It would be five o’clock in the morning when we heard the roosters, that was our alarm clock. We had a seizable number so when we all got up, like a boot camp, we all divided into ‘units.’ The girls would tidy up where we slept, ie, roll the mats coz we slept on the floor, take the blankets and pillows into the room. And when i say ‘the room’ I mean ‘the only room’ in the house. That room was like a warehouse for all grandma’s precious thangs and that would include beddings and grandma would hold the key! Not everyone had the luxury of sleeping with a pillow (unthinkable these days huh?). For the most part you were left to your own devices to be a contortionist (head on your arms) or the tried and true ‘ali’ which was a ‘pillow’ of sorts carved out of wood. Boy did that do wonders for your neck *kales* ….
The girls would also put down the sleeping nets (ka’igamu). The Po’as (that’ll be us guys) would burn up coconut shells that became charcoals to be thrown into the auli (iron). This iron was, well, made out of iron (surprisingly enough) and had a ‘flip top’ which opened up to allow one to fill the modest chamber of the iron to be filled with charcoal.
So while the girls took over ironing our school uniforms, us boys would be filling up the big kettle with water to go on an open fire to boil. From there we’d collect lemon leaves that were washed and thrown in to flavor this water. If we couldn’t be bothered picking the lemon leaves, we’d normally just cut a whole branch (not a massive one mind you but just enough…) and throw it in the kettle. Then we’d bring the sack of sugar out and we’d debate how much is needed by both of us holding the sack and tipping the sugar in the kettle.
The girls would normally have the table set, the bread (pa falaoa) laid out in plates. This would be like, almost a half a loaf in size per person (this was the size of the slices) with a couple of squares of butter thrown on top of it! It was considered a luxury if we had milk. This would in turn be poured into the kettle of lemon leaves. Other forms of luxury would be coconut buns (pani popo) but they was not really luxuries because if we really wanted to have these for breakfast it meant we woke up an hour earlier then the set time to get it all done. We would be sitting at a long wooden table sitting on long wooden pews. Breakfast was always a fast and furious noisy affair. A lot of laughter, a lot of quick hands (as one would try to pinch the other’s square of butter of bread slice).
We would walk down a long winded drive way to the main road. None of us had shoes but that didn’t matter for we were so used to being bare footed! When we got to the main road, we’d park under the breadfruit trees to await the arrival of our ‘bus’.. I guess you could say the breadfruit tree was the bus stop. From up the road we could hear the sound of a high engine rev which normally meant the ‘bus’ would arrive shortly. What was the ‘bus?’ It was a Toyota single cab pick up. And on the deck, it was bursting at the seams with people. Some sitting on the roof of the cab, others on the shutters of the deck. And I kid you not, at one stage, we picked up one more passenger and being full up, he was forced to ride the rest of the way into town sitting on the hood, on the passenger side legs out, leaning against the windscreen while the passenger in the cab was the ’seat belt’ with their right hand out to hold this passenger steady.
We didn’t have school bags then so we’d either hold onto our school book and pencils would be sheathed on our ears. If it rained we’d wrapped our stationary in a plastic bag. And as we didn’t have rain coats, we’d use the Ta’amu (a taro like plant) leaves as umbrellas! As far as our clothing was concerned, we’d go to school with what we slept in. Our uniforms, again, in a plastic bag and got changed at school! Well you can imagine walking around in uniforms that were so wrinkled like you just jumped out of the spin dryer!
All of us went to school at Malifa. When school finished, we would hike, walk, all the way to Matautu uta where the old Customs offices were, on bare feet, on scorching tar, stones and what have you. That was where our auntie worked. And lunch would be waiting for us in her air conditioned lunch room, ie, more pa falaoa (bread) and butter with tap water to wash it down!
Come night fall, back home in the country. Chores done, dinner done. It was homework time! Our ‘lounge’ was one big square space with a sewing machine in one corner and that was the only piece of furniture there was. We’d bring the lantern in the middle of the room along with the radio. Then we’d bring our mats and in a circular fashion surrounded these two items. Everyone would get out their homework and it was all on.
“What’s the answer to this?”
“You asking me, you’re the one that’s one level up from me!”
“So who was that girl talking to you?”
“I found a twenty sene by the mango tree and I bought a german bun!”
“What a faaloloko (greedy)!”
“Hey give me back my rubber and my ruler”
“Sina was crying near the toilets today”
“She cries every lunch break!”
“What flavor milk biscuits are you guys getting?”
“Can I sit next to you at exams tomorrow?”
“How much money you got there’s a movie on after school?”
And so it carried on back and forth like that until ’story’ time (fa’agogo) was on the radio then there would be silence as we’d all listen whilst we finish up our homework or drift off to sleep.
In the background, grand ma would be humming a song to herself as auntie made the rounds on the house to make sure the doors were locked and windows closed.