Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Crescendo

My time in Samoa is finished. The ending came and went like the setting of the sun, like the final notes of a grand orchestra composition. I knew all along that the final days were playing out, and that they were days I would remember for the rest of my life. Just as we realize the change in the sky’s brilliant colors before an unforgettable sunset, or hear the final crescendo on a masterpiece of music; so too, was I aware of how those last moments with my village, were marking the end of something great!

That final day in Samoa was now a month ago, which may leave some wondering why I’ve written so late about something that affected me so much. I’ve thought of this very question, and believe it took that month, to process what happened, and what it meant for me and those I left. Perhaps at times like this, I’m most concerned about getting the words just right, working harder than ever to portray what my thoughts, emotions and feelings really are. Nonetheless, today I am ready to embark on that journey, to explore those last days and relive their new place in my life.

I can’t properly bring closure to a 26 month blog in just one entry, so I’d like to invite you to continue checking in over the next couple of weeks as I tell the stories in several posts. I believe this will most accurately reflect my final memories and events in Samoa. Over the past two years, you’ve come to know many of the people that were a part of my life during my Peace Corps service, so let me tell you about our goodbyes and how we celebrated our last days together. Thank you as always for reading, and for your interest in this ongoing journey.

The Hurricane Analogy

Writing in my journal my last week in Samoa, I found a way of describing how I thought the process of saying goodbyes might play out—and it later proved to be spot-on. As the week started closing in on me, I felt like I was preparing for a hurricane. Recall those news and weather reports shown on T.V. of families and businesses boarding up, packing up, and then waiting for the winds and rains to come. When I started my packing, and later took part in multiple trips with my bags to the capital, I felt like I was boarding up, and getting things in order before the storm hit. After my house was packed and things moved out, I had a couple of days to just relax and be with my village as I tried to keep things normal, yet knew they really weren’t. This felt a bit like the waiting just before the first wind bands arrive on shore.

Later, the eve of my departure would arrive, and emotions and feelings became so great that I knew the winds had arrived. Then there was a quiet stillness that last night, before my final morning, as if the calm eye of the storm had passed over. But then the next day arrived, and the back side of the storm came and thrashed. My village and I were strong though, and in the end we were able to ride it all out, and make it through together.

Thoughtful Silence

Throughout my time in Samoa, it was common for me to have visitors to my house. They would come over, kids and adults alike, and we would visit. When the adults came over, the conversation was normally upbeat and lively. When the kids stopped by we might listen to music, dance, play cards or cook food. But during my last week, one thing that struck me as different about my visitor’s time was their longer stays at my house, and more silent presences.

I can easily remember my last week when my friend Saulo came over to visit. I was busy working around the house, doing laundry and packing things. I spent some time in conversation with him, and we played a card game, but after a period of time, when he normally would have left to go home, he didn’t want to. He said he wanted to stay longer. He ended up sitting there for two or three hours as I did my work at the house. We didn’t say much to each other that day, but I think we both knew what was on the other’s mind. It was almost as if we were reflecting in silence about our last two years together, and what it meant to us, and what the future might hold.

As the days continued, I had similar experiences from others in the village I had been close to. My good friend Milo came over and sat as I organized and sorted. They all would come over and just want to be present. They would sit and just be content with little fuss over the topic of conversation. Looking back, I realize those were really our last moments together, as friends and neighbors, before the business of those last couple of days. I am so thankful to all those who came over to visit, who wanted to be with me just because they could be.

The End of Hoarding

As volunteers, we sometimes had a tendency to hold onto things that might have been useful someday, although we weren’t sure what that use might have been. I don’t know if that instinct came about from many of us living in remote areas in cultures different than those we grew up in, but I often heard of other volunteers stashing things away for the day they might really had needed them.

I use to feel a bit embarrassed that I was saving old glass jam and spaghetti jars, until another volunteer said they were saving old peanut butter containers. I felt more secure. But in the end, I never had a use for the jars myself, so when I was cleaning out the house, I offered them to neighbors, who quickly snatched them up—especially the ones that still had lids—because they said they were going to use them to put tea in them.

Routines are Hard to End

One part of life that helps many Peace Corps Volunteers keep their feet steady throughout their service is a well oiled functioning routine. In the beginning when everything feels foreign, the routine may be the only thing that you can count on to be predictable or feel comfortable. Of course, after time, we adjust and become more in tune with the day-to-day life in the village, yet that routine we once began always sticks with us.

For me, that last week was about doing that routine one last time. That involved cooking my favorite meals one last time in Samoa, although they weren’t the most amazing meals, they were the meals that I had become so accustomed to: pasta, pasta and more pasta, and then maybe one night of homemade tortillas.

Exercise was also a huge part of my routine, so I made sure to get out for my evening runs which led me down the most beautiful road overlooking that awesome ocean. The last run I had ended up turning into a soaker, forcing me to take cover under the broad leaf of a banana tree until the rains let up.

When I first arrived at my site in 2009, I never thought that I’d have the ambition or physical strength to run some of those steep hills near my house, let alone even enjoy it. However, as with many other parts of my life, I slowly realized what I thought was impossible was actually quite doable when I set my mind to it.

Another part of my routine, which falls under the category of a “chore,” was doing laundry. I remember thinking that week of how easy life was about to become for me in terms of keeping my clothes clean. Not only was I returning to a country where washing machines are as plentiful as coconut trees are in Samoa, but I was returning to a climate where sweating doesn’t take place for five months out of the year. Washing clothes, and towels, and sheets in Samoa taught me a lot of patience. The first few times I did it I couldn’t believe it, but after a while I found it to be a nice time to think about life and reflect on the day or week. Loosing that slower part of my life that final week reminded me I was about to return to a routine that would be different.

Saulo, during one of his visits to my house the last week.

During one of my last laundry sessions.

Milo always came and sat on the water tank outside my bathroom window to visit while I did laundry. Here he is on my last laundry day.

I literally had a "bench press," as part of my daily exercise routine!

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