I am leaving the island of Upolu and moving to Savai’i (about an hour and a half ferry ride away). I am going to be working at Gagaemalae Primary School which consists of 10 teachers (7 females, 2 males and one fafafine). The school was built in 1928 and has a bit of a charm to it. There are fala (woven mats) spread throughout the floors for students to sit on to do their schoolwork. Every day the students prepare a lunch for the teachers and since testing is going on in the schools, all of the students leave at that time. Gagaemalae is made up of 3 nu’u (villages); Satuiatua, Foailolo (where I will be staying), and Foailuga.
From the school grounds you can see the beautiful blue ocean, and if you take about a ten minute walk up the main road you will come to my fale. I am going to be living with the pule (principal) of my school. She has 6 children, and 4 of them are living with her at this time. My room is a corner room so I have a really nice breeze flowing through it. Each day I awoke to the birds chirping and hearing the ocean waves.
Imagine those beach screen savers on your computer, because that is the beauty of Samoa and I am thrilled to be living in it.