Well, I’ve made it.
The program has officially ended, and pretty soon I’ll be getting to say fa soifua to Samoa. Our papers were turned in and presented, we said goodbye to our families in Lotofaga, and I’ve embarked on a quest for gifts. As I find ways to pack my life back into 23 kilograms of checked baggage, I reflect on the three months that have passed. I start by asking myself how I got here.
The night before I left for Hawai’i for orientation, I was busy rolling my clothes into little cylinders and haphazardly throwing them into my bag. I didn’t even have any expectations for the program, so it didn’t even feel like I was leaving for any reason. Once I had left Hawai’i for Apia, I didn’t realize how far away from home until the program was halfway over. I was so caught up in everything that was happening. I was so busy learning the fundamentals of a new language, doing work and making friends that I forgot what it was like to feel alone. One way to remember again is to lie in bed late at night, watching the geckos traverse the ceilings like ghosts, and realize that you are over 7,000 miles away from home.
I would remedy this feeling. I saw people constantly. There were always people coming in and out of my room, and I went in and out of others’ rooms. Save for some hours of work (thank God for headphones), I focused on cultivating relationships. I did this out of a genuine interest in my own cohort, but also in the Pacific island students we lived with. I knew that I was very lucky to be there, to have met the people I met, and that I should make every second with them count. One by one, they left for Fiji, for Tuvalu, for homes throughout Samoa. After that, our cohort bonded in ways I could never have imagined. We ran around town, toughed out a cyclone and shared frustration at the rain soaking our drying clothes. We’re still counting down the days until we leave and agonizing over how we’re going to keep in contact.
But as the sun sets on my time here, I realize that I must reconcile the parts of myself that Samoa brought out with the self I was when I scrambled onto that first Fiji Airways flight. I had to learn how to be with myself, and only myself, again. After we said goodbye to our families in the village, we went to a tourist attraction called To Sua Ocean Trench. It’s essentially a big hole in the ground that has water in it. This water ebbs and flows with the swells that batter the cliffs on the other side of the trench. I went into the hole once, scaling the ladder and nearly scaring myself to death, (I just so happen to be deathly afraid of heights) and, having gone once, I feel less enthusiastic about going down again.
To kill time, I walked around the Trench’s gardens until I found a set of equally vertiginous stairs that led to a rocky platform by the ocean. The sea-spray hung in the air, standing still in spite of the strong winds. I wondered if that sea-spray would cling to me like some sort of salty miasma, even after I had left the country. I watched the ocean for a while, finally satisfied with my choice to go alone. Instead of spending that time planning how my time in Samoa will end, I sat on the rocks and just watched. It was a good way to say goodbye to the Pacific for the time being.
But now, I return to crossing off items on my lists, seeing if I have appropriate clothing for coming home, confirming flights, and wrangling with a laptop that won’t start up. It’s been weird, and it’s been good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.