Monday, October 10, 2011


Today is a holiday to give people a chance to rest up and travel home after White Sunday.  There are few buses running, though, so that makes travel a challenge.  Luckily, I don’t plan to wander far from the fale today.

I watched the mother dog and her three “teen” puppies while I drank my tea this morning.  Rough housing and having fun.  A few minutes later I heard yelps of fear/pain and saw that two brothers and my father were holding one puppy.  Torture?  No, my dad was neutering the puppy with an Exacto knife.  Ouch.

I asked him about it and we had the longest conversation we’ve had in 7 months.  He said he didn’t want the dogs going out and making babies so he always does this.  I asked him how he learned how and he said he learned as a boy.  He also neuters his cows and pigs.  Guys, if you’re visiting and see my dad coming toward you with an Exacto knife, run!

I’d decided that today would be cleaning day.  I sweep the house and clean the kitchen at least once a day, usually more.   Bathroom sink/toilet/shower are once a week jobs.  Today I started what my mom would call deep cleaning.  I moved everything in my house to sweep and wipe the walls clean.  It is amazing what can accumulate, given the amount of dust, bugs and spiders we have here.  When I say I moved everything I’m not exaggerating.  I’m very glad that I can lift my fridge by myself.

It feels good to have things clean, although I know that by tomorrow there will be more dead bugs and spider webs.

While I was cleaning and sweating, I was listening to the radio and thinking.  Here’s some stream of consciousness…
My news is different than your news.  I was listening to an Australian station.  I hear a lot about Australia, China and New Zealand.  I also hear about Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, Cook Islands and Tonga.  I can tell you the weather predictions for Port Moresby, Rarotonga and Apia  but have no clue what the weather in Orlando, NY or LA is like.  It’s interesting to get news that’s not US or Euro centric.  Having said that, economic news of Europe and the USA is big everywhere.  I’d sure appreciate it if ya’ll could whip the economy back into shape before I end service next year.  Having my real estate and financial investments in better shape would give me more options.

I was thinking about stress here.  The vast majority for me comes from having no control and little information.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a control freak.  As a volunteer and foreigner I have little control.  I’m a guest.  I think repressing my Type A urges as I got to know my other teachers helped me create the friendships/working relationships I have now.  I didn’t tell them how to do their jobs.  I watched and learned.  I did my own thing and if they wanted to try a different way, I offered support.  It seems to be working.

I have no control over so many things.  During training about the only thing I had control over was my bowels, and that was iffy on occasion.  When/what I ate, when/where I slept were all defined by someone else.  At the end of training, during my interview with the Country Director, I commented on what seemed to be deliberate actions designed to break us down and let us know who was in charge.  Much like what happens in boot camp in the military.  He said he had no idea what I was talking about.

I realize now he was telling the truth.  We’d be told one thing, and then the time or activity or goal would change.  Usually at the last minute and we were expected to hop to.  After a year I realize that’s just life here.   Every week I spend hours preparing lesson plans.  Then the classes are cancelled or I’m told to prepare for something completely different, like Teachers’ Day.  I’m getting used to it.

When I visited Morocco a few years ago, I was introduced to the phrase “If Allah wills it.”  An American expat told me how to say it in Arabic and said to use it a lot to get out of anything.  If a shop keeper urged me into his store and I didn’t want to go, I’d say I’d be back later, if Allah willed it.  It worked like a charm.  No offense was meant and none seemed to be taken. 

Here, the key word is maybe.  “Are we having regular classes tomorrow?”  “Maybe.”   That means we may have visitors from the Ministry or we might have a barbeque for the carpenters working on the faleaoga.  Or we may have regular classes.  I’ve begun to embrace “maybe”.  I’ll find out what’s going to happen when it happens.  If I’m prepared, great.  If not, I’ll do my best to wing it.  Or, just sit it out.

Another huge source of stress is not knowing about subtle social clues.  Like when to leave.  I really enjoyed to’ona’i at my neighbor’s house yesterday.  It was very generous of them to include me in their family celebration. 

They made it as relaxing as possible by telling me what to do.  They pointed out where to sit.  They told me the children had finished the prayer and we wouldn’t do another just for the adults so it was ok to start eating.  But when is it time to leave?  Was I invited for the meal and then expected to vamoose or would that be rude because I was expected to malolo (nap/rest) with the family? 

When they started bringing out the pillows and mats and people started eying favorite spots to curl up, I had one of those stressful moments.  Was I expected to stretch out for the nap that follows a big meal? 

Luckily, the family sent me a message.  They asked the six year old to bring me my bag.  Not too subtle but very much appreciated. 

I still don’t understand most of what people are saying in Samoan.  I get the gist, generally, but subtleties are lost on me.  It doesn’t help that the definition of many words depends on context, as it does in English.  Mana’o means both to have and to need.  Well, damn it, do you want me to give it to you or are you saying you have it and don’t need it? 

To make it even more challenging, much of Samoan communication is done through body language.   Do you have a facial tic or are you asking me for something?? 

I’m learning to apologize often and to just assume that I may step on toes or offend without even knowing it.  As the Samoan’s would say, I hope they will take all of my mistakes and offenses to a deserted island and leave them there.  

In some ways it’s no different than being in a new situation in the States.  The first time I went to the Catholic church here, I noticed an old lady glaring at me through the entire service.  The following week I moved to a different pew.  She came in, sat where I’d been the previous week and shared a satisfied nod with her cronies.  All was right again.  Bet I could commit the same faux pas at home.

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