Sunday, 15 September 2013

The only ducks here are the PM and STA

Anyone who knows me can tell you that beauty pageants are not something that I am interested in.  If I do watch a pageant it is to admire the pretty dresses or to mock the contestants as they attempt to answer their interview questions.  I am going to admit that there were some answers to which I did mock during this year’s Miss Samoa pageant, however I was mostly disturbed and ashamed at how the interviews were conducted.  We live in a country where the majority of the population speaks little to no English.  To have a rule that the Miss Samoa pageant be conducted solely in English makes little sense to me.  I completely disagree with the Prime Minister and the STA in their stance to have only English questions asked during the Miss Samoa pageant. 

In a recent article in the Samoa Observer the Prime Minister alluded that one of the reasons why the rules were changed to have all English questions during the pageant was because we were not winning the Miss South Pacific Pageant due to the contestants’ inability to speak fluent English.  I am sorry Mr Prime Minister but not all English speakers win Miss South Pacific.  If we look at former Miss Samoa: Jolivette Ete we can see that her beauty can be likened to that of a model and to add to her assets she is an intelligent and articulate young woman whose grasp on the English language is close to that of a native English speaker.  Why do I bring up Jolivette you may ask, well even with her ability to speak fluent English, Jolivette was unable to secure the Miss South Pacific Title.  There are also other former Miss Samoa, who were all crowned after the introduction of English only questions at Miss Samoa who are like Jolivette namely Sherry Elekana, Gwendolyn Tuaitanu, Olevia Ioane and I am sure that the list goes on.  The ability to speak fluently in English is not what wins a beauty pageant.  In fact Miss Akiko Kojima winner of the 1959 Miss Universe was crowned even though she knew little English.

When I was younger I admit that I did watch Miss World and Miss Universe more so then because I liked to see the pretty dresses not as much to make fun of the interview responses.  But even at that young age I didn’t want to go to a country just because a Miss World was from there.  I admired her clothes and her hair but did not have the drive to travel to a country based on a beauty contest.  That is because a beauty contest is about admiring the beauty of the person and their clothes, shoes, earrings and hair; it is all about the beauty not the country.  Pageants are not the place to shine as an ambassador to a country.  It is where you win the rights to brag at having won more than one beauty competition.

Miss South Pacific and all other beauty pageants are a competition and most pageants allow translators.  Many times there is little to no time to prepare a Miss Samoa to contest in the Miss South Pacific.  That is where the STA should push to have a translator present for our contestants so they are able to speak in a language that they are comfortable with and are not made to look stupid just because their command of English is not perfect.  And that is exactly what STA did to two contestants at this year’s Miss Samoa by not allowing them to express their thoughts in their mother tongue. 

For public appearances at Travel conferences etc the winner of Miss Samoa will find it easier to be prepped on what to say because there is more time and set speeches can be memorized.  Whereas you can’t tell a contestant what to say during a competition because there is no guarantee what the question will be hence the need for a translator.

I have a few questions for the Prime Minister of Samoa and the Samoa Tourism Authority, what is the point of promoting Samoan as a language in Samoa if all we want are people who can speak fluent English?  Why not make English a prerequisite to all entrants of the Miss Samoa pageant?  Because it is discrimination!!!  What STA has done is complete discrimination to all those beautiful and intelligent young women who can only speak Samoan.  To have this kind of treatment in our own country against our own people is appalling.  I hope that you see that this practice is wrong and needs to be changed.  If you are not prepared to make that change then at least wear your discriminatory ways proudly and acknowledge that English speakers are your preference for all future Miss Samoa contestants, because in your minds only English speakers can win international beauty contests.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Three down, two and a half left

So my book is a collection of 6 short stories.  I have just finished the third one, Ella, and thought that I would give you another snippet to try and get you hooked :)

I quickly grabbed my bag but didn’t have time to grab my shoes as Lupe had begun throwing things at me.  I was forced to run even faster as the dogs chased me through the front gates and I heard the thudding of the rocks being thrown at me by my ex-husband’s mother.  I ran barefoot on the burning hot road that was covered in tiny rocks that cut into your flesh all the way to the hotel tears streaming down my face and my hands shaking.

I stood in the middle of the reception of the hotel sobbing, my hair all over the place with no shoes.  I looked up to see Mike standing there with his shirt off and water trickling down his six packed torso and without saying anything he just grabbed me in his arms and held me.  He didn’t ask me what was wrong it was as if he knew what had happened and that I just needed to be held.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

I do not see what the problem is!

Recently I have heard many things regarding the Tourism Development Act.  To begin with, the Act is from 2012, it is now 2013.  I am sure that there were many consultations held during the development of this Act.  Why are we now dredging up a piece of legislation that has already been passed and is now law?  These concerns should have been voiced over a year ago when they were drafting the Act!

I honestly do not see what the issue is in relation to the preservation of the reputation of the destination section of the Act.  It is purely stating that people cannot write or say anything that is false about Samoa, the operative word being false.  It doesn't say you don’t have the freedom to voice your grievances regarding incidents that may have been negative.  It only says that if you do so and these negative statements are false then you can be prosecuted.

This is also true of each of us.  If someone were to say something false that was negative about me and it cost me job opportunities or loss of customers as a result this is regarded as slander and I in turn can sue you for saying such things.  If the statements were in fact true then I would have no leg to stand on. 

It is legislation like this that protects Samoa’s reputation.  To me stopping people from telling hurtful lies whether it is about me, my friend or my country is a good thing and I do not see what the problem is!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Another snippet from a short story I am writing

So I have set a goal and am hoping to finish my collection of short stories by the end of July.  Here is a snippet from the short story titled 'I Miss You More'.  Let me know what you think!!!!

“What drink do you want Sef?”

“Gin and lemonade thanks mate.  So who’s this chick you’re looking for?”

“I went to school with her; she said she’s here with some of her mates.  You never know she could have some hot friends!”

As Dom hands me my drink he feels his pocket vibrate and reaches down to get his phone.  He reads the text and looks to his left bursting out laughing.

“What’s so funny Dom?”

“This girl man she just texted me to ask where I am and that she’s at the bar, uh hello she’s standing right next to me!”

Dom moves out of the way and points to the girl standing next to him.  There she stood China doll fair skin, long, straight black hair and big black eyes with perfect pink lips.

“Watch this!”  Dom said as showed me his phone and typed ‘I’m standing next to you, you egg lol.’

We couldn’t hear her get the message, just saw her look down at her phone and the most gorgeous smile came over her face and she looked up and saw Dom.  I was taken by surprise as she squealed like one of those ditzy blonde girls you see on the movies then she jumped up a couple times before she gave Dom a massive bear hug.

She was obviously drunk because what she said to Dom after the hug was barely understandable.  Dom looked over her shoulder and gave me an oh crap look.  Then she went silent and just stood there.  That is when Dom turned her to me and introduced us.

“Lily this is my friend Sefulu, Sefulu this is Lily.”

I put my hand out to shake hers and was shocked when I looked up and she was literally in my face.

“You’re drinking too slowly!” she shouted.

My lips parted to form a response but before a sound could come out she cut me off.

“Stop being a pussy!  Skull…skull…skull!”

She stood there and watched till I had skulled my whole drink, then she turned around and walked away.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


So I have had the attack of the insomnia monster these last couple of days, which has meant that I have had some time to write.  I have started writing two more short stories to add to my collection.  Here is a snippet from one of them titled Ella.  I hope you enjoy it.  Remember that if you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to let me know.


By Morwenna Petaia

“Do you Ella take Apelu to be your lawfully wedded husband to love and to hold from this day forth?”

