Saturday, 30 July 2011

Faasamoa and Faalavelave

We all know that the very words 'faasamoa' and 'faalavelave' are signs to sigh, roll your eyes, hide your handbag, declare bankruptcy or all of the above. There are few certainties in life, but if you're Samoan, the only thing more certain then the fact that you've had to deal with faasamoa and faalavelave, is the fact that you've had a HUGE whinge about it! This is especially true if you belong to my (spoilt and entitled) generation, as opposed to my father's (stoic and suck-it-up) one.

But here's the thing about faasamoa and faalavelave. At the time of greatest grief, when you've lost a loved one, it gives people a way to show respect, love and family solidarity. It helps people come together. It allows you to not be consumed, to do something. All last week I saw how incredibly healing that is.

I have never been more grateful to have been brought up in the faasamoa. It's a blessing to understand what needs to done without being told. To feel helpful. To be able to actually help.

I was brought up in a close and loving aiga- my father's siblings are not only his family but his best friends (in fact my father has always been mystified as to why I insist on having friends outside of the family- so superfluous!) My aunties and uncles have always treated me like their own child, there has never been any differentiation, and my cousins have always felt like brothers and sisters to me. Still, I have never felt so supported and loved by my own aiga than when they came with their si'i to my partner's family- to acknowledge our relationship and (more importantly) my darling son.

We are so often presented with the hardship of faasamoa and faalavelave. It is widely discussed, blogged about, and even submitted on. As a former prosecutor in both Samoa and Australia, I have heard case after case where people have justified fraud and theft because of the burden of expectations of faasamoa and faalavelave. I don't deny (and nobody could) that faalavelave can be difficult. It actually literally means "problem". But that 'problem' has a positive side. And just sometimes (especially in times of hardship and grief) it's really nice to take a minute...and dwell on the positive.

Friday, 29 July 2011

So Crazy in Love

We just got back from the fatherland (there will be at least one blog on that subject shortly). Both me and my love were and are exhausted. Our trip was unexpected and unplanned. My love's dear Grandpa passed away and, as soon as we heard, he went directly from PNG where he had been working for 3 weeks, to Auckland and then to Samoa. I had two days to organise my travel with my darling four month old. Needless to say the house was left in a state of chaos. Even greater chaos then me alone for 3 weeks with a 4 month old could produce (for those of you who don't know me, that is a considerable amount of mess).

But when we walked in the house after virtually no sleep, my love didn't comment on the fact that we were tripping over clothes and clothes hangers. We took our baby and collapsed on our bed. When we (finally) woke up, he went shopping and then barbequed up a storm. He happily tramped around Sydney yesterday as we spent time with my youngest brother. Today my love took me out to brunch, and then when we got home and I was susu-ing Lagi, he managed to unpack our bags and clean EVERYTHING even behind the back of the fridge without me asking (although it is widely known that I am not a domestic goddess and thus the likelihood of me asking or thinking to ask about cleaning anything let alone behind a fridge is zero to none). So today he is officially PERFECT.

It's not the big dramatic expensive gestures. Love isn't a movie. It's the every day thoughtfulness, the every day considerations, it's the every day LOVE. These are the things that show me that I am treasured, adored, loved by the man I love. It's the every day things that have you humming that stupid Beyonce song (the one that you don't even particularly like). So yes I realise this sort of love is sickening to the public at large but I can't help it- I guess I am just 'looking so crazy in love'.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Manuia le malaga

I had met you before I ever met you. I had heard so many stories about you, from the boy you brought up, the man I love. Stories that had laughter and were told lovingly (in the wry way only someone who truly loves you can tell stories about you). Like how you used to tell him you walked every day to Auckland Grammer.... from Papatoetoe. And how he only realised that couldn't possibly be true when he moved to New Zealand! In our house, your tales were recounted, your opinions repeated, your life retold. So though I had never met you, there were some things I knew. You were an author, you wrote fiery letters to the Samoa Observer, you weren't afraid to put in your two sene about the issues that you were passionate about (and there were quite a lot of those issues, as anyone who has read the Observer can attest to), and Samoa was the country of your heart. But the thing I knew about you that was the most important, the thing I loved about you before I ever met you, was that you were a fantastic grandpa, and very dearly loved. I know that the man I love, took so many lessons on being a man, from you. I benefit from those lessons every day. He is such a considerate and loving partner and a wonderful father.

