MJ Live

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Return to the Big Island (Written 7/31/06)

For a couple of weeks now, I felt like I wanted to do something special for my birthday – other then spend it on a tropical island and bask in its beauty. So my birthday gift to myself was to visit another volunteer on the island of Savaii, this would be my first time back there since my bike trip around the island in June. This trip was originally scheduled for the weekend before my birthday but got pushed back one week and could not have come at a more perfect time. My birthday week was just jam packed full of stuff and I just needed time away from Apia to decompress, so there's no better place then visiting a friend. The volunteer I was visiting is named John Kirk (Group 74) and he lives on the northeastern portion of Savaii in a village called Faletagaloa (Fall-a-tonga-low-ah) which meant that it was going to be a good bit of travelling. I got up on Saturday at around 7am to catch the bus from my village down to the market where I would catch the Pase o Va'a (Boat Bus). This was the first time that I have left my place before 10am so I wasn't sure if my bus would actually be running at 7am, but fortunately it was. I got down to the market at around 7:45pm – my intention was to catch the 10am boat, which some people said I had to be at the market by 8am. When I got to the market, there were no bus boats in sight, so I was like 'Hmmm…I know I'm not late, it's not even 8 yet'. So I sat and waited around for a bit and finally at about 8:05am the bus boats arrived (dropping off people from the 6am boat). So I was happy I didn't miss the bus and just as I got on one of the buses, they told me that they weren't leaving for another hour (9am)! By this time another one of my buses had come and gone through the bus terminal and I was thinking 'I could have slept for a half hour more and eaten breakfast!' Since I was at the food market, I just bought a little snack food to keep my stomach steady and waited for the bus to leave. It was ready to go at 9am and I was on my way to the wharf.

Once I got to the wharf, it was a pretty quick turnaround from getting off the bus to getting on the boat – there weren't a lot of people in the wharf at the time, so that probably had a lot to do with it. On my way to buying a ticket, I ran into Julya as she was coming to this island to go to some meetings – she was quite shocked, an Apia person heading to Savaii for the weekend (when it's usually the other way around). I love surprising people sometimes and she was totally surprised. I got on the little boat over to Savaii and it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be (or it may have been the fact that I had not eaten much all day) and I took the time to write a few letters to folks.

At 11:30am, I finally arrived in Salelaloga, Savaii and tried to find the right bus to reach John's house. While I was looking around, the driver of the Tanu's Beach Fale bus (whom I met during my bike trip around Savaii) led me to the right bus and told the driver where I was going. So I was happy to get a little help because the buses on Savaii are not as frequent as the buses on Upolu (in the apia area) so if you miss one you will probably have to wait like 2-3 hours for the next one to arrive. It was crazy crowded on the bus and this was my second time riding on a bus in Savaii – but my first time was not as packed as this one. So according to John's email, I had an hour and a half bus ride ahead of me so I just took the opportunity to take in some of the sights that I passed by when I was biking – you miss a lot when you're just pedalling away trying to make it to the next destination. This was also my first bus trip in which the bus actually stopped at a faleoloa (store) so that a rider could pick something up – I had heard about that happening but never actually saw it. It's understandable on Savaii, where major stories are pretty much limited to the wharf area. As I was riding the bus to John's it was amazing to think that I was actually making the same 1 day journey I made last month (in June) only this time I was not nearly as tired (or injured) as that time. Things that were just in my periphery during the bike ride, I actually got to see and appreciate during the bus ride. Slowly but surely, bus got less crowded and a little bit more comfortable – the last foreigners on the bus (besides me) got off the bus at Manase which have some impressive beach fales there (it's the main tourist spot on Savaii). This is where John's instructions became useless! He told me that after Manase it was about a 10 minute bus ride to his house. He also said I would pass a school and see a fale palagi. Well, as I was reading his note – worried that I may have actually passed his village – I looked up and saw a sign that said 'Saf--- primary school' and right after that was a fale palagai (a western style house – like back home). So as I was unsure if I had passed it or not, the bus made a turn into the island – something I was not expecting, and something John did not mention. So I was freaking out thinking I was going a loooong way out of the way now. Fortunately the bus turned around and returned to the main road, so when it did I stopped the bus and asked him if Safune was in the direction we had just passed (with the school and the fale palagi), he said yes, I paid him $5, he gave me back $.50 (John said it would cost $4.80 to get to him) so this was my first warning that something was not right. I got off the bus and start walking back the way I came. When I finally arrived at the fale palagi I saw, something told me that this was not the correct place – something was off. So I went and checked out the school – the sign in front read 'Safotu Primary School'! I continued walking until I came to a faleolo and I ask the store person where Safune was and he pointed in the direction the bus was heading in when I got off. So not only was I in the wrong village, but I had no idea how far away John's village was – it could have been another 30 min walk or 3 hour walk. The guy said the village was only 800 meters away but when you come from a system where everything is in feet and miles, meters meant absolutely nothing to me. So I left the shop and started walking, hopping someone would give me a ride. A lot of cars past me by but fortunately, there was a bus passing by and I was able to hop on and catch a ride that brought me to the top of John's village. So I walked down the hill (which had a beautiful view of the bay near his village) for about 30 minutes until I finally saw a sign that said Faletagaloa – it wasn't as far away as I had feared. As I entered the village, I immediately saw the school and right next to it was a house that appeared elevated – I had a feeling that was his house. My suspicion was confirmed when I got close to the house and I could see John eating lunch.

