What do you do late in the afternoon during a six hour tropical rainstorm?......you sleep, you read a bit, you listen to Willie Nelson.
The rain is welcomed. It hasnít rained for five days and the temperature has reached 91 degrees in the fale during the afternoons. With the rain it dropped to a comfortable 81 degrees.
This morning we drove to the hospital to take Taiís sister for an appointment. The hospital is in Tuasivi, about 1 Ĺ hrs. drive. It seems that I have been spending a lot of my time driving people to the local hospital in Sataua about 20 minutes away. There has been a flu epidemic on the island for the last couple of weeks and it has hit the children the hardest. The standard treatment at the hospital seems to be to give them a multipurpose vitamin and something for a headache. One of the younger children had a fever and cough for a couple of weeks and they finally gave the child an antibiotic which cleared up the problem almost immediately. After they go to the hospital I take them to a local "bush" doctor who gives them a massage. They have a strong faith in the massage as a cure for almost anything. One of the things they try to do is massage down any swollen neck glands. The massage can be so vigorous that one child started to bleed from the mouth. It didnít seem to do any permanent harm, but it is sure scary.
Yesterday I went to the government agricultural farm in Asau. The crops are mainly oranges and limes. There were a few other tropical fruits that I couldnít identify, but it was interesting to find that they are experimenting with Ranbutans (sp) which is a popular fruit in Southeast Asia. I first became familiar with it when I was in the Peace Corps in Malaysia. The fruit is round and 1 Ĺ inches in diameter. It has a red fibrous shell with protrusions that look like hair. Its name in Malay means hairy fruit. The inner flesh, which you eat, looks like a peeled grape and tastes much like a lechee (sp).
The farm is located near the top of one of the ridges surrounding Asau and is about a 20 minute drive up a very poorly maintained dirt road. I rode up with the labor crew and once we got there the crew sat around for 20 minutes before they got to work. They worked very hard for about an hour cutting down brush with machetes then took a 20 minute break. Following the break they spent about an hour picking two bushels of oranges. The crew stole about half of the oranges and the remaining was given to the supervisor to sell, for the government, at local schools and stores. Taking into consideration the drive up and back, at most their work day was 4 hours.
I found it interesting that there appears to be no attempt at cultivating the trees other than the planting and the cutting back of the weeds. The trees are left to grow in their natural state with no pruning. My understanding is that by pruning fruit trees you get a healthier tree with larger fruit. Maybe tropic agriculture is different. I would have expected the farm to demonstrate improved agricultural techniques. I saw no evidence of such.
Part of the farm is a tree nursery set up as part of an effort to reforest the island. Potlatch set up a logging operation about 30 years ago and removed most of the valuable tropical trees. As is their customary practice, they closed their operation and have moved on. There is an attempt to reforest the island to reduce lumber imports and keep up with local needs. Any attempt at lumber export faded with Potlatch.
Yesterday afternoon I walked to a secluded bay on the far side of the Asau airport. It took some effort to find the path from the runway to the bay but after a couple of false starts I was successful. It is really nice having a beach all to yourself. I walked the beach, climbed the rocks, and picked up a few shells but mostly I just watched the waves. The breaking waves can be very loud at times and even though our fale is inland you can hear them distinctly at night. Sometimes the noise is loud enough that you mistaken it for distant thunder.
We reconfirmed our return airplane tickets today and are beginning to wrap things up. It has been an interesting trip and certainly one that I will always remember. Taiís family has gone out of their way to accept me and make our stay pleasant. Life in Savaii is hard, but the natural beauty of the islands and the friendliness and generosity of the people more than made up for the hardships. There have been moments when I think that life here isnít much removed from the Stone Age. Yet I sit here working at a computer with a good connection to the internet. There are flush toilets and television, but dinner is prepared on an open wood fire. The machete is the all purpose tool of choice and the clothes line is made up from discarded electrical wire. Clothes are washed by hand and I shower at night by pouring cold water over myself. The family owes two trucks but canít afford tires. These are all symbolic of the many contrasts and contradictions that make up Samoa.
I am constantly reminded that who we are and what we are is more an accident of birth than anything else. I look at the kids in the family and think that there is so much that they are missing, but yet they are happy, healthy and live with dignity. Is there anything else?