Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You might be right.

Today my post is a version of a story which is included in my collection Everything We Hoped For published by Victoria University Press in 2010. I've never attempted it, but here is the New Zealand Heart Foundation's recipe for palusami.

By Pip Adam

‘We’re vegan.’ He says it, kind of waving his hand to indicate he means all of us: me, him and the baby. ‘We don’t have any animal products.’ They smile. We sent an email earlier. Before we got here – to Samoa – we sent an email to the hotel to check we could eat something. The person we sent it to sent it to the maître-d’, who sent it to the chef, who sent it back to the person we sent it to, who sent it back to us, saying ‘This should be fine. Not a problem.’ The manager, the person we sent it to originally, forgot to delete the messages underneath his. He had forwarded our email to the maître-d’ with a message saying ‘Get a load of this *grin*.’ The maître-d’ forwarded our email and the manager’s message to the chef saying ‘Sorry – this is bound to be a pain in the arse.’

We feel bad before we get there. We take silver packs of soy protein and vegetarian luncheon sausage. I feel like a spaceman. Everyone we know who was vegan is freegan now. People say we care more about animals than people. I watch a documentary showing someone killing baby cats – kittens. One of the last vegans I know says she can’t watch it. She says vegans should be exempt from watching it. Someone else says that’s shit, if she expects other people to watch it she should watch it herself. I hate cats. I watch about ten seconds more of the documentary and I can’t watch it. They poison some dogs with cyanide. The dogs look like frightened children. I don’t particularly like children either. When I meet people I try to wait as long as possible before I tell them – about the vegan thing. Most people don’t like children particularly – or cats.

We go for a drive. We rent a car, pack up our vegetarian luncheon sausage and some white, bouncy bread and we go for a drive. There are dogs everywhere. I send an email home, saying ‘We’re having a great time; there are dogs everywhere in Samoa.’ A lot of the dogs have bits missing: ears, eyes, legs. On Savai’i, while we’re waiting for the ferry, a group of them surround us like a 1980’s horror movie. The baby teases them from her car seat. She shows them her vegetarian luncheon sausage and they growl. We say, ‘Don’t worry the dogs.’ They look like they have rabies. Neither of us have seen a dog with rabies, but we agree these dogs look like they have rabies. We wind up the windows and drive somewhere else to wait for the ferry.

For dinner we eat palusami and taro chips. We stay in a fale on Savai’i and eat curry and rice. We eat more palusami. Palusami quickly becomes our favourite food. I have my photo taken outside the Marlon Brando fale. We meet Aggie Grey’s granddaughter – she dances for us. There is fire every night: fire-dancing, fire-twirling, and jumping from the top of a palm tree into the swimming pool holding fire. We eat more palusami and lots of star fruit. We see pawpaw growing on trees. Anywhere else I’ve been I hate pawpaw, but I can eat it in Samoa with pleasure. Everywhere we go it rains – big, fat, warm rain. I had a different holiday in mind. I thought it would be sunny all the time and I would be lounging by the pool, getting brown, but it rains and often isn’t swimming weather. We try to go snorkelling. We take the baby out a wee way, and I see a fish and panic and don’t go snorkelling any more. I think of Jaws and Piranha and Piranha 2, where they could fly. I don’t like fish. I don’t like animals where I can’t see them – where they can creep up on me. On the way to the snorkelling beach we see a dead dog – stiff, with its legs up. We agree someone will come for it. On the way home it’s still there, only fatter. It’ll burst if the sun stays out. It’s in a ditch.

They have a huge banquet that night, and Aggie Grey’s grand-daughter dances again. There’s fish everywhere, raw fish marinated in coconut milk and fresh limes. I think about the fish that were there while we were snorkelling – how sneaking up on someone and frightening them isn’t a nice thing to do. There are shellfish. Shellfish are like vegetables to me. ‘No central nervous system,’ I say to the baby. I order palusami and a vegetarian pizza with no cheese and can they check there is no butter or milk in the pizza base. The waiter smiles. I feel elite in the worst way. We all eat palusami and taro chips.The baby gets some of it in her hair and tries to feed the rest of it to a cat that lives in the hotel. The pizza has parmesan on it, so I order some more palusami. The parmesan is a test, an accident or a misunderstanding. I leave the pizza untouched hoping that someone will eat it in the kitchen. Waste, food miles, hypocrisy, reliance on capitalism, elitism – someone mentions one of these things to me most days. In New Zealand the doctor says ‘restricted diet’ a couple of times and I figure sooner or later someone is going to take the baby off us. The Plunket Nurse says, ‘Just a glass of milk a day would do it.’ I think about a million cows in pain and all the rivers drowned in shit and say, ‘Yeah, that would do it.’ I start lying to the Plunket Nurse. I say, ‘Yeah,’ when she says, ‘Is she having any meat?’ The baby has never seen meat. I stop going to see the Plunket Nurse. Someone asks me if I’ve ever given the baby a choice to eat meat. While we’re in Samoa the baby eats pigeon shit and some weird fluffy plant. I say, ‘Yeah, nah, I haven’t done that.’ I say I see their point, but I don’t, not really. I pretend to cooperate. I say, ‘You might be right.’ It’s my secret way of not getting into a fight when I don’t agree with someone. The nutritionist at the hospital tells me I have to go back to Plunket. I say ‘Okay’ but I might as well have said, ‘You might be right.’ The baby and I walk back through the hospital car park, there’s a cold and dry wind. ‘It’s warm enough in Samoa to grow beans and wet enough to grow rice,’ I tell her. ‘That’s a perfect protein – pulses and grain.’ If I could catch a wild pig with my bare hands and kill it with my bare hands and eat it raw I probably would.

One overcast day in Samoa we go to Robert Louis Stevenson’s estate. There are fireplaces in most of the rooms. We walk up the hill in Roman sandals to the memorial. Black lizards move as we walk close to them. At first I think I’m seeing things, from the lack of protein and iron, and the humidity, and the long walk uphill, but then we see them and they join us and the baby laughs and tries to catch them with her bare hands.

1 comment :

  1. This is a beautiful story. I want to read more! It really makes you feel for the characters but at the same time leaves you thinking there's more to the story than you know... love it!