Monday, May 30, 2011

I'm Fine!

Lew seemed concerned after my last blog post so I'd like to clarify.

I'm in excellent spirits. Other than a couple of minor things that I'm on antibiotics for, my health is great. I'm still 10 pounds lighter than when I arrived in Samoa and I want to keep that trend going.

The reason for the last entry is just to point out families of current and future volunteers that service is a roller coaster. The most frequent medical complaint for volunteers in many posts are related to mental health.

Since my arrival in Samoa my friends and family have been incredibly supportive. Emails, packages and listening to me whine endlessly about housing and lack of air conditioning have helped me sail over the rough spots.

Many of my friends say they wish they could serve but couldn't deal with leaving everything and putting up with some of the conditions volunteers face. The fact is, by keeping me in good spirits and lending their support, they ARE serving.

I hope every volunteer is as content and having as good a time as I am right now. Doesn't mean the roller coaster won't have more dips and curves but I know I'll come out ok.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Advice for Peace Corps Applicants and Friends/Family of Current Volunteers

As with all my entries, these are my personal opinions. I'm not a psychologist. Not an expert in cultural acclimation. Just a PCV.

In the materials that the PC sent before we left home, there was a section designed for family and friends. The material advised not to burden the one you love with all the issues and problems you’re facing at home.

The rationale for being somewhat circumspect in what you share is that most of us feel pretty isolated. We have lots of time. Too much time alone, for some of us. Without the constant interactions with close friends/family and the endless distractions of life back home that we were used to, one worry can take on more importance than we’d usually give it.

I’ve seen it happen here to others and experienced it myself. For example, I got a text about something happening to a friend at home. I worried. Because of the time difference and communication challenges here I wasn’t able to talk with her for a day. When I did, everything was fine and I had worried needlessly. She didn’t want me to worry when she sent the text, she was just sharing the kind of stuff we always talked about when I was home. Being a sounding board and a safe haven for venting is what friends and family are for.

Another challenge is that we’ve been gone long enough that we can’t ignore that life back home is moving right along. Without us. Because of my age/lifestyle, I’ve experienced this before. It can feel as if friends are moving on without us. As we are, friends at home are making new friends and having experiences without us. I know that while it may be over 2 years that I don’t see some of the people I love most, when I do see them again, they will still be my best friends. Our friendships won’t be exactly what they were, because we’ve grown and changed. But we’ll find a new depth and closeness in our friendships as we reconnect.

For a number of volunteers, PC is the first time they’ve experienced this. And because many are fresh out of college their friends are going through big changes. Moving, new jobs, marriage, babies, etc. There’s a lot going on.

Having said all that, here’s my advice if someone you love is a PCV:

• Stay in touch. We don’t always perceive no news as good news. We may worry that there’s something wrong or that our friendship is fading.
• Tell us about the good stuff in your life. We face problems and challenges here every day. Some are heartbreaking. It helps to be reminded that there’s a whole big happy world out there.
• If there’s a real problem at home, tell us. We don’t need to be sheltered from real issues.
• If you’re just venting, you may want to reconsider. If there’s nothing we can do about it and it’s not a really big issue, let it go. You may share an annoyance or something you’re angry about and an hour later you’re over it. We’ll still be stewing about it for days.
• We struggle with being here sometimes. Are we making a difference? Why did we do this in the first place? Is it all worth it? We get homesick. It really doesn’t help when you make us feel guilty about being so far away, or question why we’re here. Instead, ask us why we spent months or more going through the application process. What we’re learning while we’re here. Tell us to eat some ice cream, get a good night’s sleep and suck it up. Then call again the next day to see how it’s going. Sometimes we just need someone outside our heads to help us out of a funk. Let us vent but don’t let us be Downer Debbies, always looking at the down side of service in the PC.

If you’re in the middle of the application process, talk to RPCVs or current PCVs. Ask them about the downside of service. When you get your precious packet with your invitation, READ IT! In the excitement and busy time when you’re invited, it’s very easy to ignore the good information about the cultural changes and emotional challenges you’re about to experience. Talk to your friends and family about it. Have them read the info.

We’re on a roller coaster ride. It’s exciting, scary, alternately mind-numbingly boring and thrilling. We signed up for it and most of us are still very glad we did. The volunteer you love appreciates your support more than you can ever imagine.

Back in the Village

Huge news - I am posting this from the comfort of my house. No bus ride to check email this morning. The dial up is slow, but I'm connected!

I got home last night on the last ferry. I don’t recommend the last ferry on a Friday evening. It is very crowded with normal travelers, plus a glut of commuters who live on Savaii on the weekends and work in Apia during the week. There were also a lot of PCVs. Seems a number of them had headed to beach fales on a small island east of Upolu and were now headed to their favorite hotel in Salelologa for a night of partying.

Buying a ticket and getting on the boat involve being in a scrum of hundreds of people. Not familiar with rugby? A scrum is where both teams jam together and try to physically manhandle each other down the field. In this case we were all moving toward the cashier or the door leading to the dock. Fa’aaloalo, which is the respect shown toward elders and palagis goes out the window.

After a ride in some rough seas, I noticed no buses for my village. Rather than join the scrum and race with the too-much crap I’d brought back, I resigned myself to taking a cab. Hated to spend the $20 and don’t like to reinforce the assumption that palagis are spoiled and made of money, but at that point I was willing.

Two minutes into the ride the driver asked if I lived with so and so (names not included to protect my family’s privacy.) “Yes, I do. Are you the one who brings my “mother” home from work in Salelologa some days?” Yes, he was. Small world here in Savaii.

Gazing out at the manicured lawns and well-groomed landscaping of most fales, I contemplated why many people prefer Savaii to Upolu. Along the road to the wharf in Upolu there are more stores, businesses and individual vendors selling fish and produce. There’s also more trash and unkempt buildings and houses. The road around Savaii feels much less commercial, more residential and appears neater and cleaner.

I was surprised when we stopped at the Tuisivi store. One of the advantages of paying for a cab is a direct route, without stopping for errands, as often happens on the bus. Not today. Since we were going to my house, he’d called them and they asked him to pick up something at the store. Several kids and a couple of adults said hello and welcomed me home. I was back on my turf.

As we drove into my family’s compound, a group of kids yelled and waved and the adults smiled and waved. Nice to be home. I dropped my bags and pulled out the treats I’d brought from Apia for the family. I took them to “mom” and we caught up briefly and I complimented her on the new addition to the faleoloa. There’s now a covered porch for customers with seating. A very nice addition, which they’d just put in that day. The only downside was that the trees they’d used for the roof supports were the ones in my front yard that held my clothes line. But this morning my clothes line was put back up, attached to a smaller tree. It’s about half the length now, but will work.

Because I’ve developed a slight obsession with clean floors/feet, I immediately noticed my dirty floor. Since half the house has large holes in the wall where normally windows would be and because I don’t bother to close the windows I do have, sand gets blown in. Sand and dead bugs were littered on the floor. Because it was twilight, there were also a lot of mosquitoes. It was also hot and humid. No air conditioned, insect-free hotel room here.

I was tired but hungry. If I could have, I’d have bought take out food. But that isn’t an option in the village. For a week, try counting how many times you eat food that you didn’t have to prepare. Take out, restaurants, salads or chicken from the grocery store. I’d gotten lazy with the convenience restaurants and Farmer Joe in Apia. I ended up making an egg sandwich with the cheese bread I’d brought from Farmer Joes. Delicious.

