Eating is always an adventure in Samoa. Sometimes you are given a tray of food to eat off of and other times it is like family dinners in America with serving dishes.
When people want you to eat something they make sure to tell you. At the table, or sitting around an open fale people will begin to shout of the different food in front of you to remind you to eat them. I do not eat a lot of meat here, so usually they are shouting out the different meat types over anything else. Sometimes it feels as though every minute the adults I eat with are telling me something else in front of me.
The first time this happened was in our training village of Manunu (which feels like a million years ago, even though it has only been a month….It feels like I have been away from America for several years as of now. As you can tell I am having a difficult time getting my days straight.) I thought they were just trying to tell me the different types of food and how to say them in Samoan, however, it kept happening. It has been three months now and now I am convinced it will happen at every meal.
Eating is a big part of life here. In America there are many topics that are not discussed with others as it causes controversy, such as religion, politics, your weight, and your love life. These rules do not apply here. When talking to someone, there are three topics that will be discussed so if you can master them, others will think you are amazing at your gagana of Samoa (language). The three topics are food, religion and your love life.
When I eat at someone else’s house they want to make sure they feed me as much as possible. I think part of the reason they make sure I know of all of the food at their table so when it comes up in conversation with my family, my family will know how well this other family treated me and served me only the best foods. It is the same way with my family, as they want others to know that they are doing their part in trying to get me short and round. They love telling you how fat you are, even if you are not fat as I have observed. Being fat is a compliment as it shows that others are feeding you well.
When talking about religion, they ask what church I attended the previous week and which one I will attend the next week. They want to know what church I go to at home, and at first I told them about my parents being different religions, but that did not seem to make sense to them and got everyone more confused. Especially because there is no Jewish people here, unless they are here as volunteers or vacationing. (One of the other volunteers told me she tells people she is from the religion of Israel since they are all amazed with Israel and wanting to know more about it.) When I would tell them my father is Catholic, they would ask why I am not attending that church, but truth be told there is no Catholic church near here. I think the closest one is about an hour’s walk away.
They want to know about your love life and ask about your dating life. I have given the response that I have several hundred friends so that way give a laugh out of the situation. (Also that way they do not tell me about their sons who I would like.)
So when you come to visit me, be ready to talk about those three topics, several times a day. And remember at the dinner table they will make sure you know exactly what it is that you are eating, or not eating so you can share it with your friends at a later time. Moa…Chicken…Ulu….talo..esi... Soon you will know all the foods of Samoa!