Friday, January 29, 2010

Slaughter Day: An Account of Samoan Reciprocity

About two months ago, I was able to witness the slaughter, preparation, cooking, and presentation of a pig. Pigs are only eaten on special occasions, and as Samoa is a culture based n reciprocity, my host father sought to repay a neighbor with a size 2 pig*.

My host nephew, Tuna, woke me during my afternoon siesta to inform me that my host brother, Sefo, was in the process of slaughtering one of a dozen pigs living in the backyard. Hurling towards the Samoan kitchen in the back of the house in my half sleep state, I stumbled upon my host father and brother balancing on a large stick that was placed on the pig's neck, choking the unfortunate thing.

This is the way in which Samoans, without rifles, slaughter pigs. Unfortunately, for the pig, this meant a slow and painful demise. It took a good 10 minutes before the pig finally fell limp. All the while, its icy wide-eyed stare never once blinked and its mouth snapped wide open (I suppose to gather whatever air it could possibly take in.)

Immediately after, Sefo dragged the carcass over a pile of hot rocks to burn off the hair. Whatever hair remained he had removed with a knife. So what was once a black pig was now a pale ghostly carcass.

He then proceeded to gut the carcass. This involved, first, by removing the anus done to reduce the potential for defecation spillage. It is then followed by removing some tube - could have been the esophagus or trachea - who knows. Then, he removed all the organs and flushed out excess blood. This all happened while our two puppies ravaged whatever meat they could scavenger. One dog found the pig's tail while the other found the pig's hooves.

After having gutted the pig, Sefo proceeded to stuff the pig with piping hot stones and leaves. The idea is to simultaneously cook the pig inside and out. After stuffing the pig, he moved it over a pile of more piping hot stones and covered the entire pig with leaves and newspaper.

It is important to note that Sefo did not season the meat. This is true of Samoan food- meat is not seasoned. Something which I will address later, to some, the Samoan culinary experience is exotic and addicting, to others, such as myself, the experience is rather dull. The meat comes out bland and coarse when tasted especially when I know the true free-range organic meat has so much potential!

Anyway, I diverge, after about 2 hour of baking the pig, it turned a bright red and was ready to eat. He placed the pig in a basket weaved out of palm leaves and walked across the street to deliver the pig as a gesture of thanks and reciprocity. We intentionally stayed for a moment before leaving as to avoid receiving a gift in response to our gift. Thus, here is a brief account of Samoa's circle of reciprocity

* Pigs are categorized by their size from 2 to 4. Ostensibly, the best meat comes from the smaller more leaner pigs. Thus size 2 is the ideal size.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Job

I realized that I neglected to explain what my job consisted of here in Samoa. Thus, while it is long overdue, it is important nonetheless.

My primary duty here in Matatufu is to be an English teacher in the local primary school. After years of unsuccessful village-based development projects in the country, group 82 (my group) is the pioneer of the new TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) PC program in Samoa.

My secondary duty here is to continue to the previous unsuccessful project: village-based development projects. All of the projects must be sustainable - meaning volunteers do not contribute solely through monetary means. Instead, the goal is to build capacity in the villages in which people can continue projects on their own without the assistance of a volunteer and perhaps even develop their own projects.

While the Peace Corps designed my job to meet the >40 hour work week, I am really on-the-job 24/7: My behavior will affect my ability to integrate into the culture and work with village counterparts. After a while, the anxiety of always being watched by villagers and always being "perfect" can be exhausting.

So far, these past two months have been a real culture shock. Being the only white female living in the village, I'm constasntly being watched and asked where I'm going. Furthermore, it is culturally insound to be walking alone especially as a female. However, given the responsabilities of my job, I have made it a point to be seen walking/running alone every day. Thus, not only has it been an adjustment for me, but also for the villagers. My presence and daily behavior models a deviating lifestyle that allows for a semi-two-way cross-cultural exchange.

