Saturday, April 21, 2007

Assumptions of a Trpoical Island

Assumption #1: it’s all sweet like a coconut
Bears are big, they hibernate due to extreme weather conditions, they love food & particularly the males, are scary. Samoan’s also love food, are consequently big making them scary and as a result of extreme weather conditions take on a form of hibernation. I know this because I, am acclimatizing. Despite too much physical activity and a rested minimum 8 hours sleep per night I seem to have developed a form of narcolepsy. I want to sleep ALL OF THE TIME and if I am not asleep I am thinking about sleeping. I remember the weather in Malta having the same effect but there I quenched my thirst for a rest & lazed around as much as possible. This whole AYAD placement actually requires me to work—who would have thought? A tropical island & a demanding job, sans palm tree & coconut cocktail! I can safely conclude that the first general assumption surrounding my 2007 placement has been proven wrong.

Assumption #2: The Martin Hadley Theory
There was one person who had more creative assumptions. That working in a developing country would involve sharing a ‘hut’ with livestock, reverting to traditional methods of cooking and most prominently, contracting every infectious disease under the sun. As I sit at my computer in my modest ’hut’, the circa 1972 ceiling fan rotating above I think “Thank god I’ve proven him wrong”…. Or have I?

I was woken from my afternoon nap (see previous paragraph) on Saturday to the sound of a 24 year old male dashing up the hallway wildly waving his hands around his body. A traditional Samoan dance? Similar and thwart with as much history, but no. It was my flat mate Alex attempting to rid himself of the gecko that had just checked into his shorts. Even sitting at the table is a dangerous activity.

Never before have I been able to visit the zoo from my own balcony (except when I was living with Morts). As I eat my breakfast I observe road-runners, parrots, geckos, lizards, chickens, millions of crazy ants & many a wild dog roaming my garden. This does provide for classic entertainment—I never realized how frustrating it is for ants to have their work interrupted!
Whilst the livestock living arrangements, I have been able to adapt to, preventing myself from catching an infectious disease shall be proven overtime.

We all know how easy it is to contract dengue fever thanks to our friend Lyndon’s short trip to Samoa, but to be 2 weeks into your stay and having spent more time in the hospital than in your new home sets an all time record. Unfortunately, Clair, one of the girls in my intake and the new holder of this record has been struck down with a stomach virus, the flu and dengue fever all at the same time! All I can do to prevent myself from succumbing to the same grief is continue to go through a tube of aeroguard tropical strength per week (the current rate of use).

So perhaps The Hadley Theory has some truth to it. His insistence of me sitting under a palm tree for the next 12 months however has been safely proven unlikely after another AYAD was squarely hit on the head by a bread fruit (imagine a ‘Day of the Triffids’ orange) whilst walking to the bus stop. Unless I can have a helmet made to match my pulitasi I’ll be selecting my locations of relaxation quite carefully.

Assumption #3: Lauren will get fat
Only time will tell whether this assumption will come to fruition however, measures have been taken to prevent this from happening. Despite taking to wearing a lava-lava (moo-moo style sarong) around the house I have joined a running club. Hash is an international running club consisting of around 35% expats and 65% Samoans that runs different courses every Monday. This week was hosted at my house by Alex & myself.

Exercising in Samoa is quite rare due to the heat and the wild dogs but Hash sets a run on a different part of the island each week & follows it up with a keg of Vailima (basically Toohey’s New) and a BBQ (meat unidentified). The run this week was a serious bush bash complete with river crossings, pigs and machette wielding Samoans. It was actually a lot of fun & nice to do some physical activity!

I was subsequently initiated and given a Hash name of Ryder. Samoa beat Fiji in the rugby 7’s last week and I made the poor choice of wearing black & white (Fiji colours) to Hash however did prove my athletic prowess, finishing amongst the first runners thus was named after the Fijian pocket rocket, Ryder.

Assumption #4: Nightlife will consist of the mosquito slapping dance around a fire
Moving in with Alex has been great. He’s been living here for 9 months so knows his way around & has many Samoan friends. Alex has been great in introducing me to people & showing me around. Consequently Samoa witnessed ‘Lauren’s first night out’ on Friday.

