Friday, July 29, 2011

Just Shoot Me Now

Years ago I worked on one of the toughest consulting assignments I’ve ever done.  One of my favorite project team members was a woman who would be responsible for one of the new call centers when the project was completed.  Her favorite phrase, which she used frequently in team meetings, was “Just shoot me now.”

I felt that way this morning.  Because as I fumbled for the keys on my way to school, I realized I didn’t have them. Not just the keys to my classroom, but also to the office/library, which is used by all the teachers and houses the copy machine.  Because I’m usually the first one at school, and I’m old and a palagi, I get the responsibility of “the keys”. 

No need to panic.  I mentally retraced my steps from the night before.  It had been a busy day.  A day, ironically, in which I’d been congratulating myself for not losing my phone/house key. 

I had the keys when I left for home in late afternoon, after helping to decorate the faleaoga for today’s meeting.  Then a PC staff member driving by saw me and stopped.  I got in her car to drive to the beach fales just up the road and know I had the keys then because they fell out of my lap when I got out of the car.

After the staffer and I talked for a bit, she drove off to visit another volunteer and I walked back home.  Did I have the keys then?  I couldn’t remember.

This morning I searched my computer and school bags.  I searched my purse.  I searched my house, including the freezer, thinking that maybe when I put groceries away I accidentally tucked the keys in too.  I was thinking of the time I’d come home with clean laundry and groceries and put my boyfriend’s underwear in the freezer and the green beans in his underwear drawer. He swore I did it on purpose.  No, I’m just easily distracted.

Nothing.  I had kids come from the school and help me search my house after they searched my bags.  TSA would have been impressed with the kids’ thoroughness.  Actually, I think they could be good candidates for TSA.  When you start a sentence with “Where is the” they spring to action and enjoy the challenge of finding the unfindable.  But this time, no luck.

I walked down to the beach fale where we were sitting the evening before.   The woman whose family owns the beach fale was sweeping the sand and I told her I was looking for the keys.  She said some men had been there the night before and that she would ask around to see if anyone found anything.

I trudged reluctantly back to the school.  It was now getting close to starting time and my room was locked, along with the office.  Happily, some of the kids were able to break into my room.  Clever, those kids.  The office, however, was more secure and locked up tight.  I had to tell my two bosses that I’d lost the keys.  I apologized.  I was beyond contrite.  They took it in stride and told me not to worry about it, although it really was a huge deal.  I offered to pay for a new lock and any damage that needed to be repaired if we had to break down the door to the office.  Again, they told me not to worry about it.

I suspect that they might have been pondering the severity of the Samoan court system.  Ordinarily, this might constitute justifiable homicide, but since I’m a geezerly palagi, might the courts mete out a stiffer penalty?  I wouldn’t blame them.  I’d have been royally ticked off, in their shoes.  They were nothing but kind to me.

After teaching Year 7, I was considering the situation.  I remembered that my hotel room key had opened the lock to my new house.  Maybe someones house key would open the lock to the office.  I started with the principal, explained my theory and asked for his key.  As I was explaining, a car rolled toward the school.  “I think that’s the man who owns the beach fales.”  I flew outside and down the stairs.  As I ran toward his car, he waved the lanyard, with keys attached, out the window.  His family had found them the night before, where I’d left them at the beach fale. 

I don’t know a lot of Samoan but I know “Fa’afetai Atua.”  Thank God.  I suggested that the principal keep the keys so this didn’t happen again.  He declined.  He trusts me.  Or God.

I'm a Wild Child

I had a lovely evening last Sunday.  Well, mostly.  I’d been invited to join one of Group 82 and her parents for dinner, along with another member of Group 82.  They arrived a year before we did and will be leaving in Nov. and Dec. of this year.  I invited them to dine at my house, since I love to cook, but they chose to meet at the resort in my village.   Fine with me, although there went my food budget for the week.

As I was walking to the resort, I was exulting over how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.  It’s about a ½ mile walk to the resort, along the ocean and I was enjoying it.  Saying hello to people as we passed.  A nice, relaxed Sunday evening.  Right up until I said hello to a woman and her teen age daughter.  They said hello, then the woman clearly said “Talofai”.  And clicked her tongue as they walked past.  It was the equivalent of her pointing at my scarlet letter and voicing her disapproval.

I believe her response to me was because on Saturday night I was walking, alone, in the dark, to the church.  I said something to my boss about it today and she made a joke and said “You ka’apo tele.”  I asked a few people what that meant and the gist is that I’m kinda loose and wander around where I shouldn’t be at night.  She clearly meant it as a joke since I never go anywhere at night.  I don't believe the lady on the street was making a joke.