“This amazing man standing before me, who you all know as Bruce, is a wonderful, kind, thoughtful and selfless man who since I met him has brought me so much happiness and makes me want to be a better person.  Of course I want to be his wife!”

“And do you Apelu take Ella to be your lawfully wedded wife to love and to hold from this day forth?”

“My life has been far from easy, particularly moving away from my parents in Samoa but ever since I met Ella I have had nothing but peace of mind and I want my life to continue to have the beauty that is only brought about by having Ella by my side.  I would love nothing more than to have the privilege of being Ella’s husband.”

Tears ran down my face the second Bruce spoke those words, it didn’t even bother me that my mascara was running and we hadn’t even taken photos yet.  The warmth that pulsed through my body at the knowledge that I finally found a man who was honest, cute, and intelligent, had a good job, and was kind and funny and he loved me just as much as I loved him and he just agreed to be my husband!  These tears of sheer joy ran freely as Bruce lifted my veil and kissed me as my husband.

Bruce held my hand and guided me to the dance floor; it was our first official dance as a married couple.  I had spent weeks before our wedding teaching him the waltz.  It took a few weeks of bruised feet but Bruce being the determined man that he is managed to out dance me at our last practice session.  I could tell he was nervous because he started sniffling, his nose always runs when he is nervous.  I gently squeezed his hand and whispered in his ear “you will do great baby, just pretend it’s just the two of us.”  The music started and the soulful tones of Otis Redding filled the room “These arms of mine…”  We moved around the room in unison and I got lost in his arms and the closeness and the rhythm of the song made me wish that it was just the two of us.  I put my head on his shoulder and breathed in his sweet scent, always fresh and clean with a whiff of a fragrance I could never figure out.  I am still in awe that such a good man would be in love with me and has married me and that he also loves my daughter Sharon, even though he is not her biological father.  I felt so safe in his strong arms and I looked around the room and I was so proud of my husband and that all our guests were here to witness our love.  They all wore such lovely colours. 

Then all too quickly the colours faded to grey and the memories of that beautiful day blurred into the kitchen table and I heard his voice, that annoying high pitched almost a screech voice.  “It’s not a hickey honey, it’s a bruise.  I went to the doctor and got some hydrocortisone cream.  If you don’t believe me you can call the doctor and ask.”

You would think that after all this time he would come up with some more believable excuses for his adultery but no, Peter is far from being any kind of a man compared to Bruce, my sweet Bruce.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Candy is Finished!

So a while ago I posted a snippet of the short story that I have been working on, Candy.   I have finally finished a draft that I think is good enough for everyone to read and give me some feedback on to make it better.  So here it is, let me know what you think works or doesn't work and just anything you feel like sharing to help me out.


By Morwenna Petaia

My name is Candice Palemia, but people call me Candy.  You would think that Candy is a shortened version of my name Candice, but it’s not.  My Uncle Iosua came to visit from Hawaii when I was just learning to speak.  Being Samoan he brought over an oso, which is a cultural tradition of bringing a gift to those you are visiting.  Uncle Iosua brought over a whole bunch of Hersheys chocolate kisses and nuggets.  Living in Australia we call them chocolates, but being American Uncle Iosua called them candy.  When I indicated for some he wouldn’t give me any until I called them candy.  Even after I cried and cried and rolled on the floor stopping only to bang my forehead on the ground he would not budge.  I tried and tried first it was tandy, then it was gandy then two weeks later it happened, I stood in front of Uncle Iosua with my outstretched hand barely reaching his knee and asked “candy?”  I was so happy to get my candy that anytime I saw someone I put my hand out and asked “candy?”  Even after the bags of candy were finished I would still ask people for candy.  This went on until I was around three.  Ever since then I have always been called Candy.

In Samoa names usually have some sort of significance.  For example my dad’s name is Fata, he is named after his father Fata who was named after his father, Fata.  Fata has been the name of the eldest son in my dad’s family for the last five generations.  Then there was a girl I went to school with at Leifiifi College; she was named Anzac Day because she was born on ANZAC Day.  Names are really important in the Samoan culture, particularly your last name because it is through your family name that you represent your aiga, your family, siblings, parents and grandparents.

The Palemia family has attended Samoa College for years and years.  Ever since I started school my dad had always told me that I need to study hard and get good grades so that I can be like him and his siblings and parents and great grandparents and great great grandparents who all attended Samoa College, the college where all the smart people go.  As hard as I studied and listened in all of my classes I just didn’t get the grades that would give me a place or an award in any of my year levels.  Even with my less than great grades, my dad still had the expectation that I would follow in his footsteps and attend Samoa College.  When my results came in telling me what school I got into I was not at all surprised that I didn’t get into Samoa College, heck I didn’t even get into Avele College that was how bad my grades were.  Needless to say I heard the whole spiel from my dad, “you are a disappointment to our family.  You are the first person in our family since the beginning of time who will not be attending Samoa College.  Do you realize the shame that you have brought to our family?  How could you do this to us?”  The burden of being a Palemia felt heavy on my shoulders, especially being an only child, as I tried to live with the fact that I had failed my family and killed my father’s dream of having a child follow in his educational path.  Who could have imagined the weight one would feel from trying to live up to a family name.

All my life we moved back and forth between Samoa and Australia.  Mum’s a palagi from Australia and would always get homesick so we’d move between our house in Holsworthy in Sydney and my dad’s family house in Vaivase Uta.  We moved to Sydney again half way through year 10 in high school.  I went to All Saints Catholic School.   You would not believe the teasing the kids were capable of, especially over a name.  Our science teacher’s name was Mr Cox.  As you can imagine the minds of sex crazed teenagers, who had nothing else on their minds but that three lettered word, made vulgar remarks about our teacher’s name.  One day in science class while Mr Cox was at the whiteboard one boy yelled ‘Dick’ from the back of the room.  Mr Cox turned around and asked who said it, no one confessed so Mr Cox said the whole class would be on detention.  He turned around to write on the board and a different boy yelled out ‘Willy’, this time Mr Cox ignored the yelling.  That is when it got worse, students all around the room started yelling out different words for the male reproductive organ.  By this time Mr Cox had turned around but as hard as he tried he couldn’t regain control of the class.  The yelling went on for what seemed like half an hour, with loud laughter mixed in.  On the outside Mr Cox looked like a strong man.  At close to six feet tall he towered over all of us, he purposely wore tight t-shirts to show off the muscles that lay hidden beneath cotton.  Yet even with the stature of a warrior the name calling of ego driven teenagers brought him to tears and pushed him to flee for serenity into the class storeroom.

This was a complete culture shock to my days at Leifiifi College where speaking out of turn was considered disrespectful and not tolerated by any teachers let alone the students.  I sat like a stunned mullet in my chair still trying to process what had just happened.  How could they do that?  Do they not know the shame that it will bring to their families when they find out about what they had done?

It was my third week at school and I was finding it a little hard fitting in.  I found that I didn’t do things the way the other kids did, I didn’t think the same way they did.  I looked like I would fit in with my green eyes and straight chestnut hair flowing down past my olive skinned shoulders, I could have been palagi or Greek or Italian.  The only thing that gave me away was my last name and slight Samoan accent.  So when I was befriended by Kayla I was a little apprehensive as to why the hot popular girl was trying to be my friend.  Kayla and her friends invited me to hang with them at ‘the spot’ a concrete area behind the toilet block and across from the canteen for easy access to food.  It was so much fun we shared food and talked about teachers and the other kids.  Some of them would then go to the lower oval and smoke; too scared to try I just tagged along for fun while wondering what was so good about smoking.  I mean seriously it stunk and made you smell like a chimney no matter how much deodorant you spray on your clothes to cover it up.

