A month in Samoa

I’ve just completed a month in Samoa, primarily living with subsistence farmers in the rural South – the centre of the recent Tsunami but also doing business in Apia. A totally surreal experience!

I have been working with the local village chief (Matai) and his family to build a tourism business they will call Eco Tours Samoa. They are located in a little town called Fusi Safata (the district is Safata, the village is Fusi, pronounced with a short “U” not “Foosie”).

Talk about a challenge! I’ll blog a lot more about the experience over time (which was a mixture of spiritual revelation, business opportunity and forging good friendships) but imagine this:

  • No running water. Push start an old Toyota ute and drive 2km to the neighbouring village with eight 20 litre buckets to fill from a friends town water supply – the tap is low pressure and sometimes can push water 2m to an overhead tap/shower, sometimes it can’t so you shower local style by scooping water from the bucket with a bowl.
  • Gasoline is a two hour bus trip away. Take a 20 litre plastic (water) container with you on the bus for two hours into Apia. Fill it with $30.00 worth of gas (NZD $15.00) which will last you one week or less if you have to share it with extended family. After you return (another 2 hours on the bus) you will put the plastic container behind the passenger’s seat (that is fastened to the floor with only one loose bolt!) and then insert the plastic hose that goes directly to the carb.
  • You can’t afford $2.00 for a roll of toilet paper or $1.90 for a cake of soap so you have to borrow from extended family until you can sell some Taro at the markets.
  • Work the morning in the plantation – a one hour walk or a 10 minute ride in the ute if it is working or has gas. Return with a couple of baskets of Taro to sell at the markets. A good day will get you $200.00 ($100.00 NZD) but the price has fallen recently so this may be as low as $100.00. Don’t forget the two hour bus ride there and back.
  • Sleep on a thin coconut leaf woven mat on the concrete floor in a Fale (house) with no walls.
  • Spend the night swatting mosquitos and the day swatting flies.
  • Cook on an open fire using coconut shells and husks as fuel.
  • The air temperature is around 30 degrees Celcius. Any office with air conditioning set at 24 degrees feels like a fridge!
  • Go to church on Sunday (get fined if you don’t) and pay your tithe (compulsory).

I will be relocating to Samoa on 16th February 2010, and will commute as needed to run the various businesses in both countries. I will be helping establish the pilot tourism operation (Eco-Tours), establishing a not-for-profit timeshare (once again a pilot for Samoan villages to adopt), develop a Samoan web portal, assisting with a new locally run Go Kiwi Internet agency and developing S.W.A.P. (The Samoan Web Ambassadors Programme) a project to encourage key web marketers to come to Samoa and promote Samoan tourism and what I call goodwill investment (semi-commercial investment designed to leave the bulk of the profits in Samoa. Most historical investment thus far has been foreign investment that has effectively stripped/raped the country).

Samoa is a land of contrasts. I find it a challenge doing business and living there but business is all about people, and I understand the culture and get on well with the local people. Apart from the challenge and my belief that it is my destiny to be there at the moment, my interest in Samoa is primarily to establish not-for-profit operations that help the local people tap into the enormous international goodwill that exists toward Samoa post-Tsunami, although of course I need to do some commercial business to make a living.

I’ll share more about how we are making this all happen in due course.

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