I’ve heard this phrase a couple times, and it refers to the fact that about 80% of the time (rough estimate) you don’t really know what’s happening (probably due to the language barrier), so it’s best just to smile and go with it. I think my time in Samoa can best be summarized by the phrase “I have no idea what’s going on.” For example:
When my host dad asked me what I was doing with my host sister, all I could say was “I’m not sure. She said something about a show.” It turned out to be a siva Samoa (Samoan dance) at the beach fales down the road and was really fun.
Trying to get any information from the Peace Corps, such as when we will have trainings so we can plan to have visitors or take trips. Peace Corps says “We don’t plan our schedule until MESC puts out the school schedule.” I still don’t know any definite dates of in-service trainings.
Anything relating to food. Outside our time at the hotel, the only certainty about food is that it will exist at some point and you will be expected to eat it. I’m never entirely sure when food is coming, what type of food it will be, and how much of it there will be. So my response any time anybody asks me if I’m hungry is “E la iti’iti” (a little bit). It doesn’t matter if I’ve just eaten or feel starved to death, I’m always a little hungry. My host mom has started laughing at me every time I say that.
The Christmas play at my church. I got both a solo in one of the songs and a brief speaking part in the play, but didn’t know much beyond that. I didn’t have a matching outfit, could barely follow along with the dances, and didn’t know any of the words to most of the songs, but since I was the palangi, everyone loved me anyway. Before the performance, one of my host sisters asked me how long it would be because she wanted to go out dancing afterwards. I told her, “Well, rehearsal goes like this: we sing some songs, we start the play, we sing some more songs, then we repeat some songs. I just hope someone tells me when I’m supposed to speak.”
New Year’s Eve covered an entire weekend here. The day after New Year’s is also a holiday, but it’s celebrated on the next business day, so the holiday weekend went from Friday to Monday. I went to Savai’i to celebrate New Year’s with the other Peace Corps, and I left without knowing when or how I would get back, and whether or not I would be staying with some unknown person in between (no one could really confirm what public transportation was running or when, so I decided not to risk being stranded and having to pay a small fortune for a taxi). It turned out fine, but it was a huge step for me to leave for a trip without having the entire trip fully planned.
For those of you who know anything about me, I don’t usually do well with this type of structure – meaning almost no structure. I always like to know absolutely everything about every last thing that is happening, and all the details about what will happen in the future. I will say this about myself though; I’m pretty impressed with how I’m handling Fa’a Samoa. My flexibility comes and goes, and sometimes I get really frustrated that things generally don’t happen the way people say that will, but at least I’m starting to recognize the pattern. And really, what can you do about it? I’m finding that it’s much easier to just go with it than to be frustrated with it, but I still have a long way to go before I would even consider myself slightly flexible.