Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pineapples In December

I’ve now lived in Samoa for two Decembers. And that’s given me two Decembers to realize that December in Samoa will never feel like December in America. December in the United States has all kinds of cues that lead a person to know it’s almost Christmas. If I were brought out of an underground bunker after loosing all sense of time, and dropped at a Wal-Mart store in America, I could easily figure out it was December in a hurry. There are Christmas candies by the door, along with poinsettia plants wrapped in red, green and silvered papers. There are three or more aisles devoted exclusively to Christmas decorations. There’s someone out front of the store ringing a bell and 25 cashiers wearing Santa hats. There are major food brands plastering pictures of Santa onto their packaging and some that even change the contents inside that packaging: M&Ms become green and red, Little Debbie’s take on the shape of a Christmas trees. And if that all wasn’t enough, there is Christmas music playing over the speaker system in the store!

Those are all signs of December in America. If you love them or hate them, it is a part of the American fabric, and a way of knowing that December is upon you. But America is an exception. Sure, Christmas is celebrated all over the world, but in other places, it’s not being made known to you by advertisers, the way it is in America. So I asked myself, if I came out of that same bunker and was dropped in Samoa, how would I know what month it is, and that it is in fact December? What cues would lead me to know, it’s two weeks away from Christmas? Here’s what I came up with.

If I were dropped in Samoa I could tell it’s December based on the price of pineapples at the market in Apia. Pineapples come into their peak season starting in December, and thus the price drops significantly. A large pineapple in November can cost as much as 15 tala (about $6.19 U.S. Dollars). However, that same size pineapple can drop to 6 tala (about $2.47 U.S. Dollars) just a few weeks later in December. So was the case, this past week when I walked through the market. I knew the season was just around the corner and I kept holding out to buy one for the cheaper price, and it finally came down, just like it did last year. It’s as predictable as the inflatable snowman display at Wal-Mart, just another indicator in another country in the month of December. I’ve bought two in the past week and plan on getting one more before I head home for Christmas. Pineapples here are so sweat that as I’m cutting them up, it’s hard not eating half of it before I put it away in the refrigerator. I’ve also enjoyed mixing the pineapple with bananas and freezing them for a chilled desert.

Another way of knowing that it’s December in Samoa is by the number of unfamiliar faces appearing in the village. This of course, is preceded by the caravans of rental cars that come streaming into a normally quiet village. Most evenings when I go for a walk through the village I can easily identify most faces, but once December roles around I start seeing all kinds of new faces. This is because most Samoans have large numbers of family members who come back for the Christmas holiday from overseas; countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Within the past week I’ve met about 10 new family members in one family alone who have come in for a visit. Many of them are great English speakers so they enjoy speaking to me in English, and get a kick out of hearing my Samoan, so we have our bilingual conversation before we both go our own ways.

And of course, the third sign of it being December in Samoa is the rain. The rainy season officially starts in November, but I’ve found it’s like an old rusty machine that takes a while to get moving again. The engines were fired in November but now that it’s December it in full operation and dumping it in buckets at times. The rain normally comes at night and is weird on the dreams; I always feel half awake and half dreaming as the pounding rain disorients me. But I love it when it rains so hard here in Samoa, it almost makes me feel like I have this bubble around me, protecting me from the rest of the world.

Samoa may not have all the Christmas decorations and hustle and bustle before December 25, but as a person lives here and comes to know the routines and traditions of this country, or any country around the world, they can certainly come to know that it’s December and a time for family and friends!

My first pineapple for the 2010 season!

Cutting up the first pineapple for the year.

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