The children of Ma’asina have never heard of Santa Claus, there isn’t even a gift exchange on Christmas day. As Christmas fell on a Monday, people had work to do and still went out into the plantation and went about their daily routines. The absence of my usual Christmas traditions combined with the heat of the Samoan sun, it was easier to forget all that I was missing at home. Though some of the other volunteers and I had tried to inspire the Christmas spirit (watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, singing Christmas carols through the village on Christmas eve, having secret Santas) it just wasn’t the same and Christmas seemed to pass just like every other day.
After a few days back in Apia, I embarked on my New Year’s trip. The volunteers usually all plan to do something together for New Year’s and this year the party was to be on the beach in Falealupo. The greatest thing about this selection was the fact that Falealupo is on the far western tip of the island Savaii and is basically the last place on earth to see the coming of the new year. On the 29th, my friend Molly and I trekked to the village of our friend Maka (he always goes by his Samoan name), Papa Sataua. This involved an early morning bus ride, a couple hours on a ferry from Uplolu to Savaii, and finally an hour ride from the wharf to his village. At Maka’s house we waited for two other volunteers, Jordan and Lafi (also always goes by his Samoan name). The five of us hiked down to a private beach owned by Maka’s Matai (chief). It’s at least a mile away from any other civilization and we had it completely to ourselves. We spent the evening drinking rum from coconuts, sharing ava, and cooking hotdogs on the fire. That night we slept on lava lavas right on the beach. It was all so beautiful. I woke three times in the night, once to a big beautiful moon, once after the moon had set and there was nothing to see but stars, and the third time was when the sun was just starting to rise. In the morning we woke up freezing (when you spend every day sweating in the heat, you begin to relish in the rare occasions when you are actually cold) and had last night’s leftovers for breakfast (the remnants of Cajun trail mix and a few mustard and hot sauce sandwiches). We hiked back up to Maka’s house and from there managed to get all of our bags, a water purifier, an ava bucket, and the five of us to Falealupo on three bicycles.
In Falealupo, we stayed at the Beach Fales (fa-lays), which are small, raised, open wooden huts that are about the size of a large tent. For our set fee we got to stay in the fales for two nights (the 30th and the 31st) and were provided breakfast and dinner. About twenty-five volunteers showed up and we split up amongst the fales. The next three days were spent snorkeling, drinking, talking, and just chilling on the beautiful beach.
We celebrated each American New Year and at seven we partied on the beach as we watched the sun set on 2006. At midnight we ran to the water and swam around until we were too cold and tired to move.
On the morning of the first, people started to head back home but Molly, Maka, Lafi, Jordan, Aaron, and I decided to stay for an extra day. We chose to stay at a reduced fee, which meant that we would have to find our own food. After spending most of the day recuperating from the night before and snacking on the Ramen and leftovers we still had, Lafi and Jordan borrowed a spear from one of the villagers and went out into the water in search for dinner. When they returned with seven fish (six really, seven if you count Jordan’s butterfly fish) the rest of us went to the local store to buy rice and flour. We borrowed the kitchen from the beach staff and armed with coconuts, salt, and onions, set about making dinner. That night we feasted on a fish soup (fish boiled in fresh coconut cream and onions), hand-made tortillas, and rice. We used sugar to sweeten the butter we had for the tortillas and managed to procure soy sauce and a few limes to flavor the rice. We finished the evening with a bottle of wine under the full moon. On days like this we try to reflect on the fact that we are indeed in Peace Corps. Even though we have our share of hardships and inconveniences, life can be pretty sweet. The next morning, after breakfasting on cookies and tinned fish from the village store, we left Falealupo.