What It Takes To Build A House 03/8/13
We realize that quite a bit of time has gone by since our last post. In our last post we mentioned that we were waiting for a home to be built for us. It has be a challenging time for us because we have been dealing with problems regarding our housing. We are finally ready to share the story of our housing dilemma.
The first thing you should know about the Samoan lifestyle is there is no such thing as privacy. Samoans live with their extended family. They often all sleep in the same room. Many of the houses are actually just open fales, with no walls what-so-ever, so everyone who walks by can see everything you do. As Americans, this is one of the hardest things to get used to, and at times it can be a great source of frustration, especially in the beginning.
The Peace Corps understands how hard this adjustment to communal living can be for volunteers, so they try to place volunteers in housing that allows some privacy. They also recognize that for couples serving together, communal living can be especially challenging. Therefore, Peace Corps tries to place couples in their own home.
During our site visit in November we discovered that the housing we were originally going to be living in was best suited for a single volunteer rather than a couple, because it was just a bedroom in a family home. The Peace Corps began looking for other housing for us. Josh’s village had just built a school and they suggested building house for us on the school compound with the supplies that were left over from the building the school. They told us the house would be ready just a couple of weeks after we were to move to our permanent sites in December, and in the mean time we could stay with one of the families in the village. Those couple of weeks quickly turned into a month, then two months, as we faced obstacle after obstacle with building the house.
First, we were told that they would begin building our house after the holidays ( logical reason we thought). Then we found out the supplies for our house had been sold or taken (we aren’t sure which). Then we were told the school had run out of money. Then once building had began they tried to cut many corners, some which would have jeopardized our safety. Luckily for us the Peace Corps was right beside us during every step of the way to help advocate for us.
The hard part of the whole ordeal was the emotional aspect. Josh and I were sharing a small bedroom in a house with nine other people, who often slept in the living room right outside of door. The man who was our host father is quite elderly and his health began to decline. We began to feel like we were burdening the family. We tried to contribute to the family by buying food, but sometimes other family members would eat it before we got to it.
Besides sharing food with nine other people, meals with the family were also a source of stress for us. The family did not have a refrigerator nor a stove of any kind. They cooked all of their meals on the “umu” which is rocks heated with fire. This meant that for the most part we could not prepare our own food. Something I learned very quickly is being a vegetarian in Samoa is very hard when you can’t cook for yourself. Josh and I both lost significant amounts of weight during our time living with a family. However, we must say that the family we lived with was very giving and loving.
We also found that living in a different culture and speaking another language can be very exhausting, especially after teaching all day. We felt we just needed a place where we could go to escape for an hour or so, and recharge our batteries, but we found that to be nearly impossible in a family home.
Many of the Samoans did not understand why we needed our own place. They would make comments like “You should just stay with the family.” They also made comments like “it would be much easier if you were single, so you could just live in a room.” We felt guilty about burdening the village so much. On the other hand, we felt so blessed to be able to serve together. We found that especially on hard days we could pick each other up, and encourage each other to keep fighting another day.
Finally, after two and a half months, our house was finished! We were so excited the day it was finished that we began hulling heavy tubs down the street, because we didn’t want to wait until the next day when a car would be available to help us move. The actual moving day we packed so quickly. It only took us 15 minutes to pack everything. Our first night in our fale Josh made spaghetti with homemade sauce, and we danced in the living room. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted off our shoulders. We kept saying our real Peace Corps service begins now. We have already noticed a difference in our relationships at school and in our community.
Through the whole process we learned what it actually takes to build a house. It takes patience, courage, and perseverance.