Thursday, June 20, 2013

June Events

Two large events happened in June that brought a lot of us volunteers into Apia.  The first weekend was Independence holiday for Samoa and the Peace Corps was invited to march in the parade.  The American Embassy, who was also marching with us, had matching uniforms made for us.  Unfortunately they neglected to make bottoms as well as tell us to bring our own and it resulted in a hilarious mismatch of bottoms including a bright pink lavalava and some jean shorts.  Well the morning of the parade, we all woke up bright and early 6, scarffed down some breakfast, and started out towards the parade grounds in our spanking new puletasi tops.  About 2 minutes down the road, we got a call from our friend at the embassy kindly asking us where the hell we all where and could we possibly move as quickly as possible as they were waiting for us to start.  So we hopped in a taxi until we could no longer go any further because of the crowds then hopped out and hoofed it.  We all quickly were engulfed in the crowd and it was overwhelming us.  Out in the village, and even in Apia, the crowds are usually extremely sparse and a crowd so thick you can barely move is completely unheard of.  So here we were in the midst of one and it was, at least for me, more claustrophobic than even the rush hour shopping was in Osaka, Japan.  When we reached the parade grounds, we saw the American flag and matching puletasis on the far side of the field and rushed over so we could get into the parade.  At this point, we all realized that Samoan parades are slightly different than American ones.  See, in America, we tend to have our parades walk down the street with crowds on both sides.  Usually there are floats, dancers, people chucking candy at kids, and bands.  Well in Samoa, we marched a total of 100 yards, stopped in front of the bandstand with important heads of state and dignitaries sitting there, yelled out “Happy Independence Samoa!”, and walked away and off the track.  We all looked to our Country Director Dale and he nodded, “Yep, that’s it.  Thanks for coming in”.  Turns out the parade is mainly for the people sitting there in the bandstand and everyone else just watches on TV.  So there’s no point to marching through the streets.  Interesting version of a parade, but it was fun doing it with my friends.
Also, a side note, apparently my family is the one family on the entire island who is responsible for making the flower necklaces that the heads of state buy and then wear at the parade.  The night before, they had relatives over harvesting my mother’s gardens, and then an assembly line of women making various style necklaces.  Apparently they can go for between $25-50 each so great once a year event for them.  It was really cool watching them make the necklaces at such a high quantity.

One of the more fun events of the Independence weekend was the Fafafine Beauty Pageant.  For those of you who are unaware, Fafafines are an integral part of Samoan culture.  Basically a fafafine is a male who, usually as a toddler, is raised in the traditional female roles.  A fafafine’s hair is left long and some of the older fafafine’s will dress in feminine clothing.  In school, they continue to wear the male uniform and yet are not subjected to the male haircut standards.  Many times, fafafine’s will choose later in life to cut their hair and get married and others will continue to live as a fafafine.  Well, over Independence weekend there was a Fafafine Beauty Pageant that was equal to some of the best Drag Queen shows I’ve seen in America.  It was one of the best shows I’ve been to in a long time.  It started out with an introduction from the Prime Minister then went right away into categories such as best fruit wear (banana, apple, etc), talent, and more.  The sex jokes and sauntering were rampant and the audience was hooting and hollering like there was no tomorrow.  One interesting deviation from what I’ve seen in America is a fafafine would be walking down the catwalk and suddenly rips their shirt off to reveal the extremely well defined (or not) chest, reminding everyone in the audience that they are extremely beautiful men.  I can’t quite see that happening in a Drag Queen show.  DEFINITELY recommended to anyone who happens to be in Samoa in June.

The other event that happened was the closing ceremony for the Pacific Partnership.  For the past month, the USS Pearl Harbor, an American Navy Ship, has been in port and American and French Navy guys have been working on projects across the two islands, specifically in water tanks.  Well the last night that they were in port, they threw a VIP party on board the ship.  Well since PCVs are government employees, we warranted an invite.  I was lucky enough to be able borrow a dress so I had a lot of fun getting ready.  Hair, makeup, long dress, the whole shebang.  Lu and I got dressed together then headed over to the shipyard.  I was feeling halfnaked with my fancy dress dipping down in the front but once we got on the ship that feeling went away.  At the entrance ramp to the ship, there was a red carpet flanked on either side by sailors.  As I walked down the carpet, one of the sailors at the end detached himself and introduce himself as our guide up to the party.  Apparently the route up to the desk was so complicated that we needed a guide haha.  Well up we climbed, me increasingly thankful I was wearing flats instead of heals, until we reached the top deck.  At this point, the guide left and we were introduced to yet another two rows of sailors.  As we walked through this one, yet another man detached, this time extending his arm towards me to hold as he walked me into the party and over to the wine table.  I was completely enjoying every second of that as I felt like a princess entering on a prince’s hand.  The party was really enjoyable: they had men in naval dress uniforms all over the deck, the navy jazz band playing, free wine and beer, and best of all, a huge line of amazing food.  I had cookies, CHEESE (!!), fruits, and homemade rolls.  I’m reminiscing just thinking about it.  All of the Peace Corps employees and volunteers were there so it was fun seeing everyone all dolled up.  At one point, they did the raising of the flag and they played the Star Spangled Banner.  It was incredibly moving hearing an American song played with people standing at attention.  All in all a wonderful night and I can’t wait to see that ship come in again next year.  Thank you Navy!

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