After spending six weeks in Samoa I have come to see the welcoming spirit exhibited by Samoans towards visitors is underpinned by a great sense of national pride.
Samoans, I quickly discovered are excited to see visitors.
Initially I was taken by surprise when people shouted out as I walked down the street.
Some of the voices came from a hundred metres off the road.
Sometimes these calls are a “hey baby”, “wanna kiss?” or “wanna sex?” all of which are ignored.
However, more often than not it’s a nervous or cheery ‘hi’ to which I reply with a bubbly “malo.”
The number of greetings I received on a daily basis from strangers is a testament to this welcoming spirit. Thanks to this I can finish my walk home from work with a smile that exceeds the size of my face.
Launching into conversation with me, it is apparent that Samoans are eager to see if visitors are enjoying their country. Time and time again I’ve have the same chat with friendly locals across Samoa.
The cheeky part inside of me wants to anticipate an entire conversation and supply the answers in advance. It would start something like this;
Hi. I’m from Australia. From Perth. Yes this is my first time in Samoa. Yes I like it, it’s a beautiful country. I agree, it’s very hot.
However, I wouldn’t dare reply like this to someone who greets me with nothing but open arms.
Aside from showcasing the friendly nature of Samoan culture, every conversation also exposes a deep sense of pride. Questions are always posed in regards to how I am enjoying my stay, where I have been and do I want to come back.
To be frank, I would hardly turn around and say I’m hating it.
But there has been no need to skirt around the question because in all honesty, I have loved this country.
Throughout my time, I have constantly been wanting to share this corner of the world with my family and friends back home.
Here are but a few exerts from messages I have sent back to Australia during my time here.
The Edge: “Mt Vaea looms in the background, ever present in the skyline. Clubs, bars and restaurants along the Beach Road are privileged to look back across the marina at both the city and the Mountain.”
Climbing Mt Vaea: “It was 7:30pm when we began the trek up the steep and varied trail, cut by locals purely out of love for Stevenson. Even at that time our puffing bodies were drenched with sweat. The word ‘trek’ does not adequately acknowledge the tranquillity this challenging but rewarding trail offers. At the top sat the grave and we could see the ships’ lights in Apia harbour. Dusk rapidly dissolved into night and it was by the light of Maddie’s phone that we guided ourselves down, serenaded by cicadas.”
Lano Beach, Savai’i: “If you can remove yourself from any exterior thoughts and be entirely present, you will feel like you’re in one of the most peaceful places in the world. Empty beach fales line the soft white sand. Warm water laps at the shore and palm trees stretch across the sky. Upon snorkelling, however, I was shocked to see that much of the coral is dead or bleached bar scatted fractions which displayed glorious purple tips. Surprisingly, it still hosts a bunch of small fish.”
Ferry and Bus back from Savai’i: “It was chaos when the ferry pulled in to Upolu. As the fume-filled bottom of the boat opened up to let the cars off people rushed to squeeze through the narrowest of gaps between them.
Yet the packed ferry was nothing compared to the three buses that awaited it. The first was already pulling away when we got there but we managed to squeeze onto another. I sat on a lady’s lap jammed so close I could feel the hair of the woman in front on my face. I could smell her shampoo.”
To Sua Ocean Trench: “From inside the tranquil salty waters, the walls appeared just as high as they did from the top. At one end of the trench, an overhang was laced with greenery, the edges fringed with vines.”
Lalomanu beach: “I swam out in the welcoming warm water. Below me the coral lay in a graveyard of bones, slaughtered by the tsunami. There was a surprising variety of fish, many of which had featured in the Memory Fish game of my childhood.”
Piula Cave Pools: “Large, plain fish sat unperturbed below the water. Eating into the hill, the pool extended into a cave. The further you swam back the darker it became until you could no longer see what, if anything was just in front of you.
Some local girls came to the back of the cave and began diving underwater. They explained there was a tunnel to another cave. If you knew where to look, from underwater it was possible to see the light on the other side. Lengthwise the tunnel was short, only three metres. It was wide, but not very tall making frog-kick the best option. Popping my head up on the other side, the local girls were shocked. “You’re here. You made it.”
Namua Island: “Leisurely picking my way around the side of the island in the shallow water, occasionally submerging myself to swim, I was called on by nature. The ocean facing side of the island was pure beauty. An overhanging rocky side stretched up in the air not dissimilar to Wave Rock in Western Australia. The fresh ocean breeze unapologetically tore troubles away and collected my songs from the air. In this moment, it was only myself and nature, and I felt truly free.”
Not only have people been interested in where I love in Samoa, they have on numerous occasions extended offers to show me places in their country.
These offers are laced with pride of the beautiful place that Samoans call home.
It is this hospitality and kindness that has followed me throughout my entire stay and made me wish my six weeks had been six months. Samoa, though, is not a vacuum, and working as a journalist has ensured that my yes have been opened to some pressing and divisive issues.
However, it can’t be denied that Samoa is a beautiful place. It possesses that most exceptional characteristic – the hospitable manner in which visitors are welcomed by proud locals.
If I was Samoan, I too would be proud of this magnificent country. As a visitor, when I return home, it won’t just be the natural beauty that I will speak of, but the beauty of the people.
Yes I will miss the waterfalls, the island music and the kekesainas, but most of all, I will miss the people.
*Samathan Goerling is a volunteer with Projects Abroad. She has been with the Samoa Observer for the past six weeks.