Saturday, November 17, 2007
That’s so palagi of you
Integrating into our communities is a key (probably the key) part of being successful Peace Corps Volunteers.
Our trainers have been doing everything they can to help us fit in and to become accepted members of the community. Two of the things they warned us of are Sunday activities and the nature of Sāmoans to want to make guests happy. Every village has different rules and standards, but for the most part Sunday seems to be a day for church, food and rest — and not much else.
As an example, our trainers have been telling us that we must ask the people of our village if it is okay to swim on Sunday. Many villages have rules against things like that. However, it isn’t enough to simply as, “Can I go swimming on Sunday?” because your hosts will want to make you happy and they will say yes if they think that is what you want to hear. You have to instead ask, “Do you go swimming on Sundays?” Or better yet, wait and observe. Are the people in your village swimming on Sundays?
Despite all the preparation, many of the people in our training group managed to so something very palagi (foreigner, touristy) in our training village last Sunday. One group went on a hike to a waterfall about an hour outside the village and another group went for a walk to the hydropower station, which is about a 20-minute walk. We were in the one that went to the power station.
It was a tricky situation. I don’t think either group believed they were doing anything inappropriate because both groups we made up of both palagi and youth from the village. I cannot speak for the waterfall group, but I was invited on my walk to the power station by a Sāmoan after church.
In retrospect, we should have been more cautious and followed the example of the majority of people around us, who spent Sunday afternoon visiting with family and napping.
The following day our trainers pointed out to us that the elders of the village had brought up our excursions saying, “That was very palagis of them.” Meaning that it is the foreigners, the tourists, the outsiders who do not really understand the meaning of Sunday in Sāmoa and who want to do things like sight see on that day. I did not get the impression that our actions offended the village, but I do believe that they set us apart others, people who still are not integrated.
I should probably back up at this point and mention that a walk to the power station isn’t just an educational hike to a clean source of energy. A lot of kids swim in the mini water park that is created by the fast moving runoff water from the station.
Anywho, I think a lot of us learned a valuable lesson from the experience and you can expect to see all the palagi in our training village visiting with family and napping the next Sunday we are in the village.
Posted by Cale