Post 65 — We Are Eager to Learn

The front row is kneeling on coral! That is why I'm in the back. I'm the one with the really crooked bangs.

The front row is kneeling on coral! That is why I’m in the back. I’m the one with the really crooked bangs.

The stainless steel segmented lunch tray looked like it might have been left over from the filming of Riot in Cell Block 11. Dented and the color of melted guns, its heavy weight was only a fraction of how the stuff piled on it was going to sit in your stomach. In one corner, there was a pyramid of canned grayish-green beans. There was no need to check the expiration date on the can because the amount of salt mixed in with the beans came out to a ratio of 70/30. These beans couldn’t have gone bad even if they had wanted to. Section two contained an assortment of stewed plums swimming in so much syrup that holding them down and drowning them seemed like the better option than eating them. And finally, the largest middle segment held a big scoop of canned corned beef mixed with coconut milk and rice that was the government-surplus version of the Samoan classic dish, pisupo.

Chrissie stared at her lunch and questioned her life. How could anyone think this was what a growing child should, or would, eat? The everyday problems of fifth grade —cliques, math, boys— all faded away when she faced the daily dilemma of how to stomach what the school laughingly referred to as a “well-balanced” meal. She assumed the protein part of the food pyramid was represented by the insect that crawled out of her rice that she half-heartedly flicked away. After two years on the island, she didn’t even bother to get worked up about bugs anymore. She glanced around the cavernous cafeteria and saw that the teachers from the TV studio were eating there, too. If she could find her father, she might be able to talk him out of fifty cents.

After the disappointment of her fourth-grade teacher/future husband rejecting her by giving her a C in math, Chrissie had been grateful for a fresh start. The educational process that had begun by water’s edge at the old Dependent’s School was now continuing in a brand new school called Fia Iloa. Grades 1-6 gathered in the newly built elementary school, a U-shaped building full of classrooms that faced an open playground. A fale in the center became the perfect shady spot for double-dutch jump rope and gym-class square dancing.

The high school was also called Fia Iloa but was located in a different building nearby, which was also where the dreaded cafeteria could be found. The name meant “Eager to Learn”, and the student body was a combination of palagi kids whose parents worked on the island and Samoan kids whose command of English was good enough to be able to handle the course work. One perk of being in the military was that the government paid for the families of Samoan soldiers to move anywhere, so many of the students had been educated in the states.

Kathy and Carolyn thrived in the school, each taking a variety of classes such as typing and photography. The electives were their favorite parts of school, since their parochial education back in Michigan had left them so well-prepared that they were frequently bored in class.

“The piano teacher told Kathy she had sloppy fingering and bad foot work and wounded her deeply. She has gotten so used to being the living end scholastically that it comes as a shock when someone has the temerity to criticize her. She never asks my opinion anymore because I generally give it to her. She has been president of her class for a while now . . .things are going pretty well, or at least they were, but it seems they are trying to impeach her now! She keeps adjourning the meetings to block the proceedings.”

Jean

Lunch period was nearly over and Chrissie had still not found her father among the TV teachers eating in the cafeteria. She wondered if he had gone home to eat, which was now an easy walk since they had moved to town. She had a quarter that may or may not have fallen off the dresser in her parent’s room, but she needed fifty cents to buy the kind of fuel that was going to get her through the rest of this day. There was a small store near the school that stocked an assortment of delicious snack foods, all of them vacuum-packed in tiny cans with pop-top lids that were sharp enough to slice all the way down to bone if you opened them the wrong way. She kicked at a shell as she crossed the playground and as the sand shifted, she noticed a glint on the ground. It was a quarter, barely noticeable until the sun hit it! This was divine intervention. Somewhere, someone did not want her to eat corned beef hash pisupo for lunch. It would be shoestring potato sticks and orange Fanta! Life was good.

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One Comment to “Post 65 — We Are Eager to Learn”

  1. Love the series, but could you move the text away from the palm fronds? It makes it a pain to read.

    Like

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