Thursday, July 26, 2007

Christmas in July

A close call with gangrene, a tangible and sustainable piece of work, a family visit and a momentary lapse of remembering my middle name brings me into my fifth month in Samoa.

Christmas in July
A lack of Westfields, a stressful day at work and excessive heat didn’t deter me from squealing like a 3-year old being gifted her first cabbage patch doll when I walked into my backyard and saw the little piglet that Matt had bought me!! Christmas, as she was so aptly named, lost her mind when I ran around her pen screaming like a banshee possessed. It was all in the name of excitement but perhaps not the best introduction to her new family. It took a few weeks, but our piglet is now as happy as…well… a pig in mud. She is talking to us every time we come near her, lets us hand feed her and literally goes weak at the knees when we scratch her. It is so amazing watching her grow and become used to us. Kate described us three (her, Matt & I) as proud parents who get excited over the child’s every action, we now bore the populace of Apia with stories about how amazing our pig is while they look at us with bemused expressions no doubt wondering how they could silence the pig on a midnight mission of robbery. In coming weeks watch for exciting news about the Pig Weigh in Competition. We are currently setting up an offshore account to house the millions we expect to take in this global betting ring. Official rules and details will be distributed shortly.

Christmas in July extended further than the acquisition of a pig so named. It really was like the holiday season with the influx of visiting friends and relatives. In the first few weeks we caught up with Matt’s cousin Neill and his girlfriend Midi. Matt & Neill’s blatant attack on a bottle of rum was heard far and wide with the lack of volume control on Matt’s voice box becoming ever so obvious. It was great to see people from home however and we hope that they’ll be visiting again before our year is out. The next to join us was Rob, Kate’s Dad. He has now been here for almost a month, an established part of the household that will be sorely missed come Thursday. Amanda Joyce descended the plane in a cloud of alcohol fumes and the need for a good break. It took her a few days but when she worked out how to sit still and do nothing, she embraced the Samoan lifestyle wholeheartedly! A week later when Louise, Bernadette & Ken Joyce joined us, the Vaivase Uta Hotel was at maximum capacity. It also dawned the start of a fantastic two weeks of family holiday!

In preparation for the visitors Matt took it upon himself to construct questionably the most innovative BBQ of all time. Acquiring a 44 gallon drum from his boss then the skills and tools from various parties around Samoa, Matt was able to slice the drum in two, build legs, a removable tray and cook up a BBQ of epic proportions. On its first night in use, it was aptly coined the ‘Ab-acue’ in honour of its versatility and Matt’s vision to expand the product’s functionality moving forward. A proposal has since been drafted and submitted to Demtel who have said in it’s current state, a mere set of free steak knives would not be enough to compliment such an apparatus but a Terry Tuff Ten Thousand is a more appropriate ‘free’ gift (apparently there is a surplus of said Terry Tuff’s after the purchase of only one in the Ballina region circa 1998).

The ab-acue did come in handy when we set up the Joyces for 4 nights at Vavau. After spending the equivalent of Samoa’s 1978 GDP on alcohol at Aggie Grey’s it was nice for the family to relax in paradise sans swim-up bar. Matt & I visited the Joyces most nights then joined them on Thursday afternoon to start our short break. Friday morning saw all 6 of us pack into the 6 seater CRV (the front seat was a bench) and head to Savaii. We traveled along the South Coast taking in the sights as Ken progressively got more sick and my knees became more bruised (I was sitting in the middle of the bench seat). We stopped at a resort for lunch where Matt took to a spot fishing and caught a pretty big trevally. It was quite hilarious watching Matt and his Dad bring in the fish – Matt is the image of his father! By this stage Ken was rapidly descending into the oblivion that is the Samoan Flu. By the time we drove onto the ferry for Savaii he was well imbedded in the disease and to make matters worse we were stuck in the hull, next to engine with no way out. The cars were so jam-packed into the ferry that people (albeit they Samoans) couldn’t walk between the cars. It was decided that as a matter of saving my knees and keeping us entertained Amanda would be relegated to the boot and I would jump into the back seat. This in itself was quite the mission. With the boot full of beer, backpacks and fishing gear poor Amanda had to contort herself like a Chinese gymnast whilst the rest of the female contingent fought back tears of laughter. When I was comfortably in my new seat and Amanda was…well… poked, prodded and squashed into the boot we were able to start the card games. This entertained us for about ten minutes until I felt it necessary to crack out a bit of Whitney Housten. My voice has often been described as that of an angel, my singing and performing prowess regaled by many across the globe, this performance was perhaps my piece de resistance. It even brought a tear to the eye of Ken who was by this stage, fighting the black plague in the front seat. It was agreed by all that I could not possibly better the performance and should stop while I was ahead and the conversation turned to names. Louise asked me what my middle name was to which I promptly replied Elizabeth. Matt looked at me in amazement as I suddenly retracted the statement because my middle name is in fact Suzanne. It was one of those unbelievable moments where my mouth literally opened and expelled sounds without any direction from my brain. It goes without saying that the laughter was suddenly directed towards me and the brilliance of my previous performance cast off like a dirty hanky. This is still an occurrence that I’m struggling to explain and something that I am sure not to live down given Louise Joyce’s insistence on referring to me as Liz thereon in.