In all it took about 6 hours for me to finally reach my destination, so when the family offered me some lunch I was more then happy to sit down and enjoy it. I retold my story to John and he realized he left out quite a few landmark details that would have made my trip a little bit easier – but not a lot of people come out to Savaii volunteers, so you live and learn. As I was eating and telling my story, the bus driver that told me to go in the wrong direction passed by and I shook my fist at him, he thought I was waving and waved back at me! For the rest of the day John showed me around his village, introduced me to his family and showed me what he does with his daily time (which isn't quite as structured as it is for us capacity building people – John is the first VBD person I have actually visited). Since he and I have never talked a lot, we talked for quite a bit just getting to know each other a little better. Then came dinner where we ate with his village father – it was a very nice meal, but kind of weird for me because this is the first Samoan family I've eaten around that was not my family. I know how to act and what to expect from my Samoan family, but I had no idea what to expect from this one – so it was also a learning experience.

The next day I woke up at around 7am and saw John working in his garden and some of the other family members preparing the umu. It was strangely cold that morning, so having the hot umu to warm yourself up to was very nice. Once the umu was set, we got ready to go to church – John's family gave me a white shirt/ie fitaga to wear to church (something else I haven't done in a long time) and of course I was the main attraction for the little kids in church. It was a relatively short service – or maybe it just didn't feel like it dragged on forever and ever. After the church service we came back home (John's house is like 30 paces away from the church – not to long a walk) and had to'onai which was nice – a good meal to get me on my way (but not to much food, otherwise it will be coming back out on the boat). John's Samoan dad also offered to give me a ride back to the wharf instead of me having to take the bus (which would have meant I left before 10am) so it was nice to have a relaxing ride back to the wharf and not be crushed in a bus for an hour and a half.

In all, it was a very relaxing and enjoyable mini-vacation. Not very long, but all I needed was a change of scenery – nothing to dramatic. The great thing about Samoa is that in order to actually get somewhere that's not Apia you have to travel for a while which makes it really feel like you're getting away. And I especially like visiting Savaii, mainly to see how volunteers over there live compared to us Apia folks – it's quite different and interesting. So now I only have two more current volunteers to visit that live on Savaii…can I visit them before the end of the year? Find out next time on Marques' Big Island Adventures!

1 comment:

Carla said...

I just came back from Samoa. I also visited Savaii. Quite different from Upola, more primitive, lots more bicycles and animals. My favorite snacks: Tim Tams, Cheezles, and Peanut Ruffs.