An American Samoan Thanksgiving
Jackie Rakers is a WorldTeach volunteer in American Samoa where she recently spent Thanksgiving. Read on to learn about the experience of celebrating the American tradition of Thanksgiving in American Samoa and to see what Jackie is thankful for this holiday season…
Thanksgiving in American Samoa was just like Thanksgiving in Chicago, except with a tropical flare, more beaches and less snow, and a different family. While I without a doubt missed spending the holiday with my real family, my island-mates are pretty much the best ‘family’ I could ask for. Sasha and I spent a few hours doing craft projects on Wednesday which resulted in hand turkey napkin rings/place cards, an island themed center piece, a ‘Thankful Coconut’, and a Thanksgiving playlist (including ‘It’s Thanksgiving’ of course). And most importantly we had a decent (and by decent I mean AMAZING) Thanksgiving feast despite the current lack of resources (aka all foods) on our little rock since there have been no planes or boats for some time. But the palagis of Manu’a don’t let that stop our fun!
I am all for occasionally stretching the standards to incorporate celebrating holidays in class activities, so last week my students practiced letter writing skills by writing to someone they are thankful for. They wrote some really touching letters to their parents, siblings, aunt and uncles, teachers, and friends. They also made some of the most unique hand turkeys I have seen. Most of my kids had made them before, but I blew one of the seniors’ minds when I showed him how his thumb turned into the turkey’s head. I wish I had captured the look on his face. It was priceless. Of course, no holiday would be complete in Samoa without a day of cancelled classes for celebration. Wednesday’s festivities included the Turkey Run, class feasts/table decorating contest, musical chairs, balloon toss, egg toss, a strange staff balloon popping contest, a turkey costume contest, and an eating contest. Many of the boys had been up all night preparing the umu (a traditional underground cooking method) to cook their class’s food and by the end of the day were exhausted and collapsed on the gym floor and in the fale for a nap while they waited for the bus home. They look so sweet and innocent when they sleep. If I could only figure out a way to teach them English while they nap my job would be so much easier…
Thursday morning we headed to a special Thanksgiving church service, where we were, of course, fed a Samoan breakfast afterwards. The meal consisted of tuna sandwiches, a chicken and crab soup, real banana pudding, some other soup-like liquid in half a coconut, and cocoa Samoa. In typical Samoan fashion we were each presented with enough food for about 3 meals. After breakfast we headed home and started preparation for feast #2. Tautua had asked at breakfast what we were doing for Thanksgiving and we explained our plans to all (Me, Sasha, Matt, Chris, Jason, Diana and Niu) cook together at our house. Upon hearing we were making chicken instead of turkey since we were not able to get one shipped over, he told us to take the extra they had at their house, which turned out to be the turkey his nephew had won the previous day in the school eating contest. So thanks to Tautua’s generosity and Chako’s eating abilities we were able to add turkey to our impressive feast of stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, biscuits, pumpkin bread and brownies.
If you had asked me on Thanksgiving last year what I pictured my life being like in a year I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t have had mentioned anything about being a high school English teacher on an island of less than 800. And if you were to ask me today what I picture my life being like on Thanksgiving next year I’m honestly not sure how I would respond. I’m not sure anymore what I see myself doing or what course I see myself taking in the future. But what I do know is that, while I couldn’t have predicted my life being what it is now, I couldn’t be more thankful for how it has worked out. There have, of course, been days where I all I’ve wanted is to sit in the air conditioning, watching TV, machine-washing my laundry, while I wait for the delivery driver to drop of a pizza. But those days are few and far between. Most days I can’t imagine leaving this place in June. So while I may not have predicted my life taking the path it has, I wouldn’t wish for anything else. The people I have met, the places I have been, and the experiences I’ve had have all left their impact on me. I am not the same person I was when I packed my bags and stepped onto a plane headed for unchartered territory 5 months ago. In less than half my time here I have already seen and experienced more than I ever could have hoped. I have been to places that the vast majority of people, even Samoans, haven’t been. I have hiked the highest point of American Samoa, trekked along the southern coast of Ta’u, and swam with sea turtles on a pristine reef. I have made lifelong friends and have grown both as a person and as a teacher. I have seen my students struggle and come out triumphant with new skills and confidence. I have one of the most rewarding jobs there is in one of the best places on earth, and for that I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving to my all my friends and family!
-Jackie Rakers, WorldTeach American Samoa 2013-2014