New Zealand

I am Enough.

I blinked and 2012 streaked naked through my life, my messy house. And then it was gone. Just like that. Hello 2013!

Right, so I’m going to do something revolutionary (for me) this year.  I am not going to start the new year making a list of all the things I hate about myself and how to fix them. Lists for how to be prettier, nicer, smarter, skinnier, friendlier, wiser, neater and all the other kinds of stupid’er things I’m supposed to be in fantasy land. Ha. I am NOT even going to make any fitness and weight loss goals. I am not going to commit to running in any 102km relays. I am NOT going to visualize how happy I will be when I lose twenty pounds. Or get boob implants. Liposuction. A nip. Tuck. Botox. I’m not even going to waste a single minute cursing the science research/medical industry that wont invest money and effort into devising a pill that gives you instant boob implants, liposuction, plastic surgery and botox. A painless, simple, cheap pill. I’m not going to knock down Jenny Craig’s door the minute they open after the New Year holiday for cardboard food I will hate eating. Or buy an insanely overpriced gym membership to a gym I will hate going to.

No. Not wasting a breath on any of that crap this year.

Because this is the year that I turn forty thirty-six. I am not a simpering, eyelash-batting, breathy-voiced teenager freaking out over acne and wondering whether some cute boy likes me. And I am not a self-obsessed, self-possessed, party-going, table-dancing, skank mini-skirt wearing twenty-something year old either. Or a people-pleasing yes-kid starving for affirmation.

 I am a WOMAN, dammit. A 5″10, CENSORED pound woman who’s given birth to four children and tried to stay sane while raising five. A big, brown Polynesian woman with big hips, bold thighs, and lush curves in unwanted unexpected places. I’ve got centipede pattern stitch scars across my non-existent ab’s from triple c-sections. And whispered tiger stripe stretch marks everywhere else that tell their story of baby growing. Breasts that have nourished life – and bled for it. Arms that have rocked a crying child a thousand times, a thousand nights. Hands that have labored over chocolate cakes, kids homework from hell, hair braiding, kids’ eczema, cleaned up puke, poop, paint and parties, given hugs (and yeah, maybe these hands have pinched naughty kids a few times too…wielded a salu…possibly)

 I am a mother with a loud voice who can laugh with her children, cry with them and fight for them.  I am a wife with a patient heart who knows how to love through the good, the bad and the ugly times. I am a daughter who knows that the best way to love her parents – is from a distance – with carefully constructed fences of self-built self-worth. I am a sister who’s made mistakes – and is learning from them. I am a teacher who knows how to make learning a journey of discovery with her students. I am an author who writes Pasifika love stories – and loves it.  I am blessed. I am grateful.

I am all these things and more. I am me and I am not going to waste time on trying to be anything different. This quote from a very wise woman, Marjorie Hinckley is perfect, “We women have a lot to learn about simplifying our lives. We have to decide what is important and then move along at a pace that is comfortable for us. We have to develop the maturity to stop trying to prove something. We have to learn to be content with what we are.” I think I am finally ready to stop trying to prove myself.

This year, I will not be driven by self-loathing. This year I will endeavour to incorporate into my life – more of those elements that uplift, energize and inspire me. For example, I hate running (and dieting). With a passion. But I love love love dancing. (and eating.) With a passion. This year I’m going to sign up for fun stuff like Hot Hula and also finally learn how to tango. (hopefully the Hot Man will agree to sign up to be my Antonio-Banderas-dance partner!) I’m going to make the time to prepare the foods that I love and take a cooking class so I can stop eating cans of tuna for dinner followed by three different kinds of cake (since thats all I know how to make with any kind of skill…) Bring on the seafood extravaganza menu!

I want to (finally) learn to swim. Go to a Coldplay concert. Meet up with fabulous author friends at the RT Convention in the US. Write more books about lots of luscious, bold Pasifika women (and beautiful hot guys…of course) Take the Fab5 to Disneyland. Get my NZ driver’s license so I can actually drive OUTSIDE West Auckland, see more of New Zealand with my family.  Get out of my hermit cave more. I will try new things and search for new experiences that will bring joy to my life and the lives of those I love.

My resolutions for 2013? To be fierce, fiery and bold – in person and not just on paper. To love better, dance and laugh more. To be content with me.

To say, ‘I am enough.’ And mean it.

What do you hope for from YOUR 2013?

A Night of Illicit Abandon – Walking on the Wild Side

A fit of fizzy flightiness overwhelmed me this weekend.  I was consumed by this insane desire to be like those people who bungy jump, sky dive and buy clothes that are NOT on sale. I felt like living dangerously and walking on the wild side.  Where did this strange feeling come from? Maybe it was because the week had been crazy busy – I Telesa chatted with  a Pacific Lit class at Auckland University on Monday, took kids to the dentist on Tuesday, wrote furiously on Wednesday, did an interview for the TVNZ Good Morning Show on Thursday, and gave a talk at a church women’s conference on Friday. (Or maybe it was because I ingested way too much caffeine via Diet Coke overdosing to assist me with all my speech writing and interview-prepping…)

Either way, I said to the Hot Man, ‘ooh, lets be spontaneous and exciting!He looked wary. ‘And do what?’

I said, let’s run away from the children and live it up all night! Dancing on tables ( or around poles), jumping off the Sky Tower, ordering not one but TWO desserts….all crossed my mind.  I  found a super fabulous overnight special for a lovely hotel in the city situated in the midst of restaurants, night clubs and assorted wild times venues so that we could do exactly that – ‘live it up all night’  (The mind boggles at all the possibilities in that phrase it up all night…)   I was ready to live dangerously.

