I need a fire, a pot and a good story

Gratitude Post #3

Samoa 2017a

The above picture was taken on my most recent trip back to Samoa two months ago. I took the picture to remind me of where I came from and where I still am in my head and in my heart in so many ways. This scenario and many more like it are a constant reminder to me that no matter where I go in the world and no matter what successes I enjoy in life, I must always remember where I come from and the people like my fore-bearers who struggle to scratch together a living every single day.

I’ve written extensively about my experiences in Samoa as a youth and the things that helped shape me as a person. I often reflect on my experiences in Samoa because I recognized immediately, even as a young man, that even though our family didn’t have much, we still lived a relative life of priviledge and comfort. Even though we cooked over an open fire and there were not a lot of comforts and amenities in the villages, I knew that my time in Samoa would be short and that I’d eventually return to the United States where hot water, a soft bed and the knowledge that just about anything you ever need or want is always within reach.

There is a misconception that everyone in Samoa is living in abject poverty; that the people there are unhappy and that they are living under an oppressive regime. That is hardly the truth. A large portion of the population is living comfortably and Samoa is enjoying its best years of prosperity. The people, for the most part are happy and there are very few who are not content with their situation. Of course, everyone longs for a few extra dollars in the bank but that could be said of everyone living in the U.S.A., Australia, the U.K. and other developed nations. But people in Samoa also live humbly, they are the salt of the earth and for the most part they are grateful for what they have and do their best with what little they have.

Samoa 2017b

Niko, kitchen boss, working on some palusami

Which brings me back to the pot and the open fire. My family back in Samoa still cooks over an open fire occasionally because they enjoy the process – it is what they know. They are using natural resources rather than over extending themselves by using up precious, limited cash resources to live luxuriously. Instead, the gas stoves often go untouched and they still use traditional methods to cook their meals. It’s been that way for us for as long as I can remember and I’ve encouraged the younger generations inhabiting our familial lands to do the same. Never abandon traditional methods or practices for the sake of convenience because convenience comes with its own price. And anyone who has eaten food straight from the ‘umu or over an open flame will tell you that it tastes so much better than food cooked on an electric or gas stove.

While in Samoa I learned how to cook taro, breadfruit, green bananas, fish, poultry, beef, pork and traditional Samoan dishes from my cousins, uncles aunts and my own parents using customary techniques passed down from generation to generation. We spent countless hours stoking the coconut husk fires as the day turned into dusk. We shared a number of laughs and daily anecdotes that still resonate today, as our eyes teared up from the smoke and our glee from a story well told as our guffaws filled the cool evening air. I miss the camaraderie of those days and the lessons I learned while sitting in a thatched hut near a hearth, cooking a meal for a loving, patient and grateful family.

Samoa 2017c

Hangin with the boys in the tunoa

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to learn how to cook in a humble hut on a beautiful tropical island. I’m grateful for the humble lessons I learned from humble people. I’m grateful that I learned to love the traditional foods of Samoa. Palusami is my weakness!

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Two scoops and a memory


old ice cream bucketToday I’m grateful for ice cream.

Yes – that smooth, creamy, luxurious, cold and soothing treat that makes a mouth water at its mere utterance. Today ice cream comes in various forms and in a number of different flavors that appeal to every type of palate. You can buy it sugar free and fat free but the only ones that appeal to my particular fancy are the ones that make my taste buds sing. I would say that there is no bad ice cream flavors but I’ve tasted a few awful ones in my time. And still, I love it and not just because it tastes good.

My obsession with ice cream dates back to the days when my parents would bribe us to do work around the house with root beer floats at the local A&W Root Beer joint. It was a luxury back then. Working class kids like us rarely got store bought ice cream so the chance to have a tasty treat like ice cream gave us the motivation to work hard and fast to get the job done so we could be on our way before mom and dad changed their minds. Those moments were hard to come by and that’s what made them memorable.

