Recently several volunteers from group 80 have been completing their two years of service here in Samoa and heading back to the United States. Although it’s sad to see them go, they did leave us with some parting gifts. Actually, they left us with all the stuff they either didn’t want or couldn’t fit inside their suitcases. In the volunteers resource room at the Peace Corps office is a pile of stuff labeled “free.” There always seems to be a “free” pile somewhere in the office, but only accumulates good stuff when a group heads home.
A few weeks ago I found myself poking around in the pile, not expecting to find anything too exciting. But suddenly I spotted a black Sony radio. It was in good condition, but a bit outdated with a cassette player as a feature. The antenna was a bit worn, but overall it looked pretty good, and I could hardly complain since it was free. I had looked at radios several times in Apia, but never felt like spending the money on one. It was always one of those things I thought I could do without. Being a wise volunteer, I took the time to plug it into the wall and actually make sure the thing worked because it could have been completely possible someone put a broken piece of junk in the free pile. Luckily, it worked. I put it in my bag and went to catch my bus.
Later that week, I decided to test the radio out at my house. I turned it to FM and slid the tuner. There were a handful of stations in Samoan, but I was holding out for an English one. Most people in the villages have radios and love to crank the volume up to levels that can be annoying at times, so I’ve heard plenty of music off the radio the past nine 11 months, just not in English.
But then I got lucky. Turning the tuner as slowly as I could, I finally dialed in on an English station, 93-KHK, which was playing American music. I didn’t recognize the song though. I’ve probably only heard a handful of American songs the past 11 months. When it comes to my knowledge of current day hip hop back home I am out of the loop.
Soon I heard the radio announcer and realized the radio station was coming from American Samoa, a U.S. Territory just 60 miles to the east of Samoa. American Samoa has American money, it has more American fast food chains than Samoa (Samoa only has one McDonald’s). I was hearing advertisements for Carl’s Junior and KFC. It reminded me of home. The style of the radio announcer, and the tone in his voice made me think I was riding in the car back home. In the United Sates, the commercials on the radio became annoying really fast, but here I found myself glued to this radio in amazement. I had gone 11 months without this kind of access in my house, but all of a sudden I had this outlet to the outside world.
All day I kept the radio on, almost as a companion. I had it sitting on top of my refrigerator and every time I went to get a drink of water, I would find myself just standing there listening to the music or the announcer. I kind of felt like I stepped back into history and was sharing an experience my grandparents had when they all use to gather with their families around the radio. I never would have known that a radio could have been so enjoyable.
Later in the evening I was preparing dinner, I was listening once again and heard a Fox News update from the U.S. with the day’s top headlines. I heard that President Obama had been traveling in Ohio, pitching his new economic plan—which I didn’t know anything about. I’m someone who used to be in front of the T.V. at 6:30 every night for the evening news. They even played a sound bite of President Obama’s speech, and I heard his voice for the first time in months. For a brief moment I felt this weird connection to my former life.
October is the beginning of cyclone season here in Samoa and last year the winds were swirling as Cyclone Rene grazed the coast of Samoa. This left me trying to translate the radio updates in Samoan, coming from my neighbor’s house. It will be nice this season to have a radio signal to know the latest on any cyclones that may come our way.
As the months go on, I think I’ll use the radio in small doses though. There has always been something peaceful about being alone without having a ton of background noise. I guess it is the typical image that people relate to when they think about the Peace Corps experience. Yet, I’m thankful for my little black Sony radio with the cassette player. Of course I don’t have any cassettes to play, they were all packed into my memory box back home in the late 1990’s. But luckily I still have 93-KHK.