I was becoming a little lonely and homesick, noticing how much I missed my friends from Leifiifi and how we would joke and share thoughts on everything together.  What I missed most was speaking in Samoan.  I may not look Samoan, but it is my first language and the one that I am most comfortable with.  Kayla was such a cool person, which helped me a little.  She was more than just pretty and popular; she was actually smart and cared about her education and her future, which was good for me because my grades were pretty atrocious.    We became pretty close, I was comfortable enough with her that I was able to confide in her some of my feelings that I didn’t think I would be able to say to anyone here, like the fact that I thought David liked me because he keeps texting me, but I never gave him my number or that I think Pooja has ukus cause she is always scratching her head and I actually saw something crawling around her hairline near her right ear.  Kayla was great about it too affirming my thoughts that a boy actually liked me and that she too had seen the same creepy crawlies in Pooja’s hair.

It became almost a ritual where every Friday night for the last two months I would finish school, walk to my house and get my stuff then I would go to Kayla’s place to sleep over.  This Friday was just like the others but what happened that night changed everything.  Kayla and I lay in our boxers and singlet on mattresses we had moved from the beds to the floor.  Kayla has a big room with a massive 52 inch plasma TV on her wall so we usually eat chips, chocolate, ice cream any kind of junk food you can think of and watch TV series like One Tree Hill, Revenge and Gossip Girl.

We lay side by side on the mattresses watching Glee repeats from the second season, you can never have enough Glee!  It was the Britney Spears episode and Britney and Santana were performing the ‘Me against the Music’ song.  I turned to tell Kayla that I thought Britney looked hot and that I wished my dentist looked like John Stamos.  Before I could get a word out I felt the rose petal soft lips of beautiful Kayla against mine.  While I was shocked and a little freaked out I actually enjoyed it.  I could taste Kayla’s bubblegum flavoured lip gloss mixed with the Doritos that she was just eating.  We separated and there was a moment of awkward silence.  I sat up and kept looking everywhere else but at Kayla.  Shivers ran down my spine as Kayla gently placed her delicate kisses down my neck.  My mind was screaming ‘stop, wait, what’s happening?’ but my body was just screaming in ecstasy.  I battled with the thoughts of what would happen if my family found out and whether or not I was gay the rest of the night which was filled with amazing kisses, cuddles, laughs and food.

The next morning I had to wake up early cause mum wanted me to come home and help clean out our garage.  I got up and changed and woke Kayla up to say good bye.  We didn’t have time to talk about what had happened the night before it was just a quick kiss and a promise to text later.  I kept my phone by my side the whole time waiting for a text from Kayla, but nothing.  Later that night I even sent a blank text because I wanted to hear from her, but I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t get a text, a facebook comment or even a phone call from Kayla all weekend long.  I was stressing out by Sunday night, stalking her facebook page to see if she had been online and said anything but no activity at all.  I was positive that she was avoiding me and that something was wrong, I mean there was no other explanation that made sense after what we shared on Friday night.

Almost shaking with nerves I walked into the school building Monday morning.  I didn’t know how I should act, do I ask Kayla why she was ignoring me or do I just act like nothing happened.  I didn’t have to make any decisions because Kayla made the first move.  As I walked to my locker there she was her long, dark Kim Kardashian styled hair lightly framing her fair skinned face.  The blue of the school uniform jumper made her azure eyes leap out and hypnotise you with their beauty.  She was truly magnificent leaning against her locker.  Kayla’s locker was two lockers away from mine as she went to close the locker her striking blue eyes met mine.  There was no emotion on her face; it was as if she looked right through me.  After closing her locker she walked straight past me no hello, no head nod it was as if she didn’t even know I was there.

I was confused, angry and sad all at once; angrier than anything else which for some reason made me want to ball my eyes out.  I ran to the bathroom locked myself in the toilet stall and cried.  I let it all out and cried till I could cry no more.  I started with the loud drool and snotty sob crying while yelling curses at Kayla in my mind.  Then came the angry crying; with fist punches to the walls, berating myself for being so stupid for thinking that Kayla was my friend. Seriously how could someone like her want to be friends with you?  Followed by the hysterical laughing cry where memories of how good things were made you smile but brought that stinging pain that you had to crack up in laughter only to have the river of tears follow.  I spent the whole morning in the toilet crying.  When I thought that I had my tears under control I gathered the strength to escape to the sick bay with the hopes they will call my parents to come and get me.

When my mum came to pick me up I literally ran to her and gave her a big hug with tears welling in my eyes.  No matter how hard life is or how much pain you feel it all feels better with a hug from your mum.  Unlike most times there was no line of interrogation from my mum, just a single question “are you ok?”  I just nodded knowing that if I opened my mouth to speak all I would do was end up crying again.  When I got home I went straight to my room and cried myself to sleep.

After a week of not getting out of bed and moping around the house my parents had enough.  Their patience had worn thin and while trying to understand what I was going through the fact that I wouldn’t talk to them about any of my feelings made it hard to know what to do.  In the end the ultimatum to go to school or go to see a psychologist made me get up and go to school.  I couldn’t form the words to say how I felt even if I wanted to tell someone how I was feeling.

School started off fine at first then after lunch I noticed the snickering behind my back and then there were the stares as I walked down the hall.  That lurking feeling in the pit of your stomach where you know something is wrong you just didn’t know what was on the verge of being vomited out when all of a sudden it made sense. 

I picked out the wrinkled piece of paper from the rubbish bin next to my locker.  Mixed into the wrinkles you could make out a girl in a lacy black bra and matching boy leg style underwear with her left leg wrapped around a bed post her back arched down toward the ground with her hair hanging in the air.  I didn’t recognize that the photo was of me, what caught my eye was the wording on the side which said “For a Good Time Call Candy 1-800-STRIPPER.”

I have had a bit of a complex with my nick name Candy, I know how I got it and was proud of the origin story but the complex stemmed from its association with strippers and prostitutes, but no one has ever said anything to my face or even behind my back.  The only person with whom I had shared this fear with was Kayla.  With this new found knowledge I took a closer look at the photo and realized that it was me on a Friday night at Kayla’s house after we had just watched some Pussy Cat Dolls music videos and we were messing around and pretending to dance like they did.  We had promised each other that we would delete the photos and they would never see the light of day, but obviously she had lied again.

The world went black.  I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel; my life just took a very dark turn and there was no way of changing it.  My books fell to the ground and I just walked.  I didn’t know where I was going I just knew that I needed to get away from school, from her, from everything.  I couldn’t even register my exact feelings.  I couldn’t cry I couldn’t get angry and throw things or yell or shout I was numb and felt lost in a far off place.  My legs just kept moving I didn’t even realize that I was walking till I heard the loud sound of a horn and I looked up to see the car followed by the screeching of the car tyres braking hard against the road then everything went quiet.

My eyes blinked trying to adjust to the light.  Once they were able to focus I looked around and didn’t recognize where I was and couldn’t remember what I was doing before the quiet and darkness had set in.  Things were still a little fuzzy and my body ached all over.  Then I saw mum sitting in the chair in the corner. 
“muuum,” I managed to whisper because speaking felt so alien to me.  Mum got up straight away and was by my side in a flash and began planting kisses all over my face.

“Are you ok baby?  How do you feel?  Are you hungry?  Do you need anything?”  The barrage of questions continued for what seemed like years till she managed to take a breath and I saw my opportunity to speak.
“What happened?  Where am I?”  She pulled the chair next to the bed and sat down.

“You are in the hospital baby girl.  There was an accident and you were hit by a car.  You were very lucky that the car wasn’t travelling fast.  You walked away with only a broken leg a few scratches and a lot of bruises.”