But the sad fact is that a woman with five children can never really live dangerously without excruciating planning. And massive atonement for the overload of guilt one feels when one abandons said children. Soooooo before I ran away, I had to :
1. organize baby sitting
2. purchase extra groceries in case there was a famine while we were gone
3. Check that torches and radios had batteries, candles had matches, smoke alarms were working, all windows and doors had functioning locks, and every child remembered the emergency number and tsunami escape route   – in case there was a natural disaster, fire or influx of housebreakers while we were gone.
4. Remind Big Son and Big Daughter about paracetemol, asthma medications, treatment for spider bites, choking, accidental ingestion of too many cookies.
5. Rent DVDs and XBox games galore from the store so they wouldnt cry/be left bereft/sink into the depths of despair upon my departure.

I had a faint moment of panic when I remembered that we havent actually made a will yet and what if we both got killed in a motorway crash on the way to the hotel? Or what if the hotel got taken siege by terrorists and we were blown to bits because Bruce Willis couldnt save us? It was too late to get a will done by then so I had to let those dire thoughts go. Bad mother, bad mother – irresponsible enough to have so many children and NOT get a will done.

And finally, before we could run away for a night of illicit abandon, I insisted we take the children on an all-day fun outing. One that involved a trip to the local marine world and hours at the beach. Sand, sun, water, and fish’n’chips.Fun, fun, fun. Only then could I indulge in my fit of fizzy flightiness, chucking clothes in a bag and run away.

It was 5pm before we finally left. The hotel was lovely. We enjoyed being childless. (cue fireworks and glitter cannons here) We had a delicious dinner at a lovely restaurant. We finished eating. And then the Hot Man said, with forced joviality,  Right where shall we go dancing first?

Then the sad truth hit me. I was really really really tired from hanging out with those children all day and being kind and loving and patient and joyful for such a long time. I was kinda sunburnt from the beach. My feet hurt from walking around the marine place. I didnt want to go bungee jumping off the Sky Tower. Or dancing on tables or around poles. I couldnt even order two desserts because I was still full from fishnchips from Mission Bay. I didnt want to squeeze myself into my ‘dancing on table and around poles’ attire, I just wanted to veg out and space out in ginormously comfortable pyjamas. And did I mention that I  was tired?

But mostest of all? I missed my children. And my house. And my own bed. And my own shower. And my own living room. And my own fridge.

I said, shamefaced. ‘Actually, I want to go home. I miss the kids.’

And the Hot Man said, shamefaced. ‘Yeah, me too.

Conclusion?  We must be really old.  Or just really boring.

I am resolved – next time I am possessed by a fizzy fit of flightiness, I wont exhaust myself first by taking the children out on an all-day excursion of happiness. No. I will be heartless, cold and cruel, just walk out that door and slam it so loud that I will drown out the YOU CRAPPY LOSER MOTHER! sirens blaring in my head. And then nobody will be able to hold me back from the dance tables and I will order not one, not two, but THREE desserts, because I know how to live dangerously, dammit! 

We used to know how to be exciting and fun people, honestly!
(Is that edge of desperation in my voice convincing you yet?!)

You Must KILL Her.

A long time ago, my great-aunt used to shake her shaky fist and tell me, “You must KILL her. You must fight and work hard and next time you must KILL her. She is nothing. She is from a family of pigs. She must not beat you again.” Why? Because I had placed second in class instead of first, and some other girl had gotten better marks than me in school examinations.  My great-aunt wasnt the only one driving us kids on the road to perfection. If we came first in three subjects at school, our parents wanted to know why we didn’t top the other two as well? If we didnt win at sports then our family never came back to watch us again. And we all knew that activities like music, painting, art, and etc were not REAL subjects at school…they were not suitable academic pursuits on the road to becoming doctors, lawyers, Nobel-Prize winning scientists or shockingly intelligent Professors. No, music and drawing and dancing  and even sports were for those other people who weren’t smart enough to be doctors, lawyers, Nobel Prize winning scientists and so forth.

It was rather tiring to be perfectionists and academic over-achievers all the time…

I resolved long ago to do things a little differently with my Fab5. I decided I was going be that ever-supportive and encouraging parent who would be happy with you even if you weren’t the bestest, most brightest lightbulb on the planet. I wasn’t going to only emphasize acadamics. I would let my kids know that art and music and dancing and hell yeah, even sports were worthy of their time and effort.

So how am I doing? I cheer them on at every game – even when they’re complete losers. I tell them ‘the most important thing is having fun! Trying new activities…making new friends…and just trying your best!’ (Said with the most cheerful of voices and the most smiley of faces.) Back in the day, I would drive Big Son to every soccer game and baseball practise – just so I could watch him be a spare. And clap loudly when he missed the ball. Time and time again. I encourage these children to always try new sports, new activities…and then I profess my love for them even when they are absolutely dreadful artists, dancers, readers, mathematicians, or  geographers. Its not easy to find that balance though. Because I still want them to be motivated and have goals and direction and not waste their potential and talents…I mean its all very well to LOVE them but heck, I want them to get educated and get  good jobs – and support their parents like any other self-respecting Samoan child…

Sometimes I slip up and regress to my Perfectionist Parent Persona. Like the time that Big Son DIDN’T get top marks for English. “What in hell were you doing all year?! What do you mean you dont know? Whatever gave you the idea that SECOND in English was an acceptable achievement for MY son?! Hello?! I’m an English teacher and a writer of books in English. I spend thousands on books for you kids to read. I read Keats and Wordsworth to you when you were in the uterus, dammnit! I would put earphones on my gigantic stomach so you could listen to Mozart and grow genius brain cells in there… If you’re not kicking butt at school then you’re obviously not trying hard enough and I will not have an English language loser for a son damnit!” Yes, Big Son’s father had to step in and remind me that we are NOT psycho perfectionist parents.

