Friday, December 21, 2007

The demise of my sanity, Mum & Dad do Samoa and a German we'll call Gunther....

I know that I always start off my updates with “it has been so long since I last wrote” but this time it really has been. Given the marked lack of correspondence with my loved ones far and wide it seems (or one would hope) that everyone has been just as busy as I and that this will be the excuse given for the dearth of love being reciprocated over the last 2 months. Nonetheless I am reopening the channels of love and am eagerly awaiting your fervid thoughts and emotions to come flooding through the gates of Microsoft Outlook!

Following my return to the land that time forgot, I was thrust into a vat of demands that has not, even to this day, thinned at all. As Matt’s leisure time increased whilst waiting for the perfect job to surface, mine correspondingly decreased as I waved goodbye to the well structured communications plan and timeline that I had formulated to make way for the ever increasing and purely irrational demands of the almighty General Manager. Whilst I could quite easily sit here and write about how my experience in Samoa will make me a stronger person, permanently increase my levels of patience and endow me with an ability to enter any new situation free from assumptions I am beyond positive thinking and have entered a realm where I realize that making excuses is simply no longer feasible.

This man with whom I am working is really just a bad person and no one - volunteer, well paid or otherwise should have to put up with such abuse when the global employment market is by no means satiated. Mr Almighty calling me stupid and having now progressed to dumb, lecturing me on my lack of communications knowledge (apparently 3 years at uni and 4 years in the field simply don’t stack up to his superior natural abilities) and his unwavering demands for me to maintain a western work ethic in an organization where he permits actual Corporation related work from 2pm-3pm and sleeping or mastering of the skills of spider solitaire for the remainder of the day is simply unacceptable in any social or cultural context. I am sure that I am shaming many of you with my bitter and twisted take on my situation but I have simply come to the end of my tether. I was willing to compromise to the nth degree when taking on this position, I was given hours worth of lectures about culturally adapting and I halved my expectations and halved them again when entering into this role but I feel somewhere along the way this balance of giving and taking was turned on its head and all of a sudden my charitable tap had been turned on full throttle and the recollection tanks remained empty. I’ve had enough, I’ve run out and I cannot give anymore.

So with three months left of living in this ‘wanna-be paradise’ I am counting down the days (eighty to be exact). If it weren’t for my amazing counterpart, Titi, for whom I hold grave fears following my imminent departure, I would be on the next plane ready to settle back into a world where I can quite easily just leave a situation if it is implorable (I must emphasize not difficult but implorable). Whilst my hatred for Samoa and its people has never been stronger and is quite unlikely to subside (for the only positive thing I can site about this country is that due to global warming it won’t be around in a few hundred years time) I must admit that the last two months have brought with them two highlights which I have wholeheartedly turned to as I clinch for some positive memory to take from this chapter of my life (armchair politicians, label me a racist but not before you’ve lived and worked here yourselves, for I shall no longer criticize when the grass appears greener as it may in fact be a vile shade of baby poo brown).

I mentioned some time ago that I had joined Tautai Outrigger Club, an outrigger (va’a) canoe club. The club, rowing and the two guys that run it have been my saving grace from total insanity over the past two months. Saj and Hot Josh (as we have affectionately named him) have extended the list of decent Samoan people that I know from four to six. I have worked mainly with Saj to get a social paddling crew happening each Wednesday afternoon and as such we now usually have three boats of 6 volunteers mixed in with some junior Samoan paddlers. It has been fantastic to finally have access to Samoa’s best asset, the surrounding waters. Previously, it had been simply painful to be surrounded by the Pacific but only be able to use it after driving 40 minutes to the closest beach, now we get to paddle out onto the water and glide along looking back onto the land that provides me with so much animosity.

