Saturday, October 10, 2009
In order to better understand our first day in Samoa, for your convenience, I've created a timeline of events that occurred that day:
5:30 AM Arrival into Samoa
6:30 AM Arrival to Pasefika Inn
10:00 AM Practice for the Ava Ceremony
10:30 AM Ava Ceremony
11:30 AM Lunch
1:30 PM Unplanned Tsunami Evacuation
3:30 PM Language Lesson
5:00 PM Dinner
8:00 PM Sleep
The two most memorable events of our first day in Samoa were the Tea Ceremony and the Tsunami evacuation. While the Ava Ceremony was, by nature, comical, the Tsunami warning and evacuation had quite a different tone. Nevertheless, after a 10.5 hour flight from L.A. into Samoa, these events that would have otherwise appeared more or less dull were, in total, quite overwhelming given our jet-lagged state of mind.
The Ava Ceremony
I am unfamiliar with the origins of the Ava Ceremony and its actual purpose even though I have tried to gather some information from native Samoans. To my knowledge, it is used to welcome special guests and to commence Matai (Samoan chief) meetings. Other than that, I was simply told to memorize a phrase that I would be asked to perform during the ceremony:
"Lau Ava Lea le Atua, Soifua" (This is your Ava God, good health!)
Apparently, and I'd like to stress my surprise, around 50 people attended the Ava Ceremony in which everyone would sit on mats in a large circle. This consisted of about 50% Peace Corps trainees and 50% Samoans and Peace Corps staff and volunteers. Although sleep deprived and disoriented, we were all expected speak...nay...perform our first Samoan words in front of a crowd of 50 people.
After about 30 minutes of hearing speeches, in which the Samoan speaking people present would intermittently laugh at the inside jokes we were helplessly unable to understand. One of the Peace Corps volunteer leaders, known as "Benji," clad only in a lava lava (a traditional male Samoan skirt) ran within the circle carrying large dangerous sticks and placed them around the circle. Later, Benji and another volunteer served Ava tea one by one to each person in the circle, who would then have to perform said phrase.
I was finally served the Ava tea, and as I held the ava-filled coconut cup in my hand, my entire arm shook violently as I said something along the lines of, "loo ava...ava...le delicious tea, soifua." Meanwhile, I poured some of the tea onto the mat (as it was part of the ritual) but as as my hand shook beyond my control, a more than significant amount of tea ended up on the mat. In fact, of all the people around me, I was the only person who had a standing puddle on their mat.
I'd like to interject here with a little known fact of Samoan culture- Samoans value humor and thus use it a lot. During the ceremony, a significant numbe of PC (Peace Corps) trainees butchered the short phrase. As expected, the Samoans laughed quite violently given the circumstances as esach nervous PC trainee butchered the phrase.
Early in the day, Samoan officials recieved reports of an 8.5 magnitude earthquake near the island Vanuatu. As such, all surrounding islands recieved a Tsunami warning and proceeded to take the necessary steps to avoid the tragedy Samoans experienced last week.
45 minutes into my impromptu nap during lunchtime (After the grueling ceremony,) Jeanin, our TEFL trainer burst into our rom screaming, "Tsunami, tsunami warning! leave your room immediately...NOW!" In own swift Bruce Lee movement, I jumped out of bed, my book bag containing my passport, and left behind my computer and 1000 dollar camcorder. Indeed, I need to work to improve the assessment of my valuables in a timely fashion. Not to mention, in that instant, the Tsunami warning sirens went off thus providing the soundtrack to the latest Micheal Bay action film...in my head. About 15 PCTs packed into the back of a tight Toyota pick-up truck while the rest of us (about 7) packed into an air-conditioned PC SUV.
During that time, I was given the rare but thrilling opportunity to "struggle and succeed in a time of great pressure" (a scenario common to all hero action genres.) I thrust the back dor open as the car's main cabin was already full. Unfortunately, the back seat was held up by a hook to which I successfully managed to pull loose...at the last minute. In retrospect, fortunately for all of us, the Tsunami warning was merely a scare and nothing more.