Which is why I am so befuddled by my Big Daughter. Who is absolutely bereft. Because ( drum roll please, dramatic pause) “I’M FAILING JUGGLING IN P.E”

Huh? Excuse me? Yes, you heard me right. The fourteen year old is having an emotional breakdown because she is not excelling at the juggling unit in her Physical Education class at school. I said, nicely – “It’s alright. As long as you’re trying, as long as you’re having fun, thats what matters!” (Said with the most cheerful of faces and the most smiley of faces.)

She snarled. “No, its not alright. I want to be the best at EVERYTHING I do. I don’t want to fail at anything.I’ve been practising and practising and Im still not mastering it.”

I said, still nicely. “We can’t excel at everything. What we can do is treasure every experience and learn from it.”

She disagreed. “No, what matters is to be the best. All the time. I want to have a perfect report card. My friend Elizabeth is going to get better grades then me.”

I gave up being nice and cheerful. I gave it to her straight. “Listen here, nobody gives a stuff about juggling. Are you planning on joining a circus when you grow up? Is that your life goal? Hell no. It better not be. We’re not working our butts off so you can study juggling. We didn’t move here to New Zealand so you could spend hours practising throwing balls in the air, you hear me? Is juggling going to get you a scholarship to university? Is it going to make you a better doctor or lawyer? Are you going to win a Nobel Prize with bloody useless JUGGLING?! Stop wasting your time on such stupid things.” And then I got carried away “Go study the subjects that matter. And study really hard so you can KILL that girl Elizabeth, you hear me?!”

My Great-Aunt would be proud.

A Night From Hell.

I  suffer from a very rare disorder. I am – ‘navigationally-directionally challenged.’ This disorder is so rare that I can’t even find it on Google yet. (I may have to start my own support group.) Anyway, this disorder means that I have trouble with directions, spatial concepts, and basic remembering where the hell I’m supposed to be going. Its the reason why I only ever park my car in places where there are NO other vehicles in sight – because I struggle to gauge distances. And why I sometimes can’t find where I parked my car at the mall. (Or else somebody moved it just to be spiteful…) It’s the reason why I panic if I have to change lanes – because I can’t figure out how much space or time I have before the other car smashes into me….why I chucked my GPS in the rubbish after cursing it repeatedly – because it says stuff like, “Turn left after 30 meters.” How in heck am I supposed to know where to turn left when I dont know how far is 30 meters? How stupid can a talking machine be? It’s the reason why I can still get lost driving to the bank and it explains why I am  a prisoner of Te Atatu in West Auckland – because I’m too scared (stupid) to drive outside my safety comfort zone. Finally, it’s the reason why I’ve been in several car accidents – because I misjudged vehicle speed and timing and I stopped when I should have gone faster, and because I went faster when I should have stopped…

In other words, I am a crappy driver. To compensate for this failing, I try never to go outside my comfort zone. I have the routes to key places mapped out – the doctor, McDonalds, Wendy’s, the mall, Dunkin Donuts on Lincoln Rd, church, and the Fab5’s schools. Anywhere else? Forget it. I just dont go there. Except in case of dire emergencies.

The other day was one of those dire situations. Great-Nana was here from Samoa for hip-replacement surgery. She was out of hospital and invited us over for dinner. In Mt.Roskill. She may as well have been in the furthest reaches of Siberia. Because that’s how I felt about driving me and the Fab5 there. At night. But this was important. This was Great-Nana.

I did my research. I mapped it out on Google-Map. I wrote the directions down. I drove the route ‘virtually’ online. I picked out landmarks along the way. And then I went over it all on the computer again. And again.  We set off into the wilderness. The Fab5 and I. Without being asked, Little Daughter prayed first on our behalf. I know that was supposed to make me feel better. But her quickness to appeal for divine help further confirmed what my gut was already telling me. This has the potential to be a night from hell…

Against all odds, we arrived safely at our destination. We had a lovely dinner with Great-Nana. We said goodbye and set off for home. Ha. It all went downhill from there.

Because I had neglected to do a very crucial thing. Google map myself travelling FROM Mt.Roskill BACK TO Te Atatu. Yeah, for SOME people retracing one’s steps is a simple thing. But not for a person suffering from navigational-directional-idiocy. I got lost. And it was dark so all the landmarks on my list? Couldn’t see ’em very well. Lost. Lost. Lost.  No cellphone. No Hot Man to save me. Nothing. Just lost.

 So there we were. One hopeless woman driver. And five children ranging in age from four to seventeen. Did I have a map? Yes, I had two. But I was having trouble figuring out which way the map should be pointing. I may have had it upside down. Big Son endeavoured to assist me with navigating. I may have yelled at him. (Blame the stress.)  An hour later and  we were still lost. The Bella Beast exclaimed, “Ooh look! We’re going to visit the Sky Tower!” Yes, it was true. We were in the city and the wonders of the sparkly Sky Tower were beckoning before us. I didn’t want to go to the Sky Tower. I wanted to pull over and cry. I felt the beginnings of a panic attack…what if we drive all night and never find our way home? What if the police notice I’m driving in circles  and pull me over and find out I don’t have a proper NZ license and I get arrested? What if gangsters or the mafia spies or the triad assasins figure out I’m a lost loser and car-jack us and sell us all into slavery? What if the car engine blows up because it’s sick of being confused and we’re charred to a crisp? What if …you see how my brain works, don’t you? Thank goodness I write books, or else my imagination would drive me insane.

And then at that most emotionally fraught moment, Big Daughter decided to share her wisdom. Because of course she navigates for Christopher Columbus in her spare time. She says, “Dad said that the reason why you never know how to get somewhere is because you DONT WANT TO know. You don’t want to learn . You dont want to get better at driving.”

