When I first came to Samoa, I was not looking for any romance. I had never had a boyfriend before and I was very interested in doing the work first and foremost. When I first arrived with the Peace Corps, they had us stay in a training village called Lalomauga. We quickly learned that relations between males and females here are an entirely different matter than they are in the States. In Samoa, it’s not really possible to have platonic friendships with the opposite sex. I noticed that a grand majority of the young men in the village were very cheeky and very interested in all of us white girls. It was kind of fun and kind of flattering at first, and then got kind of old.
Some of the other ladies in my group and I noticed that Samoan guys are generally pretty attractive. Working on the plantation every day and playing rugby every evening leads to a very easy-to-look-at physique. Add in the various beautiful tattoos most people sported and there was plenty of eye candy in the village. Except for the hair. Samoan men may be beautiful, but good God, the things they do to their hair are just terrible. Mullets, a long little braid that pokes out of otherwise short hair (aka the “rat tail”), randomly bleaching different spots in your hair, cutting the sides but letting yourself grow a top-of-the-head afro. It was awful. And also pretty funny.
My friends and I had fun watching these funny hairstyles and these hot bods and came up with certain nicknames for guys so that we could talk about them even though we didn’t know their names. There was Samoan Orlando Bloom, Hot Cousin, Nice Cousin, the Blonde One, and a couple more. It was a fun little way to pass the time in a village where not a lot happens besides daily volleyball.
My host family had a pool table on their land and so there would often be a bunch of dudes hanging around, smoking, and playing pool with their shirts off. Sometimes, it was awkward because I would walk from the shower stall to my little Samoan hut wearing just my wet lavalava and I could feel the stares. But other times, I liked to sit near the pool table with my host sister and enjoy the view. 😉 There were a couple of guys that I thought particularly attractive. One was very cheeky and out there. The first time he ever met me, he came up behind me while I was eating dinner and kissed me on the cheek. That was something like my third day in Samoa. Way to make a girl feel uncomfortable! And the other one I liked had these great tattoos, these super great abs, but he never talked to me. He was always around my family’s compound helping them with their chores, playing pool, making dinner, or whatever. I assumed he was somehow part of the family and called him “Nice Cousin.”
I really enjoyed learning all the different Samoan chores and “helping,” even though when I helped, things usually took twice as long. I learned how to husk coconuts, make homemade coconut jam, get coconuts out of the shells for the pigs, scrape the coconuts to make coconut cream. Lots of things involving coconuts. Well, one day, I decided to try to learn how to grate the coconut meat out of the shell so that it could be squeezed to make coconut cream. Nice Cousin was assigned to teach me and help me. It turned out to be really hard. To do it, I had to sit on a special bench with a sharp grater blade at the edge of it and scrape the inside of the coconut on it so that the shavings would fall into the bowl underneath. Well, when I tried, I ended up accidentally applying different pressures to different areas so that some parts of the coconut got all grated away and other parts were really thick. There were scrapings of the shell in the bowl and coconut still left in the shell. I was slow and not good. Nice Cousin, however, was very patient. Unlike most of my other teachers, he didn’t just give up and take over to spare me the frustration. He corrected me and let me keep trying long after other people would have just decided that it’s easier for them to do it. It was really great and eventually I kind of almost got the hang of it. I was also kind of taken aback by how polite and respectful he was of me and my space. Whereas many other guys would have relished the opportunity to come behind me and guide my hands with theirs, he stayed in his own space and guided me with words and gestures. It was a good day.
Phase one of our Peace Corps training ended and I went to my real village for the first time to stay there for 6 weeks. Then, we all came back to the training village for the two-week long Phase 2 training. When our families would come to bring us lunch at the training house, I always noticed Nice Cousin there. We never talked very much because of the whole no-such-thing-as-a-platonic friend thing but we enjoyed looking at each other. One day, one of my other Peace Corps friends had a party at his house and invited me. Nice Cousin was there and everyone was drinking. It was a good time and all the drunk dudes made fools of themselves trying to impress me because I was the only girl there. Night came and it was time for me to walk home. Nice Cousin was nominated to walk me home. It was raining and we shared the umbrella and sometime on the walk home, he started to hold my hand. I liked it but told him not to because people would see and the entire village would be talking about the rest of the time I was in the village. He agreed.