After going to bed I listened to my family take showers. A couple before midnight, a couple later. Because the shower is literally a foot from my window and about ten feet from my bed, I know when someone is showering. The person bathing at about 1:30 a.m. seemed happy, since he sang throughout his long shower.
I got up early although I’d planned to sleep in. I’d forgotten about the roosters. Some roost in the tree that hangs over my house so I get to hear them occasionally throughout the night. They really get going around 5:30 when the sky over the lagoon starts to brighten. It was nice to be lazy and lie in bed listening to the waves. I missed that in Apia.

I did a bucket of laundry when I got up. By 7 a.m. I’d hung a load of laundry and was hot and sweaty. I enjoyed the air con in Apia but now have to get used to doing without it again.

My PCV bff came over for the party last night and I invited her to spend a day or two with me before heading back to Upolu. We’ll play cards with some of my family, go snorkeling and eat. I’m teaching her to cook some simple vegetarian dishes that she can make for herself. Last time was chile/mac and spaghetti sauce. This time I’ll be showing her how to make a simple lentil stew, since I found a place to get inexpensive lentils in Apia. I also plan to make a corn/black bean salad with the black beans that my cousins sent from home. Will have to use dried cilantro instead of fresh, but still should be tasty. If they still have alili at the Tuisivi store today I may try to make some fritters with them. I love conch fritters, so should work.

I’ve been listening to the radio as I typed this. No TV reception since I have no outside antenna. The Apia radio station that I’m listening to has been playing stuff by Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Peggy Lee and Dean Martin. The song currently playing is sung by the president of my school committee.
I enjoyed the relative luxuries of Apia but am happy to be back in the village, with my family and my own home. I missed the lagoon and the kids. I’m ready to be back in the simple routine of village life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Little Positivity Please

I need a lot of alone time. I get cranky without it. I haven’t had any for ten days now. When I don’t have enough time alone to process the day I get annoyed. When compounded by spending the majority of my time with a group of people a generation younger, who find ways to amuse themselves that I can’t fathom, it exacerbates my frustration. So I write snarky entries.
In an effort to get back on the positivity train, here are some things that I’ve found great about this week:
• I met the congressional representative from American Samoa. Made me investigate what rights our territories have. Could be a good contact to have after PC.
• Lunches during training have been provided by the hotel. The chef is awesome. He uses a 2 burner gas hotplate. He produces vegetarian and meat-eaters versions every day and every day has been terrific. I’ll miss his cooking.
• I passed 2 young women late this afternoon as I walked to the grocery store. The younger girl appeared to be about 14. She made eye contact, smiled and tilted her head back, which is a typical friendly greeting here. I did the same. 30 minutes later I was walking back to the hotel and I slowed to watch a volleyball game in progress. I noticed the same girl, playing on one of the teams. She gave me a big smile and the typical head tilt. We were no longer strangers, but friends, connected only by passing in the street. It felt good.
• I’ve spent time with wonderful people, who I consider friends. People that I’d never met just a few months ago. Five times this week people asked if I was Chelsea’s mother. No, I’m not. I’m her BFF. But her mom and I are very close in age. And I’d be proud to have her as my daughter.
• Someone hugged me today. She said “I’m so glad I know you.” I’d never have met her if I hadn’t joined the Peace Corps.
• I am in an air-conditioned room. I’ll be happy again with cold showers and no climate controlled conditions when I get back to beautiful Faga, but it’s nice while I have it.
• I can text and make cell calls without walking to the main road. That’s a big deal.
• I can go to the grocery store without walking over a mile or taking a bus. Plus, there’s palagi food when I get there. I may not be able to afford it, but at least it’s there.
• I’m alive, healthy (except for a cold and the still-infected toe) and able to communicate. Plus, I still have my sense of humor. And, Mr. Kindle is back! Life in Samoa is good.


Lew recently asked about issues with hotels in Samoa. Petty theft is common here. Actually, many of the people I know would not consider it theft. It is more: “That’s nice and I’ll wear/use it now.” I’ve lost jewelry, money and M&Ms to family members. The candy hurt most. Money is money, but somebody bought that chocolate while thinking of me and paid to ship it for two months across a big damn ocean and you sneak into my room while I’m in the shower and take it? That’s enough to piss off the Good Humor man, to use a very old line.

Back to hotels. I have not experienced theft in hotels. I have experienced some consistent issues in hotels that I find annoying. Things like…
• “Toilet paper? You want another roll of toilet paper? You’ve only been here a week.” If you’ve ever experienced a turista problem while in a hotel which limits toilet paper, I empathize. It happened to me while PC (and your tax dollars) were paying over $100 a night for the room.
• “May we have another clean towel, please?” “We gave you a towel.” “Yes, but there are two of us.” Blank look. I’ll share lipstick but I draw the line at sharing a bath towel with another volunteer. Or anyone. George Clooney, if you decide you want to shack up with me in Samoa, bring your own towel.
• In the same hotel that restricted toilet paper, the staff which cleaned the rooms was exhausted. I know that because they were frequently caught napping in the rooms they were supposed to be cleaning. It became a running joke during pre-service training. We’d run back to our rooms to get something during breaks or lunch and we’d interrupt the nap of a hotel employee. They never seemed perturbed. Nor did they clean the rooms.
• I’ve addressed the issue of how often to wash sheets/towels in other entries. Some hotels seem to believe that every couple of weeks is adequate. It is not.
• Keys/locks are expensive here and hard to come by. I may have mentioned that when I moved into my new house I opened my brand new, PC provided, tax-payer paid for deadbolt lock with my hotel room key. Doesn’t inspire confidence. So it is surprising to me that not a single hotel in which I’ve stayed has multiple keys for each room.

We frequently are bunked 3 to a room. We get one key. It’s a pain in the butt to track down your roommate(s) who have left and forgotten to leave the key at the front desk. Or, to hike up 3 flights of stairs to discover that the key is at the front desk. Or, in the current hotel, to climb the flight of stairs and walk down the hall to the door only to remember that you have the “spare key” (swear, it’s labeled that) which can only be used by the back door which means walking back downstairs then up a different flight of stairs so you can enter by the back door. Did I mention that there are no lights on the back staircase and there is no room number on the back door?
• At 3 p.m. “Will you be servicing the room today?” I asked hopefully. “Of course.” replied the desk clerk with a somewhat haughty expression. Really, dude? It’s now 9:00 p.m and nobody has brought in toilet paper, clean towels or touched the beds in 3 days. Since I live in a rural village, I really do appreciate that these are luxuries. What annoys me is that it’s our tax dollars which are paying for services that aren’t being rendered as promised.

Lew, back to your original question. Is theft a problem in Samoan hotels. No, not in my experience. But Americans may notice what we perceive as laziness and lack of attention to details.

