We’ve driven to a new weekend getaway. The beach fales – traditional Samoan houses – of Matareva. They line the crystal white sand, woven palm walls lolling gently in the breeze, and facing onto the calm blue lagoon at peace with their world.
This is not a place to get excited in, explains Barman Ben as he fetches our drinks. The sun rises at dawn and sets at dusk. The mosquitoes bite when they feel like it and the fish don’t – they’re protected. Nothing much else happens to schedule. Watches are banned and the clocks have all been stopped.
We drink. We relax. We go snorkelling. Then we get excited.
Not because we’ve seen a turtle or humpback whale, Nothing so exotic.
But there on the beach are our old friends from Lalomanu Beach: Jim and Delilah.
Jim is teaching Delilah to snorkel among the rocks on the beach. She can’t swim despite coming from the Philippines, a country crisscrossed with water. Jim, on the other hand, is from Scotland where the dilution of whisky is frowned upon. He is hugely confident in water.
“We were supposed to be in Savai’i two days ago.” He lets go Delilah to wave at us. “But the ferry was full. We’re booked for Sunday, the eleven o’clock sailing.”
I want to ask how they’ll know when to leave, at what time, on which day? Are they carving notches on the posts of their fale or carefully observing the position of the stars? Time-pieces are forbidden here, calendars too, although dinner is served every night at seven thirty sharp, most of it gone by seven thirty five.
“We have to be at the wharf by ten.” Delilah spits out a mouthful of seawater. “They have to spray under the car. Check for Great African Snails. Stop them spreading, make sure none of them get to Savai’i”
“Zero tolerance,” says Jim, several strokes ahead of anyone else. “The symbol of emptiness first invented by the Indian mathematician, Brahmagupta, you know.”
“Right, yes.” I nod back at him.
Thankfully Barman Ben didn’t overhear our conversation. With the guy’s adversity to planning, he might ban counting too – as the essence of time management. Except of course Ben needs numbers to tally our tabs. We change and order lunch. Two fish n’chip plates at fifteen Tala each. One Vailima Lager at seven.
“So you’re on the small bottles now?” Jim points at my Vailima.
“The large bottles heat up too quickly,” I say, paraphrasing his logic from the weekend before.
“Those lunches look good.” Delilah eyes our meals.
“They are.” Kate holds her knife and fork defensively around her plate, afraid Delilah will steal a chip.
“You know in America, they only use a fork.” Jim notices Kate’s two-weaponed approach. “And in China they use chopsticks.”
“In the Philippines, we use a spoon,” says Delilah.
“And in India, chapatis.” Jim finishes the conversation at the same country where he’d started.
Maps fortunately are permitted here on Matareva Beach. A large map of the world is pinned to the wall, perhaps to remind the guests – German, Romanian, Czech, Scottish, New Zealand and Australian – where they come from. And perhaps too that time zones and tide times and international calling codes still exist in their own countries, even if not here. Time doesn’t stand still everywhere.
Nor does Barman Ben as a crab crawls into his shorts.
He dances and whirls and waves his hands faster than any clock. Shouts and scurries his words too, a hundred a minute, too quickly for any bean-counter to keep up.
And ‘Nah worries’ becomes ‘Shit, get it off me’ as a pair of sharp pincers close on the midnight of his dude-hood.