The ice cream itself was hard work back then because we used to make it ourselves with an old hand crank and a bucket full of ice and a whole bunch of rock salt. Mom would mix up the ingredients in the metal, cylindrical container that was placed into the bucket of ice and rock salt and Dad, my brother and I would take turns cranking it round and round until the contents of the container achieved the familiar creamy texture. The event was limited to warm summer nights and some of our best conversations were had around that bucket.

As we got older, ‘ice cream’ became dad’s code word for, ‘let’s have a talk’. When there was a topic that required a delicate touch, the conversation either started or ended with a bowl of ice cream or an ice cream cone. We knew that there was going to be some serious discussions whenever it involved ice cream. Ice cream was like a salve for tattered emotions and it unfailingly made things better.

When we moved to Samoa the trend continued. My most memorable times with my family often involved ice cream because like our lives back in America, it was a rare treat and it was often eaten in the company of dearest family members and closest friends. Sometimes, it was the precursor to the start of a magnificent and lasting friendship. I still recall riding in the bed of a truck, cruising along Beach Road, zipping around the Apia Clock Tower on our way to Isa’s Ice Cream shop in the heart of town. That memory is imprinted on my mind as a happy time with my entire family.

Today, the tradition continues with my own family. There’s rarely a gathering where ice cream isn’t involved and just like my childhood the moments we share together and the conversations that are sparked over a bowl of ice cream. It is the best medium for open discussions and it has never failed to make me and those around me smile.

I’m grateful for ice cream. And I’m also grateful for the memories that are associated with this delectable treat!

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Gratitude Post – Day 1

Family Circa 1984b

The Matua kids – the modeling days LOL!

It’s been ages since I last posted anything here and yet I’ve experienced a million things worth writing about but just haven’t had the motivation, time or energy to do so. I’m not going to let November escape me though without acknowledging the things that I’m most grateful for in my life. Since we Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this month every year, it is natural for most of us to get a little sentimental and introspective about the things that matter to us most in our lives.

I have so much to be grateful for, that I’m struggling to find a starting point. And really, how can I do this justice except to list the things that immediately come to mind all the way down to the most mundane and minute, until I can no longer think of things to be thankful for? Is it even possible to run out of things to be thankful for and about?

Rather than make a dull, sundry list of nouns and relative superlatives, I’m going to go a step further and annoy you with not just one but several lists – 30 to be exact; for each day in November. And if I’m feeling extra annoying and motivated, I may even extend it through December. You be the thermometer.

Today, I’ll start with something (or people) that are obvious:

When we were kids she occupied the coveted position of ‘favorite child’ in my father’s heart and best friend to our mother. This may not have been the truth but to the rest of us in a very crowded house, she was untouchable. When we lost mom to cancer in 1993, Teuila officially assumed the title of matriarch but she was always like a second mom to us anyway because maternal instincts came naturally to her, even as a child. It annoyed me and my older brother to no end but she played the part and she continues to play it well. Today she is a grandmother to her four little ones, a mother to her adult children and a wife to her sweetheart Ivor but she’ll always be the big sister who gathered us in like a hen and loved us with equal parts iron fist and tender touch. You taught me how to be nurturing. I’m grateful for you sis – you’re the rock!

I was born two years after Eddie so in a lot of ways I was always the back up in the Matua men lineup; the second chair to his first fiddle; the McCartney to his Lennon – you get the picture. Our friendship survived all of the kicks, punches, envying, competitions, tears, scrapes, scraps and heartaches. Eddie was always the nice brother so it’s not a surprise to many that I was the saucy, annoying little brother he often wanted to ditch for time with friends or time alone and away from me. But I’ve never considered him anything but my best friend, my mentor and example. If ever there was a voice of reason and a fairy-god-brother; a guy who listens through the night to your troubles and willingly shares the best while he eats the crumbs or gives you a hug you when you need a swift kick in the pants – Eddie has been my go-to-guy through the years. You taught me kindness. I’m grateful for you bro. Summon your eagle powers!

