Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shiriri Saga #52 A Microcosm of the World.

Apia Harbour. A church.

" I`m waiting for my husbin`."says the young woman at the head of the bank line up when I enquire if she is next in line for a teller. I have been watching the little group of mother ,daughter and new American husband as we have slowly edged forward toward the tellers. The mother is very insistently asking about his money through her daughter translator and he replies over and over that he has no more to give her. He and his new bride are off to America very soon and mother is feeling that things are not going as per agreement!

There is not enough information to understand what is really going on but a good guess would take into account the drive of Samoans to marry a foreigner and settle down in an affluent country. Anne has been proposed to by a security guard who brushes aside any objections she raises; " I don`t know you, I don`t have a job, I`m not religious, I have no money...."Then, when he asks if Lisa is married, and is prepared to switch targets, Anne does n`t know whether to be put off or to laugh! We do know that much of Samoa`s income is derived from money set back home from it`s citizens abroad and that a persons responsibility is primarily to family and clan. Does he know what he was getting into in a moment of romance? By marrying her, in Samoan eyes he has become part of an extended family with responsibilities to care for all and in marrying an American she has, in his eyes, cast herself off from her family responsibilities. So I can see the problem of cross cultural misunderstanding, but do not feel sorry for him. He looks like he knows what he is doing.

He is around forty, dressed in an Hawaiian shirt and oozes slime from every pore. Perhaps he is simply hunting a young foreign wife but I have the uneasy feeling that she will soon be working as an illegal in the sex industry in America and all her proceeds will stay with her "husbin`."The trouble with having worked in social services for a while is the jaundiced and usually accurate view one develops about the drearier side of human beings. "You call that thing your husbin,` girl? I do feel sad for you!"

Little interludes like this tell us we have left French Polynesia and are definitely in a new foreign country with it`s own history and development. Samoa is fervently Christian, hence all those village churches we saw as we approached Apia, and has been since the missionaries sent some Tongan converts ashore to spread the Word. When the old heathen shrines were thrown down and taboos broken with no terrible results the locals switched to the more powerful Gods and adapted them to their culture. Now, on Sunday morning there is a haze of smoke across the harbour as the pit ovens are filled for a feast later in the day. Long, very long, church rowing canoes with over fifty men at the oars circle the harbour to the beat of a drum. Groups of men sit in open sided houses drinking Kava all afternoon. Later, all traffic will be stopped from passing through villages while church services are in progress. This is an interesting place and we easily accept that civil strife in Fiji is keeping us here a little longer until it is safe to sail on. Heather is glad for the rest too as she goes on a course of penicillin to vanquish a persistent bug.

One day, Heather and I share a taxi with Andre, a French sailor, for a ride into the highlands to see a Baha`i temple that stands in it`s own little landscaped valley. The peace and serenity of the place shows us another possible face of this busy little island, but back down the narrow road at the waterfront things get depressing again as we pass a great pile of wood chips and learn later that Samoa`s pristine forests are being turned into chips and shipped off to feed Japan`s voracious need for raw materials. An incongruous modern office tower on "Cape Horn," a promontory in the harbour, is a gift from China; no doubt with political and economic strings attached. This island is a focal point of all the currents of the outside world and absorbs them all willy nilly just as we do at home in Canada. Forests ,fish, people, economic and social independence, all sold to the highest bidder. That is the point of course: in the small compass of this island nation we can see clearly all the forces set loose in the world that offer short term prosperity to a few and leave cascading social and environmental destruction in their wake. That girl in the bank was just one example of how local people are making hurried bargains to solve immediate economic problems that will lead them even deeper into trouble in the long term. In the days of the old religion, the gods and a complex system of taboos would have maintained a balance between peoples wants and the environment`s needs but the new replacement has none of those built in checks and balances. I feel sad for Samoa, and for all the rest of us in the world. Time to go back to sea!

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