Monday, July 30, 2012

Who’s Burger Bill?

Most things in Samoa happen slowly, there isn’t much rush to daily life, or even for long term projects. That’s why I was stunned when I returned to Samoa in April to find that a whole new restaurant had been built, opened and was bustling with customers in the four short months I was gone. Its name is Burger Bill’s (BB’s) and when I headed there recently to interview the manager in preparation for this blog, one of the first things I asked him was “Who’s Burger Bill?”

BB’s is located in a space directly next to Farmer Joe, which is one of Apia’s main grocery stores. The space where BB’s is now, was formerly occupied by a Fish & Chips fast food restaurant which served other basics such as hamburgers, chicken and ice cream. It was much less formal and the seating was very limited and open to the outside hustle and bustle of the market next door. It was owned by the same people who own Farmer Joe, and so is true for BB’s, which leads me back to that question about who Burger Bill really is. When I asked the manager, he admitted he didn’t know, nor did anyone on his staff. I suggested that maybe Burger Bill is the cousin of Farmer Joe, although we haven’t been able to confirm that yet.

So what’s so amazing about BB’s? For starters, their bathrooms! Good, clean, quality bathrooms are hard to come by in Apia, and it takes a well lived person of this country to know where the good ones are: McDonald’s, Coffee Bean and the smaller internet cafĂ© near Janet’s come to mind. But now we have BB’s, which is a good option if you’re on the south side of town and don’t feel like crossing all the way over to McD’s. And I’m not alone with my feelings on the bathrooms: other Peace Corps friends of mine have made the same comments. In fact, one of them boasted about that before anything was said about how the food was.

And the food does happen to be good too! I asked the supervisor why people would come to BB’s instead of McDonald’s and he said because the food is fresher and cheaper. For the most part I have to agree with him. The one hamburger I’ve ordered at BB’s did seem to have fresher toppings, such as the lettuce. Although the prices are close to McD’s, some like a fountain coke, can be bought at half the price at BB’s than at McDonald’s.

I asked him what the business goals were for the restaurant and he said to bring more people in. He also told me that the highest priority of the employees is to work hard and try to invite people in.

I also asked him what BB’s was doing towards offering more healthy choices, especially since many Samoans are overweight and have diabetes. He mentioned that they were trying to offer more healthy foods, and I was able to see some evidence of that from the fruit on the counter and the coleslaw in the fridge. It’s by no means the best place to eat if you are trying to lose weight, but at least I saw some signs of them moving in the right direction.

The restaurant is clean and spacious. It feels like a natural place to have a conversation with someone over lunch or dinner. McDonald’s always seems so loud and rushed, making you feel like you’re right there working on the assembly line with them, but BB’s is much more relaxed. Although I would call it fast food, I wouldn’t say it’s as fast as McDonald’s, which is ok since it makes it feel a bit more intimate.

I’m sure I’ll still be making visits to McDonald’s from time to time, but BB’s should be happy with their service and selection. They are giving some good competition to other friendly foes, and giving a few more options for those of us who keep asking, “Who’s Burger Bill?”

The view of Burger Bill's and Farmer Joe from the other side of the road.

The spaciousness makes it more inviting than other tight spaces in Apia.

The hard working employees take a minute to be in my picture!

The lines always seem to be busy, which is of course good news for business.

Part of the menu offerings.

Some of the fresh fruit offered on the counter.

The famous talked about bathroom.

With the supervisor after our interview.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saulo Plays Barber

Placing a lot of trust in a friend!
When a 14 year old offers to cut your hair, alarm bells start to go off. Maybe it would be funny to let them do it, just to see what the finished result would look like and take some pictures that prove you put your life in someone else’s hands. But would you really go through with it? I had my doubts, but I finally said yes, after Saulo kept offering to cut my hair at a bargain price ($0 tala, which in the U.S. is equal to 0 dollars)!

For nearly the past three years, I’ve been getting my hair cut in the capital at a small barber shop called Brian’s. Even going there the first time—where they have professional looking equipment like clippers and barber chairs—was a real test of faith. But I soon realized they were a top notch outfit. Sure it was a bit different than the barber shops in the U.S., say for example the dozens of beer bottles stacked along the back wall, the racy photos hanging over the mirrors and the electrical wires which shorted out—if there was electricity at all! But nonetheless, it was good service and at 12 tala, $7 U.S. dollars cheaper than any place in Michigan.

My expectations when I walked over to Saulo’s house were mixed. I went to his house fully expecting I may be making a trip to Brian’s the next day to have “repair work” done. For the most part though, I wanted to go through with it to show Saulo that I trusted him and to build up his confidence. He told me he had cut a couple other guys’ hair in the village, although I never got to see the results before I got the scissors taken to me.