“But how did I get on the road?  I was at school, I don’t understand?”

“We don’t know either.  Has something been happening at school?  Because the last week you have been moping around the house then when you finally get up and go to school you end up getting run over by a car on the main road at least 10km away from your school.  You know you can talk to me Candy, I’m your mum and I am always going to be here for you if you need me.”

That’s when the tears flowed.  I wanted to get up and give her a massive hug but any kind of movement no matter how small made me wince in pain.  I let everything out and with each word uttered and tear shed I felt the longed for feelings of peace set in.

I could tell by mum’s facial expressions that she was not impressed by certain things that I had to say and had some questions but she didn’t interrupt, she just listened and cried along with me.  When I was finished she reassured me that it would all be ok and that’s when the police came in.

According to Senior Constable Fitzsimmons there were several reports that I had walked dangerously throughout the area and while many people had tried to caution me I had just continued and walked directly into the road where the car hit me.  Senior Constable Fitzsimmons then told us, “A law that was recently introduced makes it mandatory in situations where people have tried to harm themselves that they spend at least two weeks in a counseling facility where they are taught different strategies to deal with problems as well as helping to deal with old issues.  We are here to inform you that once you have physically recovered you will be required to attend The Fountain Counseling Facility.”

I’m not crazy, I thought to myself.  Why do I need to go to this place?  This is stupid.  Are they serious!?  Questions just ran through my head till I realized the amount of crap the other students will give me when they found out.  Not only will I be a stripper but I will go down in history as Candy the crazy stripper!

My mum and dad thought it was a good idea, because they didn’t know how to help me.  So a month later when my injuries had healed I was taken to The Fountain.  It looked a little like a haunted house from the outside.  It was an old two storey white building with dark green windows set on a hill.  There were no neighbors, just a lot of trees.  From my room upstairs you could see the white waves smashing against the coastline through the trees.  From the shared bathroom you could see the gorgeous green hills rolling behind the facility.  It was beautiful, almost as if I were in Samoa coming down the cross island road towards Apia.  The view alone made me feel like I was going to be ok here, that I had nothing to worry about.

We started our group therapy sessions that afternoon.  Our counselor was a guy named Eric; he looked like he was in his late twenties.  He was balding so he kept his head shaven, a stocky awkward looking man with a massive beer gut.  Nothing at all to look at, just a cheeky smile that made you know he had a few stories to tell.  The session went really well, Eric took time to listen to everyone and his humour made you comfortable with sharing how you felt.

The two weeks went by really fast.  I almost didn’t want to leave.  I learned so much about myself and how to deal with my feelings.  I felt like I could take on the world.  The biggest thing that I discovered about myself was how much I really wanted to go back to Samoa.  So when I got home I told my parents that I would like to return to Samoa.  Obviously they were worried and sad with my request, heck my dad even made me cry with his guilt trips, but they knew that it was what I needed to progress and get better.  Some people could say that me going to Samoa is running away from my problems, I say it is making a choice to free myself of things that only cause me heartache and pain.  Either way I am happy, my family are happy and to hell with what anyone else says!

I had been away from Samoa for almost a year, but it still felt the same.  Little things had changed a few new buildings and different colours on houses but most things remained the same like the works on the road between Apia and the airport and the beautiful churches that soared above the houses in the villages.  My excitement just kept growing as we made the drive past Samoa College, down the winding road that shot up the mountain almost like a roller coaster ride as we made our way to my home in Vaivase Uta. 

While my parents have their own home in Samoa, there is no way they were about to let their 16 year old daughter stay by herself.  So my Aunt, Uncle and cousins Eseta, Pena and Leti from Vaisala in Savaii came to stay with me.  While they were a little different to my own family, me being an only child, I was looking forward to being around people.  With Eseta being 15 and a girl we automatically clicked.  It took a while to get used to having Pena and Leti in the house though, because I had never lived with boys before.  While they often grossed me out with their dirty shoes and stinky clothes having them around was a great experience.  They showed me respect and were examples of how a guy should treat a woman as well as the loyalty and respect that they showed their sister and parents.

I knew that if I went to school and a guy tried to pinch my bum as I walked past or say any kind of derogatory comment I could just tell Pena or Leti and they would sort them out for me.  Having brothers was pretty cool, especially after school when they would go and play rugby on the big field near our house.  Eseta and I could use them as an excuse to sit and perve, secretly hoping that it would be a hot day and the guys with six packs would take their tops off.

I loved being back home.  There were the usual teenage dramas, but nothing that compared to the life of a teenager in Australia.  One day we had gone down to Lynns for some fresh bread, I ran in to get it and bumped into someone I never thought that I would see again, Eric.  He still looked exactly the same; I on the other hand had matured in the two years since we last saw each other and was ‘popping’ in all the right places.  It turns out he is working in Samoa as a counselor at the Coral Reef Academy, he arrived a month ago and will be here for another year.  He didn’t have a car so we offered him a ride home to Leufisa.  I gave him my number and said if he needed anything or wanted to come over for dinner he was most welcome.

The next week Eric started texting, just the friendly how are you kind of texts.  Then I would get bored and texted to see how he was doing.  This went on for about two weeks then Eric asked if I wanted to have lunch with him and I am never one to say no to free food so I agreed.  He took me to the Yacht Club where I had the yummy poke followed by the shrimp and then cake and ice-cream for dessert.  We had a great time, we ate and talked and laughed and ate some more I really enjoyed it.  I remembered how funny he was and how comfortable I felt sharing my feelings with him.  While Eric was never going to be good looking like Channing Tatum, the way he spoke and how he made me feel special was sexier than any strip tease Channing could ever do.  We continued to text and meet up for lunches for about a month and then it happened.  We were eating fried chicken in the back tables at Freddy’s in Motootua and Eric had said something funny and I was laughing then our eyes met and we went quiet, just stared at each other for what seemed like an hour, I don’t know what it was but it took my breath away and I just couldn’t move, then he leant in and softly kissed me.  I know I was enjoying the kiss but my eyes exploded open and I pulled away quickly realizing where I was and that people might see me.

From then on we started eating lunches at Eric’s place.  Our lunches lasted longer and our texts were combined with midnight phone calls and eventually our kisses at lunch led to love making sessions sometimes without lunch.  I knew with every fibre of my being that I was in love with Eric.  He was my friend and he knew me better than my parents did at this time and I knew him like I knew the back of my hand.  I was deliriously happy.  The only thing that made me blue was knowing that he would be leaving to go back to Australia at Christmas.  I didn’t like to dwell on this so I made the most of my time with Eric.  When I wasn’t in school or doing the feaus I was with him, I didn’t even have time to do my field perve sessions with Eseta.  I used the time to do my homework so that I wouldn’t get punished for falling behind in my school work.  It was weird because even though I spent all this time with Eric my grades had never been better.

A year went on and Eric left before my school year finished.  But I wasn’t as sad as I would have been if I didn’t know that because of our good grades my parents paid for me, Pena, Leti and Eseta to come and visit them in Australia instead of them coming back to Samoa.  I kept it a secret from Eric as I wanted to surprise him when I got to Sydney.  It was really difficult to bring the waterworks on; even though I would miss him for all of 7 days it was a lot harder than I thought to hide my smile and joy.

As I parked the car and double checked the address I started to get nervous but excited and ecstatic at the same time.  Walking up the driveway I noticed my hands were shaking and I couldn’t stop it.  I rang the doorbell and heard the pattering of little feet followed by some heavier steps near the door.  I thought it may be Eric chasing his dog then the door swung open.  I stood there with my mouth hanging open with a look of confusion and shock on my face.  The lady standing in the doorway with a toddler on her hip breathlessly apologized “sorry I need to catch my breath I had to chase this little one down the hall to make sure she didn’t open the door.  How can I help you?”

