Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Thug Jewellery

One of the petrol stations in town (on the road leading up to the hospital) leases sections of its fencing for advertising. Alongside advertisements for rental phones and dtp and printing services, there's this advert for Thug Jewellery. Samoans _love_ to bling up their cars (UV lights, spinning hub caps, etc.) but it's good to see someone catering to more personal needs. If you need dog tags, you need Thug Jewellery.

"Just let your soul glow"

When little mullets in Samoa grow up, this is what they look like. Beautiful isn't it? This guy wandered into work last week and the temptation to surreptitiously photograph him was too strong to resist.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

His name's Mika. He's a Tokelaun man.

We recently celebrated a birthday. Mika, pictured here, was in a particularly festive mood. The mood lasted, in spite of the smell of burning hair that eventually dominated the air around him.

He's currently in Tokelau with the UNDP as an observer of the referendum on independence from New Zealand. Just think, Tokelau can become the world's newest, and smallest, nation. It could also become one of the shortest lived, with predictions of rising sea levels giving nations like Tokelau, Niue and Kiribati something in the order of 50 - 100 years left.

Still, any opportunity for a people to democratically choose (or not, as the case may be) self governance is a good one. So let's celebrate, like Mika, whilst we can.

Update: The results are in. A narrow majority of the 600 or so registered Tokelaun voters have decided that it is better for Tokelau to remain a New Zealand territory.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunny days are here again

Finally, after three weeks, the clouds have lifted, the rain has stopped and the sun has shown its face. It's great. Tropical cyclone Vaianu, it would seem, has taken all the bad weather with it to Tonga. (Thanks Tonga, for taking one for the team.) Now I have just one wish:

I want the rain back.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad our mud pit of a driveway is starting to dry out. I'm glad we're now able to contemplate going swimming and snorkeling again. I'm glad that it's now possible for our washing to dry properly. The problem is, I can't do any washing.

Since Friday our water supply has dried up. First the water turned a deep brown. Then it became a trickle. And now we have none. We've broken out our bottled water supply, but it's amazing how quickly you can go through it if you're not careful. "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down." is our house mantra. We're becoming very frugal with the use of our pots and pans, cups and plates. We enjoyed a communal dessert out of one of our pots last night so there'd be less to wash up afterwards.

Last night I showered in the rain, and we put our bottles and buckets out to collect as much as possible. Sadly the rain only lasted some ten minutes or so, but it wasn't heavy enough, or long enough, for us to collect much water. At least I stopped smelling unfortunate.

So yes, give me rain. Give me a huge downpour. Let our drive way turn back into a mud pit. Just send me the rain.

But I'm prepared to settle for running water.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"They're more real than real women"

In Tonga they're known as fakaleiti, in French Polynesia they're referred to as rae rae and in Samoa they're called fa'afafine. In Western terms we'd say they're transgendered. Men who live and dress as women.

A whole swath of books, papers, etc., have been written about fa'afafine and their role in traditional and contemporary Samoan society. I suggest you look up Margaret Mead, Derek Freedman or Jeannette Mageo if you really want to learn a lot about them. I'll just focus on the fun stuff.

Late last year Hotel Kitano held the a fa'afafine beauty pageant. Ten contestants, four rounds and Blondie, the best fa'afafine performer in Samoa, holding court between rounds. It was a hoot. The title of the post comes from the evening's MC, who himself was once a fa'afafine (this is kind of weird apparently; not many people elect to stop living as fa'afafine).

There were swimsuits (lots of tape!) and there was "talent", the most notable of which would be the contestant who combined her love of classical music with her love of the "show queen" by dancing around the stage to Ravel waving a conductor's baton madly through the air.

The evening gown round was very special, with sequins in abundance, although there were one or two elegant gowns on display. The weirdest round was the interview round:

"What do you think about AIDS?"
(long pause)
"Just dooooooooooo it!!!!"

I've posted two photos from the evening. One is of a few of the contestants in the pageant's evening gown round. The second is a great shot I nabbed during one of Blondie's numbers ("It Must Be Him").

Monday, February 06, 2006

Wetter & wilder in downtown Apia

It's been almost two weeks since the rain started and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon. Whereas last week the road outside work flooded and necessitated some careful navigation to make it to the office, today it's work that has flooded. Thankfully we're on the second floor of the building, so the impact is very minor, but it is a decent measure of how much more water there is this time than last.

