We hear the cheering long before we arrive. The man on the gate wants five Tala for entry then relents when Kate tells him she is a teacher. But as we park and walk up, I wonder what we’ve let ourselves in for. The swell of two thousand voices, and the stamping and bursts of music that accompany – wow, they are more than tremendous, more than awesome. We’re about to encounter another sensory overload.
We’ve come to Apia Park Stadium – but not for a rugby match. Even a test between the All Blacks and Samoa would be tame compared to this.
Today it is Apia A-zone Secondary Schools Sports Day. (A-zone is the area east from Apia to Lalomanu. B-Zone and C-zone have their days tomorrow and Friday.)
A fresh burst of cheering almost knocks our heads off. And no wonder. The main stand sways under a rainbow of tribal enthusiasm. Each school assembled in ranks of colour – blue and white, red and yellow (Samoa College where Kate teaches), pink and green, green and white. Cheering together, chanting together, singing together. Conductors at the front lead, while school bands bang out their chords at the back.
In the arena, track events race in rapid sequence. The hundred metre. The two hundred. Then the three thousand – several gruelling circuits of the lava red running track, the contestants slowing as exhaustion sets in, yet persevering to the bitter end.
All runners wear their school colours. A wide disparity in footwear though. New trainers, not-so-new trainers, and old trainers, some bandaged to stop them falling in two. A few children run barefoot – including the girl in green and white who wins the three thousand metre.
We work our way around the outside of the stadium, chatting with Kate’s Head of Department, then the Principal himself. He rises from his seat, smiles and shakes our hands. Then sits again with the other principals, all of them wearing red shirts, all of them under a red gazebo right next to the track so they can arbitrate dead heats. The biggest man in a red shirt holds a microphone to his mouth – and announces the results of each event.
On the opposite side of the stadium, the noise is less intense. I can hear Kate again. More spectactors (parents, friends) are gathered here, perhaps for the same reason. They can hear their wives speak. Meanwhile street-hawkers wander freely selling soft drinks and chips. Few other palagi here, besides us. I spot only one grey haired lady, who by the tranquil expression on her face, is either deaf or else used to this kind of paintbox mayhem.
There are uniformed police on patrol too. They are here to keep order. Last year fighting broke out between youths from rival schools, and continued on into the centre of town.
Off to the side, long jumps and high jumps take place alongside the track. And over the hill, javelin throwing as well. The whole place is abuzz, a microcosm of colour, motion and energy.