Monday, December 13, 2010

Sounds of Samoan Life

My inspiration for this blog post came from a phone conversation with my family. They were laughing at the sound of roosters in the background, which I didn’t even notice because I had been living in the village for a while. So I thought I would try to describe how the average day in Samoa sounds.

Starting about two or three in the morning, the roosters start crowing. They don’t crow constantly and it usually starts way off in the distance with one rooster. Then another rooster joins in, and you can hear it moving closer and closer until the rooster right outside your window starts squawking. Eventually you do get used to it, but it still wakes me up sometimes. Along with the roosters, there are always pigs walking around outside your window, and it scared me in the first week because a pig walking over the rocks outside your window doesn’t sound much different than a human walking over the rocks outside, but then you realize that people generally aren’t walking around outside at three in the morning. Maybe at four in the morning. Add onto this the dogs barking. Dogs aren’t pets in Samoa in the same way they are pets in the US. They usually live with families, but they still have to fend for themselves, so they are pretty darn vicious. It is a bit scarier to wake up in the middle of the night and hear snarling dogs that seem like they are about to kill each other.

The music in Samoa is a bit different from music in the states too. While I have heard some US music, most of the music has received the island treatment and is a techno/reggae island-style remix. For example, I heard the English version of “Hey, Soul Sister,” followed immediately by the island remix version with Samoan lyrics talking about Jesus. Christmas carols are the same way. I haven’t really heard any traditional Christmas carols, but Christmas music seems to be big here. I have heard it in stores and on buses since the day I got to Samoa. Some of the classics are “We wish you a reggae Christmas and a reggae new year,” “I’ll be home with bells on,” and a Macarena remix that alternates between the Macarena and various Christmas carols like Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

This requires a tangent on the bus because music is always loudest on buses and taxis. The bus is quite the experience in Samoa. Most of the buses are built almost entirely out of wood and they are built to hold 35 seated passengers. The benches are really close together so that I can barely sit straight without my knees hitting the bench in front of me. So I generally sit at an angle. On the wooden buses, there aren’t windows, but sheets of plastic that you can put up or down depending on if it is raining or not. It is nice to have them up so you don’t get wet, but then it gets ridiculously hot and humid inside the bus. While the buses are built for 35 people, they can hold up to 80 or more. First, when all the seats are full you have to sit on someone’s lap. I find myself fortunate because I generally am the person sitting on someone else and not the other way around. However, I always get bruises from the bus because the wood seats are unforgiving, and sometimes I sit in the front seat right next to the door, which has metal bars in front of it. Those are even more unforgiving. When all the seats are full of people sitting on each other, then they let people stand on the bus. The only way to stay cool on the bus is to have all the windows open, so I always hope it doesn’t rain when I take the bus. Also, the bus is like a great void that things tend to disappear into. I've lost my waterbottle with all my awesome stickers on it, 10 tala, and an almost empty bottle of sunscreen. But it could be worse - someone already lost their phone on the bus.

Back to sounds. Another dominant sound in Samoan life is singing. Music is not taught in schools, so most people don’t know how to read music, but everyone knows how to carry a tune, so they sing acapella, and every song has amazing harmonies. This is usually heard in church and every night during evening prayer. I have a funny story about this. I sang in the church choir with my family every Sunday, but I only when to choir rehearsal once. The one time I went, the choir director was asking us what parts we sang (I was there with Rachael, who lived next door to me in the training village). She wasn’t in choir back home, so she said she didn’t know what part she sang. I said I sing soprano and I heard some laughter behind me, but I’ve started to disregard laughter because everyone laughs at everything in Samoa, and pretty much everything a palangi does is worth laughing at. After choir practice, my host sister told me “It’s funny that you say you sing soprano because usually women sing soprano, but you don’t have a woman’s body.” That is one of my favorite stories to tell.

Then it gets back to nighttime and you have all the animal sounds to deal with. Another thing you have to deal with is the bugs. The cockroaches make a lot of scraping noises as they crawl around your room at night, and the lizards on the wall make a strange bird-like chirping sound occasionally. I was also lucky enough to have a mouse who lived in the mats under my mattress who would go for romps at night, so I would hear him rooting through my garbage and getting into things every once in a while.

I made a deal with all the spiders in my room - I wouldn't kill them (empty threat) if they would stay away from my stuff. Didn't really work. This one is about as big as my hand. Fortunately they don't bite.

Everything loses its novelty after enough time, so sounds aren’t nearly as noticeable anymore. I still enjoy all the prayer songs, but the roosters are only background now.

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