Monday, December 26, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Makes Me Ashamed to be an American

These are my observations and opinions.  They do not reflect the views of either Peace Corps or the United States government.  Or, apparently, anyone in the multi-billion dollar industry that’s denigrating the reputation of America.

I took my 6 year old host sister to the market yesterday.  We rode the “good” bus.  What makes a bus good is that it’s actually a bus.  It has separate, cushioned seats, a large front window and side windows that slide open and closed.  The majority of buses are hand-built on a truck frame with wooden benches, windows that usually but not always can be raised when it’s raining and they’re small.

The good bus also has a DVD player.  Usually it’s not playing anything and even when it is I don’t pay attention to it, preferring to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Today I noticed the music first.  Actually, I noticed the lyrics when i was surprised to hear “m-----f----er” on the load speakers.  Then I heard the “f” word.  And the “n” word.  And the “p” word.   Then I looked up and realized there was an American music video playing.   Complete with barely clothed women in sexual and subservient positions.  That’s when I experienced another “p” word.  Pissed.

I love America.  I’m out here for two years trying to show Samoa that Americans are caring people with a lot to offer the world.  That America is more than wars and violence.  That American women aren’t brainless sluts, hoping some man will come along to dominate us, sexually and otherwise. 

Since I arrived here some people have expressed gratitude.  Mostly, though, they tell me how lucky I am to be out of the United States.  Because of all the guns.  All the drugs.  All the violence.  And many people tend to assume that American women are easy and looking for a sexual encounter, with any guy who comes along.

Before I left home I was walking across the parking lot of the grocery store when a woman in a large SUV drove past, music blaring from her open windows.  I heard the same words then and was angry and appalled as she drove past parents with small children.  Either oblivious or indifferent to the toxic words she was spreading.

That toxicity is being spread around the world. The images people in other countries have of what America is and who Americans are is what they see on those videos.  When I see the trash we’re exporting as “art” it makes me ashamed to be an American.

Post Script:  Does this entry make me sound like a Tea Party fogy who wears Depends under my polyester pant suit?  Perhaps.   Ironically, many assume that since I joined the Peace Corps I must be a left wing liberal nut case.  I consider myself a centrist.

Does age factor into my views about the amount of sex and violence we show our own children as well as children around the world?  I’m sure it does.  Do I think we should go back to the days of June and Ward and twin beds?  No.

I believe there’s a middle ground.  I believe it’s about money and we can control what type of music is spread by what we buy.  And parents, if you’re saying “I just can’t control what music my 12 year old buys.”, slap yourself upside the head.

Monday, December 19, 2011

PCV Plays Tourist

I had a great week last week.  I was a tourist.  I rented a car (with Peace Corps permission) and along with 3 friends, toured Upolu.  I had to eat my words, since I’ve been saying that Savaii is a more beautiful island.  They are both beautiful.  Mountains, beaches, more shades of green than you can count, waterfalls, and friendly people.

I got to see where two other volunteers live.  Both nice places and all three of us have very different situations.  I stopped to buy a soda at a small store and had an entire conversation in Samoan.  Ok, it was the kind of conversation I’m good at “Hi, how are you?  I’m fine, thanks.  Do you have a cold can of soda?  How much?  Give me one, please.”  The man, once he got over his surprise at a palagi in a rental car talking to him in Samoan, seemed to appreciate my efforts, so we chatted for a couple of more minutes.  He seemed genuinely appreciative of my efforts to speak his language.  His kids were just flabbergasted.

My road trip companions were nice enough to let me make a detour to see my host sister from training.  Love her and it was great to see the look on her face when she realized who was driving up.  First, the surprise that I was in town and second, that I was driving!

My favorite tourist site was To Sua.  It costs $15 tala to get in and was so worth it.  The deal is that there’s a giant lawn/garden on a bluff overlooking miles of beach.  There are fales to lounge in while you enjoy the view.  The big draw is a giant swimming hole.  It’s caused by a lava tube that brings water into the “hole”.  The water is turquoise and crystal clear.  Since you have to climb down a long, vertical (but new and sturdy) ladder, I opted to just take photos of the two younger, fitter, braver volunteers as they climbed down.  They swam through another tube into another, smaller swimming hole and loved the experience.  My fear (aside from heights) was that I’d get halfway back up, my thighs would give out, I’d lose my grip on the ladder and I’d fall onto the wooden platform below.  I don’t know how they’d haul me out of there with a broken leg or two and even if they hauled my carcass up, it would ruin my trip to New Zealand. 

We spent several hours there, enjoyed a picnic lunch and watching a thunderstorm on the ocean.  It was overcast and coolish.  Perfect.  A bonus was that for most of our time there we had the place to ourselves.

