Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Do You Spell "Excited"

Yes, that was one of our vocabulary words last week for Year 7.  The kids are excited because it is the end of the term and I’m excited about my friend HB coming to visit. 

Since she’s flown halfway around the world I figured the least I can do is meet her at the airport.  I’ll head out to catch the bus at 6:30 a.m.  Then the 8:00 a.m. ferry to Upolu.  Then I’ll either take the bus or splurge on the short cab ride from the Mulifanua Wharf to the Faleolo Airport.  Both the wharf and airport are over an hour away from Apia, in the middle of pretty much nowhere.

The only thing there is Aggie Grey’s resort, which boasts a golf course and great view of Savaii.  It’s also famous here and in New Zealand as the place where the cast and crew of Survivor have been holed up for a couple of months.  When Survivor producers waved what is rumored to be over a million USD in front of the resort management they summarily cancelled all pre-existing reservations.  Most from Kiwis. 

I should arrive at the airport about 9:30 a.m.  I’ll peruse the gift shops and perhaps have a bite to eat while waiting for the flight, which is scheduled to arrive at 12:45 p.m.  Oh, wait.  There are no gift shops or restaurants.  It is a small airport.  I did hear that sometimes a vendor is there selling hotdogs. 

After I say “Afio mai i Samoa!” (Welcome to Samoa)  to HB we’ll hop in a cab to head back to the wharf.  We could make the 2:00 p.m. boat to Savaii if she clears customs quickly, but small airport doesn’t necessarily equate to speedy airport.  I’m assuming we’ll be on the 4:00 p.m. boat.  Once on Savaii, just  a five minute cab ride to the car rental place.  They promised to remain open for us to pick up the car, since they normally close at 4:30.  We should get to Heidi’s hotel by 6:00 p.m. 

After that, it’s HB’s trip.  I have to be at school on Thursday and Friday, but they’ll be short days, over by 12:30 p.m.  I’m hoping she’ll join me, since Thursday is sports day and what’s more fun than 250 excited kids doing sack and 3-legged races?

Friday is prize giving.  Grades are announced, along with class rankings.  Parents attend and ulas, some flower and some candy, are handed out by the parents to the teachers.  Some parents also give cash to teachers as a thank you.  There are speeches by each teacher.  I was told I was expected to make a speech, in Samoan.  I showed a copy of what I’d prepared to my boss today and was told I should save it for the end of the year.  I’ll bet you $50 I’ll be asked to stand up and speak to everyone in Samoan.  I’ll add another $50 to that bet that I’ll be asked to dance for everyone.  They have the kids sing and I dance.   Samaoans seem to find few things as entertaining as watching a palagi dance.  I don’t mind, but please don’t tell HB, because she’ll also likely be asked to dance, too.  The only thing better than one dancing palagi is two!

One of the teachers is moving to New Zealand so we’re planning a fiafia (party) to say goodbye after the prize giving.  The children have been asked to give gifts, the teachers have collected money to give and we’re all bringing food.  Food will be the big event.  The principal will make an umu (hot rocks used to cook the food) and roast a pig along with taro, breadfruit and palusami (coconut cream in young taro leaves).  There will also be green bananas, chopsuey, potato salad, canned mackerel and egg salad sandwiches.  I’m bringing the egg salad sandwiches which are popular here.  I was told to make sandwiches out of 4 loaves of bread.   I believe the food portion of the program is just for the teachers, but could also be for the parents.    10 teachers, 250 or so kids and if last term is indicative, about 30 parents.  In one classroom.  It promises to be cozy.

I’m excited to see HB.  I’m also excited that she’ll get a taste (literally) of the real Samoa this week.  Hmmm, I wonder if I should have a puletasi for her to wear?

Things I Hear, See and Say

I was talking to a man recently who made the comment “…she’s my wife, for the time being…”  They've been married a few months.  Hmmmm.

Two t-shirts I’ve seen in my village:
“Keep watching.  I might do a trick.”

“Tell your children it’s not polite to stare at me.”

Ask any PCV or RPCV and I bet they’ll tell you that one of the challenges of PC is being stared out.  It can be wearing.  I think there’s a PC market for those t-shirts.

What were you doing at 1:32 p.m.  EDT, on Tuesday, August 31?  It was 6:32 a.m. here and I was standing in my bathroom, swearing like a sailor.  I had just gotten dressed in my freshly ironed puletasi.  While this might be TMI, you should also know I’d put on my freshly laundered boxer shorts.  I was swearing because I had ants in my pants.  Literally.  And the little buggers bite.  Earlier in the morning, while doing some laundry in the shower, I received at least 6 new mosquito bites.  The ants were worse.   Yes, I usually shake out clothes/sandals before putting them on.  Scorpions, spiders, centipedes, millipedes and ants like to make themselves at home.  I was in a hurry today. 

I’m not sure who was less pleased with the incident.  Me or the ants.  I’ll spend the remainder of the day trying not to scratch the bites in inconvenient places.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do the Flies Mean My Food Is Good?

I started dinner before heading to volleyball yesterday.  I’m calling it Swiss Roast, since it’s sorta like Swiss steak but tastes a bit like pot roast.  I brought some chuck steak back from Apia and stuck it my fridge for a rainy day.  Yesterday was rainy so I thawed it.  Dredged it in flour, browned it with some garlic in a tiny bit of oil, then added sliced onions, carrots and potatoes and a bit of water.  Let it simmer, very slowly.

