Monthly Archives: May 2015

Things that are Immediately Wonderful about Samoa

With less than 24 hours in the country on which to base this assessment, my return to Samoa two and a half years after finishing my Peace Corps service has been much easier than expected. Well, the travel logistics were a nightmare, but that’s an entirely different story that deserves its own blog post. I find myself slipping seamlessly and effortlessly back into my Samoan lifestyle, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that, at this point, everything is as amazing as I hoped it would be. These are some of the joys, big and small, that are particularly deserving of attention because they have been the source of unspeakable happiness.

The communication habits I picked up as a PCV have returned without any conscious effort on my part. All my questions inflect downward, I raise my eyebrows so much it’s a miracle they haven’t fallen off my face, and I don’t hesitate to call everyone and everything “cheeky.” On the flip side of that, I’ve encountered continuous expressions of surprise from the people I talk to when I speak Samoan instead of the English they expect from palagis. That feeling never gets old. 

I need to preface this – this list actually starts in Fiji, which is a tropical island in the South Pacific and therefore similar enough to Samoa that it still counts. I had fresh papaya and pineapple with breakfast in Fiji. It was the BEST papaya I’ve ever had (I never thought those words would come out of my mouth). Pineapple is always amazing, so no surprise there. When I got to Samoa, I had the BEST banana of my life (and as a runner, I’ve eaten quite a few amazing bananas). I was irrationally excited to eat taro with coconut cream (what’s so special about that? I stopped eating that halfway through my time as a PCV because I prefer breadfruit. But it was SOOOO good!). I also had the BEST lemonade made from local lemons. The next morning, I had a tuna fish sandwich for breakfast, which was followed by cake topped with butter (instead of icing) and a custard pie (those make the list of things that are immediately wonderful because they are classic fa’a Samoa). And I had the BEST fish and chips from the market. This list could (and probably will) continue for days.

Samoa has stifling humidity so heavy it constitutes a physical barrier to activity. Everything slows down because you push through the air with every step. The familiarity of it feels wonderful. Even better are the sudden cloudbursts of rain so heavy that everyone takes shelter under the nearest building or tree until it passes. And even BETTER is getting home after a storm like that and changing out of wet clothes into something comfy and cozy.

I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting an older couple also headed to Samoa after we all missed our connection in Fiji. They also gave me the wonderful honor of letting me be a guest in their home my first night in the country (because our flight was delayed and I didn’t have other plans at that time). They had other family in the area, and we all sat down to a feast at the dinner table and shared stories as if we had known each other our entire lives. It was so nice to be able to start my time here with such a warm reception.

Little parts of my regular routine, such as topping up my Digicel credit, hailing a bus, eating everything with a spoon, waking up to the sound of roosters at all hours of the night, or buying snacks from KK Mart have been amazingly gratifying. By far the best part of my time here so far has been those instances when people recognize me (yes, I’ll admit it, it’s nice to be known and remembered. I’m only human). A few people around town remember me from when I did errands at their shop as a PCV. Some people from my village also spotted me walking down the street and stopped me to have a conversation. I can’t wait to see the rest of the people from my village!

It still feels weird to return to Samoa after having spent so much time away, but I am happy to find that Samoa is a place I can come back to. Because I’ll certainly come back again.


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The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

As Enzo nears the end of his life, he reflects on all the things that happened over his life that brought him to where he is today. Enzo, a dog, knows that his role in life is to help Denny, his human owner. Denny and Enzo have shared many happy times together, particularly when they watch tapes of racing or the rare occasions when Denny takes Enzo out for a spin around the track. Denny is a race car driver. Enzo even amiably shares Denny’s time and attention with Eve, Denny’s wife, and eventually Zoe, their daughter. Then trouble hits. Eve falls ill, and just as she appears to be making a recovery, she passes away. Enzo knows that this is because her soul has served its purpose in the world, but he does not have the words to explain this to Denny. Then Denny becomes embattled in a bitter custody suit with his in-laws for guardianship over his daughter. Enzo stands steadfastly with Denny throughout the turmoil and they face the challenge head on until there is nothing left to give. Meanwhile, Enzo knows that his time is almost up and prepares for his soul to depart the Earth.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein is the story of death as told through life. Stein chooses to narrate this story from the perspective of a dog, which makes the story both beautiful in its joyful innocence and incisive for its outside perspective. Enzo can observe and describe Denny’s life in a way that few other narrators can. The relationship between humans and their pets is hugely significant and meaningful, and Stein plays every last heart string in this novel. The title of the book reflects the skill and mindset necessary for the challenge of driving on a race car track in the rain, and the metaphor of racing continues throughout the book, creating a recurring theme for every challenge, obstacle, or moment of life learning. At times, the theme of the story becomes lost in the details of racing, but then Stein brings it right back to ground level by sharing all the gritty details of Enzo’s animal instincts. Stein tells a tale full of nostalgia, wisdom, and deeply felt love as only a dog could do.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, this is a sad book, but it didn’t make me cry nearly as much as I was expecting (I thought it would be along the lines of “The Fault in Our Stars,” but it was more like “The Book Thief”). My one point of contention is that the custody battle hinges on a false allegation of sexual assault by Denny against a 15-year-old girl. False reporting of sexual assault is as frequent as false reporting of any other crime, and I was disappointed that the issue got so much attention throughout the book and gave that much more weight to the myth of false accusations. Otherwise, I thought the book was adorable (who doesn’t love a story told by a dog?), and it was a super quick read. Certainly worth your time.

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