I woke up at 6:45 a.m., as usual, and, as usual, my feet didn't actually hit the floor until 7:15! The teachers are supposed to be at the school at 8:00 a.m., but since I'm only here for two months, my schedule isn't so strict. But I did want to be at the church and school early, because we had guests coming. And not just any guests, either; palagi guests! 'Palagi' (pronounced 'po-LONG-ee') means 'white foreigner'. As I've mentioned a couple times now, a team of teens from the States were coming to sing, play instruments, and share their testimonies. There was a lot to do to get the kids ready for their presentation in chapel at 11:30, and it was 'all hands on deck' at the school.
When I walked down to the church, I was surprised to see the changes that had taken place at the church work night the previous evening. The pillars at the front of the church were wrapped in palm fronds, green braids going up the sides of the veranda. It must have taken a good deal of time, and it shows how excited the church people were about the palagis.
The kids, even the smallest K-3-er, sensed the excitement and tension in the air. We only had a half-day of school, starting with a practice of the presentation in the church. The children first recited two pledges--the pledge of allegiance to the Bible, and the pledge to the Christian flag. Then they sang the Samoan national anthem. I mouthed along, marveling at how Hannah was able to play the piano and sing in a foreign language simultaneously! Next on the agenda were the three American songs, to honor the guests: "The Star-Spangled Banner", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", and "America the Beautiful". Our national anthem was notable for the way the children couldn't reach the high notes in the chorus, but it did sound very hearty otherwise. There was a prayer, and next the children recited Isaiah 40:30-31; lastly, they sang two choruses, "The Windows of Heaven are Open", and "I Will Sing of the Mercies". The children seemed to be a bit more serious than they had been at other practices; undoubtedly some early stage-fright was kicking in.
It wasn't long before parents started showing up and taking their seats in the church auditorium. Many brought 'oolas', the Samoan version of leis, to give to our special guests. I was occupied in keeping rows of squirming children in one place, which is not as easy as it sounds; Hamish and George were slapping each other, Salamolana was spitting on the steps, three kindergarteners wandered off and had to be recovered, and a whole line of girls had a fit of the giggles. I heard Aniga whisper, "Taxi!" and knew that her sharp eyes had spotted the vehicle we'd been waiting for. The older girls were given the oolas and told to go drape them around the necks of the guests. I ventured into the sanctuary with my cameras to film the event. To my surprise, Selesa dropped an oola around my neck as well! Then Pastor Jim came in, and it was time to begin.
The children went through their presentation flawlessly. I sang each song softly with them, willing them to smile, straighten up, and keep their hands decorously folded. The American team, timid at first to snap a photo of the event, were soon up and filming, delighted with the patriotic songs. As the children then filed into the benches, Miss Emi rose and welcomed the guests and parents, then invited the team to come up. The ten teenagers did a splendid job; they sang, they played the violin and flute, they gave testimonies, which Pastor Jim translated into Samoan. I knew every song and sang along quietly. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a song service more--it was in English! I could actually follow what was going on!
After the chapel, the group (which included not only the teens, but their pastor (who's Australian) and his wife, another Samoan pastor and his wife, a church layman and his wife, and another couple) were escorted down to the school, where a Samoan banquet had been prepared. Some of the church people had been slaving all morning over an array of foods simply astonishing to see, especially when you consider how hard it is in Samoa to cook anything in a hurry! I eventually found a seat next to one of the American girls, a lovely young lady named McKayla, aged 17. She told me more about their group; they're all from Washington State, Bible Baptist Church, Oak Harbor. They were curious about my role in the church, and some of us trouped over to the clinic to make an inspection. They ended up taking a few supplies with them; one of the young men, Christopher, had gouged his toe on a piece of coral while swimming the day before, and the group was running out of first-aid supplies in coping with this injury.