While I was slicing and peeling and the meat was browning, the flies came in.  Hundreds of them.  No kidding, I’ve never seen so many flies in one place.  It’s not unusual for flies to appear in my house when they smell food cooking, but this was ridiculous.  They covered my bed.  They flew in my nose.  They perched inside the lens of my glasses.  Beyond annoying as I tried to cook and swat.  I took out a strip of fly paper I’d purchased.  Within 5 minutes it was full.  When I picked it up to toss it, I could feel it vibrating from the number of frantic fly wings flapping. 

I turned off the burner under the food, left a mosquito coil burning and headed to voli.  Enjoyed that for a couple of hours, then headed home, hoping that the flies had vamoosed.  Yes, indeed they had.  There were still a few but nothing like the swarm that had invaded earlier.

I ate the steak, potatoes, carrots and onions with some spicy Italian peppers I found in Apia.  Just like Sunday dinner back home, almost. 

The flies were in full force at school today and I asked what was up.  As I suspected, it’s all the rotten breadfruit attracting them.  I guess it’s flattering to know that insects think my cooking is more appealing than breadfruit rotting on the ground.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Is That Smell?

There are a lot of smells in Samoa.  Some are tantalizing.  I love getting a whiff of barbeque on the breeze.  There are flowers and scented plants galore.  They generally smell great, although some are a bit strong for my taste when they’re strung together and hung around my neck.

We’ve been working on writing in Years 7 and 8.  Here’s a primer on basic story components:

Setting:  My fale, at 3:30 a.m.

Characters:  Me, my host father and his large flashlight and a huge, ripe breadfruit.


Sleep was slow in coming that night because the dogs were barking without let up.  Usually I can tell if it’s just a “Hey, how ya doin’” bark or a “Holy crap, I’ve never seen that guy before, some human better check this out!” bark.  The dogs were doing both versions, all night.

I got up to use the facilities in the wee hours.  After returning to my mosquito net I couldn’t get back to sleep.  The dogs were barking, the roosters were crowing and the neighbors were snoring.  Have I mentioned we live in close proximity?

About 3:30 a.m., the dogs were still going nuts, with the one sitting in front of my front door leading the pack.  I saw a light and sat up.  Tangled my hair in the mosquito net, swore and laid back down.  Eyes open wide, watching the light come toward my fale.  I heard steps and the howling of the dogs escalated, then suddenly quieted.  Ah, it must be someone in my family.   The light from the torch swept across my front windows.  Then shone in through the windows on the side.  As I was questioning if it was my host father checking on my security or someone with less honorable intentions I heard an explosion. 

I leaped into the mosquito net at the same time as the man with the torch yelled and started running toward the explosion.   After a few minutes of his light flashing on the windows of my house and the ground, he turned back toward his fale.

Eventually, the dogs and I fell asleep.  In the morning, I circled my house, trying to figure out what had caused the explosion.  As I suspected, it was a ripe breadfruit hitting my tin roof.  I’m guessing it was 10 pounds of breadfruit.  It was a coincidence that it fell while my host father was checking on my safety.  He thought it was someone throwing a big rock at him and was ready for a fight.  I just wanted the dogs to shut up and everyone to go to bed.

A few days later, I’m still experiencing the aftermath of the event.  Have you ever smelled a large, rotten breadfruit?  It smells overly sweet, with a bit of a tang and just a hint of that rotten, musky odor of decay.  I know it well because at least 20 over-ripe breadfruit have dropped from the tree over my house.  The pigs do their best to eat them all, but even eating like, well, pigs, there’s too much breadfruit to finish off. 

Mail Bag

Once again I wasn’t disappointed at the Post Office during my weekly visit.  Granny T rocked with 3 letters, each filled with a newsy letter, crosswords and some candy.  There was also mail for the kids.

Thanks to Kathleen who sent a great post card of Colorado.  She’s actually from Philadelphia so we’ll get 2 geography lessons out of her card.  She’s headed to the Ukraine to teach ESL as a PCV.  I’m jealous, Kathleen – that was one of the places I wanted to go.  Having said that, my delicate Florida constitution prefers Samoan winters.  Let’s stay in touch. 

Another Philly resident, Doris, sent a postcard of that beautiful city.  Thanks for including a bit of geography in your message, it will help kick start a lesson.

Maureen from Buffalo, NY took time during her vacation in Rome (I’m green with envy) to buy a postcard for the kids.  Another two-fer – Buffalo and Rome.

Remember when I mentioned that a teacher from New Zealand had stopped by and taught a lesson to Year 8?  She promised to stay in touch and she came through.  She forwarded two letters from her students.  That will be good for lessons on geography and letter writing. 

Please know that we’re in the final weeks of the second term.  This week we’ve having exams.  Next week, more exams and review of the tests taken this week.  Plus final preparations for English Day, which is currently scheduled for September 1.  I say currently because construction has started to enlarge our assembly hall and may delay things to the beginning of next term.  Since I don’t know, I’m going forward to be ready, just in case.

Because the kids are so busy with exams and I’m busy with them, we won’t be able to send you a response quickly, but please know that your cards/letters are greatly appreciated.  I’ll take a photo of the kids with your love and post them as quickly as I can.

Thanks for being caring and thoughtful enough to take the time to buy the cards, write the message, go to the post office to get the right postage and get them in the mail.  We’re sending love your way from a small island in the Pacific ocean.