Very nicely, I said, “Thank you for your comments. Sometimes that may be true, I dont pay attention to where we are going BUT that does not apply at this time. On the way here, I was very careful and very observant because I was very worried about driving to a new place on our own. I went to GREAT LENGTHS to get this trip right.”

Any other child would have shut up at that moment. But not my child. She said, “We are not lost anyway. Dad said its impossible to ever get lost in Auckland. As long as we have a map, we can find our way no problem. Auckland is a very logically and straightforward planned city. Its easy to drive in Auckland.” Says the kid who’s never driven bloody anywhere. Ever.

 I want to chuck her out of my lost car. I want to call her father in Samoa on my imaginary cellphone and yell at him for spreading such blatant truths  lies about me. I said, “You better be quiet.”

Alright I lie, I said, “You better shut up.”

Bella said, “Mum you said bad words!” I think Little Daughter started praying again.

Any other child would have shut up at that moment. But not my child. Big Daughter MUTTERS from the back seat, “Fine. But I’m telling you that we’re not lost and if I was navigating, I would prove it to you. And Dad was right – you have a mental block on purpose when it comes to directions…mutter mutter…” Muttering. It should be punishable by death. Dismemberment. Or at the very least – deserve 24hrs worth of tape on the mouth.

This time, I didnt want to chuck her out of my lost car. I wanted to smash her with my lost car. Thankfully, Big Son must have had similar feelings. He said, “Be quiet! You’re not helping at all. Can’t you see you’re making everything worse?”

My rage had one advantage. It killed the panic attack. I stopped hyper-ventilating and wanting to cry. Powered by anger, Big Son and I figured out where we were on the map. It took us two hours, but yeah, we finally got home. Alive. Safe. Un-lost.

I thanked Big Son for his navigational help. I thanked Little Daughter for her prayers.  I thanked Little Son and Bella Beast for their patience. I told Big Daughter she needed to look up the definitions for “tact” and “diplomacy” and “sensitivity” and “effective communication”. And learn them. Practise them.

And then I called up the Hot Man in Samoa. And blasted him for having illegal conversations with Big Daughter about my crappy driving skills. He was sufficiently apologetic.

And then I told him about the horrors of being lost in Auckland. At night. With five kids. I recited all the possible horrors that could have happened to us. The fear, the panic, the tears..all the killers and car-jackers and muggers and assassins that COULD have got us.

He said, “Don’t be silly. You weren’t really lost. It’s impossible to be lost in Auckland.”

A fittng end to a night from hell.

You Made Me Cry

What a week it has been. It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting here, exhausted and just a little bit stunned.

1. The electronic book version of ‘When Water Burns’ was released on Amazon on Thursday. I asked for your help with getting this book into the rankings and you responded. You bought 380 books in a single day.  I woke up on Friday morning to find that ‘When Water Burns’ was number ONE on Amazon’s Movers and Shakers List – which tracks books that move the most on the listings in a single day. Overall ranking, #379 out of 1, 190, 929 books. Number 1 on the People and Places Fiction List, Number 1 on the Mythology List, Number 5 on the Children’s Hot New Releases List. You made history for a book written by a Pacific author. You did that.

2. Today I went to Otara Market in South Auckland for a book signing event organized by Rasmus Pereira and the Shop Samoa team. I had never been to Otara Market before. (Rasmus is pretty sure that this was a first for Otara Market as well – a book signing.) Many companies and individuals worked together to sponsor the event and make it happen. Like SUGA Magazine, Levi Plumbing, DJ Meex, Keila Records, Yolande Ah Chong, Tatau Dance Group, the Te Ariki Vaine Dance Group, Miss Samoa-NZ – and more.  I was expecting a low-key morning with a few people in attendance – and the chance for me to check out the market shops and sample some of the food that Otara Market is (in)famous for. That’s not what happened. From start to finish, I was overwhelmed. There were masses of people wanting to get books signed. Wanting to have photos taken. Wanting to meet the cover models. Wanting to share their excitement and enthusiasm for the books and the characters. Not only that, but the organizers had worked together with different sponsors to host a great array of gifted Pacific artists. From dance groups to music artists and radio hosts and more – the day was one that celebrated Pacific talent and creativity. But the day was truly about you. It was possible because of you. The readers. The supporters. You that have embraced these books and these characters and gone out of your way to encourage a Samoan writer that is trying to write and publish her books on her own. Today was about YOU. You made it memorable. Special.

Mothers, daughters and grand-daughters celebrating a book together.

A professional athlete and an actress giving of their talents to bring a book to life.

A beautiful couple. 

A mum bringing her children to meet an author.

A community coming together.

Connecting with great friends.

Dancers sharing their talents ( and tattoos) with a captive audience.

Dancers sharing their fiery flair and beauty. 
Inspiring examples of Pacific women.
The next generation of readers…and writers?
A rugby superstar making the time to support a Pacific author – and our youth.

Dedicated fans showing their enthusiasm for the book (and for Daniel) via their T.Shirts.



Thank you for all that you do to make this writing and publishing journey possible. The last few days have shown me just how much you love these books. Just how much you are willing to do to encourage and uplift a writer of fiery Pacific stories. I’m humbled and grateful for every day that I can be living my writing dream.  Thank you for all that YOU do to make it happen.

(Ok, and now, I’m going to cry. Thank goodness you can’t see me. It’s past midnight, I’m really tired, looking at the pictures from the Otara event and I’m crying because you all blew me away with your support. I had no clue you were going to make a day like today happen.) 