To see some great photos and video, check this out.  Worth your time, I promise.  To Sua Trench Photos and Video

We spent the night at the Taufua Beach Fales.  Rather than sleeping in the fales, we opted for two rooms at their Mt. View Resort.  Still under construction (a pool is underway, along with a restaurant), it was a fabulous bargain and very nice.  We dined at the main restaurant at the beach where food is delicious and served family style.  Everyone we met there (including several other PCVs staying there) were incredibly friendly.  There's something about dining open-air, bare foot that just makes it easy to relax.

The Taufua Beach Fales, by the way, are run by a family, who also hire people from their village.  It's a true Samoan story of strength.  They lost 13 family members and their entire resort during the 2009 tsunami.  Having seen photos of the resort immediately after the tsunami, it was inspiring to see it now, booming.  The owner told me that at last week's "fia fia" night, they had 90 guests. 

On our way home toward the north side of the island we drove through a valley, following a main road, which is the route many of the volunteers take on the bus, including 2 that were in the car.  Buses are not a lot of fun, but at least they have the pleasure of looking out at one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  I’m not exaggerating.  Truly stunning.

As we were driving back I started dreading returning the rental car and getting on a bus to the wharf.  Then I realized the only thing between me and a week off in Apia was money.  Heck, that’s why I’ve been scrimping, so I hit the ATM and talked a hotel which was running a weekend special to give me the rate for the week.  Air con.  A kitchen.  With an oven.  And a toaster.  It was like a preview of Auckland, although I’m hoping my room there isn’t next to a neighbor who starts blasting Samoan music at 7 a.m. and continues until after midnight.  Details.  I had a couch and a remote control.  They say that PC will help you find yourself.  I found a couch potato.
I headed back to the village on Saturday on a very crowded ferry, and, as always, I was carrying too much crap.  But really, I was introduced to a store that has enchilada sauce.  And refried beans.  Not outrageously expensive.  I couldn’t resist!

I ran into a guy I know on the ferry and he gave me a ride back to my village, which was a treat.  As we drove near my house one of my Year 8 girls saw me and yelled “I love you, Nancy.” 

I was home.  I’ll remember that when I get on the plane in a couple of weeks to come back from Auckland.


I'm in Salelologa doing last minute errands and computer stuff for PC and preparation for heading to NZ for two weeks.  Thought while I was working on reports, I'd upload some photos.  They're random, but hope you enjoy.

My brother, preparing a pig for the umu.  He's using a disposable razor to get rid of the hair.

I love watching the rain come in over the ocean.  This is right across the street from my house.  You can see the reef in the distance.  The dark spots in the lagoon are coral.  Makes for great snorkeling.

I contacted a group called Darien Book Aid Plan.  They sent a fabulous case of books.  I figured the kids should get to open the box.  They were excited but also very serious because they didn't want to damage anything

This is a centipede, next to my shoe.  I find one in my house every day or two.  When I got home from Apia this week, one crawled out of the kitchen drain and startled the bejeebers out of me.  They have a vicious sting but so far I killed them before they got me.  Yes, I have found them in my bed during the night.

ML and Ralph - this one's for you.  HD reigns even in Samoa.  Well, at least the t-shirt.  There are no Harleys in the country.

Year 1.  English Day.  Does it get any cuter?

Year 8 girls.  They LOVE to have their pictures taken.I took a class photo with me, their teacher and gave each child a copy as a graduation gift.  It was one of these girls who yelled "I love you, Nancy" when she saw me driving back into town this week.

The boys like to have their photos taken.

I attended my brother's college (high school) graduation to cheer him on since he was first in the entire school in grades.  I was called up to hand out the awards to the graduating class.  A surprise and quite an honor.  Glad I wore my best puletasi.  That's my host brother I'm giving a "prize" to.

Year 2, English Day.  I taught them 10 Little Indians.  My apologies to all Native Americans.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No Escape!

You think you take your work home with you?  Today was officially the last day of school for my first year.  I’m ready for some time off, which will start Saturday with a girls’ road trip around Upolu.  I’ll be driving!

But just to reinforce how ready I am for some anonymity and time away from the village…I strolled into my bathroom this evening to do what people do in bathrooms.  I heard giggles.  Then I heard voices.

“Hi, Nancy.  How are you?”  One of the few English phrases my Year 1 neighbor knows by heart. 

She and her friends were standing outside my bathroom, talking to me through the gap between my bathroom wall and the roof.  The same gap that let in the rain last night and gave me a refreshing shower at 3:13 a.m.

