When shopping in Samoa, it is not a matter of “Can I have…?” First you must ask “Do you have…?” followed by “How many do you have?” and then “Can I have…?”
Buying what you want in Samoa can sometimes be difficult, but being able to buy what you need in a place like Savaii can sometimes be near on impossible! It’s not necessarily that supplies are difficult to get over here logistics wise, there are numerous ferry’s that run throughout the day between the 2 islands, so for the shops that have outlets on both islands you would think that it would be as simple as ordering it in on the next delivery from Upolu. This is not the case. If you can’t find what you need at your fingertips here then you are doomed to an hour’s drive to the wharf, followed by an hours ferry ride to the other island and then another hour’s drive to the capital city of Apia. And that’s just one way! Coming from a metropolis like Melbourne, or even Chiang Mai, whatever you need is only a short tuk tuk ride or walk away but life here is just not meant to be that simple.
The last time I took Uncle Mark out to buy some essentials it was an epic journey. He wanted some razors for shaving, a new pair of thongs and some shaving cream. It’s always a 50/50 bargain when you leave the driveway as to whether you try the Safotu village shops or the Fagamalo area shops first, but we headed for Fagamalo because for random things like this, Auny Pusy’s Store is usually your best bet. We stopped at Aunty Pusy’s first and checked off the first 2 items on his list with direction to head to her daughter’s shop (just down the road) for our third item. After her store and 2 others didn’t have it (or sometimes didn’t even know what shaving cream was) we had one store left to try before we had to give up and wait for the next shopping trip into Salelologa. As we drove out of the third store and headed home, empty handed, someone was waving at us furiously on the road. I stopped and put down the window – she was saying something to us in Samoan and pointing behind us. In my rear view mirror I could see the girl from the shop running towards us with something in her hand… She had found the shaving cream and was chasing us down the road!
People come here expecting smaller village markets to happen around the island – which would make sense even once a week to allow people from the villages to be able to buy what they need without the hour journey into Salelologa. But in most cases, people usually make do with what they can get and don’t bother with the hour and a half bus trip into town unless it is urgent or a special occasion. Being that this is one of the most touristy areas on the island of Savaii, there is a good chance that there would be money to be made for the locals selling their handicrafts in the village to the tourists alone, but this kind of community thinking just isn’t really in the Samoan way. First you would have to find the land to do it on, well positioned and not belonging to any one family and then you would have to convince the local handicraft, fruit & vegetable suppliers to come together in one place at one time, every week, to make it work! Although this sounds easy, in reality it would be a momentous task!
But here it is not just small items like shaving cream that are difficult to get. There are times when not only Savaii but the whole of Samoa runs out of staple items like chicken or eggs. In the case of January/February 2015… it was both, for 2 whole months. There is nothing quite as frustrating as having to dodge wild chickens on the road while knowing that you can’t buy them or their produce anywhere in the country! And to make matters even more frustrating when these items do come back into stock with the wholesalers, there is usually a restriction on how much you can buy, or if you – as a smaller customer – can buy any at all. In February 2015 we were due to have a wedding for which we had to produce a 2 tier wedding cake. The only way we were able to get our hands on the amount of eggs we needed to give the couple what they ordered was to bribe the wholesale counter girls with chocolate.
We are lucky here, in a sense, that we have our hotel owners in Apia who can buy the items that our island runs out of – at the moment, its pineapple juice – and send them across to us. But without any major competition, the one wholesaler we do have on the island makes an enormous profit from the businesses here, even though they let us down on a regular basis. And if you do stress yourself out enough to ask or wonder why this is the way it is, the answer is simply: Because Samoa. Apparently paradise is not as well stocked as one would imagine.