The Mark of the Jandal

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lost and Found

We spent New Years at Falealupo in Savai'i. Aside from kids throwing rocks, the trip was more eventful. When returning from the Wharf to Apia, I looked back and noticed that Candice and I had lost Bryan. We turned around and found him shortly. Standing on the side of the road, he was with two Samoan boys on bikes and a couple on foot. I asked him if there was a problem and he pointed to the bike one of the boys was riding.

Jump back ten days

Maka, the volunteer who lives out at the far end of Savai'i, is in town. He's in a park by the sea wall in Apia and in the process of wooing another volunteer. In his distracted state, he left his bike unlocked but within eyesight. Having his attention drawn by events not completely under his control, he looked over to find his bicycle was missing. What followed was conveyed to me as none too successful attempts at contacting the Peace Corps duty officer, calling the police and explaining the situation in a second language, and a failed attempt at encircling Apia with a dragnet.

Back to the present

I think Maka had written off getting his bike back, I know I certainly had. It was a safe assumption that it had been stripped down, the frame spray painted some pimped out color, strange reflectors attached and possibly neon lights added. But this kid was sitting on his bike. It had the smiling avocado sticker, his rack, even his bungie cords. Bryan was in the process of trying to get in touch with the duty officer and/or our safety and security officer -- no answers. Bryan called Holly and turned her loose on the problem of getting in contact with someone from the Peace Corps and having them call us back.

Candice and I had arrived as Bryan was talking to Holly, and the boy insisted that the bike was not his, but rather his friends. One of the kids standing around took off to get the purported owner. After a few minutes of talking to the kid on the bike, the "owner" showed up looking agitated and a little nervous. He pulled the bike away from us and started to ride away. Bryan and I began to follow him. He rode away slowly at first, but when he noticed we were following him he sped up. He turned toward a large church, and then moved on to some trails between houses.

Bryan broke off to find some people in the village to talk to, but I stayed with him. He was getting a little stressed out and stopped the bike. He picked up a large stone and told me go back. Keeping a good distance between us, I told him I couldn't do that. Frustrated, he put the rock down and got back on his bike. I continued to follow him, keeping at least ten feet between us. He turned off of this trail onto a road heading inland.


Each village has it's own rules. Some villages don't allow hair on men below the collar, most require women to wear lavalavas when in public. Many of villages have roads (or portions of roads) that bikes are not allowed to ride on -- however cars are just fine. These roads aren't labeled and people who live in the village are expected to just "know" which roads are forbidden.

As I follow the young man up the road, Samoans on the sides of the road are telling him to get off of his bike. He gets off and asks me to do the same. So now I'm giving chase by pushing my bike behind someone who is doing the same. I had the images of the OJ car chase passing through my mind. When we reached the end of the forbidden section of the road we got back on our bikes and started riding. Thinking I could talk him into coming back with me, I started communicating with him. I asked him where we were going. He told me his mothers house, this along with pretty much everything else would turn out to be a lie. I asked him where he got the bike and he told me he bought it from "a guy" whose name he did not know. I asked him is name and age which he claimed were Tui and 22, respectively -- both lies. I didn't expect much, but I was trying to get him to relax and realize how pointless running away was.

Eventually the road turned into a rocky dirt road and he couldn't ride anymore. After he starts pushing his bike he then volunteers that he's a boxer. After I asked how many fights he'd won and the told me all of them. Now this kid is in good shape, but he's no boxer. He was also quite worn out, so I gave him some of my water. Along the road there have been other people and houses. However, we were starting to get into an overgrown portion of the road and we came up on the last house I could see from the road. It was apparent he was willing to walk right into the jungle. Not feeling completely comfortable with that destination, I decided to turn back. He mentioned that he was hungry, so I gave him a can of tuna and met back with Bryan and Candice at the main road.

Bryan had found the Pule of the village (Leulumoegatuai) and a high ranking Matai. With their help, the police had been found. It turns out the guy was from the next village over. They had is name, which wasn't Tui, his mom's name, and the location of her house. Evidentially there is a trial linking the two villages close the place where I left the young man, so I guess we might have been going to his moms house though I doubt it. The cops caught him on the other side of the trail with the bike. Our safety and security officer showed up and we loaded Makas bike and our own on the vehicle and headed home.

Makas bike was recovered, and everyone but the boxer was having a pretty good day. The people from Leulumoegatuai were really helpful. We returned the next day with a couple cases of mackerel. I found it odd that the police would just give us the bike back without us even providing the initial police report of the theft. In my mind, there is no doubt that it was Makas bike, but from the perspective of the police I should think it would be prudent to hold on to the bike until some tangible evidence of ownership was provided.


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