Monday, May 28, 2012

The Reunion

Milo and Saulo on April 21st with their new shirts.
On April 21st, I lived a dream. I traveled back to the village where I had lived for two years during Peace Corps. I had dreamed about what that day would be like, and about being with those I had come to love so much during my time there. Our final day together, last December, was one of the hardest and most emotional days of my life, but there I was again, traveling in the reverse direction down that long road that winds back to one of the most secluded places of this island nation!

I had called the week before to tell Milo’s family that I would be coming, and asked if I could stay with them at their house. They were my neighbors the past two years, and I had spent so many great days with them in the past. When I arrived, just before dark, everything felt familiar, yet in some ways like it had been ten years! It was hard to get a sense of time that had passed. I first gave a hug to Naomi, Milo’s mom, and then to his Dad, Taunaola. Several of the kids from the village had also gathered at Milo’s house to welcome me, and Saulo was the first one to walk up to me. Even though it had only been four months since we had seen each other, he looked older and more grown up. I just stood there and looked at him, and then Milo, and Mareta, all these people I couldn’t believe I was with once again! I just kept thanking God for that opportunity to be with them.

Within five minutes of arriving I was sitting in my normal spot on the floor at Milo’s house, being served a huge feast and drinking a fresh coconut! The kids bustled around with serving the food and clearing dishes. There was an electricity of excitement in the air, and it was heard in our voices and seen on our faces. Saulo went for my camera and quickly started taking pictures and videos on his own; I had forgotten how tech savvy he had become during the past couple of years! I also noticed how much more advanced his English was. He had always been one of my most advanced students, and since my leaving, he had only seemed to improve more!

After dinner I gave gifts to the kids and Milo’s family. I had made copies of many of the home videos I had taken of our two years together, and put them on DVD for them. Milo’s family has a small portable DVD player, so we were able to watch the videos that night. It was a trip back into the past, even as we were so much about living in the present moment.

That evening we walked down into the village and I said hi to one person after another who asked how I had been, what I was doing back in Samoa, and how my family was back home. That night, and throughout the rest of the weekend, I began to realize once again how amazingly lucky I was to have that great village as my site for my Peace Corps service. I knew I was lucky at the time, when I was living in the moment, but going back after being away, I was jolted once again at how much those people really loved me, respected me, and treated me like one of their own.

On Sunday of that weekend, I went to the Catholic Church and saw all my friends there. Samoans sing with such power and harmony, and the kids especially bolt out each and every note with such gusto. It was so good to hear that energy and praise to God. I was given a flower ula at mass, something that had always been a tradition. After mass I went back to Milo’s house where we all had a huge Toana’i (Sunday lunch). All my favorite Samoan foods were right there for me to eat again, and I didn’t hold back. Milo’s mom sent one of the kids to sit by my side and fan the flies away from my food. So many other customs and traditions like that took place over the weekend, ones which I had sort of forgotten about after returning to the States last December. It was so common for me to have my food fanned while I ate meals in Samoa, but then once I returned to my own culture where that isn’t done, I had started to forget about those things, so it was really an enriching experience to go back and live those parts of my life again.

That Sunday afternoon a big group of us walked up the road and back to our old swimming spot near a small waterfall. It was a long standing tradition for us, and the kids said they hadn’t been back there in the past four months since I had left. We finished the trip of with drinking fresh coconuts which some of the boys climbed the trees for.

On Sunday night I spent the night with Saulo’s family. While visiting with him and his family, he brought out a pile of papers to show me; they were all the letters I had sent him the past four months. He had saved them all, and I was impressed.

The next morning it was time for me to head back to my current village, and all the kids had to go back to school. I got on the bus at Saulo’s house and made that very familiar ride into the capital. I said goodbye to Saulo and the other kids when they got off at their school in a neighboring village. I was already looking forward to the next time we would meet! It was a weekend I will not soon forget, because when dreams come true, the memories withstand the passing of time.

Milo & Saulo with their motivational posters I gave them using the famous quote my Uncle Jamie told me when I needed some inspiration.

The kids watching the DVD I made for them of my videos from Samoa for the past two years.

Neueli and I meet for the first time in 4 months! He's getting taller!

After church on Sunday with my former students!

Walking back to the village from the river.

With Saulo, Neueli and Milo.

The two trouble makers!

Enjoying an evening walk in my old village with all my former students!

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