Monday, May 28, 2012

Back to the Islands

Flying in along the coastline
of my former village!
After three planes and over 14 hours of flying, there she was, sitting like a jewel in the South Pacific: Samoa! Her turquoise lagoons contrasted by the steep, lush mountains of her interior were the first sights I saw out my plane window on April 14th as we started our decent. After hours of flying over nothing but ocean, not a spec of land in sight, there was the place I had called home for over two years, with all of the memories rushing through my mind. For the first time, I finally realized how small Samoa really is! Out my plane window I could nearly see the entire length of Upolu (one of two major islands that make up the majority of Samoa). I thought it was special that my seat happened to be on the left side of the plane, allowing me to have that great view, and how amazing to be flying along the coastline of my former village! When I said goodbye to Samoa last December, I wasn’t sure when I would return again, if ever! But as the plane made its landing, I was able to experience what it’s like to have a dream come true!

Stepping off the plane and descending the steps, the heat felt warm, just as I had remembered. Inside the airport, my first glance found Lilly and Chelsea, two Peace Corps friends who had come out to welcome me. Lilly is from my Peace Corps Group, 82, and has extended for a third year. Chelsea is in Group 83. They had a small palm woven fan for me, which I didn’t hesitate to use right away, considering I was still in jeans from the long flight from Hawai’i. As happy as I was to meet up with Lilly and Chelsea, I had to work on finding my new hosts from the Catholic church, so I got on the phone and tracked them down; they were on the other side of the room, and quickly came over and placed an ula around my neck and I suddenly felt at home with my fan and flowered necklace

Loading my bags into the church’s van, with Lilly and Chelsea along for the ride, we drove towards town. Even though I had been gone for four months, everything felt familiar. How refreshing it was to see kids and families outside and waving at me as we went along. Vaega and Anna, took us up to my formal welcoming ceremony in my new village where the Archbishop was waiting for me, along with the band committee and band students.

This return to Samoa has been led by the Holy Spirit! I was contacted through the Notre Dame Band about coming here to help assist in building up a band for Samoa’s celebration of 50th independence on June 1. An American priest who had lived in Samoa for over two decades and who is close friends with the Archbishop, was asked by the Archbishop to find someone for the job. He had contacted the Notre Dame Band about someone coming over to lead the program, and that’s when my name was mentioned. I will also be working with three Notre Dame Band students who will be coming to help the band in June and July! My work will continue through December, continuing to work with the bands for big events, such as a Catholic Youth Rally in July where Samoa will host students from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Tokelau. There is also a big dedication of the new cathedral in December that I will be preparing the band to perform for.

Once I arrived at my new village back on April 14th, I was all smiles when I saw the band students put on a small marching show for me! I was very impressed by their skill level and knew there was already a solid base of talent developed and some leaders within the band had already emerged. As I sat there and listened to the band perform, and was served a huge meal, I was reminded of all the reasons I love Samoa, and why I wanted to return. Samoans give so much love and welcome to their guests, and although I hardly feel like a guest in Samoa, after having lived here for more than two years, they treat me with the same respect they would any other visitor to their country.

This mission I’m on now, here in Samoa, has many differences from my years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, yet many things feel the same. I am still here as someone who wants to reach out an help those who have asked for my help, and I am one who still has a great desire to learn more about their culture, language and traditions. I still find that my most enjoyable days are those where I spend time with neighbors, friends and students, getting to know more about them, and listening to their stories.

And over the next seven months, I hope to share my stories here with all of you, just as I’ve done in the past. We aren’t always given second chances to get to go back and do things we forgot to do, or wish we had done, but by the grace of God, I’ve been given that chance here in Samoa. Since being back, I’m taking the chance to do things I didn’t do the first time around. When I got home in December, I kicked myself on a number of occasions when I realized I forgot to take a certain picture, or visit a certain place. Well now I’m back, and the opportunity waits for me again; all I need to do is grab it. It’s great to be back “home”—it’s great to be back in the islands!

Mom and I at Chicago O'Hare before heading out on my 7,000 mile journey!

Dad and I at the airport.

My plane from Honolulu to Samoa on Air Pacific.

The breakfast served on Air Pacific was amazing!

Chelsea and Lilli at the airport to greet me! Good to see Peace Corps family!

Band students from my village welcomed me after my arrival to Samoa!

The Archbishop receiving the ava during my welcome ceremony.

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