Off-Campus Study

World View Photo Contest - Fall 2009

Second Place: Andrea Weinfurter '10

Climbing for Coconuts
Samoan Climbing for Coconuts
Photo: Andrea Weinfurter '10

About the Photo:
Looking on a map, Samoa is hardly visible to the naked eye; it lies tucked away in the secrets of the South Pacific, its existence unknown to many inhabitants of the world, who only recognize the islands of the South Pacific as a unanimous collection of mysterious islands harboring undistinguished tribal individuals. Refusing to acknowledge the vast ethnic differences and distinct cultural environment each of these islands possess, many only recognize the South Pacific as "paradise" and turn a blind eye to its' internal problems of poverty and development.

Paradise is indeed found in Samoa on the untouched beaches, beautiful coral reefs, and its threatened rainforests, but above all, one will find paradise while looking at the beautiful smiles of the Samoans themselves. On my study abroad journey in New Zealand last spring, I ventured to Samoa, and unexpectedly found myself playing games with Samoan children and laughing over dinner with the natives. This picture stands as a testament to the Samoans' story.

Until the recent tsunami this past Fall, Samoa was rarely mentioned or even acknowledged by the greater world. This picture is taken of my friend Makaele who worked at the beach fales, a family run tourist setting, where we stayed. Makaele lost eight members of his family in the tsunami and helped rebuild his village from scratch. This picture captures both the beauty of this small country as well as the wonderful integrity and resilient spirit of the Samoans who live there. Climbing up a palm tree to fetch a coconut to drink from, Makaele preceded to crack it with nothing but his head and teeth, all the while laughing at our stunned reaction to his admirable tree-climbing skills. However, it is Makaele's laugh that will forever be ingrained in my memory, as it is a deep, unique, and genuine laugh – a laugh that brushes off the hardships of reality in favor of savoring the happy details of life. It is a truly resilient laugh.

The silhouette of Makaele in the foreground presents a story of tribal purity and a lifestyle of primitive survival that is set in a picturesque landscape of brilliant blue skies among an abundance of nature. However, this silhouette masks the details of the people, the land, and the hardships they endure as they attempt to balance Western modernity with the maintenance of their culture. The contrast of the dark silhouette and the white clouds in the background further emphasize the two worlds that Samoans balance. Regardless, whether the Samoans are climbing trees for coconuts or recovering from a tsunami, they find a reason to smile and channel their pain into laughter. — Andrea Weinfurter '10