Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rachel Goldstein and Sina

August 11, 2011

Rachel Goldstein is a rural primary school Peace Corps teacher. Whenever I have the opportunity, I try to show these volunteers my and their government’s appreciation by taking them out to dinner after a day of testing. This time I had the honor of having Rachel Goldstein join me for dinner at Stevenson’s Resort in Manase.

Of course Rachel is lovely standing before the gigantic carved mural. The mural depicts a Samoan legend, dear to all Samoans, of how the coconut, Samoa’s most important food, came to this island in the middle of the Pacific. But what is fascinating, besides Rachel, are the words above the mural. In English, it is “Sina and the eel”; in Samoan, it is, “Sina ma lana tuna.”

The Samoan language has gender neutral pronouns. You intuitively add the gender possession to the sentence’s subject. Back to Sina.

The translation from Samoan to English should be, “Sina and her eel”, tuna being the Samoan word for eel, lana the pronoun. As every Samoan knows, the legend is a very sexual one, as the tuna seduces Sina. “The” instead of “her” completely changes the whole relationship of the legend, changing the mural from a deeply significant relationship, full of questions for the unknowing, into an interesting carving of a girl and an eel.

“Sina and her eel” typify the problem of understanding between peoples and cultures. What sounds like bombastic rhetoric when translated from another language to English, may be nothing more than flowery poetic words or visa versa. We may never know the meaning and the exact translation may be impossible; yet we must try.

Living in amidst a different culture is like “Sina and the (her) eel”. It is a constant struggle of getting through each day, thinking you know what is happening, but really being totally clueless. At the end of the day, you collapse from the exhaustion of simply coping. Of course, there is a solution of simply killing them all, but that is job for the other “Corps”.

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