Another day that week, a small group of my host sisters and girls that lived around me decided to walk to the next village over to get ice-cream. I went with them. Nice Cousin was on the walk too. We got our ice-cream and started home. The other girls ended up staying behind and Nice Cousin and I walked home together through the jungle. It was a nice walk and we talked a little. However, my Samoan was very limited at the time and there wasn’t all that much to talk about except for the obvious chemistry between us. So on the walk home, when we were out of sight of any houses, we stopped and he kissed me. Then we kept walking. Of course, we passed by a giant group of rugby boys doing their running who all assumed that since we were walking together alone, we were a “thing.” They applauded, cheered, made jokes, and thought it was hilarious, because of course, there was a kind of race to see who in the village could get a Peace Corps girlfriend. It was awkward and embarrassing, but in a somewhat good-natured and funny way. We didn’t really get to spend any time alone and get to know each other though because we were soon back in the village.
The last Wednesday before my group left for the final time, we both sneaked away from our families and went for a walk together through the jungle. It was sweet and even though we were both awkward and nervous, we had a really nice time and got to know each other a little better. We had one more get-together before I left when a few other volunteers walked down the river to the waterfall. Nice Cousin, or as I had learned by now, Faaui, came too. We walked together, had fun swimming together, and enjoyed the afternoon. The next day, my group departed the training village for the final time. We all went to Apia and some of us stayed for the weekend. I invited Faaui to come as well. He did. We went dancing and drinking at night and swimming in the hotel pool in the day. Although I really enjoyed his company, I knew that I would be heading back to my village on the other island on Sunday and would probably never see him again. We had a little fling and it was over.
I went back to my village and went to my first day of school. It was great and hot and I sweat a lot. As I was walking home, I received a call from an unknown number. I answered and heard a Samoan woman. It was the pastor’s wife from the training village. She was calling to say that she and the pastor and Faaui were all in the car together on my island and that they were going to come to my house. They’ll be here in 30 minutes! I was horrified. On what possible business would the three of them be coming to my house together? They soon arrived and came in. Faaui had a big silly smile on his face the whole time. The pastor said that they were here for a funeral and Faaui had come to assist them on their trip. They told me that Faaui had told them about “us” and that they were soooo happy. They said that they always liked me and knew I was one of the “good ones” and that Faaui is a good person and that anytime we want to get married, we can just “pop on over” and they’ll do it for us.
I can’t even begin to explain what I was thinking at that time. I was in total shock. What I had thought was a fun little fling had now turned into marriage. This man that I thought I would never see again was here in my house, with his big smile and the pastor from his village talking about getting married. I had no words. Eventually, they said that they would leave Faaui here and pick him up at night so that we can spend some time together. When they left, I had no idea what to say to him. Why did you do that? Why would you come here to my house like this? Why on earth would you bring the PASTOR? Why do you need to make my life so difficult? For God’s sake, WHY???
Here, the story gets a little hazy in my memory. I’m not entirely sure how, but somehow, he ended up dissolving my shock and anger and turned it into affection. For the next few days, the pastor and his wife set up little dates for the two of us, which was weird. They would pick me up from school and take me to their hotel where Faaui and I would spend some time together on the beach or in the hammocks on their porch. We got to know each other a lot better and had a fun time, in spite of the weirdness of being set up by the pastor. And by the time we left, we were more or less in a relationship.
When he went home, we called one another (even though he didn’t have a phone and had to borrow his mom’s or his brother’s).
From there, we met up every so often in Apia and otherwise just talked on the phone. He helped me with my Samoan and I helped him with his English. It was really nice to have someone to talk to every day. He was surprisingly understanding of all of my opinions, problems, and amusements, even though he seemed to come from a totally different world than me. We talked about our pasts, our childhoods, our previous relationships (or lack thereof), our aspirations, and our day-to-day lives.
At some point in the first year, I invited him over to my house. This was a tricky thing to do and I was a little nervous about it. I was pretty sure that my village wouldn’t be thrilled about the idea of me inviting some guy to my house. But I did. He came over for a weekend and just stayed inside my curtained house the whole time. It was thrilling and felt very taboo. We did this a few more times during the remainder of the year although neither of us liked the idea of keeping this secret from my village. However, it was just too expensive to stay in a hotel every time we wanted to see each other and distracting to my work to leave the village over frequently.
