Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stages of Samoa

I didn’t really get to Samoa until I moved to my village. Ya, I was here for training for almost 3 months, but that doesn’t really count. You’re in class all day, so you don’t really know what your average day will be like, you’re with other PCVs all the time, so you don’t know what the village will feel like, and you’re only a temporary guest, so you don’t know what people will do when you’re no longer new and exciting. After I had been in Samoa for 3 months, I really arrived in Samoa.

In the beginning, I was always comparing everything to my time in Mexico. As part of the INVST program, I spent almost a month in Mexico (a week on the US side of the border, a week and a half in Mexico City, and a week and a half in rural Mexico). Everything about Samoa reminded me of Mexico – the green, the plants, the lack of understanding, the host family, the strange eating schedules, not being able to drive myself anywhere, the smallest activities were the biggest adventure, and so on forever and ever. I also spent a lot of time thinking about home – the States – during this period in Samoa. I wasn’t exactly homesick, but I had spent a lot of time thinking about home while I was in Mexico, so I just assumed it was part of the newness of it all. I knew that at the end of the next four weeks, I would still be in Samoa, instead of on a never ending bus ride back to Colorado. I didn’t want to go back home, but I think I wanted something familiar. I would call this time the time of the Grocery Store (I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up in a grocery store, usually King Soopers, in my dreams). This was facilitated in many ways – I was constantly comparing the stores in Samoa to the stores in the States, stacking up the deficiencies of Samoan grocery stores, and thinking how the village shops in Samoa were exactly like the village shops in Mexico. Mostly, though, I think it was due to my Sunday morning tradition. In the States, I go to the grocery store every single Sunday morning. Every single week. I walk up and down every single aisle (which I know by heart, having walked them so many times), looking at every single food item that I have already inspected a million times, making my minimal, necessary purchases, then leaving. The whole trip usually took at least an hour. As much as I try, it is impossible to spend an hour in a grocery store in Samoa. Also, I generally can’t get to the grocery store on a Sunday morning because of church. So instead of trying and failing to keep up with a Samoan church service, I was mentally retracing my trips through the grocery store. When church was really long, I would visualize the car ride to and from the grocery store. This was the first part of my time in Samoa – comparing it to Mexico, and thinking about everything I no longer had access to.

About eight months in, sometime in August or September, that all changed. I was leaving town on a Saturday morning. Normally, this had been a frantic activity. Trips to town generally involved me rushing through the few stores in the capital to find the precious foods I loved (wheat bread, peanut butter and jelly, crackers, and cheese) but couldn’t or wouldn’t buy in the village, trying to spend 20 or 30 minutes online to catch up with e-mail, then getting to the bus at least a half hour before it left because I wanted to make sure I got a good seat, and to make sure I would catch the bus. Sometimes the bus left early and I never knew until I got to the bus stop and my bus wasn’t there. That has created problems a few times, but fortunately I can count them on one hand. I had been in town for a book club meeting, and had intentionally finished my shopping the day before so that I could just go to the bus stop, get on my bus, and go to my village. And that is exactly what I did. No stress, no missed bus, no worry. It felt wonderfully…normal. I remember sitting on the bus and being struck by the thought “Ya, so?” (or maybe “What’s the big deal?” or some other anticlimactic variation). I was recalling this incident a week or two later, and the person I was talking to said that is the sign of assimilating. Counting from the very beginning of my time in Samoa, it only took almost a year for me to get the feel of things. Yes!

If stage one is the time of the Grocery Store, and stage two was the time of Normal, stage three is definitely the time of Home. While I was in Australia, Samoa was the place to compare to. The stores are so big here! There are places that are open 24 hours a day?! I get this whole seat on the bus to myself??!! And while I actually felt homesick in Australia because so much of it reminded me of the States, Samoa was still the place to come back to. I was waiting at my gate in the Sydney airport, and a woman from my village saw me and gave me a hug – she was on the same flight as me – and it made me so happy. I couldn’t wait to get back to my cat, my families, my friends, my kids – it’s all mine now. More than being normal, things are becoming familiar. As soon as the school year started, people began telling me that this is my last year here, that I will be leaving soon. I always think “Don’t talk about it! December doesn’t have to be so close, and I’d rather focus on everything that is happening now instead of talking about something so far, but so close, in the future!” December really does feel far away, but as I’ve said so many times before, there is nothing left of my time in Peace Corps. These months will just fly by (although I am sure there will be plenty of times when the days move slower than a snail). I had a dream a few weeks ago (no, I didn’t end up in King Soopers) that reinforced this feeling for me. I dreamt that PC called us all into the office and told us we were being transferred to Armenia for our remaining 9 months of service. I spent one night in Armenia, woke up freezing to death, and told the administrative officer (the Samoa AO recently transferred to Armenia) “I need to go back to Samoa. I am devastated (that was my exact word choice in the dream) that I am not with my students right now.”She told me to just take the next plane back to Samoa, and so I did. Samoa is home in so many ways, but with the thought of returning to the States so soon, I’m developing a double notion of home. I have my home here, and I have the home that is waiting for me back in the States. It’s hard to imagine life back in the States – what am I going to do? Will I remember which side of the road to drive on? How long will I be entertained by limitless internet access? Mostly, I think about what food I am going to eat first – it’s still a toss-up between a burrito, hot wings, or a bagel – but I can’t really imagine life in the States and I don’t really want to. My time here is so limited, and therefore so precious, that I don’t really want to spend any of it thinking about anything else. (Again, this is how I feel right now, so remind me of this when I have 6 months left and can’t manage another day without Cheez-its and with too many kids who call themselves my best friend.)

It only Samoa had a King Soopers, I think everything would be perfect.

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