“Go right back to school, now!” - A Tribute to my Mother.

(Note: For legitimate reasons fictitious names are used for our neighbors .)
Lalomanu Primary School in the 70's
It might have been another beautiful morning, as the usual sights and sounds of the wakened village started to percolate. The tree shadows slowly shrank as the sun steadily climbed the semi-crimson sky. The last patches of thin morning mist had dissipated and disappeared. A rooster crowed intermittently in the distance. Across the road, on Lupe’s paepae (house stone foundation), a hen pecked and plucked at some edible object while her hungry chicks huddled, chirping. Tala, our early bird neighbor, was feeding his pigs and piglets. He was calling out “Sau! sau! sau!” (Either he was saying “Come” - translation for “sau”; or “Sow” - another word for pig.) Tala stretched his hand high holding a basket, then dumping a mix of breadfruit leftovers and dry coconut pulp from it. Below, and in front of him, the sniffing snouts wiggled and waited and soon the slurping started amidst the grunts and oinks.

A little farther still, Lata’s chickens were clucking and cackling home to her loud feeding calls of “Ku! ku! ku!” (apparently for “coo-coo” as of birds and pigeons) drowning the simultaneous scraping of grated coconut feed. Meanwhile, Lupe’s dog rose from its bed under the faleo’o (stilted hut). It whined a low and lazy yelp, then stretched and staggered to the umukuka (cooking hut) where it assumed a sphinx-like posture. Soon a gradual transfer of crimson occurred, from the sky to the uniforms of the children walking to school. Simply paradisal!

If all of these were one-time events, we - my brother and I - would have missed them, because on this particular morning, we were late getting up, therefore, we were late for school.

And now the indelible and vivid memories of the morning that had a lasting effect on me.

My brother and I stood at the main entrance to the Lalomanu Primary School. We froze. We were late. The main building, about sixty yards directly in front looked forbidding. It seemed more like a slammer than a school. We could hear faint recitations and other usual classroom activities. Immediately before us was the malae (field) which appeared tapu (taboo) and ominous. We looked at each other, grimaced and decided that we would dare not cross it. Not on this day; not this morning. Everyone - students and teachers - would cast stares of scorn and scoff. The malae slowly evolved into an imaginary gangboard of humiliation and jeers. Punishment for tardiness was whipping - not spanking or paddling. Hence, I couldn’t fathom the school grounds anymore to be a field of dreams, but of screams. So I again eyed my brother and immediately, as if on cue, we both retreated, like rodents from a lurking python.

My brother was older, so I followed his lead. A few tense minutes later, not far from the school, we found ourselves in a togafa’i (banana patch) - hiding, or ... trying to hide. The decision was desperate and naturally stupid. Our red uniforms against the green background violated the principles of camouflage which we were trying to beguile and befriend. We had decided to wait until school was dismissed in the afternoon and we would walk home with the rest of the kids. But, again, because of contrasting colors, a passerby easily spotted us and said he was going to let our mother know about our shenanigan.

We reasoned quietly. We compared our mom’s whipping to the teacher’s and opted for the former - the lesser of the two evils. (Normally, a parent’s whacking should be different and lesser than the teacher’s. I personally would rather be whipped by a parent than by a teacher.)  So we stepped out of our hideout and timidly started what seemed to have been a long trek home.

The dreaded salulima (handbroom)
About half an hour later, we were right back at the main entrance of the school, this time like an echelon, with Mom standing right behind us holding a salulima (handbroom). My bare back was already bleeding and crimsony - as my uniform - from the open cuts inflicted by the coconut midribs of my mother’s broom. My brother had his share as well. We were both in pain and crying.

Then came Mom’s order: “Ia lua koe o gei lava i le a’oga!” (“Go right back to school now!”).

We immediately complied and started our walk of shame across the malae while students watched through the school’s wire mesh screens, scorning and scoffing - I thought. Despite the pain and shame, I was able to endure the day’s school exercises, though I wasn’t sure that I learned anything. Well, perhaps not totally true.

Because I did  learn something that day, albeit the hard way; and what I learned I had not forgotten; nor will I ever forget.  It was my Mother - not a schoolteacher - who had taught it.

