Choose your battles wisely

Ladies, Gentlemen and Sasses.

When I was 16 years old, I got punched in the face by my youth leader and ended up with a bleeding nose.  We were sitting down on the floor – our youth group – and the leader (who was in the 30-35yo range) was upset at my younger sister (15yo) for something that happened a few days earlier when my sister had a disagreement with an older member of our autalavou – the lady called her ‘tautalaititi’ (cheeky) and my sister yelled back ‘you overstayer!’ (which was not a lie at the time….so…..?)  Anyway, back to the day in question – I sat there as the leader berated my sister like a strict principal at a girls’ convent school, and I thought ‘seeesh lady when is this lecture gonna end..’ I was staring down at the floor during all of this when suddenly I heard the words ‘you monkey’ coming from the leader’s lips aimed at my sister. My head snapped up, and without thinking, I yelled out ‘you better shut your mouth’…and within 5 seconds, I had a bleeding face. I never got the chance to defend myself because when we all got over the shock of me being attacked by the older woman, and I was able to get to my feet, the other ladies were already holding my arms back…as if I was the monster. One of the members had run out to get my mum who was at that moment driving out of the carpark after dropping us off, and flagged her down to tell her about what happened. I’ve never seen my pint-sized asthmatic non-physically-intimidating mother walk into a room like the boss that she was that day, spitting fire and going after my attacker.

Fast forward a few days, my family gets an apology from her family and accepts it.  Later on that year, I get a personal heartfelt apology from her. Her reasons for lashing out that day? She was desperately trying to hang on to her marriage, the husband was unfaithful and she was at her wits end at what to do to keep the man she loved. She wasn’t herself, she hated her life and she hated herself.  I accepted her apology and moved on – totally. From that moment on, I never held it against her and we remain great friends today.  I could’ve easily judged her from my own point of view as a very outspoken 16 year old – I was the girl that ‘pffffft-ed’ at the fobs when they winked at me while walking past, so I confidently held the opinion that men were useless and women could live awesome lives without them. I heard what the other ladies were saying about her, speculating on why her husband left her for another woman, and I saw the way she changed that year, becoming more grouchy and less of a respected youth leader. So I did my best to accept her sincere apology.

When I look back at this memory, it makes me laugh because at home I was a monster to my younger sister. I would tease her, annoy her and make sure I won our ‘fights’ whenever we battled. But outside of our sisterly context, I was (still am) fiercely protective of her and the rest of my family.  This was not the first or even the last time I challenged others who dared belittle my loved ones.  As a tama’ita’i Samoa, I was expected to stay quiet and accept the words and actions of someone older than me – but I could only do this to a certain degree.  Most times when these things happen, we just zip our lips and try not to show our faalii-ness right? But there are times when you do speak out because you feel so incensed at the wrongness of what is happening before you. So you MUST speak out – but then you get pushed back into your seat (or in my case, given a lovely makeover). I stayed quiet when I could, but when someone clearly crossed the line, I was ready to bump them back to their side of the line and I truly saw this as my responsibility since I was the only ‘extrovert’ in my family.  Do I regret standing up for my sister that day? Hell no. I would do it again.

So – lesson from the day I got punched in the face? Before you stand up for someone, you need to literally STAND UP so then maybe the other person can’t get your precious face and instead only punch you on the arm or something…..classic case of #shewasntreaaadddyyyy

 

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LET THE (2017) GAMES BEGIN!

Well, well, well…this is my first blog post for 2017. I’m proud to acknowledge that I have managed to complete this post well before January has ended so a big pat on the back for me. After a whirlwind year that was 2016, I am spending most of this summer re-orienting and re-organising myself in preparation for the big year ahead.  We are two weeks into 2017 and I pretty much can’t see a free month ahead of me where I get to do absolutely nothing at home/work/school. This is the year where I wrap up my PhD.  Will I finish it this year? I can’t say, but for someone who has a thesis due this year, I am pretty relaxed (aka. in denial). The organisation that I founded last year PICAA INC. (Pacific Island Creative Arts Australia Inc.) is celebrating its first birthday this month with a Pasefika music event called MUSIFIKA SONGFEST  so our PICAA team are excited to get this inaugural event going. I have a few projects to design and deliver to my beloved Pasefika community here in Melbourne and then of course, I am forever (willingly) chained to my role as musician for the EFKS church.