Let’s put this in perspective.  It was 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night.  I was going to church.   I was wearing a puletasi, which involves a full-length skirt and tunic top long enough to wear as a dress by itself.  I was on the main road, which has occasional street lights.  There were several other people on the road, many headed toward the same event.

I’m used to flying cross-country in the States from a consulting gig on a Friday night, hopping in the car and driving an hour to my hometown, then doing my grocery shopping at 2 a.m. before heading home to unpack and crash.  All alone. 

It’s a bit different here in Samoa.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saturday Night Fever

My Saturday nights are usually pretty much like any other night.  I’m in my house by 6 or 7, make dinner, take a shower, eat dinner while watching something on my computer, trade the floor lamp for my headlamp about 9 and then read under the mosquito net until about 10:30.  Not exciting but very comfortable.

Last night was different.  My village’s 7th Day Adventist church was hosting a week-long conference.  I was invited to the grand finale – a concert on Saturday night.  I was told it was a concert and sort of Star Search competition.  The woman who invited me was very excited because one of her daughters was a contestant.

The evening started with the challenge of getting me to the church. The event was ½ mile from my house, on the main road.  In daylight, no problem.  But it started at 7:30 and it’s full dark by then.  My host “mother” was originally going but something came up.  She was planning to send her 17 year old son to walk me, but he was needed to run the family store.  I assured them I’d be fine and headed off.
It was a dark night but there are occasional street lights and lots of people on the road so I felt very safe.  After I walked about 200 yards, one of my Year 6 girls and her 15 year old sister joined me.  I thought they just happened to be going in the same direction but then realized the truth.  Their mother had seen me walking alone, in the dark, and sent them to escort me.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of the concert but assumed it would be similar to the New Year’s Eve event at the EFKS (Congregational) church.  The choir singing, youth group dancing and a few individuals singing.  Inside the church.

I was incorrect.  First I noticed the lights.  As we approached the church we could see that the grounds were lit up like a county fair.  Then I noticed the busses.  If you’re thinking of Bret Michael’s bus on Rock of Love, think again.  These were the same busses I ride every day, but pressed into special evening duty to transport people from nearby villages.  Next I noticed the people.  Hundreds of them.  More than the population of my whole village was assembled for the event.

Which had already started, by the way.  I arrived at 7:30, the official start time.  I figured it might get rolling about 9.  Nope, it started a bit early.  I will never be on time for anything during my two year stay here.

I didn’t see the friend who’d invited me, so I joined the adults standing in the back of the crowd and tried to ignore the small stir my arrival caused.  There were people from around the island at the event and apparently not everyone knew a palagi lived in the village so there were a fair number of whispers and stares.  Not in a negative way, just in a “I’ll be darned, Bob, look at that. There’s a palagi here.” way.  

It took only a few minutes for someone to show up carrying a folding chair for me.  It would not be fa’a Samoa to make the palagi stand.  The only problem was that I would have been sitting in the back of all the standing adults, unable to see anything, so I politely, in Samoan, declined the chair.  A few minutes later I was literally taken by the hand to a chair with a better view.  I gratefully sat down and exchanged greetings with the woman sitting next to me. 

After a couple of performances I realized that the “concert” was actually a show put on by the church school.  It was a fund raiser organized by the PTA.  Churches, schools, families, etc. hold events like this.  

The format for these types of events is always similar.  Acts come on and as they perform, members of the audience come up and place money in a basket on the stage.  Or in the clothes of the performer, sort of like slipping a five into a dancers g-string.  Except, in this case, the performers were fully dressed 5 year olds.  As the evening goes on, amounts donated for each performer are tallied and announced.  At the end of the night, the act that raised the most money is declared the winner.  It’s entertainment for the village, gives people something to do as they plan and rehearse and raises money for the church or whoever.  Everyone’s a winner.

The acts were typical grade school stuff.  Singing, skits.  Some choreographed dancing by the older youth.  And, as typical, there were some moments of boredom and even more of absolute hilarity.  Some intended, some not.  Like the tiny five year old girl, dressed to the nines, who was not the least bit intimidated by the crowd.  She took the stage and in the loudest voice she could muster yelled intro the microphone “My name is >>>> and I’m from >>>>>>!” and then burst into song.  The emcee who had started to introduce her just let her go for it and the accompanist tried to catch up with her.  The crowd roared approval and ran to the stage with money.

Two key differences from any school function I’ve seen in the US.  First, because people are constantly approaching the stage to donate money, there’s a lot of movement.  People talking, milling about and just enjoying a very casual atmosphere.  The people approaching the stage also sometimes became part of the show.  The head of the PTA, coordinating the baskets where money was placed, had a microphone and would occasionally comment on someone.  Or a woman would start dancing with him, or tucking money into his clothes, while people cheered.  Meanwhile the act on stage continued.  

