When the flea market in Apia burned down in mid-January this year, more than a few people also had to witness how their livelihood went up in smoke.
With support of the Samoa Land Corporation, a new, but only temporary market was built.
Back then, each vendor was provided with $1,000 as a compensation amount by the government.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa told the vendors that close to five million tala has been expended by the government for the vendors through the cash payments and the cost of erecting the temporary market.
This was almost seven months ago. Since then, not much has happened to the newly opened market. The installation of a gigantic tent at the place does not really keep the rain out, but definitely keeps the heat in.
Sales pitches take place in the almost dark and certainly sticky atmosphere, where Samoa’s tourists barely can distinguish the traditionally manufactured handcrafts from each other.
A situation that especially bothers some of those, who have to resign themselves to it – the vendors.
“The whole place is very tight. There’s one block of stalls, but it is shared by many different vendors,” says Fieta Tuala. The woman from Vaimoso also shares her stall with a colleague at the flea market.
The place is narrow, winding alleys are what affects the business in a negative way, with a decreasing number of customers as a result.
“The customers are forced to look at one stall only for a few seconds until they move on to the next one. It is just too tight to sell our handcrafts to the people,” Tuala explains.
She also complained about the amount of money Samoa Land Corporation gave away after the flea market was reopened. “They gave us a thousand Tala to cover all the damage, but that’s not enough.
"The goods that were burnt were worth three or four thousand.”
What was initially described as a temporary solution for the traditional market in Apia, has now become a daily routine for the vendors.
But this daily routine with all its new problems is one that Fieta Tuala cannot accept.
“They should rebuild the place in the way it was before [the fire].
"It is too hot and dark in here and without the right amount of space, we cannot properly talk to our customers. Also, the rain comes in easily because the tent is leaking right above our stall.”
As for the market’s future, Fieta Tuala feels slightly at the government’s mercy concerning the current situation. “We just come and try to sell our things here and we can only listen to what the government tells us”.
With this opinion, she is not alone at the flea market. Nimarofa Saufoi from Fagalii Uta is another one of those vendors who faced up to the fact that his workplace might never be equal again to where he used to work.
“I lost everything in the fire. I do not know when the government is going to rebuild the old market, but at least, we have a place to sell our stuff, which is okay to me.
It was a good support from the government to give everyone thousand Tala to restart the business but […] now the market should be rebuilt and put in the right place where we have enough space to also store our stuff”.
But there are also vendors at the temporary flea market which are satisfied with the current situation. Nervin Laauli from the village of Vaiusu is one of them.
The young man describes the market nowadays as “the better place” to run his business. “There were different shop vendors at the old market, but at the moment, I have more customers then I had before, so there’s nothing to complain about for me. I also have no problem with the heat. The other market was hot as well”.
For a successful business, the situation does indeed depend on more than the location. In the end, the customers are what makes the difference. In these terms, the flea market’s visitors agree that the place, although it has its problem areas, still is worth a visit when discovering Samoa.
“It is a bit dark and hot inside, but the people are what makes it pleasant”, said Jason Bryce from Australia, who is currently visiting Samoa as a participant of this week’s Pacific Open Water Challenge.