I am one of the luckiest PCVs in Samoa because not only did my sister spend 36 hours traveling (including a ridiculously long layover in New Zealand) to come visit me, but she did it twice. There were a few differences between the two visits.
When she came to visit me in July last year, I was still getting used to everything about my school, my village, my living situation, and fa’a Samoa in general. Now that I’ve been here longer, I have a better sense of all these things and so I was better able to predict how things would go the second time, and I got less frustrated because I knew that things wouldn’t work the way I wanted them to. For example, we went to get foot massages the last day she was here. I had gone to the place once before when our administrative officer left, and it was possibly the best massage experience I have ever had, so it made the priority list of activities for Dana’s visit. Since I know a bit more about how things work in Samoa, I knew that I wouldn’t have to call for an appointment until the day before, possibly even the day of if I really wanted to push it, and that it would feel vague and uncertain but would most likely work out. The phone call went something like this.
“Hi, I would like to make an appointment for two foot massages tomorrow.” “What time would you like to come in?” “How late are you open?” “On what day?” “Tomorrow.” “We have availability all day.” “What about maybe 2 or 2:30?” “No problem. What is your name?” “Tali.” “Carrie?” “Tali.” “Terri?” “Tali.” “Ok, I have you down for a massage tomorrow.” “There will be two of us.” “Ok, we’ll see you then.”
What time exactly was the appointment? Would we both get massages? And what name was the reservation under? I could have called the next morning to confirm, but I didn’t. We showed up around 2:15, sat around for a bit while they were getting ready in the back room, then both got foot massages. And it is still probably the best massage experience I have ever had. I’ll have to go back again.
The other thing I noticed about this visit is how I was acting towards my sister. When she first came, I was as uncertain about everything as she was. I was still new, and now I was hosting a visitor, and I had no idea how to host her in a country I hardly understood. Now that I feel more comfortable and I know what’s going on, I noticed I was treating her the exact same way everybody else treated me when I first came to Samoa. I wanted to introduce her to absolutely everyone. I wanted to give her exactly what she wanted to eat (although I’m not entirely sure what that is in Samoa given my limited resources) and way too much of it. I was constantly asking her what she wanted to do, if she was hungry, if she was bored, and I was worried about sending her off on her own. She was considering taking the bus into town and walking around for a day while I was at school (it didn’t happen because it was raining pretty much all day every day for almost the entire duration of her trip), and I went over exactly what she would need to know if she did end up doing that.
“You can walk around Apia without really getting lost, but if you don’t know how to get somewhere, just ask someone to point you towards McDonald’s. My buses leave at 10:30, 12:30, 2, and 5, but you’ll want to take the 2 bus home because it is the cushy bus, although I haven’t ridden that one much lately so I’m not as familiar with the driver, but he should know where you’re going and that you’re staying with me. The fare is 5 tala, you pay at the end of the ride. Don’t make eye contact with soles. Everybody speaks at least some English so you should always be able to find someone to tell you what you want to know. Don’t flash your money around. The buses generally leave at the times they are supposed to, but if you want to make sure you get on the bus and get a good seat, you’ll want to show up at least a half hour early. You can take my phone with you.”
And so on and so forth. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how my mom felt when she let me go to the mall with just my friends for the first time. She dropped us off and picked us up two hours later, and I’m sure she worried about everything the whole time. I wanted to be sure Dana wouldn’t get hurt, that she could find everything she needed, that she would get fed, not get lost, and be able to contact someone in case of an emergency. It seems so silly to me because both she and I have travelled in foreign countries alone before, and I know from my own experience in Samoa that she would have been able to get to and from town without any complications, and she is older than me, but I still worried about her as if she were my own child.
I also noticed that I have become super Samoan in my actions and behaviors. I had to tell my sister to walk slower for the first time in my life. I stop to talk to people all the time. I can only be 80% certain about things – nothing is 100% guaranteed in Samoa. I prefer brightly colored, mismatched outfits (although that has been true for most of my life). I go everywhere in flip flops. I can get rid of dead bugs without flinching and usually without triggering my gag reflex (cockroaches can still do that sometimes).I have strange notions of personal space. I speak so quietly you can’t hear me if you’re sitting next to me, but I sing loudly enough for people three fales away to know I am doing evening prayer. And in terms of being a PCV, I’m sloppy, dirty, fairly competent in an obscure language, and have groups of kids around me all the time. I am a pisikoa and now I know how to host visitors in my country. I will most likely smother you with worry and force feed you peanut butter and jelly (because that’s the simplest familiar food I can provide), but you are welcome any time. If you can handle the horrendous flight path.