The air. It feels so thick with heat and moisture that for the first few hours after landing I feel like I'm breathing soup. After a while, it feels perfectly normal. I don't get asthma or have to blow my nose once, not for ten days.
The buses. Just the same. Made of wood and without closed windows. Belching brown exhaust as they trundle by. We used to ride them from village to village, and because no-one was allowed to stand, we'd often end up sitting on the laps of strangers, along with the chickens and the bananas and the sleeping babies.
The smell of the bakery. Brings me back to when we'd buy sweet rolls and inhale them. The sweet rolls are yellow and soft and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Just as they used to be. My sister and I eat and sigh and smile with pleasure. Just as we used to do.
The island in the hotel pool. It's still there! But no live tree. At first I think I only imagined there was a real palm tree in the middle, but then I find a postcard. There it is: the pool of my past. With my tree. My island. My little path between the plants. My memories intact.
(We used to go to this hotel as a special treat, for dinner with friends, sometimes a birthday, sometimes a show.
On our last week in Samoa, 30 years ago, we stayed here for a whole week over Christmas.
It was one of the most memorable and magical times of my life.)
The villages. Breadfruit trees and chickens and roosters and chicks. Dogs roaming around. Big pigs and baby pigs, foraging beside the road. People sleeping out the day's heat in the fales (pronounced 'fah-leys'… if you want to know!).
Fales with thatched roofs and corrugated roofs. People selling fish at the side of the road. Kids swimming in village rockpools. Kids waving, waving, waving. Graves everywhere, beside people's houses, decorated with plastic flowers and wreaths. A dog sleeping on a grave.
The smiles. Saying "Talofa" (hello), and "Fa'afetai" (thankyou). Learning/Remembering that most people say, "Malo" instead as a casual greeting, and "Tai Lava" as a casual thankyou. Everything feels easy, like there are no hard paths. Just paths, and everyone walking steadily along them. No need to rush.
My Samoa. My old and my new, mingling. And my kids with their faces and hearts wide open, taking it all in.