BTW, a friend wore a new dress today. It was colorful, pretty and said it all about Samoan quality control. As with many fabrics here “SAMOA” was imprinted on the fabric. However, when the seamstress made the dress, she didn’t notice that there was a “right” side to the fabric. So it appears that my friend is wearing her dress inside out. She can only read SAMOA if she stands in front of a mirror.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

O ma'i Mr. Kindle

Mr. Kindle has been ill.  I was very concerned that it was a fatal condition.  If you’ve been reading my blog you know that Mr. Kindle and I are close.  We go to bed together each evening for a couple of hours of quality time.  When I’m feeling down, anxious or bored, he perks me right up.
I was very concerned when he became unresponsive recently.  It happened after our first couple days of ESC.  I was in the middle of a great novel by J. A. Jance which was set in the area where I grew up in Tucson, AZ.  One day I stroked Mr. Kindle gently and instead of responding by opening to the last page I’d read, he ignored me.  It was blatant.  He simply showed me his sleeping face.  I stroked him again.  Same face.  After several strokes to his usually sensitive power button, he didn’t say a thing.  Just gave me the sleeping face.
I talked to a fellow Kindle owner.  No help.  I checked the Amazon site but the troubleshooting guide didn’t have any suggestions for an unresponsive Mr. Kindle.  I emailed Amazon and got a quick response, suggesting I reboot my Kindle, using the main menu.  Since I’d indicated that the main menu wasn’t working that wasn’t helpful.  The tech suggested I call.
I emailed again, explaining where I was and the cost of the call and how I might have to do someone bodily harm (most likely myself) if I got trapped in phone tree hell while paying the long distance tab.  I got another quick response, this time telling me how to do a “hard” reboot.  I hate to be rough on Mr. Kindle, but frankly, by this point I was pretty frustrated with him so didn’t hesitate to shove his power button as hard as I could and hold it there for 15 seconds, as advised.  I’ll be honest, I held it there an extra five seconds just for good measure.
He blinked a few times, then began to respond.  At first he scared me since when he woke up there were no books loaded.  But within a couple of minutes all the books were there and he was his old congenial self.
Thank heavens I have the love of my life back.  The tough love was worth it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Baha'i Temple

Thought you might enjoy some photos from the beautiful grounds where I picnicked yesterday.

BTW, just had lunch here at the hotel. The Congressman from American Samoa was here and came to talk to us for a few minutes. Nice guy. As if a lifetime politician wouldn't have good people skills.

He's going to talk to our "ambassador" about having a fiafia (party) for us next week here. It's the Samoan Independence day and we're marching in the parade. I put ambassador in quotes because there is an ambassador who is based in New Zealand and islands, like Samoa, have someone who represents him. They have an official title but I can't remember how to spell it.

Ours is a very nice woman named Robin. She's moving into a new residence here soon. Owned by the US government it has a wall and security worthy of the White House. I'm planning to spend the night there next week so will take photos.

Here are photos of the Baha'i Temple in Samoa. It is one of only 8, world wide. If you visit Samoa, check out the Sunday a.m. service. It's from 10 to 10:30 and is fabulous.
View of the temple grounds and Pacific ocean.

Kinda blurry but thought you might like to see my buddy Denise when she's not wearing a fat suit and bike helmet.  She's a PC employee - the Administrative Officer.  She's a good egg.  She's living in Samoa with her husband and 13 year old son.

Love that these flowers gow wild here.

The temple, which has great acoustics and a terrific choir.  A good combination.

The grounds are amazing and maintained by volunteers.

The main walk to the temple.

More of the beautiful grounds.  There are 22 acres.  I was invited to spend the night in the spare apartment that is part of the caretakers house.  Very generous and I hope to stay there.  It must be amazing at night.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday in Apia

It’s Sunday morning in Apia.  I woke early.  After a quick, hot shower, I headed to Farmer Joe’s and the market.  The air is thick with smoke from the Sunday umus (stone ovens).  A thick haze is hanging over the nearby hills.
It’s such a treat to be able to just walk to a full-service grocery store.  Shopping on my island is an event.  I strolled into Farmer Joes, humming along to the hymns playing on the overhead speakers.  Most patrons/employees were singing along.  I bought 2 eclairs.  They were $3 each and look delicious. 
I stopped at the farmer’s market to buy 2 niu (fresh coconuts).  They’ll be the beverages for the picnic I’m going on later.  I bought them from the man I bought a couple from the other day.  I spoke to him politely, only in Samoan.  I thanked him and wished him a nice day.  He was pleasant and smiling.  As I turned to leave he said something I couldn’t hear to the small group of men sitting nearby.  I clearly heard palagi and assume he was talking about me.  Wish I knew what he was saying.  Could have been innocuous.  Might have been rude.  Hard to tell.  It’s one of the challenges of living in a foreign country. 
In a few minutes my buddy Denise is picking me up for a girl-date.  We’re going to the Baha’I temple for church, then on a picnic.  She’s bringing pasta salad, I’m bringing rambutan (wonderful fruit like lychees, only available in Apia), oranges, niu and éclairs.  Should be fun.
Since I have a few minutes, here are some random thoughts:
·          I’ve never seen a wash cloth or face towel in a Samoan hotel.  I’ve stayed in at least 5 hotels.  You get a white bath towel.  Period.  Sometimes they balk when you ask for a towel for each person, but that only happened once.
·         I’m sleeping in a twin bed with a fitted sheet and a double flat top sheet.  Fabulous, since for the past couple of months I’ve been using a single flat top sheet on a double bed.  One hotel provided only a bottom sheet, on box springs, no mattress.  The expectation was that I’d use my lava lava for a sheet.  I didn’t have a lava lava.  They didn’t have any sheets.  I used a towel.
·         We conducted language training in four of our sleeping rooms.  Some of us tidied up the rooms, some of us didn’t.  Some of us sat on other volunteer’s beds with our feet on the pillow.  Some sat on the pillow.  I thought perhaps it’s just a finicky old maid thing that made me outlaw both actions on my bed.  I do not want to put my face on a pillow where you’ve put your butt or feet.  A couple others commented on it, though, so guess it’s not just me.
·         I asked one of the language trainers about sheet usage in Samoan homes.  She said use of just a bottom sheet is common.  I asked about how often they’re laundered.  She said it’s typical to wash them once a month, or some wash as often as every few weeks.  Some prefer to wait until dirt is visible on the sheets, which could be months.  I know in one house where I lived they did not wash sheets between uses by different people.  If, like me, you’re finicky about that kind of thing, you might want to bring a sheet when you visit Samoa.
·         We have a television in our room.  I don’t know if it works since we haven’t turned it on.  Those who know me will be shocked by that.  I used to ALWAYS have the tv on, even if I was in another room.  Background noise.  Here, there’s enough background noise.
·         Think your groceries are pricey?  Yesterday at Lucky Food Town I saw fresh button mushrooms ($40 a pound); broccoli ($9 for about 1/3 of a head); asparagus that were about an inch in diameter and a foot long ($38 per pound).  Cocoa Puffs are also over $20 a box.  I did not buy any of the above.
·         Walking to the store I walked behind a kid of about 12.  He was wearing a lava lava and a t-shirt.  The shirt was so worn it was frayed completely through in the middle of the back.  It didn’t appear to be a hole caused by a tear, but just from wear and tear.  We walked past a boy of about 4 who was standing on the sidewalk talking to a man sitting in a truck.  He was wearing an adult’s t-shirt that was so big it barely stayed on.  It had a huge rip.  It’s not all paradise in Samoa.
I’m back in the hotel now.  Attended services at the Baha’i Temple then spent the remainder of the day with my buddy Denise, having a picnic on the grounds of the temple.  We talked, we ate, we relaxed, we read magazines.  A perfect “girl date”.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

ESC Continues

This picture is part of an educational poster about food.  There are also posters about animals and fruits.  Why they included "wine" is beyond me.  Must be good wine, though.  You rarely get a good head of foam on the cheap wine. 

It's Saturday morning and I just got dressed and cleaned my hotel room.  Because we're having training in my room, along with 3 other rooms.   What could be better than language training on Saturday after a week of training?

Can you tell I'm ready for training to be over?  It's been actually more helpful than our initial training.  That's in part because I've been in the village and taught, so I am a more prepared learner.  But after a week in a classroom together, I'm ready for it to be over.