I stood staring at the little girl with her curly blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes, I thought she was so cute.  Still a little confused I said “Hi, I am looking for Eric?  I’m sorry I’m not sure if I have the right place?”

“You have the right place; Eric is at work right now.”  Then she looked down at her daughter and tickled her on the side saying “we are waiting for daddy aren’t we honey!”

I felt sick.  I didn’t want to believe it but when the little girl smiled her cheeky little smile there is no way that I could deny that was his daughter.

The lady must have seen my reaction because she asked if I was ok.  I couldn’t answer, my brain just wouldn’t work.  She must have started to get suspicious because her tone changed from a welcoming and friendly one to a more irritated one as she asked if she could help me.  Then I felt it, my mouth filled with saliva and before I knew it I was hurling my McDonalds breakfast at this woman’s feet.  At that point all my previous feelings were replaced with shame and embarrassment.  I apologized profusely and offered to clean it all up.  The mother in her came out as she quickly gathered me inside and hosed down and disinfected the front entrance while I cleaned up and put on one of her t-shirts.

She sat me down at the table and offered me a drink.  She sat opposite me and introduced herself.  “My name is Lucy, Eric is my fiancĂ©.  Who are you?”

At this point I was over feeling sorry for myself and began feeling like a trashy home wrecking whore.  Lucy is a lovely woman who has already shown me great kindness and she doesn’t even know my name.  How do I now tell her that her fiancĂ© was cheating on her with me?  When I didn’t say anything Lucy began talking again.

“I know that this may sound weird but you are not the first girl to show up at my house.  It may be easier if you begin with your name and how you know Eric.”

OMG can this woman be any nicer I thought to myself, and the fact that she is so calm just made me angry that Eric could be such a big fat pig!

I sat and explained the situation to Lucy.  She then went on to tell me that she has been with Eric for the last five years.  He had changed when their daughter Laura was born.  His trip to Samoa was a break for them to see whether or not they wanted to truly be together.  The fact that he came back to Lucy showed that he wanted to make the commitment to the relationship and to being a father to Laura.  Lucy had no idea that I existed and that he had not changed.

While I was completely devastated that I had been used and discarded like a piece of toilet paper it is weird because it is the same techniques that Eric taught me at The Fountain that helped me to deal with my feelings and to not fall into depression.

I went home and instead of holding my feelings in I disregarded my shame and fear of how my parents would react to my being so reckless and told them the whole story, every single detail.  My mum being palagi was very understanding, as I knew she would be, but my dad’s reaction was far from the raging I had imagined.  He calmly expressed his gratitude for me being able to share my situation with them and imparted his great disappointment in my actions and deception.  I could see and feel the pain in his eyes and it hurt so much more than any beating or yelling he could have done.  But I learned my lesson and there was no way that I was going to put myself in a situation where I would cause so much pain and heartache to my family, because they are the ones who are there for me no matter what; not the backstabbing pretty girl who pretended to be my friend or the lying cheating pig who professed his love for me.

Later that night there was a knock on the door.  Leti answered and I heard his voice, it was Eric.  Leti called for Pena.  I love my brothers and knew their love for me was great, but being in Australia it didn’t dawn on me that they would show that love the same way that they would in Samoa.  Before I could register what was happening I heard the thuds of Leti and Pena’s fists as they pummeled Eric’s face followed by a crash as Eric fell back into the pot plants.  Before I could make my way to the front door I could hear Eseta egging them on “Kui le guku.  Kiki oga fua.”

“Stop! Ua lava ga!”  I yelled at them as I gave Eseta the evil eye.

As much as I hated Eric, as he lay there blood pouring from his face I only felt pity for him.  Not pity because he was hurt, a little part of me was happy to see all the blood.  Pity because he had everything; a great reputation as a counselor, a beautiful and kind woman who loved him and the most gorgeous child and yet he still didn’t know their value.

I helped Eric to his feet.  He tried to apologise but after mumbling a few ums and ahs I firmly said “leave!  I don’t want to hear your lame apology.  I don’t want anything to do with you.  You disgust me and I can’t believe you had the nerve to be such a horrible human being to such a good woman and worst of all, your own daughter.  I am not the person you should be groveling to.  Leave my house and never speak to me again!”

I turned, walked inside the house and closed the door leaving him standing in my front yard. 

Six weeks passed fast and our trip was coming to an end and Eric didn’t come to mind as often now.  The boys, Eseta and I thought it would be good to go out to a night club before we head back to Samoa.  I was 20 and legally able to go out and drink in Australia, but I have lived in Samoa most my life and there is no way in hell I would be going to a club there.  So I was a little nervous but convinced that this was something I needed.  Eseta and I put on our pretty dresses and the boys borrowed some of my dad’s dress shoes because all they had were their thongs and we heard that there were pretty strict dress codes in Australia.

We got inside Arq and robotically looked around not knowing what to do next.  Then I saw the bar and did an awkward head down fast walk, almost a run straight there, the others just followed me.  The bartender came up and stood in front of me.  I stood there staring back not knowing what to order then the song rum and redbull came on and that was what I ordered for all of us.  The bartender chuckled a little then turned away and prepared our drinks.  It was disgusting!  But the bartender was staring at me so I had to pretend that it was ok.  I turned my head so the bartender couldn’t see me make my ‘gosh that’s gross’ face.

I could see Pena and Leti talking and looking toward the dance floor.  In the middle of the dance floor there were girls dancing.  One girl had a gorgeous blue ruffle dress with red heels and legs that went on for miles.  With my drink in my hand I turned around in my seat to face the dance floor so I could watch them dancing.  I was distracted and forgot that I didn’t like my drink and took another sip and my face skewed into the ugliest formation possible just as the woman in the blue dress turned around.  Then my drink slipped out of my hand and shattered on the floor. 

The whole reason I even met Eric was standing just as gorgeous as ever less than 10 meters away from me.  I quickly turned around to face the bar hoping that Kayla hadn’t seen me or recognized me.  It just wasn’t my day, as quickly as I had turned she had just as quickly made her way to the bar next to me. 

“Candy, is that you?”

Her voice was just as lyrical as I remembered.  Why couldn’t she sound like a frog and lost her teeth and begun a reverse Benjamin Button and gotten really old fast? I asked myself.  I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her I was just so full of emotions and I really didn’t want to bawl my eyes out in a public place.

“You look great Candy.”

I tried to act like nothing was wrong but the stares of Eseta, Pena and Leti made me even more uncomfortable.  But Kayla just kept going as if she didn’t notice my reaction. 

“I know that what I did was unforgivable and I know that it hurt you a lot.  I’m sorry.  I don’t want to make excuses but I was young and I was scared; scared that you didn’t like me, scared that my family wouldn’t approve, scared of what the other kids would say if they found out.  I was a scared and immature girl and I know that doesn’t change the fact that I hurt you but I want you to know that I have thought about you every day since and I am so ashamed of my behavior.” 

Tears began to fall down Kayla’s cheeks and it felt good to see her cry.  Almost as if each tear she shed was me getting revenge for the pain that I had felt.  It is kind of true that time heals all wounds, because it wasn’t until she had reminded me of the ordeal I faced at her hands that all the aguish came back to me, but it lasted for only a short while.  Because I had forgiven her and moved on and seeing her cry no longer brought me joy but sorrow, sorrow for her and knowing that she has had to hold on to this for so long.  I turned around and hugged Kayla and wiped away her tears.

“Thank you for that Kayla.  I have forgiven you and wish only the best for you.”  I kissed her on the forehead grabbed my cousins and we danced.  As we danced I remembered the good times Kayla and I shared and the love that I felt for my family and I was happy again.

