A Week in Samoa

I’m in Samoa – staying with my parents but otherwise completely alone. No Hot Man. No Fabulous Five. I was invited to attend the 2012 SPACLAL Pacific Literature Conference held at the National University of Samoa and I had to give a presentation thingamajig about electronic books and self-publishing and social media etc. It was a great opportunity to meet some amazing Pacific writers…like the Tongan poet Konai Helu Thaman, Samoan poet Rev. Ruperake Petaia, Cook Island poet Audrey Brown Pereira, Fijian poet Darren Kamali and his partner in life and poetry – Grace Taylor. And to re-connect with others who have mentored and inspired me…poet and academic Selina Tusitala Marsh and writer Emma Kruse-Vaai. I just wanted to absorb their creative wonderfulness by being in the same Samoan fale/house with them…but I even got to chat with them…have dinner with them…talk writing with them…fan the same flies away from our lunch…

This was my second SPACLAL conference. Dr Sina Vaai invited me to be on a Writer’s Panel at the SPACLAL conference in 2004. I was terrified because I hadnt written any books then and the short stories I HAD written – I was submitting to journals everywhere using different made-up names so nobody would know I’d written such rubbbish. In 2004, I felt like a big fat liar sitting next to REAL writers who were brave enough to write their REAL names on their writing. Fast forward to now. I didnt feel like such a big fat liar. And I even had some books with my REAL name on them. But – it didnt really help. Because I was still terrified. And freaked out about presenting. It didnt help that I wore a stunning puletasi which was so stunning it was a heat trap. And I was sweating in a puddle of humidity. And when I stood up to present, I was soooooo hot that my glasses fogged up. And I couldnt see anybody. And so I had to take them off. And then I REALLY couldnt see anybody. (which was maybe a good thing.) But talking about electronic books and self-publishing was kinda like setting off a bomb in that gathering because lots of the writers present hadnt heard of such stuff and had never considered there might be another way to get their stories out to the world. I left the conference with lots of requests from people wanting to  learn more about this publishing avenue.

Some of the highlights of the week for me?

*Meeting Konai Helu Thaman who knocked down many walls for Pacific women writers. Listening to  her explain the background inspiration for her poem, ‘You the Choice of my Parents’ – which tore at my 14yr old heart and fervent imagination when we studied it in English class.

*Hanging out with Selina Tusitala Marsh, the rockstar NZ/Samoan poet who is the coolest, funnest woman in literature. EVER. ( I mean, heck, the woman does kickboxing. And runs half-marathons. And can apppreciate fun, fantasy ‘trash’ fiction. Can’t get much cooler than that!) We bonded over Nalini Singh novels at the last Writers Festival we went to and I had to laugh at her presentation on ‘Afakasi Women in Pacific Lit’…because while she included an analysis of my TELESA book, she also livened up everyone’s day with lots of cover-pics from Singh’s romance/erotica books. Woohoo! (and you thought my book had a hot cover.)

*Listening to Tunumafono Apelu Aiavao, (a silver-haired, very distinguished gentleman) talk poetry. And tell us about ‘that night…back in 1970’s…when we were having a few drinks together with Konai Helu Thaman…and she danced for us…and I couldnt sleep that night thinking about her beauty…so I wrote a poem about her body and its sensual swaying in the night…’  And then reading that poem for us and others. The discussion that followed was a welcome reminder for me that I shouldn’t be as freaked out as I have been, about writing about sensuality as a Pacific woman. All these other groundbreaking Pacific writers have been doing it for ages. I don’t know if the rules are different for Pacific WOMEN…but be prepared for a lot more ‘freedom of expression’ in my next books.

*Performing a reading of my blog at the Poetry Evening. I’m a rule breaker who doesnt write poetry so instead I go to a poetry recital and read blog extracts instead. And tell everyone about Skanky Ho’s in West Auckland and the sad fact that no, they are not serving Diet coke and Doritos at the gym. It was my first time to do a reading from my blog and it was a blast. I had so much fun with it and the audience seemed to enjoy it as well. Although Rev. Ruperake Petaia was on next after me and he had to say, “I feel like the severe grandfather figure who must tell you all to stop laughing and screaming hysterically and attempt to inject some sombreness and gravity to the occasion” Performing did give me an idea though – I’m going to video more of my blog pieces and get them up on YouTube. (that should really embarass the Fab5. Which of course is always my goal in life.)

*The food. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I’m superficial like that. But you know me well enough by now to know that everything is about food. The conference was catered by Taro King and they make the bestest refreshments. They even put lolisaiga powder on their fresh pineapple. (Which makes them worthy of celestial honors in my estimation.) My week in Samoa would not have been complete without oka and fried breadfruit from Paddles Restaurant. Sashimi and pok’e from Amanaki Restaurant. Octopus in coconut cream (faiai fe’e) from Netties MiniMart. Cream puffs from PlantationHouse High Tea. Lychee, mangoes and papaya from the trees outside. Bananas in coconut cream (fa’alifu fa’i) from Siaosi’s shop. Hunks of hot bread and slabs of melting butter. And keke pua’a. And pineapple pie.  Everything tastes better in Samoa. I’m not sure why…

*The creative battery recharge. I savored sunsets on the Apia Harbor seawall. Delighted in sand and sun and the lilting sounds of the ocean. Mused on all the colors of a tropical garden – fiery fuschia, pert pinks, raging reds, solemn greens, velvet purples… Chickens nestled in a cozy cluster on the doorstep. Even the busy heat, dust and dirt of a crowded day in Apia. All of it refreshed and rejuvenated my writing fire. I’m so ready to write write write now…

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6 comments

  1. You do realise that while I eagerly checked in for an inspiration dose, I feel like a guilty traitor with one agenda.From your facebook posts and now this blog post I have compiled my list of must see and eat at places in Samoa for our family trip in January. OMG I can already taste everything and operation fit and fab can begin after my sweet indulgence.I must find the work of Konai Helu Thaman so I can redeem myself of my food lusting here :)Safe trip back to the arms of your loved ones

  2. This was a very enjoyable post, Lani! I like the perspective of you seeing your own growth, from being a novice writer of your beginnings feeling way out of your depth, and now some years later and look where you are and what you've accomplished! Yes, your humility and honesty allow you to express you still feel in some ways like, "pinch me…is this my life or am I still dreaming"? I love that about you, and that realness is so honest! Yes…love Nalini Singh, too! You encourage me to follow my own artistic talent and reach for my dreams, too. Thanks for sharing your gifts!

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