Story of the Month
Extract from As Far Away as Possible chapter in upcoming
Nowt at All Like Home
One of my first preoccupations in my consultancy assignment in Samoa was with a project which came to be referred to as “The Cool Store” as its purpose was to hold bananas and a small quantity of other produce prior to shipment to New Zealand. After looking at the plans and the very thin file which was lamentably sparse and lacking in real analysis, my associate Jan labelled it “The White Whale” arguing that it would become a white elephant but that there were no such beasts in the South Pacific. It was apparent that it was already too far down the line for me to make any substantial changes (like scrapping the idea altogether) and consuming almost one million US dollars in capital expenditure alone, it soon became a disastrous failure. Halliday, the UN Boss Man in the country, was all in favour as he had a special development fund lump of money to allocate. The Prime Minister Tupuola Efi wanted it and Halliday wanted to keep him happy. The operators of the Australian Aid-funded banana plantation project desperately needed it and the UN-funded Financial Secretary backed it without reservation and almost certainly no analysis. It was a classic tale of the financial tail wagging the project dog and its only useful bi-product was that I later used it for many years, as a teaching case study in how not to do it!
After hearing my reservations, Halliday arranged for me to meet Tupuola Efi and this was duly planned for one week ahead. I was happy to do so, if only for the experience – he being the only Prime Minister I was ever likely to have the chance of talking to about project planning – or probably anything else for that matter. As things worked out, I was to meet him even sooner at a sort of cricket match.
Samoans, it is said, have played a form of cricket known since the 1880’s when it was introduced by the British Consul at what must have been an amazingly confusing time when Germany, the British and the USA governed together in a tri-partite mash-up. Not surprisingly, this did not last long but kilikiti (as it was soon called) certainly did. So it was that – perhaps under the spiritual guidance of a long-dead colonial administrator – I happened upon my first local (sort of) cricket match only a few days later.
We had discovered the beauty and fun of Piula Pool and Cave, little more than fifteen miles east of Apia on the breath-takingly spectacular coastal road, shortly after arriving in the country. The kids loved it and we were to visit many more times, but on this particular day we made an unplanned stop on the way home when we came across what looked vaguely like a game of cricket being played on an over-grown village green which I later learned to refer to as a malae.
There were stumps of a kind at either end of what was approximately twenty-two yards but beyond that there were many differences from village cricket with which I was very familiar. The bat (or perhaps club) was large, heavy, three-sided and frightening. The sort of thing to have under the bed in case of intruders. The balls were made from locally produced compressed rubber and looked like hand grenades (which in effect they were). Just the sort of thing to have to hand just inside the front door in case of more intruders. There was an indeterminate number of players on each side and defensive play was clearly not permitted.
A far cry from the white-flannelled pastoral scene of old England, it looked like a cross between a battle-field and a circus and the ferocity with which the club (bat) was wielded meant that it was no surprise to subsequently find out that within a very short time of taking over control of the territory, the German administration had banned the playing of the game for a while as they were in danger of it encouraging rebellion – or perhaps losing a few subjects in this new substitute for inter-village warfare.
Were it not for a strange happening I would not have met the Prime Minister in such relaxed surroundings but as we watched in amazement, great interest and some puzzlement, one brawny lava-lava clad batsman clouted the ball way over the heads of all the many fielders and in our direction. I would like to claim that I was protecting my family from injury but in truth I was in a flash, back my Yorkshire village team, desperate to make the catch. This I somehow did with the aplomb of the veteran wicket-keeper that I had once been, much to the hilarity of all the players and other spectators.
For some unconnected reason, the game had obviously come to an end. I chucked the ball back and we were taking our leave amongst much hilarity and some painful back-slapping when the warrior batsman who had hit the ball, roared across the field like a rampaging bull and grabbed me in both big arms. I was grateful to find that he was in good humour and in no position to object when he carried me off to “meet the captain”. Even in the short time we had been in the country I had seen enough newspaper photographs to recognize that “the captain” was none other than Tupuola Efi destined to continue as a long-serving Prime Minister and later as His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, to be a distinguished Head of State.
For now it was simply a warm handshake and a straight-forward enquiry as to what I was doing in what he (reasonably) described as “my country.” Picking up my accent he demonstrated – perhaps deliberately – that he knew a bit about English cricket by saying with a laugh that he thought that big-hitting Ian Botham might do well at the Samoan version of the game. When I told him my responsibilities and what bit of his government I was advising, I got an immediate response. “That’s even more important than kilikiti” he said with another smile as he walked towards a waiting vehicle, adding “and I hope to meet you again soon.” He was a sharp character but even he did not know that this would happen in less than a week’s time.