Our one hundred days in Samoa comes to an end. Of sorts. We might be back home, living old lives, being old selves, yet underneath changes are at work. Subtle shifts in the way we think and act. We no longer live in Samoa, yet Samoa lives on in us.
We’re glad to be home. The temperatures are cooler, the skies grey, but this is what we’re more used to, the climate that made us. Thirty degrees every day might warm fingers and toes and arms and legs, but the sweat glands are slaving overtime and the brain doesn’t function the same as at home. Likewise the abundance of coconuts, bananas and tuna fish seemed like a tropical feast at the beginning, yet after a while we longed for the foods we missed from home: fresh salad ingredients, cheese, chocolate and wine.
Our perceptions of people shifted too. Everyone smiling at first. We’d truly arrived in paradise. Then as the weeks thinned like our diminishing supply of marmite on buttered toast, so did a little of the sweetness around us. Some people looked at us blankly, and we began – as happens in any place that becomes a norm – to distinguish good from bad, helpful from indifferent, genuine from fake.
We met wonderful people like Josie, who invited us into her home and gave us such an insight into Samoan life. And stalwarts like Lofa, the night caretaker, who always gave us a friendly smile and in his own way told us much about his country and people.
The more we interacted, the more we learnt, yet we never quite crossed the gap between our two cultures. Our laughter could never be as free, our embrace of tradition as unquestioning. We wanted things to go faster, and it took a shift to adjust to the slow. Once we did adjust, though, we liked it. Now we’re back, the challenge is to shift fast again. Or perhaps not.
Samoa is a country founded on God. Tradition and the church are twin pillars on which much of Samoan society is based. People stick to the old ways. Often we encountered a reluctance to think differently, to change. Chiefs who were content to lie in their fales all day and live off their land; villages constructing more churches than they have people. Yet these things are balanced by good, enlightened individuals such as David at Matareva who has introduced some very positive changes into his village and community.
Perhaps this is where some of our connections came adrift. Our frustrations at learning to do things different ways. Of having to explain ourselves several times rather than expect the first person we spoke with to communicate to everyone else. Or of expecting to be invited back to Samoan homes, when Samoans usually live and dine as families and socialise at church.
This is the point of living in another country. To understand the differences, and work around them. Each culture learning about the other, appreciating the good, explaining the bad, and encouraging positive change – on both sides.
We might be home, but we are not the same people. Some aspects of our time in Samoa continue in the background. Memories of special people, of beautiful beaches and forests, of being true to ourselves and our lives. A growing appreciation that all change has to be balanced. That doing things a new way isn’t necessarily any better than the old. That doing nothing at all can sometimes be worthwhile in itself. That our way of life isn’t the only one. That we should be grateful for what we have.
Travel is a blessing and a curse, an addiction and a remedy. Blue isn’t the only colour, nor is the ocean limitless. Somewhere everyone has to meet in the middle.