Maybe I should have suspected something early yesterday morning when Miss Emi announced that she didn't want me to cook dinner, and gave me no explanation whatever for her change of mind. And, looking back, it's easy to understand why I saw a few secret smiles pass between Hannah and Miss Emi, and why Hannah was effervescently cheerful all day. But I was clueless. After all, I don't leave for another two weeks or so!
The day continued to progress, and I had no idea what was in store for me in the evening. In the afternoon, I went down to the church, where I could make a couple phone calls to family and friends. When I got back, Miss Emi was cooking dinner, and seemed very intent doing a good job of it. I decided not to get in her way, as she was cleaning as well as cooking. She hung new curtains, and got somebody to dispose of the two unusable washers. She was a real dynamo! When she was setting the table with special care, and Hannah was bringing in more chairs, I asked if we were having anyone extra for dinner. She told me yes, we were, but didn’t elaborate much. The next thing I knew, she had finished, dressed up in a nice jean skirt and a pretty top, and was examining her garden. I went out to keep her company, and she gave the tour of the place. I hadn’t been sure what all the flowers were, but I think I’ve gotten a lot of them straight now. The Hawaiian gardenia was particularly enchanting—you could smell it from yards away. We were accompanied by a host of cats, who played tag in among the bushes and batted at the flowers.
I remembered the bag of cat treats that Mom had sent for Miss Emi; I mentioned the fact to Miss Emi, who was happy to be reminded, and we spent the next 15 minutes in doling out the treats. The cats really enjoyed themselves! It was raining, but we seated ourselves on the porch and enjoyed the coolness that the rain brings.
Suddenly, Cololla showed up, holding a plastic bag with something fabric inside. She had already hinted to me yesterday that she was making me another pula tasi, so I was assuming that she was dropping by to give it to me. She took a seat on one of the porch chairs and watched the rain with us. In another minute, Gau also appeared, also carrying a plastic bag—I thought there was some kind of trail mix inside. Hannah appeared from her boudoir, dressed to a T, and then I got the picture—we were having a party! A party for the teachers. I hadn’t known, but probably no one thought it was necessary to tell me. Sene hadn’t shown up yet, but I could tell they were looking for her.
Pastor Jim asked us all to come to the living room for a time of prayer. I thought this was a bit unusual procedure for a party, but, hey, I’m no expert on Samoan culture! It was only when everyone was assembled that Pastor Jim finally spilled every last bean—the party wasn’t for the teachers. The teachers were giving a party for me! A surprise, early ‘going away’ party. I was really shocked, especially when, after Pastor Jim’s long prayer of thanksgiving for my time here, everyone gave me gifts! Miss Gau was first—she timidly draped a couple long necklaces made of shells around my neck (the trail mix look-alike!), then presented me with a fan and two hair accessories. Cololla gave me the red-and-yellow pula tasi and a matching artificial hibiscus flower. Even Hannah had a hair clip for me—she had seen me admire it in Salaloga, and had purchased it when I was looking the other way. Miss Sene arrived in the midst of this gift-giving: she had a turquoise-and-silver lava-lava for me, as well as a lovely brown-and-gold ‘purse’ of the kind that are made here. I was really overwhelmed—these ladies don’t have big bank accounts, so I know this is a real sacrifice for them to give me these things. But you could tell they were so happy to do it! It was a really, really humbling experience for me, but a very sweet one as well.
Then we ate. All the ladies had brought yummy dishes, so there was plenty on the table. One of my favorites was something Cololla made; it was like a tortillas made with fried, thin eggs, wrapped around some onion, ham, and sauce. I ate a whole one of those! All throughout the meal, the ladies swapped school stories, sharing cute and funny anecdotes about what the children in their classes had said in during the day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of ladies laugh so hard! They were literally crying with mirth, and had to wipe their eyes frequently. I couldn’t really join in, since everything was in Samoan, but it was fun to watch them enjoying themselves so heartily. Eventually, the tone of the conversation became more solemn, and Cololla made a speech to me, which Miss Emi translated. Cololla said, among other things, that, on behalf of all the teachers, she thanked me very much for choosing to come and minister here in Samoa; that she, and the others, had enjoyed my being here so much, and that they were sad that I was going to have to leave; that they appreciated all I had done for the school and for the church; that they want to bring me more gifts, and the only reason they hadn’t was because of the busyness of the schedule; and that they wished me good success in my studies and a safe flight home. Oh yes, and love to my family, pastor, and friends.
Miss Emi translated all of this tear-inducing speech, then replied for me, as is the custom here, thanking them all for everything they had done to contribute to the party. Cololla then answered in another short speech, and finally Miss Emi told me that I could make a speech if I wanted to. It seemed rather odd that we should be doing all this ceremonial speech-making when there were only six people, including myself, present, but I thanked them all again and expressed my happiness that I was able to come and visit Samoa, and my hopes that I can return again in a few years. It was sweet to see the smiles break out on their faces and their eyes widen with delight as I said that I would like to come back!
Afterwards, we all cleaned the dishes and kitchen. The ladies divided the food evenly among much laughter and chat, and then Miss Emi, Hannah and myself took Cololla and Sene home—since Gau lives next door, she didn’t need a ride!
It was a wonderful, very surprising night for me. I learned that Hannah and Miss Emi had been planning on this for the past two weeks, since it’s apparently the last free night before the school schedule starts to get crazy. It’s truly one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me. Hannah had said that the people would probably overwhelm me with kindness when I was on the eve of departure, and they already have, weeks in advance!
I can’t wait to wear my new pula tasi on Sunday….