Even before I met you, you welcomed me into your family and into your grandson's life. You just wanted him to be happy. That's how love and family work.

When we finally did meet (and I am oh so glad we did) I liked your dry humour, even when you applied it to my driving (that light was orange!!! I learnt 'dem skills' in Sydney traffic!!!). I loved that you loved to read, and that we had an avid conversation about books, and I wonder if you had a chance to dip into 'Inheritance'. I loved that you had projects and plans, and that your age didn't seemed to have made any real discernible difference. Your stroke was so sudden. But you lived and loved so well, right up to the end.

I am so glad Lagi got to meet his great grandpa. We will read him your book and tell him all about your adventures. We will encourage him to follow in his great grandpa's footsteps by living fully and loving well.

I know you loved writing and reading. So I offer this (poor piece that it may be), to honour you (you who meant so much to the man I love) and your life well lived.

Manuia le malaga Bob

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Memoirs of a (youngish) mother

I have never been clucky. When I was about to hit 30, my biological clock didn't tell me it was time to procreate, it told me it was time to go to Cuba! So I understood the shock (and perhaps even horror) that some friends expressed on finding out I was knocked up. One friend literally fell off her chair. Literally. I'm still not quite sure how it happened, but as I was saying, she was really quite surprised. To say people didn't see me as the maternal type would be an extreme understatement.

But I knew I loved Lagi, pretty much as soon as I was pregnant. 11 weeks in, I had a nuchal translucency test. What can I say, I am an A type personality. I need to know everything that pertains to me, and the pregnancy was pertaining to me like a mother.... When they told me Lagi had a 13% chance of having down syndrome, I broke down. I knew in that moment just how much I already loved him, peanut that he was at that stage. I had been kind of blase' about the whole thing up until then. Maybe it's some kind of unacknowledged superstitiousness- you don't want to feel too happy, just in case. I know 13/100 doesn't seem that bad, but the normal odds for a woman my age was supposed to be 1/233 or something like that, and that made us HIGH RISK. The doctor broke it to me sympathetically (which is why I knew it was VERY bad- as we all know doctors are normally trying to hurry you out within 15 minutes, so they can hustle the next patient in- ka-ching!). After crying and calling my parents, I immediately launched into research mode. Because when you're a lawyer like me, that's what solves everything. Researching and reading (frantically). I comforted myself that the nuchal test, which consists of blood tests and measuring liquid at the back of the neck, probably didn't have many Polynesians in their samples. Sure enough, when I had the amnio (A type personality remember, there was never really a question) it turned out that my little munchkin just had a thick neck. The 23rd chromosome was A ok!

When Lagi was born I felt overwhelmingly possessive. Is that love? It certainly was primal. I wanted the doctors to give me my baby. Immediately! I wasn't even that keen on his father holding him (which was just delaying him being given to me, in my opinion). When they put him in my arms, my overriding thought was 'MINE!' Those hormones are pretty damn powerful. Looking back, I'm not sure how else you survive those first few weeks, let alone maintain your sanity. But at the time (again crazy powerful happy hormones) I was ecstatic despite the exhaustion!

Even during the 'feeding frenzy'. Yes, I know, when I heard that term, the day after Lagi was born, I thought (I'm a diver and have seen a few in my life) 'Surely it won't be that crazy'. That night, Lagi proved just how accurate that term was. It certainly felt like Jaws- 'da dum, da dum, da dum'. Despite his lack of teeth, Lagi managed to cause some serious damage. Now I don't blame my sweetheart. He was HUNGRY. And not just hungry, SAMOAN HUNGRY!!! And my milk (or more accurately his milk) hadn't come in yet. Here's the thing though, despite the lack of sleep, despite the pain that could only be described as excruciating, the thing that was the hardest, the thing that was heartbreaking, was not being able to give my baby what he needed at that moment.

