We had a teachers’ meeting a couple weeks ago. As usual, I didn’t know about it until the end of the day before. I’m getting much better about not getting excited about changes in the schedule. Now I tend to be surprised if it’s just a regular day and I teach per the schedule.
I took the bus to the meeting. I committed a faux pas in catching the bus. I was walking out to the road, which is about 100 yards from my house. I saw the bus coming. I knew I had time to let it go and wait for the next bus but the excitement of not having to wait at all for the bus was too much for me. The driver was looking my way and I waved. He stopped. Really, he could have just kept going but he stopped. So I ran to the bus. In my puletasi. Carrying a briefcase. You read that correctly. I ran.
On the bus I sat next to a woman I know. She’s a principal at another school and hosted a previous Peace Corps. Nice lady. I said hello. She said hello and then looked out the window. No chatting. I think she didn’t want anyone to think she was friends with the crazy old palagi who stopped the bus from too far away and then ran. Inappropriate at so many levels.
I said something to my host brother when I got home about running for the bus and he said “I know. We saw you. We laughed at you.” Nice to know that supportive families are universal.
The meeting was the same as the others I’ve been to. The first hour was prayer, hymns, a sermon, speeches and the distribution of ulas (leis). I got an ula, as did all the principals and the other PC present.
The presenter talked about the government goals of a competitive economy and better education and health care. He said that the government had created markets for items that people on our island can produce, but that “they are lazy and would rather sleep all day and just call family in New Zealand and Australia for money rather than earn it.” That got a huge laugh and lots of nods of agreement.
When he talked about improving teacher effectiveness, he made a speech about the need to actually speak to the students. And, the need to move from behind the desk and move around the classroom. He said “You sit, looking beautiful behind your desk, ignoring the children and laughing at your cell phone. That’s not teaching.” That, too, got a huge laugh with more nods of agreement. I’ve seen exactly what he’s talking about and it doesn’t seem the teachers are the least bit embarrassed about it. Or, they were covering their embarrassment with laughter.
I was a bit distracted because the woman behind me kicked my seat for most of the meeting. When she wasn’t kicking it, she was playing the drums on the back of my seat. I felt right at home, having flown coach into Orlando more times than I can count.
Also distracting was that we had choral reading for all the items printed on the blackboard. A group of 50 teachers, reading in unison. It bothered me that they had the Five Secrets for Happiness. Because there were only 3 of them.
After 45 minutes of presentation, we had tea. That included koko Samoa (always a good thing), and a plate with two sandwiches (1 egg salad and 1 mackerel), a naked chicken hot dog, a piece of coconut, a piece of papaya, a small pile of sea grapes (a type of raw seaweed) and a package of crackers. That is considered a mid-morning snack.
After another hour of presentation, the meeting was ended with several speeches of thanks by those in attendance along with the presentation of cash to the presenter. He’s our boss. I was asked to contribute $5 for that. Finally, we had a prayer and a hymn and it was over.
During the meeting, which was held at the conference facility at a nearby resort, 3 young boys wearing only shorts wandered in to see what was going on. I’m not sure if they were just curious or were looking for their mother, but they just looked around for a couple of minutes then wandered off. Samoa is a casual kind of place.
The presentation information posted on the blackboard was in English. The entire presentation, other than the portions I quoted above, was in Samoan. As has been the case in every meeting I’ve attended here, both large and small, there were a lot of side conversations. By the end of the session, I’d venture to say that there were 10% of us actually trying to listen. It didn’t seem to bother the presenter, who took a cell phone call at one point during the presentation.
I’ve worked in Manhatten, where black and dark colors are de rigueur. I prefer Samoa, where the puletasis were all the colors of the rainbow, most with floral prints and many with glitter. I was wearing my Thursday uniform which is a red/orange polyester floral print with gold glitter highlights.
I can now say with authority that I don’t like meetings, whether held in America in English or in Savaii, in Samoan.
After the meeting I took the bus to town to check my mail, but I’d forgotten the PO closes for lunch for 1 ½ hours. I decided to take a taxi up the road to do some shopping. The taxi driver asked if this was my first visit to Samoa. Keep in mind I was wearing a puletasi and a flower ula, carrying a briefcase and I’d told him where I wanted to go…in Samoan. At first I thought he was pulling my leg. He wasn't.