During my first year, I knew that during the end of the year break in December, I wanted to travel to New Zealand for a few weeks. I was planning to meet my good friend from college there and travel around with her. However, there would be a few days before she came and a few days after she left when I would be on my own. I came to the decision that what I really wanted was to take Faaui with me. I had apparently done a very good job saving that year because I had enough money to pay his fare and his tourist visa, which I helped him apply for. It was his first time traveling out of the country, unless you include the couple of times he went to American Samoa, which is so similar to Samoa that it doesn’t really count. It was his first time on a plane, his first time seeing a big city, seeing skyscrapers, going on an escalator, eating a steak, eating Mexican food, going to the movie theater, going to an arcade, seeing an art museum, eating a Subway sandwich. So many new things. We had a blast exploring the city for the first five days I was there. We spent Christmas together, walked down different streets in Aukland every day, cooked our own steaks together in the hostel kitchen, and enjoyed our building’s rooftop bar. When my friend from the states arrived, Faaui went to visit his cousins for a while. He traveled to Wellington and back visiting different family while my friend and I explored the country together. We met up at the end of the trip when my friend went home and came back to Samoa together.
When we returned, I decided to tell my village about him. It had been a year and things were going really well. I really wanted my village to know about it and approve and maybe give him permission to visit me every so often. I was really nervous, but I told my pastor, who is also the president of the school committee. He is a mix between village leader, boss, and host father to me. He and his wife were very gracious about it. They were supportive, encouraging, and even gave permission for him to visit me at my house, saying that I’m free in their village and it’s up to me who I invite to my house. I also told my principal and the mayor of the village. All parties approved and told me that I’m free to invite him as I please. I was so moved to have the support of the village leaders. Faaui started visiting more openly and when people asked, I told them about him. It was official! No longer a secret! Of course, some of the women in my village still love to make very cheeky jokes about me and about him and about the two of us. I also get some seemingly rude comments about how he’s bad because he’s Samoan and I should date another white person and that I’m pretty and he’s ugly (which they somehow believe even without ever seeing him…) and that I should have a boyfriend from my own village instead of from the other island. But these comments are rare and never in bad spirits. People here, although I sometimes underestimate them, know that I am free to make whatever choices are right for me and encourage me to be happy. I am very grateful for my village. It also feels really great to be able to be totally honest with them and share this part of my life with them. Some people get very excited about it and look at me a little differently, knowing that I am able to appreciate Samoan people in the way that they do, as “us” and not “them.”
Nowadays, I talk to him every day. He visits me in my village every so often, when it’s not a distraction from community life or school. We take little vacations together. Even though I tried to keep it casual and not fall in love with him, I have. I used to promise myself that at the end of the two years, I would leave and it would be over. I even told Faaui this in case it bothered him enough that he wanted to break things off immediately. I wanted to keep my life simple. Having a long distance relationship across the Pacific Ocean would just be the worst. But now, things have changed. In the same way that he changed my mind about him when he came with the pastor to my house, he has changed my mind about the future.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but I know that he is my best friend. I know that we work every day to communicate as best as we can, overcome the cultural differences between us, and show our love to one another. He brings out the best version of myself. When we’re together, we are better than who we are when we’re apart. Each moment has meaning and purpose and seems to fit into a larger picture of our whole lives together. He makes me the person I want to be and have always wanted to be. He challenges me to rise to the extremely high bar of his excellent character. I challenge him to learn more about himself, improve himself and aspire to dreams that never seemed possible to him before. Life together is so natural and fulfilling.
I look back on my thoughts when I first arrived about not wanting any romantic entanglements. I know now that sometimes, it’s just not up to you. I am so grateful that I had a mind open enough to see him and am so grateful that he ended up in my life. In retrospect, it was and is the perfect thing.
I would not have made it through these past two years without him, and I would certainly not have made it with as much joy, dignity, and sanity as he has graced me with. People often ask me what I’m going to do once my two years of service is up. That part of my future is not yet in focus yet, but the one thing I do see in my future all the way up to the horizon line is the presence of Faaui by my side.