In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

The morning after

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From:       Kirstie
Subject:   The morning after
  Date:         10th May 2005
     Manono Island, Independent Samoa


First shimmers of light in the fale

"Hey you. Want your breakfast?" A small sun browned face framed by long dark curls grinned through the large hole in my net, a convenient doorway for all the local mosquitos. Naked, under a thin cotton sheet, I pulled it tighter. "It's fish and chippies and pancakey for breakfast," the boy said. From the curls I recognised him to be the youngest son of Steve, our guide and one of the managing partners of Ecotour Samoa. The young boy's sleeping body had been handed to me only hours before on the boat in the dark of night, when he had drowsily called me Mama, and buried his curls into my neck. Next to me, under their own net, Matthew and Cameron stirred, and Cameron cried softly for milk. "We haven't any, sweetheart, but we might be able to get you some," I told him, hoping blindly our dairy crisis might be resolved at breakfast. In truth I had no idea what to expect from the first meal of our seven day Eco-tour. I seemed to remember that compost toilets, making your own fishing rod and foraging in the bush for food were involved somewhere along the way, but I hoped that might be deferred until later. Fish and chippies would have been nice, but I suspected they were an unlikely Samoan breakfast fare.

"Pancakey for breakfast anyone?"

I had woken several hours before, with the dawn breaking over the bay, the crashing surf cutting into my fitful sleep. One wall slat of the beach falé played in rhythm, slapping against a wooden strut; and every few minutes an unseen bird trapped in the low roof added its' melody. Paradise was a noisy place. I scratched madly at itching legs, dislodging grains of sand that had stuck to the sweat on my body. The baby was kicking from within my stomach, but in the wider vicinity no human stirred. I considered going for a walk, but the lapping waves took me deeper into sleep.

Breakfast was laid out for us in a large communal falé, and thankfully we didn't have to spear, catch or cook it ourselves. A collection of colourful plates lay along a bench; the sun kept at bay by a large straw roof on poles decorated with woven palm leaves. The bench was covered by a huge Father Christmas tablecloth. The boys sat down and pointed out all the things they wouldn't be trying. Some foods I recognised, others I could only guess at. Starfruit? Papaya? I tried what looked like a hard boiled egg, while the kids tucked into a meal of dry bread, rejecting the homemade pancakes, the fruit, even the marmalade.
"Don't like marmalade," said Matthew screwing up his face. He had practically lived on marmalade in New Zealand.
"When did you stop liking marmalade Matthew?" I asked him, embarrassed at their unwillingness to try any new food.
"Now," he replied, pushing away the fresh coconut filled with milk and a cup of lemon grass tea that the staff had carted from the cramped wooden falé that was their kitchen. Matthew slowly and deliberately picked his crusts off the bread and nibbled at the insides, suspicious of everything he touched. Next to him, Steve's other children, Nuanua and Sosafina, tucked into a huge breakfast of fresh fruit, pancakes, eggs, fresh coconut, and marmalade sandwiches.
"Ready for some kayaking this morning?" asked Steve.
"Don't like kayaking," said Matthew, nervously eyeing up the dog who waited hopefully for the rejected crusts.
"Ah, but this is special. We're going looking for Father Christmas," Steve announced, his own long beard almost reaching the table.
"Father Christmas doesn't live in Samoa," Matthew said scornfully.
"What?" said Steve, aghast at the insult, "who told you that? I'll have you know that Father Christmas lives in the Pacific all year round, eating fresh coconut and sleeping in a hammock. He only goes to England one day a year. Why would he want to spend any more time in that miserable place? Right now he's out there in the bay catching a fresh lobster for his lunch." Matthew screwed his eyes up into the sunshine and scanned the bay for a sledge.
Cameron stared at Steve, wondering if it was a wind up. "This Father Christmas?" he asked wide eyed, pointing to the table cloth to ascertain we were all talking about the same guy.
"Is there any other?" asked Steve equally wide eyed.
"I like kayaking," said Matthew, throwing his crusts to the dog and marching off to find his swimming costume.

We paddled out across the ocean in red and yellow kayaks towards the swell of a reef. Six year old Sosafina stood on the back, as if to steer, with nine year old Nuanua at the front, a long limbed sun kissed mascot, straight dark hair trailing down her back. Our boys huddled in the middle, uncomfortable in their life jackets and arm bands, plastered in sun screen. We saw blue fish and blue starfish but there was no sign of the big man in red. Cameron was reassured; it had all been a wind up.

Lunch was a large bowl of brown liquid. It came with a ladle. Curry soup, I decided and cheered at the prospect. I filled my bowl and picked up my spoon. It was the weirdest soup I had ever tasted. A thin watery liquid, given more substance by rice. It wasn't repulsive, but an unfamiliar mix of bitter and sweet.
"Samoan cocoa, much better than the palagi version," Steve informed us.
"What's a palogi?" asked Matthew.
"A foreigner, just like you and me."
"I'm not a foreigner, I'm English."
"I'm Clifford," said Cameron in his doggie voice.
"Do you like the cocoa?" asked Steve again.
"No," said Matthew without even trying it.
"Mmmmm" I answered politely. Toasted egg and onion sandwiches followed and I wolfed them down, but the kids looked on dismayed, especially when the food was followed by more fresh coconuts, straws buried deep into their shells.