“Nancy, where are you going?”  That’s a standard question that’s used here much as we say “How are you?”  Nobody really expects you to answer the question, it’s just a conversation starter.  Except in this case, I just wanted to pee and not practice English with three of my school kids.

I hated to be rude but really didn’t want to chat.  I just said “See you later!”  They giggled and ran off.

I made the mistake of telling a friend about it.  We’re sharing a room this weekend and I just know that every time I go to the bathroom she and the other ladies will be calling my name and offering to chat.  If they do, they’d better be prepared for paybacks.   I’m bringing saran wrap to surprise the next toilet user. Heh, heh, heh.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The End is Near!

School is scheduled to end Friday. I’ve heard a rumor, though, that tomorrow is the last day. It can’t be soon enough for me. I’m ready for a break from school and village.

Before English Day and Prize Giving, there was a flurry of teaching and activities. It was stressful and exciting. Both days had highs and lows. Hearing the principal tell the parents that I’m really good with the copy machine probably wasn’t the high point in my career. Clearly, I need to add the ability to make two-sided copies to my resume.

I was told we would spend this week planning for next year. There is a new curriculum and in my humble opinion way too much paperwork. Teachers must have an annual plan for each subject, or in my case, all 8 grades. The sample was two pages long. They must also have a unit plan which is usually in 2-3 week increments. The sample was 12 pages long. That’s about 60 pages, total. We’ll also be required to write a daily lesson plan for each subject/grade. The form is one page long but to really complete the requested information, would have to be at least 3 pages. I’ll be doing six a day so that’s 18 pages a day, on average.

I agree with the need to move the curriculum forward but the materials were written in English, by a native speaker. Both Samoan and Peace Corps teachers have complained that they are too complex and not easily used by anyone, especially if English is not your first language.

The materials I was given to use as samples include Years 1-6. My primary responsibility is to teach Year 7. Hard to write my plans and meet the learning objectives for the year if I don’t know what they are.

The good news is that the emphasis is on more interactive learning. More independent study. That requires access to resources like dictionaries, encyclopedias and the internet. A couple of kids in each class have a dictionary. We’re working on getting the internet. The goal is to also move to more small group work and more critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Most of our planning time so far this week was spent eating ramen and drinking tea. I’m boycotting the ramen because I suspect my sodium levels surpassed incipient stroke leves about two terms ago, since we eat a bowl every day. I brought tea today and the teachers were disappointed. I enjoy the inexpensive jasmine green tea that’s available here. I drink it plain and shouldn’t have been surprised that the teachers prefer theirs sweet and white.

I went to town to use the high-speed internet access HB left me so I could upload photos and a PC report that takes forever with dial up. After two calls to the help desk I surrendered and caught the bus home.

BTW, I’ll be seeing the PC nurse Friday to discuss the new tropical crud I have in a couple of places on one leg. I had it before and it was quickly relieved by antibiotics but left some nasty scars. Please let Victoria’s Secret know that while my body may be marred, it does not in any way impinge upon my superior copying skills.

Do I sound whiny? I am. Like I said, I’m ready for a break.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Would You Do It?

I met two guys on the ferry yesterday.  One from the UK, one from Normandy in France.  They had just met on the flight from Fiji.  I’ve talked with PCVs here who have never traveled alone and tell them to do it.  There’s always someone to talk to, eat with, explore with.  And if you just spend time with yourself, all the better.

The English guy, David, explained that Xavier, the French guy, was a “real traveler.”  He had 5 kg of luggage.  A tiny bag.  I carry more than that with me to church.  He’s traveling across the Pacific for several months.  In that 5 kg bag he has a sleeping bag, cooking gear and clothes.  My underwear weighs more than that.

Neither of them had any plans, nor did they have much money.  David is working as a volunteer in Fiji for a year and was traveling as a normal palagi – with luggage and the expectation of hotels.  But he was lured in by Xavier’s spirit of adventure.

I told them I couldn’t have them sleep in my house because that would cause a scandal, but that my family would likely be willing to let them sleep on their property.  They opted to walk from the wharf to my village.  It’s a 40 minute bus ride.  I told my family about them, but assumed they’d find someplace to stop along the way.

This morning I was greeted by my brother who said “Your friends came by last night.”  “Really?  Did they ask for me?”  “No, they just came to buy some food.”

Later, at school, one of Year 7 boys ran up yelling “David is here for you!”  Yes, the 2 men were there.  They’d spent the night before in my village with a family they met on the road as they walked.  The family gave them a place to sleep and information about how to find my school.