And yes, in answer to those who have already begun asking me about book three…I am going to get serious about finishing work on the next book. ‘The Bone Bearer’ is in the works. And so is the Daniel novella – much of book one retold from Daniel’s perspective. Your support of my books makes it possible for me to write more. It’s that simple. This week, YOU made history. Today, YOU made my very first visit to Otara Market – an absolute joy. And tonight, reflecting on it all – YOU made me cry.

Thank you.

Fifty Memories of Samoa for Fifty Years of Independence

Flags flying in Samoa for Independence. Photo by Leone Samu.

Today Samoa marks the 50th anniversary of achieving Independence. For me, the story of Samoa’s last fifty years is also my family’s story because my parents were married in 1962 and they celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this year as well. My parents chose to stay in Samoa and raise their six children there, even though the lure of distant shores was strong. My mother came to Samoa from New Zealand, as a very new, very ‘refined’, very beautiful young bride ( wearing white gloves no less), and thankfully for us children – never left. One of the greatest blessings in my life, has been the privilege of being born and raised in Samoa – by parents who have always worked hard to strengthen their marriage and value their family above all else. I pay humble tribute to the land that nurtured me and to the parents who love me. Thank you. Here’s fifty of my favorite memories of growing up in Samoa. There’s a million more for each one listed and of course, each of you will have your own unique list!

1. Weekends at Lefaga, staying in a house on the beach. Spending the day in the water (after doing all the assigned chores of course), showering at a rusty tap by the mangrove swamp, playing cards by kerosene lantern, going to sleep with the sound of the ocean (and mosquitoes), waking up and doing it all over again.
2. Reading Narnia books while sitting in a mango tree. Sticky sweet juice on your face. Hoping nobody finds you and gives you chores to do.
3. Getting dropped off at the Nelson Public library for the entire afternoon – the only place I was allowed to go all by myself when I was eight years old – and not worrying that a psycho child abductor was going to grab me. Really nice librarians bending the rules and allowing me to borrow twenty books at a time.
4. Hot German buns. Deliciously sweet, caramalized coconut insides.
5. Classroom monitor duty, sweeping classrooms with a salu-lima. Trying to tell naughty boys what to do because I’m just boss like that. (and because I was class captain. Don’t mess with my power…)
6. Finding excuses not to play softball. Or netball. Because everybody shrieks with laughter when you make a mistake. And yells at you when you’re awful. Samoa never believed in ‘every child’s a winner on the field’. If you sucked, everyone told you.
7. Glutting yourself on whatever fruit is in season. Making a basket with your shirt and filling it with mandarins. Or passionfruit. Or crab apples. Running really fast to escape the security guard. ( We lived on an agriculture Univ campus and students had fruit orchards everywhere which we weren’t really supposed to be helping ourselves to.)
8. Hoping the neighbor’s dog wouldn’t bite you.
9. Hoping your own dog wouldnt bite you.
10. Picking frangipani so we could make ula for Culture Day at school. Sap sticky fingers, sore from all the careless needle pricks.
12.  Sunday Toona’i at my grandfather’s house. Getting to eat all the food that our palagi mum refused to make. Chop suey. Oka. Pisupo floating in oil. Taro.
13. Saturday morning cartoons at my grandfather’s house because we didn’t own a television and he got TV stations from American Samoa.
14. Eating red baked lopa seeds. Making a mess with all the shells everywhere.
15. Eating sugar cane. Making a mess with all the spit up, chewed out mouthfuls.
16. Eating lolesaiga. Making a mess with all the leftover seeds. Our mum getting mad everytime she stepped on one by accident.
17. The whole school practicing for hours in the sun everyday so we get our sasa JUST RIGHT.
18. Being in the B-group for Samoan language with all the palagi kids because we never spoke Samoan at home, because my Dad believed that English was the language that would take us places. At the time – he was right.
19. School detention for being late too many times. Mean prefects making you weed vaofefe prickle grass in the blazing hot sun. While they stood in the shade and watched. (So unlike Daniel who cuts grass BESIDE you when you’re suffering through your punishment.)
20. Traipsing around after my big brother while he catches eels at Lefaga, using an empty plastic bottle, suctioning them out of their hiding places in the lava rock pools.
21. Practicing our lines for White Sunday. ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.’ Papa getting annoyed because the Mormon kids ( us) were really bad at memorizing scriptures.
22. Driving real slow everywhere. Stopping to allow really big pigs to meander across the road.
23. Swimming at Vaiala at least three nights a week. My Dad throwing me up in the air, silver spray scatters.
24. Ice-cream cones after swimming. Sitting in the back of the pickup truck, wet and wrapped in a towel, feeling like life cant get any more perfect than this.
25. Hot pani popo from Schwenke’s bread shop. Rich, creamy and delicious. The tall cute boy serving behind the counter who I’m SURE had a crush on me because he always gave me EXTRA coconut buns. (yeah, you know it. Twelve years old and getting free coconut buns with my smile. Woo hoo!)
26. The heady fragrance of golden mosooi flowers.
27. Dancing the siva all the time. Getting called on to be the taupou every time my Dad had some kind of village matai event because the REAL taupou of the village ( aka, my big sister) was at school overseas. Somebody needs a taualuga? No problem, ‘Lani, go siva.’
28. The dreaded report cards. The parent’s responses, ‘You only came first in THREE subjects? What about the other two?’
29. The high school socials. Held in broad daylight. Everybody dressed up with no place to go. Dancing in the school hall with sweat trickling down your back and teachers breathing over your shoulder.
30. Taking empty Coke bottles to the store so we could buy PK chewing gum.
31. Eating eleni and hating it. Even when its cooked a million different ways by our Martha Stewart mother. Eleni fishballs with sweet and sour sauce. Eleni ‘meat’ loaf. Eleni baked with aubergines. Yuck.
32. Three hours of church every Sunday. My little sister giving her Sunday school teacher a heart attack, telling her ‘I’ve decided to be an aethist.’
33. Evening lotu prayers at Papa’s house. Every night. The roads closing. All traffic forbidden from six to seven because everybody is supposed to be at home. Singing hymns. Praying. Reading scriptures. Or else you get fasi’d.
34. Visiting Great-Aunty Ita who named me, who tells everyone, all the time,  that I’m going to do amazing things  – become a nun, marry a pastor, or be a lawyer.
35. Visiting Great-aunty Ita who named me, always without my mother, because Aunty Ita called her a ‘daughter of pigs’.
36. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer at school. Every morning. Every day.
37. Working in our mum’s shop every day after school . All day Saturday. Getting paid one tala for our troubles. Rushing to blow it all on lolesaiga. Or a fizzy Fanta in a glass bottle.
38. Reading books while we’re supposed to be working in our mum’s bookshop every day. Missing it when a stealer grabs three of Mum’s silk-screened t.shirts and runs out the door. Getting told off by our mum for being slack shop security.
39. Being scared whenever Evaliga came into the shop in her colorful assortment of draped fabrics and a red turban on her head. She would sit and read a dictionary for half an hour, muttering to herself while we wondered what we would do if she decided to take it. Fight Evaliga? Hell no. Breathing a sigh of relief every time she left the store. Without the dictionary.
40. Buying all the coconuts from Maria – the little girl who lugs a basket of them into the store everyday. Making her sit down. Giving her some snacks. Wishing you could pay for her school fees. And then regretting it a little bit when she comes back the next day with another basket AND three friends who all have baskets of cabbages to sell as well.
41. Being a ‘young adult’ and going dancing at the clubs – the Playground, Margreyta’s, Evening Shades and even the Mt Vaea. Our favorite DJ, Corey Keil who always played the bestest sounds.
42. Having your boyfriend get hit on by very boisterous, very bodacious fa’afafine. Hoping he’s not interested because daayuuum how can you compete with such splendors of fashion and dance?!
43. Planting a massive vegetable garden with your brothers and sisters. The nuisance of having to weed and water it everyday. The wonder of eating fresh golden corn on the cob once everything actually grew.
44. Buying a plate of BBQ from a roadside stand. Chargrilled mamoe, a chicken leg that seeps with redness, saka fa’i, and a dollop of potato salad. Loving it.
45. Peka ( our babysitter/Nanny, our other mother) crying those rare times our mother smacked us with the wooden spoon. Telling our mother she was never coming back to work again.
46. Feeding chickens and collecting eggs every day. Being scared of the psycho rooster that charges at people, wanting to scratch your eyes out.
47. My Dad doing the dishes with the lights turned off because he didn’t want anybody to see him from the road. Because ‘it’s very shameful for all of you if people see the matai of the family is washing the dishes.
48. My Mum lending her creative flair and fierce drive and determination to community service groups. Organizing stunning fundraising events for the local IHC. Dressing up as Zorro to ‘kidnap’ the bank manager in broad daylight and hold him for ransom. Wearing a fluffy skirt to dance the cancan on stage with eight other women. Lip synching ‘Jump for my love’. Whatever my mum does – she does with style.
49. Making my little brother push me around in the wheelbarrow while I give orders to the little sisters as we make scarecrows to put in the yard. Which never scared any birds. (Nobody told the Samoan birds they were supposed to be scared of raggedy clothes hung on sticks.)
50. Waking up early on Independence morning to go watch our big brother and sister march in the parade. Eating homemade cinnamon rolls and drinking Milo in the darkness while we wait for it to start. Getting our ears and hearts blown to bits by the 21 cannon salute as another year of Samoa’s Independence begins.
  Happy and blessed Fiftieth Anniversary Samoa – and my Mum and Dad.

What is a Samoan?

                                 Samoans – there’s lots of different kinds of us.
Something strange happened to Big Son when we moved to New Zealand. Something that involved a lavalava, the siva and ‘real’ Samoans. Our children have spent their entire lives in Samoa – interspersed with holidays in Auckland so even though they’re technically multiracial mongrels like me and the Hot Man, they are pretty much supposed to be “Samoans.”

When we lived in Samoa, Big Son never ever wore a floral lavalava. Not to bed, not to lounge around the house, not to hang out with friends in town. Not ever. He didn’t dance the siva. Or speak Samoan where the cool kids could hear him. Or even call himself a Samoan. “What are you then?…Umm, I don’t know. Does it matter what I am?”  (For the record, let it be known that I can dance a beautiful siva thank you very much. And I know all the important words in Samoan. And I love lavalava’s and puletasi …they can be very slimming outfits…)

Then we moved here and Big Son started attending a NZ public school. Where he was obviously…not an Asian. Not a white person ‘palagi. Not an Indian. Not from the Middle East. Not South African. Not Maori. All of a sudden, Big Son was identified by others as being ‘Pacific Islander’ – and more specifically, “Samoan.”  And other Samoan teenagers, particularly those born and bred here in NZ, have been excited to ’embrace’ him as one of them. As a walking, talking expert on all things Samoan.

So what happened? Big Son started speaking Samoan. A lot. Because he found that his fluency was miles better than the other kids and it was ‘cool’ to speak Samoan. I fell over in shock the day he asked to borrow one of my lavalava’s to wear at school. You want to wear a floral piece of cloth around your waist? At school sports day? In front of hundreds of other teenagers? Are you ill? Did aliens eat your brain? No. He wanted to wear Samoan clothing because the other Pacific Islanders thought it was cool to show your identity that way. At RWC time, Big Son took a giant Samoan flag to school. So he could walk around waving it. Even when Manu Samoa lost. And then Big Son joined the Samoan Culture Dance group and comitted to hours of daily practises after school. And all day Saturdays. And overnight camps to practise. In this country, cultural dancing is taken super seriously. (Whereas in Samoa, the most important thing to parents and teachers and most kids – is working your butt off to pass School Certificate and PSSC exams. But then, hey, that’s the islands for you…us laid back, underachiever islanders…) But here now, the boy who sneered at the siva when we lived in the land of the siva – now was giving up his precious gym time and afternoon sleeping time and Saturday X-box time – to practise the siva. We went to watch him perform the traditional sasa and slap dance and I was so  proud of him. And thankful that he was having this very cultural experience.

