Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Being Old in the Peace Corps

One of the beautiful hand woven fine mats that I saw on the tour of homes.

Since Lew asked me to write about what it’s like to be an older volunteer, I’ve been giving it some thought.  First, let’s define “old”.  I’ve met some 60 year olds who are old. I’ve also met some 23 year olds who are old.  Age is more than just chronology.

I don’t think of myself as old.  A young cab driver who hit on me the other day in Apia said I didn’t look a day over 50.  Sweet.  I don’t think I’m mentally old, either.  I love to learn and find routine to be deadly.

So, if you’re “old”, either physically or mentally, the Peace Corps is not for you.  Plan on lots of stair climbing.  Plan on lots of walking and always using public transportation that may provide some physical challenges. In the case of the Pacific Island posts, plan on sleeping or sitting on cement for hours at a time. 

Being mentally old is a larger challenge.  Flexibility is a key challenge in the PC.   Resiliency is also key.  Being self-reliant and able to find your own way in ambiguous situations is also critical. Having a positive perspective makes life in the PC so much easier for you and the people around you. 

I was in Italy once, in late July.  It was blazing hot.  One woman commented on the heat every two minutes or so, saying how miserable she was.  Since we were all dripping with sweat and uncomfortable, her commentary didn’t help.  Finally, another member of the gang blew up and said “Do you think we have air conditioning coming out of our butts?  We’re hot too, so shut up!”  Training was like that.  There were times we were all sick and tired of the whole thing.  Physically uncomfortable and mentally drained.  It comes with being in Peace Corps.  Better to have someone point out something funny or beautiful than something unpleasant we already knew all too well.

My group of volunteers are almost all fresh out of college, in their early 20’s.  Because of not just the age difference, but also a different mind set, I felt somewhat like an outsider with most of my group.  I’m ok with that and was prepared for not just the cultural adjustment to the Samoans, but also a group of young volunteers.

I’ve heard many returned PCV’s say that they’re lifelong friends with their group.  I doubt I will be.  Some, definitely.  I’m much more likely to be lifelong friends with the Samoan/American PC staff.  We’re just in a different place in our lives.

Peace Corps does not cut any breaks for older volunteers.  JICA, the Japanese equivalent to PC, gives cars to volunteers over 50 to use.  A fabulous idea, IMHO, that I can’t imagine ever happening in PC. 

Because I’m in Samoa, where age is greatly respected, I do get some breaks, because it would make the Samoans very uncomfortable to see me in a difficult situation.  For example, during training they didn’t place me in the closest house to the training fale because it was a house chock full of people and little kids.  Instead, I walked further but was in a quiet house with another “old” woman.  The other older volunteer and I also got to ride with the Samoan language trainers to center days in Apia, when someone with a car was in the village.  A wonderful perk, avoiding the crowded bus.

PC also doesn’t cut any slack for us geezers when it comes to language training, either.  Having said that, by the time you finish language training they’ve invested a lot in you and aren’t looking for ways to send you home. They know that it can be harder for us to learn a new language and may take longer.  I’ll be getting a tutor, at PC expense, starting in January.  I know one guy who didn’t pass the language proficiency, but brought such a positive attitude and so many other skills, that he flourished during his service.

Another challenge for older volunteers is that we may be used to being in charge.  That definitely won’t happen in PC.  In training the Peace Corps is in charge during the day.  At night, your host family is in charge and they take the responsibility very seriously.  I’ve heard that’s true worldwide, by the way.  After training, as we’re trying to become part of our communities, being the American version of assertive and in charge will not win friends in your new community. 

All in all, aside from the lack of physical amenities that we’re used and to being in control of our own lives, PC is much like any other new experience.  It takes patience, flexibility and willingness to learn.  I’m willing to learn and am working on the patience and flexibility. 

Lew, I don’t know if I answered your questions.  I’m loving my PC experience and hope you will too.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve cried more times in the past few months than I have in the past several years.  But they were tears of joy as often as tears of frustration.  PC isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t for everyone.  The PC is geared toward 20 somethings, so you may get as annoyed as I did at some of the application process and training.  But it’s just that – annoying, nothing more.

I’ve heard repeatedly that PC training is the worst part of service.  If the past 3 months is as bad as it gets, the remaining two years will be golden.  The Peace Corps wants more “over 50’s” and I hope they get them.  It’s a great way to make a difference – to yourself and others.  Like the PC tag line says:  Life is Calling.  How Far Will You Go?

Random Thoughts

The piglet I held for hours during training.  So sweet.

Written December 28, 2010

Getting access to the internet today for the first time in a week.  I thought I’d have access in Apia but no luck.  I went to Apia on Christmas Eve and returned on Sunday morning.  I spent the time with some Peace Corps staff/volunteers in a lovely western style home, with all the amenities.  We spoke only English and ate only Palagi food – grilled steak, chicken, fish, mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, salad (!) and Kraft mac and cheese, courtesy of my friends.  The teenage boy at the dinner was a HUGE fan of the mac and cheese and I think it was the highlight of his day. I was most excited about the cheese tray before dinner that included camembert, brie and olives.  I tried not to make a pig of myself.

As much as I love Samoa, the people and the food, it was a lovely break and just what I needed.  For New Year’s Eve, the rest of the volunteers are gathering in the western side of Savaii, to celebrate in the last place on earth that the clock will tick midnight, since it’s just to the east of the International Date Line.  I’ll be staying in the village.  I heard yesterday that the plan is to go to church on New Year’s Eve for a 4 hour service that ends at midnight with everyone going outside to make as much noise as possible.  Since church is also extremely loud and I'm still having an ear issue, I plan to wear ear plugs.

Have I mentioned that food is a huge part of the culture here?  Every time you go to someone’s house, they provide refreshments.  Doesn’t matter if you just stopped by for a few minutes, you’re a guest and food is part of the deal.  The other evening, I was asked to go to a fale to take my laptop and show them the photos and video of the asiasiga that I’d taken.  I’d asked the woman visiting from New Zealand to join me, since it was the fale of the guy my family is trying to get me to marry and I didn’t want to give any false signals of interest.  When we arrived there were six young children, a few teenagers and six adults arranging furniture so we could all sit around the computer.

We’d been there for about two minutes when one of the kids delivered two plates of pineapple for the New Zealand woman and I.  The pineapple here is perfectly sweet and ripe and I thought it was a nice snack, although awkward, since it was only the two of us having any.  A few minutes later, came the plates of food.  Each adult got a plate with the New Zealand version of crackers (sorry, Kiwis, but I’ll vote for American crackers) an egg salad sandwich and a cream filled pastry.  The kids also delivered mugs of Koko Samoa.  Did I mention it was 9 p.m.?  And, that when we got back to the house, they were preparing dinner?  I passed on everything except half a sandwich and went to bed without any additional dinner. 