David and Xavier spent almost all day with me at school.  They got to see every class sing and dance.  I asked the Year 8 boys to get some palm fronds and make some baskets.  The palagi’s were amazed at the skill of the kids in making baskets, head wreaths, bracelets and rings out of a single palm frond.  The kids were amazed that two palagi men wanted to spend time with them.

I explained which buses led to the next part of the island and how to flag them down.  They have no idea where they are headed next.  They don’t know where they’ll eat or sleep or bathe.  David said that Xavier is rubbing off on him and he’s becoming more adventurous. 

Would/could you do it?  Leave home with 10 pounds of luggage for 3 months?  Depend on the kindness of strangers in cultures you don’t know?  By the way, Xavier spoke English, but it seemed to be limited.  Neither David nor Xavier spoke a word of Samoan.

I took more than 10 pounds of luggage to Apia to spend one night for Thanksgiving.  I had a place to stay.  Part of me is jealous.  I wish I had the cojones to travel that way – accepting things as they come and having faith that there will always be someone there to provide what you need.  Another part of me thinks that it is a bit arrogant and selfish to put the responsibility of your room, board and safety on strangers.

Whatever, both men are having an adventure.  Experiences they never would have had if they’d stayed inside their comfort zones.  One thing I believe in, absolutely, is that it is a good thing to step outside the space where you feel safe and comfy.  Do something that scares the bejeebers out of you.  It’s good for the soul and will keep you young.

Steven Wright, an amazing comic, once said something like “You know that feeling when you lean back and balance on two legs of the chair?  When you think you’re just about to fall over?  That’s where I like to be.”  Me, too.    For me, it was Peace Corps, although this is more like three legs of the chair on the floor instead of two.   For some, that may mean going to a movie alone.  Or eating alone in a restaurant.  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing.  Just something that feels a little scary. 

Fear won’t kill you.  It will let you know you’re alive.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner in Apia

After a rocky start, I made it to Apia.  I missed the first boat because of a cab driver who showed up an hour late.  But like much of my life in Samoa, that low was followed by a high of meeting a really nice guy on the ferry.  He happened to be a cab driver.  He offered me ½ fare to take me to Apia.  Did he do it to be a nice guy, because he knew I was Peace Corps?  Or did he do it because he didn’t have another fare and ½ was better than nothing?  Probably a bit of both.  Bottom line, he was a really nice guy, we had a good conversation and I got to Apia faster than on the bus and without spending over an hour jammed into an overcrowded, hot bus.

The new Charges de Affaires and his wife hosted dinner at their home, which is the official Embassy residence.  They just moved in a couple of months ago and are still getting settled, but they had enough tables for 80 people and there was plenty of food.  It was a potluck and the food was the best I’ve had since coming to Samoa.

Chad, the Charges, made the turkeys (8 of them) and stuffing and both were awesome.  There were mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly and all manner of other pot luck items.  Desserts included pumpkin pie, a pumpkin cheesecake, pecan pie and fruit salad.  All amazing and the first I’ve had in over a year.

I met some new people, which was nice.  Talked to a new embassy employee who recently worked at the embassy in Pakistan.  Met a woman who’s married to a Samoan and has lived here for 18 years.  Enjoyed talking with the mom of one of my fellow volunteers.  Chatted with a couple of Americans who have been here less than a year.  He’s working in a program for troubled youth and I enjoyed talking with him, since I once taught at a residential treatment center for teenage girls. 

I also got to say goodbye to some of the Group 82 volunteers who are leaving within the next week or two.  They’ve served in Samoa for over two years.  And, of course, got to catch up with my fellow Group 83 volunteers.  We’re all excited about vacations coming up and most agree that the last year has flown by.  We expect next year to fly past even faster.

Chad and Ann were gracious hosts.  The food was superb.  The atmosphere relaxed and casual.  Interesting conversation.  Lots to be thankful for. 

After the event, I went home with friends for a quiet evening and the chance to sleep in a real bed, with no bugs.  In the morning I took a hot shower and was served a delicious breakfast.  Over food and tea we had an intense discussion about the role of “aid” in the world and the book “Debt Aid”.

I took the bus back to the wharf in the rain.  Usually it is over-crowded and when it’s raining the windows are closed and it’s like a college prank of seeing how many people can fit in a steam bath.  Today, though, was perfect.  There were less than 10 of us on the bus.  It was like having a limo, with bad shocks.

Bonus, the big boat is back in service so I didn’t have to take the tiny boat which I took Saturday. It’s not only slower, it has no seats and not much cover.  In the rain that would mean getting very wet.

It’s now almost 9 p.m.  Dinner is over, dishes are done and I put clean sheets on the bed.  It’s very cool, which feels wonderful and will make for good sleeping tonight.

I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving.