My, my, how we’ve missed Apia! The bustle of traffic, the flattened soft drink cans in the long grass, the huge puddles that flood the pavement after even the briefest shower.
Although we have our clean apartment again, our clear hot water, and our cool air-conditioning. Our fridge too, with beer, week-old bread, carrots, and an apple. Try making a meal out of that on Samoan Masterchef.
Best of all though, we have Ted and Teresa, our lovely friends from New Zealand who are staying in the apartment next door.
As we climb the stairs to our floor however, I realise something is wrong. The chairs on the communal balcony sprawl like drunkards, while an army of green bottles guard the corridor to Ted and Teresa’s door. Most alarming of all are the battle sounds coming from within. The boom-boom-boom of cannons, then a statacco of gun fire, followed by a long castrato scream.
I rush to their door. Hammer on the wood. Shout.
Their door opens when I’m not expecting it. The noise increases tenfold, even though Ted stands directly in front of me, his bulk absorbing the sound waves.
“Are you alright?” I shout. Then I try to peer over his big shoulders, looking for the cause of the din.
“What?” He raises his eyebrows, rubs his hair. “What did you say?”
“I said are you ALRIGHT?”
“Just a minute.” He steps back into his room. A moment later, the noise subsides to a melody I can just about distinguish. AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’; Ted’s favourite song.
“Where’s Teresa?” I step in after him, straightaway noticing the stack of pots and pans in the sink, a pile of takeaway cartons on the bench, and yet more green bottles – a whole squadron of them – lined up around the bin.
“She’s gone to a retreat.” His face droops into pouches, alcohol incited, not emotional. “You never told us it was so noisy here. She couldn’t stand it, so she left.”
“And you stayed on?” How ironic, I think. He’s making more noise on his own than all our neighbours combined.
“You know me.” His lips curl sardonically. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I went down to that dollar shop downstairs, bought these Bluetooth speakers for my phone.” He holds up two red mesh cylinders, together capable of forty-five watts.
“I’m not surprised she’s left.” Kate comes up behind me. “I wouldn’t put up with that racket. I’d take your phone and stuff it up your bum.”
“Wouldn’t stop the music.” Ted’s smile becomes leery. “Bluetooth would keep working.”
“Then I’d stuff the speakers up too.” Kate’s expression is inscrutable. “And it wouldn’t be Bluetooth anymore. You’d have to call it something else.”
We sort Ted out as best we can. Kate makes him a strong black coffee, while I collect some of the bottles and put them in a plastic bag. The cleaners here won’t remove empty bottles unless we gift-wrap them. And we have drawerfuls of plastic bags, because the supermarkets insist on wrapping every item individually. In spite of the lush foliage, Samoa is far from green.
Then Kate goes to fetch Teresa from the retreat – bizarrely enough named Teresa’s Retreat – while I stand guard over Ted and make sure he doesn’t drink any more beer.
“Did you get another pair of shorts?” I remember how he lost his last pair in the Piula Cave Pool.
“Did I heck!” He screws up his face and crosses his arms. “Teresa wanted me to get one of them girly lavalavas. Said if I could dress up as a schoolboy for an AC/DC concert, then I could wear a bloody dress too. Took me to that Veni, Vidi, Vici shop to try some on, except they didn’t fit. The assistant, bloody cheek, said I should sew a couple of newspapers together instead.” He holds up a copy of yesterday’s Samoan Observer and rifles to a page at the end. “And blow me, if the government isn’t asking for tenders for collecting all the rubbish! You know, all those platforms you see everywhere, piled up with crap? Well, I’m going to apply, I’ll show them how it’s done. Couple of rear-loading compactors from NaeNae and they won’t know what’s hit them.”
He’s still drunk, spouting off madcap schemes on which he doesn’t have a clue. Ted’s always worked in an office. The nearest he’s ever come to rubbish collection has been wheeling out the recycling bin. Not that they have bins here, or recycling. Everything gets stuffed in one bin liner, then carted away on a flatbed lorry.
“Won’t you have to be a resident?” I point at his advert.
“Nah!” He shakes his head. “Anyone can apply. They encourage foreign investment.”
“Right.” I hope Kate won’t be too long. Maybe Teresa, if she returns, can talk some sense into him.
Still, I have to try and dissuade him. “You know, perhaps they don’t need too much waste collection.” I say. “A lot of the food here is fresh, without wrapping. Taro, bananas, fish. And they don’t have tonnes of paper material and magazines either.”
“Rubbish!” He extends his arms into the air as if he’s about to throw up. “You know what they say. Give a man a bin, and he’ll fill it in a day. Give him a landfill site, and he’ll fill it in a year. But show him how to recycle, and he’ll use it again and again and again.”
“Yes, you’re spot on there.” I can’t disgree. We saw people throwing sweet wrappers and plastic bottles off the ferry into the ocean; so attitudes could be improved.
Commendable though his intentions are, I don’t think Ted is the man to recycle Samoa. Just one glance around his trashed room is evidence enough: the empty MacDonalds’ and Bill’s Burgers containers all over the bench, the piles of unwashed clothes everywhere, and the bottles I haven’t yet collected and bagged.
I get up and walk over to his cluttered bench. “Fancy another coffee then?” I say and switch on his kettle. It is matt black, the same colour as his dirty pots.