As I was getting ready to come back up to the house, Joe called me over to see a woman who had a swollen ankle and was in considerable pain. At first, I thought it was a sprain, but then she showed me the puncture wound where a nail or some other sharp instrument had gouged her ankle a few days before. She didn't have the resources or time to go to another island to the 'good hospital'. I gave her some medicine, bandages, and advice about how to keep the swelling down. I wish I could do more, but I can't give her a tetanus shot or suchlike...not yet. I have to do a bit more schooling first! :)
As I was in my room, vegging a bit after the morning run-around, a knock sounded on my door. "Can I see you when you have a minute?" asked Hannah from the other side. Of course, I always have a minute for Hannah. She was sorting a pile of navy-blue cloth across the hall. "See these dresses here?" she inquired. "One of these is for you!" I couldn't believe my ears! One of these exquisite creations was for me?!? Hannah had to reiterate the fact several times before I would believe her. The lady who had made Hannah's lovely Samoan outfits, Cololla, had made matching dresses for Hannah, Miss Emi, and me! The only down-side was that Miss Emi's was too small. Hannah and I modeled our new outfits in front of her full-length mirror, as giddy as a couple of little girls playing dress-up. Cololla had made them especially so that we could wear them tonight at the church service. Now I couldn't wait for church!
The service proved to be very special in a number of ways. Reason No. 1: The power went out, as it so often does, half-way into the song service! The piano was out of commission, but the flute and violins played on, undaunted. Reason No. 2: The singing was absolutely beautiful. I enjoyed every moment; I only wished that I could have joined them! Reason No. 3: The village Head Chief, and several other lesser chiefs, unexpectedly showed up to thank the 'palagis' for coming! After the message by Pastor Robert Sargent, this chief stood up and told the group, in Samoan, that 'they sang like angels'! I had a good interpreter next to me--an 18-year-old girl named Louisa. She is Cololla's oldest daughter, and she and I have had a lot of good talks over the past few weeks. I was glad I had such an apt translator!
As I sat there, listening to the goings-on and watching the American group furiously fanning themselves with any scrap of paper they could lay their hands on, I was unconsciously amazed at how 'Samoanized' I've gotten in just a few weeks. Here I was, with the humidity and heat causing my glasses to steam up, and with no real need of a fan! Joe was wearing a pair of pants, and I was struck by how strange it looked, after seeing so many men in lava-lavas. It was nice to finally know more Samoan words than somebody, to explain what was on a plate, to show a person around. As Hannah said, "Sometimes you forget that your skin is white"; I was astonished at how much I'd forgotten.
Anyway, after the service, the Head chief and the rest of the church went down to the school again for another banquet. However, I was not to follow right away, as there was a medical rush. Stephanie is the daughter of the woman I had treated earlier for the swollen ankle; after the service, Stephanie asked me for help with her leg and hand. There were small sores in various places on both. "Are you a doctor?" she asked in awe as we walked into the 'clinic' and she saw the rows of bottles and supplies. As soon as I was done with her, Gaualofa appeared, wordlessly showing me her palm--an ugly dime-sized sore was starting to ooze. Then Stella came with an infected gash on her knee. By the time the medical rush was over, the meal was winding down as well. I did get there in time to have a Samoan delicacy--raw fish cured in coconut milk and a dash of lime. It's Pastor Jim's favorite dish!
The teens soon went back to their hotel, and, as the pastors were having a 'round-table discussion' afterwards, we invited Robin, one of the pastor's wives, back to the house with us for some coffee. As soon as we walked in the kitchen, I noticed the white box on the table. I curiously lifted the lid. Inside was--wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles--a CAKE!!! I dropped the lid in my surprise. A real, live cake, with icing! How....? When....? I was practically salivating as Hannah finally cut the beautiful thing and gave me a slice (she'll tell you I snatched it from her, but don't you believe it...). I'm still trying to decide if it's the best cake I've ever tasted, or if I was just hungry for any kind of cake. I don't know. But it was wonderful--banana cake, with nuts on top. Mom, please bake me a nice big banana cake when I come home!
We had a wonderful time of fellowship with Robin. She's a charming missionary wife who lives on another, more main-stream island. She shared her testimony and some of the struggles she's experienced as a missionary. We found that we have a similar taste in literature, so there was no lack of subject matter!
Now I'm blogging. Actually, I just finished chasing a cockroach out of my room. He was a nice big one, about two inches long, that Hannah and I named George as we were watching him charge up and down the wall. I liked George in a way, but I didn't really care for him in my room. He's hiding under the coffee table in the living room now, waiting to surprise some unwitting person tomorrow--probably me.
By the way, thank you all for your comments--I look forward to seeing new ones every time I post! It means a lot to me. I hope you're enjoying the adventure along with me. If there's any part of life here that you'd like to see a blog post on, please let me know.
I wish I had a picture of the banana cake, but it was gone before I thought to photograph it! I will spare you a picture of George the cockroach.... :)