I am enjoying being just a short walk away from both Farmer Joe's, which has the most palagi food in the country and the open air market which sells fresh fruit and vegetables.  Admittedly, not much is in season this time of year, but I've gotten some oranges and fresh coconuts.

My diet is taking a beating because I'm eating all the stuff not available on my island.  I've had Chinese, Indian, pizza and steak.  I bought a tiny ribeye for $9.  It was so good I went back and bought another one.  I also bought some "blue brie" which is like Cambozola.  Brie is ordinarily $16 for a small container.  Because today is the expiration date on it, it was on sale for $5.  I bought two.  I spread the word and there was a lot of brie eating going on last night. 

I invited Tavita, our Samoan training manager for dinner last night.  I made steak, glazed carrots, nuked potatoes and onions.  We had a lovely "date" in the courtyard of the hotel, with most of the other volunteers enjoying adult beverages on the balcony overlooking the courtyard.  Since Tavita is 28 and engaged, it wasn't exactly a date date.  We did have an excellent conversation, though, and it was a nice way to spend my Friday night.

Shortly before he left, two of the volunteers came in from a dinner out and warned him not to drive since police were doing breathalizer tests on every driver just in front of our hotel.  Since he'd had a couple of beers that could have been bad.  But, he was prepared and had gotten a ride to the hotel and was taking a cab home.

Ok, enough procrastinating.  I'm off to breakfasat, which, for the fifth day in a row will be papaya, banana, coconut and white toast with margarine and jam.  Boring but the lunches the hotel provides have been awesome and make up for it.  We've had fish in a citrus sauce, chicken in a soy/garlic marinade, pasta salad and yesterday was pasta carbonara.  Yum.  I've become friends with the chef and he gives me his recipes.  Yesterday I wished I hadn't asked.  The pasta sauce starts with whipping cream.  There is no whipping cream on my island and my hips are grateful.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This and That Plus Photos from Apia

ESC is moving right along.  I thought I'd share a few more observations and some photos - new and old, for your enjoyment.

I didn't buy the beverage at Chan Mow the other day.   It was "Creaming Soda".  Hmmmm.

I walked to the spa today where I get my hair cut.  The owner offered to let me have her old magazines so I could cut out photos for school.  Magazines are VERY expensive and rare here.  Worth the 1 1/2 mile walk in blistering heat.  As I was strolling along, trying to decide if I was going to stroke out, two boys came from a side road and started walking in front of me.  They were wearing typical attire, t-shirts and lava lavas.   One was eating an ice pop with his right hand.  He was wearing an oven mitt on his left hand.  I have no idea why.

Mika's Mom - ask him what he said to me last night about unconditional love.  I think it will make you cry.  In a good way.

 Honeymoon suite on the western side of the island.  $85 tala (about $40 US) per person, includes dinner and breakfast.  That's my buddy John the Welder in the foreground.
 John's kitchen.  This was his first and only digs in Samoa.  He did not know how good he had it.  2 bedrooms.  Hot water.  Lucky dog.  I now have his floor lamp (heaven) and radio.  And TV.  Miss you, John.
 Soursop.  Tasty.  They sell it at the market in Apia but I've only seen it once in Savaii. 
 A teeny little bathroom sink.  Saw one in the hardware store.  About $50 US.
 What is cuter than Year 1 kids playing soccer for the first time?  Wearing jerseys meant for Year 7?  No positions, they just all followed the ball.
 These are the largest and only poisonous bugs around.  I found 3 in 2 days in my house before I left for Apia.  Won't kill you but hurt when they bite, I hear.  They're slow moving so that's a plus.
 My family's horse, which sometimes stays just behind my house.  Like in this picture. 
 A sign near our hotel in Apia.  It's also a laundromat!
 At the wharf, waiting for the ferry.  A Samoan tot and a New Zealand toddler made friends through the bars.
 The newest ferry, Lady Samoa III was out of commission for awhile for refurbishing.  Here's the quality of work in painting the floor.  From my observations, it's typical.  Not exactly the "What's worth doing is worth doing well" adage that I grew up with.
 Speaking of quality.  New shoes I bought.  After 2 weeks one still has a sole.  The other..not.
 My family has a new calf!  And they were taking it across my front lawn to spend the day.  The boy in back is carrying the grass for it to eat.
 This is Tiger.  Or Bunko.  I'm not sure. She belongs to the neighbors but loves me.  She sleeps in front of my door and guards me and my house.  I think she's channeling the flying nun.
 I felt heat and heard noise about 10 p.m. one week night recently.  Family decided to burn trash.  Right behind my house.  Everything I own smells just a wee bit of smoke.
 Someone left Kung Fu Panda on my door step.  Then My Little Pony joined the party.  Then the Pony disappeared.  Like most stuff, I have no idea why.
 During the energizer when we made letters with our bodies...Does this look like a J?
 PC meeting refreshments are not elaborate.  That's a bowl of sugar.  A can of creamer.  A box of tea bags.  A tin of instant coffee.  A tin of graham crackers.  The most popular item?  Oranges, not shown.  They'd been devoured.
This is what I see every morning when I head out to school.  Tough way to start the day, eh?  I miss hearing the waves at night here in Apia.  I'm looking forward to going back to my family/village in Savaii next week.


Here are some photos for Early Service Conference, held in Apia. We've just finished our first term of teaching and are talking about what worked/didn't and getting ideas for next term. We're also going to be talking about PC paperwork and reporting (that should be fascinating) and projects.

I apologize that my camera seems to be succumbing to the humidity and quality isn't what it used to be.

I had dinner with "my boys" last night.  From L to R - Devon (Tevi), Danny (Elu), Mike (Mika).  The pizza was great and the company was wonderful.
I was excited to take a picture of my new black shoes, which are identical to my favorite blue shoes.  With the flash I realized that once again I was wearing different colored shoes.  I need a keeper.  BTW - you may think these look like shoes you'd wear to the beach.  They are my dress shoes.  Casual shoes means barefoot.
Our conference room is upstairs over this large store, filled with items typical of what we can buy here.  All made in China.  All very poor quality.
Air conditioner is our conference room.  Same as in hotel room.  Why don't we have these in the States?  They only cool the room you're in.  They do it fast, quietly and relatively inexpensively.  They are used a lot in Latin America.  Can you buy them in the States?  Beats a window air conditioner by far.
Nap time or group work?  Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
 Good looking Samoan PC staffer.  Had to wear a dress for a skit.  The things you have to do for a paycheck.
 The rest of the admin team in the skit.  Denise, one of my best buddies, is in the bicycle helmet.  That's padding she wearing, not fat.  This is our admin team.
 The hotel graciously put a (misspelled) sign up to welcome us.  It's the thought that counts. The rooms are very nice and the lunches have been excellent. 
 I did an energizer where teams of three had to depict a letter of the alphabet.  Tevi, Pat and Sa'u are a "Y".

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Responses to Comments

A couple of people asked questions recently so here are my answers:

Lew - first, congratulations on your nomination to Macedonia. You're in for a fun ride! Yes, I still wear a watch. I have to get to school on time and I have to move from class to class on time. Plus, since most teacher's don't wear watches, I'm the official timekeeper to have kids ring the bell for interval and end of school day. Besides, I just like knowing what time it is. Yes, I always wear a watch on vacation, too.

Congratulations to the woman heading to the PC in Africa! In addition to Hangman, the kids love any computer game. I have a program called Sebran that a previous volunteer left on the external hard drive at the office. It has a typing game, a matching game (words/drawings) and some math games. Hangman is the most complex and most popular but they love them all.