I just got back from Salelologa.  The largest town on the island.  I hit the market to get some vegetables, was treated to a keke pua’a by the houseguest from New Zealand who accompanied me and went to the internet café while she took the bus home.  Keke pua’a, by the way, is the Samoan version of a steamed pork bun and very tasty.

I ran into challenges at the internet.  I wasn’t able to connect and asked for help.  I was told that the WIFI doesn’t really work when it’s raining.  Since this is the rainy season, that’s a bummer.  The guy did get one computer to get online, so he let me use that for free to check my email.  Nice guy.  I’ll hope for a sunny day tomorrow and will give it another try.

While waiting for the bus and during the ride home, I saw some things I thought you might find interesting.

People love volleyball here.  They call it volley and play it every day, in every village.  And they’re awesomely good.  Today, I saw a group playing without a net.  Instead, two girls stood, holding a long stick in their upraised hands and everyone played over that.

Men have long fingernails.  Young men, old men, doesn’t matter.  Some have all their nails long, and usually nicely shaped.  Others, just the pinky.  I asked a Samoan woman if it was the fashion and she just shrugged.

As I walked down the main road in Salelologa, I saw some dogs running across the road. Wait, not dogs. Pigs.  And, there was a little of piglets in the bank parking lot.

I’m getting an idea why it’s common here to cheer on the driver.  As the bus rounded a curve there was a car in our lane.  Pointed toward us.  Parked.  It was a cab, waiting for someone to come out of the fale.

Speaking of waiting. There was a bus, full of passengers sitting in front of the bank.  Someone needed to get their banking done, I guess, while a bus full of people waited patiently.

When we got on the bus, a woman got up so that I could have the front seat, since I’m old and white.  An old Samoan woman got on later and the woman I was with got up so she could have her seat.  Later I said that I’d tried that once and the lady wouldn’t take my seat, even though she was clearly much older and less agile. My new Samoan friend said never do that.  The Samoans show respect to Palagis by giving up their seats and it’s rude to not sit in the best place on the bus.

People malolo here, a lot.  Malolo is  like a siesta.  It’s hot here in the middle of the day (although nothing like the skin melting warmth of Upolu) so it makes sense to work in the mornings and evenings.  I'm a fan of the afternoon nap. I usually read, rather than sleep, but still nice.

The other day someone made the comment “In Samoa, every day is Thanksgiving and every night is a slumber party.”  Too true.  Large families, eating large amounts of food, every day.  Not a feast every day, but think of how much food it takes to feed families that may include upwards of twenty people.  And Samoans sleep together.  Usually on mats in an open fale.  It’s cooler that way and they can chat as they’re falling asleep.  And when they wake up.  Much like a slumber party.  I’m the party pooper, sleeping in a separate room with the door closed.

Ever seen a gecko?  We have lots here.  I like them.  When I hear them “singing” loudly in my room, it gives me the same good feeling as hearing a bug zapper work.  One just pooped on my shoulder.  Who knew something that small could hold all that poop?
Most Samoans sleep on the floor, but this house has a nice bed.  Notice that there are no walls in the house.  Very traditional and typical.

My First Asiasiga

Heading to the next house on the tour.

Written Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday evening a man stopped by the house and chatted for awhile with K.  After he left, she announced that he was my new boyfriend and he’d invited us to an event the next day.  All I knew was that we’d be going to houses to look at holiday decorations and then the men’s committee would be giving out prizes to who grew the most taro.  Seems my new boyfriend would be getting first prize. Excuse me? New boyfriend?

K’s son drove us up the road the next morning to a house where 20 or some women were gathered, almost all in matching puletasis.  I was happy to recognize several of the women from my previous visit to the village. 

We headed off down a path, through a banana plantation.  One sweet looking elderly woman said something that I didn’t understand.  K translated that she was saying that under the banana trees would be a perfect place for me to fool around with my new boyfriend.  Laughter all around.  Really, who decided I have a new boyfriend?  

I’ve been on tours in the States to view holiday decorations in historic homes.  This was sort of like that, only completely different.  We walked from house to house.  At each home, the same two women held up items that had been readied by the homeowner.  Predominate items were hand woven fine mats, pillows, bedding and kitchen items.  There was also one television and some bath towels.

As we strolled through the village, K tried to explain what was going on.  Seems this was all one extended family.  Once a year they have a chance to show off to others in the family the work they’ve done to prepare for the holiday and the guests they’ll host throughout the year.   The two women counting and holding up the items for view were the heads of the decoration committee of the family committee. At least that’s what I understood. 

The quality and number of items were commented on and there was much “Malo!” and “Malo lava!” yelling, which means good job and really good job.  Refreshments were also handed out along the way.  One home gave us each a cold can of strawberry soda.  Another gave us bananas.  Yet another had a young boy in a tree, picking oranges and tossing them to us.  One woman gave me a pineapple as we left her home.

After a couple of hours of walking through houses, with me taking photos at every stop, we got to what K said was the last house.  As in the other homes, I was invited in and given a seat of honor, while the other older women joined me and the younger women stood outside, watching through the open walls.  This time, though, there was music and some of the ladies started dancing.  I avoided the dancing by filming the fun.

K pointed to an open fale next door and a couple of men sitting there.  She asked me to take their photos.  That’s when I noticed more men coming toward the fale.  Ah, the men’s committee was convening.  That’s when I finally figured out that this was not just a tour of houses, but also a big celebration.  After more dancing with the ladies, I was given a seat of honor in the fale with the men.  The older women joined us for an ava ceremony.  Thanks to Sa’u and the language trainers of Peace Corps, I’d been to two ava ceremonies previously and had some idea what to expect.  It’s very formal and more about respect and recognition than ava drinking, since everyone gets just a sip.

After more speeches, the younger women started arriving with platters of food for each of us.  Mine included a whole fried fish, 1/4 chicken, a giant sausage, a cabbage salad with krab, roasted pork, a whole taro, palusami and a large bowl of oka.  I knew that I could just eat what I wanted and leave the rest, since anything I didn’t eat would either be taken home as leftovers or given to the women serving the food for their lunch.

After eating, we were brought bowls/towels to wash our hands, which I think is a fine custom.  Sort of like finger bowls, for those old enough to remember them, except these accommodate the whole hand. Especially important in Samoa, since we eat with our hands and there are no napkins.

