In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
 
 
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005
 

Culture Shock

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From:       Stuart
Subject:   Culture Shock
  Date:         9th May 2005
Place:
     Somewhere in Independent Samoa

 

His shout was deafening, his face angry, red and defiant, "Don't want to. Don't want to. Leave me alone. Leave me alone." The last few disembarking passengers came down the aircraft steps, crossed the runway and joined the queue for the customs hall. The queue slowly shuffled forwards; everyone was watching, some discreetly, others staring openly. I sweated profusely. It was almost midnight and nearly thirty degrees. We'd been travelling since early morning and I was tired and ready for bed; Matthew had obviously had enough too. The ground-staff moved to contain the situation, forming a loose cordon some five metres around him.

I put down the hand-baggage, left Kirstie holding a grumpy Cameron and entered the cordon to retrieve Matthew. His steely hazelnut eyes glared at me as I moved to try and pick him up. "No Dad. No Dad. GO AWAY," he screamed furiously as he kicked, punched and pushed me away. I was out of options and patience. I'd tried reasoning, comforting and distracting but this mood was set solid. He'd been rudely awakened in the middle of the night, dragged off the plane and thrust into the tropical heat and humidity with just an hours sleep. I knew there was nothing I could say or do that would make things alright for him. He wanted to sleep but there was nowhere for him to do it, at least not until we reached our transfer bus the other side of customs. The ground-staff edged closer; this was no place for a tantrum like this. Red with embarrassment, sweating from the heat, I grabbed his arms and legs, held him tight and lifted him forcibly over to the customs hall. "Put me down. I don't want you. Go away, PUT ME DOWN," he shouted above the airport noise. I felt like a child abductor and was sure we were about to be refused entry to Samoa.

By the time we arrived the queue at the customs desk had long since disappeared and a lone official waited patiently for us at the far end of the hall. Beyond her a traditional Samoan quartet sang dreamy South Pacific songs for those already granted entry, now waiting for their baggage. At the other end of the hall our South Pacific nightmare continued with Matthew crying where I dumped him, hand baggage everywhere and Cameron clinging stickily to his Mum. Here we were arriving in a country where respect for elders is highly valued and Matthew was showing no respect for us, the band, customs staff or anyone else for that matter. As I stood there trying to figure out what to do I felt like a totally embarrassed, incompetent and impotent parent.

"Talofa, welcome to Samoa," said the immigration clerk when we finally shuffled Matthew up to her desk. She quickly checked our documents and waved us through to baggage claim where his sobbing could compete with the band. Our baggage was circling the conveyor and a man was scouting the area for us. He looked in my direction. "Are you Wickes?" he asked. I nodded. "Good. OK. Follow me. Your guide and van are waiting for you." He grabbed our trolley and led us towards the arrivals hall. Outside, a Crocodile Dundee figure came over to greet us, long hair neatly tied under his hat, his grey beard reaching almost as far as the traditional floral lavalava wrapped around his waist. "Hi, I'm Steve from Ecotour Samoa," he said in a distinctly Australian accent, "Shall we get going? We've got a boat to catch."

The tourist van bumped its' way out of the airport and onto the dark Samoan roads. Matthew sat up front with Kirstie and Cameron, his sobbing now throttled back by a lolly forced into his mouth in the arrivals hall. In the back with me were two pretty Samoan children sleeping peacefully on the seats. "This is Stevie and Sosafina" explained Ava, Steve's wife, as we headed into the night on our mystery tour. "They're going to come with you to play with your boys," she explained, "Our eldest, Nuanua, will join you in a couple of days, when you get back from Manono Island. I hope you like Samoa." I sat quietly, drained and disorientated, and wondered how her beautiful children would get on with a moody Matthew and his brother.


