Our most excellent friends, Ted and Teresa, will be arriving soon. And after ten days, we’re looking forward to familiar faces – hearing what’s happening in Wellington, swapping goss.
At some point – possibly when Ted and Teresa leave – it’s going to dawn on us that we’re here in Samoa for a bit longer than the statutory two weeks of sunshine Kiwis are permitted in the winter months. All sorts of strange things will start to happen to our bodies. Our skin will turn a dirty orange colour, our fingernails will grow into talons, and our hair will become permanently uncombable. More worryingly the little things that first intrigued us – the poster paint buses, the constant hum of exotic noises, the novel foodstuffs in the supermarket, and the ants that eat soap like candy – will start to become blasé, even irritating.
Still we’re not at that point yet. We’re still somewhere between just-arrived and not-quite-part-of-the-scenery. We’ve got used to not wearing shoes, the mosquitos don’t bite quite as much and that bogus passport officer hasn’t said hello again. And we never want to be irritated. That’s a number one rule of travel.
Besides, Ted and Teresa will make us laugh. Their sense of humour is awesome. Better than trinitrotoluene, in fact, pure dynamite. Which we badly need, because today was pretty ho-hum.
What does that mean? Well take a deep breath and say ‘ho’. Take another breath and say ‘hum’. Then run on the spot for ten minutes and slap your forehead. Repeatedly until it hurts or you pass out. That was our day. We traipsed to the Immigration Office to extend our visas only to find the door locked. The man in the newspaper office told us they’d moved. We traipsed a bit more and arrived at a red bull of a building on the waterfront. Government Offices, you can’t miss them.
The smiley man on reception glanced at his watch and announced it was morning. A moment later, he glanced again and announced it was afternoon. Fortunately they were open. He gave us directions.
“Here – ground.” He gestured expansively. ‘Immigration – on first.’
We couldn’t get lost after that. Up stairs where ladies in red dresses danced us through a roomful of Samoan Sing-It-Out contestants into a back office. They fetched us two government wooden chairs to sit on. A form too, and a blue biro to fill it out. Then they asked us for passports, passport photos, return air-tickets, bank statements, and a letter of our intentions. ‘We’re running away from the winter; we’re nice people and we’ll go home when we say we will, honest.’ Then we waited. Another lady in a red dress smiled at us. We waited a bit more.
As visitors, we were granted an automatic tourist visa of sixty days on arrival ten days ago. As we’ve staying for longer than that however, we have to extend our visas. And we thought, better get onto to it now, than leave it too late.
The first-lady returned with our forms which we handed over to the cashier with two hundred Tala. Hopefully the extensions will be granted within two weeks. Then we descended the stairs and the smiley man on reception looked at his watch again. ‘It’s today,” he said. Then laughed. ‘Now tomorrow.’
Earlier we’d scoured town for a place that provided passport photos. The Post Office used to – but the sign was painted out. They still do first-day covers if you’re a keen philatelist, but you’d better hurry, the painter is getting bored. They directed us to a store down the street, a lovely jubbly place full of hairdriers, sandwich toasters, and ancient PC monitors. A sign on the wall advertised ‘Funeral Badges’, and the man behind the counter showed us a collection of them: metal badges with photos of the deceased plus their ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ dates. Mourners wear these badges at the funeral and afterwards too if they want. Despite our fatigue, we weren’t dead yet. And fortunately they did regular passport photos as well, another opportunity to sit down and wait.
Ironic too, since we’ve found that Samoans can be sensitive about photos. We’ve always asked first before taking, yet occasionally people have said no. For instance at the pharmacy in town, when I asked to take a picture of the cautionary signs hanging around the walls. The lady shook her head and whispered that the owner, a Dr Jekyll with a mean streak, forbad photos of any kind. Which was a pity, since there was a rather salutatory sign above the counter on how to combat stress. I can’t share it though, so you’ll just have to hit a wall or something and imagine what it said.