Embracing the challenges & blessings of a blended & bicultural Samoan family

Archive for the ‘Samoan culture’ Category

If I could speak Samoan

Salt Lake City July 2011

If I could speak Samoan…..
…She would know how embarrassed I am when Pule says “NO!” to her A L L  T H E  T I M E

…We could talk about ways to address the situation together

…She might understand how much I respect her

…I would ask questions about MM’s father and their life together, even though he passed away many years ago.

…She would understand that my saying “no, it’s okay” means I want you to relax and continue to heal from when we almost lost you.  Instead it translates that I don’t like the way she does it so please don’t do it.

…She might understand how much her help with the simplest of things means the world to me

…We could discuss the challenges of our cultural differences

…I would ask more questions about MM’s childhood

…She would know how much I need her help

…I would also teach Pule Samoan so she would be proud of the two of us

…I would tell her how much I wanted to know my BIL more, but didn’t have the chance.

…she might realize how much Pule enjoyed the morning walks that no longer exist

…I would let her know that I’m not keeping Pule from her, that I want her to take her from me and bond as a grandmother.

…I just might be able to communicate my sadness in knowing Pule is not like the grandchildren she lives with and who look to her as their MaMMa.  The miss her and ask for her all day long, where my daughter says “no” to her all day long.

I imagine us having long chats, with hot drinks in hand, about her home, MM, her family, her life-lessons or her concerns about her grandchildren.  Unfortunately we have reached some tension in the home that is not understood, and may not be resolved until her next visit.

I had projects in mind, lots of blog posts to schedule, client campaigns to coordinate, recipes and menus to coordinate through the winter, a bedroom to clean, an office to organize, and so much more.  However this trip has been cut short and my Mother In Law asked to go home.

This visit was unlike any other visit where she stays a minimum of a month.  I am embarrassed, sad and frustrated by our language barrier.  Learning Samoan is no easy feat (although there are far fewer words and letters!), but I want to do my best to show her how much I appreciate and love her son…as well as her.

Sometimes it really helps me to pour my heart out, especially knowing this is for Pule to read someday.  Hopefully when she does read it she will be able to speak Samoan…

Don’t take it for granted if you can speak your MIL’s language. Even if you don’t get along with her, or you have other challenges in your relationship with her.  Appreciate the fact you can speak the same language.

**originally published October 12, 2011. 

Finding common ground

Geraniums, Spring 2012

My MIL has been visiting for the past month or so.  I honestly love it when she comes to visit, but I also have much apprehension about it.  Especially since Pule has been born and because of my feelings from the last visit.

When my MIL is here I try to find the balance of her need (notice I didn’t say her desire) to take a break and yet to keep her busy.  When she is not with us she is with my SIL caring for 7 children ranging from 3-18.

Her idea of needing a break is just getting away from it all.

My idea of her taking a break is to rest and relax.

That drives her crazy, so I have surrendered my idea of “break”.


This is the best time of the year for her to visit as Colorado is on the cusp of ushering in Spring.  One day we might have 75 degree weather and everyone itches to plant flowers.  Even the nurseries temp you buy pulling out all the flowers to the curb “please! Come and buy me…I’m so beautiful!”.  I don’t give in.  I have learned never to plant anything into the ground until after Mother’s Day.  We have been known to have snow on Mother’s Day.

So for my MIL visit this time, I decided to find common ground where I could and chose to start with gardening…but with a twist.  She planted seeds into pots that she would bring inside every night to avoid the frosty nights we still have.

Sprouting Seeds, Spring 2012

We also went to the store and found a beautiful geranium.  She continues to comment how beautiful it is.  Her seeds are sprouting and before she leaves on Monday I just might break my rule and put them into the ground with her.  Because this is our common ground.  She has been preparing the dirt for them just next to the grass we planted last year.  Sifting through and pulling out the rocks while I rake and feed our lawn urging it to return.  The time we would spend doing this together far outweighs the inconvenience of covering them should we get another frost.

This is something we can do together while Pule plays nearby.  It was very important for me to find a common ground for us during this visit.  Gardening seemed to be something that worked for us.  In the winter it’s watching The Price is Right and America’s Funniest Home Videos.  And I think Pule is enjoying it as well.

We also will cook together.  Although, at times, this requires some translation by MM.  We have gotten much better at figuring out what the other person is trying to say, but not always.  For a little humor, you might enjoy this post titled: I Don’t Want Her to Fire Me!