Savaii was an adventure for everyone for a number of reasons. Firstly Matt & I had not been here before either so it was a journey of discovery. Secondly, Ken was knocking on deaths door so it was a sleepless journey for Bernadette. Thirdly, Louise had spent 5 days without her magic credit card, decent wine and within close proximity to the male members of her family and as such it was a journey of will power. When we arrived at Jane’s Fales we were met by the most friendly of hosts and an incredible stretch of grass. I know a stretch of grass isn’t usually something to become excited by but bear in mind that I’m living on a small island and I also get excited when they have lettuce in the supermarket. This grass was a bit like treading on sponges, it was soft and springy and the type of stuff you imagine a little wonderland of fairies and gnomes to live in (if those types of things don’t scare you). Moving right along…. We met up with Kate and Rob and headed straight for Le Lagoto the closest resort with alcohol. We all needed a stiff drink after the day that was. As we traipsed in like weary travelers dressed in our lava lavas and bare feet we were met with looks of disdain from the rich American tourists. The glares were soon forgotten as we polished off our respective tropical cocktails and Rob entertained us all with his various ‘photograph’ faces.

A gale-force wind awoke us on Saturday morning which was quite disappointing but it did inspire us to do a bit of sightseeing rather than just relaxing at the beach which is all too easy to do here. We piled into the car once more and headed for the lava fields. These fields were quite amazing. They are the result of a volcanic eruption some 50 or so years ago where the villages along the coast were virtually wiped out. What makes the lava fields so spectacular is the remaining church that the lava flowed around and through rather than destroying. It is absolutely beautiful and with the trees and plant growing around and on it, it reminded me of Ankor in Cambodia. The pictures show this place better than I can describe it but it was really incredible to see something like this in Samoa as I had no idea there was variation from the beaches and jungle that I had become accustomed to. Although the lava fields were amazing, the highlight of the visit to Savaii was swimming with turtles. We visited a village where 20 or so turtles live in a lagoon and are accustomed to human visit. We were able to don the snorkels and masks and head on in. Swimming with these amazing creatures was awesome. They were so gentle, friendly and gazed at you with a look of wisdom. I was the only one of our party that hadn’t been swimming with turtles before so it was a pretty special experience for me and one I can’t wait to share with my family.

Monday afternoon saw us return to Upolu where we were hosting Hash. The afternoon was quite rushed and a storm the size of Cyclone Tracey was brewing between tour guides Matt & Lauren making the whole proceedings both tense and difficult. Louise took control of the kitchen and set Amanda on a mission which earned her the new name of Food Processor Joyce. Mum Joyce had to be sat down with a stiff bourbon after the Samoan ATM fell asleep and withdrew money from her account without actually giving it to her and Ken was relegated to testing the keg and collecting fire wood for the public launch of the ab-acue. When we thought all was coming together nicely and the storm somewhat receding, about 25 medical students turned up to join in Hash. Now Hash is of course a very social running club and each week there about 25 regular participants and 5 or so visitors from other Hash clubs or friends of Hash members but an additional 25 ring ins meant that the night had a totally different vibe and blew the cost through the roof. These med students were quite unbelievable. Not only did they make no effort to mingle but as soon as the food was brought out they attacked it like and angry swarm of seagulls leaving little food for the actual Hash members. It was so disappointing. I actually saw one guy go for thirds when Hash members hadn’t even eaten. I managed to get a sausage but only because Amanda Joyce donated it to me from her own hand. The lack of food I received turned into a blessing in disguise for all those who attended Cocktails On The Rocks later that night. Due to the copious amounts of alcohol necessary to alleviate the anger and frustration these med students had caused I found it necessary to somewhat continue my tribute to Whitney Housten from the trip to Savaii. I took over control of the music and the let the dance floor have it with all of my pent up energy.

It seems however that painting the town red was not the best remedy for the coral cut on my leg. When I awoke Tuesday morning I had a swollen leg which was so painful that I could barely walk. As the day continued my leg started to turn black and the cut slowly turned into a hole. It was touch and go for a while there (I know I make a joke of it but it was pretty serious) but after begging the chemist for some drugs and quadrupling the dosage she gave me I am all shiny and new. The scar is only minimal but the whole experience has taught me not to take infections in this climate lightly.

That brings me to the sad good bye. Thursday morning was pretty horrible as we had become so used to having the family around. Saying good bye in front driveway was a teary affair as we won’t be seeing everyone again until at least March next year. We had such a great time together and for me, it was awesome to get to know Matt’s family better given it was only the fourth time we’d met! So now I’m back at work and the fun is over however, I have managed to complete a tangible piece of work by redesigning the EPC website ( It is now much more useful and informative and something that I will leave behind as a testament of my time here. I’m also entering dangerous ground with the GM who more impossible than ever to get a hold of so I have started releasing things into the public arena without his approval. I’m just waiting to be chased down with razor blades and lose my ears.

Its only 25 days until the South Pacific Games during which time there is sure to be a lack of food and water with the influx of an estimated 20,000 people to Samoa! Matt’s work has begun to ramp up but he has new additions to his team almost daily. I will be the media officer for both Va’a (outrigger canoeing) and Netball so on top of my normal work I imagine that I’ll be pretty busy during this time. I’m missing everyone at home a lot so keep the emails coming!