Thank you Mom. I love you!

(Mom passed on several months after this incident.)


My tree of life

If I have to pick a real tree as my so-called “tree of life”, it would have to be the breadfruit tree - specifically the puou which is the seeded variety, that stood in front of our home in Samoa. The tree is already dead and gone, uprooted by a hurricane several years ago, but its lessons and impact in my life have been significant, impressive and indisputably positive.

Although these lessons were learned in a perfunctory way as a youngster, in hindsight, I am able, as an adult, to articulate and envision their profound significance.

Our main house was about thirty yards from the main road - unpaved at the time. Alongside the road - and the full length of the front yard of about fifty yards - ran a row of hibiscus hedges, about three feet high. They were always neatly trimmed and well-kept by my dad. There were three entrances which were the only openings in the hedges. On one side of the main entrance stood the sixty-foot breadfruit tree. Again, the real tree may have fallen and died, but its form, memories, ideal and impact have remained to this day.

First the puou breadfruit gave us life. It was a source for daily bread (pun intended), hence, sustenance for my family.

Second the tree was my playground. I used a rope to make a U-shaped swing suspended from its lower branches. A dried basket (woven from coconut fronds) was used for a padded seat. My siblings and I would swing during our break times from our chores. Sometimes our friends would also come to swing.

For more fun, we would climb the tree and hide in the branches during our hide and seek games at night. Also, at the peak of the breadfruit harvests we would have breadfruit fights using the soft overripe fruits (‘ulupe). The nature of the fights is like any other food fight - messy yet innocuous. 'Ulupe fights are among the more popular fun games especially for young boys.

The tree also measured my growth and strength, not only in the physical sense but also in maturity based on how high I could climb. The different branches - like markings for feet and inches at the doctor’s doorway - were used to track my progress and development during adolescence. The older and taller I grew, the higher I climbed; and any unreached branches and heights became new goals for the following days and months. By the time I reached my teenage years, I had already scaled the highest ascendible branches.

From the vantage point of these branches, I would stand and gaze. I was able to see farther and further. In fact I was able to see the ocean (which was not far from our house), the reef and the horizon. It was a lesson in perspective - both literal and figurative. Curiosity and adventure beckoned and I often wondered what was beyond the horizon. I was like a sailor-explorer squinting for new land with renewed sense of ambition, hope and aspiration. And all these dreams, early desires and optimism were reinforced - if not forged - on the breadfruit tree. Simply, the tree gave me vision and inspiration.

The breadfruit tree was a microcosm for life. It was my classroom; it was my haven and hideaway. To relax. To ponder. To learn. To play. To laugh. To climb. To cry. One day my mother scolded me and so I went and climbed and sat in the branches, crying.

Today, I may only cry from time to time, but all the time, I still climb ... the tree of life.

Samoa 2009 tsunami caused by more than one quake

Samoan quake was actually three seismic events, according to study led by University of Utah
By Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY —— The physical evidence a criminal leaves behind can tell the story of what happened and, sometimes most importantly, what did not.

The same is true for charting the physical characteristics of an earthquake —— discrepancies may be uncovered that paint a new picture of what happened.

A study led in part by the head of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations shows that last year's earthquake in Samoa, America Samoa and Tonga was not just one seismic event, but a trio of temblors.

"At first, we thought it was one earthquake," said the U.'s Keith Koper, co-author of the study to be published in the Thursday issue of the journal Nature. "When we looked at the data, it turned out it wasn't just one great earthquake, but three large earthquakes that happened within two minutes of one another. The two quakes that were hidden by the first quake ended up being responsible for some of the damage and tsunami waves." 

Click on link below for the complete article.


...here's another link for a story by the Associated Press


Beach Fales

The evolution of "matafaga" (beach) and tourism
(Note: I do not mean to belabor the diction and grammatical references of the previous posts but they serve well in expressing and articulating this post.)

The opposite of approbative  is  pejorative - a word or grammatical form that produces a negative effect. Some pejoratives go through transformations and take on more positive meanings and/or connotations. This process is called amelioration. The Samoan word “matafaga” (beach) is a perfect example of this process. Since language is a social phenomenon, it follows therefore that such changes can also reflect a more comprehensive social change. For matafaga, tourism is that change.