For many years I was the “middle brother”. Eddie was the star athlete and Darius was the “cute baby brother”. I was the shadow – the cranky, brooding shadow. Darius was happy, content and slightly mischievous. He could get away with it – because he’s cute. Through our early years I did my best to mold him into my evil sidekick but it never stuck. We grew up and we outgrew each other. He became taller, stronger and definitely smarter and much more independent. He became my repair man, my math tutor and the guy who always called my bluff. No one has been more brutally honest with me than my brother Darius, which led to a lot of heated and emotionally charged moments between us. But our disagreements and eventually our mutual respect for one another became the glue that binds us and I’ve sought him out in moments of my own personal turmoil for advice and a belly aching laugh. You taught me to be bold. I’m grateful for you bro. Go ax Tala bring me one tin herring!

She’s the spitting image of our mother – physically and in temperament. She is kind, gracious and generous. Funny, witty and humble. As a child she was always agreeable because the rest of us were too loud and opinionated to give her a voice. She has quietly gone about the business of raising a family and teaching her children about love, God and the importance of hard work. She does it all with a quiet, unassuming grace that is commendable and endearing. She has always, unfailingly loved me and respected me, even in times when I was often blunt, cruel and demanding. Even in her darkest days she has been a champion for the underprivileged and the under served. She has the love and respect of all who know her. I’ve learned so much more from her example and quietude than I’ll ever learn from a thousand sermons. You taught me to be humble. I’m grateful for you sis – you’re one in a million!

After all these years we still get laugh about the day Darius and I threw you in the clothes dryer and your hair came out like a large black cotton ball. I’m still sorry about it but you’re always nonchalant and forgiving. You’re the resilient one. The one that keeps on going. The way that you battle on, charging through adversity with a positive attitude is admirable. I’m also impressed by your ability to love unconditionally. You love to take care of people and your efforts during our father’s lengthy illness is a testament to your kindness, generosity and love. The way that you invite people into your home without any expectation of a reward or compensation is a example to me of selflessness and Christ-like love. I don’t say it often enough but you’re one of my hero’s. You never let the world dictate your life and I’m proud of you and your inner strength. You taught me compassion. I’m grateful for you sis. I love all da orphans!

You left us way too soon. You dealt with your personal demons your entire, short life but it is the moments in the sunshine that we’ll always remember about you. Your energy sapped the energy out of the rest of us but it also gave us a desire to want to be and do whatever was needed to find happiness. Life circumstances robbed you of the light sometimes but you were often a ray of sunshine to the poor and a friend to the friendless. You had a rough exterior but you had a soft, tender heart. I’m sorry that you are gone but I’m grateful for the memories that you left behind. You came into the family at a time when we needed new life and you lived a hundred lives during your short time on earth. I’ll never forget the tough times, but I’ll always cherish the good times and your smile. You taught me to be courageous and to go all out. I’m grateful for you bro. Kisses to the sky!

The youngest sibling is always meant to be spoiled and for a time you were spoiled rotten. But losing your mother at such a young age robbed you of the time you needed with a beautiful, compassionate, nurturing soul. You were a handful for our grieving father but we’re all so grateful that you were a distraction for him in his old age while he struggled to find his balance without mom. I’m sorry that you didn’t get to have more time with both of them in their prime. In many ways you were left alone because of the tremendous age gap. But I’m impressed by the woman that you are becoming with your own children, shaped by life experiences, tragic circumstances and hardships. You’ve taught me that no matter what life throws at you, you need to stand back up, dust yourself off and keep on moving on. You taught me how to persevere. I’m grateful for you sis. Swing for the fences!

I’m so happy to have been blessed with imperfect siblings who try each day to be their best. I’ve learned a million or more things from them and they continue to teach me each day about life and how it should be done. I love you guys!

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