Life at home is pretty great! It’s been 3 years since I became a solo-mum of 3 children and I can pretty much say that God has blessed us with happiness (except for my hulk-coconut mother moments). My eldest son is facing a tough year at senior high school level, 2 more years then he enters university level (note to self: finish your PhD before your son starts university – he DOES NOT want to be your uni-buddy). My teen daughter is winning this whole ‘how to be a happy and confident teenage girl’ game – she plays it better than I did at her age that’s for sure…and then there’s my OstyWosty, baby of the family and the coolest of us all – I’m happy to report that he is still alive.

I started this blog 4 years ago because I had an itch to write and share my crazy-ass stories with you all…but then I became a post-graduate research student and that pretty much killed my writing buzz lol. BUT! Since 2017 is my year to wrap up the PhD so I can finally attempt living a normal life, having normal conversations about the weather and that awesome TV program from last night, I will update you all on my progress at a more consistent and regular rate than I did last year (I only posted a measly 4 times in 2016 – my badd!!). But I warn you guys – sometimes I will be blogging during a (desperate) study break at some dumb hour in the early morning so my words might not make sense; or I might be going through some mental-breakdown and end up telling you about what I did last summer (no really), or I might post up a for-sale poster for one of my children….judging by his ulavaleness lately, I’m gonna bet it’s my OstyWosty…So – please…bear with me. I promise you that somewhere underneath my ranting, there is hope that someone out there can empathise, understand or (surprisingly) be inspired.

Let the (2017) games begin….

Manuia.

Samoan Theatre in Melbourne

Okay you guys, now I know that in my last post  I was  in a tad-bit-bat-shit-crazy mode  with LIFE and everything I had decided to take on..but I just wanted to let you know how that nite (June 21st 2016) went:

First of all, it was an amazing experience.  For real. I mean, a few weeks into rehearsals I was reassuring everyone with “Don’t worry guys! We got dis! It’s just a step up from Lotu Tamaiti…” but then, on performance day, once the lights were dimmed, we were all dressed up and ready for the opening number to a sold-out audience, I was all “Oh my gosh guys..this shit is legit! 100 steps up! 100 steps up!”  Yep, that was me….

But hey – our play was received amazingly well by the audience, a mixture of Samoan and non-Samoan peeps who happily stayed back for an hour with us to eat faapapa (coconut bread) and sua fa’i (banana soup). We had the TV Samoa Melbourne crew there, taking video footage and interviewing audience members for the beginning episodes of their new TV programme. Also, Multicultural Arts Victoria officials attended and were eager to continue discussions about taking our play to country Victoria where there is a large Pacific community.  The smooth vocalists from DFX Barbershop opened our night with their beautiful arrangements of Samoan gospel.

So, where is this show at right now? Well – thank you for asking! Firstly, we have developed the show, it’s bigger, it’s better and we are preparing to showcase it on two consecutive nights in two different parts of Melbourne in order to cater for everyone who wants to watch it. Secondly, this show is really the beginning of a Pacific theatre movement happening in Australia. We are not a professional theatre production company putting together professional actors, dancers, musicians, production teams. INSTEAD, we are members of the Melbourne Pacific community coming together to stamp our own creative artistic talents path  for all the world to see – our stories, and our peoples. So we’ve sourced our own playwright – Delsa Tuitea, an aspiring Samoan film director and playwright, a BA (TV & English Lit.) graduate from LaTrobe University. Our Director, Steve Tafea who hails from the Pacific Underground legacy in Christchurch; one of our actors is Asalemo Tofete, a BPA and BA graduate from the prestigous National Drama School of NZ, and then you have me as music director – flash title but I’m really just making sure that everyone has their important caffeine intake during rehearsals (totes important).  This is just a small number of the huge amount of talent we make altogether and we make a tiny part of the Melbourne Samoan community here. Our crew is a gentle reminder to the rest of Australia, that there is room for Pacific theatre here, and if you look deeply into the Pacific communities of Australia, you will find gems of untapped talent that can’t be taught in the conservatorium or prestigious dance school – but instead, taught in the Pacific upbringing – in the home, church and at every frikken faalavelave or fundraising event we’ve ever had the ‘pleasure’of performing at lol.