After eating the prize/gift giving began.  They laid out machetes, shovels and other farm implements in the center of the fale.  They started giving out prizes for the most taro grown, with much laughter and cheering.  My boyfriend did win first prize and if my limited Samoan was correct there was a lot of laughing about also giving me as prize to him.  When that was done, they cranked up the tunes in the nearby fale and one of the men got up and started dancing.  He invited me to dance with him and I did my own version of Polynesian dancing.  I’m not a dancer, but at least provided comic relief.    

While I was dancing, dessert was served. Huge (as in more than a pint) servings of ice cream along with a slice of cake and some cookies.  As I contemplated what to do with that much ice cream I realized that the speeches had started again.  This time it involved money.  I’m still not sure who all got cash, who it came from or why, but after a short speech that involved the words “Palagi” and Pisi Koa, a man put a $50 tala bill under the mat in front of me.  The money, along with the leftovers from our plates went back to K’s house.

After a few more photos, the party was winding down and K and I took the short walk home.  It was exactly the kind of experience that I joined the Peace Corps to have.  I was in a completely foreign culture, where very little English was being spoken, having a wonderful time and feeling like part of a large new family.  The fact that we were only yards from a lagoon in the South Pacific was just gravy. 

In the evening, I showed the folks in my house the photos and video I’d taken.  We laughed a lot.  The next afternoon, I showed the photos and videos to the family whose party it was.  They seemed to enjoy it too.  So much so, that I just bought  a blank DVD and am downloading everything on it so they can have a copy.  It seems I’ll also be the videographer/photographer tonight at their church’s Christmas pageant.  I sense a new career in the works.

About the new boyfriend.  Seems he’s a tulafale (talking chief) of the family and was widowed about 2 years ago.  Not sure of his age, since opinions varied, but he’s somewhere between 60-70 and considered quite a catch.  I don’t know about him, but I’m not ready for fooling around under the bananas.

P. S.  I spent months getting medically cleared to qualify for the Peace Corps.  What they neglected to test was my ability to sit cross-legged on a mat on cement for two hours, then jump up and dance. 
The prizes given to the families who grew the most taro.
The food was excellent - and plentiful!


This cutie was at culture day.  He lived where one of the other group's trained.  

Written on Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I love to visit grocery stores when I visit foreign countries.  It gives an insight into the daily lives of the locals.  So I was especially interested in seeing where I’d be shopping for my own groceries here.  There are a few options.

First, the maketi (farmer’s market), which is in Salelologa.  It’s a new market, open air, but covered, with a cement floor.  It’s large, clean, not too crowded and has two stories.  The first floor is primarily food items, mostly vegetables, along with some crafts and household items.  There’s also an area where men drink ava while waiting for the bus, along with some prepared food for sale.  Currently, the vegetables du jour are:  carrots, cucumber, cabbage, onions, avocado, papaya, small tomatoes and long beans.  Koko Samoa is also available as well as tables of loose local tobacco, used for those who prefer to roll their own cigarettes. 

Each morning, fishermen sell their catch at the market.  I’m looking forward to checking that out.  When I was in Apia at the fish market they had an amazing selection with excellent prices, by US standards.  A whole lobster for $5 tala.  A giant clam (about 8 inches across) for another $5.  A whole yellow fin tuna for about $30 tala.

On the second floor of the market is mostly crafts, along with some fast food items, like pork buns and ice cream.

Next are supermarkets in Salelologa.  I’m not sure of what stores are there, but hope to find out today.  I’ve heard there’s a smaller version of Farmer Joe, which is one of the stores with the largest selection of products in Apia.  Please note when I say supermarket, we’re not talking about Publix or Kroger.  More like a really old, small A&P.

One of the best stores on the island (according to a current PCV) is within walking distance of my current home.  It’s known as the Tuisivi store, since it’s the only store in Tuisivi, the village next to Faga.  I shopped there the other day and was impressed with some things, disappointed in others, since I figure this will be my “go to” store.  It’s only a couple of miles from my permanent house, so I can walk there and take the bus back with my stuff.

First, I was impressed with the amount of non-food items.  Dishes, towels, sheets and other home goods. Not inexpensive and not high quality, but nice to know I can get basics without a trip to Apia.

They have all the food staples, but prices were significantly higher than what I was paying in Apia.  Cheese, for example, was twice as much, about $15 tala for a pound, which will be a real luxury item for me.  Ramen was also much more expensive.  I could get the bowls of ramen for about $2 tala in Apia.  Closer to $4, here.  That’s a lot of money for unhealthy (but fast) food.  Canned tuna was also pricey.  And no chili beans, so I’ll be stocking up on those this weekend in Apia.  I didn’t check the price of toilet paper, which is expensive in Apia.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of fresh meat.  They do have some in a refrigerator case, but that is mostly sausages and I’m not a fan of the New Zealand sausage.  They have a soft texture and virtually no spices.  Nothing at all like Bob Evans or a nice spicy Italian sausage. Frozen meat would work, but the bags of meat are over 10 pounds each.  That doesn't work when you're cooking for one and don't have a fridge.

I just asked LG, my 18 year old source of information, and found out that I can buy fresh Palagi chicken (aka imported) chicken from the faleoloa I visited last night.  I can also buy “mutton flap” there.  Not sure how mutton flap translates to a cut we know in the States.  It’s fatty, but tasty. I’m hopeful that I can buy one piece at a time, which is possible in some of the larger fale’oloas in Apia.  When they bag frozen meat here, it’s in Samoan family sizes – ten pounds or more.

The fale’oloas are the neighborhood stores.  Most are very small.  You walk up to and the person inside the closet sized store hands you what you want.  One nearby is larger and the place I’ll hopefully find meat.  There, you can walk in and look around at the stocked shelves.  It seems to have quite a variety of items. There is a counter between you and the items for sale.  You ask the owner for what you want and they bring it.

There are also occasional roadside stands.  People sell vegetables from their plantations, mostly taro and yams (which bear no resemblance to our yams).  There are also people in the village who sell other items, such as fish, limu (the green seaweed berries) and Koko Samoa.  I still haven’t quite figured that system out.  In the training village, the fish lady knew that Fa would sometimes buy fish, so if she had any, she came by. 

When I was in Savaii the last time, a guy was selling limu on the street, but sometimes he comes to the house.  Not sure how he knows you’re in the mood, but assume it’s the wireless coconut thing of asking someone if they’re seen any limu around and they mention it to their cousin, who mentions it to their uncle, who tells their son to bring you some limu.  Also during the last visit, K wanted to get some Koko Samoa for me.  It has to be roasted, then crushed into a paste.  We strolled over to an outdoor kitchen where women were doing the roasting and crushing and bought a Styrofoam glass full of the paste.

