Athan Makansi – KF8 – Apia, Samoa

Jump on the Samoan time machine and watch as a few neighbors help prepare a delicious meal of taro, breadfruit, coconut cream, potatoes, chicken and tuna in a giant fire pit as Samoans have for many, many years.  But no, Samoans don’t make s’mores.

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Talofa (Hello), from Samoa.  I arrived last Friday in the glorious sunshine of Samoa, eager to start my fellowship with SPBD, Kiva’s partner in Apia, the capital (and only) city.  Very quickly I became aware of a remarkable generosity between Samoans.  My landlord offered to cook for me, a taxi driver gave me a free ride, and all types of Samoans generously flashed a toothy smile my way.  In every instance of generosity I can’t help but let a smile sneak out in return.

My biggest smile of the past week came when my landlord, Margaret, and her son, Francis, welcomed me and her other residents with an “umu,” a traditional Samoan meal prepared in an earth oven.  A family or in the case of smaller villages, an entire village comes together to prepare the meal before church on Sunday.

The traditional “umu” process is quite laborious.  According to Francis, the chefs wake up around 6:00am to begin cooking.  They start by building a large bonfire and placing large rocks in the flames.  While the rocks heat up, the bananas, taro and breadfruit are peeled and washed.  Preparing the food is an art.  Expertly, the potatoes are chopped, the coconuts scoured into thin strips and the meats spiced.  Banana leaves carefully are stuffed with the coconut milk. Before church everything has been placed gently among the hot rocks.  Even though our meal was only for eight people, our master chef emerged from around the fire pit sweaty and tired.  It’s certainly no leisurely summer cookout.  The lounging comes later.

After attending church, Samoans return home to happily find their feast cooked and ready to eat.  For families it’s a way to catch up with the neighbors, entertain guests and show off your cooking skills.  Until bedtime, Samoans spend the rest of Sunday loafing about.  In proper Samoan fashion, we basked the sunshine, drinking cold Coca-Colas and letting our overstuffed bellies rest.

Athan, KF8 (Kiva Fellows 8th Class), is currently serving his fellowship with South Pacific Business Development in Samoa.

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