I bought a game called Text Twist that I think they'll like but am having trouble loading it because of a conflict with my anti-virus program. I'll figure it out eventually.

I've found coloring books that have stuff I can copy are great - connect the dots with numbers or letters are fabulous. I use the internet a lot to get games, songs, etc. One would think PC would have a huge stash of such things after 50 years, but if they do it's a closely guarded secret.

Best of luck to you both on your upcoming service. Be prepared to be challenged, frustrated in ways you can't imagine and delighted to tears. It's a great ride.


“Just get high!” said Samoa Country Director Dale Withington. He was making an impassioned speech during the first session of our Early Service Conference (ESC). Before you call 60 Minutes or your Congressman, Dale immediately clarified his statement.
“Just get to high ground.” he clarified. “Don’t get high!”  Poor Dale.  It was one of those moments we’ve all had when the words just don’t come out right.  He was talking about what to do when an earthquake lasts for 30 seconds or more.  That is the signal of a likely tsunami and Dale was making the point that we should not wait for direction from PC.  We should just haul ass uphill as fast as possible, since we might have only minutes to escape.
Thanks to Dale we started off the 1 ½ week conference with a good laugh.  That was a good thing since many of us were dreading being back in training together.  We all like each other well enough but our initial training was long enough, boring enough and put us in such close contact that most of us were not looking forward to revisiting the experience.  A few volunteers visited my village recently and were moaning about going to ESC.  One tried to be upbeat and said “Well, it will be nice to see everyone again.”  Someone else glumly piped up with “For about five minutes.”
I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far with ESC.  It is nice to see everyone.  Lots of hugs.  And since I prefer interacting in small groups or one-on-one, I’m doing my catching up over dinner with people I really like rather than hitting the bar with the whole group in the evening.
Tonight will be a special night.  Pizza with my boys.  Just me, Mika, Tevi and Danny.  Moms, this one is for you.  I’ve already gotten the scoop on love life and school.  I’ll be digging for any more info tonight and will keep you posted.  All three guys seem very happy and look well.  Mika has gained some weight and it looks good on him.
The content of the conference itself has been a pleasant surprise.  It is relevant, worthwhile and is giving me a lot of good ideas that I can immediately go back and put into practice at my school.  Exactly what I was hoping for.  Tevita and Mafi– you guys rock!
Another quote worth noting was also during the medical session with the new Dr.  One PCV asked how long it would take for her fungus to clear up.  “Two years.” piped up another volunteer and that got another laugh, since we’ve all dealt with or are dealing with a variety of infections and jungle crud.  Actually, I’m soaking my still nasty big toe in hot water and antiseptic as I type.
Aside from the professional development aspect of the training, we’re also getting some time to do a little shopping.  I’ve been very successful.  Here’s what I’ll be taking back to Savaii:
·          Chili peppers in a jar.  They look like pepperocini, but I think are hotter. $5.50
·         A travel Parcheesi game $3.90
·         Lemon juicer thingy $6
·         Can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  $6.50
·         S.O.S scrubber sponge $9.00
·         Small jar of no-name-brand peanut butter $12.00
·         Small jar sweet relish $8.00
·         2 frisbees for the kids $12.00
·         Vifon Tuong Ot which is an awesome sweet/hot sauce $1.20
·         New skirt and blouse from the used clothing store $26.00 Yes, I’m buying used clothing in a third world country.  I’m in the Peace Corps, where they don’t give us many of your tax dollars to keep us fed and clothed and clearly I spend my extra money on food.
·         I did not find olives after looking in 4 stores.
Things I didn’t not buy because it was so freaking expensive:
·         Quaker oatmeal  - $22.00
·         Brie - $34.00
·         Nutella $22.00 
·         Yogurt $3.50 for tiny carton
·         Diet Coke $5.00
I have no dinner plans tomorrow night.  I scoped out the steaks at Farmer Joe’s.  I’m planning to cook in the hotel kitchen.  The current menu is:
·          steak (bloody rare),
·         salad made with HTG lettuce ( which they have here for only $3.20 and don’t have on Savaii for any price)
·         corn on the cob (I didn’t check the price, so that may not happen)
·         icy cold beer. I’d prefer an icy cold Blue Sapphire martini, straight up
Overall, it’s been a good week so far.  I’ve splurged on a massage, eaten both Chinese and Indian food, gotten a haircut and talked to friends I see only once every couple of months. 
Photos to follow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Random Observations

Written sometime in the last couple of weeks. I’d tell you exactly when but can’t remember. Time flies here in the tropics.

Here are some random observations and things I’ve seen that may point out some of the differences between my home here and my home in Florida…

Décor – home and personal. One of the biggest houses in my compound is a large palagi house. It has one enclosed room in the rear and the remainder of the house is one large room, with lots of windows on 3 sides. Part of one back wall is open to the outdoors. My Easter guests asked why it was abandoned. They assumed that because there is no furniture. Just a large empty room. It is, in fact, lived in. The furniture consists of sleeping mats which are rolled up and stored in the enclosed room during the day. Minimalist, to the extreme.

Personal style, among women, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The overwhelming majority of women here have long hair. It is worn in a bun, at the back of the head. Usually held in place with a hair clip. The clips frequently are made to be decorative. They are colored, or have artificial flowers or something else attached. I frequently see women wearing 3 or 4 at one time, each with a large flower attached. A real flower is then placed behind one ear. Rhinestone studded sunglasses are sometimes then placed on top of the head. And, for practical reasons, a pen is stuck in the bun.

As I waited for the bus yesterday morning I watched a Year 3 boy walking to my family’s faleoloa to do some shopping for his family. As he walked back, bag of onions in hand, a young woman carrying an infant and leading a toddler was headed toward the store.

She called the boy over. She took the bag of onions and gave him her money. He turned and ran back to the store, clearly sent to buy her groceries. Back he ran, a few minutes later with the items she’d asked for. He gave her the change and her items and she handed back his onions. It saved her some steps.

Kids are commonly used to run errands. I didn’t do it at first, thinking it was taking advantage of them. When I realized that they wanted to run errands for me and would argue over who got to do it next, I caved. I will miss having small, willing helpers when I get home. Who will fetch a cup of Koko Samoa for me? Or run to the faleoloa during interval to buy some ramen?

Yesterday was a typical bus ride to the market. That’s the only place to buy fresh vegetables and fish. Occasionally neighbors sell fresh produce on the street, but that’s rare in my village. Between the wait and the bus ride, it took me 1 ½ hours to get to the market. That’s also how long it takes to get to the internet café, which is why I post sporadically. It took 2 hours to get home because I had to wait longer for a bus.

I got up early this morning, about 5 a.m. It was raining and I enjoyed lounging in bed listening to the rain on the tin roof and the roosters half-heartedly crowing. Shortly after I got up and was opening my curtains, one of the boys of my family walked by. He said “Happy Mother’s Day.” And we chatted. I find this type of conversation disconcerting. Why? Because as we were chatting, he was taking a shower. 2 feet outside my window, while wearing a lava lava.

The whole sleep thing in Samoa fascinates me. Where and when people sleep is somewhat fluid. I’ve had numerous conversations with Samoans who find it very odd and somewhat upsetting that I sleep alone, in my house. Why would I choose to sleep indoors, alone, when I’m perfectly welcome to join them in the open fale? Explaining that I’ve had my own, private bedroom since I was 4 seems bizarre to them. Why would you force a child into a room alone? As opposed to my view at the time which was “Finally, I got rid of the brother and have my own space!”