It got me thinking. Identity and belonging can be such complicated things. And what defines you as “Samoan” or whatever other race you may be, actually varies in different countries. Samoans in New Zealand are not the same as Samoans in Samoa. So shoot me for saying it. I have met Samoans here in NZ who have submerged themselves so completely in Samoan “culture and language” that honestly? They would be so out of place in Samoa. Because, umm, I hate to break it to you – we don’t talk like that back home. Or even act like that back home.

I am learning new things every day here in NZ. About what it means to be a Pacific Islander in a supposedlly multicultural society. About what it means to be “Samoan” according to the NZ-Samoan definition. The differences and similarities with being “Samoan” in Samoa. And they are not definitions set in stone because culture and customs are an evolving thing. And one is not necessarily better or worse than the other.

But I digress. Back to Big Son. He has gone to Samoa for the school holidays. And he was super stressing out about clothes. ‘I need new shorts…I dont have any nice ones to wear when we go places…blah blah blah.’

I said, “Excuse me, why don’t you just wear a lavalava when you go out places? You know, like a Samoan does?”

He was horrified. As I knew he would be. “Mum! I cant wear a lavalava when I go out!  None of my friends wear lavalavas when they go to town.”

Somehow I dont think Big Son will be dancing the siva in Samoa. Or waving a Samoan flag everywhere he goes. And he definitely won’t be wearing a lavalava to town either. Because he’s just not that kind of Samoan. At least not when he’s in Samoa anyway.
Sleepless in Samoa hit a record 30,000 visits last month. Thanks for keeping me company! If you’re looking for a Fantasy Romance read about strong, fierce and proud Pacific women – check out the free sample of TELESA:The Covenant Keeper available on Amazon.

A piano fell on my head today.

I was sitting in church looking around ( from the depths of the back rows where I always creep in and hide) when suddenly it hit me.

I’ve been coming to this particular congregation for a year now. A whole year. And I don’t even know who half of these people are. In fact, I dont even know who a QUARTER of these people are. There’s that nice elderly gentleman who always smiles and shakes my hand. Don’t know his name. There’s that cheery, beautiful young woman who never ever forgets to say hello to me and all my assorted rabble. Don’t know her name either. There’s that very kind lady who teaches my very naughty child and still hasn’t tried to run me over in the parking lot as punishment for raising aforementioned naughty child. Don’t know her name. There’s the Youth Leader who organizes super fun activities for my teenagers every week and ensures they get a ride home. Couldnt tell ya a single personal thing about her. Everywhere I turn there are people who have gone out of their way to be nice to me and my (far from) fabulous children – and yet, I have no clue what their names are. I wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a police lineup. Or nominate them as “people I would most like to survive the zombie apocalypse with”. Or ask for their help if I was locked out of heaven in the last days. Because I know zippity-doo zilch about them.

It was like a piano had fallen on my head. This is just not good enough.  I know I’m a hermit. I know I’m rather anti-social. I know that I have loser interpersonal skills. But after 52 weeks worth of Sundays with very welcoming, friendly, supportive and fun people – I should be better at this. But I’m not. Because I keep thinking that “I’m going home soon. I’m not going to be here for very long. This is not my REAL church/neighborhood/community. I don’t REALLY belong here. My REAL church/neighborhood/community is at home in Samoa.” So therefore I don’t REALLY need to make an effort. Because why bother?

I realize that I have to accept the facts. Right here, right now, I live in Auckland, NZ. And even though Im constantly plotting and conniving for ways to move home to Samoa next week, I have to deal with the reality of my NOW.  I need to stop moping and using homesickness as an excuse for (rude) hermit-ness.

You watch me. Next Sunday, I’m going to be a changed woman. The sign I usually wear that says, “GET AWAY FROM ME” will be left at home. I’m going to radiate cheerful friendliness, hug everyone and give them air-kisses. I shall smile more than a toothpaste ad. Engrave people’s names and faces in stone. Or at least write names down unobtrusively in the back of my scriptures. I will invite strangers to my house for dinner so that we can make friends. And have my new life’s mantra tattooed on my forehead – “Hi, I’m Lani and I know how to be nice. I promise.”

When I started writing this blog post about the New and Improved Me, I was feeling very enthusiastic. But now that I’ve reached the end of it, I just feel tired. The very thought of being cheerfully friendly is exhausting.

People like me should never move countries. Neighborhoods. Or church congregations. We should just stay in our caves, write books and invent people to be friends with.

Sleepless in Samoa hit a record 30,000 visits this month. Thanks for keeping me company! If you’re looking for a Fantasy Romance read about strong, fierce and proud Pacific women – check out the free sample of TELESA:The Covenant Keeper available on Amazon.

Dirty Words

                     What I wish uku-killing assassins looked like.
Today I’m going to use some filthy language on this blog. Guaranteed to send the fainter-hearted amongst you, running for the hills.

Head lice.

We’ve got ’em. Do you?

