Libertine in Dreams

life in e-motion

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Letter to the Editor (of the Samoa Observer)

16 February 2014

Editor of the Samoa Observer
PO BOX 1972

Dear Editor,

Re: Editorial “Setting the record straight.”

I read, with great interest, the editorial in today’s Observer by Mrs. Moore where she is “setting the record straight”, and after reading through to the end, I would like to take this opportunity to fulfill that promise.
Firstly, thank you for printing the Savali Newspaper interview of the Prime Minister from Saturday 14/02/15.  As the only daily in Samoa, your newspaper has the widest circulation in Apia so your front page splash of the Prime Minister’s interview boosted our audience numbers significantly.
Secondly, I wish to make clear that the email sent from my office to the Observer’s editorial triumvirate of Savea, Mataafa and Marjorie on Saturday evening did not ask for the Observer to “hold the presses”, nor did the email request for a front page.

The content of the email was simply a courtesy note, letting you all know that the Savali Newspaper had just wrapped an interview with the Prime Minister, and if you were interested – it would be issued within the hour.  I invite you to read the email again and let me know exactly how you extracted “hold the press” from it.  In fact, your own Editor-in-Chief wrote back to me, and then even called me up to say that the Observer would wait for the Interview.  Although appreciated, the eagerness of the Observer to “hold the presses” had nothing to do with me or my powers of persuasion.  I suspect it was more to do with the fact that the Prime Minister’s interview would make for better reading on a Sunday, than “other news of interest”.  And while on the topic, what other “news of interest” did you have to reshuffle?  Was it a rugby story?

Let’s just call a spade a spade and admit that the Observer needs news and the Government is the news.  We’re practically in a relationship.  So despite your paper’s attempts to distance yourselves from the warm bosom of Government’s stream of information, I’m afraid you’re as reliant as a child on the nourishment it provides.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Observer and other media organisations rely on Government for their news.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Samoa is a small country from a big region in a huge world.  Comparatively speaking there’s not much to report on, unless of course you are wizened and clever and manage to create the news yourself.
Browsing quickly through my cherished pile of Observers next to my desk, I can tell you off hand that since Thursday last week – there have been approximately 20 different stories relating to Government.  And that doesn’t include the different Press Releases and court stories you print.  Also I note that on Friday last week the Observer printed a total of three (3) stories that were written by your reporters.  The other four (for a total of seven) were Press Releases.
I’m not so tactless as to outline what kind of revenue was collected from an edition that prints three original news stories (two of which were about Government), but perhaps your powerhouse trio of editors could explain why the good people of Samoa should overlook the fact that your newspaper makes a living off Government, and yet you insist that we – my office in particular – are basically begging you to “hold” your impressive state-of-the-art presses?

We, as a courteous and efficient office of Government, work hard to maintain great rapport with our media colleagues.  We recognise that the media’s role in society is important, and we work hard to ensure your newspapers and radio shows and television programs are supplied with news on a regular basis.
In fact, I usually correspond with Mataafa.  The only reason I specifically copied Savea and Marjorie in to my email was because I had not received a response from Mataafa from earlier last week when I had written to him and questioned the objectivity of one of the Observer reporters’ story lines.  Our office does not favour any particular media organisation, nor do we provide scoops or special breaking news to any particular reporter.  We issue our news to everyone on our media mailing list on the same day, at the same time, and by the same method.  We also provide the same information to the public, government agencies, diplomatic corps, our overseas missions, civil society and the private sector through mailing lists, the Government Website, social media accounts and hard copies should anyone wander through our doors and want to know what’s going on.
Currently we provide Government news to around 20 different Samoan news organisations here and abroad (dozens of reporters) as well as regional news outlets.  If any of your readership gather their news from alternative sources, they would have seen that the Newsline also ran the interview in their Sunday paper.

My office and I are here to help the media.  All of the media.  We don’t need to curry favour from any newspaper, radio or television station.  So to my colleagues at the Samoa Observer, I ask that you don’t forget relationships that have been forged since time immemorial.  Or perhaps only as far back as 1978.
The Observer is only one of a long list of news outlets that my office serves, and there are plenty of other media representatives who share our Press Releases, our news of Government initiatives, development projects and community programmes with those who matter the most – the people of Samoa.