The midday sun was suffocatingly hot. We swam in the sea, tried and failed to find any shade and took up Steve on his invitation for a walk to meet the village chief. A thin dirt path led us via a wealth of fruit trees to a collection of traditional falé. School was out and the kids ran around in packs, kicking a football and hanging out for the afternoon.
"I'm hungry," Matthew whined.
"I'm thirsty, want milk," Cameron whinged.
" I don't suppose there's any chance of a shop here," I whispered to Stuart who was trying to lift a struggling Cameron onto his shoulders.
"It's irrelevant really, as we haven't got any money," he replied glumly, Cameron's feet kicking his face. We had tried to get some Samoan currency at the airports in Apia and in Auckland, but had been unsuccessful. At the chief's house; a more elaborate looking falé, we were introduced to a wide range of family members without being quite sure which one was the chief. We were suitably humble to each just in case. Then we processed through the village, the children moaning "I'm hungry," at regular intervals.

"Mum, it's too hot, I hungry. I want milk. Please."

Outside a huge falé in the middle of the village we almost tripped over each other in the rush to remove our shoes. This was the hallowed Women's Committee falé , the social centre of the village, where the female community comes together to work and chat. It was empty except for two mats on the floor, a telephone, and two middle aged women. They sat at opposite ends of the falé , each surrounded by a pile of long dry leaves, which lay like spaghetti on the floor beside them.
"They're weaving thin mats. For weddings and funerals, come and see," Steve invited us. "Hello ladies, how is your compost toilet going?" One of the women raised an eyebrow, then went back to weaving. Obviously they weren't as excited by their toilet as Steve was. The reason soon became clear; Steve had helped build the compost toilet for them along with the son of the village chief. "It's a system of rotating buckets. You just move the bucket once a month, then bingo, six months later, you have the perfect fertilizer for the plantations. Good for the environment, good for the crops, good for the ladies. But there was a lot of opposition when we first proposed it. They're coming around to the idea now and I think it's going well." Steve grinned through his pointed beard, and tucked his lavalava under his crossed knees; the chief guru of the natural toilet.
The women carried on weaving their complicated tangle of materials. "Come and sit down here," Steve said, pointing to the mat beside him. He leaned over towards me. "Never stand over anyone in a falé , it's rude to be taller than them," he whispered, "and when you are sitting, cross your legs, it's rude to point your feet at them. And never, never carry a child above your head if you're passing a chief's falé ." Stuart winced at the memory of trying to haul Cameron onto his shoulders.

"Do you have many weddings here?" I asked one of the mat weaving women, a portly lady dressed in a brightly coloured lavalava, sweat pouring down her brow. I watched with interest as she wiped the sweat onto the lavalava and wove another strand in one expert swipe. She glanced at me, raised an eyebrow slightly and carried on weaving. "DO YOU HAVE WEDDINGS? A LOT?" I rephrased the question. Her hands knitted furiously with the tangle of reeds, knotting, untying, reknotting. She resembled a big mother hen making a nest for her chicks. At my second question the eyebrow went up again without taking her eyes off the nest. "WEDDINGS." I shouted at her. "MUCH MARRIED HERE?"
Steve rushed in to help me out. "She already said yes." I looked at him, bewildered and then back at her. She had turned her attention back to the mat. "It's all in the eyebrow," said Steve.
"I'm hungry Mum," whined Matthew.
Steve handed me a five tala note. "Give it to her but say it's a gift. It's rude to offer money."

On the way back to the village we passed a darkened building with a Samoan beer sign outside. "The village shop," Steve informed us.
"I'm hungry," said Matthew and Cameron simultaneously.
"Would you like to borrow a couple of hundred tala?" Steve asked. We grabbed his money and entered the shop. It was lined with tins of corned beef and unfamiliar bags of grain and pulses. Brightly coloured pieces of material hung from the ceiling. "Why don't you buy yourselves a lavalava, it's better to wear one when meeting a chief." I glanced down at Steve's knees under his own lavalava, grinned at Stuart and bought him a skirt. Then I handed over a few tala for some small bags of crisps, the only thing in the shop that didn't seem to need cooking. The kids grabbed them, and opened them immediately. They smelt of cheesey Wotsits.
"Hey kids, I think Christmas has just come after all," Stuart laughed, eyeing the brightly patterned piece of blue and green cloth that he now owned. We handed out crisps to some local children, and strolled back, the relentless heat easing a little. Matt and Cam bolted down the crisps. "Do you think we'll ever be brave enough to ever go out on our own here?" Stuart whispered. I raised one eyebrow. "DO YOU THINK…" he said more loudly, then stopped. "Right, yes, I heard you," he said.
Matthew handed me an empty packet of twisties. "I'm hungry" he announced.
"Look, here's someone cooking their dinner." Steve diverted their attention. In a another, rather less impressive falé were three young boys. One was making fire with two sticks; another was peeling bananas; and the third sat surrounded by a pile of stones and a cooking pot. "They're making something delicious. It's young green bananas, cooked in the ground. It tastes like potato, and tastes really great mixed with coconut milk," Steve said. Cameron held on tightly to his empty twisties packet and Matthew suddenly went quiet.
"Shall we go back to our falé , boys?" I suggested, "Daddy wants to try on his new skirt, and I'm more than ready for my dinner."



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