A couple weeks ago, Samoa celebrated one of its biggest holidays, White Sunday. This was my third White Sunday experience since being in Samoa. The day is set aside as a celebration for kids. It is the one day where children, who normally fall at the bottom of the pecking order, are given the spotlight, praises and gifts. Every other day of the year, kids are doing far more chores than any American child would ever dream of doing, and also more strenuous tasks than most kids from American culture would experience. These kids are use to going out and collecting firewood, gathering coconuts, hauling rocks, weaving mats, and preparing the evening meal to name a few things. But on White Sunday, the kids set those chores aside and enjoy a day of rest.
The two days leading up to White Sunday are without a doubt, the busiest shopping days of the year in Samoa. People from the rural villages make an exodus by way of their local buses to the capital of Apia where they stock up on food, clothes and candy, which are all a part of the holiday. It’s the one day where families who normally go without luxuries, like ice cream, might splurge and buy a huge box carton for the entire family. It is the one day where I have seen new clothes be given to kids, as well as new shoes, and jewelry for the girls.
I’ll never forget last year’s White Sunday weekend when I was riding back on my village’s bus on Saturday afternoon. I have never seen so many people in such a small space, and with so much stuff. With there only being one bus to my village, everyone who had any shopping to do that weekend was on that bus.
As I’ve written in past blogs, because of my position within the community as a Peace Corps Volunteer, plus the fact that I’m a foreigner, I am always guaranteed a seat in the front of the bus out of respect—someone would always move to give there seat to me. And although I normally sit near the front of the bus, I decided that on the busiest shopping weekend of the year, I would give up my seat in the front and head to the very back, where I had never gone before. Since the front of the bus is reserved for the high chiefs of the village—matais—as well as older women and women with children, the back is where everyone else goes, and that leaves a lot of people!
After fighting my way through the busy streets and stores to do my shopping, I made it over to my bus where I arrived a half hour early, to guarantee my seat in the back! Upon arriving I told people from my village what I was doing as they laughed and still invited me to sit in the front. But I made my way down the aisle and found my seat in the back right hand side of the bus.
Before long people started stepping aboard the bus and cramming in. Babies were being passed through windows, toddlers getting comfy on their mother’s, or a stranger’s lap. I had my ears wide open to take in the language as I heard people trying to discuss who would sit where and who sat on whom. An older and rather large lady made her way to the back seat where I was and then had a small child sitting on her. There ended up being 6 people in the back seat, not counting the four people sitting on them. I offered to let someone sit on me, but I was in a corner seat so it would have been a bit uncomfortable, although not impossible.
As the bus continued to fill, people were juggling their cartons of eggs, ice cream and loaves of bread. Near the front of the bus were a couple big stalks of bananas, and 6 large coconuts rattled around on the floor near my feet. At one point, I also spotted a yellow 20 lb. bag of rice and some flour. It all came aboard the bus and somehow fit amongst the mass of humanity. Before long, the bus driver fired up the engine and we were off.
Now you might have thought our next stop was the village, but not so—there’s a surprise! Our bus always stops at a petrol (gas) station outside of town to fuel up before the long journey out to the bush. There is also a nice size grocery store at this petrol station where people like to stock up on food. So after cramming the bus full and situating everything just right, the whole thing is undone and 90 percent of the bus disembarks to do some more shopping. And yes, you’re right, what goes off must come back on, and then some!
People were buying bread, chicken, bags of chips and ice cream cones. I chose to stay put, rather than possibly loosing my seat. While we waited for everyone to re-board the bus, a guy sitting in the back with me started smoking a cigarette, which didn’t do too much for the air quality on an already very hot and sticky bus. Yet I signed up for everything I was getting that day.
About 45 minutes after stopping at the petrol station our bus rolled out and headed to the village. With the speakers of the bus pounding out one great song after another, I sat back, and enjoyed the ride. Our bus followed the road along the ocean’s edge as some people even managed to fall asleep.
As we approached the village people started reaching for the bags and boxes they had stuffed under their seats. Slowly the bus started to empty as one family after another got off in front of their house. Mothers and fathers would be greeted at the edge of the road by the younger children who waited to haul the groceries and other goodies back up to their house. All the kids were waving to me and seemed a bit surprised that I was sitting in the back of the bus.
With my two months left in Samoa, I’m glad I took the time to do something I normally wouldn’t do. It may seem like a simple experience, but I can assure you, it will make me appreciate my seat in the front a lot more!
Standing room only!
Some of the guys loading things onto the back tailgate of the bus.
Bananas on the floor of the bus.