Emily in Samoa: An Average Day

I guess I should begin by saying that no day is really average here, but since we’ve stopped our classes and begun our month-long independent research projects, we’ve all begun to sink into our own daily schedules. We’ve also stopped island-hopping, which means we are spending a lot of quality time in Apia and its environs. Here is my daily schedule:

7:00- wake up. Drink tea, write journal entries. I check my email before the real action of the day begins, since with the time difference the day (well, yesterday) has already begun at home. Before this, however, I need to squish the ants that take up residence in my laptop overnight. Keyboards are prime real estate for colonially-inclined insects, and I have tried to discourage them from settling permanently in my electronics. However, the war can never be fully won.

8:30- head to town. Apia is about 10 minutes away from campus, and we get there by taking pink and yellow city buses. Luckily for us, they are not too crowded in the morning, though when schools get out they are packed, a phenomenon that Samoans deal with by sitting on other passengers’ laps, often stacking three people high. Many of the drivers like to blast reggae music, blending Samoan classics with revamped American pop.

In town, I go first to the headquarters of Women in Business (WIB), a local organization funded by the UNDP. My research project is focused on local farm to table initiatives, and WIB is running a project that is designed to better connect farmers and restaurants. I show up at around 9:00 to see what they have planned for the day, then tag along on any excursions they have. One day we set out on a tour of farms on the north coast, sourcing for weekly supplies of produce. WIB records what farmers have available, then sends a list of available foods to participants. Each sends an order list in return, and on Fridays WIB puts the orders in palm frond baskets. The idea is that farmers will not have to drive all the way to Apia, then sit all day in an open air market, only to return home without selling their produce. Farm to table will guarantee them a buyer, and cut down on shopping trips for restaurants and local consumers.

12:30- Since our research projects depend on surveys and interviews, I concentrate on interviews in the morning, and give out surveys in the afternoon. Interviews cannot be scheduled in Samoa, as executives and officials will often be two hours late, or postpone “for tomorrow” (which really means an ambiguous time in the future), or spontaneously leave for New Zealand for a month without giving notice. That said, it’s much easier to show up at the government buildings and see who’s around.

Surveys are the same as interviews: show up, don’t make appointments, and be friendly…but also be pushy. I have surveyed 50 restaurants (in a country of 180,000 people, this is fairly sizable), and the amount of time taken to fill them out ranges from two minutes to two weeks, during which I come back “tomorrow” five times, and listen to owners tell me to return some other time to get them. I now sympathize much more with people who hand out surveys…

Though it comes as a surprise to restaurateurs, my surveys are not intended to irk or inconvenience. I hope to gauge restaurants’ satisfaction with local markets and resources, as well as to assess potential problems with both local and imported foods. Once I explain this to restaurants, they are much friendlier. Some owners sit down with me to chat, making me a cappuccino and talking to me for hours about their hopes for their restaurant, challenges to business, where Samoa is headed, and the hot new topic of Why Trump Is Terrifying (their perspective). We often get on the topic of their favorite recipes, and they insist not only that they have the best recipe for fried chicken/pork dumpling/etc. in Samoa, but also that I must try said recipe. Similarly, farmers always make sure that I take samples of their best fruits home with me. This is my favorite part of my research.

Buses stop running at around 5:00, so after walking around town hunting down surveys, I head back to campus. Our group has a water boiler, a rice maker, a toaster, and a one-legged skillet, and we cook and talk as we trickle in from our daily adventures. Research can be exhausting, but it is also rewarding to make your own schedule, and reap the benefits of the efforts you put into a project. With only three weeks left of the program, it is essential that we all continue to put our all into our experience, in order to get the most out of our time here.

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