Trying to find a trashcan in Sāmoa is like playing a sadistic game of “Where’s Waldo?” Waldo isn’t even on this page. Waldo isn’t even in the book. It’s like trying to play “Where’s Waldo?” with a “Where’s Fred?” book
I frequently find myself with a small bit of trash looking in all the usual places where a trashcan might be. In my hotel room? No. In my hotel bathroom? No. Just around this corner in the lobby of the hotel? No. Drat!
However, out in the village it is even worse. To illustrate the point, let me tell you about teatime in the village.
Everyday at 10 am and at 3 pm we have teatime. It is a 30-minute break between classes and there are the makings of tea and coffee and frequently some little snacks (bananas, a package of cookies, like that). Everyday teatime generates some trash. But what to do with this trash? There aren’t any trashcans in the old church where we study or in any other buildings nearby for that matter. There was always an empty box on the floor next to the tea table that people would throw their trash into. The trouble with that was it wasn’t for trash. It was the box our tea stuff was stored in, so we were always scooping trash out of it.
Eventually someone started to bring a plastic bag to the tea table every day and that became the trashcan, which was great. But then we were stuck with a plastic bag full of trash—and nothing to do with it. The entire issue of dealing with and disposing of trash if very confusing to palagi in Sāmoa. Somehow I found myself handing small bags of trash to the pulenu’u (village mayor) at the end of every day. His family is hosting the trainers in the village and is supplying the cups for our tea—and apparently dealing with our trash. However, it feels very strange to be handing of a bag of trash to such an important man. Also, I am still not sure what he does with it. I think maybe they burn it? Or feel the organic parts to the pigs? It is a mystery.
On a trash related note, we had a language assignment. We had to ask certain member of our host families what they did during different times of the day. All of the kids in our family said that they picked up trash in the morning. I had a hard time with that one, since I had been walking past the same shampoo bottle in the yard for days. I knew no one was picking up trash. But then I started to pay closer attention to what they kids were doing in the morning and discovered that Sāmoans have a different definition of trash. The children were gathering up all the dead leaves that had fallen in the night and tidying up all the plant matter in the yard and garden.
Sāmoans have beautiful and meticulously maintained gardens. In our village there was going to be an inspection by the pulenu’u and our host mother spent hours out in the pouring rain (I mean pouring rain) weeding her garden and yard to prepare for this inspection. At first I expected to see her come in after it started to sprinkle, but she remained diligent. The sprinkle turned into a rain, the rain into a downpour and still she stayed out there weeding the yard while the kids carried away wheelbarrows of debris.
I want to make sure I am not creating a picture of beautiful garden, free of leaves, but strewn with trash. That is the other odd thing about trash in Sāmoa. Even though I have no idea where to put it myself and I usually see the family simply throw it out back behind the kitchen for the pigs, I don’t actually see that much trash around. Sure there is that one shampoo bottle and an occasionally tin can, but I know the family is generating more trash than that and I know that not all of it is things the pigs can eat. So where is it all going? That is the mystery.