We started with drinks at Vaivase-Uta (home) then moved onto Bad Billy’s in Apia. I didn’t really have any expectations given the various ranges on nightlife I’ve experienced over the past 12 months but I have to say Samoa did not disappoint! No sooner had I descended from the taxi and I had a lei around my neck and long neck in my hand! Unable to finish the long neck I was presented with a jug of some fantastic tropical cocktail then one of our group appeared with a case of beer (you can buy a case in a nightclub!).

Kate (one of the other AYADs) & I were very well looked after. We were instructed to tell any men that hassled us that our new Samoan friends were in fact our brothers—had we needed to resort to this I’m not sure how it would have worked for Kate given she’s fair & blonde. We cut up the dance floor until the doors closed at midnight then continued the party at my place. I think the following photos tell the story for themselves!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An Eatser with no chocolate

It is the strangest concept that when living on a tropical island everything slows down but still, I find myself short of time. A contradiction one may say.

Easter came and went with minimal fuss. I had a similar experience last year with regards to Christmas. When you miss out on the commercial frivolity, superfluous celebratory signage and token gift giving you tend to forget the holiday season. Here in Samoa, the papers were filled with tributes to Jesus and plenty of preaching. I’m quickly learning that Samoa is similar to Malta in more ways than size. There are certainly some obvious contradictions. Whilst people go out on Friday and Saturday night and drink themselves into a stupor, dip into a bit of adultery and flirt with a fa’afine they also go to church 3 times on a Sunday and repent their sins.

I’ve noticed some further contradictions….

Whilst the climate is conducive to growing just about anything, and very quickly, rather than maximizing their use of fruit and vegetables in cooking, Samoan people tend to eat a lot of deep fried foods. A typical example is the predominance of green bananas in cooking (these are not un-ripened bananas but a green variety). Admittedly they are not the most flavoursome of fruits but when Samoan’s deep fry them they take on more of a styrofoamic quality than anything else. I’ve resolved that the majority of food that I eat out of home is going to be oil flavoured. Funnily enough we were consuming some ‘oil’ flavoured chips a few weeks ago only to read the ingredients which stated “banana chips, oil, fats, traces of ash”. Interesting that they were actually taro chips and top score for admitting to inedible goods existing in the product.

Pre-departure training warned us of many of the difficulties we were bound to face living and working in a developing nation. It was quite scary that after being warned of all the diseases we were susceptible to, one of the AYADs contracted 3 of them within her first week. However, we were also told that most of the clothes that we were used to wearing would not be acceptable in Samoa. Enter the concept of the fa’afini. Fa’afinis described in western terms, are men who dress as women and sleep with men. In Samoa though, it is a) illegal for a man to dress as a women and b) illegal to partake in homosexual activity. Fa’afinis are considered a category unto themselves thus exempt from these laws. Further, fa’afinis seem to have acquired their dress sense from trawling the websites of Club Troppo, Rooty Hill RSL and DCM’s. Minimalist would be an understatement. So in addition to being a blatant contradiction to the statement of the law fa’afinis also surpass the boundaries of societal and cultural norms. Clothing deemed inappropriate for a westerner in Samoa is thought acceptable for a fa’afine to wear (the clothes simply transfer over, so my size would then be worn by a 150kg fa’afini – see exhibit A).

It is all proving for a very interesting time though. I am really enjoying myself. Work is very busy and doesn’t look like it will let up. I’m already looking at my work plan and thinking ‘How on earth will I get this done in 12 months’ and I’m still looking at it from an Aussie perspective. As far as time parameters go I think it is safest to multiply deadlines by 3 and divide actual time spent on a task by 3. I had my first run-in with the General Manager at work the other day (for a closer impression of what it was actually like, check out my blog). I basically spent 8 hours writing a cabinet submission and then was asked to re-write it (just type out what the GM wanted) because I was stupid – very interesting!

Matt arrives in 13 days & I can’t wait. I’m really excited about showing him around Samoa and setting up our home together. It will be awesome to finally have a conversation that doesn’t consist of a quick hi, I miss you, hope you’re well, I’m running out of cred……

Still keeping myself busy on weekends playing sport, going out partying with the other AYADs and my new Samoan friends then burning out my brain learning Samoan on weekday mornings and re-teaching myself all of the theory that I learnt at uni so as to use it in practice!

I love hearing from you all so please keep the emails coming & posting notes on my site!!!