We’ve seen some really beautiful sunsets and moonrises and I’ve gradually seen my corned-beef-induced tuck-shop arms begin to subside. The Samoan Outrigger Canoe Association organized a regatta a few weeks ago aimed at getting all of the va’a clubs together to help strengthen the sport. The regatta was held over two days and was indeed a lot of fun. Despite a huge storm coming through on the Saturday afternoon our team ‘Va’a Off’ (Me, Matt, Andrew, Jess, Max and a bevy of interchangeable and equally muscular, fat-free steerers) managed to secure a silver medal in the 250m sprint. We were absolutely exhausted at the end of the day but went to the celebratory after party where we were presented with our certificate and prize of a disposable camera J much to the delight of those that preferred their alcohol induced actions be disposed of along with the coveted prize. This regatta somewhat cemented our friendships with Saj and Hot Josh and subsequently we’ve had some great times together. Bring on New Years Eve with the paddling boys, where Matt is organizing the Urunga Gift Abroad (Louise Joyce, please inform Matt of the technical aspects bearing in mind the limited resources here in Samoa).

November ended with a bit of a bang or so we had proposed. Tina, one of the newer volunteers has quickly become a permanent fixture in Matt’s & my life. We didn’t invite her, she just joined us a little like you end up with 21 tourists at the end of a tour rather than 19. This is not to say she is stingy. She is rather a blessing in disguises, a breath of fresh air in what had become a somewhat stagnant social circle. Kate, Matt & I have had an absolute blast with her and her counterparts since they arrived in October but most mentionable is perhaps ‘Big Spontaneous Wednesday’. Said event was the product of a night out to celebrate the opening of our dear friend Chubs/Charlene/Shazza’s new restaurant whereby Tina decided we should do something completely spontaneous…like jump onto a plane to Hong Kong! I said “Dim Sim… that’s Deeemmm Seeem!” proclaimed Tina in a voice resonant of Eddie Murphy circa Delirious. Whilst it took some time to explain that there is barely one flight a day between Samoa and Australia and thus it was likely to take us a week to arrive at the front door of an authentic Chinese restaurant, Tina was not discouraged. Bring forth ‘Big Spontaneous Wednesday’ - held the following Thursday. Whilst we had best intentions to spontaneously wag work, jump in the car and let it drive us to an undisclosed destination it was decidedly less spontaneous but still a great success. The next ‘Big Spontaneous Wednesday’ is coming to you so watch out.

Just about the only thing that I have seen occur on time here in Samoa is the wet season. As the fist day of December brought with it a truckload of work and not surprisingly a questionably coincidental demise in my sanity and an almighty breakdown, it also heralded the wet season. Cyclones started looming in the region, down pours bringing more water than Australia has seen in the past decade began occurring hourly and excuses of flooding, wet washing and water-borne diseases replaced ‘fa lave lave’ (the Samoan excuse) for not showing up at work. Whilst I had heard horror stories of living in the tropics during the wet season it came as a welcome relief for someone who has done little without sweating during the last nine months. The nighttime downpours cool off the persistently hot surroundings and the stubborn dust that has decided to share its home with us can marginally be washed away.

The wet season has also been embraced by my parents who appear to have the weather gods on their side. Mum and Dad arrived in Samoa nine days ago and as most of you will have gathered, to an incredibly needy daughter. It was an unbelievable relief to be able to hold conversations with people where the topics were not contrived, not fraught with the constrictions of cultural sensitivity and plainly, just simple. Matt, having just finished a short contract with the International Weightlifting Federation and me having come to a time of absolutely necessary annual leave, joined Mum and Dad during their ten day stay here. We have been blessed with the weather which has cooled down hugely whilst my parents have been here. Each day it has rained but only to cool off the muggy atmosphere and give way to clear blue skies. Whilst the Lonely Planet advises strongly against traveling during cyclone season, it couldn’t have been better timing for my parents and us.

