Sat under a brightly colored fale along the Northern tip of Samoa’s largest island, Savaii, wrapped in a red, seashell covered sarong is the last place I expected to befriend a group of middle-aged theological college students.
The conversation started with my American accent (or lack thereof) and the connection a Hawaiian woman named Rosie could sense. She invited us to join them for a drink. They were a friendly and varied bunch – all of Samoan descent, but coming from Hawaii, Australia, and Samoa.
After cracking open a cold beer for us, the common introductory conversation ensued – “where are you from?”, “Where are you traveling?”, “Wow, how tall are you?” (referring to my 6 ft 7 boyfriend); however, this group of friends’ story was anything but common. Each couple, in their early to mid-40s, was in their second year of study at a Samoan theological college where they were living and studying to become missionaries. They each had several children and lived together on a compound. The women had long, thick, black hair and wore traditional, full length flowery dresses, even while swimming in the ocean. They told us of their traditional Samoan thigh tattoos, which we weren’t allowed to see as the intricate designs were only to be viewed by their husbands. The men wore dark lavalava with button-up, collared shirts and of course, flip flops.
As the sun set over the horizon, the enticing conversation, cigarettes, and cold beers (which they technically shouldn’t have been drinking) continued. Our new friends explained that they had chosen to come to this resort for a short get away because the parents of their class mate owned the land and the business. This was good news for us because that meant that on this particular night, the hosting family was cooking up a massive and delicious feast to welcome their son’s friends. Any friend of their son was a friend of theirs. And in our case, any friend of a friend of their son was a friend of theirs. The dinner table was filled with traditional Samoan delicacies – taro root, bread fruit, wrapped banana leaves soaked in coconut cream and my personal favorite, Oka (the Pacific Island’s version of ceviche).
After we had eaten past the point of comfortability, we moved to a table closer to the shoreline and continued our conversations underneath the crystal clear, night sky, the warm ocean breeze soothing our skin. We talked about family, Samoan folklore and tales, politics, and even medical marijuana. We warned them about the village elder in the next town over that took advantage of tourists by jumping in their car and demanding money for throwing coconut shells into blowholes. They told us how to get to the Paia Lava Tube, where a legendary tribe of dwarves have been the only people to reach the end.
“Just look out for the house on the right that says COC St. on the roof,” Rosie explained to us. “I’m not sure why it says COC St. but keep an eye out for that house." Rosie’s husband chimed in, “Honey, that doesn’t say ‘cock street', it’s meant to say ‘Church of Christ'.” The table erupted in laughter. “Oh Lord help me Jesus. My mistake!"
Meeting and having the opportunity to spend time with this group was one of the most refreshing experiences I have had in a while. They were intriguing, funny, welcoming, and so genuine. They were un-apologetically themselves and yet so open-minded. They were involved and devout to their faith, but also accepting of others and others’ opinions in a non-judgmental way. Their traditional way of living blended perfectly with their modern way of thinking. I’m not sure if my new friends will ever know the positive impact they have had on me, but I will always remember them and appreciate the time we spent together.