Yesterday I had an experience at the hardware store in Apia which made me realize that I really have been in Samoa for a good chunk of time. Apia has roughly 40,000 people and after living in my village here with 400 people, that seems big!
Over the past 6 months I’ve been doing a lot of painting at my house on the interior walls. My place was in bad shape and I’ve been trying to make it livable and inviting. So all that painting has required I make several trips to Apia’s largest hardware store, Bluebird Hardware. Every time I have gone to have my paint mixed, the same guy has waited on me. But yesterday I actually stopped by Bluebird and didn’t buy any paint. I was picking up some clothes pins instead. When I was at the checkout counter, I saw the man who normally mixes my paint standing nearby and he waved to me first and gave a big smile. I guess I’m not surprised he remembered a palagi (white person), who had asked for paint on several occasions, but it really made me feel more at home, and gave me that feeling of living in a small town again. That’s a feeling I’ve missed while living in this new country where everything has been foreign.
But thinking about the man at Bluebird reminds me that this “small town” feeling has occurred other places around town. For example, when I go to the photo shop, the two ladies who are always working there know me by my first name. One is Samoan and the other is from New Zealand. They always ask me how things in my village are going and how I have been.
The man who takes ticket stubs at Magic Cinema, Samoa’s only movie theater, knows my face and lets me get away with taking my backpack into the theater, something most people aren’t allowed to do.
The Chinese guy that works the cash register at K.K. Mart (the small convenience store next to the Peace Corps office) recognizes me now when I walk in there and knows that I can speak some Samoan, so he has quit speaking English to me—something he always use to do a few months ago.
John from the internet café next to the post office knows my name and that I normally like to buy a Coke when I go in to use the internet.
When I go to get my haircut, my barber Brian knows what haircut I like and says hi right when I walk in the door. The place is usually hot but the haircut is good and also reasonably priced.
Then there’s the old man at Farmer Joe’s grocery store who checks our bags before we go into the store. I can’t be positive if he knows me, but he always gets this look on his face like he’s acknowledging he knows me. If he does remember me, it’s probably because of the weight of my bag, which caught him off guard the first time!
And then there is a whole village that seems to know my name and I don’t even live there! I go walking down the street and kids who look like strangers to me, come out and say “hi Kyle.” It gives me a spooked out feeling and a welcoming feeling at the same time.
I’m pretty sure the mean waitress at Mari’s restaurant knows me too. She and I don’t get along all that well. Mari’s has nice food and a great atmosphere but I’ve stopped eating there. They are one of the few restaurants with a large flat screen T.V. and one of the very few that have CNN International and BBC showing from time to time. I use to like to sit in there eat and watch some world news. Recently though they refuse to change the channel to CNN or BBC, even if there’s no one else in the restaurant. She always says her “boss” has the remote. But I digress…
Overall though, I now realize that living here for nearly eight months has helped make this place feel more like home. The people have gotten to know me and I have gotten to know them. It’s nice to feel welcomed when being so far from home. It’s nice to live where everybody knows your name.