Resting between the islands of Upolu and Savai’i is a small-inhabited crater known as the island of Apolima. Within its confines lives a modest population of fewer than 200. The small village is mostly self-sustaining supplemented with visits to the main land for goods not produced on island. It operates completely on solar power and water is gathered from a small spring running through the center of the island. Life is simple, quiet, and unbelievably peaceful. It must be similar to what Samoa once was half a century ago.
Recently, I was able to visit along with my friend Craig upon invitation. (You must be invited to go to Apolima) Craig is friends with the island’s new pastor and offered our help in providing resources for their pre-school. On a warm Saturday morning we hopped in the pastor’s truck bed and made the lengthy journey to the Apolima wharf. Transportation over the open ocean comes in the form of a tiny aluminum shell of a boat. As we pulled up I noticed the vessel was graced with the Mexican flag. It seems the boat’s captain found it aesthetically pleasing.
Soon after arrival we boarded along with a hefty amount of groceries and mustered off. We passed by Manono in a surprising amount time, and I’m a flash we were whipping into the small cove inlet, which is the only entrance to the village. The grace of the captain’s skill overshadowed the fact of how dangerous the entrance is. We are reminded of this fact with the sight of a crumpled heap rests on the beach that was once a boat. To enter the cove you must time a large wave breaking over the channeling making it just deep enough to clear the scraggly mess below.
Once safely ashore we walked up a grassy berm to discover the hidden village sprawl before us. Craig once described as being similar to Motunui, the village in Moana, and I couldn’t’ have agreed more once my eyes lay upon it. The village is in the form of a large horseshoe with a malai (field) in the center. At the Apex of the horseshoe is the church. To the rear of the village were plantations of fruit and koko, which sustain the villagers.
Life is slow, simple, and full of hard work on the island. The days are spent working on the plantation and fishing in the strait. Everyone pitches in no matter the age. In the evenings the villagers gather in the malai to play volleyball or rugby. When the warning bell rings for evening worship they all rush home. Worship will take place followed by dinner. On the weekends when the kids are on the island the Pastor will conduct a “Sunday school.”
The Sunday/pre-school was the purpose of Craig and my visit. We brought heaps of resources such as books, videos, and coloring utensils. On the evening of our visit we were even able to work with the children on a phonics lesson. The Peace Corps provides us with a set of zoophonics cards. (Animals matched with letters to help learn their sounds) I brought a set to give to the pastor and his wife, so we conducted a small lesson going over 6 of the easier letters. The children ranged in age of 3 to 13, so it was quite an interesting lesson. We broke down the sound of each letter and then Craig and I read books to the kids. At one point during the lesson the island’s solar power shut off. The children didn’t flinch, but it was so dark that you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. I was amazed! If it hadn’t been a cloudy night the stars would have been impressive. This happens every night. The power will shut off and will need to be switched to the generators.
We spent the rest of our visit at church and talking with the local matai (chiefs). Everyone was incredibly nice and welcoming, even the cheeky kids running around giving us long glances. It was unfortunate we were only able to spend 24 hours on the island, but we promised the pastor and his wife we would visit once more. How could we turn down to visit this amazing island at least one final time before our grand exit in December?