Faga is a much larger village than where I lived for training.  It’s also much closer to a large city, with the vegetable and fish market.  While I won’t have the selection of things that I did at home, I’ll have everything I need and most things I want.  There appears to be no Mexican food of any kind.  Friends have promised to send cans of enchilada sauce (red or green) and canned green chiles.  Some dried red chiles would be nice too.  I can get back in practice making flour tortillas from scratch, salsa is easy to make and there’s the expensive cheese available here, so I should survive the two years.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Answers to More Burning Questions

This is a fairly typical faleo'o.  This one is a bit on the small side, since it's a beach fale.  The "walls" can be raised, like Roman blinds to let in the air.  They were down because of rain.

Do They Celebrate Christmas in Samoa?  Samoa is 99% Christian.  There are churches everywhere and pastors are held in high esteem, on a par with high chiefs.  Some villages impose fines of $200 tala if you don’t go to church on Sunday.  So, yes, they celebrate Christmas but in a very different way than at home.  There seems to be very little commercialism and they were just putting up the Christmas lights/decorations in Apia last week.  A pleasant change from having Christmas start in October.

I have seen very little wrapping paper for sale.  I’ve seen absolutely no preparations for gift giving in the home I’m in and there’s no tree, lights or decorations.  Fa was planning on putting up some streamers and balloons, but that’s it.

The big focus here is on the reason we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ.  Churches are very busy preparing for a big day with all day barbeques, plays and services being planned.  Youth groups that are part of each church are in high gear preparing songs and dances.  One volunteer who lives in the pastor’s compound said he’s been very busy dancing and singing with the youth group and he’ll be Santa Claus, come Saturday. 

Do Samoans Travel Over the Holidays?  Many Samoans live in New Zealand and Australia.  They want to come home for the holidays.  I’d heard that things would be busy because of all the visitors.  Big deal, I thought.  I live in Orlando and we get a million plus tourists a year.  Well, it is a HUGE deal in a small island nation.

The stores in Apia last week were jammed and I saw a headline in the paper that Air New Zealand had scheduled 150 additional flights into Apia for the holiday period. They bring cash and gifts into the country and families are reunited.  New Zealand and Australian accents are everywhere.  What’s funny to me is when I say hello and ask a stranger how they’re doing (common courtesy on the street here) in Samoan and I get a blank look.  Ah, they are Samoan, but raised overseas and I know more Samoan than they do. 

Are There Bugs in Samoa? Does the pope wear red shoes?  Does the Jolly Green Giant say Ho, Ho, Ho?  You bet there are bugs.  Luckily, being from Florida, I’m cool with bugs.  Spiders, cockroaches, ants.  No big deal.  Mosquitos, I hate.  They seem to love me, especially the feet and ankles.  Bites usually get swollen and leave a large red blotch that can last for days.  And, as we all know, if you accidentally scratch one bite, they all start itching again.

In the training village I lived in a Palagi house with screens on all the windows, so except for getting chewed on during the day during training, I was good.  At twilight, I went into the house to avoid the little buggers.

Here, there are mosquitos.  It’s an open fale and even my room, which has walls and windows doesn’t have screens on those windows.  I’m using a mosquito net at night, which has been great.  It’s treated with some type of chemical to repel bugs as well as screen them out.  Unfortunately, I can’t retreat to my bed when the mosquitoes start to swarm at 6 pm. 

So, I’ve gotten bitten.  A lot.  I’d tell you how many bites I have right now, but don’t have that many fingers and toes.  The good news is that I seem to be developing immunity.  They still bite me, but they don’t leave the big welts and don’t seem to last as long.  The ones on the bottoms of my feet and tips of my fingers and toes still make me crazy, though.  And really, bug bites on my boobs?  Awkward!

Was There a Big Celebration to Welcome You to the Village?

Nope.  We were told not to expect a big deal made of our arrival.  I went for a walk yesterday evening on my own.  The village is mostly a long stretch of road along the lagoon and most socializing takes place along the road.  Lots of volleyball games for the youth (mostly 16-25 year olds), women weeding their lawns/around their beach fales, folks out for a stroll, families relaxing in their beach fales, enjoying the breeze.  Most folks ignored me.  A few said hello.  Three kids asked me for money, in English. I stopped in a very large faleolo’a and introduced myself to the owner.  A nice lady, she’s moving her kids from a private school to the primary school where I’ll be teaching. 

Another lady responded to my “hello” by saying “who are you and why are you here?”  When I first arrived, I was a bit taken aback by how direct the people are.  I’ve learned that it’s not meant to be harsh, just straight forward.  So I told her my name and that I was the new Pisi Koa English teacher.  In return I got a big smile and a thank you for coming to help their village.

Most people I spoke to seemed to assume I was staying at the nearby resort and were surprised to hear me say anything in Samoan.  Thanks, Peace Corps, for the language training.  Rooms at the resort, by the way, are $450 a night, US.  I’ll have a neighboring house, for free.  Of course, the tourists staying at the resort won’t be teaching school here for two years.

How Do You Stay In Touch With Home?

Obviously, this blog.  Also, email, when I have access.  If you don’t see a new blog entry, you know that I’m not emailing, either.  I’m using text a lot, something I always hated.  I’m slow at it and have to be very brief and I find it annoying.  Having said that, it’s inexpensive and almost always available. 

I say almost always because currently, I’m out of phone credits, which means no texting.  I can receive texts and calls, but can’t make them.  So frustrating.  I got a text from my BFF volunteer, Sesa, last night.  Seems there was a large rat in her new fale and she wanted, if nothing else, moral support.  Unfortunately, I’d just blown my phone card on a call to a friend in the US, so I couldn’t respond.  I’m itching to get to the faleoloa this morning so I can recharge. 

The most satisfying way of staying in touch is by phone.  Generous friends called a few times from the States, racking up some exorbitant phone bills.  Between all of the gift boxes they’ve shipped and phone calls, my Peace Corps service is putting my friends in the poor house.  I recently discovered a promotion, though, by Digicell, my phone company.  It costs 1 tala a minute to call home.  That’s about $.50.  The promo is that after seven minutes, the next 30 minutes are free.  That’s 37 minutes for only about $3.50 USD.  Stellar!  Not sure how long the promo will last (or why it wasn’t the first thing we heard about from Peace Corps) but am using it while I can.  Seki a, Digicell! 

Are You Happy There?  Absolutely.  Every time someone in the family walks past me (about every 3-5 minutes), they ask if I’m ok.  Yup, fine.  Swell, actually.  I love Samoa.  It’s beautiful, the weather is good (now that I’ve gotten away from the skin-melting heat of Upolu) and the people are wonderful.  Am I missing friends during the holidays?  Yes.  But, if I were home I’d be missing the friends I wasn’t with.  All in all, I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be for Christmas this year.  
Instead of a faleo'o, I'll be living in this very nice palagi house.  Many of the other volunteers will be living in faleo'os.  Age pays off again!  That's a grave in the front yard.  Typical to bury family in front of the house.
Making coconut cream is a lot of work.  After scraping the coconut, you have to squeeze the "cream" out of it. For those who wonder, as one PCT did, there is no lactose in coconut cream.  It's just called that because it looks like cream.  And tastes delicious.

