Samoa – Trip to Materava by Phil Rebakis

I’m on the way to work in sunny Apia, Samoa. The buses are inexpensive and irregular. But the drivers are cheerful as are the other passengers. There is no pickup or drop off points. To signal that you want to get off you just tap a coin on the window.

The bus is going down, well I don’t know the street. It may have a name but is not used by anyone I know or sign posted. As for house numbers they are very rare. So, I know the way and when I see the mango tree I know I’m close. No one else seems worried.

As I exited the bus my backpack strap was caught on the ladder rail. A fellow passenger helped me and wished me a good day. I passed a few coins to the driver who took them and deposited them in a small bowl next to him.

As I walked along the street I was looking at an azure sky with the calm blue sea in a wide bay. The few boats languished on the sea as the sun beat down. A short walk to work and everyone wished me Good Morning. Naturally not everyone had such an idyllic start to the day.

There were some who wished they could stay away from the streets of Apia. Some of the streets are downbeat but so is the case in many places. The bright sunshine, pleasant temperature and congenial nature of almost everyone more than compensates.

Naturally not everyone had such an idyllic start to the day.  I met a friend and she was less than enthusiastic about the prospects of the day. I thought how often this happens in Melbourne. The query “Are you busy” is not often heard in Apia as the reply, for most, would be the obvious. There is no obsession with morning coffee or mobile phones. Both are popular but they are not an essential element of life. Smoking is reasonably rare but there are problems.

Travel often brings surprises. Samoa has plenty of these. There are frustrations but sometimes there are outcomes that even the most optimistic person would not conceive. While I was in my early days in Apia I wandered down to the Samoan Yacht Club around 3PM. There was a bar with three Samoan’s chatting. All tree turned out to be staff. I had a casual conversation with the 20’s something guy. He didn’t seem engaged. Anyway around 7PM I decided I would go to restaurant in club. When I entered the Samoan from my previous trip, came up, remembered my name and welcomed me like a best friend.

There was an older expat man sitting in front of bar. He turned out to be the Vice Commodore of the club. He had been in Apia for over 30 years and hailed from Brisbane. We discussed his colourful history. We excused ourselves and dined out at a table overlooking the lights of Apia Bay.

In ensuing weeks, I met many expats who were residing in Samoa. Others had spent a large part of their life outside Samoa but had been drawn back. Other people had Samoan heritage and came back to Samoa to claim their customary land. This term is an interesting feature of Samoa. In many cultures there is the ownership of land passed down through a line. In Samoa it has been codified into their law. A separate court exists and there is a backlog of disputes. The reason most customary land disputes seem to be so important is that their families want to ensure their land ownership isn’t lost in the mists of time. This is a reminder that no matter how easy going and beautiful a place is there is always stress and issues that cause angst for generations.

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