Kayla had come out to her parents in her last year of high school. She had had the courage to be the person who made her happy even if it meant that her parents disowned her and she brought shame to her family.  Kayla told of how once she came out she lost the people she thought were her closest friends.  Kayla introduced me to her partner Eve and was so excited that they were expecting their first child together.  As I rubbed Eve’s pregnant belly I could see that my cousins were a little angry at me as they wanted to find themselves a nice palagi but when choosing the club I didn’t realize it was a gay one.  As much as I wanted to stay and talk with Kayla I knew that Pena and Leti would not be able to handle the attention of the males so I said good bye and exchanged email addresses and left.

My cousins didn’t find a palagi on our trip to Australia, but I found myself.

“My name is Candice Palemia, but people call me Candy.  I am a beautiful young woman, stronger than I think I am, and loved by those who matter.”

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Samoa’s Crowded Classrooms

My son was schooled in Samoa from preschool up until year four.  In Primary School his teachers had always said that my son was uncontrollable and wouldn’t concentrate.  His favourite thing to talk about at school in Samoa was lunch time.  When I asked what he learned at school his response was always “I don’t know”.  He did not excel in school and I thought that he may just be a late bloomer.  At the end of year four my son still couldn’t read.  My son cried often when he had to go to school.

My son began going to school in Australia this year.  In a recent parent teacher interview his teacher said that he was a well mannered child and with the right amount of individual attention he will be able to read quickly.  My son loves school and goes willingly and talks about his sports classes in the gym, reading books in class and choir.  It is nearing the end of the first term and my son has received a certificate for spelling as well as choir.
How is it that there are two completely different pictures of my son with his behavior, his learning ability and his outlook on school in less than three months?

One of the biggest differences that I have noticed is the size of classes.  While in Samoa my son always had more than 50 students in his class, whereas his new class has only 19 students.

Overcrowding of classrooms is an Occupational, Health and Safety hazard for teachers.  The added stress of having to not only control 50 plus students but to try and teach each one is definitely not an inviting working environment.  There is a teacher’s association in place here in Samoa, what are they doing to ensure that the working conditions for their teachers are conducive to them being able to do their jobs well?  If other countries have gone on strike for having 34 students in their classrooms surely there is something our teachers can do to ask for a less stressful working environment.

Each child is an individual and has their own way of learning as well as social circumstances or learning disabilities which may inhibit them from learning.  While we do not expect a teacher to be a social worker we do expect them to take the time to get to know each child, what their learning strengths and weaknesses are and teach the students in a manner that is best suited for them.  We cannot expect teachers to be able to do their jobs well if they have to deal with 50 plus students. 

Overcrowding classrooms defeats the purpose of trying to educate our children.  We cannot expect our children to learn to the best of their ability when they have to compete with 50 other students for the attention of their teacher.  Locking tardy students out of school is one way of cutting down class sizes, but what else are the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture doing to address this issue?

While overcrowding of classrooms is not the sole problem for our education system woes, it certainly is a contributing factor.  It also brings about the question of how many other students fell between the cracks because there were too many students in their classroom?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Where’s the Consistency in the Dispersion of Disaster Relief?

* The Samoan version was published in the Iniini Samoa Newspaper, here is the English version :)

After the 2009 Tsunami I was involved in the rebuilding efforts through assisting Habitat for Humanity.  Through my role I became aware that the victims were given a choice of either receiving $18,000 in financial assistance or to have a house built for them through Habitat for Humanity and funded by Digicel, Caritas and the Government of Samoa.  I thought this was a great initiative.

I am saddened when I hear that the same gesture was not given to the many victims of Cyclone Evan.  Yes it is understood that there are stipulations placed upon funds received by others in response to this disaster.  Usually these stipulations include what sectors they would like the money to be used for.  For example AusAID donated money to go towards the rebuilding of schools; others may have donated and asked for it to be used towards restoring water or electricity.  I do not believe that part of these stipulations included making money from the victims who have already lost so much by having them apply for loans and repay extra money on top of the loan repayment.

The Disaster Management Office has completed their assessments of those who are in need.  Would it not make sense to give the money that has been housed with Samoa Housing Corporation to those people rather than have them take out a loan that only puts them at a further disadvantage?  When you think about it 4 million tala is a massive amount of money.  Working in the water sector I know that 4 million tala is equivalent to upgrading more than 10 water schemes so I can see that it would be of great benefit to the victims of the cyclone who have lost so much. 

According to the 2011 census Samoa has 187,820 persons.  Not all of Samoa was greatly affected by the cyclone so it is not necessary to give the aid to everyone.  The Government of Samoa Press Secretariat released a table on January 16 stating the Villages and Families supplied by NEOC during Cyclone Evan.  This table identified that 2385 families received assistance from NEOC.  If we divided the 4 million tala among these people each family would receive 1677 tala.  Yes this is not a huge amount of money, but not as much aid was given for the cyclone so we cannot expect the same relief as was given during the tsunami.  However, I feel that the precedence was set with the tsunami and so the same should be done with the cyclone.  I do not see how making victims of Cyclone Evan struggle even more by repaying a loan funded by relief aid is consistent with why disaster relief was given. 

It is understandable that not as much aid has come in after the cyclone, this is beyond our control.  But Samoa was not totally devastated and we are still able to do so much with what we have.  If we as a country commit ourselves to back our local businesses by purchasing locally made food and produce and other goods and services that keep our money here in Samoa we will be helping each other to get back on our feet.

Government could offer tax deductions on any money that is donated to local charities giving people more incentive to give.

My son’s favourite saying, particularly when I am eating chocolate is ‘sharing is caring’.  We all have our own burdens and not everyone knows another person’s circumstances but if we all make an effort to share whatever we may have be it a chainsaw to help remove trees so that land can be used for planting, or our time in helping to remove such debris from land we as a country will recover so much faster and so much stronger.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Call for action to end violence against women

*Another of my column pieces for the Iniini Samoa Newspaper

A recent discussion with a friend regarding the responses of NUS students who were asked if they felt it was alright to hit women, brought sadness to my heart.  What I found sad was that the majority, including the female students, said that it was appropriate in certain circumstances to physically hit a woman.  What saddened me more was that we adults have taught this to our children, it is our fault!

When a father lays his hand on his wife in front of his children, he is showing them how to treat women.  When a woman stays in such an abusive situation and does not take action to stop it, she is showing her children that it is ok to have a man lay his hands on her so disrespectfully.  When friends and family witness such violence and do nothing to stop it, they are condoning the abuse of women.

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, said “Laws alone are not enough.  We must educate to shape new norms and behaviors…To empower women and ensure equality; we must challenge every form of violence every time it occurs.”

An example of where laws are not enough is when a husband comes home drunk and physically abuses his wife in front of their son and daughter, her mother and a house girl.  The police did not respond to the call for help and the neighbors did not provide any assistance either.  He did not spend any time in jail and charges were not even made.  This example shows that while the laws are in place they are worth nothing if women don’t follow through on charges.  This example also shows that we are not caring enough of our neighbors to help each other.

Violence is not just physical.  There is sexual, psychological and economic violence all of which are a violation of fundamental rights and human dignity.

The increase of sexual abuse of women and young girls in Samoa is heart breaking, particularly in cases where these acts of violence are at the hand of their spouses, fathers and other family members.  The fact that these cases are often hushed and swept under the mat are a major factor as to why they continue and why young boys think it is acceptable behavior when they are older.  Surely saving the name of a family is not as important as the well being of a precious young girl or a beloved mother and daughter.