I was only in hospital a few days. My love wasn't allowed to stay over night. At the time I found this very hard, but in hindsight it probably was very good for our relationship that he got to go home and sleep (so he could come back and cater to my every whim the next day). I live in the inner west. It's a popular and populated area. The ward at RPA Hospital was completely full to bursting, and the buzzers for the midwives went off all night long (though I would have slept through a fire alarm if my little gremlin had let me). My hat is off to the midwives at the hospital, who tried their very best, but it was obvious their numbers hadn't boomed along with the population and they were obviously understaffed. Suffice to say I wanted to go home.

When we brought Lagi home, it was in Moana the mini (because that's how unprepared we were/ are). Fortunately at home there was that wonderful thing- FAMILY! I will forever be grateful that my parents came all the way from Japan to welcome Lagi into the world. Because it meant they were also available for assistance that went well beyond adoration.

So that is the very first chapter. It seems strange not to finish a story, but I guess that's the awesome thing about being a mum, there's always something to look forward to, there's always another chapter to write. I may be able to do that, at some point, in between the normal joys of motherhood. Even though I've never ever been clucky.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

You are my sunshine

The other day I met up with a friend and colleague who has a 16 month old. 'So' he asked about my darling child 'Is he sleeping once or twice during the day?'. I was like 'They sleep?!? During the day?!? But that would let you do stuff. Wait just a second, let me get my head around that mind-blowing concept..... Ok once again... They sleep?!?'

My darling child is not so enamoured with the sleeping. Night or day. The ONLY exception to this is when I am lying next to him, and my susu is firmly in his mouth. Then he'll sleep quite happily. Though if I try to be tricky and dislodge myself, first there is nuzzling with a wide open mouth, then the nuzzling gets super insistent (if you have never seen a Samoan baby nuzzle, it sort of resembles some sort of tackle, they really put their shoulder into it), and should the expected susu not be there.... the eyes open and outrage is expressed. LOUDLY!

It is probably (almost certainly) my fault. When my love is home he is like, "E! E ova ma le matagaga o lau pepe, you baby him!'.
'Hmmmm .... yes, because he is a....wait for it.... a baby! Moreover he's my first child, and my parent's first grandchild, my brothers' first nephew and your first-born son. He has been passed from adult to adoring adult ALL of of his life and he is not only accustomed to attention, he assumes the universe revolves around him. And to be honest, my universe certainly does.'

One of the things both the books, and your own helpful mum, will give you advice on is how your partner is likely to feel a little out shined by the baby. Out shined? Just a little? I am crazy-in-love with my partner but still I think 'You are like, a minor star and he is like the sun. And it is day time! All the time! Sometimes it is hard to see you for all the sun's (MY son's) brilliance (and just quietly, you are only allowed in the same galaxy because you may have had some small part in the sun's (my son's) creation (though I can't remember what that part is, so don't be reaching over for me like that! LOL!))'.

So it probably is my fault (although you know God needs to take some of the responsibility here for making my darling son so gorgeous). My son doesn't sleep that much. And we are attached at the hip (or more accurately by the susu). So the house is messy, the washing isn't out, the dishes are in the sink and I never seem to get anything done. It probably is my fault. But he looks at me with those big brown eyes, or flashes me a gummy smile, and you know, I just can't seem to mind.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Samoan Sliding Doors

