Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Money Transfer: No Fees Accrued

I think it’s fair to say that Americans are raised to be independent. We go to school to earn grades for ourselves. We attend universities to get jobs for ourselves. When we get jobs, we save money to buy houses for ourselves. Being independent certainly has its positives, but it also can cause a person to think too narrowly, and rely too much on themselves.

If you ran out of eggs or milk, would you go to your neighbor’shouse and ask to have some of theirs or would you drive to the store? If your car broke down, would you ask someone for a lift, or would you wait for OnStar to arrange one for you? If your power went out for several days yet your neighbor’s didn’t, would you ask to run an extension cord from their house to yours, or would you wait in the dark for yours to be turned back on?

These are all contrasting ways of approaching inconvenient situations. Americans would normally lean towards solving the problem through a more passive approach: driving to the store, waiting for OnStar to arrive, or for the electric company to show up. None of these are negative ways of approaching the situation, it’s a cultural reason that they are approached in such a way, yet what would happen if you did place trust in your neighbor, if you took a chance to reach out to someone for help, rather than being passive?

I did just that—placed trust in my “neighbor,” in fact, a complete stranger! Last Friday I made a game. I decided I was going to send 10 tala (a little less than $5U.S. Dollars) to Nancy, a Peace Corps Volunteer on the other main island of Savaii. Nancy happens to be a bus ride, a boat ride and then another bus ride away from the market in Apia. I wanted to know what others were willing to do for me. Were they willing to hand off an envelope to a women they didn’t even know? Would they be trustworthy, or would they snoop inside the envelope and take the money, which happens to be a fair amount here in Samoa.

My first task was addressing the envelope. I knew I wanted to write a message on the front of the envelope in Samoan. Although I wouldn’t say my Samoan is bad, it’s hardly blockbuster material, and in a situation like this, I was going for accuracy, so I asked one of my students to address the envelope. I had her write, “Fa’amolemole pea mafia ona e ona e kilivainaatulouteutusi lea iaPisikoa Nancy i (village name) i Savai’i. Fa’afetai lava moloufesoasoanimaiiafa’amanuia le Atua. Soifua,” which reads, “Please deliver this envelope to Peace Corps Nancy in (village name) in Savai’i. Thank you very much. Thank you to God for your help. Good health to you. And with 98 percent of Samoans professing to be Christians, it never hurts to add a cross to such a document, so I drew one under my greeting.

With the envelope marked and a short note tucked inside for Nancy, I sealed the envelope with a piece of clear tape and headed for the market. As I walked towards the bus that would head to the wharf, I decided that as part of this challenge, I wasn’t able to speak any English, even if the person I handed it to did speak English. I also was looking for someone who looked reliable. Although I would have trusted a man as much as a women, I did decide to give it to a women. The way you dress in Samoa can also carry a lot of weight. A person in professional dress receives a certain amount of respect just for being dressed as such, so I started looking for women who were wearing a pulatasi (the formal dress women wear). I spotted one, sitting near the front of the bus.

I took the envelope to her and explained that I needed her to deliver it to Nancy, the Peace Corps Volunteer in Savai’i and she said she wasn’t going that direction, but immediately, the women sitting behind her (not wearing a pulatasi dress, but rather a t-shirt), said that she would pass it off to the correct bus after the boat arrived in Savai’i. She also said, “Trust me,” which seemed like a red flag to me, since I didn’t even suspect her of anything. But I let it be, and within less than 20 seconds, I had handed off the envelope: it was 1:00p.m.

One minute later the bus pulled away and I had texted Nancy that the envelope was en route. I didn’t think much about it after that, until evening came around and felt a certain sense of disappointment that I hadn’t heard from Nancy and I figured it was a lost or stolen envelope. I swore I wouldn’t be doing such a thing again just to prove a point.

But at 5:55p.m.the text came; it was from Nancy! “The eagle has landed!” were the first words on the screen! You should have heard me laugh! Within less than six hours, my envelope had traveled from one island to the other, by multiple modes of transportation, and get this, through five different people’s hands! Nancy had somehow tracked its history, telling me that the women I had handed it to had given it to a women from Nancy’s village on the bus in Savai’i. That women then gave it to Nancy’s host brother who she spotted on the boat. Nancy’s host brother was distracted by a rugby game that was showing on T.V., so he handed it off to his little sister and her friend who then went straight to Nancy’s house and started pounding on the door—so loud that she quit taking her shower to answer the door dripping wet!

Samoans have taught me a lot of valuable life lessons the past three years, but perhaps one of the most important is to trust in my neighbor. Trust that they will help me in times of need. Trust that they will go out of their way and make sacrifices in order to accommodate me. It’s an amazing human quality which many in this world today lack, but one which more of us should try to exemplify. What would you do for your neighbor? Would you be willing to do things that might be inconvenient, if it would mean making their life a little easier?

Besides this being a great story to tell, I hope it reminds us all of the things we can accomplish if we work together and the things we can do for others who perhaps need a helping hand!

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Nancy from Group 83 for helping make this blog possible by serving as home base for the envelope, and for taking pictures on her end! Nancy keeps an awesome blog about her time here in Samoa as a PCV, so I encourage you all to visit it when you have some time (http://nancymagsig.blogspot.com/)

At the bus stop, getting ready to hand the envelope off to a complete stranger.

The envelope and its message to deliver it to Nancy.

Nancy with the envelope and money at 5:55p.m., less than 5 hours aftre I handed it off to a complete stranger on another island.

Nancy thought my choice of a Chinese envelope was the best part! It was by accident that I ended up with this, buying it on the way to the market.

Nancy's host brother was the third person in the line to receive the envelope, but he couldn't take it to the finish line because he was busy watching a rugby game.

Nancy's host sister and her cousin who delivered the envelope to Nancy at 5:55p.m. Good job to everyone along the way!!

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