By coincidence, the challenge became even more interesting when I ran out of daylight hours and he was forced to cut it after dark. Even he had hesitations about cutting after dark when the light wasn’t as good. But we pressed on and he directed me to his family’s outer Samoan kitchen where he had me sit in a plastic chair next to a pile of coconut husks and an earthen oven.Luckily, there was no full size mirror in front of me, so at least I didn’t have to watch it unfold in a panic. I took off my glasses and tried to relax.

Our biggest laughs came each time he wanted me to turn another direction, which since there was no fancy barber chair that rotated, required me standing up and sitting down every few minutes. I also found yet another use for an ie lava lava, when he wrapped one around my neck to serve as an apron. Milo was nearby with the camera to capture my leap of faith. Each time Saulo finished a side and backed away to get a good look, the smile on his face got larger and he got giddy with excitement, clearly proud of the work he was doing. I was just imagining what he thought was “good” might actually be horrendous.

The final unveiling came after about 25 minutes when Saulo brought over a small broken mirror for me to look into. I suddenly was shocked, surprised and overwhelmed at how amazingly well he cut my hair. Although the light wasn’t the greatest, I couldn’t see any difference from the haircut he gave me and the ones I use to get in town. In fact, I told him that I had had haircuts in the United States from licensed professionals who cut worse than him—a lot worse! I even told him about— and then showed him where— my dad cut my ear when I was an infant. I teased him about cutting my ear, but luckily, he never did. I was so proud of him, and I told him so. I suggested that he open a business and make a little money.

Although he had told me it was a free cut, I gave him $5 tala which he was pleased about. I told him I’d be bragging about my haircut and that I’d be back next month for another trim. I’m glad I took the bold step and trusted in my friend. Malo lava Saulo!

Saulo taking a swipe at my ear!

Attention to detail.

Two weeks later the hair is growing out nicely! Thanks Saulo!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ATS 2012

Newly ordained Fr. Jerry with his many ulas!
Last week was a huge success for the Catholic Church in Samoa! Thanks to the hard work of many who spent countless hours in preparations, the week-long youth rally (officially called, Aso Tupulaga Samoa) gave the young adults of this country a chance to gather and strengthen their faith. Not only did over 2,000 youth from Samoa gather here for the event, but over 800 Samoan youth living overseas in New Zealand, Australia, America, American Samoa and Tokelau. With all of them together, there were over 3,000 youth participating in the week’s activities.

Each day began at 7:00a.m. with the raising of the Samoan flag, the Vatican flag, and the official flag for the ATS event. I participated throughout the week as a member of the band, playing my trombone. The band would play each morning for the raising of the flag.

Breakfast always followed the morning flag ceremony, and then a number of sessions took place in the morning where guest speakers spoke on topics such as the Bible, vocations and mission work. There were plenty of opportunities for the youth to sing and dance to praise and worship music. Although there were thousands of people, the event still felt intimate and personable.

Following the morning sessions was lunch, followed by afternoon retreats to other villages by bus where the youth took an opportunity to evangelize to others. By 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. each afternoon, the band would gather to rehears music with the choir, since both had to perform together for the ordination mass of two priests on July 14th.

Our evenings included dinner, followed by more music and skit performances. It made for a full day, although that helped everyone to sleep well at night.

Friday the 13th was an especially busy day, as the morning started with a march of all 3,000 people through the streets of Apia and to the government building where the Prime Minister gave a powerful speech, challenging the youth to act in the global world. This group of youth also had the privilege of listening to the Head of State speak at the opening mass on July 8th. Friday afternoon the Stations of the Cross were powerfully reenacted, and once again the band had a role in this event. It also required us guys to wear outfits we normally wouldn’t be caught dead in, but it was all for the church so we made the sacrifice!

Day after day I was amazed at how much food was being prepared and how they always had enough and it was always hot! The lines to receive food moved fairly quickly, and there was little complaining; I think everyone felt like they were in the same boat.

The week finished on July 14th with the beautiful ordination mass where two deacons became priests for life. The band of course played at the mass, which was held outside at seven in the morning. It was the perfect way to end a week that challenged so many to dig deeper in their faith and to grow closer in friendship with each other and with God.

We didn't have a choice with the costumes for the Stations of the Cross!

The dozens of ulas for the priests to receive at the 7a.m. ordination mass.

During the ordination mass on July 14th.

The teuila flowers after the mass.

A few thousand chairs stacked after the mass finished.