Wednesday, November 18, 2009

12: It's a Two-Way Street

There was a recent comment to Cale's M. Night Shallam a Llama post about our night terror with a twist. How could we be living in Samoa and not know there was a David Tua fight that night. That shit was HUGE!

They make an excellent point. This is my answer:

No TV. No radio. No Samoan friends. I have been in Samoa for two years and the Samoan I know the best might be our taxi driver and I don't even know him that well since I always sit in the back seat. Cale is the one that talks with him.

It is very easy to blame my lack of integration on external forces.

We live in a very unique situation. We live in
the headquarters of Samoan Methodism. It's like living in the Methodist Vatican. Samoan social society is divided along gendered lines and centered around groups of people who all share the same status. There are the matai men and the untitled men, there's the women's committees and the youth groups. When you fit into one of these groups there are always organized activities going on to participate in and a way to bond with the other people in the group. Cale and I don't fit into any groups in our village. Because we are married, we are no longer youths and are not in the youth group. However, all the married women in our village are the wives of Methodist ministers and their women's committee is church-centered. I am not the wife of a Methodist minister, so I don't fit. Cale fits even less by not being a Methodist minister, which all the married men in our village are.

Also our village is only a stone's throw from Apia, so it was easy for us to hop a bus into town and do our own thing rather than stay in the village and try to participate in village life.

However, it is not fair for me to place all the blame outside of myself. I have never been a particularly social person. It takes me a long time to get used to and warm up to new people. I usually spend the beginning hanging around awkwardly on the edges slowly becoming accustomed to the new people. It wasn't like I was going to come to Samoa and suddenly become a social butterfly.

Typically Peace Corps volunteers are single and remote and to save their sanity and stave off loneliness they must make friends locally. Cale and I are two and urban. I already had someone waiting for me everyday when I came home from work to talk to and a whole host of other Apia-based volunteers were a 15-minute bus ride away.

Also, the first year at my school was particularly difficult. Under the principal of my school that year (who is no longer the principal) the school had fallen in to disrepair and the general attitude was one of apathy and half-heartedness. In response to this I threw myself into my work, spending most (if not all) of my time in the school computer labs alone or with students. This meant that I never spent much time with the staff and never formed any friendships. Granted, the situation changed dramatically in the second year with a new principal and new staff members that I now know I could have been friends with. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it until it all seemed too late.

If I were to do Peace Corps again I would know better. I would demand a remote location. Close-by high-speed internet and easily accessible cheese be damned! I would also demand a host family. Even if I lived in my own housing, I would insist that the Peace Corps assign me a local family that would be willing to take me under their wing. Even if later I branched out to find and make my own friends and family, at least I would start out with someone I knew would be willing to invite me over for dinner sometimes.

— Sara

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to comment but I've changed my mind. Well, as a Samoan born and raised in the US, I didn't recall anything about David Tua. I read yahoo news daily and watch the morning and evening news. It was not an item on my radar, until I read your blog. Sorry, I too missed it.
I think compared to Max's life, if you had a redo, you would change things. I say, "meh" - you did your job while you were there and that is quite good. Personally, I am Samoan, I love my family and my culture but there are days when there is a lot of meddling by others. IMHO, if you are a teacher and you give and give to others all day, there is a time when one needs to be ALONE. Once should be able to have personal downtime. 'A' type personality or not - downtime is needed. IMHO, of course, I think highly of you. It is good to look back and think about redo's but focus on what you were there to do. You've done fantastically and I've learned from your blogging experiences. I think I could handle living there after having reading your blog. I didn't think I could have done it before reading your blog. So my 2 cents :) on the 2 way street.