Faithfully yours,

Renate Rivers
Government of Samoa


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(Savali Newspaper)
If the first two weeks of 2015 are any indication of what’s ahead, this year is going to be a hectic and eventful time for the people of Samoa.  This week’s editorial will touch on three different topics – the media saturated issue of the SSLC Mathematics result, the Citizenship Investment Bill and the Media Council Bill.

75% Failure
Teachers and students of Samoa have had a busy week of successes and failures.  Whilst teachers were celebrating their 7% pay-increase (as part of a three-year roll out totaling 21%), approximately three quarters of students who sat the Secondary School Leaving Certificate were mourning their mathematics results.  Everyone seems to have an opinion on what went wrong and the finger-pointing is well underway. 
Of interest is the fact that for the first time in recent memory, these exam results were based on raw marks and were not scaled.  If the 75% failure rate is any reflection of the “true” results of previous years, then scaling has masked any real insight in to what our future leaders are learning and retaining.  A scary thought.  Although a little scarier is the thought that there are thousands of former students, from previous years, currently among us with ‘scaled’ mathematics results.
It would be interesting to see how the other SSLC subjects were marked. 
Mathematics is a great indicator of the cohesive and functioning relationship between the teacher and the student.  Simplistically – you are taught how to work out a problem and you arrive at the established answer.  In numeracy, you’re either right or you’re wrong.  There is no in-between or interpretive dance around a possible scenario that may or may not apply depending on personal feeling or how the wind blows on any given day.  It’s not English. 
If this Mathematics result is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the educational prowess of our future leaders, then we should all start panicking now.  If this is difficult to stomach, perhaps you should check your future leader’s social media pages and work it out for yourself. 

Citizenship Investment Bill
As the topic of deliberate and calculated scaremongering by some newspapers, it’s disappointing to see that this Bill has been further cheapened as a political tool for next year’s elections.  Certain Parliamentarians (and would-be election candidates?) are riding the wave of media-incited alarm by openly encouraging racist feeling towards foreigners, or more precisely and somewhat poignantly – Chinese people.
The great French General, Charles De Gaulle once said that “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first and nationalism is when hate for people other than your own comes first.”
Disdain for other beliefs, other cultures, other people is what causes most of the suffering in the world.  Blurring the line between concern for country as a patriot, and contempt for foreigners does not take much skill or effort.  It’s easy to be ignorant.  Fear of the unknown can keep you boxed within a prison of self-imposed limitations.
The claim that Samoa is being sold to foreigners is a shared paranoia of xenophobes. 
Some critics come to the party with innocent intentions.  Others are determined to exploit the debate for their own gain.  Others still offer their opinions without contributing anything useful at all.
At the heart of the matter is the fear of Samoa being for sale.  That some part of our identity as Samoans will be made available to anyone with a few million tala. 
Such melodrama. 
Citizenship is not what makes Samoa special.  A passport does not separate you from the rest as a true Samoan.  It is not measina. 
What makes us special as Samoans can never be sold – it’s the spirit of Samoa, it’s the lands of our forefathers and the honour of matai.  It’s the sense of respect we value in each other and ourselves.  There is no bounty on that. 
A passport is simply a bound booklet, handy for travel and useful as ID when collecting your gift from the local money transfer.  That’s all.
Samoa needs investors.  Whether by virtue of this Bill, or any other method, Samoa needs investors to bolster the economy and create jobs.  Even if our graduates are failures at arithmetic, they still need work.  The faalavelaves don’t wait.  The church donations don’t halt.  The bills don’t stop.  Ever.

