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Just Up the Stairs

Her invitation rang through my ears. “Sau loa, we meet at 6!” There is a prayer meeting held on the second floor of an ordinary building. The building is across from that big place, past that tall pole, beside that one tree. Plain colored walls, speckled white tiles, and churchy signs of people from far off lands with a close by message. There will probably be cloth stapled to the walls for decoration, maybe even ribbons. Without seeing the place, I could already imagine what awaited me if I so chose to attend. As a faifeauʻs kid, this sight is like a Chinese grocery store selling Mexican candy: normal.

Coupled with bitterness and doubt, I realize that flyers donʻt impress me anymore. I know to choose sparingly the spiritual speech that is ushered into the soul. Whether in a port city, a hood, or country, testing a message with Scripture is not a sign of disbelief, but of total commitment to inerrant truth. As the minutes grow closer to meeting time, I debate whether to leave my pillows or make the drive. This would be a perfect night to watch a show! Yes? Yasssss. The ceiling fan nods its head. There have been disappointing prayer meetings gone greedy, and countless gatherings of old leaders turned cruel. Many unnecessary wrestlings with power that find summation in a nicely wrapped can of pisupo.

With a mixture of faʻasamoa, good old island boredom, and massive love, I open my mind to another battering round: another round of messy people, another round of amazing stories. Because of Christ within me, nothing—at all—else, I hope for better still. Sometimes the tangible challenge only takes 5 seconds to conquer: 5…4… see… move… love. I get up.


It was a warm night with a slight breeze brisk enough to give you hope for cooler days. Climbing cement stairs glossy from fresh rain, a worn ie brushes my ankles with soft familiarity. Dim streetlights introduce my eyes to the night sky with a deep sigh of yellow. Cars walk along the road, hugging every rock they pass. Peering into the meeting room, ladies of magnificent sizes sat at gray, collapsible tables. I quicken my step passed wide windows. Maybe they didnʻt see me, my parents are off island so I could just leave. I could just go. I could just not. 5 seconds conquered my “coulds” as I watched my hand take to the rectangular door handle. I stepped through warm mist into clear conditioned air; I stepped amongst strangers.

Tulou. Smile. Tulou. Smile. Slinking into a side seat near the back, the metal chair shocks my skin. With my mind on milk and cookies waiting at home, my eyes flick forward. The lady speaking is full-bodied brown, with a testimony of a victor and a voice like a rainstorm. I have no idea what she is saying, but her tense arms indicate endurance. Piercing eyes reflect long days by the sea, and a faded muʻumuʻu shows tried compassion. I collect sentences like a wide bucket under overwhelmed clouds. As vowels drip into place, I start to understand her story, and she begins to look like my mother. I glance around, and they all look like they could be my something—aunt, grand mom, sweet mom, tired mom, whoopanass mom.

Another mom smoothly glides beside me. I dodge eye contact, pretending to be entranced by the rain. In a millisecond she glances at me with a familiar look that I have become accustomed to while living here: she knows something about me, but I do not know what. This game of “who knows who” can be annoying sometimes. She offers me a mint then my non-communicative walls break down. I like her small kine now. To get any Samoan to smile, just offer them food. Not as a demeaning generalization, in my opinion, but a compliment to years of hospitable practice—ish.

“Faʻafetai.” I thanked.

“E, you look familiar.”

“… ...” Here we go, I think.

“Did you go to Tafuna?”

“…No, just Kanana Fou.”


The rainstorm ran its course and the silent sun rose to take its place. We applauded. After a few other warriors spoke, we were eventually dismissed. I recognized my actual aunt on the other side of the room. Before I could slip back into the night, she exclaims, “Tiana! I didnʻt see you dear. Everyone meet my niece! This is So and Soʻs daughter! You know my cousin So, this is his daughter!” I scream, “I DON’T KNOW THAT LADY,” rip the 1970s banner down, and run out the door…jokes, only in my mind, of course. My parents taught me better than that, so I smile and stare longingly at the exit instead. I met some more people who know my family better than I know my family. This is one frustration as a willing off island islander: figuring out how to memorize the wind of information in a hurricane. The crowd dissipated into peace, and Mint Mom found her way towards me.

“Se, I knew you looked familiar.” she smiles.

Her peace offering was currently melting in my mouth.

“I was with your parents in Kanana Fou. I remember you and your sisters and brother. Oka, tell them I said hello. My name is ... Tell your parents I said hello.”

We hug and she disappears like her name on the tip of my tongue. She remembers me. And my sisters. And my brother. Which is astonishing as I have grown three feet since then, they having grown even more. She says “hi” to my parents who taught me better. She was a stranger an hour ago, an acquaintance of 45-minutes. Then she was possibly a lost memory, but now a family friend. Sitting right beside me was years of comradery unknown.

In this journey, Iʻm finding that it is not the absence of opportunity that most threatens self-discovery. For the modern Samoan, maybe even anyone, it may simply be the desire: the want to connect, the want to know. Call it the lack of courage to go, the fear of failing, call it a lack of resources—but actions will show what is believed. What do you desire? You can read or listen. You can watch or research. Maybe even move to discover. May I suggest first discovering God, then you will find all, and there you will find yourself. 5… 4… 3… 2…

Once again I am pulled back to my roots. I remember. Recall. Recollect. Like mist forming above trees in the tropics, there will always be an overflow to learn. It may be in an ordinary building next to a tall pole down the street or just up the stairs—wherever it leads—it is here, sitting right next to you, ready to be introduced.

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