23 months ago we were in training in this small mountain village of Manunu. The village was wonderful in so many ways as it forced you to be in tuned with the Samoan culture. We lived in a fish bowl, as most of the houses were in a circle around the malae allowing you to see what everyone is doing at all times.
There were some ups, and there were many downs during that period. We were in such a state of adjustment that it was difficult to see the many positive aspects of living where we were at the time.
I remember sneaking over to the ruins of a house, or the “main” road to call my sister and secretly cry to her about what I was going through. Reminding her not to tell my parents because I wanted to seem strong, I did not want them to have any reason to doubt me or the decision I made and tell me to come home.
Living with so many people (Was it 13 or 14?) and sharing a room for sleep with so many young babies and toddlers seemed so impossible after living on my own for so long. Feeling malnourished as I was not getting the food that I felt was healthy, or even liked. (I remember my family trying to constantly splurge on their finances and give me a bowl of noodles for a meal. They were so confused at why I did not like this treat as much as they did.) Never having a place to change your clothes without everyone watching, seemed like the most difficult thing. Always wondering if there would be toilet paper or old school notes in the bathroom to wipe yourself seemed to cause some stress as well. The constant noise made sleep darn near impossible to get and I remember just spending days crying because I was so tired and knew I had to have classes from 8-5, and sometimes later anyway. Four or five hours on a Sunday dedicated to church seemed impossible, and I remember once or twice hiding in bed pretending to be sick as the thought of doing the half hour walk to church in the sun seemed like walking the plank on a pirate ship. And it was the place where cold water showering was introduced to us. And believe me, those showers were extremely cold! I had a family there that truly cared about me, and showed it in such an extreme that I was not used to. I was not used to a curfew in which I should be home well before dark, and warned about rapists and ghosts in the village if I went anywhere when it was not daylight.
Though there was plenty of craziness in my eyes, I really did enjoy my family, and was only really able to focus on how much I loved them until I was removed from the area and was able to think about the good times without all of those other distractions. All of these fond memories have made me able to keep coming back for more and more visits.
On my last visit last weekend, I realized how much I have grown as a person, and how Samoanized I have become in the two years. The family has changed as people have moved away, others have gotten married and some have had children. In my last visit, the faleo’o where the boys would sleep had been torn down because of it being old and weathered, but other than that the family is the same loving people I have always remembered.
When visiting a family, the nice appropriate thing to do is bring food. I have learned how important this is when you visit some families than some others. In many families there is no one working to support the family, or possibly only one person making the minimum wages of 2 tala per hour. The family you visit want to make only the best food for you, but sometimes it is impossible for them as all they can afford is the sugar for the cocoa, as the rest of their food comes from the land. I usually try to bring several bags of groceries for this reason, as I do not want to spend several days only eating boiled bananas.
But as I was saying, I have realized how much I have grown on this last visit. The water pipes were not working at my family’s house, so I joined my sister as we walked across the road to a neighbor’s house and showered outside there. There are many parts of this experience that I would have feared two years go. First of all, showering outside where everyone can see you I used to think was strange, I mean what happens if your lavalava falls down? Also, having someone there with you showing can seem strange. But it felt completely natural. My sister made sure I scrubbed my shoes for church to make sure they were as clean as possible.
For sleep arrangements, I remember during training how much I complained and lost sleep over sharing a room with 4 people including a 1 year old, 2 year old, three year old and a 25 year old. It drove me insane. However, on this visit I was perfectly comfortable sharing me bed with my sister and having 9 of us in the room.
I walked in different people’s houses in the back door and hung out with families for hours, just to talk and let them know how their Peace Corps is doing. I went on countless walks with my sisters to catch up on life. It was just an amazing time being with them.
I have also gained a lot of confidence being in Samoa, and I feel like I have grown and am not the same person I was 23 months ago. (Hopefully in a better way!)
(Pictures are from our Close of Service Conference)