Media Council Bill
The special Parliamentary Committee tasked with examining the Bill has been holding consultations in recent weeks, working through the minutiae of differing opinions for and against media regulation.
As we await to hear from them, we should consider the difficult road that brought us here. 
After years of industry-led consultations and numerous drafts of a working Bill, during which the proposed regulation was endlessly scrutinised by the media, the hard slog by Samoa’s journalists to see a positive step towards raising the standards of journalism, is almost over. 
The media industry is full of highly opinionated, egotistical, stubborn, scheming, charming, dedicated, amazingly talented, passionate personalities.  It’s basically Politics, without the official passport.
So you can imagine how difficult it is to come to a consensus on anything, let alone regulations that will determine how your industry is guided.  It wasn’t easy.
As the Fourth Estate, the media is burdened with glorious purpose.  To watch, to inform, to report, to forum, to advise, to entertain.  These responsibilities are not to be taken lightly – not by the government, not by the media and most of all, not by the people of Samoa. 
Should this Bill pass in to law the only change will be in the extra pause by reporters, before submitting an article.  More so than before, they will have to reconsider whether their story is going to measure up to the standards of responsible and ethical reporting.
Proposed regulations in the Bill, as agreed upon by the majority of local media organisations and individuals , will ensure that professionalism in the industry and journalistic standards are raised to respectable levels.  There is little doubt that anyone would object to that.

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Livin’ on a SNPF prayer

Today’s Editorial in the Observer is entitled, “Time for S.N.P.F to lean a little”.
In it, Keni talks about struggling families left with no other options to put food on the table and pay school fees and cover their living expenses.  To his credit, he does mention that the Fund’s objective is to ensure that members are left with a decent amount at their retirement.

Whilst I don’t disagree with the claims that the cost of living is skyrocketing, nor do I deny that there are a lot of desperate people out there, I don’t agree with the sentiment that this retirement fund should be made available for people to use whenever they want.  Are you missing the point of a retirement fund?  It’s for RETIREMENT.
I don’t really get the desperation to use your retirement fund now instead of saving it for old age.  I mean sure, you could die early and someone else gets it.  Is it really so awful that your family ends up with your money?
Also, are you forgetting that half of your retirement fund is paid by Government?  Therefore it’s not just your money you’re complaining about and want to loan on, but the money of every single tax payer out there?
Yes, that’s right, I am okay with the reduction.  I am all for the SNPF retirement fund being used for my retirement.

Money and Me
I’m one of those people whose relationship with money goes like this: because it’s there, I will use it.
In all honesty if I was smarter with my money, I wouldn’t need a single sene of my NPF entitlement.  I’m not joking when I say that every single expense I have is completely predictable – even the faalavelaves.
It’s a good feeling, knowing that when I retire at 85 I’ll have a few bucks left over to hand out to my great-grand kids so they can give me hugs and bring me my glasses of negroni.  I don’t want to rely on my kids for everything because I intend to live with them and take over the master bedroom and en suite anyway.  I already know my kids will be fairly unsophisticated (blame their Dad, he’s from Aleipata) and I don’t want to have to eat their boring, flavorless suā-meals every day.  I want to enjoy flavourful, exotic foods from NZ and drink dusty and imported wines from Australia.  You know, the good stuff.
Whilst my savings account is looking a little dry right now, I intend to start a faalavelave fund this year so I always have some backup in the event an uncle, thirteen times removed, decides to kick the bucket and has demanded to be buried in marble and gold.
Even if I die before retirement, I have nominated people in my family to receive portions of my NPF fund.  No, not you Mum or Dad.  Your NPF fund is me.
I will also leave a small amount for the grieving widower I leave behind.  Just enough so he can buy himself a vasectomy.
I’m pre-booking it as well.  xoxo.

What’s your bloody point?
So I guess my point is that if you look at this issue closely, the problem isn’t the fact that SNPF have reduced the amount you can loan, it’s that members are using their retirement funds like chequing accounts – cashing in their entitlements to pay for faalavelaves and other expenses (like school fees).  I mean, just look at the Street talk section of the Observer today: 4 out of the 6 people who were interviewed said that they needed that money for faalavelaves.  And expenses like school fees are about as predictable as they come.  There isn’t a parent in this world who doesn’t understand about school fees.