Calling names and belittling a woman to the point where she has no self confidence to do anything is a form of psychological violence.  Making a person feel small just to make you feel better about yourself is one of the most cowardice things a person can do.  This is because it can be done behind closed doors and there are no physical marks to show the abuse, but the deterioration of a person’s self worth and soul can be far worse than physical abuse.

Economic violence is not one that is well publicized and yet it exists here in Samoa.  An example of economic violence is advertising a job opportunity and encouraging women to apply when the organization already have in mind that a male counterpart is preferred resulting in wasted time and money for female candidates who are shortlisted and interviewed.  The inequality of pay for women and men is also an example of economic violence.

March 8, 2013 is International Women’s Day and the theme is “A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women.”  Ending violence against women is something that everyone needs to do and can do.  We need to challenge each and every form of violence in order for it to end.  We as a country have made the promise to end the violence now is the time for action, what will you do to end violence against women?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Carrie Bradshaw is back!

So it has been a while since I last blogged, which isn't that new life has so many things that keep us all busy.  One thing that has kept me busy is a new column that I have been writing for the newest newspaper in Samoa, the Iniini Newspaper.  Because the Iniini is not yet available online I am able to blog my column pieces here.  So I hope you enjoy :)

Let Peace Reign
By Morwenna Petaia

February 23, 2013 marked the 108th anniversary of the first Rotary Club in Chicago.  Rotary International is a service club formed to mirror the same friendly spirit Paul Harris, one of the founders, felt in his youth. 
Today Rotary has 1.2 million members and 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries.  Samoa has a Rotary club as well as a Rotaract club.  The Rotaract Club is a partner club of Rotary that is aimed at people between 18 and 30 years of age.  The aim of the Rotaract Club is to “make a difference through charity work in Samoa and the Pacific Region.”

In an effort to celebrate the anniversary of Rotary, the Rotaract Club of Apia performed a peace dance at the SNPF plaza as a part of the Rock n Rotary: End Polio, Build Peace celebrations.

The Apia Rotaract President, Lealaiauloto Billy Chan Ting, said Rotaract clubs around the Pacific and north New Zealand held similar peace dances with the intention that they would all be collated to form the World’s biggest commercial on eradicating Polio.  Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal disease affecting mainly children under 5 years.  While Polio may not be as prevalent here in Samoa in comparison to other countries, this did not stop the Rotaract Club of Samoa in supporting the efforts in trying to eradicate the disease in other locations.

Naomi Fuamatu, a Rotaract member stated “Rotaract is about ‘service above self’ and we are committed to making the small changes in our community through our service projects – when you see the needs/ challenges within your community, it makes your ‘issues’ in life seem small.”

We often feel that as individuals we cannot make a difference to the world, that the world’s problems are all greater than we can overcome.  The Rotary Club and its worldwide success in helping people all over the world are an example of how each of us can make a difference.  If it were not for the founders of Rotary the millions of people around the world who provide services to those who are in need would not be here.

If each of us in Samoa were to serve one another we would not need all the foreign aid, the casinos and the added social problems that accompany them, there would be no children walking the streets and families starving.  We need to stop looking at what we can get from everywhere else and look at what we as a country can do for ourselves and for each other first.  Through service to others we will have no wars, no people in need because our selfish desires would not be there.  Another Rotaract member, Jonathan Porter, summed it up eloquently when he said “it is always a privilege to volunteer.”  We shouldn’t see helping other people as a faalavelave or a burden; it is a privilege to be of service to our fellow people.  Let each of us take the lead of the Rotarians and let peace reign.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Locked Out of School

There are some great new initiatives being implemented by new CEO's in various ministries here in Samoa.  Some of them I have found were pretty good and am quite interested in seeing how they pan out.  One particular initiative that I find a little contradictory is where all students at Government schools will be sent home if they arrive at school after 9:30 am.  Ok, I see that this is trying to curb tardiness at school but at the same time it is giving students a reason to be late.  If I were in high school and didn't want to got to school all I would have to do is hang around at the bus stop until 9:30 then rock up to school  and get sent home and have a reason as to why I am not at school.

Obviously that is the devious rascal side of me that no other teenager would ever dare think of doing.  But teenagers these days have a lot of responsibilities at home and if they have a legitimate reason like taking a parent to the hospital or the dentist surely they should not be penalized for showing up to school late and wanting to learn.

The whole point of having free schooling for primary and secondary students in Samoa is to encourage them to get out and get an education so that they are able to make a better living and increase the standards of living for themselves and their families.

Tardiness is but a minute issue when it comes to getting our students into schools.  Perhaps the introduction of truancy officers whose sole responsibility is to police the streets and bringing students who are purposely skipping school to their respective schools would be more helpful?

Again people always see the faults in new initiatives and sometimes need to just hold back on giving criticism to see where it may take us, but I feel in this case there really is no point to it.  If a child is late put them on detention, don't give them a reason to skip school.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Flying Frustrations

I just returned from a trip to Australia to visit my family over the holidays.  I had a wonderful time with them which included seeing beautiful sights, eating or more like over eating the delicious food, fun, sun and laughter.  The trip however was greatly soured as we attempted to fly home.

My son is an Australian citizen and holds a temporary resident visa for Samoa.  This enables him to stay in Samoa until the visa expires in 2015.  I went to great lengths before we left to make sure that this stamp was valid and in his passport.  I was confident that there would be no problems when we went to the Melbourne Airport to check in with Virgin Australia.  Oh how I was wrong! 

The Australian Passport website says that “Australian Passports are valid for travel into and out of Australia regardless of the length of remaining validity…Be aware that different countries have different passport validity requirements for permitting entry. If your passport has inadequate validity, you may be refused entry or not be allowed to board your aircraft or ship in the first place.”

My son’s passport expires in June 2013 and our flight was in January 2013, in my mind that is six months validity and fitted within the six month requirement.  However the guest service agent and supervisor counted from February which in their minds made the validity only five months.  So Virgin Australia refused to check my son in even though they had already checked me and my bag in.  While I know that Virgin were well within their rights to do so, surely the resident visa and the fact that he has lived in Samoa for seven out of his nine years of life showed that Samoa would let my son into the country.  What is the point of making sure that we have all the correct information in place if the airline can just decide whatever they feel like suits them?

The guest service agent was extremely polite and very helpful changing the flight to the next week so that we could organize a new passport, also making the necessary notes so that if another change was required it would be free of charge.  The process of getting a new passport sounds like a simple and easy procedure, but this is not the case.  Australian passports for children require consent of both parents.  I completely understand the reasoning for this and think it is a reasonable safety precaution.   However, when parents are divorced and live in two different countries on opposite sides of the world the process becomes that much more difficult.

While I have not taken legal action to gain sole custody of my son, my mother did.  I remember when I was younger and needed a passport my mother still needed my father’s consent, even though at the time he had almost no contact with me and I was travelling to the country where he resided.  In my opinion surely the legal documentation would mean that the other parent doesn’t need to give consent. 

The other requirement is that if overseas the signing of the consent needs to be sighted by an employee of an Australian consulate or embassy.  My son’s father lives in Utah and the closest Australian office is in California.  With the timing being over Christmas, finances are tight and a return flight is very costly.  Already being a week late for work we decided that it best to leave my nine year old son with my sister as school begins shortly and the passport may take longer than we had hoped and also resulted in my son losing his place at a private school in Samoa.

I understand the reasons for having laws in place.  I know that everyone was just doing their jobs.  I could also have been more proactive in making sure that the passport was MORE than six months in validity.  In spite of this it just feels like the humanity factor of life and making decisions is discarded because of these laws resulting in young children bawling their eyes out because they have to be separated from their parent for a long period of time, people missing work and extra stress on finances.

