Very few buses run here on Sundays. They’re hard to avoid any other day of the week, but Sundays the roads are easy to cross and a little less noisy. However, I had heard a rumor that there was one bus on Sunday that left from the market and traveled to a village near mine. After doing my grocery shopping, I walked across the road to the market to wait for this bus. The market looks like an abandoned city on Sunday, with only Taxi drivers napping on the benches which are normally crowded with people. I didn’t want a taxi though, they are too expensive.
So I sat down next to an older man who had longer white hair (long hair is uncommon for men in Samoa). He didn’t seem like the friendly type at first and I had an Economist I was looking forward to reading, so I figured I would just wait for the bus in silence. But before long, he started speaking to me in perfect English. The first thing he said, and what most Samoans ask right off the bat is, “where are you going?” I told him and asked him about the bus. He confirmed to me that there was one bus and it would be there at noon—30 minutes away.
Normally, if I’m sitting with a Samoan, I will try to speak in Samoan with them, for my own practice and out of respect for them. However, I knew this man was proud to be speaking in English, so I went right along with him to avoid the hassle of me trying to grapple for Samoan words. The first thing that goes through my head when I hear someone speak as well as he did in English, is where did they learn to speak that well, or why? Sometimes people have lived in American Samoa for several years, where English is spoken. Sometimes they lived in New Zealand or Australia. Other times they just did well in school here, went to the university, and found a good job in Samoa where they used their English daily. And other times, they have lived in The United States of America, just as this man had.
He explained to me how he married a women from San Diego and that she was there now. This man, who slowly started to remind me of Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future, said he had come to Samoa to look after some of the land he owns. I asked when he was planning a trip back to California and he said soon. Most Samoans who have lived in the U.S. don’t seem to mind visiting again, but most I’ve spoken with say they want to come back to Samoa and live the rest of their life here, to die in their own country. Not this man, he said he was going to go back to the U.S. and planned on staying there.
As time passed, I became curious about his life in San Diego. I was dying to know what his wife did, and then luckily he told me. He said she was a professor. I was very impressed. “Where is she a professor?” I asked. “At the University of San Diego,” he said. But then I wanted to know what she taught. He said she was a shrink.
I also learned about his children who are living in New Zealand and another who lives in Phoenix. He was also proud to tell me that he once held a wrestling championship title in New Zealand. He said that title earned him a lot of respect.
I learned about his lineage. Part German—he had a father from Germany who was in Samoa during the war (German blood is common among many Samoans). He was part Scottish and part something else…it starting to get confusing, but nonetheless, he had me listening rather well. He explained a few things he thought Samoa could improve on, and was well aware that they have faults, just like every other country. He was particularly frustrated with the youth of the country, those who hang around with a lazy attitude. Religion even was mentioned, as I learned he was a Christian. He also made known his opinions about other religions, which seemed a bit un-Christian to me.
During our whole conversation, I was keeping one ear and one eye open for the sound and sight of the bus that I needed to catch. I knew what color it was and became anxious for its arrival as noon approached. Finally at 12:15 I heard a bus, but when I saw it, it wasn’t the bus I needed. When the bus arrived, the old man wished me well and waved goodbye as he headed for the steps of the bus that had just pulled in. After he left, I started asking others if there was in deed a bus to the village I needed to go to. One after another they said with a slight laugh, “no, there’s no bus on Sunday.”
If you wanted me to pinpoint a moral to the story, it is this: seven months ago a situation like this would have frustrated me (heck, I wouldn’t have even been in a situation like this), but today I have changed. I left home for the Peace Corps knowing that I was going to change and it’s exciting to think about. However, that leaves me wondering, “when is this change going to happen, what will it look like, and how will it unfold?”
As the months have passed, I’ve begun to realize that it’s not an earth shattering moment here that changes me from that old person, and way of thinking, into the new. Rather, the changes come slowly and gradually from situations like this one, where I learn about other people and am tested with my patience. The lazy moments that I don’t think will have anything to do with my “change,” end up being some of the most interesting encounters of this whole experience. But the final moral of this story is simply this: if you’re ever at the market in Samoa on a Sunday afternoon, be careful who you ask when wanting the bus schedule, especially if it’s a man whose wife is a shrink in California!