Aso Sa in Savaii

 The "new" ferry - Lady Samoa III takes 1 hour to travel from Upolu to Savaii. It's very comfortable.

Written on Sunday, December 19, 2010
 I had a great night’s sleep last night. The mosquito net worked well and the mattress was excellent.  Only thing that happened was about 3:00 a.m.  I was sound asleep and heard what I thought was someone scratching at the open window. Woke up with my heart pounding and realized it was a really loud bird in the branch just outside my window.

The last week in Apia I missed the village sounds.  Roosters, pigs, dogs, children singing and church bells.  They’re back now, and since I don’t live next door to the minister, the sound of the bells to announce prayer time, curfew and church can be heard but don’t sound like they’re ringing inside my head.

We ate dinner late last night, as seems to be the custom here.  They made tuna sandwiches with cucumber, which were mostly for me.  They also had fish, taro and some other dishes, but I was full after a sandwich.

As I left the main fale to walk the 10 yards or so to my fale, I passed six dogs, waiting for scraps from dinner.  Wait, those aren’t dogs!  Ok, four were dogs, two were pigs.  All were friendly.  In this family only the dogs have names.  Pigs are just pigs. One seems to be interested in me.  It’s the same one who woke me up last time I was here by sniffing me.  Maybe it thinks Palagis will be more generous with scraps, or maybe I smell like pig food.

After a leisurely shower, I had a light breakfast of biscuits (sweetish crackers, in the US) and water.  I’ll be eating most meals on my own, hopefully.  A couple of reasons for that.  One, I don’t want to impose on the family.  I don’t want them to feel obligated to make special meals for me or go to extra effort or expense.  I know they will anyway, but if I can limit it, that would be good.  I also want a bit of control over what and when I eat.

I really appreciated that Fa got up each morning to make me hot tea or Koko Samoa and fried eggs or pancakes, but I’m used to a just a bowl of oatmeal or some fruit, and I can easily do that on my own.  I’m also happy with just a salad, some steamed veggies or a stir fry, rather than a big meal every evening.  Even with the all the great meals that Fa provided, the extra exercise helped me drop a few pounds in the training village.  I figure if I can control my diet and since the increased exercise will continue, my goal of leaving smaller than when I arrived might come true. Hey, if the Samoan brothers on Biggest Loser can do it, so can the Palagi in Savaii.

We went to church this morning in the next village.  The family is very involved in the Assembly of God church, as was Fa.  There was a 9 piece band, with vocalists. The church itself was large, with perhaps 50-75 in the congregation.  They were friendly and made me feel welcome.  During one prayer, the pastor asked Atua to protect me during my stay in here.  Several people came over and greeted me after the service and seemed both surprised and pleased at my efforts to speak Samoan.  Granted, I was only saying who I was, where I was from, that I worked for the Peace Corps and that I’d be teaching here for 2 years but one woman said I spoke excellent Samoan.  I liked her a lot.

We drove home along the island’s main road.  In Faga that means along an incredibly beautiful lagoon.  The color of the water is hard to describe.  It’s various shades of blue with a sort of luminescence.  Apparently there’s silica or something in the water in this village that gives the water it’s unique and beautiful color.  I wonder how long it will be before I don’t notice the water and enjoy the sounds of the surf crashing on the reef.  I hope never.

My new host “mom”, who I’ll call K for confidentiality reasons, pointed out some fruit trees as we drove into the family compound.  Yes, that’s a star fruit tree over there.  And beyond is a Vi tree.  And next to it, a huge mango tree.  All within yards of my fale.  LG, the 18 year old walked me over for a closer look.

When I was 8 my family drove from our home in Arizona to Ohio for a funeral.  My aunt told me I could pick some cherries from the tree in her backyard.  When I brought a handful into the house I asked where I paid for them.  I couldn’t grasp the concept of having something so wonderful and expensive just hanging there for free.  It was like her pointing out the Snickers tree and telling me to help myself.

I felt like that this morning.  The star fruit and vi trees were covered in ripe fruit.  “May I have some?” I asked LG.  She gave me a peculiar look.  “I mean, just help myself?” I continued, like an American moron. “Of course, but you can’t have any mango.” Not because they were restricting the fruit, just because the mango season has just ended.

Vi, by the way, I tried for the first time in the host village.  Sia’s family made her a vi salad, which is sort of like an apple slaw.  Very tasty and refreshing.  She also brought some just sliced, which was also a sweet/tart crunchy treat.  I’m also a big fan of star fruit, so will be enjoying that too.  Vi, by the way, is pronounced “vee”.

We enjoyed to’ona’i after church.  That’s the traditional feast, made every Sunday in the outdoor oven or umu.  Think of a Hawaiian luau and that’s close.  It’s a ton of work to do and they do it every week.  Ours didn’t include a roasted pig today but did include excellent fried chicken, roasted green bananas and taro, oka (raw fish with chilis, lime, coconut cream and cucumber).  We had orange Sprim to drink (like Kool-Aid).

After lunch is rest time.  I asked if I could walk to the beach fale to rest.  I also wanted to call home.  They agreed, of course.  Two minutes after I got there, one of the daughters along with a six year old cousin arrived to keep me company.  They stayed for a few minutes, quietly listening to my phone call, then left when the others arrived to head to church for youth group practice.

I continued to enjoy the phone call and view and wondering what PC volunteers in cold or dry countries were doing.  Yes, this is a sacrifice in a lot of ways.  There are aspects of the experience that have been really hard.  I am so lucky, though, to have that offset by living in a place that is stunningly beautiful.  Imagine every travel magazine you’ve ever seen that show blue waters, lush green jungles with orchids and fruit trees growing wild and you’ve got my new home, Savaii. 

The lack of sandy beach is the only issue.  Seems there used to be a long, wide stretch of white sand on the beach.  Then the village put in a sea wall along the entire lagoon.  The small waves have washed away all the sand, leaving coral and lava rocks exposed during low tide, instead of beach.  A shame, but as strong as the waves against the sea wall are, a good idea.

After more resting, we headed back to church for the evening service.  This service was longer than in the morning.  About 2 hours, followed by 30 minutes of a meeting of the adults of the church.  I mostly enjoy the singing, although because of the amplifiers that most churches use, it tends to be loud. 

