Aganoa Beach, Saaga Tai, Samoa
I spent much of my time at Aganoa Beach in Sa'aga, where my mom grew up as a child.

People ask me all the time what it’s like to live in Samoa. That question is often the precursor to, “What are you doing here in the United States when you can be in Samoa, sitting on a beach enjoying the sun, frolicking on the sand, sipping a fruity drink and having a grand ‘ol time?”

For starters, I don’t frolic. I just wanted to make that clear up front.

Second, Samoa is a beautiful place. The water is crystal clear, the sand is fine, there’s a nice breeze blowing in off the Pacific Ocean to cool you down and the beaches are…EMPTY. Most of the time. At least, you don’t often see locals at the beach because they are working to improve their homes, plant subsistence crops or in an office complex where jobs are scarce and money is tight. The beach is a luxury that even the locals can’t afford.

If I could, I would. There are very few places on earth where time seems to stand still and you are surrounded with lush tropical rain forests and breath-taking scenery. But the fact that locals still rely heavily on overseas remittances and the government is in total disarray, without injections of aid from countries like China, New Zealand, Australia and England, the small island nation would still be in the dark ages.

Jobs are scarce and the wages are mediocre. I don’t know that I would ever live there again (my wife has definitely ruled out a move to the Southern Hemisphere even though she’s never been there), but I would love to take my sons there to get a taste of and an understanding of what life is like in Samoa.

I moved to Samoa with my family when I was 13-years-old. For a time, I despised my parents for making the decision to uproot us from our comfortable lives in Utah and move us to a tiny island in the middle of a vast ocean. Everything was foreign to me and my siblings. The food, the water, schools, transportation and the isolation. Island fever drove me nuts and so did island life! Even the language and the people, their mannerisms and colloquialism were strange, unfamiliar. For all intents and purposes I was a palagi living in a Samoans body. I wasn’t Samoan, I was merely pretending to be one. Every day was a frustrating and discouraging discourse on life.

Thankfully, we were all saved by a great group of friends whom I consider to be an extension of my family. And the locals were, for the most part, very eager to assist us in our education in Samoan language, etiquette and culture. After just a year of being amongst my people, I truly felt like I belonged. I could husk and crack open a coconut with the best of them and cleaning a pig in preparation for the ‘umu became second nature.

I am grateful to my parents now for all that I learned in Samoa. The question again is: Would I live there with what I know now? Maybe in the twilight of my life the Mrs. will break down and allow me that one wish. But in order to live in Samoa or any other foreign country, one has to accept that you are an outsider until you have been given the right to be an insider.

I also owe my love for writing to my life in Samoa. I was a quiet, socially awkward kid which is in stark contrast to who I am today, another thing I owe to Samoa and something I’ll write about another time. Because of my restraint and unassuming disposition, our move to Samoa initially made me withdraw from the world into myself. That is when I found my escape in the written word. Today, I still find that I’m much more comfortable forming a sentence than I am speaking face-to-face.

There are so many things that I owe a debt of gratitude to Samoa and my people. Though I’m sometimes critical of Samoans living here in the U.S. (another topic for the future), I can truly say that Samoa is a part of me that I will never forget nor forsake.

Things I love about Samoa:
As mentioned in the title, this is an incomplete list but they are the first things that come to mind. These things I’m sure will also become subjects for future posts.

  • Simplicity in everything from clothing (lavalava and flip-flops) to meals. Have you ever eaten your food on a banana leaf?
  • Creativity (ever seen a taxi adorned with hundreds of Christmas lights synchronized to music?)
  • Christmas – It is what the holiday is all about. No extravagant gifts or crowded shopping malls. Family, love and Christ
  • Village life is the Samoa you envision in romance novels