We boarded a ferry and headed out into the darkness

Half an hour later and the bus stopped in the darkness. "This is where we get the ferry," announced Steve. A small group of men whispered in Samoan, then took our bags and the sleeping children from the van. It was hard to make out in the dark what kind of a ferry this was; in the flashes of torchlight I could see no cabin or seats, just a six foot by six foot platform onto which baggage and children were stowed. "Now you," whispered Steve as he flashed his torch at the floating platform. I got on first and sat amongst the bags and bodies under a small canopy, then took the boys and sat them beside me. My foot dangled down into a watery hole and I held the children tight, unsure where the platform ended and the water began. With Kirstie and Steve aboard, the ferryman grabbed a giant pole from beside me and began to punt the vessel out to sea. The water rippled against the side as we gained momentum, splashes of salt water hitting the deck each time he retrieved his pole. "So, where are we going?" I asked Steve. "Manono Island," he replied, "it's beautiful, you'll see, you'll love it there." I was none the wiser. The splashing stopped, the ferry man started an outboard motor and we headed more quickly into the black of the South Pacific Ocean. The boys started to whimper quietly in my arms, perhaps reflecting my own inward confusion and uncertainty about this journey. "Will it take long?" I asked, trying to get a hold on the situation. "Oh no, not too long," said Steve, "just relax, enjoy the ride, the sea, the stars, and in the morning you'll wake in paradise." I tried hard to believe that such a transformation was possible.


In the morning our floating refugee platform was revealed as a pretty painted catamaran

About twenty minutes later the motor stopped and our vessel ran aground. "Welcome to Manono," said Steve, "time to get your feet wet." He jumped off the boat and scuttled ashore while the ferryman and his mate unloaded bags and sleeping children. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trousers and stepped over the side. The warm water and deep soft sand caught me by surprise. I lifted the boys ashore, one at a time. "It's hot Daddy," Cameron giggled as I dipped his toes gently into the water. A lightbulb glowed dimly in a thatched wooden shelter beyond the beach. "Come up to the falé and meet your host," said Steve leading us past snoring locals up a sharp coral path towards the light. Outside the falé, he introduced us to the silhouette of a tall Samoan woman with an unfortunately limp handshake. "Stuart, Kirstie, I'd like you to meet Tauvela." She smiled, signalled for us to take a seat in the falé and then summoned a man wielding a machete. Movie scenes of cannibals on remote South Pacific islands flashed through my head. The warrior stood menacingly beside us while they exchanged words in Samoan, then with a sudden burst of energy he hacked two young coconuts off a tree and drilled two holes in them with a corkscrew. Tauvela popped two straws in and handed them to the boys. The kids looked at the coconuts with bemusement. Tauvela pointed to the coconuts and then to the boys. "There you are boys," said Steve, "lovely coconut milk." I sipped a little to show them the way; it was cool, sweet and refreshing in the heat of the night. Then the boys tried. "Yuk, don't like it," said Matthew quickly. "Yuk, yuk," copied Cameron spitting his out. We put the coconuts to one side. "How about a beer then?" asked Steve, sensing I needed to relax. He reached into his coolbox and pulled out two ice cold beers. "Cheers," he said as he pushed one my way. I grabbed it by its' condensation soaked neck and started to down it greedily. "Daddy, I need a wee wee," whined Cameron. I didn't know what to say to him. Should he wee in the bush or did they have toilets here? Could I send him alone off to a western style loo or would I need to hold him over some fly infested pit? Steve intervened, "The toilet's over there," he said pointing to a little shed in the gloom. "You take me Daddy, I scared." "There's nothing to be scared of Cammy," I said as convincingly as I could. The snoring intensified for a moment. "But Daddy," he whined on, "I scared of the pigs."

When the beer was finished, Tauvela showed us to our accommodation, a traditional open walled Samoan falé on stilts, with a little wooden balcony that jutted out over the ocean and steps that led down to the sea. Bed was a thin mattress on the wooden floor with a floral sheet and an old mosquito net with extra holes. I was too tired to care or to drop the coconut mat blinds for privacy. I stripped the boys and lay them down then did the same myself. "It's too hot Dad," whimpered Matthew over and over as he tried to get to sleep. I lay awake for a while, my senses working overtime. A breeze blew through the falé, gently playing on my sticky, stressed and tired body. The mosquito nets shimmered in the moonlight. Waves lapped gently below as the tide reached further in. As my body relaxed, my mind raced. I had no money, no idea where we were, couldn't speak the language, drink the water, knew nothing of the food or customs, and was hungry, thirsty, tired and anxious, despite the beer. "Welcome to paradise," I thought to myself as I wondered how we would cope with the next 30 days.


The morning after and we really were in a tropical paradise

 

 

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