The time with Mum and Dad was spent visiting all of the physically beautiful parts of Samoa. We basically repeated the itinerary that we had for Matt’s family earlier in the year but this time, stayed at different (more secure) places in the knowledge that we would be subjected to cyclonic activity. Mother Nature didn’t disappoint when three days into the holiday an earthquake of 6.4 on the Richter scale shook our 1970’s fibro mansion for almost a full minute. The next night Dad was certain that Satan was thrusting lightning bolts directly into the roof of our accommodation and the following night we all held our breath as the Daihatsu Rocky chugged along on 2 cylinders through a rain storm that reduced visibility to around 30cm (on land). Weather moods aside, we did get to see some great sites that even Matt & I in our 9 months here hadn’t yet seen.

After a few days on the Upolu South Coast we traveled to Savaii where we went swimming with turtles, jumped into a crystal clear waterfall and visited blowholes that shot coconuts 50 metres into the air. Mum and Dad have become either less aware of their senses or more adventurous during their pervading maturity. Mum took on a spot of animal spotting claiming that she saw a wombat, hyena, an otter, baby alligators and most recently a penguin. Albeit unbelievable, Ken (Matt’s Dad) did also claim to have spotted a hippo in the harbour when he was here so perhaps you become more attuned with our animal friends as you become less conscious of what your children are up to, or rather is it the sign of one too many cocktails on the rocks? Nevertheless Mum and Dad were indeed blessed with daily visits from a sandy coloured turtle and perhaps the noisiest cat in the world whilst staying at Lusia’s Lagoon in Savaii. It was not jut this talent for spotting rare animals and their obvious ability to channel Mother Nature’s kind heart that impressed Matt and I but also Mum and Dad’s sense of adventure. It took very little encouragement to have both parents leaping from the 2 metre high wharf into the ocean such that soon Matt was setting-up for family adventure shots. Whilst the images capture all the surprise and delight of a tropical postcard it doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination for one to espouse a dramatic tale from the expressions displayed on the parents’ faces.

All was not fun and games in paradise (in the loosest form of the term, we are still speaking of Samoa) however. After Matt loaned his fishing rod to a very persistent German tourist, a horror story worthy of ‘Today Tonight’ segment slowly emerged. Gunther as he will hence forth be referred, who claimed to be a professional kayaker, managed to flip a kayak on the reef and lose Matt’s 2-month-old fishing rod in the depths of the well enclosed, calm and peaceful lagoon. Gunther professed a semi-serious apology to Matt who explained that hell hath no fury like the women who-just-gifted-said-fishing-rod scorned, and would require at least some effort of recovery. Gunther headed out on a search mission the next morning. Much to Matt’s alarm (and my marginal concern – he was after all a self-proclaimed professional kayaker), Gunther did not return to shore following a sudden stormy outburst from Mother Nature. Matt (AKA Mitch Buchanan), the owner of the resort and a bevy of other people wanton of drama soon joined in a search for Gunther who unwisely returned an hour post storm to report that he had simply been snorkeling on the far side of the reef. After a Becks and a lie down, Matt conceded that the fishing rod was simply not worth the worry he had been put through during the search for Gunther and he would just have to forgo the most loved activity of his life. Gunther agreed and offered no compensation.

So now I come to a sad close. Mum and Dad depart tomorrow and I have been pining for home for at least the last 12 hours. Matt is sick of my whinging and I thus released it upon all of you. On the bright side Andy and Laura join us in just less than 2 weeks. They are intending to stay until May but I am under no circumstances changing my March 11th ticket back to reality so who knows what the next few months will bring. Neverthless, Samoa will not know what has hit it with the heavily bearded duo (that is, Andy & Matt – not Laura) taking to beach road. Will the hour of power still be known as such or for Laura and I will it just become sour? Kim and Bel will be joining us for some fire twirling action in late January followed by Midi and Neill to take on the Samoan surf once again. Fingers crossed I’ll be getting some love from Nic and Wade but if not I know Nic will make up for it with a nice re-orientation to high heels, metal furniture and glassware upon my return. I should thank you all for listening and reaching this point in my diatribe if you have. Manuia lou Kerisimasi – I miss you all more than ever.