So! If you are reading this and you think – Wowsers! We need to be part of this movement! Let’s get this party started! Crikey! Take that damn shrimp off the barbie and throw on some pua’a! Then I invite you to share this moment with us – here in Melbourne, on Friday 23rd or Saturday 24th September at precisely 8pm. And this is the part where I slot in our poster:

AMATAGAFlyer_SEPT.png

BOOM!

 

Manuia xx

LIFE

Ever had those moments when you just want to slam your head into a wall for no particular reason?  If so – I hear you loud and clear.  We have reached halfway through 2016 and I can’t for the life of me remember what the eff it was that I promised to do this year 6 months ago.  I’m pretty sure I would’ve made some awesome NY resolutions like “study my ass off…make more money…be more patient…talk less and listen more…have a less stressful timetable..”..pretty much my standard list of to-dos every year. But nothing really rings a bell for me other than the fact that I have basically ignored my inner-pleas for a less stressful timetable.  I think I just hit the motherload of all stupid-ass-planning-without-thinking-ahead moments I’ve ever had in my entire life.

I’m not complaining about my life (well, not yet).  I’m just baffled – with myself…and the things I get up to.  In January, I wasn’t sleeping right. I kept waking up at 2am with creative ideas for community outreach events and ways of using my position as a community leader to produce awesome events that would showcase the amazing Pasefika creative talent that is right here in Melbourne.  I kept trying to brush off the ideas because helloooo -I’ve got shit to do man! I’ve got a PhD to finish, 3 kids to try not to kill…and blahblahblah I can’t even go on with this list..(it’s tiring to even think about my routine right now).  I just put it down to the things to do after I complete my studies.  But the ideas kept coming and I found myself typing them away in the middle of the night…..so by the end of January, I just couldn’t ignore the pull.

So what did my midnight dreams result in? Me founding a non-profit organisation called PICAA Incorporated. PICAA stands for Pacific Island Creative Arts Australia (We’re on Facebook and Instagram)  I got all the paperwork ready, got a board in place…found a secretary in the form of the most wonderful Samoan sista Evotia Tuitea and then boom…we started planning.  Soon afterwards, I started to accept gigs that I would normally turn down because of my schedule – but this time, I have a team of awesome  peeps who are down for whatever it takes to put Pasefika talent on the map here in Australia.  So now, I’m knee-deep in rehearsals as producer/music director for the first ever Samoan community-focused and community-based theatre production event in Australia – a play based on the story of Samoa’s creation called “Amataga o le Alofa” (“The Beginning of Love”).  Add to that, we put together a choir called “Pasefika Vitoria Choir” for a first-ever Pacific community event hosted by the prestigious National Gallery of Victoria on June 11th.   Yeah – I’m crazy busy: I’m part of a few Pasefika community and church groups already.  But can you imagine being a Pacific Islander living in a world where there is limited opportunity to take your children to see your people on stage?

Let’s keep the momentum going Pasefika people of Melbourne!  Let’s not worry about how hard it is to get our people seen or heard in the creative arts sector, or how hard it is to gain REAL LEGIT support from our own people (the ones who love to talk about doing things but don’t show up to actually do them!).  Let us instead focus on the end result – the part we play in opening these heavy-ass doors for our children who will grow up and not have to struggle to find opportunities to take the stage as proud Pasefika peoples. Our job today is make it HAPPEN for them – we have the means, we have the heart…we might go valea from the sheer stress of it all, but hey! Let’s go valea together 🙂

So am I on track to resolve my awesome goals for 2016? No. I’m still broke, I’m more impatient than ever..I still talk more than I listen (seriously, someone actually told me to shutup when I was talking over his explanation of something..probably not important hence why I kept talking lol)…and my stress levels? Pffft…what is stress these days? I can’t even tell what the difference is between stress and my life right now!

Manuia.