Yesterday morning I left early for the bus. My family was still sleeping. Generally mom and the girls sleep in one house while dad and the boys sleep in the open fale. But not always. There’s a third house where they sometimes sleep. That’s also where they made the cement blocks a couple of weeks ago. Inside the house. Mixed the cement on the floor.

Anyway, as I walked past their fales I saw bodies in two of the houses and one girl sleeping on one of the graves in front of the house. Later, I was talking to one of the boys and asked how he was. He explained that he hadn’t slept well. Seems he was the last one home after bingo. When he arrived the two houses were locked and the open fale was full, so he slept on a chair on the lawn.

We also discussed who was taking a shower at 1:30 a.m. and then at 2:00 a.m. He explained that his mother showered first then he showered. They’d both been asleep. So why get up to shower in the middle of the night? “I don’t know about my mom, but I woke up and realized I’d forgotten to shower before I’d gone to bed.” Personally, I’d have rolled over, gone back to sleep and showered in the morning. It’s just one of the many small things that’s different here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Christmas in May

I'm in my school uniform puletasi here, rocking the ulas (leis) that I received.  Can't remember why.  The green leafy one has a lovely smell but makes me itch like crazy.  Yes, I need a haircut.  Make up, diet and a face lift wouldn't hurt, either.

Written Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

It feels like Christmas. Our PCMO (PC Medical Officer) brought the new guy around for a howdy tour. His name is Dr. Sam and he’s based in Tonga. Seems like a nice, down to earth guy. I’m trying not to take it personally that the Peace Corps hired a doctor for us who used to be a vet. At least he’s from the South, so I don’t have to explain the difference between “ya’ll” and “all ya’ll”. For any Samoans (or Yankees) reading this, the first one is singular, the second is plural.

After a brief exam, Dr. Sam thinks he has the answer to my ear issue that has caused severe hearing loss in my left ear since just after I arrived in Samoa. Likely that I have a problem with my Eustachian tube and it could easily be fixed with minor surgery. I’ll pass for now, but good to know.

In addition to bringing the obligatory stethoscope, they brought loot. It was great to meet Sam and see Teuila, but they weren’t out the door two minutes before I was checking out the boxes of stuff they delivered.

My friend John the Welder left recently after almost 4 years in Samoa as a volunteer. He was kind enough to pack up all his stuff and send it out to those who might use it. Or who begged loudest/longest. Whatever, he sent me a TV, radio, extension cord and a box of assorted goodies including spices, really good balsamic vinegar, wasabi powder, Febreze and a huge box of gallon size zip lock bags.

Are you aware that Samoa is a tropical island? Are you familiar with the aroma of mildew? Do the people who market Febreze not have a clue that we are a huge untapped market? Two large bottles of brought-to-Samoa-in-luggage Febreze is worth its weight in gold. John, I’ll miss you, but will think of you fondly as I use your stuff. Be safe on your ride home from Vegas.

BTW, the TV works and I get one channel that has a very snowy picture but pretty good sound. I get several radio stations very clearly and will have access to daily news for the first time in over 7 months. I think that’s a good thing. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Next, I ripped into the box from one of my best buddies. She moved to Florida the week before I left. Ironic, huh? I talked to her yesterday and she was telling me about their new pool. She knows how much I used to enjoy looking out at my pool at night, all lit up (the pool, not me, although wine was frequently involved). She said I’d be jealous because she has a remote control for her pool light. I used to have to walk ten feet. I’d just finished doing two buckets of laundry, by hand. I told her as politely as I could to shut the hell up.

Anyway, my friend wanted to share some of life’s luxuries and sent me treats for my new bathroom. A shower curtain and very nice shower hooks. Up until now I’ve been letting the water just spray all over the bathroom and then wiping it up after I shower. Now, I have a very attractive shower curtain. I don’t know if she realizes that the container for the shower hooks has a note on the label “Use container as tumbler or cotton caddy.” Reusable packaging. Very cool.

She also included, drum roll please, a set of sheets. Nice, soft, palagi sheets. Not like the current sheet I’m using that is roughly the texture of fine sand paper. Roughly…get it? I crack myself up.

Years ago I discovered the meaning of thread count. I prefer 800 count Egyptian cotton sateen sheets. When I was living in the lap of luxury with a room in my home whose sole purpose was to house a washer and dryer, I used to change my sheets often. As in 2-3 times a week. In the summer, I’d sprinkle a tiny bit of talcum on the sheets. In the winter, a wee spritz of cologne. “Green Tea” by Bulgari. How my life has changed. Did I not just wax poetic because I now have Febreze to spritz on my “it’s been raining/I’ve been too lazy to wash my laundry for over a week” sheets?

After putting down the new bath mat and contemplating how I’ll hang the shower curtain (there will be rope involved), I turned my attention to the last package. It was from cousins in Yuma, Arizona. Second only to Tucson, AZ as having the best Mexican food in the country. Yes, I know that people living in New Mexico think their Mexican food is best, but when you’re born in AZ, you tend to prefer the AZ version of Sonoran. We can argue about Hatch chiles and red vs. green another day.

I didn’t expect this package. A fabulous reminder of how someone’s unexpected thoughtfulness can have such a huge impact. I did not just rip into this package. One of my family had stopped by between package openings and I let him admire my new electronics. I allowed him to gaze at my new shower curtain and bath mat. I even allowed him to touch my fabulous new sheets while we hummed along to Enrique Iglesias on the radio. I was not, however, going to share the glee of package opening with him.

I’m very selfish that way. I wanted to be alone to slowly savor every object in that package. To think about what my cousins were thinking/talking about as they chose the objects and packed them. To allow myself to get a little homesick because we are so far apart. That’s part of the joy of opening a package, you see. Whoever it’s from, it’s about the care and love that went into it. The actual items are just incidental.

Well, not completely incidental. Especially when you have cousins like mine who are not only generous but f’ing brilliant (genetics, runs in the family.) Ok, so here’s what I found in that magical box:

• Jello. They took it out of the boxes to save room but remembered to cut the directions off one box and include it. I have not seen Jello in Samoa. I think we’ll be starting off the second term with a special treat for the teachers. Can’t wait to see their reaction! And there could be jello shots made with the cheap Niu Vodka.

• Individual size artificially sweetened drink mix. You may not be aware that I can’t drink the tap water here. I have a PC-provided water filter. If I forget to fill it, I get very thirsty. If I forget to clean it, I get very sick (hasn’t happened yet.) Diet soda is rare here. I drink a lot of water. Thanks to my buddies Kia, Poolboy (aka Michael), John and Madonna, I’ve been drinking a lot of different varieties of Crystal Lite. But, I’ve been hoarding my stash, since it’s getting low. Now, I have a new stash with a new brand and some new flavors. A delightful change of pace from plain water that may not sound like much to you, sitting in the United States surrounded by more food and drink choices than you could ever need, but for me, it’s a big deal.

• Cocoa. I don’t know who Swiss Miss is but I’d like to meet her. As much as I love koko Samoa, it’s a pain in the neck to make for myself at home. This morning as I made my 6:00 a.m. tea I was thinking how nice it would have been to have some cocoa instead. I have a friend who believes that God will provide so we shouldn’t worry about the future…it will be taken care of for us. I believe in a balanced portfolio, myself. I don’t think that because I wished I had cocoa that God made it appear. I believe he’s likely got much bigger fish to fry. All the same, the timing works for me.