My Village

Each volunteer is assigned to their own village in which they will teach and develop sustainable develpment projects. I was assigned to Matatufu (Mah-tah-too-foo) located in the district of Aleipata, in the southeastern side of Upolu the area hit hardest by the September 29th Tsunami. Shaped like a "T" the village is comprised of roughly 500 people covering just over a mile in length. While relatively small, Matatufu has four churches of different denominations making village politics and loyalties quite complicated and thus making my job infinitely harder. Nevertheless, Matatufu has a number of redeeming qualities, including but not limited to a new school building and a remote breathtaking village. It certainly is exciting to finally foresee the new challenges and successes I'll encounter over the next two years.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Initial Fears and Current Responses

1) Air-Conditioning and Cold Showers: There's no real practical way of coping with the heat other than sweating continuously and being perpetually covered in a thick film of sweat. As such, cold showers are not the only available shower temperature, but very much anticipated under the hot equatorial sun.

2) The Sun: Fearing the deleterious effects of prolonged exposure to the sun, I vowed to protect my skin lest I return to the US in 2 years looking 20 years my senior. I've been applying sunscreen religiously and walking around under a large umbrella. It is important to note that Samoans do not typically carry umbrellas around. Thus, if being light-skinned and Chinese was not enough to draw attention, a light-skinned Chinese female of incredible small stature wielding a large umbrella that can easily accomodate 5 people surely made me a sight to behold.

3) Mosquitos: I haven't yet coped with this problem. I still loath them with every fiber of my pathetic being. On average, I get bitten 20 times a day and I am willing to bet that before the completion of my service I will contract dengue fever.

4) The Flies: They are everywhere. Aside from their ostensible roles as decomposers in the apparently "efficient" ecosystem process, I could live a day without flies. Moreover, they do exceptionally well to spread disease. This fact comforts me every time I see 3 flies on my morning toast, my feet, and pretty much everything that I've come in contact with.

5) Cockroaches: Every time I see a cockroach, I would seethe, "I despise you." You can sometimes find my silently fleeing from the outhouse trying to be as descreet and cool as possible. Relative to their American counterparts, cockroaches here are quite large, and when squashed they ooze a green goo, which I was told was made up of "cockroach babies." What can I say except that they are everywhere and I can't turn a corner without meeting one. In fact, the other day one crawled into my bed and from the other side of the mosquito net I instinctively squashed the damned thing with my bare hands. I subsequently proceeded to sanitize every surface area of my body.

6) The Ants: Dear Lord, why the ants? If you have food in your room, they'll find it. If you have food in a semi-air-tight container, they'll find it. If you have food suspended in the air, they'll find it. If you have cotton underwear, they'll find it. If you have foam pillows, they'll find it. Get the point?

7) Giant centipedes: I shit myself every time I see one.

Swearing - In

Our official swearing-in was surprisingly informal and anticlimactic. After 2.5 months of grueling and painstaking training, and after 3 trainees decided to abandon ship, the remaining 20 volunteers were sworn-in in the one dank conference room faciliated by the US charge-de-affaires clad in a flowery light blue muumuu.

We all sat along the wall and raised our right hands while reading a short statement having smething to do with "defending enemies both foreign and domestic." How ironic it was to swear-in into the Peace Corps on such an un-Peace Corps tone.

Anyway, thus begins the 2-year stint half way across the world. Our service will officially expire December 8, 2011. Until then, there's much work ahead.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Farewell Manunu

The day had finally arrived when training was finally over and we were going to officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteer. As usual, the night before we left, the village threw a fiafia (party,) and as one might expect, all the Americans provided the entertainment with Samoan song and dance. I mean, why wouldn't we? If I were to choose a group best suited to sing and dance without retraint or self-consciousness, I would definetely choose the Americans.

On the morning of our departure the village performed a formal farewell address, which included the presentation and gift of a wildebeest-sized pig, baskets of taro, fish, corned beef, etc. In return we gave them money and the pleasure of living without 20 culturally insensitive Americans and the inconvenience of having to serve them a *special diet 3 times a day.

In all seriousness, Manunu was the first village and the first family that birthed us into the Samoan culture and for that I am grateful. These past two months was truly a time of experiential learning. I will miss many things about Manunu but on the same token, many more adventures and other challenges lie ahead. So, farewell, Manunu. Thankyou for your patience and your love. It is now time for me to move forward and finally begin the work I set out to do in the first place.

*Special diet = vegetables. Vegetables are pretty much nonexistent in the Samoan diet.