So what’s the real problem here?
In my opinion, the problem is this mucky, muddy, boggy faalavelave life in which we are all so deeply and undeniably entrenched.
The way I see it, most people could get by with what they make until you start adding the pressures of church donations, funeral expenses, monetary gifts for weddings, yearly monetary gifts for the church/pastor/congregation, fundraising activities for schools/churches/villages and so on.  I mean, that’s just life isn’t it.  We take the good and the bad and we go with the flow where we can.  Our communities, our families are a huge part of life, and play a very big role in the quality of life that we enjoy – the freedom and peace we take for granted.  We are most fortunate.
The problem I have with it all is not so much in the act of giving itself, but with how much we are giving.  For most, giving more than they can afford is standard.  Sacrificing your own and your family’s needs in order to look good in front of your extended family, your church, your village is absolutely the norm.  I often hear criticisms of how shameful it was for so-and-so to bring only x amount of money to a combined collection for a faalavelave.  It’s that kind of ridicule that inspires what we call the fia kagaka and fia kele syndrome.
This saddens me greatly.  It’s all about perception, it’s all about the look.  There is no substance.  Only surface value.

Ummm, so what does that have to do with the SNPF retirement fund?
Plenty!  Aside from the financial burdens that encourage people to loan up to their necks, it also puts a lot of pressure on retirees who end up with nothing to live on.
I’m not suggesting that you completely ignore any obligations you have to your family, church and village.  No, not at all.
What I’m saying, and what many others have said before, is to give what you can afford!
The world never stopped turning because you didn’t donate your kitchen sink and a kidney to the church fundraiser!  Funerals will happen no matter what happens and irrespective of the amount of money you give. I learnt this recently when I went above and beyond with my own contribution to a funeral, thinking I was showing respect by overcommitting myself.  After the initial flush of pride when my name was called out, it went away and never returned.
Sayonara.  Kaput.  Gone with the wind.
Just like my money.
When the dust settled, I was left with a sizable loan to pay and a small ulcer developing in my stomach as my reward for being “a good Samoan”.
In the greater scheme of things, the amount I had given meant as much (or as little) as what the others had contributed. And rightly so.
If it’s meant to be given out of love, then the amount is irrelevant.

So how do you avoid ulcers?
I think this country needs a citizens advice bureau or some kind of organisation that specialises in helping people to manage their money.  Offering honest, frank and realistic advice on how to get out of debt; how to start saving for expenses like school fees a year in advance; how to budget your wages/salary; prioritizing expenditure; understanding the interest and fees charged by lending institutions like the banks and loan sharks etc etc.

I have absolutely no interest in being shackled to the perceptions of others in my family, in my church, in my village.. and what they deem is a fitting meaalofa for me to give.  None of you are paying my bills!

So yeah, I’m all for reducing the loanable percentage. Until I run for Parliament 😂😂😂😂

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New Year Tea

Happy New Year!

Am I the only one who wishes we could skip January altogether?  Simply because of the endless greetings and cheek kisses and vague enquiries about holiday activities and health.  No?  Okay…………… Obviously you I need an intervention, perhaps a late visit from the ghosts of virtues lost.

Oh boy and hasn’t this year already proven to be quite the temperamental little tart!  We’re only 1 week in and I’ve already had a wee promotion and possibly taken on about three times the workload and have officially given up cigarettes and Ohmygodthepressurethepressuresomeoneendit I have to say, I’m really looking forward to the challenges.
It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to become skinny from stress a better version of me and really go for the creme buns jugular of life!

Work-wise, I’m now in charge of all media relations and press for the big boss. WHAAAAAT?
Yes.  I had that reaction too when I jumped in the Delorean and zipped back to 2009 and took another gander at what I was doing:  Selling insurance!  Five years later and I’ve somehow managed to find myself in a completely different career and with radically different prospects for the future.
This is my advice to anyone who will talk to me asks – It’s never too late to make a drastic sea-change in your life.  If you are unhappy and/or want to try something new –  go for it.  You never know where you will end up and you literally, I mean seriously literally, have one shot at the life you live.  Only one.
By no means is my life 100% peachy.  I could write an opus to the mischievous Puck about how much goes wrong in my imperfect and always challenging life, but it’s not about celebrating what’s wrong – it’s about working towards what is right for you and what you really want.  For myself, I have had to learn to be a little forgiving of myself and others – of my/their flaws.  You just have to keep going, keep adapting and move forward.
My ultimate goal?  To feel fulfilled with the work I do, and know that I have done something useful and helped someone.  I’m not going to say “If I helped at least one person, that is enough for me” – because I don’t feel that way.  I want to make waves in the lives of many.  I want to affect a bunch of people.  I want to mean something to someone.  I want to dominate the world.  I want to be happy and feel proud of what I have done.

