“The quality of life between Samoa and Ireland is radically different”
Michael Noonan is from Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. He lives in Apia, Samoa, where he works for the United Nations Development Program (UDP) as Environment and Climate Change Support Officer.
“They call us Samoans, Pacific Irish,” a tall, dark Samoan man told me as I scorched my pale Irish skin in the Pacific sun.
I was unaware of this saying at first as I had just completed a mandatory three week quarantine period, but over time I quickly began to see the similarities between Ireland and Samoa.
Since arriving four months ago, I have found Samoans to be friendly, kind, family oriented and very social. It’s also a rugby-mad nation of course.
Up to 98% of Samoa’s population identify as Christian, with Catholic being the dominant denomination.
Besides the strong culture based on values of respect, service and love, it really didn’t take long to convince me to leave Ireland and venture to this remote Pacific island.
I graduated with a Masters in Development Practice from Trinity College Dublin in August 2020. With a combined hit of recession and Covid, postgraduate opportunities in the field of international development were slim and competitive. After a year of applying for various jobs in the environment sector, I finally got an interview with the UN in August 2021 – when I actually had Covid. Fortunately, I was successfully selected as an Environment and Climate Change Support Officer with UNDP.
With a strong interest in the environmental field, I looked forward to living in the Pacific. Along with the seductive “paradise” image of these islands, a bastion of tropical weather, sun, sand and sea, Pacific island nations are also living the harsh realities of climate change. A recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted that the Pacific islands produce less than 1% of the world’s total greenhouse gases, but are among the most vulnerable.
Possible future climate scenarios in the Pacific could see the effects of rising sea levels, continued loss of low-lying land, risk of flooding, and damage from cyclone intensity.
Unfortunately, even if you travel halfway around the world, Covid is still following you
Samoa is still recovering from the long-term social and economic impacts of the 2009 tsunami which killed up to 149 people. Also shortly after I arrived here, the Hunga-Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption in the neighboring island nation of Tonga in January had put the entire region on high alert.
Although Samoa was not directly affected, this was my first experience of high alert in the Pacific due to a natural disaster. I reassured my family in Ireland about my safety, but it reminded me that Samoa and the islands there are extremely vulnerable and need a high level of resilience.
I think for anyone coming to Samoa the initial experience is the ‘honeymoon’ stage as you are surrounded by lush greenery, bright and colorful tropical flowers and palm trees hanging above you . Samoa itself covers an area of around 2,842 km², so a bit large, larger than an Irish county. It includes two large islands, Savaii and Upolu, and eight other smaller islands.
Unlike home, where there are four seasons in the year, in Samoa there are really only two – wet and dry. Or “sweaty” and “not sweaty” to put it bluntly. With temperatures ranging from the mid 20s to 30 degrees some days, a fairly mundane task like going to the shops can make your shirt soaked in sweat and have you trying to drink your body weight in water to compensate for.
Unfortunately, even if you travel halfway around the world, Covid is still following you. After experiencing a terrible outbreak of measles in November 2019, as well as the threat of Covid coming in the early months of 2020, Samoa closed its borders in order to protect its people. Then for two long years Samoa was Covid free, until shortly after I arrived and then the virus snuck into the country.
I couldn’t afford to leave the family home in Ireland because of crazy rental prices, when now I have my own home for the price of a dorm room in Dublin.
So I soon begin to think I was this cursed talisman bringing volcanic eruptions and infectious disease to the South Pacific. Good news, the country has rebounded thanks to the adoption of the vaccine with more than 91% of the population over 18 vaccinated.
The quality of life between Samoa and Ireland is radically different. I couldn’t afford to leave the family home in Ireland because of crazy rental prices, when now I have my own home for the price of a dorm room in Dublin.
All in all, Samoa is a tropical paradise, where the sun soothes your soul in the morning and the sound of crickets sings you to sleep at night.
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