In the right place at the right time, I had the great fortune to meet the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa as a representative for Kiva. An SPBD entrepreneur was selected through Kiva by Advanta, an American small business banking company, to travel to the United States and speak at a few engagements about her Elei printing business. A big deal here in Samoa evidenced by a send off from the DPM. It even made the national newspaper:

One would think the content of a conversation with the women of a village centre and one with the Deputy Prime Minister would be noticeably different. They are not.

When I arrive at a village centre, it begins with the standard introductions. Name, country of origin, organization. My information does not generally pique significant interest. Then it becomes their turn for a question: are you single? Do you have a Samoan girlfriend? At which point, I am told through some chuckles that all the women are single (despite the droves of children all around us).

No different in the DPM office. Except the children.

Immediately, they begin to call me “Benicio”, a lead actor in a widely-watched Filipino soap opera. Despite having no resemblance to him, each village, without fail, calls me by his name. Slightly troubling considering he is the reviled antagonist. Saying that this soap opera is all the rage is a great understatement. The country comes to a halt during the 3-hour, 3 times a week showing. With pirated copies circulating, there is no longer the dreaded break in between episodes.

The DPM, similarly, requested that SPBD’s General Manager, who is Filipino, purchase new Filipino DVDs during his next trip home. Though he unconvincingly claimed not to be a fan.

The DPM did raise some weightier subjects: the US Presidential Election and his own political controversy.

He was very well-versed on the Democratic Primary, and he even knew about each candidate’s most recent gaffe. I can not say who he endorses (he refused), but no one here seems to know that there is a Republican nominee.

As to the great Samoan political controversy rocking this tiny nation: the Prime Minister is imposing a switch from left-hand drive to right-hand drive vehicles. Coupled with a switch of the driving side on the roads. It has been met with near unanimous opposition: 2 protest marches and “Vote NO on RHD” t-shirts, signs and bumper stickers everywhere. The motivations for the change are not exactly clear. Here’s a shot in the dark: it has something to do with money. I am just glad that I’ll be long gone when that chaotic day comes in 2009.

Courtship, Filipino soap operas and RHD. There’s no escape from it here.

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