Today is a day of anniversaries. On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order creating the Peace Corps, which forever changed the course of foreign service, and of my life. Today also marks the five month mark of when I departed America for this adventure.
Home is becoming an extremely subjective term that changes daily. When I meet someone new, they inevitably ask where I’m from and honestly, the easiest answer is Texas, which is the last place I lived and is somewhere Samoans have at least heard of (Cowboy is “kaupoe” in Samoan; pronounced practically the same way as in English). Texas is where my mom lives and since *home is where your mom is,* by association, it is my home. Texas, Florida, Egypt, North Carolina. They’ve all been home for a time. A fleeting moment in the overall grandness of life and are all places where I felt comfortable and safe. Home is where the love is.
Another thing leading to this identity crisis is that I feel as though America doesn’t exist when I’m here. I’m living fully immersed in the culture and community and I find that not many people here are consumed with matters that occur outside their county, so I don’t either. I’m eager to explore and learn about my new country of residence– past and present– and get to know my fellow Samoans. My family admits that I’m becoming more of a “teine Sāmoa” (Samoan girl) each day and I take pride in that. This has become home to me. I feel safe and comfortable here. I find refuge in knowing that I’m being accepted for my eagerness to learn about the culture and exchange information about the distant (and sometimes ominous) “America” that Samoans only see on TVs and in movies. I’ve been able to share about my family’s Syrian and Egyptian culture, heritage and my travels there. This makes it mean so much more than just country names they read about in their Bibles and shows them that the world REALLY does exist outside of Samoa’s borders.
But then when news breaks about yet another mass shooting at a school in the United States, just like when you’re awaken with a sudden jolt in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, I’m startled awake from my seemingly naïve island bliss. I find myself trying to explain the Second Amendment and gun laws to a community whose use sole for guns is mostly to kill livestock, which is still a very seldom occurrence. How do I explain weak gun laws, malice, hatred, and even mental illness without over-simplifying the concept and the situation? I’m still at a loss for words. (My thoughts and prayers are with those impacted and major props to those taking action and making change.) But I try not to focus on the negative and instead try to share bright and hopeful dynamics of the people making change in America. When people are able to relate to one another is how they can empathize and that is how bridges, not walls, are built.
Contrastingly, will Samoa exist to me when I’m back in America? Or will the distance numb me and will I grow complacent? These thoughts run through my head and while I cannot say anything for certain, I reassure myself that I will become enough of a “teine Samoa” so that I’m able to come back and share the beauty of Samoa to America. This is the concept behind Peace Corps’ Third Goal and I will honor my commitment to service (on both sides) to the best of my abilities. The first step towards peace is a cultural exchange of knowledge and you betcha that I’ll do all that’s in my power to cultivate the discourse.
All the places that I’ve called home have left their marks on my mind, in my heart and across my life. Samoa is no different. It’ll always be home no matter how far I am. Home is where the ALOFA (love) is.
Five months ago, on one of the first days in Samoa, we participated in a parade for teachers.
Manuia Lou Aso Fanau (Happy Birthday), Peace Corps! Thank you for putting Peace first.
We survived Cyclone Gita in early February! We were so fortunate that the storm didn’t harm us too badly. Can’t say much for this Fale O’o (Samoan House).
My sisters (and little nephew) are so wonderful! Big smiles all around when we’re together.
Walking along the canopy walk deep in the forest.
Currently Reading: “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren
This may be one of THE best books I’ve read recently (click here to see all the books I’ve read so far in service). This is Jahren’s memoir and similar to the trees she studies, her scientific roots run well below the surface. She so graciously shares insight into her deep levels of intelligence in the subtle connections and analogies between life and science. Her writing style is poetic prose and I’ve found myself tearing up frequently. I highly recommend it!