The Waiting Game: Samoa Style
Date: 26th May 2005
Subject: The Waiting Game: Samoa Style
Place: Apia, Upolu, Independent Samoa
Time Slows Down
There’s something about this place that makes time slow down; in fact on Sunday afternoons I’m pretty sure it stops. Everything else does. For time fixated westerners, used to cramming every day with activity, each beautiful day here brings another lesson in passing time and waiting patiently. It’s too hot here to be in a hurry. Besides, in the Fa’a Samoa (Samoan way) anything worth doing is worth waiting for. Now that takes a little getting used to, especially with two testosterone powered, impatient toddlers.
The Samoans make passing time look effortless. While waiting for something to happen on Manono Island I watched two young kitchen boys passing the time between meals, sitting side by side on two upturned buckets, looking out at the lagoon. They stared out to sea for two hours, in a silent vigil; a display of comfortable camaraderie in which nothing needed to be said. And nothing was.
Traditional ways of living
The traditional Samoan way of life is widely practiced in Manono, as it is throughout Samoa. Many villagers live a subsistence existence, making their own falé with local timber and pandanus thatch, growing their own food in the rich volcanic soils, and keeping a few pigs and chicken for Sunday lunch. Living simply there is little need for money or a job. And that leaves plenty of time to pass, sitting in the shade of your falé, weaving, playing chequers or just sitting and waiting for the rain to stop or the cool of the evening to arrive.
Why not sleep instead of wait?
Or sleeping. At any time of the day it’s not uncommon to see people lying in their falé resting or sleeping. Samoan men are said to be famous for their ability to sleep, for up to thirty hours at a time, anywhere. We first stepped over them on the ferry across to Savai’i; bodies stretched out on the floor, bellies spread across the deck, heavy heads on old holdalls. It looked like no amount of contortion or discomfort would stop these guys sleeping. Apparently the Samoan coastguards can tell a story or two about fishermen reported lost at sea, later found sleeping peacefully in their boats, drifting towards Tonga.
Waiting for the rain to stop
“When is the airplane leaving Dada?” asked Matthew as we sat at Savaii’s tiny airstrip waiting for a flight back to Apia.
“When the rain stops”.
“But we’ve been waiting for ages.”
“I know, it’s been hours hasn’t it.”
“Well, when will the rain stop?”
“When it’s ready Matt.”
“But what time is that Dada?”
“When the last drop has fallen.”
The rain continued to lash down in endless torrents.
“But what shall we do?”
“How about counting raindrops?”
“I don’t want to do that.”
Waiting for the music
“Where is the music Daddy?” asked Cameron while waiting for a well publicised festival to begin.
“The performers will be here soon.”
“Why will they be here soon?”
“Well this is where the festival is going to be.”
“Why is no-one here?”
“Because they’re still on their way.”
“Why are they on their way?”
“Well it’s the only way to get somewhere.”
“Oh………….. Can we go somewhere then? Please.”
Perhaps we are addicted to activity
But there’s more to passing time than being able to cope with waiting. The highly skilled have a capacity to do nothing without experiencing boredom. It’s a marvel to watch people here let time pass so contentedly. To Samoans boredom seems like a strange western affliction, a withdrawal symptom of activity addiction.
I never imagined it would be a problem for us here. How could it be on sandy white beaches, with a warm azure sea, the sun beating down, fish dancing at your feet, amidst smiling beautiful people and shady coconut palms? Yet after several days in any one spot, both Kirstie and I notice a restlessness develop in our empty minds and indolent bodies, a growing urge to move on, change the scene, do something, anything to inject a little new stimulus into our experience. After six months of cycle touring, resting up and chilling out is proving harder than we thought. Perhaps we’re not ready to give up our activity addiction yet.