The second thing is the mild sexual allusions/humor.  For example, while the tiny kids were performing, the PTA president was exhorting people to come and bring money.  He was trying to get the ball rolling.  And to do that, started flirting/dancing with the moms bringing money up.  That encouraged more moms.  It was a bit like having the Chippendales appear on Sesame Street.  Disconcerting but fun to watch.

Yes, I went up to donate for a few acts.  No, I did not get involved in the dancing.  The first time I went forward I could hear a buzz.  By the third time it was no big deal – just someone else participating in a fun evening.

My friend and her daughters walked me home on a beautiful night in the South Pacific.  Her daughter had been one of the performers to raise the most money, so received a prize.  It was free school fees for the next term.   I think PTAs in the States should consider this as their next fund raising event.  Sure beats the old candy bar/wrapping paper sales.

Things I See You Probably Don't

·         I just watched a large sleeping mat walk by.  I assume that there was a 5 year old under it, but all I could see was a big mat moving across the yard.

·         I saw a family walking to church this morning.  Mom in a very nice puletasi.  Daughter in pretty white long dress.  Dad in jacket, ie lava lava (think skirt) and sandals.  Son in shirt, ie lava lava and tennis shoes.  With blue and white checkered socks that went from his ankles to up under his “skirt”.  It was pretty funny and I’m guessing he thought he was stylin’.

·         A dog attends mass at my church every week.  Like me, he tends to stay toward the rear.  Unlike me, while the choir is singing, he howls.  Not for every hymn, but there are a couple he just can’t resist.  He sometimes continues “singing” for a few notes after the choir has finished.  Then he lies down to wait for the next song.

·         There were pig hoof marks in the sand on the steps to the church.

·         There is one traffic signal on Savaii.  At the three-way intersection in Salelologa.  It’s worked approximately 2 weeks of the months I’ve lived here.

·         What is it about knit hats here?  It’s July and guys are still wearing Santa hats.  I see a lot of knit hats.  It’s 9 million freaking degrees outside.  If you’re having a bad hair day, try a baseball cap.  It’s way cooler.

·         Footprints.  I’d say easily half of the people in my village don’t wear shoes.  I’m sure part of the decision is financial.  Part, I believe, is preference.  Everywhere I walk I see footprints, with marks of toes digging into the sand.  I noticed some big, shoe footprints the other day and realized they were mine.  I made them the day before.  How can I tell?  Because my sandals have the logo stamped into the bottom of the sole.

·         Matching outfits.  I did a consulting gig once for a company that wanted me to help them decide whether or not to require uniforms of front-line service personnel.  They decided not to.  A big reason was the HUGE staff resistance to the idea.  Here, men and women make matching outfits for special events, family get-togethers, you name it.  By matching, btw, I mean matching puletasis for the ladies and shirts made of the same fabric for the men.

·         Swastikas.  Kids here love them.  They don’t associate them with Nazis.  They draw them on themselves and their books.

·         People sleeping…everywhere.  I’ve seen people sleeping on graves, large storage boxes, desks, middle of the main aisle on the ferry, in the trunk of a car with the trunk open, in the banana plantation, the sidewalk outside the grocery store…everywhere.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


My latest project at the school has been to make puppets.  I did some research and read an article recommending the use of puppets in the classroom.  I didn’t think I’d have the supplies to make 250 puppets until I found a way to make TP puppets.

The body is formed by the TP roll.  The head is a circle of construction paper and attached via two slits in the roll.  The arms are a piece of pipe cleaner that is extended through holes in the TP roll.  The kids color the face and clothes and voila…a puppet.  You insert two fingers in the roll to hold it and you’re ready for business.

I first made “Donna” several weeks ago.  Since then I’ve used her in class a lot.  The real Donna would get a kick out of it if she could see her namesake in action. “Where’s Donna?“   “She’s under the desk!”  “Where’s Donna now?”  “She’s in Ioane’s pocket!”

So far Years 3 – 8 have completed their puppets.  Some of the kids carry them everywhere.  When I ask them to bring their puppet with them to the English room for their lesson there’s always a buzz of excitement.
The puppet making slowed because I didn’t have enough TP rolls for Years 1 -2.  I put out a call to the kids for help and think we’ll be ready next week.

Each child names their puppet, decides where they’re from and how old they are.  They write about what they like and what their puppet likes, doesn’t like, etc.  They’ve worked well.  

BTW, Donna – several of the puppets were named after you and come from the United States.
I’ll be taking pictures of the kids and their puppets and will post them as soon as I can.