A Palagi in Savaii: Work

Working in paradise is something that everyone dreams of doing. It conjures images of a laptop and a beach with a cocktail in hand, but sadly this is not usually the case. Working in a place like Savaii can be unusually stressful at times due to the fact that you are trying to match island time with the rest of the world. 7am here can mean anything from 7:10 to 8:30am depending on what’s going on at home.

Its not all laptops and beaches!
Its not all laptops and beaches!

I can remember when I first arrived here, I was all geared up to get everything started so I arrived with plenty of enthusiasm and more than my share of naivete. The first thing I noticed is that my walking pace was entirely too fast. I would find myself walking and talking with one of my staff and eventually I would be talking to myself because they were so far behind, they couldn’t hear what I was saying any longer! Then there was the way in which you need to instruct for things to get done to account for the language barrier that exists in a place like this. You are either specific or nothing happens.

When inspecting our villas one day I noticed that an outside gate to a courtyard was backed up with sand, so much so that it wasn’t working at all, so I spoke to my trusty Macgyver, Sio about getting it fixed. What I said was “the gate in Villa 1 is not working, can you please have a look at it and get it fixed”. No problems right? Wrong! The next day I asked if it was finished and the response I got was “uma” which in Samoan means done. A couple of days later I was walking past the villa in question and the gate was exactly the same as it had been the first time I looked at it. A little confused by this I set out in search of Sio to find out what had happened… After taking a walk with him to the villa what I found out was that he had fixed the bedside table inside the villa (not that there was anything wrong with it in the first place) and had completely misunderstood what I had said! Eventually the gate got fixed when I physically pointed out what was wrong with it and we now do all of our maintenance inspections together.

It is easy to assume with Samoans that they are understanding exactly what you are saying, which is part of their polite nature. For them they would rather nod and say yes to you than to ask you again what you mean. It is something that I have noticed in a few countries now, that they somehow see it as offensive to ask you what you are talking about but ultimately English is my first language it is not theirs, so you need to be a little sensitive to the situation and find a way of explaining things that is clear whilst not being demeaning to the person you are talking to. Of course there are a few staff members I have here where having someone to translate for me is absolutely required, but I guess that is just the nature of living and working in a place like this.

It is a Samoan trait to do everything as a team. If you expect someone to work independently here, you will be disappointed. These people come from a strong community atmosphere, they share everything and do everything together. It is awesome to start a project like hanging lanterns for a wedding with 2 people and to see the resulting 14 people that are helping you by the end of it all! All in all, I think that the Samoans have it right. They don’t live to work, they work to live. Family comes first here, life comes first here and work is simply a means to an end. Coming from a western country where it is entrenched into us from a young age that you work to achieve the life you want and there is no other way, to looking at work from a Samoan angle gives you an entirely different perspective. These people enjoy their lives, they enjoy their work and they can always make it fun. Because if it’s not fun, then why do it?

Teamwork!
Teamwork! 30 guys work together to move a boat
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