I’ve blogged about this nasty stuff before – Waging War on Princess Leia Only this time, it’s different. This time, we are facing predators on a whole new level. In Samoa, we call head lice “uku’s”. Here in New Zealand, they call head lice a Health Board notifiable epidemic. Not long after the Fab 5 started school, Little Daughter came home with a notice. Some unfortunate nameless children had been caught with lice, the appropriate authorities were notified and hence, an epidemic warning to all parents from the Health Board. With instructions on what to do if you caught some and how to do it. I freaked out and my brown mother paranoia set in. I don’t ever want the government zoning in on MY child’s hair and declaring us brown folks a health hazard, dammnit. Stern warnings were issued to the little ones. We got even more super serious about hair checks.

But in spite of all our efforts, those evil creatures broke through our defenses. Little Daughter confessed, “My head is really itchy. I think I have ukus!” and burst into tears. Why? Because I had freaked her out about the Auckland Health Board. “Are they going to come and get us?” she asked fearfully. I felt bad. (Since she was freaked out because I had been overly freaked out.) “No, no don’t be silly. Im going to exterminate every last one of those creatures. No Health officials are going to brand us with a scarlet letter epidemic notice.” Bella thought it was funny. She announced dramatically ( loud enough for the neighbors neighbors to hear) “Uku’s are eating holes in my brain!”

I have been fighting uku’s for nearly three weeks now and have come to a conclusion – NZ head lice are freakish mutants. They just will not die. Three different treatments and countless hours of bug busting combing sessions later and we are finally rid of these pesky parasites. ( I think. For now anyway.) I have subjected these children to enough chemicals to start our own nuclear dump site. Raked through their hair with the vicious single-mindedness of an assassin. I have had to threaten, cajole and bribe them to endure hours of bug searches and shampoo washes. Impatient, wriggly four year old Bella is the worst to treat. I have to tell all sorts of lies when I’m dealing with her.  “I’ll let you have bubblegum/watch cartoons/eat cookies if you sit still…Stop moving, or I won’t kill them for you, I’ll be a bad mother and just LET THEM eat holes in your brain. Come back here, uku’s are going to suck your blood like hundreds of little vampires! They’re going to crawl into your ears and come out of your nose…” 

 Oh, and all those ads and products with pictures of happy mothers treating their happy children for head lice? Big Fat Uku Lies perpetuated by Big Fat Uku Liars. There is no smiling, laughing or warm, tender moments of love when we are eradicating head lice. Hell no. Not in this house anyway. Especially not when you have three daughters with very long, very thick hair. Who use your hair brush and like to come sleep in your bed in the middle of the night when they’ve had a bad dream. Bringing their parasites with them. Yeah, you know what happened next, dont you…

Somebody needs to do a scientific study on Samoan ukus and NZ ones. They don’t even look the same. And I should know, because I’ve been killing them with my bare hands. ( Like ninja assassins do.) NZ uku’s are a different color than Samoan ones. (And Im not trying to make a racially-driven joke either.) And they have better camouflage techniques than Samoan ones. They are tougher, stronger, faster,  more resistant to radioactive waste. I’m telling you, these NZ uku’s are the next evolutionary step  for head lice. Definitely mutants. I was so tempted to resort to the ‘traditional’ Samoan method for killing uku’s. Cut all your child’s hair off. Then paint their head with kerosene. And pray they don’t go near any open fires. OR wrap half their heads in a plastic bag and spray them with Mortein insect-killer. And keep them home from school so the teacher doesn’t smell the pesticide and report you to the Child Protection Authorities for cruel and unusual abuse. Yep, I was tempted.

I think Bella’s right. Uku’s probably are eating our brains. I know mine isn’t working properly anymore.

                         What uku-killing assassins really look like.

Is it Time to Shut Up?

You know what’s scary? Going to a dinner function where you know nobody so you put your brave face on. And then when you’re ‘mingling’ industriously,  you meet one, two, three, four (oh sh**) five different strangers who say – “Yes, I know you. I read your blog!”

Way to put your blathering blithering rants into perspective. When you are face to face with complete strangers who know basically TOO MUCH about you…your Fabulous five children…your fascination with SBW’s tattoos…your inclination to drink too much Diet Coke…the excessive number of times you wish you could duct tape your Little Son’s mouth shut…your dream about flying off into the sunset with Thor…the time you tried to sell cinnamon rolls at the local market and endured extreme humiliation… You know nothing about them but they know that you told your teenage son’s girlfriend “We don’t want him to have sex at this age and I really hope you’re not a skanky ho'” They know you sometimes wish you could run away from your children. And that you tell lies. ‘You are the best dancer ever!’ (but really, I got here too late to catch your two second recital. Oops.) Let’s face it – I say way too much on this blog. I’m way too open about everything. And half the time, people who know me are probably perpetually worrying that I will blog about them next. And wishing that I would shut up on here. I’m starting to self-censor. Question blog topics. Wonder, ‘what if so-and-so reads this?’ And that makes blogging decidedly LESS fun.

To be honest, the number of people I meet in random places who are readers of my blog is starting to really really freak me out. Don’t get me wrong. I love having people read my blog. It’s great motivation to write regularly and blogging helps me to ‘think out loud’…vent…and process stuff. It was a huge buzz for me when blog visits topped 18,000 a month. And yeah, it would be a dream come true if one day, thousands more – no make that – MILLIONS of people read my blog. But I want them to be millions of STRANGERS reading my blog. People I will never actually meet in real life.Not people that I bump into at the grocery store. Or stand next to at the buffet table. Or sit next to in church. Which is a problem because I’m Samoan. And I live in the relatively small country of New Zealand. I need to either move to a much bigger country. Or never leave my cave. Or stop blogging.

Is this where I tell you that I’m going to take my blog down? Is that what’s going to happen next?


How about you? If you blog – do your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow grocerystore shoppers know that you blog? What are YOUR challenges with blogging honesty and self-censorship?