The conditions are not ideal. With the scorching heat, the humidity reaching ridiculous levels, you see men and women toiling hard on the streets of Samoa to make money.
They range from sellers of fa’alifu, fagu sea, fans, fa’apapa, brooms and all sorts of home made goods. You have to admire their work ethic. Some of them walk from village to village with baskets of green coconuts and cooked yams to make a sale. Some sell breadfruit when they are in season.
It’s heartening to say the least. It’s not something pretty to watch but it’s great to know there are people who are not sitting around and whining about the cost of living when they are not prepared to work.
We all know the challenges and the limitations in Samoa when it comes to money. But we also know that people who are prepared to work are blessed. Now whatever that is, whether it’s a umu to sell or hawking firewood to the market, bless their souls.
It reminds me about an experience I had a while back. During one hot afternoon, I got a knock on the car window from a stranger.
“Young man,” she said in a very soft voice, “would you like to buy some banana bread (fa’apapa fa’i) please?” She told me she had been walking all over Apia, hawking two green baskets. The other basket had fa’alifu fa’ i (banana cooked with coconut cream). With sweat dripping down her burnt, wrinkled forehead; she said she was desperate to get rid of the stuff, as the bus to her village was about to leave.
“I’ve only made ten tala as it has been a very tough day,” she said. “I was sitting under a tree trying to sell them but realising that the bus is leaving soon, I thought it would be best to walk around and ask people (if they were interested).”
The woman’s name was Molo. She is a mother of six; with two of them having married and gone on. But she is still staying with the other four, putting them through school.
“We have no money and selling this stuff is all we depend on for a living,” she said.
It wasn’t much. At $1 a fa’apapa, she had 16. For the fa’alifu fa’i, she had five bundles selling at $5 each. Now, as she was telling me her story, I had a bit of a dilemma. First, I’m not interested in banana bread. Second, my family has an abundance of banana at home so I don’t need to buy green bananas.
And that’s not all. Like many people, I’ve become very skeptical about buying food off the streets for obvious reasons.
But I was torn. I couldn’t say no to Molo. I’m sure many of us who have been approached by people like Molo in town – or anywhere else – understand that feeling.
You see, here was an elderly mother who could’ve chosen to allow her children to starve while she just sits around and do nothing. On that day, she also had other options.
One of them is that she could’ve just sat under that tree – wherever it was – until it was time to get on the bus. The other option was that since she had $10, that would have been enough to cover her pasese (bus fare) to the village.
But she didn’t take any of those options. She was so determined – or desperate – to find money to look after her family that she did not hesitate to pick up the stuff, brave the elements – including the mad drivers in Apia – just to make a lousy $40.
In my eyes, that is courage. That is a mother’s love. And it was why I chose to help Molo by letting her get on that bus and giving her a little more so she could buy a mea lelei (meat) for her family that night.
It felt good seeing her walk away as if a massive burden had just been released from her shoulders. Mind you, that’s what happened literally since I drove off with the baskets and the amo (long stick used to carry two loads at once).
Why am I retelling you this story?
Well, it’s an experience some – or many – of us might have already had, especially with the growing number of people like Molo who are selling everything and anything in Apia – and in most places where there is a crowd.
Yes they are annoying and sometimes you’d wish they didn’t bother you when “we have better things to do.” But it’s wise sometimes to stop for a minute, flip the coin and put ourselves in their shoes.
Think for a minute. What are the options for them, especially when they don’t have any hope whatsoever of securing a regular job?
Molo could have just sat back and cursed her poor fortune. She could’ve chosen to allow her kids to grow up with a life of envy and want. She could’ve just given up on life.
She didn’t and she will not. She is determined to continue to fight, despite the hardships and the struggles. There are many grandmothers, mothers, sisters and young girls like Molo out there today. And it’s not just women.
There are grandfathers, brothers, boys who do the same thing for themselves and their families. They are the ones hawking baskets of niu (coconuts) and other food choices at all sorts of hours just to make ends meet.
We know life is not fair. We accept that corruption at the highest level is hurting the poor and that sometimes it feels like we should just all give up since we simply cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But many of us refuse to. And for that we want to say thank you.
To the mothers, women, fathers and boys who are braving the hot sun and pouring rain to feed your children and families, well done.
To the men and women who have had to endure the unfairness in the office, the factory and at work for the sake of helping their families and loved ones, malo lava.
You see; nothing beautiful is ever easy in this life, just as we can never enjoy the daytime if we didn’t have the night. And someone once said that it’s always better to be someone who tried and failed as opposed to someone who was too weak to even try in the first place.
Have a beautiful Tuesday to all those hard working souls in Samoa!