A few decades ago, matafaga was one of the more common pejoratives in the Samoan vernacular. This stemmed from the disreputable and shameful use of the beach by the Samoans. It was literally a dumping place for all types of waste - including human waste. In some villages, the beach served as an “outplace” as well as anchor for gangplanks to outhouses over the lagoon. Hence, traditional pejorative expressions based on “matafaga” became common and trite. In fact there was nothing positive about the word; it was purely vulgar - this despite the fact that children and adults still enjoyed playing and swimming at the beach. Quite paradoxical, I must say.

Post tsunami beach fales at Lalomanu
Fast forward to today and matafaga has had a complete makeover and amelioration. The negative and vulgar connotations have mostly, if not completely, disappeared. The most popular and beautiful villages in Samoa today are those with nice matafagas - white, clean and sandy. Case in point: My village, Lalomanu, is well known - even despite the 2009 tsunami - because of its stretches of white sandy matafagas with their presently rebuilt beach fales.

Fale simply means house. And in the context of “beach fale”, it is a temporary shelter and accommodation along the beach for tourists. Beach fale, intrinsically, did not exist in the Samoan language in the past, at least in its present context. And what brought such socio-linguistic change? Tourism. Villages are much cleaner now from beautification contests sponsored by the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) as well as the overall desire to attract tourists - hopefully Depp and Jolie (re: upcoming thriller “The Tourist”) will come.

Although tourism is still a controversial issue in some circles - professional and otherwise - it has its benefits and advantages. In Samoa, at least, tourism has resulted in a cleaner environment and cleaner language (hahaa) - matafaga is no longer a demeaning word (pejorative). Really!

Here. Imagine you’re in Samoa and fai mai loa se loomakua ia ‘oe: “E a, e ke alu i le makafaga?”  You don’t feel as offended and/or violated anymore as you would have been in the past, aea? ...LOL!!


On Identity Theft

“When another person steals your identity, he is guilty. But when Satan steals your identity, he is not guilty since you are an accomplice and a willing participant.” - L.V.  Letalu


A favorable word

With direct reference to the previous post, here’s one of my favorite approbatives - growth.  Growth is more favorable than not. In other words we use it more in the positive context. A child, a plant, the economy all need growth.  The maxim “Grow up!” entails the need for betterment and improvement.

Growth when applied to an individual, in general, requires that person to change in terms of acquiring progress and improvement.  These can be obtained, for example, through the so-called “ity” virtues (according to one of my Church leaders):  integrity, humility, charity, spirituality, accountability, civility, fidelity; and my own short more temporal list - maturity, physicality and responsibility.

Make growth as an important criteria when making our choices in life - personal and otherwise, as in relationships.  Find your niche, then water, cultivate, fertilize and prune it.  Remember to be smart, wise and resourceful in finding that niche.  Bear in mind that you cannot plant a coconut tree in Utah, much less in Antarctica. ...if you get what I mean.  Now you might argue against that using innovation as supporting evidence or using cliches such as "anything is possible if you put your mind to it."  But I'm also reminded of what Mr. Eastwood once said in his "Dirty Harry" series: "A good [wise] man has got to know his limitations."  In other words, let's remember not to be foolhardy and negligent in our pursuits.

When we choose a major in college, choose one which gives us the most growth, when we choose what we eat or drink, choose those foods that give us growth (not in size but in health). Likewise with employment or any other pursuit or endeavor. Even our simple everyday choices should be influenced by the visceral need for growth. Reading, meditating, praying, studying, exercising, etc., all give us growth.

Simply, don’t loath that which gives us growth.


Convenience Trumps Freedom

Lessons of a Modern Airport
Naturally - and intuitively - it’s “inconvenience” that trumps freedom, right? Just try flying somewhere and anywhere and the personal freedoms we often take for granted are quickly yanked at the airport where inconvenience is the modus operandi - from searching to pat-downs to full body scans. But how can “convenience” also trump freedom?