The street has turned into a small waterway; it's almost like a Polynesian Venice without any of the good stuff like gondolas. Men and women alike are hiking their skirts up around the tops of their thighs as they make their way down the street. As the occasional car or bus slowly creeps down the street, people scurry to the sides of the street to avoid being swamped by the waves that follow.

Mind you, this doesn't always guarantee safety, as the cars themselves are frequently forced to cling to the sides of the roads. All the rain has led to the appearance of countless potholes all over town. Resealing the roads has had little effect in dealing with the problem.

Looking at the satellite image is a Groundhog Day-esque experience. Sure the clouds change colours a little bit and give the impression that they've moved around a bit, but really at the end of the day it's the same large blob of dense cloud over the small outline of Samoa. I'm starting to forget what the sun looks like. I'm assured by my Samoan colleagues that this amount of bad weather, over such a long period, is very unusual, even for the wet season. A neighbour's water gauge shows 1400mm of rain has fallen since the beginning of the calendar year, with 600mm falling in the last six days alone.

When the sun does finally show its face again there'll be much celebration. I'll be able to sleep on a bed that isn't damp with all the moisture in the air. I'll be able to wear clothes that don't smell mouldy. I'll be able to come and go from my home without having to navigate a bog. Wash myself in water that isn't brown. You know, the little things in life.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The problem with planes today

Today's Samoa Observer reports on Vaimauga West MP, Patu Ativalu, who asked the hard questions in Parliament yesterday. As the Minister responsible for the Airport Authority was speaking about recent developments at the airport, Patu interrupted with a question: can the seats on the planes be made bigger?

"They should make the seats bigger because I'm not the only big person here," he said. "Most Samoans are big people."

Every time Patu travels, he said, he always look out for a row of seats where there is only one person. Why?

"You see, flying should be a comfortable experience otherwise if you get squeezed in between two people, you end up farting on the seat."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The angry ghosts of Savaii

Two weeks ago Samoa celebrated the opening of its newest international harbour port at Salelologa on Savaii. The Prime Minister and members of Cabinet amongst others gathered to watch the MV Southern Cross weigh anchor at the new wharf.

Things didn't quite go to plan.

About 100 metres short of the wharf the ship ground to a halt. According to the Samoa Ports Authority, a small sandbank had caused the ship to run aground. According to candidate for the coming elections, Tuilagi Vavae Simi Jr. Fruean, the real reason was something far more interesting. From today's (2nd Feb) edition of the Samoa Observer:

"The real reason why the ship was stuck was not because of a sandbank...The ghosts of Savaii stopped it," Tuilagi told the Samoa Observer. "I spoke with these ghosts and they told me what they wanted to do," he said.

"One of them wanted to pick up the ship and throw it on the tree tops. The other wanted to snap it in half and throw it back to the ocean. But they decided against it in the end. So they just decided to stop the ship from berthing."

Apparently, the ghosts were angry "because they did not want Government to fool their people again. They knew that what the Government was trying to do was to win votes for the election and they did not want the Savaii people to be fooled." It would seem that the ghosts of Savaii as unhappy about the current Government as Tuilagi.

I asked a couple of colleagues at work about this story, and about Samoans' belief in ghosts and ghost stories in general. Apparently many villages have tapu - rules dictating conduct in places of importance, places generally considered to be overseen by their ancestors' ghosts. To breach the tapu was the incur the anger of the ghosts.

I was told a story of four young women who went swimming in a local pool governed by tapu. They infringed upon the rules in some way; perhaps by not wearing their hair up whilst swimming in the pool or making too much noise and generally showing disrespect. All four women suffered some form of mental breakdown over the following days. Whilst three recovered, one apparently still suffers mental illness.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts and the stories they appear in, the story in today's newspaper highlights two things. First, respect for their ancestors is fundamental to the Samoan people. Second, Tuilagi is a shrewd man, hoping to improve his chances of election in March.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wet & wild in downtown Apia

Oh yeah, it's definitely wet season. Now into our fifth or sixth day of constant rain, with increasing winds, the Samoa Meteorology Bureau have just issued a Gale Watch advisory. In short, there'll be more rain for a few more days to come at the very least.

Apia harbour has turned ugly, with choppy brown water crashing against the sea wall. Our home now looks like it's situated in the middle of an enormous puddle of mud. Thanks to the lack of drainage on Apia's roads, large areas of town have suffered varying degrees of flooding. Getting to work this morning was a little tricky, as the entire road just outside the office was flooded (see the picture). Thankfully, much of the water has drained away during the day, but there's little doubt we'll see more of the same as the weather isn't going to change any time soon.