Of course from time to time I have to remind myself that nothing is forever.  I mean, I could order the wrong dinner tonight and get sick and miss work tomorrow and get laid off because I wasn’t where I was needed the most.  And so one small decision (to order wontons) may change my life for the better [Dream sequence: I meet handsome, billionaire, philanthropist Doctor at hospital whilst getting treatment for bad wontonitis; Doctor Boo happens to be on a year-long, soul-searching voyage around the world. He is instantly smitten and offers to pay for lipo and keratin treatment for my dreadful split ends. He mops my sweaty brow with his batik bandanna and promises me the world without speaking.  We set sail after my bandages come off.  Destination = HAPPILY EVERY AFTER.]

Ok back to this realm.
So work is good so far.  I like it.  I’m looking forward to making some changes and running things how I would like to run things.  I am looking forward to bringing some 21st Century realness to my job.  I also expect to fall on my face a few times but that’s okay, so long as I keep my mother’s advice and always wear decent undergarments – I’ll be fine.  Get back up and start again tomorrow.  Isn’t that a marvelous gift?  The ability to start again 🙂

Hope you all have a wonderful 2015 x

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The censorship conundrum

What is Freedom of Speech?

According to, it is the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc.

This has been weighing heavily on my mind of late, because I was forced to delete and block several users on the work Facebook page over the last few days.  If you know the page, you’ll have seen that I work for the Government, and when you put the words “Government” and “Freedom of Speech” together, it’s usually not in favour of the state.

I have been accused of censoring free speech and having a heavy hand in promoting Government’s agenda.
Please allow me to explain why I politely disagree with that sentiment.

Last Friday, I posted a press release from the Prime Minister – regarding his trip to Brussels where, among other duties, he met with the Chairman of World Rugby.  As many of you may already know, the Manu Samoa has been all over the news recently.  I won’t explain as it’s been well-covered thus far.
Almost immediately, the press release post was slammed with some rather disturbing comments from users.  Aside from a smattering of awful profanity, there were racist taunts, gay slurs, accusations of thievery and other unflattering words I don’t care to repeat.  All over rugby.
As a matter of principle, I don’t interfere with user comments or discussions – after all, the internet is a veritable feast of expressive freedom, and as someone who enjoys this freedom herself, I wouldn’t want to be blocked from a site or a page I wish to access.
So I sat there and read every comment.  After a few minutes, I found myself cringing whenever my phone showed a new notification.
I began to have visions of the page ending up like the cesspool of cruel and childish banter that is the Palemene o Samoa Facebook page.

I tried to justify the comments to myself.

“They’re allowed to say whatever they like!”  
“Freedom of speech”
“Just leave it, they will eventually move on to another page”

I felt like a battered housewife, trying to make myself feel better about my inaction.  I was allowing the bullies to spread their poison.  Effectively giving them a voice by doing nothing.

Then it hit me.  Why am I protecting them?
I couldn’t think of a single scenario where I would allow anyone to speak that way to me, my father, my mother, my sister, my brother or my Prime Minister.
So I deleted and I blocked.

There have been supportive comments about what I did.  But as expected, there are those who do not agree with any censorship whatsoever.
I get it.  I really do.
What I don’t get, and I don’t accept, is the freedom of speech you demand to cover the racist taunts, anti-gay slurs, uttering insulting words and profanity when you don’t agree with someone or something.
If you think you can say such vile things to the Prime Minister’s face, then you gladly accept someone saying such things to your father or your mother.