“Convenience” - or its variant/adjectival form “convenient” - is one of those words classified by wordsmiths and linguists as an “approbative” or a word that produces a positive effect. During my senior year at Samoa College, my English teacher used the classification “Favorable  Words.” (vs. "Unfavorable"). Convenience is certainly a “favorable” word....or is it?

With the advances in technology of the last several decades - especially in the field of automation - the word “convenient” has become more ubiquitous. It has been used to describe a variety of things - from electronic transactions and communication to gas station stores; and from automobile accessories to strategically and conveniently placed kiosks.

It was at one of the US airports where I was first made aware of convenience trumping freedom.

I went inside the restrooms and after "transacting some business" in one of the stalls, I reached back for the flushing handle - not there. I turned (while still seated) to spot a button or a non-standard device for flushing - zippo ... zilch! Then I stood up, a bit frustrated. But no sooner was I up than the gush and rush of the flush made me ... well, blush!  “What the heck?” I quietly mumbled.

My embarrassed but still analytical mind finally figured out the surprise from my experiences with other similar setups and devices. The word “motion sensor” popped into my head and I needed some confirmation. I immediately sat down on the throne again for a few seconds and then stood up, and sure enough, the flush was activated. I admitted quietly: “How convenient!”

But then my brain starts implementing its own probe. “What if someone wants a second, or third or fourth flush? Apparently the “Simon Says” game needs to be played and repeated. On the other hand, a creative person would try to find where the sensor is and trigger it using some other means. Still I thought that I had been robbed of my freedom to just turn that handle as many times as I want, or needed. Obviously, the choice was still there, only different and a bit more arduous. So I quietly forgave the inventor of the flushing sensor - for at least a minute or two ....

Because when I stepped out of the stall to wash my hands, guess what? I did not see any handles for the taps. “A ha ...gotcha!” I proudly whispered. I walked over and put my hands under the faucet and surely water gushed out. Again “How convenient,” I thought.  But the water was cold and I wanted warm. I kept my hands under the faucet a little longer and the water changed from cold to cool, but not warm. Now I was having an imaginary exchange with the faucet: “I want warm,” I said. “Sorry that’s all you’ll get” was the faucet’s reply and to which I responded: “You’re robbing me of my freedom to choose the temperature that I want.” The faucet then assured me that I had to choose between freedom and convenience. It spewed again: “The temperatures are now preset and that is a huge convenience.” I then replied: “Whose convenience? C’mon, let people decide the warmth of the water for themselves, give them freedom - that’s true convenience; I want my two C and H handles so I can adjust the warmth that I want.”

Then the water stopped. I wiggled my hands - nothing. I moved back a foot or two, then came back and tried again....still nothing. Now I was thinking that this faucet had a mind of its own and it was really mad at me. Just as I was about to move to the next sink, the water starts running again.

Oh, meanwhile, the soap dispenser (also motion sensor-controlled) was going like crazy spewing liquid soap from all the wiggles and jiggles and hula hand lessons in the sink. The rising soap suds started to become an inconvenience.

(Apparently there’s more to this conspiracy disguised as forced convenience. I wonder if it’s all wrapped nicely in what’s called  "profit!" The sensors, I guess, are meant to avoid waste (in case a tap is left running - intentionally or unintentionally), and save money, provided of course the sensors work all the time. Therefore, they also don’t want you to play with the flush handle and waste water in the process - even when flushing more than once is absolutely necessary. Warm or hot water also costs more, so they won’t give you any warmer or hot water.)

The saga continues. I realized that I wanted some cash. I spotted an ATM and again the “how convenient” thought nudged and nagged, only now it comes with a pinch of skepticism. Surely enough, it happened. I wanted $50, but my choices were in increments of 20, so I had to get $60.  With money, I guess I can relinquish my freedom any time for convenience sake - albeit covert and coerced.

Perhaps one of the ironies in all this pseudo convenience is that a traveler from China or Russia expecting to be "free at last", arrives at an airport in the - ahem, ahem - "land of the free", and finds that his first choices in America are conveniently infringed and encroached upon.

So next time you think something is convenient, think also of some personal freedoms and choices that have been compromised.

Bon Voyage!