• It is early May. Easter was last month. And what better way to celebrate Easter than with…PEEPS!!! Have I ever mentioned that I buy all my Easter, Valentine’s Day and Halloween candy at the ½ off sale after the holidays? Yes, I’m cheap. And I prefer my Peeps to have a little age to them. These should be awesome. Tonight, Mr. Kindle and I will be gorging ourselves on Peeps. In bed.

• And it will be romantic, because there will be candlelight from my new SCENTED, FLAMELESS CANDLE! For over 7 months people have been asking me what I wanted/needed. I never would have thought to ask for a candle like this. They included the batteries needed for the candle. Did I not say these cousins are brilliant?

• Fruit roll-ups, granola bars and a bunch of nutty goodness items. Like trail mix. Are you aware that peanuts are expensive here and any other kind of nut is not available? A good person would bring these snacks to share at next week’s training. I am not that good. Ok, Danny and Mika since your moms have been so generous to me, you may be in luck. May being the operative word. (Dear Danny/Mika's moms:  I had full intentions of bringing some caloric love to your boys, but forgot the snacks.  Didn't even bring any for myself.  I apologized and gave them extra big hugs instead.  I think they would have preferred fruit roll-ups, but they were gracious.)

• Black beans and chicken bouillon. I have some bouillon from a couple of other generous friends, but trust me, it will not go to waste. Samoans boil chicken in plain water and call it soup. I demonstrated what happens when you add some bouillon cubes, a few veggies and a bit of rice. They were impressed. And black beans…I’m already planning a Cuban night of gustatory delight that involves black beans and green bananas, which are very much like plantains.

• Lipstick. Did I mention that my lipstick bit the dust last week? I figure when you cut your lip by sliding it over your mouth when the lipstick is well below the level of the metal, it’s time for the trash. So imagine my delight when I found 2 tubes of new lipstick?? Love the colors. Subtle. Lipstick is the only makeup I still wear every day.

• What do you need when you have lipstick? A mirror! A giant hand mirror. I used the small mirror I have along with my new gift mirror to see the back of my head. For the first time in four months. Since the last time I got my hair cut she couldn’t show me the back because her mirror was broken and they’re too expensive to buy. Sadly, the back of my head is looking better than the front.

• Candy. Have I mentioned my sweet tooth? And they sent special candy, from Mexico. For those without a map, Yuma is very close to the Mexican border. This candy is suckers. They’re mango flavored and in a pouch of salt/chili powder. Lick, dip, lick, dip. What, you’ve never dipped green mango slices into salt and chili powder? Very popular in Latin America. I plan to introduce it here when mango season arrives. In the meantime, I’ve already enjoyed the first sucker.

• My cousins are not only brilliant but they’re a talented bunch. Terre included some of her homemade greeting cards. Beautifully done and I promise to try to be better about sending snail mail. Samoa does have very nice postage stamps, including one shaped like a butterfly that covers about 1/3 of the envelope.

It’s been a stellar day. It was clean up day at school and when the kids were done doing yard work I played games, sang and generally acted the fool with them. It was nice to see Peace Corps staff. It was great to get the loot. Yes, I love the stuff, but it really is the thought that counts. Knowing that my friend took the time to look closely at the pictures of my house so the items she sent would color coordinate…that my cousins took the time to find small and very special treats that will brighten a less than stellar day. I’m feeling the love. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sports Day

Today is the May 13, 2011. It is the last day of my first term teaching in Samoa. It feels as if I got off the plane yesterday. Time really is flying by. I’m watching the sun come up over the lagoon as I type this on my bed. A bowl of oatmeal and a cup of Swiss Miss (straight from the U. S. of A.) next to me. I’m dawdling because school starts late today. I’ll still go in an hour early because kids will want to play hangman on my computer. It’s been a good last week.
Yesterday was Sports Day. I finally figured out the mystery of how everyone but me knows what’s happening next. Like Sports Day. There was no discussion or planning for the event. My limited Samoan, though, allowed me to understand what the pule was telling the kids at assembly Monday. On Thursday we’d have Sports Day. 4 teams, or “houses” as they call them. A teacher was assigned as coach for each team. Two Year 8 kids were named as co-captains for each team. They were told to bring baskets with six coconuts for each team.
There was a committee of 3 teachers responsible for the event, but I knew they hadn’t met to discuss it, so how would they know what games to play? Sequence? Judges? Scoring? This is the riddle that I’ve finally found the answer to. They all know because they do exactly the same thing, in the same way, every year. And they’ve done it the same way since the teachers were in primary school. No need for planning or discussion because it’s always done the same way.
OK, it’s not like I solved the mystery of life, but it has perplexed me and a lot of other PCV. How do they all know to come late tomorrow but we don’t? It’s because last year they came late on that day. How do they all know to wear a certain outfit on a certain day? Because that’s the traditional day for it. They don’t think to tell the PCV because it would be like telling us every day to breathe. Duh, everybody knows that.
On to Sports Day. The kids were majorly geeked about it. On Wednesday before the end of school each coach met with their kids to select which kids would participate in which events. Not all kids got to play, sadly. I don’t agree with the philosophy of many Americans that all kids should win every event because there are no losers and we don’t want to damage their self-esteem. That doesn’t prepare them for life, where there are winners and losers. Some get the scholarship, some don’t. Some get the job, some don’t. I think it’s better to prepare them and teach them about sportsman ship with small losses, as children.
I do think all kids should be able to at least suit up. There are no schools for kids with special needs on Savaii. We have children in class who are slow academically. They rarely get a chance to shine in the classroom. Sports Day would let them show off their physical talents. Some didn’t get the chance. That was the only downside to the day, for me.
We started with some standard relay races. Lines of kids passing a ball over their heads to each other. Passing the ball through their legs. Kids taking turns throwing the ball to each child on their team. First game was the elementary kids, years 1-3. Next came intermediate, years 4-6. Seniors were years 7-8. The SRO and Infant Supervisor kept track of scores, by division, for each event in new notebooks, brought out for the occasion. The judges sat at desks on the stage of the faleaoga. As an esteemed staff member (aka white and old) I sat with the judges.
Team members sat on the edge of the faleaoga to watch and cheer on their teams. Coaches sat on benches behind the observers. This was all arranged without discussion. Not because Samoans are psychic, which is what I’d begun to suspect, but because they do it exactly this way every year. Except for having a PCV there, which required explanation to the PCV on where to sit.
After the initial races we had sack races, using 50 kg sugar sacks from Thailand. Which explains why the kids next door were practicing sack races the other night. They knew it was coming, because they did it last year. An aside. I planned to visit southeast Asia while I was here. Shorter flight than from the U.S. But, about the same price as flying from the U.S., which is about the same price as flying home from Samoa. So how can they get the sugar so cheap from there to here? BTW, kids here are strong. I’ve seen year 8 boys carry the full 50 kg bags. I couldn’t lift one onto my shoulder unless my life depended on it.
We also had 3 legged races. We had a longer distance relay race that required running the length of a soccer field. The final event was a race to see who could peel and eat a hardboiled egg and drink a mug of water the fastest. I was impressed that in the senior division, the girl who is number one in her class academically was also the fastest peeler/eater. One of my favorite year 7 boys got robbed. He could have won easily, but the peel to his egg stuck and ripped the egg apart so it slowed him down. Clearly the cook didn’t put vinegar in the water when she boiled the eggs.
After the races, the bell rang for recess, which meant we all stayed outside, but the play became individual and the kids just did what they normally do during recess. The teachers also did the normal routine, except they cooked ramen and ate outdoors. Tea yesterday included the leftover boiled eggs, ramen and sandwiches provided by one of the parents. Avg. was 2 eggs, 1 package of ramen and 2 sandwiches per teacher. I had an egg.
After an hour or so of recess we had the announcement of the winners. They were told at the beginning not to cheer or applaud until the end. The SRO made a very traditional speech, first thanking the committee, the teacher/coaches, me for showing up to watch and God for allowing us all to be there. She then announced winning teams, by event, by level. When the big announcement came of overall scores a huge cheer came from the winning team, which was quickly silenced. She went on to announce the scores of the losing teams. They didn’t seem overly disappointed and when told it was ok to cheer for the winners, everyone did.
A couple of side notes. No parents were present. I was surprised, since parents are routinely there to watch me do the Hokie Pokie in the morning with the kids. Apparently it’s also traditional for all parents to stay away for Sports Day.
Before coming to Samoa I did a lot of reading and learned that Samoa is a collective society and as such there is little individual competition. We were told in training that children are shy about being called out individually and would not want to compete against each other.
I’m here to tell you that the people who said those things have never seen four Year 2 girls eating hardboiled eggs in a race. They were going for the glory.

