Lē masagi (pronounced “lē masangi”) in Sāmoan literally means to be unfamiliar with or not be used to something.
I’ve been away from Eastbourne for as many years as I ever lived there. As a young 20-year-old, I left my more than comfortable family home by the sea to move to a damp flat in Kelburn with mouldy walls in the bathroom and rats running around the ceiling at night. A few years later, I shared a small modern townhouse near One Tree Hill with a revolving number of people who seemed to be mostly teachers and engineers before finally finding myself living with my husband, our daughter, Tasi and extended family in an old, wooden two-storey house on a busy dusty road, right in the heart of Apia.
Twenty years in Eastbourne, eight years in Auckland, 12 years in Sāmoa and now I’m returning to my hometown, bringing our daughter, Tasi with me. Over Wellington Harbour, the Air New Zealand plane tilts alarmingly to one side as the pilot turns in preparation to land at Rongotai airport. I grasp Tasi’s hand tightly and close my eyes.
“Everything’s going to be OK,” I say aloud, perhaps to reassure myself more than Tasi, keeping my eyes closed and bracing myself for what is likely to be a bumpy landing—this is Wellington after all. I take Tasi’s hand again to walk down the steps and onto the tarmac. It’s freezing cold, the wind’s blowing a gale and we’re way underdressed but it feels good to be home.
It doesn’t take long to find a little flat at the end of Nikau Street and after a few trips to the op shops in Petone and a few early morning garage sales, Tasi and I soon have almost all the furniture, blankets, warm clothes and dishes the two of us will need for now. Even though it’s only April there’s a definite chill in the air and it’s much colder than we’ve been used to in Sāmoa. I dread to think what winter will be like, having not experienced one for several years, as we always always preferred to visit New Zealand in summer to spend Christmas with family when the weather is warm and the airfares are cheaper.
I buy a TV and a fridgefreezer on HP from the mall in Lower Hutt, promising myself I’ll buy a washing machine as soon as I get a job, but I’m not daunted by the prospect of washing everything by hand, after all that’s what I’d been doing for the last 10 years in Sāmoa. I used to say, “I’ve got a twin tub washing machine—two buckets under the tap,” and laugh aloud at my own joke.
So in Eastbourne, I do the washing outside under the tap, sitting on an upturned crate as I have done so many times in Sāmoa, only it’s colder here. I wash our heavier clothes and towels in the bathtub and feel so extravagant using warm water to rinse them. That was what attracted me to the flat in the first place—a real bath! I couldn’t wait to fill it up with hot water, add bubbles, light a few scented candles and soak. A bubble bath was always Tasi’s first request whenever we had come to New Zealand to visit.
Shopping for groceries at Pak’nSave in Petone is completely overwhelming. Tasi pulls my arm when I stand in one aisle for too long, gazing at all the different types of bread: toast sliced, sandwich sliced, wholemeal, wholegrain, Vogel’s, linseed oil and poppy seed…I read all the labels before choosing a loaf of wholegrain for me and a white toast sliced loaf for Tasi. When we bought bread in Sāmoa, it was simple—every loaf was white and the only choice we had to make was between sliced and unsliced.
“Lē masagi,” I think to myself and because it’s so true, I say it aloud. “Lē masagi, ah Tasi?”
She doesn’t answer and I can tell by the look on her face that she just wants to get out of here. I hurry to finish the shopping but it’s almost impossible to rush down all the aisles without stopping to ooh and aah at all the food I’ve missed so much. I look at the prices of cereal and coffee and wonder if someone’s made a mistake; it surely can’t be that cheap, even in NZ dollars. I feel decadent buying bacon, broccoli and mushrooms, things we never ate in Sāmoa, and I don’t even blink when Tasi slips a six-pack of yoghurt into the trolley.
At the checkout, I struggle to swipe my new Eftpos card, being used to cash in Sāmoa. Thankfully, the woman at the checkout is patient with me. I can tell by her face that she’s Sāmoan and her name badge confirms it.
“Lē masagi,” I say apologetically, and she laughs.
With the groceries packed away in the boot of Mum’s car and not having to worry about the butter melting, fruit overripening or meat spoiling before we get home, I tell Tasi to put on her seat belt, pull out of Pak‘nSave, take a deep breath, successfully negotiate the roundabout and drive cautiously along Jackson Street.
Once I reach Point Howard, I can loosen my grip on the steering wheel a little. I’m in familiar territory now. At one time, I reckon I could have driven around the bays blindfolded. I mention this to Tasi but she doesn’t seem to be very impressed.
“See over there,” I say, pointing out to a bush-covered hill at the southern end of Lowry Bay. “I used to sit on the school bus every day and look at that hill. I’d imagine it was a dragon asleep in the sun. See the way the slope there looks like the back of a dragon? Look, there’s his head.”
I glance in the rear-view mirror to see my daughter squinting her eyes but she doesn’t say anything.
“Well, I still think it looks like a dragon…”
When we get to Days Bay, I point out The Pavilion where I used to have a summer job selling ice cream. At Windy Point, I turn down Marine Parade and drive past the swimming pool.
“That’s where I learnt to swim,” I say proudly. “You can go to swimming lessons in the summer, Tasi.” And then pretend I don’t hear the small voice from the back seat asking, “Will we still be here in the summer?”
I turn down Oroua Street to show Tasi my old primary school and the house I grew up in, although I’ve shown them to Tasi every time we’ve visited, and soon we’re back in Nikau Street.
“I miss Sāmoa,” Tasi says, quietly while we’re putting away the groceries. “I miss my dogs. I miss my friends and I miss Dad.”
“Onosa’i.* Darling, be patient,” I say, trying not to sigh too loudly. “Just give it time. You’ll soon get used to it here.”
Tasi shakes her head. “Lē masagi,” she says and slumps off to her room.
* Onosa’i: patience