The fa’amati is an annual event in the church in which the deacon of each district travels to all of the churches to inspect the maintenance of the church, the pastor’s house, and to see the donations the congregation has made that year. These donations change per church, but include things such as woven fine mats, dishes for the church to use in events, towels, sheets, basins for washing hands, serving utensils, etc. Whatever the church needs that year is what the congregation will provide.
I wrote about being a part of the fa’amati last year, when I was the sua and carried a niu to the deacon’s wife as an important woman of the village. This year, my pastor told me that I would go with his wife, who travels with the deacon to all of the churches in our district. If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would have said no.
At 6:00am Tuesday morning, I was dressed in a puletasi and at my pastor’s house waiting for the car to come pick us up. We drove about 20 minutes to the start of our district, where we would begin the inspections. We sat at this village waiting for the deacon for 2 hours. Apparently they had some car trouble on the way, so they were late.
When they arrived, we inspected the church, and the pastor’s house. We then made our way over to the church hall, where the women had gathered to show us this year’s donation to the church. But first, the village matais gave speeches and held an ava ceremony for the deacon and his wife. After the ava ceremony was over, and I had been proposed to by multiple men, the women started the presentation of the donations. When this was finished, we then ate breakfast. Everyone had told me going into this day that I would have a lot of food. Knowing this, I paced myself and only ate a few things. This turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes I made all day.
Once everyone was fed, we had the final speeches and the exchanging of money and other gifts. We then packed up our things to go and went to the next church. By the time we left this first church, it was 10:00am. It was then that I realized this was going to be a long day. We had 8 more churches to go.
The same thing happened at all of the other churches: the inspection of church and house, the presentation of gifts, food, and exchange of money. I was proposed to at all of the churches, all of which came from men at least twice my age. People were not lying – there was a lot of food. But the problem is we had so many places to go that there wasn’t enough time to actually eat. I returned home exhausted after 8:00pm with mats, necklaces, money, and trays and trays of food.
While this was a different and interesting cultural experience, it was also one of the worst days I’ve had in Samoa. For starters, I was tired and hungry. And you know how grumpy I get when I am hungry. But it can also be very frustrating to see how much money people give to high members of the church, and how much money these high members expect each church to give. I know of many stories of people who cannot afford food or soap, but they give money to the church. While this is a great sentiment, and these people literally give everything they have to the church, it makes me sad that this is the reality. Most of the churches I’ve gone to stand up and say who has given what amount of money at the end of every service. Everyone knows if someone doesn’t have money in a given week. They spend money at church to save face rather than choosing to eat. And I was frustrated that I was there because it meant that the church felt obligated to give me money as well. I walked away with $50-$200 per church. I do not need this money, and the fact that I was there made me mad at my pastor for forcing these other churches to accommodate me, mad at myself for being an unexpected burden on an already lean time, and recognizing this anger at each of the 9 churches added to an already tiring day.
As I am on the home-stretch of my service (8 months to go!) I find myself struggling much more with some cultural aspects in Samoa. In my first year, everything I did was a new, cultural experience and I was just along for the ride. But now that I’ve been here for so long, and I’ve experienced all of these events once already, it is easier for me to judge and become frustrated with the way things are. And it is sometimes hard to let go of the thought that I am here to change things. I am not here to change the culture. Not only is that impossible to do within a 2 year period, but I also have no right to do that. Who am I to say that they are doing something wrong, just because it is something different than I’m used to?
As frustrated as I get here, there are also an equal number of things that bring me such joy. I was talking with another PCV the other day about how weird it is to think that we will be back in America at this time next year. We both agreed that there are moments when we think to ourselves “Get me on the next plane out of this country,” and in the next moment can think “I am never leaving Samoa.” I don’t think I have ever wanted opposite things equally as much before. To say the Peace Corps is a roller-coaster of emotions is an understatement.