 

 

THE FAIPESE MUM

I’ve been thinking a lot about the church music ministry and how I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve God through my participation in the choir as well as my community.  I’ve been in this role for 26 years now ( I started really young lol) and I’ve seen many moments of joy (weddings) and grief (funerals) from behind the keys.  I’ve also had some up/down experiences such as the time I was playing for the choir in one of our big songs (like epic) and the Yamaha-Electone I was playing on decided to go all funny and malfunctioned during the song…or the time I got a growling in front of the whole church by the faifeau because all year he saw me reading my romance novels from behind the piano during loku and just couldn’t hold his silence any longer lmao….and then there was the wedding where the bride insisted I play a particular song for her walk-in and when I told her it was a funeral song (a well-known one too) she demanded that I still play it but a ‘happy’ version.

When I moved to Australia 13 years ago, I didn’t know that I would (or even could!) continue my ministry in the EFKS church as I had come to a place where I knew no one and did not have any family nearby who could help me with my young babies during church time like my mother did for me in NZ. When I was little, dad was free to focus on his role as faipese (choir director/teacher) because mum was always there for us.  But when I think of my own experience, today I am the faipese as well as the ‘mum’ so most times it is hard to juggle my ministry as well as my young family.  I guess it’s fair to say that girls would start off as kapiago (pianist) but as we get older, settle down and have babies, it’s too hard to maintain the aufaipese (choir) timetable so the role of faipese (choir director) is normally fulfilled by males.  Female faipeses make a tiny number compared to males.

I look back and think of a special woman who came to my aid – the late Apitale Lua (RIP)  who religiously babysat my newborn Malia Lucy every week at peses and lotu in 2003-2004 while I conducted the church choir – teaching her young daughters Nafanua and Puna how to help look after her also, and then giving them the evils whenever Malia cried during service lol.  When my youngest Osty was a newborn in 2008, the entire row of altos (teenage girls) had turns looking after him during peses and loku…until he started walking and then wanted to be a cool guy with the tenors at the back.  I remember conducting a song with one hand and yanking his shirt with the other when he kept running around me – some good times there lol.  Also, I fondly remember that Sunday in 2002 when my Reverend at the time Dr. Rev. Peniamina Vai  (RIP) told the congregation to leave the little 2-year old Jeramyah to breakdance down the aisle every time his mum played the fast church hymns lol –  so I had one eye on my music notes and the other on my dancing son.

One thing that I’ve had to learn to deal with as a mum/faipese is that I have had to put my foot down with certain people and tell them that I am a mother first, a faipese second.  Particularly now, as a solo-mum, I will put my children’s needs and timetable first before I allow the choir to schedule rehearsals.  I’ve also had to deal with people who try to ‘own’ me as a faipese – I acknowledge my role in Sunday service, and I do my best to get that choir singing at the top of their lungs every week – but when people try and put their ‘hands’ on the ministry that God has allowed me to fulfil, or try to claim ownership over me as ‘theirs’ – then shit gets ugly.  I remember the time an elderly couple  (from another church parish) came up to me after  a combined service, thanking me for sharing my talent with them that day.  When they walked away, a member of my own church asked me “what did they say? and why?” and when I answered..she looked disgusted. Clearly she thought that as a faipese in her church, people from outside were not allowed to compliment me… I left that choir a few months later. I don’t understand how people try and put their ‘stamp’ on something that they had no input in creating and developing. It was my father who put my music lessons/practices/performances/exams ahead of everything he had in his life for a good 13 years, and my mother who made sure my fees were paid and comforted and encouraged me during the difficult times. So everyone else can just watch and listen thank you.

I make it a point to share my music notes with my fellow faipeses,  I get requests every month from Samoans around the world who are looking for a particular song copy and for some reason – I happen to have it – so I scan and email it over.  I don’t like this attitude of “these are my music notes and no one is allowed to see them” – because at the end of the day, I did not compose all those songs..so I don’t ‘own’ them..and I’m pretty sure that if a composer wrote a song, they would love for as many choirs to sing them right?

My father is pushing 72 and is still the faipese of his church choir.  I’m in my late 20s…..okay then..late 30s geez. So the way I see it…I have another 40 years of faipese work ahead of me…..and around that time I will be writing a blogpost called “The Faipese Grandma”….*****dying****

 

Ia manuia.