You would think that my woes with passports and Virgin Australia would end there, but it keeps getting better.

After finding a family member who could bring my son back to Samoa once his passport is renewed, I endeavored to call the Guest contact Centre of Virgin Australia to change my son’s booking.  I was on hold for 30 minutes when my call was initially answered.  Apparently I was directed to the wrong division and my call was transferred.  Three and a half hours later my call was answered.  The service person was a lovely woman, very friendly and eager to help.  However, after being on hold for over three hours the last thing I wanted to do was discuss how long I had been waiting for or how long her previous customer had waited.

Virgin Australia had just introduced a new booking system and this was the reason for the delay.  After speaking with the customer service officer we were finalizing the changes when my over four hour phone call got cut off.  I was not about to call back and instead decided to contact Virgin through their facebook page.  My message stated the situation and my displeasure with their service even asking for compensation for the four and a half hour phone call which would cost around AUD$243.40 as it was made from a mobile phone, the only phone available to me.  When I received the follow up phone call clarifications and apologies were received with no mention of compensation.  I am thankful that the changes were made but if a huge multinational airline changes a system surely they will foresee that there will be waiting times and prepare for compensation for waiting.  Having to wait on the telephone for four hours would never happen in Samoa; we would be hung up on or passed around to several people before being hung up on.  How can we expect our developing country to improve when this is the kind of example our so called ‘developed countries’ are showing us?

You would think that nothing else could go wrong at this stage but my flying frustrations continue!  I made my way back to the airport knowing I had my exemption stamp, fully valid passport and confirmed booking.  I am accustomed to the Guest Service Agent checking the exemption stamp and getting their supervisor’s approval, I had just gone through the process the week before when I was checked in and ready to go.  However, this time the supervisor requested documentation of my Samoan citizenship stating that the exemption stamp was not proof of this because it says “holder has unrestricted rights to enter and remain in Samoa whilst Samoan citizenship remains valid.”  Her interpretation of this statement was that documentation of validity of citizenship was necessary before she would check me in.  Her reasoning being that the airline would be fined should the stamp not be valid.  Their attempts to call the Samoan Immigration were unsuccessful as it was already after 7pm in Samoa.  I had to call the Samoan Embassy in Canberra from my personal phone and one of the embassy staff then had to email the Guest Service Agent to say the exemption stamp is proof of my citizenship and to allow me on the plane.  After my many great experiences with Virgin at this stage I was on the verge of tears and the pure arrogance of the supervisor made it very difficult to stay civil and hold back the barrage of unkind words that wanted to be set free.  The supervisor very matter of fact said that it was not their responsibility to make sure that I had the correct documentation, and I agree it isn’t.  But I had all the correct documentation; surely it is their responsibility to ensure that they are familiar with the various visas and exemption stamps so that they know what they mean and the reason for having them.  How is it that they could check me in the week before with the same documentation and were giving me such difficulty this time?

I do agree that the exemption stamp itself could be made clearer in its wording.  Perhaps including the words exemption stamp and changing the wording or adding a validity date would be helpful.

I also see this as an opportunity for the Samoa Immigration office to introduce an after hour’s line for emergencies such as this.

I am so thankful for the Samoan Embassy in Canberra and the extra effort they took in ensuring I was able to board my flight.

Our National airline is an affiliate of Virgin Australia and even partially shares a name.  If we want our national carrier to do well we need to ensure that the Virgin brand is satisfactorily meeting our expectations.  If people are displeased with Virgin airline services whether in Australia or New Zealand it will affect Virgin Samoa and its ability to prosper.  If this could happen to me it could also happen to others.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The column only I got to read

So, as I told you all yesterday I am no longer a columnist, but I wrote two perfectly good columns so will be sharing them here on my blog.  I hope you like them :)

Things I’ve learned from Evan
By Morwenna Petaia

It has been almost a month since Cyclone Evan brought his widespread fury and wrath to Samoa.  While the rebuilding and recovery stage of our lives is still upon us Evan has taught us each lessons that we can use so that when the next disaster happens we are better prepared and even more resilient.

Heed the Warnings – While I feel for all those who lost lives and belongings, I do not agree that you should place blame on authorities for untimely warnings.  I feel that there was ample time given to all regarding the cyclone and also the need to move away from low lying areas that are prone to flooding.  In fact I was a little surprised when I was purchasing canned foods, water and gas, when the first warnings were issued on Wednesday, that there were not more people making preparations.  Yes my main reason for the preparations was that I knew I had used up all the gas and food knowing that in a few days I was Australia bound so our cupboards were literally bare, but I am so grateful that I did heed the warning.  This was my first cyclone so when I heard the warning I jumped and did whatever I could to prepare because even if the cyclone didn't come I know that the peace of mind that I will not have to line up for food and rush around gathering family and belongings is worth so much more than the thought that I could have starved, been hurt or even killed.  Any warning should be taken seriously especially when lives are at stake. 

Be Prepared – Samoa is located in an area that is prone to tsunami, cyclones, bush fires, earthquakes and drought; we cannot and do not control when a natural disaster will occur.  Making sure that we have an evacuation plan in place so that each person in the household knows where to go and what to do in times of a disaster is one way that we can prepare.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints encourages their members to have a food storage and 72 hour kit ready for any kind of an emergency.  These kits usually include items like a three day supply of food and water, they found that pop top cans can leak so are not recommended, a can opener, first aid kit, bedding and clothing,  toiletries, medication, batteries, torches, candles, waterproof matches, axes  pocket knife, dishes and utensils, money and personal documents such as medical reports, passports, legal documents and credit for telephones.  Each person in the household would have a kit and it would go into a bag that is easy to transport and placed in an area that is easily accessed should an evacuation be necessary.  These kits need to be checked every six months to ensure food and medications are not out of date and also that clothes fit.  Something to also consider putting into your 72 hour kit is a board game, books or toys and paper and pens.  With the extended periods of time with not power and it being unsafe to go outside, children need something to keep them entertained and it can also be a bonding experience to play games as a family.

Cyclone Evan has shown me that I will need to get a car charger for my phone.  With the land lines and power being out of order during the cyclone I was reliant on my mobile phone which needed to be charged regularly.  This would have been easy to do if I had a car charger for my phone.  During the cyclone mobile phones were our only link to the outside world so making sure to use it only in times of emergencies and keeping a spare battery are also needed. 

I will need to make sure that I have boards and rope available to cover the windows and secure the roof of the house.  This also includes having a stock of tarpaulins should the roof need mending.  Even if we don’t use or need these kits during a disaster they may be needed by our friends, family or neighbours.

Get Insurance – Because we do not know when a disaster will happen or the intensity of a disaster we should make sure that we have insurance that will cover our valuables and things that we have worked hard to obtain.  The relief of knowing that you are covered financially should our properties or cars be affected decreases our stress and enables us to help others.

There is always the possibility that a natural disaster could take our lives.  For this reason it is also important to take out life insurance.  While a cyclone is an ordeal in itself dealing with the death of a loved one while also recovering from a disaster would be unimaginable.  While you won’t be there to see the fruits of life insurance, knowing that your family will be taken care of is reason enough.

Disaster Plans – Often we worry more about our homes, as we live in them, and not as much attention is given to schools and other buildings that are important to us.  Evan has damaged school buildings and finding a place where the students can attend once school begins is proving to be a topic of interest.  Maybe now could be a time where the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and village councils could make disaster plans for each of their schools where possible places to hold classes and procurement of temporary shelters where classes could be held. This could include discussions with churches for temporary use of their buildings.  But by having plans in place makes it easier to know where to go and what to do when a disaster hits; because it is not a question of if a disaster comes but when.