There are so many people in Samoa you know, but don't really know. We Samoans often moan about all the people who think they know us. You know all those people who like to mind YOUR business. This phenomena seems to strike as soon as you hit puberty (after all that's when things do get interesting) and then continues all the days of our lives. Apparently the lack of a Samoan Soap Opera on television, means people look for it on the streets. I guess as a race, we're just ingenious like that! Not to mention creative! I can't tell you about the number of stories I have heard about myself. Stories which were WAY more interesting than my real life (even though that is in no way boring, let me tell you). And I know I am in no way unique here. Every girl who has grown up in Samoa, must have had at least one very concerned citizen call- 'E suga, her poor parents may not know just what their daughter has been up to!'
But for all that moaning, about all those people, when we are in Samoa, when we Samoans are out of Samoa, we seek our own kind. And sometimes we can be very very pleasantly surprised.
Today I met up with a girl who I knew, but didn't know. We were in the same small school, but not the same class, or the same crowd. When I say 'crowd', in my case that may be slightly over exaggerating. In high school, up until 6th form, I had 3 close friends. Yup just 3. I was exclusive like that. LOL!
Anyway this girl was in the year beneath me and seemed pretty and was part of a popular group. I knew who she was, but didn't really know anything about her beyond the superficial. But in true Samoan style, it ends up that her cousin is the love of my life and the father of my son. So we met up. Yes, the pretty girl from high school is now a beautiful woman (a fact I had already discerned from facebook). But she's so much more. She's funny, insightful and honest. And I thought. About all those other people I know, but don't really know. Who might have been friends, but weren't- because sometimes that's just the way those doors slide. But I'm happy that they slid openjust far enough for me to meet this girl, and for us to become friends.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

My first ever blog

So this is my first foray into blogging (so be kind). Way, way (way, way, way) back when I was a kid growing up in Samoa I used to write. I'll tell you a little secret- although I'm Samoan... I'm not sporty. I know! I'm not particularly good at singing either. You are probably thinking 'well what kind of Samoan are you?!?'. I know! I've reconciled myself to being a freak of nature that way (and it may be that I slightly acknowledge my palagi genes here, but only to blame them for my totally unsamoan lack of singing and sporty talent). But I digress. As I was saying, as a kid I used to write. Maybe it was the aforesaid lack of any other discernible talent, or maybe it was because there was a lack of quality (or in fact any) television, a lack of available books or maybe I just had something to say (everyone who knows me will crack up at this point, as they know I've always had WAY too much to say). In any case I loved to write. And largely (in fact entirely) due to my mum entering me into various competitions, I won a few competitions and got published a few times (yup that's me- published author- ea? e ke maua? LOL). Anyway one of the very cool things that happened as a result of this was that I met Sia Figel a few times. This was after I had seen Sia do a very funny, very entertaining reading from her book "Where we once belonged". So though I'm not much for hero worship, I was making a bit of an exception. So someone, for some reason, decided to fly some poets and writers to Savaii to do some reading of their work. Unbelievably (and this was the height of my so-called and short-lived literary career) I was asked to go. That was the first and only time I've been on the actual plane to Savaii- normally it's Lady Samoa II all the way! On the tiny plane, Sia asked 16-year-old me, 'What do you want to be, what is the next step for you?'. 16-year-old me confidently confided that I would be going to law school. "Ah" said Sia "the death of a writer". I held my tongue. A rare event even then. I thought that was a huge reach. My 16-year-old self dismissed this naysaying (and maybe even thought unkind thoughts about how just because it wasn't achievable for everyone, it certainly wasn't unachievable for brilliant 16-year-old me, who could be a lawyer AND write literary-prize winning novels, AND probably do a number of other awesome things with my awesome self). But Sia was right. I haven't written a hell of a lot since going to law school. And that was a long, long (long, long, long) time ago. So be kind!
I have been lax. No stories have flown from these fingers for too long. But I have been inspired! I was in the Maldives for work. Work that was HARD! Work that was TIME CRITICAL! So in the middle of the night, when I should have been finishing the HARD and TIME CRITICAL work, I procrastinated a little. Maybe the beautiful islands (which I was not getting to enjoy because of the HARD and TIME CRITICAL work) made me a bit homesick. I googled Samoa. And I found some fantastic blogs about Samoa and by Samoans. I was hooked. Since then blogs like Sleepless in Samoa, Faikakala and Under the Coconut Tree have kept me company at crazy hours of the morning.
And why am I up at crazy hours of the morning, you might ask. Well, I have been pretty privileged to have a little man enter my life recently. And that is the story of why, even though I have a four-month old son who loves constant attention, I've decided (rather crazily) it's time to get back to writing. And this is why you are now being inflicted with my first ever blog! Enjoy!