I stomached the last mouthful of the local Samoan delicacy with a sigh of relief. Finally it was over.
“More for you,” I heard as another bowlful was pushed in front of me. I looked down at the watery gruel with utter dismay as all eyes around the table watched me eagerly.
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly. I mean it was lovely and all but I’m really full,” I stammered.
Blank faces stared back. “You’re hungry, you eat.” I realised with embarrassment I’d just made a social faux pas; devouring everything was plain bad manners. I slowly put another insipid spoonful into my mouth and feigned delight, “Mmmm!” I murmured, “Delicious!”
A Right Knees-Up
I’d been invited to this local family’s house after a particularly bizarre bus journey.
“Sit there!” the conductor had gestured as I scanned a packed bus looking for a seat.
“There! On her knee!”
He wasn’t kidding. I saw other female passengers doing the same, the lighter ones perched on the larger women’s laps. With a mouthful of apologies, I sat very rigidly on the edge of a local woman’s well-padded legs. We talked about Samoa, how her legs had gone dead plus her family’s cucumber plantation.
“It’s a family business,” Fualosa proudly smiled. “You can come and see it,” she offered.
I didn’t want to go, but after six phone calls to where I was staying (it didn’t take a genius to figure it out – there was only one resort in the area), I conceded. I headed to the only shop in the vicinity, a compact wooden kiosk near the beach, to ask what I should take as a thank you gift. The choice was limited.
“Corned beef?” I asked quizzically. How on earth had spam and corned beef wound up on a Pacific island? The only logical reason must have been a shipwreck or one canny salesman. But worse still, I was about to buy it. In bulk.
A Gruelling Experience
Fualosa appeared in the dusty driveway along with a chorus of yelps and squeals from an army of excited children. After a tour of the area, I was ushered back inside. The adults, eight in total, sat around a large wooden table, while the children waited patiently around the side. I looked down to see a bowl placed in front of me. I had to give Fualosa’s elderly mother kudos for her resourcefulness.
“Corned beef and cucumber soup…,” I said, trying to take the bewilderment out of my voice. All eyes were on me. “Aren’t you joining me?”
“No, guests eat first, then the adults and then the children.”
Fualosa leaned in towards me, “We’re going to bingo later.”
“Great!” I said, wondering what ‘legs 11’ was in Samoan.
“Can I borrow some money?” she asked.
So that was why I had been asked over.
“Um, yeah. How much?”
“We’re going now,” she announced as I stood up to go with her. “You can stay here, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
I was even more astounded now than at my discovery of corned beef.
Her sister looked furious. “She ask for money?”
I nodded uncomfortably.
“She is not Samoan. This is not Samoan.”
A couple of hours later, Fualosa’s sister showed me my bed, which already had a female relative in it. “You don’t mind sharing?”
“YES!” I wanted to scream! But replied with a meek, “Um, no.” It was too late to get back to my resort, I’d have to stay. I crept under the mosquito net and lay like a corpse all night. At two in the morning I heard Fualosa drunkenly sway past the house. At six in the morning I heard the mother banging pots together outside Fualosa’s fale.
“Morning,” Fualosa ventured to me with a sore head as we made our way to the table for breakfast. The mother threw a terrifying glare at her before smiling apologetically and serving me a wonderfully fresh Samoan breakfast of papaya and coconut.
“Eat!” the mother snarled as she put a bowl of cold corned beef and cucumber soup in front of her disgraced daughter.
Fualosa slowly put an insipid spoonful into her mouth and feigned delight, “Mmmm!” she said. A wry smile crept across my face. Acting was becoming second nature to both of us.