My experience with the two Assembly of God churches in Samoa is they take the gospel of making a joyful noise unto the Lord very seriously.  Because of the problem with my ear, it’s painful for me.  Frankly, I was praying for silence.  So, I felt a bit guilty when suddenly the lights flickered and went out, along with the electric guitars, organ and amplifiers.  The musical group didn’t hesitate.  They just kept singing, while the drummers drummed.  Much more enjoyable without amplification, from my view.  After about an hour, the power came back on and the decibels were back up.

I heard a couple of references to Pisi Koa and Palagi during the service.  I don’t want to sound paranoid, and assume you can imagine how it feels to stand out in a crowd.  I’m 5’10”, have blonde/silver hair and really white skin.  The Samoans are mostly brown skinned with black hair.  Plus, they’ve all known each all their lives.  They pretty much know who will be in church, along with what they’ll be wearing and where they’ll be sitting.  Having a foreigner stroll in draws attention. 

Anyway, at one point during the service, the man at the pulpit (not the minister, he doesn’t preach at night) mentioned Palagi and looked at me, along with everyone in the room.  I had no idea what he was saying and just smiled and laughed when everyone else did.  Awkward, but a situation I’ve run into here a lot.  After church I asked my family what he said and they said that he was just welcoming everybody, especially any newcomers.  And, that they all could tell who was new since I was the only Palagi in the crowd.  That’s what got a laugh. 

After church, all six of us hopped into the cab of the pickup.  I thought we’d head for home, but we turned in the opposite direction.  One of Group 83 dubbed this the “happy dog” experience, where you’re told to get in the car but have no idea where you’re headed.  Best to just put on a smile and enjoy the ride.  I’ve found rides like this frequently involve ice cream.   

In this case, it was a detour to check out the damage to a new church under construction.  Seems someone was speeding and hit the metal/cement wall around the church.  He also hit the power pole and broke it in two.  That’s what caused the power outage.  After parking at the side of the road for a bit to survey the damage and discuss it, we headed home.  Any news in the village is big news, which explains why some kids swimming in the ocean yelled “Hello, Pisi Koa!”  Word has spread that I’ve arrived.

I changed clothes after evening service and sat at the computer in the open fale to do some writing.  A few minutes later K brought over a plate of fresh, cold pineapple.  A few minutes after that LG brought over a snack.  A plate of six sandwiches, for my dinner.  I asked if the rest of the family was eating and she said they were, in the main fale, but since I was working on my computer, they brought my dinner to me.  This is the kind of boundary walking we’re all exploring.  I think they wanted to make me feel comfortable, so they brought me Palagi sandwiches and didn’t expect me to join them for more Samoan food.  It also allowed them to have dinner alone without trying to make conversation the foreigner could understand.  They had the TV on and seemed to enjoy time without the guest.

I enjoyed a sandwich made with some type of canned meat, very popular here and New Zealand, apparently.  The older girls and the six year old cousin joined me and helped polish off the rest of the food.  We watched the video I’d taped of the youth group performing at church, then they helped me play a couple of computer games.

I said goodnight to everyone about 10, thanking them for such a lovely day and all the great food.  I retreated to my bedroom, only to discover that I’d locked myself out.  What an idiot.  Luckily, there was a spare key, on the key chain used for the pickup, which the eldest son had just driven away.  They called him and he came back.  Within 3 minutes, all solved, but I felt like an idiot.  They just laughed and used the phrase in Samoan that I’ve heard a lot.  Aua le popole.  “Don’t worry.”  After all, they cut us Palagis miles of slack because they know we’re a little different.
This is a photo of Mika from culture day.  He was making palusami in this photo.  I'll be adding old photos with every new entry.

New Island Address

Please note my new address - anything mailed previously, I'll be able to pick up in Apia.

Some of the training gang - Lisi, Elu, Ses, Sia, Lumafale (trainer), Tam (trainer) and Onofia (trainer).  We stopped to see the waterfall that's in the background.

Written Saturday night, December 18, 2010
Today started very early.  I got up at 5:15 a.m. so I could take a shower and be ready to head to the wharf at 6:00 a.m.  The fly in that ointment was that the hotel turns off the water at night, so unless I wanted to stand under a dribble, no shower.  Luckily, I’d showered the night before.  Hadn’t washed my hair, though, but that’s no biggie since I’d be getting sweaty and windblown soon enough.  Yes, my hygiene standards have shifted a bit.

Tried again to get on the internet but no luck there.  Looked outside to see how progress was going on packing our piles of stuff into the truck but no one had arrived to start loading the stuff we’d stored in the PC office.

I won’t go into the details, but eventually we were on the ferry, just in the nick of time.  We enjoyed a smooth hour ride under grey, cloudy skies.  One thing I learned is to trust the Samoans.  When Nanai said everything would fit in the pickup and van, including all eight of us and the two Samoan drivers, I didn’t believe it.  As they were loading the vehicles, I didn’t believe it.  As they were piling suitcases in the bed of the truck, higher than the top of the cab, I didn’t believe it.  We arrived with everything in Savaii.  I’m a believer.

One of the buckets I bought, along with everything I’d packed into it is missing, but all things considered, made it here just fine. (Update – one of the other volunteers picked up my stuff by mistake and will drop it at the PC office in Savaii this week.) The bucket was to use for washing my clothes.  I may splurge at some point and buy a small washer.  And when I say small, think of a dorm sized fridge. I can get one for about $400 tala, which is really a lot, but amortized over the two years, given how much laundry I’ll do, it’s not bad.  Plus, the spin function will help things dry faster, which is key here.

Our new families met us and mine hauled me and my stuff home.  It’s the same family that I stayed with for a few days previously.  She’s a first grade teacher at my school and the vice-principal.  Her husband is in construction and works their plantation.  They have three sons and 2 daughters and two grandchildren.  One daughter and a niece (18 and 20) share a fale with me.  I have my own room, which is large enough for a comfortable twin mattress on the floor and all my bags of junk.  And my three red plastic cases of Vailima.  No beer in them, just the cases.  Since I first saw them I had the idea that I could use them for storage.

Furniture is really expensive here so most people (in my limited experience) use suitcases to store clothes instead of a chest of drawers.  As a consultant I used to travel a lot.  Over a million miles on Delta.  That meant living out of a suitcase for most of the last 16 years.  I’m sick of it and want to be able to put my clothes away where I can see them.  Plus, the clothes tend to mildew in the suitcases because of the humidity.

I figure I’ll scrub the plastic beer cases, turn them on their sides and stack them up.  I’ll roll my clean t-shirts, skirts, undies, etc. and store them in the little built in cubbies for the beer bottles.  Because they’re not solid, there will be good ventilation to keep mildew at bay.  And, because my friends are wonderful, I have a supply of dryer sheets to keep everything smelling fresh.  Brilliant, eh?

