Post 85—Tofa mai feleni

There is a very nice custom here in Samoa; it is perfectly proper for a host to tell a guest to go home. The translation is something like, “The mat is cooked,” meaning you have been sitting around so long that the seat is warm and it is time to leave. It works great on departing drunks.



Of course it was raining.

Chrissie sat in the airport terminal watching the foggy drizzle. It had been raining when they got to Samoa and it was raining as they left. Just as well, she thought. A gorgeous tropical morning in paradise would have made it so much worse.

She pulled her dress away from her sticky back and readjusted the shell ula around her neck. She’d been given so many of these lately that her suitcase was probably over the weight limit. She thought they were beautiful but you could only wear them for so long before the back of your neck started to feel like sandpaper. She contemplated giving hers to her mother but Jean was looking a little wilted. The combination of non-stop tears and the humidity level had drained her of fluids. Her mother had always been the one most affected by the dampness, to the point where sometimes you had to avoid her; Chrissie was pretty sure she would never have this problem. (Author’s note: She was wrong.)

The next few days were going to be very long. Samoa to Hawaii to California to Detroit was about 7000 miles. By her calculations, she had flown close to 30,000 miles in the past four years. It was too bad Pan Am didn’t give you some kind of present for the amount of miles you flew on their planes. She should suggest that to someone.

She patted her pocket to make sure all of her good luck tokens were in place. She wasn’t really nervous about the flight but it was always a good idea to have a little help. Something kept digging into her leg and she realized it was the broken shell. It didn’t look like much but this was the first shell she had buried in the sand to allow the ants to eat the animal inside, a thrilling demonstration of how the food chain worked. It was her favorite memory of her friend Liz, who had left a few months ago.

The second object was about the size of a marble and, if she were being honest with herself, looked like a small piece of poop. It was a see-mui seed (see-moy), a delicacy she and her sisters were wild about. It was not really a seed but a dried plum that tasted as if it had been brined, injected with saline and then rolled and coated in salt. The brown, wrinkled pod was so salty that you could not put the whole thing in your mouth; you had to tear bits of it off with your teeth and suck on those until your pH Balance was roughly the same as the ocean. She figured the one in her pocket would get her all the way to Michigan, and she had a small stash of them in her suitcase as well. She hoped there wouldn’t be a problem with the Department of Agriculture about that.

She was a little embarrassed about the last thing but had not been able to stop herself when she found it under Karen’s bed during packing. It had obviously been dropped and forgotten by her little sister because it had no ink moustache or pink hair chopped off in an attempt at styling. It was a troll doll, one of the original ones that had made the maiden flight to the island clutched in her sweaty hand, four long years ago. She had handed the whole clan of them over to Karen when she felt it was time to give up childish things, but right now she wasn’t feeling very grown-up. She would be a teenager in six weeks and it felt as if she were leaving her childhood on this rock.

She wondered what her family might have been like had they not left Detroit, because it was clear that some type of sea change had occurred on this island. The remarkable freedom that she and her sisters had enjoyed here as children would never have happened back home. It had led to an ability to problem-solve that was highly developed—what to do if your top came off in a water ballet, say, or if your paopao sank. Life-skills that would certainly do them well wherever they ended up. But it had been more dramatic than just that.

They had starred as the main characters in their own adventure story, one filled with a monster tree and an imaginary tidal wave, roaches the size of cats, a terrifying hurricane, and parties that rivaled those of Jay Gatsby. The fact that she actually knew who Jay Gatsby was was a testament to all the hours she had spent devouring books, because television here was mostly her father teaching people how to go to the bathroom and Bonanza reruns. She wasn’t completely clear on what Larry had been doing at the TV studio, but she knew it was important and that he was very proud of it. Her parent’s story had contained separate, exciting chapters that were lived simultaneously with their children’s, and that had made her realize what unique individuals they were. That would change, she assumed – she was almost thirteen – but for now it was pretty cool.

The magical setting of the story had been this glorious island, and the biggest surprise was that such a small geographic area could hold people with such huge hearts. It had been scary to be dropped into a culture so foreign from what they had known, but they had been welcomed and embraced by the Samoan people with such warmth that she would always think of them as aiga. She knew that she would remember this place with longing every time she was forced to put on a pair of shoes.

This story would make a great musical, she thought as the engines began to rev. Too bad that Michener book had already taken the title “South Pacific”.

The plane gathered speed as it thundered down the runway, rising at the very last second to avoid plunging into the ocean. She had never gotten used to that moment when the runway disappeared and suddenly there was nothing but water. She craned her neck to see out the window as the plane banked over the harbor and then headed east toward Hawaii, the troll doll clutched in her hand. The island grew smaller and smaller until, in no time at all, it was gone. It was like it had never existed.

The mat was cooked.

3 Comments to “Post 85—Tofa mai feleni”

  1. I’ve so enjoyed being invited into this part of your life. It’s made me wonder who you would be if your family had stayed. But I’m very glad you came back so that I could get to know you.


  2. Your departure was so reminiscent of mine that you’ve made me blubber all over again. I hope you’re happy with yourself.

    Wonderful series, Chrissie. Thank you for crystallizing so many recollections of our time there.


  3. Too bad the title Coming of Age in Samoa was taken! -Joy


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