My point on the page is this – you are free to say whatever you like about whomever you like, as long as you don’t name-call or swear.
Stick to the issue.  Back yourself up with facts or ask compelling questions.  We may all learn a thing or two from what you have to say.  And isn’t that the point of social media and social networking?
Wikipedia says that “a relationship over a computerized social networking service can be characterized by context, direction, and strength. The content of a relation refers to the resource that is exchanged.”
So what is the resource you wish to exchange with your peers or your community?
For me – I want to see some compelling questions, some smart debate, some provocative discussion that will make for some meaningful dialogue with whomever is around you or around me.  I want to get something more out of my exchanges than a feeling of absolute disgust, shame, mild amusement or worst of all, apathy.

I don’t believe in censorship but I believe in common courtesy.  We’re not yet lost to the faceless void of the 21st century’s developments.  We are still family.  We are still a community.  We are still a great country.

Samoans purport to be God-fearing Christians who defend their honour and the honour of their families with passion and pride.  Respect is supposed to be a huge part of our culture.  The very fabric of our society is held together by our mutual respect for each other.  Seems we also take pride in our hypocrisy as well.

So please……. Disagree!  Argue against!  Dislike!  Do as you please if you feel so strongly.  Just remember that when you’ve put down your smart phone, or switched off your computer screen – you’re not a faceless name on a screen. You’re the culmination of thousands of years of evolution and the most recent in a line of your ancestors.
So what do you wish to put out in to the world?

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Psst, I’m back

Major revamp of the blog underway.

Clearing out all the clutter from years gone by, and making way for some grown-up constructive writing.

So the plan is to try to write a little something every day, about whatever it is I find interesting.  Seems simple enough, except it’s actually quite difficult to pin down something to write about e v e r y  s i n g l e  day.
I usually work in bursts of inspiration and will churn out pages and pages in a very short period of time.  Then revert back to dormancy for the next 7 months.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, that means that no, my way is NOT conducive to keeping the writing mojo alive.

So I’d like to try this day-by-day, bit-by-bit approach.

Are you ready?

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It begins with me

Earlier today, I began writing an entry about this rape* issue and the follow-on commentary printed in the Observer.  But then I remembered where I was and what people here in Samoa are like.  This is the same crap that happens over and over again, and wagging my finger at a bunch of chauvinist, decrepit, old men ensures only two things:  1) a tight ass from clenching and 2) a convivial conversation piece for stubborn men like that.

I decided I would save my energy and make sure that the people in my life know how I feel about such happenings.

I have seen, all too often, the dismissive attitudes of those who should care and who should address the problems of incest, rape, assault within their own family groups, circle of friends and their own communities.  It’s easy to judge and accuse those people of doing those despicable things, but what about your own backyard?  

For me, I will acknowledge that I have family members who were habitually abused.  Unsurprisingly it was discovered that, in time, they became abusers themselves.  It is embarrassing and awful to admit, but I have memories of at least three relatives trying to groom me.  One was a woman.

It took me a long time to accept that it was okay not to like these people and despite the looks of disapproval from other family members – that it was okay not to say hello, kiss or even look at them.  God can forgive them.  I don’t have to.

With every newspaper article highlighting the depravity of our community, it is so very sad to see that the monsters are usually those in plain sight.  It isn’t surprising, but it is just so sad.
These people are in positions of trust and power in family circles.  What they lack in conscience, they make up for with the pageantry of deviant charm and illusory characterization of humanity.  The dregs of humanity.

No one wants to admit that their own blood can be capable of such monstrosity.  I don’t know how many times I have heard these words, “E leai a se aiga e le kupu ai mea faapea” (This sort of thing happens in every family, or, There’s no family that hasn’t been affected by this).  This attitude screams denial and is asking me to accept the status quo.  Well that’s not good enough for me.

While I can’t change the mindset of old, I can do something about the future.

I made a promise to myself and to all that I hold dear, that I would never tolerate such behaviour.  But more importantly, I vow to teach my children the value of another human being and to respect and love one another.  It seems a banal vow, but there are horrific examples abound to make me think this is something I cannot leave to chance.
I will affect my own circle and do what I can where I am most effective and where my opinion matters the most.  I start with me and mine.

[*For background.  Here and here.]