Living with such a loving family you wouldn’t expect one person to deceive you. I went from living on my own in Colorado to having 4 sisters, 3 brothers, 2 nieces, a nephew, a cousin, and a mom and dad living with me. Alone that was a huge change. There were a few places where people slept. There was a Palagni style house which was one big room in which me, my 25 year old sister and her 2 year old and 7 month daughter also slept. A Palangi house is what we call our normal houses with walls and doors. There was a faleo’o where the boys slept(my 3 brothers and my cousin). A faleo’o looks like a hut. It has leaves out together to make the roof and is a plain wooden floor. There was an open fale where the girls slept (3 sisters, and my 3 year old niece). The open fale had a tin roof (with ridges so you can collect the rain water), and a few wooden support beams. It was also the place where we usually ate our meals, and hung out dancing because the radio was there. Behind that was the kitchen which was a true Samoan kitchen, which means a wooden shack, with a thatched roof, a wooden flat area where meals are prepared, and a space that was all dirt for the fire. The flooring was rocks which were sometimes used in cooking the food. My Samoan parents slept on the wooden flat area. In the kitchen there is no electricity at all. So when the need comes for light, they will often burn old coconut tree leaves.
In such small quarters it is very easy for people to get sick and spread it around to everyone else. So when I first arrived in mid October, one person had the flu, and by the time I left in the beginning of December 7 people in my family were currently sick with the flu. When little children are sick, they aren’t the most pleasant to be around, especially when you want to sleep!
In the Palagi house there was a bed with a curtain around on side of the bed, and on the other side of the curtain was the mosquito net for the other three to sleep in. All the locals do not sleep on beds, and rarely do they sleep on mattresses, usually it is mats on the floor.
Of course to my great luck the two and 6 month old and my sister Jenny were all sick. Throughout the entire night the children would take turns waking up screaming because of them not feeling good. It was pretty ridiculous! About 5 times during the night they would wake up screaming for about 20 minutes. I have not met one Samoan who is a light sleeper, so usually when they start crying I hear it right away, but my sister does not hear it until much later. After a little over a week of not getting much sleep, my family began to notice how grumpy I was getting (along with everyone else I came in contact with!) and that night they switched the sleeping arrangements.
My 16 year old sister and my 3 year old neice were in the Palagi house with me. The 16 year old is toe tali titi (not spelled right, but it means cheeky). One day when I was playing basketball outside Maka’s fale, I took my i’e (wrap around skirt) off. (Since his house was right outside the village woman can get away with wearing long shorts.) She swooped by and picked it off the rock I had it on and started wearing it. My 21 year old sister came by and asked me where my i’e was. We both saw Fili my 16 year old sister wearing it. She was immediately scolded for it and had to give a big apology for it. Another example of Fili being cheeky is she woke me up once by slapping me in the bum just to ask to borrow a paper from me.
Anyway, our host families are required to do laundry for us once a week, and since my 21 year old sister was helping out at another family member’s house with the chores, Fili was told to do it. During the week she kept mentioning that she would do my laundry but never did it. I finally asked Jenny, my 25 year old sister, and she said she would get Fili to do it that day. It finally was done and two days later I was not the stinky kid anymore. Later in the week, my clothes were running low again, and I directly asked her in front of her big brothers to do it. About 5 minutes later they were on the line drying. I didn’t put two and two together until I got my clothes back…. And they smelled! She was mad at me for interrupting her fun time so she decided to wash them without soap.
During the time Fili was sleeping in the same room as me I noticed that my things were being moved and sometimes she would take the key to my locked box to roam around while I was sleeping or in the shower. I also was surprised to find that all the money that was in my wallet was taken. It was only $5 tala, but it was still upsetting…. Especially because some days you just really want an ice cream! I wasn’t sure who took it as it could have been taken anywhere.
My last full day in Manunu I began packing and realized my favorite shirt was not there. I went and brought it up to my two siblings that I was closest to, Jenny and Ezra, my 24 year old brother. They immediately asked me if they noticed anything else missing and I told them about the money. Jenny immediately went through Fili’s school bag and found 4 shirts and undergarments. Ezra told me that Fili was stealing my shampoo and conditioner because he noticed that day that there was a plastic bag with white goop inside it.
As soon as Jenny made the discovery my parents returned home from their trip to Apia. They immediately sat down to have our little family meeting. They apologized for what happened and everyone cried for “ruining my time in Manunu”. I told them not to worry because a few events can’t ruin as much fun as I was having. My tama gave me tala from his pocket to make up for the money that was taken.
Almost as if it was on cue Fili showed up from school. She was summoned into the dining area in which we were sitting. My tina began yelling at her, hitting her and pulling at her hair. I know parents do hit their children all over the place, but not growing up with it, I was rarely exposed to it. She apologized to me, and thankfully I was able to leave the stressful situation because it was time to go back to school.
This event made me nervous about the classrooms. Because although corporal punishment is not allowed in the schools, it still happens frequently. I wonder how it will be when I see it happening for the first time.