Plus, if need be, I can whip them out as chairs or tables.. All for just $6.90.  Yes, I do plan to go back college day’s décor of using boards and cement blocks for bookshelves.  I plan to wrap the cement blocks with the same fabric I use to make my curtains.  I also plan to make giant floor cushions (think bean bags, without the beans) for furniture, made from a contrasting fabric.  Martha Stewart of Samoa, that’s me.

Anyway, that’s in the future, when I have my own house.  I’m supposed to meet the man who owns the house I’ll be moving to next week.  I hope he calls, since I don’t know his name or number.  He’ll be making some improvements on the house himself and since he’s headed to New Zealand next week, looks like he won’t start until January.  I really like the family I’m with now and want to stay close to them, even after I move.  But I’m ready to get settled in a permanent place of my own, with my own bathroom and kitchen.

More about the family…the Mom and Dad speak English, although prefer Samoan, which is understandable.  The 18 year old, 24 year old son and the 28 year old son, who’s here from Apia for the holiday speak excellent English.  My language teacher will be happy to hear that my family was impressed with how much my Samoan language has improved since I was last here. 

On our way home from the wharf, I used the “good driver” line, which is commonly used here.  We don’t have anything to really compare.  PC staff described it as supporting the driver by cheering him on for doing a good job.  If the driver swerves to avoid a dog, pig or human and is successful, you say “good driving!”  If he misses, you use “talofai!”, which means “what a pity” in slang.  For a second after I said it, there was silence and I thought I blew it.  Then they all burst out laughing.  They just couldn’t believe I knew what to say.

The dad was talking about me in Samoan as we waited for the girls to prepare lunch.  I understood what he said and commented on it.  More laughing.  They said they’d have to watch out, since before they could have said anything and I just smiled and nodded.  That’s still mostly still true, but sometimes I get lucky and they say an entire sentence with vocab I know.  Mostly it’s random words that I understand.  I’ve also learned that just because they say Pisi Koa or Palagi and I’m the only Pisi Koa and Palagi in the room doesn’t mean they’re talking about me.  Actually, it usually does, but not necessarily. 

They don’t live right on the beach here, but close enough to hear the waves, faintly.  And enjoy the sea breeze.  Far enough to have a head start uphill if a tsunami hits, which is reassuring.  Especially since I felt my first earthquake here today.  Was sitting and chatting with the 28 year old and I thought one of the girls had come up behind me to shake my chair.  Nope, very mild earthquake.  The deal with earthquakes is that they cause tsunamis.  But only major/long lasting earthquakes.

The challenge for both me and my new family will be to get to know each other and set some boundaries that we’re all comfortable with.  I’m not quite a guest and not quite family so we need to find our way.  The Samoan PC staff told me to just be direct with them and I have been.  They suggested I sleep in the open fale with the girls and I declined.  They seem to understand.  I asked if I could cook some of my own meals.  I explained that I love to cook and as much as I like Samoan food (and I really do), I also like to make some Palagi food.  They were fine with that.

Cooking for myself will mean lots of vegetables.  Soups and stir fries.  Healthy stuff that I have had very little of since coming to Samoa.  It’s only about a 20 minute bus ride (and the buses here seem much less crowded than on Upolu) and less than two tala each way to the farmer’s market in the city. By the way, the “city” has about 6,000 people.  It’s the largest town on the island.   It’s called Salelologa.  It is the only place with restaurants (other than the resorts scattered around) on the island.  And, the only “large stores” similar to what they have in Apia, just smaller versions.

After dragging my luggage to my room, we had a big lunch with a giant fish, taro with coconut cream, and some tasty meat, prepared sort of stew-like with a sauce.  After that, we went our separate ways for a rest.  I chilled in my room with my best friend, Mr. Kindle, and had a nice nap.

Since then I did a bit of organizing of the luggage and boiled some water in my new kettle.  My sister Fa had one and I’m beginning to see what the rest of the world raves about.  It boils a bunch of water really fast and is quite handy.

More conversation with the 28 year old, with occasional side conversations with other family as they went about their business.  They set up a small table for me to use in the open fale (where the only electrical outlet is) and provided a surge protector, which means I can charge all my electronics and use my computer.  No internet, but that’s ok.

I think I’ll enjoy my time here and am so appreciative that, once again, a Samoan family is willing to take me in and feed and house me and treat me as if I’m part of the family.  Any Samoan will tell you it’s fa’a Samoa – the Samoan way.  They aren’t doing it for money (because they’re not being paid, since I’ll just be here temporarily) they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. As an adult, I am expected to contribute in some way, so I’ll be bringing in food (vegetables, staples like salt, sugar and flour and TP).

I was asking about rules of the village.  It seems that I’ll be able to walk out to the beach fale (a 2 minute walk) at night by myself and even up to the nearby store, although I’ll avoid that since I know that walking 15 minutes alone, especially at night would make them really nervous.   It’s not about controlling me, it’s about respecting me so much they want to make sure that I’m safe and have no negative experiences. 

It’s also because, as I think I’ve mentioned before, that Samoans don’t like to be alone, for the most part, so they assume we’re sad and lonely if we’re alone and want to help us by keeping us company.  One Samoan friend confided that she really needs alone time sometimes and her family doesn’t get it.  They seem to think that because she works for PC, some of our Palagi rubbed off on her.  For me, it gives me a taste of how Obama’s daughters feel, having someone assigned to accompany and protect them, everywhere they go.

Last night in Apia for example, I was coming back from my impromptu trip to the store to get water. The store is next to the hotel/Peace Corps office. Peace Corps has a guard in front of the office and I stopped to say hello on my way back.  He was chatting with two young men and I could tell that the discussion turned to me as I approached.  They started asking me about the ‘bad guy’ who was mean to me.  I have no idea who they meant, but they believed they’d seen a Samoan man be disrespectful to me. I just found it interesting that a young guy would bother to notice what was going on with a 60 year old stranger.  But that’s just it.  To them, I’m old and white and have status and everyone watches out to make sure I’m ok and treated well.

Sia said it was like what we’d feel like if the Queen of England stopped by for a visit.  We’d pull out all the stops and make sure everything was to her specifications and that nothing dangerous or unpleasant happened to her.  Much like being a guest in Samoa.

It’s 8:15 p.m. now.  I just checked my new water filter and it’s already treated almost two gallons.  Lovely to have control again over how much water I can drink!  Now, we’re  getting to ready to put up my mosquito net over my bed.  The PC nurse gave me a white one rather than khaki green.  We agreed it was much more romantic, and you know how Mr. Kindle and I are.  The weather is a bit cool tonight (and apparently always a bit cooler than Upolu, which is fabulous) so it will be a good night for a cuddle with Mr. Kindle.