 

 

 

THE YEAR OF THE LOST COCONUT

My first blog post for the year.  It’s mid-February and I haven’t had the mental space to compose a coherent post that you could all read without feeling like you should know morse-code ….until today.  And why is it that I couldn’t even post something amazing to start my year off? It’s because…from last September to this very moment, my life has been a series of never-ending choir rehearsals, youth events, study commitments, family commitments, event planning/management, teaching commitments, combined church events, church games, starting my own community organisation, rushing to and from kids lessons and games, scoffing morning coffees; ………and then somewhere in between all that mess, a whacked invisible social life.

But THIS year I am totes ready.  2016 is my bitch.  I’ll be back peeps…..

 

THIS IS ONE FABULOUSLY FIERCE WOMAN!

Back in the day, we weren’t allowed to just randomly go to a friend’s house and play – unless our parents knew their parents’ villages, and therefore genealogies, and church communities lol.  In my teen years, my life consisted of family, hanging with church friends, school and church – in that order. My church friends became my best friends/family – they knew my extended family and I knew theirs.   I met Nora when I was about 11 years old. Her family joined our church, our mothers quickly became best friends, and our parents soon formed a social club with other church parents called ‘The Skyline Club’ and weekly meetings took place in our garage.  At this time, I was already playing the organ for the church choir and so was asked by some of the parents to teach their children. Nora became one of my students but she wasn’t interested in learning, and I wasn’t interested in teaching her coz, as teenagers,  time was valuable and we would rather talk about…stuff.  We also preferred to rehearse our own choreographed dances for no particular event other than our own concerts in my garage with ourselves as the audience lol.  So her parents would drop her off to my place and the two of us would use the $20 that her mum gave me for lesson fees and walk to the Dawson Rd shops to buy lollies.

My sista-ship with Nora spans a good 26 years, she remains one my oldest and dearest friends.  In our lil’ church clique (there’s 4 of us), she was the quiet one, smart and wholly dedicated to the Spice Girls lol. Her smile only reserved for those who mattered. One of her standout features is what I could only (at that time) describe as this incomprehensible sense of dress style.  I say this, because I was a conservative dresser – no miniskirts for me (except for my school uniform), or colourful/kaleidoscope-y type of clothes, with abstract hemlines and shoes that I can’t even believe stores would dare sell.  I was too plain and simple to even wear stuff like that. But Nora – dayum, that girl had her own style, and a lot of her attire were clothes that she altered because she didn’t want to look like everyone else.  Seriously, wearing her high school uniform must’ve been painful for her.  As we grew older, Nora’s dress style became more pronounced, her confidence in her own dress sense and her own individuality was clear to see, and of course by then, I was used to her style.  But that still didn’t stop me from asking her so many times “what the hell have you got on girrrrlll?”  I swear, Nora wore the ‘school-uniform’ look to her classes at Uni before Britney Spears did on MTV (but with knee-high blue doc martens lol).

I wanted to talk about Nora today because, to me, her journey as a young woman who dressed to please herself and no one else is something I really admire, and then to be able to take that attitude to life and build a business on it is even more awesome.  Today, Nora Swann is a smart and savvy entrepreneur based in Auckland NZ as founder of Kila’s Style.   In the few short years since she decided to make her passion for fashion a useful tool for young Pacific women (and men!), Nora has had to overcome  and consequently achieve many of her personal goals in order to make her business venture a successful one. I never thought I would see the day when Nora would walk on to a stage and host an event, or even promote herself and her services – because if there’s one thing I know about her, is that she shies away from the spotlight – and yet here she was last December in Melbourne, rocking that stage and wowing her audience.

Seeing my girl in her element, doing what she loves as a career and not just a hobby really inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing.  So, if you’re reading this and Nora’s journey resonates with you – check her out here on her blog: http://kilasstyle.co.nz  and on Facebook (Nora Swann): https://www.facebook.com/nora.swann?fref=ts and (Kila’s Style): https://www.facebook.com/KilasStyle/?pnref=lhc.

Ia manuia xx

Nora (right side with the cowboy boots) with her Kila’s Style models – made up of volunteers from the Melbourne Pacific community. Nora’s Up-Styling segment at the BridgingWorx DARE2DREAM festival 2015 was a huge success.
Nora Swann – Fashion Stylist (photo courtesy of Nora’s Facebook page)