Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For My Grandma

My heart begins beating quickly as we begin to sing. The entire sixth grade class is inside the auditorium, the voices reverberating off of the concrete walls. Our teachers begin picking girls to go up to the front to siva. I can see different colors of emotions running rampant among my classmates. Some girls cast their eyes downward hoping they won’t have to endure dancing in front of the whole class. Others are looking around the room but avoiding eye contact with the teachers. A few girls are putting as much energy as they can into their singing hoping to get noticed. I am not sure about my own face or actions because my insides have taken control. My heart is pounding in my chest and my stomach is doing cartwheels. My emotions are like an out of control ping pong game. Yes, I want to siva and represent my class. There’s NO way I can get up there! Pick me or not, it doesn’t matter. What if I’m not good enough? What if I trip or do a weird move? What if I freeze up?

As these thoughts bounce around my brain like a pinball machine, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up to see my teacher smiling and pointing to the front of the crowd. I follow her arm and see five girls already up there performing and looking beautiful. Graceful. Amazing.

I’m surprised as I stand and begin walking because I could have sworn my legs were made of jello. Taking my place beside the other girls, I bow and stretch out my arms. My aunt’s voice appears in my head with the noise of the class singing fading into the background.

“Bend you knees and your elbows. Think of the gogo bird as it’s flying over the ocean looking for fish.”

My years of training take over and I begin to feel the music as it guides my arms and legs. The final strains of the song echo off of the auditorium walls and we give our final bows. My friends smile at me as I walk back to my spot on the floor, excited with my performance.

Our teachers deliberate for a few minutes as we talk quietly amongst ourselves. They finally come to a decision and announce the girl who will be the taupou for the class at our school’s Samoan Day assembly.

I stand still as my aunt takes my measurements. I feel like I’m floating in a dream. From the time my teacher called my name, to my aunt’s siva training, to my outfit being sewn… I am the class taupou. I will be representing my sixth grade class, in front of the entire school, family, and friends.

Samoan Day has finally arrived! My dress, made of real fine mats, fits perfectly. My new, pink feathered kiki and headpiece are a bright contrast to the tan matting. My teacher has me sitting in a chair until we perform to keep my outfit from getting dirty.
Our class enters the field and we begin our performance. Finally, the class begins to sing the final song and the time has come for me to stand. I begin my entrance run and bow acknowledging our guests. As I rise all I can see is a sea of smiling faces. At first I cannot pinpoint an exact face but I know they are all enjoying the day. I finally see my aunt. She is smiling and looking at me but I see sadness behind her smile. My selfish eleven-year-old mind brushes the emotion to the side, too absorbed in my own worries and excitement. My siva and class performance end like it started, in a wonderful, heartfelt dream filled with traditional song and emotion filled siva.

I’m twelve years older and 2300 miles from home. My uncle and I are at a little Samoan club in Hawai’i eating and listening to the band. As with any Samoan gathering, eventually someone is going to dance a siva. My uncle frequents this little club and is called up to dance. He turns to me and points to the dance floor as the music begins and I am transported back to my sixth grade auditorium. I stand and begin my entrance run, letting the song take over as my body remembers all my aunt has taught me. Just like my sixth grade siva, I am surrounded by a sea of smiling faces. Suddenly, my aunt’s sad smile enters my mind. The song ends, the final bow signals the siva’s end, and the night draws to a close.

Sixteen years have passed along with another 2400 miles. My dad has turned seventy years old and the family throws him a surprise party. My aunt is there, dancing in her graceful and energetic way. This time I dance on the side until my aunt motions me to dance beside her. As she bends low and slowly rises up like our gogo bird of long ago, she turns to me and smiles. I see the sadness and I finally understand.

I can see my grandmother in her eyes, her face, her movements. I see the pride in passing on the traditions but the longing for the people and times that have long since passed. When the song fades, my aunt and dad are looking at me. They turn to each other, nod, and smile. I can hear my dad say, “She dances just like mom.”

I am transported to sixth grade surrounded by a sea of faces, filled with happiness and pride. The most important face is only visible in my mind’s eye. This siva is for you, Grandma.

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