My room.  That's a mosquito net hanging over my bed.  The photos on the wall belong to the 18 year old who's letting me use her room.
Another view, showing the cool Vailima cases.
The other half of my room.  My suitcases are sitting on top of the families stuff.  I've got them sorted so it's easier to get at things.  The white bucket next to the wall is my "washing machine".  The blue plastic pan is where I keep all my food/kitchen stuff.  There's a table they set up outside for me to do my cooking.  I've got everything I need.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer

My niece, me and sister - just in case you didn't recognize the American 
Written Saturday evening, December 17, 2010

Yeah, like that’s new news?  It really is, since up until today I was a Peace Corps Trainee.  I have now jumped through every hoop, leaped over all obstacles and stumbled through the Language Proficiency Interview.  Today, I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I’ve got an id card and special passport to prove it.

This has been a busy week.  Moving back to the hotel in Apia.  Classes, final interviews, doctors visits for me and shopping for all the stuff we need to set up house for the next two years. I’ll do a separate entry on shopping, since it made Black Friday at Walmart look like a walk in the park. 

To try to keep myself focused, I’ll do this in the Q and A format that we all love.

So, did you find out logistical details?

Yes, except for my new address in Savaii, which I think is in an email that I haven’t been able to read yet.  I’ll get that posted as quickly as possible.  I found out how much money I’ll be given as a living allowance.  I can’t say how much it is, but in my work as an independent management consultant, I made more before noon on Monday than I’ll make in a month of teaching school in Savaii.   That’s not to brag about how much I used to earn.  More a statement of how little I make here.

Did you enjoy unpacking and repacking again this week?

Oh, golly, yes!  It was just so much fun to have all my junk strewn over the floor and every other available surface of the hotel room.  I think Chelsea and I were successful in not co-mingling our junk.  If we did, it’s a bummer because even though it’s a small country, we have to depend on public transportation.  That means we’re about 7 hours away from each other.  Bummer.

I was tired of packing and unpacking before I even left home, since I tried to be organized and meet the weight requirement which required do several iterations of each suitcase.  Since then, I unpacked in L.A. for staging (well, sorta), then in the hotel in Apia, then again in the home stay village and now packed again for the trip tomorrow to Savaii.  I’ll be unpacking again tomorrow, then only have to pack one more time – for the move to my house, whenever that happens.

What is Swearing In like?

We had the ceremony at Robin’s house.  Which is easier than saying the home of the Charge de Affaires aka top dog in the Embassy here.  It’s quite nice and she’s a great hostess.  Invitees were the 20 of us.  Two members from each of our host families were also invited as were our new pules (principals).  Mine didn’t come from Savaii, which is understandable.  My host sister and niece came and it was great to see them, although then there were more tears when we said goodbye.

Guests sat under a tent, while the dignitaries sat on the porch, facing us.  We were in the front rows under the tent.  It started with a prayer, followed by us doing a most excellent dance.  We got spontaneous applause on 3 different occasions during the dance.  The first time, I thought they were cheering for us.  Then the second and third time, I realized they cheered when we said “Atua” – God.  Ok, so they were probably cheering God. Still felt good.

Next were speeches, followed by us reading a page long list of things we promised, including “I will strive to learn the Samoan language.”  I believe they put that in just for me.  Not “I will learn.”  The more ambiguous, “I’ll strive.”

After the speeches came a chance for us to have a group photo taken and food.  It was also a chance to mingle with our families.

You may notice in the photos that a lot of us have a lot of plumage.  Those are handmade ulas – the Samoan version of leis.  Some are special leaves, some are flowers and some are “lollies”, which is a very cool idea.  Take a small piece of saran wrap.  Wrap a hard candy or small packet of cookies in the saran wrap.  Tie with curly ribbon and use the curly ribbon to connect each piece.  Us kids love ‘em!  They’re common for any type of graduation or special event it seems, for kids and adults.

You may also notice that all but two of us are wearing matching dresses.  That’s something most groups do.  One in our group didn’t want to wear matching outfits and several of us were on the fence.  Yeah, a show of “we’re all in this together” but just doesn’t sit well for a former flower child.  And, you’re correct.  I don’t dress up with the Red Hat ladies, either.  Anyway, a lot of our families gave us puletasis in the training village.  My family had one specially made for me – it’s royal blue, with hand painting in silver and gold and it’s beautiful.

I decided it was more important to honor my family by wearing not just a puletasi, which is the traditional attire in Samoa (except in Apia where western clothes are seen), but a puletasi given to me with love and at great expense.  I’m happy with my decision.

What Did You Do for the Rest of the Day?

Packed.  Picked up laundry.  I’ll wash underwear in the sink in a hotel and hang it to dry, but I draw the line at washing my entire wardrobe that way.  Actually, I tried to pick up laundry but I was told my son picked it up.  Really?  I have no son.  Yes you do- the tall one who looks like you.  Ah, Mika and I had dropped off our laundry at the same time, so they assumed it was “ours”.  Thanks for hauling, Mika, and paying the bulk of the charge.  Sorry about you having to see my undies.

 Hung out by the pool reading palms and doing psychological evaluations of my fellow trainees.  A couple of my lesser known skills that have proved quite popular here.

I got a text from another trainee that they’d spotted a 2 burner hotplate for sale for only $230.  Going rate is $300 and they’re hard to find.  3 places had told me they couldn’t be shipped until next year (remember, it’s a small island country).  So I raced over to get one.  I snagged the last one.  I asked if they offered a Peace Corps discount.  Nope.  So, I asked if they’d give a discount to the oldest Peace Corps volunteer.  Yup, $30 off.  I have no shame and age here is a real perk.

How’d You Get The Enormous Amount Of Luggage You Have Down 3 Flights Of Stairs?

An angel, sent from above, offered to schlep my junk, along with Sia’s stuff.  Enough to fill a pickup truck.  Actually, the angel is courtesy of Betsey and Fred and his name is Joseph Michael, aka Mika.  I’ve written about him before.  He was in the pool and heard that those of us going to Savaii had to take all our luggage to the Peace Corps office because we’re leaving at o’dark thirty tomorrow.  Bless him for hauling everything.  I’m guessing he made about 15 trips up and down the three flights of stairs.

Speaking of stairs.  I’ve made a minimum of 12 trips up and the stairs today and am pooped.  Ready to head for bed but have to make one more trip downstairs first because we’re out of water again, so have to walk to the store.  Luckily it’s very close and since we’re not in the village I’m allowed to go out after dark.  But, oh, those stairs!