Despite the fact that I am 310 days into my Samoan adventure and have only 26 more until my flight touches down in Chicago, yesterday proved that there are still cultural experiences to be had. I left school with a headache and headed home for some R&R. After a nap I went outside to get some fresh air, walk the beach, collect sea glass, and watch the sunset. I ended up with a raw sea creature in my stomach.
Tides are crazy and I make no claims to being able to understand or predict them. But what I do know is that every few weeks low tide gets really low and the entire reef is exposed. Yesterday was one of those days. This meant it was prime hunting time for alili, a muscle like animal that lives in a shell. I’ve seen people from the village out on the reef many times, both at day and at night, picking up the strange shell creatures, but knew nothing about their name, taste, or preparation. As I walked onto the beach for my casual sunset sea glass stroll I heard “Jackie! Sau!” being shouted from the reef. I looked out to see Rosie and Leafa waving me out to the edge of the reef right before the drop off to the waves. I strolled across the coral (I know, I know, it takes a gazillion years to grow and should be protected. I always feel bad walking on it. But if islanders have done it for thousands of years, one palagi girl can’t do too much additional damage, right? Just in case, I’m sorry Mother Nature!). Rosie gave me a quick run down- She showed me an alili, said they hide in the reef, and sent me searching. I proceeded to stroll along the reef peeking in every crack and crevice for the rumored alili, and before I knew it found a decent sized one that I retrieved with very little work. It all seemed easy enough and I continued on my merry way, plucking alili from the reef. Then I spotted a large one in a hole in the coral. I tried to pull it out, but the critter was in a hole smaller than it’s shell. Problem. I looked to Leafa stumped, and she revealed the use of the short metal poles they had been carrying. She handed it to me and told me “Be a strong Samoan women and get the alili for us”. I tried to pry it from the hole, but saw no way to get it out without causing too much damage to the coral. After all, I already felt bad about walking on it. A good laugh was had at the funny palagi girl, the pole was taken back, and Leafa proceeded to smash the coral and rock and retrieve the shell. I observed and have the technique down for next time. I was instructed to grab a softball-sized rock, a task not even the palagi gorl can fail at, as we returned to shore. I assumed the alili would be cooked or prepared in some way. Boy was I wrong. Rosie, Leafa, and I sat on rocks in the shallow water and I watched as the softball sized rock was used to smash open the shell, the guts were ripped out, and the animal was rinsed in the salt water. The first one was handed to me with directions to “Just eat the whole thing, but not the hard part”. So what did I do? I took strange shell thing, used my teeth to rip off the ‘hard part’, popped the rest in my mouth, chewed the slimy crunchy thing up, and swallowed him. What does a strange shelled sea creature taste like you may ask? To be honest, its tastes like I imagine a snail rinsed in salt water would taste like. For those of you unfamiliar with the taste of snails, I am told it’s like mussels. Firm and crunchy with a hint of slime. It’s not that I disliked alili, but I wouldn’t say I liked it either. For the next hour or so I walked around feeling like I had just swallowed a sea snail and had it hanging out in my stomach. But hey, at this point in the journey, what’s one more strange thing in my stomach?