If you look carefully you can see the ball being passed through their legs.  These are the youngest kids.

The beginning of the egg eating contest.  They were really into it.  Us teachers got to eat any eggs not used in the contest.

3 legged race - this is also how the kids walk around, arms around each other.

There were some collisions during the 3 legged race. 

Samoan sports shoes.  Also known as "socks".  Most of the kids just went barefoot, as usual, but some went for socks.
An action shot of the sack race with the lagoon in the background.

The sacks are sugar bags from Thailand

Friday, May 6, 2011


This was finals week at school. Next week is only 4 days, since we have Monday off to celebrate Mother's Day. I've heard that we won't have regular classes, but much like the first week of school it will be a time for cleaning, gardening and general mayhem.

It was a challenging week, since the Year 7 teacher was off on paternity leave. I supervised the test taking and then tried to maintain control as the kids were given 'quiet time' to study for the next day's test. Quiet time consisted of spit balls, hitting, wrestling and other non-educational activities.

I'm a believer that busy hands are happy hands and if the kids are occupied, they're less likely to drive me crazy, so I took on both Years 7 - 8 for the last couple of days. They're learning a new song - Faith of the Heart, by Rod Stewart (from Patch Adams) and by the end of class today had the first verse and chorus down. I also had a math challenge between the grades. I'm preparing now for next week because with the excitement of end of term combines with lack of structure, it's all fun until someone gets hurt. And a few kids were in tears this week because of fights. I plan to be ready to keep them active and occupied.

In the meantime, here's some stuff you might find interesting:

Every morning I arrive early. I set up my laptop for the kids to play the few educational games I currently have. Hangman and word memory are VERY popular and it's common to have 15 kids huddled around the laptop screaming which key to press to the two kids with access to the mouse.

Almost equally fascinating to the kids is the copy machine. The office was off-limits to students before I arrived. I suspect the other teachers wish it still was since they now stay away. The kids had never seen a copy machine before and love watching me make copies. When I hand out fresh copies of a puzzle they marvel that it is hot. When I make two-sided copies, they stare at the machine as it alternately spits out then sucks in the page before spitting it out for good.

Loading paper is exciting and a paper jam is best of all. As I open various compartments and show them the inner workings of the machine there is much discussion in Samoan as they check it all out.

I figure it can't hurt for them to see how the equipment works and with luck I'll have a new copy machine helper. They just think it's entertainment.

The other fascinating piece of equipment in the office is the two-hole punch. Not power, just a standard, small hole punch. I showed them how to use it. They were excited. I showed them how to make patterns of holes and gave them a couple of pieces of paper and it kept 12 boys occupied for 30 minutes. One little hole punch.

I mentioned the sexual joking and grabbing before. Today after interval one of the teachers tried to pull my skirt off. Elastic waist, so easy to do. I saw her coming though and had a firm grip. We're a wild bunch in the elementary school.

I still haven't figured out how Samoans are not comatose all day. I prefer 8 hours a row. They may get 8 hours, but not at one time. The other night I woke up exhausted. It was light out and music was playing. I thought I was late so jumped out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Then I realized it wasn't actually light out. It was the light from the house next to mine. Then I heard the shower outside my back door. I checked the clock. 3:30 a.m. I have no idea why someone was showering at that hour. Or why they had all the lights on. Or the music playing. They all get up the same time I do...about 5:30 a.m. They usually go to bed around 1:00 a.m.

With my new house,I have everything I need. Indoor plumbing, a kitchen with a small fridge and electricity. A view of the ocean. I did realize the other day some things I don't have:

I haven't had a steak or glass of red wine in over 7 months. A rare porterhouse and glass of good Malbec would be nice. I've only had beef a handful of times in 7 months. Good thing I love chicken.

For the last six months I've done all laundry in a bucket. I'm used to it now but if you want to share my experience, this weekend try washing your sheets and towels in a bucket in your shower. Hang them outside and hope for no rain. Since I only have one set of sheets the rain thing is a critical factor.

Silence. When I walk down the street there is traffic noise, normal noise of people's lives - music, etc. and the sound of people (mostly children) screaming my name. I hear it in my sleep.

Yesterday I was swimming toward shore after snorkeling. Just lazing along in the water and I heard my name. Yup, seven boys walking boy screaming my name. They seemed very excited that I was swimming. "Nancy's swimming!" They asked "Are you swimming?" "Yes." "Why?" "Because it's fun." "Oh." When they see me at the village store, which happens at least once a week I get the same reaction. "She's shopping!" "Are you shopping?" "Yes, I'm shopping." "Why?"

Then there are the things I have now that I didn't at home...

People screaming my name and being fascinated by every thing I do. Wanting to know what I eat and when. Where I'm going and why. Who I'm talking to and what we're saying. At home, people don't notice when I step out of my house. Fame is kind of fun. Most of the time.

I have stars. I step outside at night and I can see the Milky Way.

I have a sense of purpose, greater than just a paycheck. I may not change the world or even this school, but I may help one child. The goal of any teacher.

I have palusami. Yes, there are a lot of foods I don't have but taro leaves baked with coconut cream makes up for a lot. I also have Samoan oranges. They call them Chinese oranges. I call them tangerines and they are cheap and delicious. Don't get me started on Koko Samoa. What's not to love about having people bring you really sweet, rich hot chocolate everyday?

I have laughter. Samoans are good at laughing. The family I live with and the people I work with all enjoy laughing. They don't take life too seriously.

Dogs. The neighbors dogs have adopted me. They now sleep in front of my house. They are the dogs I thought most likely to bite me when I moved in. Now they are the most likely to bite anybody who comes near my house after dark. I appreciate that.

I have a kung-fu panda. It's small and someone puts it on my porch, every afternoon. In exactly the same location. It disappears at night. I have no idea who or why.

I have helpers. I no longer carry bags because I have Year 7 and 8 boys and a few girls who walk me to and from school and carry my bags. I figure they're young and strong so I'm happy to let them.

Last weekend I fell as I was walking home from the store. I fell hard enough that I broke the power strip and light bulb that I'd just purchased. I scraped my hand and knee but no lasting damage. My family, however, now wants me to take their 17 year old son with me every time I go shopping. To carry my bags. I explained that the bags had nothing to do with it, I'm just clumsy. Imagine your neighbors sending their teenager to the store with you so you didn't have to load your own groceries.

I'm off to do a little shopping (without an escort) and some snorkeling to start the holiday weekend. More next week, along with some new photos.