I hope that when she leaves she will remember this visit over some of the others.  Even though very few words are shared, I am all to aware that actions can speak much louder and more clearer than words.  I do believe we grow closer together after every visit.  Even the more challenging visits strong bonds can begin to grow.

A month ago I had my blog featured and had a link to the post: “If only I could Speak Samoan”.  It created a lot of comments and it was brought to my attention that it’s not just language barriers that can be challenging when it comes to communication.  I thought I had it hard, but I have come to realize it may be easier for me than many others who are challenged to communicate in English with their MIL (or anyone for that matter).

Do you have to find common ground when cultivating some of your relationships? What advice could you provide?

before & after (part 5)

Ok, I know… I’m sorry.  I promised this post yesterday and I failed you.  Honestly, I didn’t have it in me to write it yesterday, added with the fact that I was not home and didn’t have access to the photos.  Hopefully it is worth the wait though…

I will warn you.  This is going to be a lengthy post.  If you skip to the end (which is the best part) I understand, but the story behind ending is part of the bigger story.

If this is your first time visiting FFPMaMMa, then welcome!  I’m so glad you are here and hope you make yourself at home.  I am currently in the middle of telling the story of MM (hubby) & me.  How we met, dated, engaged, and all the in between stuff. If you would like to catch up you can do so here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Fast forward just over a year…

July 2, 2007
Walking through the freezer section of the grocery store.  I was gathering groceries for my Monday evening dinner date with a friend. You know, there are moments that happen in your life and you remember exactly where you were when it happens.

I couldn’t understand him at first and I said “what”?

“He’s dead!  My brother is dead!”


I don’t remember what I said next.  I just took off…the groceries ended up on some floor display in the store.

I remember him saying something about him waking up dead.  I made sure someone was with him so I didn’t keep him on the phone

I was about 15 minutes from his house and in that time I made two phone calls.  Through my own garbled voice and without any information I called my sister and mom “please pray and I’ll call when I know more” was all that I could fumble out.

What do you say? What do you do?  I prayed myself while doing my best to keep my eyes on the road.  ”Lord, give me words, strength and discernment to know what MM needs”.

Thankfully we have incredible friends who stepped in and were able to help me in knowing what he needed.  People came over to make food & clean the house.  MM just needed me near, knowing I was there, holding his hand and allowing myself to mourn as well.

Just the previous April I had the incredible pleasure of visiting MM’s brother “AP” in Snowmass, CO.  Every year Snowmass hosts the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sport’s Clinic. An amazing site to see disabled  men and women skiing down the mountain with volunteer guides.

AP had suffered injuries from an IED a few years before.  Lost many of his men in the explosion.  After numerous surgeries, his injury that crippled him the most was the PTSD.  Severely.  He would have horrible dreams night as well as episodes of confusing reality with past situations.  A situation where he was not comfortable with his mom coming to visit him.  He never knew if he might cause her harm at night.

I remember phone calls MM would have with him.  I would usually be able to tell what was going on as MM would slip between speaking in Samoan and English.  AP was usually more comfortable speaking in English as that was his day to day language and seemed to be easier for him.

“he just didn’t wake up this morning” MM told me.

AP was currently at one of the VA hospitals in CA.  He would be admitted off and on depending on how he was doing.  He had just been arrested due to confusing a middle eastern taxi driver with the Taliban he had encountered overseas.  He was released to the authority of the VA staff for further treatment.  Usually he would meet up with the nurses to work on his physical therapy and when he neglected to show up that morning they went in to check on him.  No pulse.  Once we finally received the autopsy from the coroner it stated that he had died from an enlarged heart.  And oddly enough, it was not until a year later it was stated he died as a casualty of war.

10 short days away was our upcoming visit to CA to visit with him again.  That trip was now sped up for us to leave only 3 days after the 2nd.  There was going to be a lot of paperwork and details to take care of.  The rest of the family was in UT.

This was going to be my plunge into the Samoan culture of burring the dead, as well as the US Military and the incredible detail of honoring family who have fallen.

I did some research before I left so that I would have some idea what to expect, but it really didn’t offer too much help.  I knew that there would be specific gifts given and monetary donations to cover the costs.  Yes, the military was covering the burial costs and all that, however with the Samoan culture things are a bit different.

People come to pay their respects over about a week’s period of time.  If an appointed Chief or Elder is not present, then usually the eldest male family member takes charge of all the event planning and authoritative decisions.  The pastor and church family are invited one evening to pay their respects as well as other family and friends.  Every night the house was full and meals were served.  The main gathering place in the home is cleared of most furniture and the floor is covered with “fine mats”.  The women cooked during the day while the children would serve everyone in the evening.

When people came to visit there were specific gifts brought and that would usually include money and a fine mat to present to the family.  Depending on the family presenting the fine mat, it would be received and possibly would be returned.  This is all out of respect.  The family in mourning would keep some mats to be given as gifts.  Gifts to the pastor, friends and family who sacrificed time and money. When a fine mat is presented as a gift it is usually from a previous event and thus they continue to be passed around.  To me this represents the tight community that the Samoan people represent.

During our time in UT, MM would bring the family together for an evening meeting.  Discussing the next day’s activities, who would be visiting, and a time to read scripture.  The children would serve us and then come and join us.  I will be honest, learning to sit and be served by the children was probably my most difficult thing to get used to.  I slowly began to understand that this was how traditions were passed down to the next generation.  The youngest one learning was about 5.  If the children were too young to help they were kept downstairs and watched by a few of the youth.  Keep in mind that I am talking about 15 kids here.  As one learned and grew, they would then help the younger ones learn.  Pretty amazing really.

There is so much detail that I could include in this post, but for time’s sake as well as your eyes, I will cut it short and allow the photos to tell the story…

This is a series of pictures prior to the funeral service

The day prior when AP was delivered to the church from the street for the viewing, there were no police blocking the street where the hertz was parked and blocking a lane.  AP’s death was getting media attention. A pedestrian, who was also a veteran, called into Salt Lake City mayor’s office complaining that there was no respect for a fallen soldier by not providing someone directing traffic.  The day of the funeral we saw 12 police motorcycles parked in the middle of the street and one parked behind the hertz prepared to direct traffic when he was brought out of the church and loaded back into the hertz.  Amazing what one phone call can make. The 12 police motorcycles also escorted 30+ vehicles approximately 25 miles to the burial site

One challenge I was assigned to was video taping as much of the week as possible.  This included the first viewing when he was brought from CA to UT for the family…with the open casket.  For me personally I have always struggled with an open casket ceremony.  To top it off having to video tape it and catch photos with the family and AP was very uncomfortable for me.  I explained to MM that I thought this was intrusive and he had to explain to me that this was very normal.  Their way of capturing final pictures & moments with their loved one.

I have lost a few loved ones.  Ones close to me.  I’m used to meals being provided, condolence cards received, possibly a viewing, the funeral then a reception following.  However, having a week long morning till evening of food preparation and visitors in and out of the house as well as 3 different ceremonies was a lot for me to take in.  Included, most of it all was in Samoan.  I wish I could say that I am so glad to have experienced this cultural opportunity, but that is not true.  I greatly appreciated the experience I had, but I would take knowing AP over that experience.  Since then I have visited 3 other Samoan funerals, I’m well acquainted now, thank you very much.

Now for the story you are all waiting for…I know you thought you had read enough, but I think you will understand that this experience played a very large role in the next event.  And who to better tell it that my own beloved MM.  He wrote this for a book a friend of mine put together for us.  The only editing I have done is adjust the names.

The original plan was to POP the question to Leah on Thanksgiving Day of 2007, if and when I receive Mike’s (Leah’s dad) approval, permission, and blessings.  

But because God called my dearest brother USMC SSG “AP” to come home, I had to adjust and change plans. I stop thinking about what’s next in regards to my relationship with Leah. Now I have to take care of business in hand.  My brother died the week before I planned to tell him about asking Leah for hand in marriage and I wanted him to be my Best Man in my wedding, but unfortunately it did not happen.  

I prayed and prayed and prayed to God to use this unfortunate circumstance to reach out to my family and friends, especially my daughter “BH” and my nieces. In the midst of celebrating my brother’s life, God revealed a plan within me. 

The day after we place my brother in his resting place, Saturday July 14th 2007, I asked my sister  that I needed her help with my plan. I told her my original plan about asking Leah’s hand in marriage and about our brother’s involvement. Now the challenge was to go shopping without Leah. So I told Leah I need to spend some private time with my sisters and that we will be back, and of course it work. Sulu and Maggie went with me. 

Later in the evening, everyone was told to be at my Mom’s apartment for prayer and dinner.   I then picked up Leah from the hotel and drove to my Mom’s apartment. When we got there I again told Leah that Sulu, I, and the girls (daughter and nieces) have to leave to pick some stuff up and we’ll be back. I notice the disapproving look and disappointing body language from Leah ,but it did not change anything. (I was praying for God’s help through out all this). (Leah’s comments: I was told we were going to have dinner, but come to find out everyone else already had. Then Maea decides to mention that he has to run an errand TONIGHT with Sulu, so dinner will have to wait.)  

After we picked up the ring, I called Mike and asked for his permission and blessings for Leah’s hand in marriage. I explained that I did not want to have this conversation on the phone, but since this a rare occasion that my family are all together in one place, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity presented to me. Mike shared and expressed his emotions and most important to me was that he approved. 

On our way back to the apartment we made a stop at Starbuck’s and did not buy Leah a drink on purpose.  (Leah: everyone else in the car got one!) Leah was HOT with me when we got back but she did not lose her composer. (Leah: By now it is close to 9:00 pm and I have been WAITING PATIENTLY for Maea so we can have dinner.) 

We then gathered in the living room with Leah and I sitting on chairs while everyone else were on the floor. I then led our prayer meeting with the hymn “It is well” in Samoan version. Afterward, I acknowledge everyone for their help and how they handle themselves by smiling and celebrating AP’s life.  I also acknowledge the support , love, prayers of friends and families who were not with us. 

Especially Leah’s parents & sister’s family. I then acknowledge Leah with all she has done for me and my family. Words can not express how grateful and thankful I am to God because of Leah. She is a blessing to me from God. 

In front of my mom, sisters, cousin and her husband, nieces and nephews, and my dearest daughter “BH”, I got down on my knees and ask her “Will you be my wife?” and Leah responded with tears “What did my DAD say?” …yup…that was her response…I did not tell her what DAD said but I just said, “What do you think?”  (By this time everyone was yelling…”Well, what’s your answer?”) Leah then said with confidence and tears….YES!

Yep, you read that correct.  I asked what my dad said first.

before & after (part 3)

Our Journey to Marriage

See, now that wasn’t so bad…you didn’t have to wait TOO long…

In case you are just now joining us, I am telling our story.  Me and MM (hubby).  How we met, our dating, how he proposed…etc… you get the picture.  Here are your links:
Part 1
Part 2

So where did I leave off? Oh right! The Friday night “Date”.  In case you missed it… we covered some pretty heavy stuff.  The conversation would not be your typical first date type stuff.  None of the
“so, where did you go to school….what did you study?”
“do you have any pets?”
Actually… I really don’t know what you talk about on first dates. never mind…moving on.

We discussed his past and current situation.  He was still married. Doh!  Now, don’t get your pants all up in your britches….slow down.  He had started the divorce process the previous year and it got hung up somewhere.  They had been separated now for 6 years and she already had two other children with her current partner.  So I had no worries about heart strings, or anything like that.

What we did establish was that this would be our ONE and ONLY night alone until his divorce was final.  Until then it would be hanging out in groups and such.  We kept things on the “down-low”…or attempted to.  Some close friends, and of course our family knew “the real story”.  That night I also told him my story.  Unfortunately my issues started way back in the Jr. High.  That ONE boy was in my life all throughout school.  Finally exiting after college.  I tried to keep it short.  Then we moved on to my other two loves…you remember… the ones who I thought were “THE ONE”.  (between you and me… I really hate that).  One was Nigerian, the other Australian. You picking up on my interests?  Not American. Yep…I really didn’t want to marry an American.  Now, don’t get me wrong… great guys (well some most).  For some reason I just knew I was not going to marry one.  I didn’t go out looking for non-Americans.  It just ended up that way.

Yes, I had my heart crushed…probably more times than I care to remember (so glad I really wasn’t counting), but these two I DO remember…the crushing…stomping…breaking…flapping it in the air…yes, that would be my heart boys. “Let it go, and give it back!”

I recovered and honestly, I am glad I went through what I did.  I learned some tough lessons.  I share all of that because most of the stories came up on “Friday Night”.  MM knew them all.  Didn’t know what I learned cause I wasn’t going to show him my hand.  I kept those cards quite close (thank you very much BOYS!).

The only conversation I recall us having ALL NIGHT (yes… I think it was 5:00am when I left doh!)  Yes, girls… I did call my roommate and told her later that I failed the 12:00 curfew…It may have been a few days later though.  Honestly, I tried!  Oh, the conversation… it was all about our past.  That was it.  So, needless to say, we hung it all out there.  No surprises for sure.  I’m so glad we did.

My birthday is mid-January so we are going to jump there…You are only missing phone calls, maybe some getting together (with friends!)…oh and that one conversation where we talked about getting married. Yep! that came out pretty early.  The conversation of “what would you want?”.  Honestly, you didn’t miss anything…

On my birthday MM shows up to my work (oh boy…no longer keeping that from my co-workers…he had flowers…and something else….)

\In one hand were a few white rose, while in the other hand was a plastic bag…what the? “don’t look…don’t look, but I wanna look!” Ok…I can’t see it anyway.

best man holding to’oto’o & fue
just before the wedding

He begins to tell me: In Samoa the Chiefs are given a Samoan Orator’s Staff (to’oto’o) and Swisher (fue) to use when they speak or at special occasions.

These two items are always together, never separated.

I have no idea what the to’oto’o looks like, but he pulls out the fue and gives it to me.

“This is for you to hold on to…to remind you that there is another part coming.  They cannot be separated, so we will work on getting them together.  This is to remind you of me and the part I am holding on to, until we can be together.”

Mush…all mush…(me)

Then we go for a walk outside (dang those huge work windows! Friends saw me holding his hand on the walk…can’t you just see them all running to the windows? You know who you are if you are reading this!).  On the park bench by the pond he then proceeds to tell me that my present is not just the roses, and the fue, but also him.  He wanted to make sure that even though we are not “dating” that I knew his intentions were to pursue me.  He even said it JUST LIKE THAT! Yes, he planned on pursuing me just as soon as the divorce was final.

Until then, he would hold onto the to’oto’o and I would hold on to the fue.  (and I would have to explain to my coworkers who I was holding hands with… no worries there, they were waiting for me in my office.)

Ready for Part 4?

Talofa lava, welcome to Samoa

we briefly interrupt the story telling of Before & After to participate in Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop.  However, it fits in with the story as the prompt I chose was: “what country I want to visit”.


September 29, 2008. A day I watched my husband stick close to the TV & computer. We reached out to family via Facebook hoping anyone might update information regarding the village where MM was raised.  It was on the north side of Western Samoa.  Information trickled in very slowly.  Many prayers and time slipped by slowly, but finally we received word that everyone was accounted for.  However his mother’s village, Manono Island, was mostly under water.  Fortunately there was enough time between the 8.3 earthquake and the 15 foot waves for people to seek higher ground.  MM’s family was fortunate, many others were not.

My husband was born and raised in Samoa (aka Western Samoa).  One of the first things that attracted me to MM was his tatau (if you are interested in reading more about the traditional Samoan tattoo, this website has some basic info).  To this day it is what I think is most sexy about him.  Samoan’s take great pride in their tattoos and the pain they go through during the process.  Kind of a right of passage for the boys and girls (my SIL has one as well).

But I am here to talk about the small country of Samoa.  A beautiful gathering of two large islands and two smaller ones (this doesn’t include American Samoa).  A country that is rich in Polynesian culture, tight in community, family driven & respecting of higher authority.

The “islands” already have a special place in my heart.  With my parents living in New Zealand for 6 years, my living in Hawaii for a couple of years and traveling back to Hawaii for our Honeymoon, I call the beach my true home.  

MM left Samoa in the late 80s and has not returned back since.  The tug on his heart to visit family and to show of his family to others is getting much stronger.  There would be no twisting of limbs from me to take me to his homeland.  The beach calls to me everyday (did I mention I was raised in So Cal?…on the beach?).  Add in the fact that it would do MM’s heart some good, would make me very happy too.

Traveling to Samoa is very expensive.  We hope that sometime in the next 5 years we will be able to make the journey.  To take in the daily smells of fish, pigs n chickens roaming freely, fresh flowers, fine mats, & ocean air.  To walk the roads that MM traveled in his childhood.  To visit the grave of his father (and say thank you for bringing him into the world and making mine complete). To stand on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and feel the water around my ankles and sand between my toes.  For our Pule to experience a different culture.  A culture where children are taught to respect elders, where children play outdoors and with the simplicities of life.

Yes, I long to visit MM’s homeland of Samoa.

What country would you like to visit? Why?
Link up if you want