Friday, January 28, 2011

Photos

Let's be honest, you only come back hoping I'll shut up and post some photos.  Don't blame you.  Before I get to the photos, though, another real time update.  It's Friday, January 28 and I'm town for the Peace Corps All Vol meeting tomorrow.  Should be a fun day of team building.

Met with PC staff today and someone will be coming to my village next week to let them know they need to find a place for me to live, that meets PC standards, sooner rather than later.  They were just put on notice that they have to live up to their responsibilities or I'll be moved to another village.  So, fingers crossed that the school committee finds something or builds something and I don't have to start over in a new village. 

Now, onto the good stuff - photos!



You have to step up, then down, before entering one of the main stores on the island.  Unique, don't you think?
 This dad was playing in the water with his kids.  Wearing a green hard hat.
Later, a young boy from a different family was wearing the same green hard hat.  When is my turn??


Now them's some banker's hours.  Only branch on the island and the ATM is down about 50% of the time.  


Results of a shopping trip to 2 different stores and 3 different vendors on the street.  I described the shopping in an earlier entry.  The breadfruit leaves are wrapped around limu.  Notice how big that cucumber and those avocadoes are!


Limu, which is a kind of seaweed and delicious.  Tastes like the ocean smells.


Largest "mall" on the island.  Closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.  Oh, and closes at 4:00 p.m. on weekdays.  Makes shopping tough for us working stiffs.  Plus, the post office is in there.  I bet I have packages languishing behind those gated doors.

Think someone was stockpiling sand?  Nope, came from the sea after the waves went across the road.  Left large, perfectly shaped piles of sand in front of the beach fales, instead of on the beach behind the fales.

 


A couple of the guys I sleep with.  The photos belong to the family I live with.  Yes, that's a bed.  It's used for storage.  I'm still sleeping on the floor.  No, I don't understand the logic.
They used big equipment to clean up after the storm.  He's filling in a large puddle that forms in our driveway every time it rains.
 


Lady Samoa I.  The old, small ferry with no indoor seating.  It was coming in to dock, then take me to Upolu (the other island) on Thursday.  That's Apolima island in the background.  
 


I guess when you can see the ocean through the hole in the shoes I paid a quarter for 7 years ago, it's time to retire them.  I'll miss them. Have I mentioned I've been doing a lot of walking?


Biggest pineapple I've ever seen.  She was charging $20 tala for it at the market in Salelologa.  The other night for dinner I ate an avocado.  And a pineapple.  A much, much smaller pineapple.  No cooking required.


Questions and Answers

Dear Anonymous:

You left a comment on a recent entry, asking some questions.  While you didn’t seem to expect a response and I’m not ordinarily big on having a conversation with “anonymous”, I gave them some thought and here they are.  Please note, as with everything in this blog, this is purely my perspective.  Right or wrong, it’s how I see things, as filtered through my life experiences.

Has your experience thus far with Peace Corp Samoa been what you expected before you left the States?

Pretty much.  There are more amenities than I expected.  Cell phones are everywhere.  I haven’t seen a house yet that doesn’t have electricity and all I’ve seen have running water, although it may not be in the house.  Many families have cars. Most homes I’ve seen don’t have any indoor cooking facilities, which is more in line with what I expected.

The reception in my village is not what I expected.  I’m not sure if it’s the size of the village (much larger than average), the presence of a resort, which means locals are used to seeing foreigners, or what, but people have not been overly friendly.  I talked recently to a Samoan, born and raised overseas.  Her perspective is that adults want to talk to me but are reluctant because they’re embarrassed by their English.  The fact that I’m older, makes it even harder for them to approach me.  I’m hoping as I begin teaching and work on my language skills continue, folks will realize I’m living here and want to get to know people.

Also, it’s sinking in that this is two years.  You could give birth to two babies in the time I’ll be gone.  Friends will die.  Annoyances that I could ignore for a few weeks are things I need to get used to for two years, or drive myself crazy.  Yeah, hard to really anticipate two years.

What is the attraction of serving with Peace Corp Samoa or why do volunteers give up the comforts of America to serve with Peace Corp Samoa?

Like other applicants, I was attracted to serve in the Peace Corps, not Peace Corps Samoa.  Applicants to PC are given an opportunity to express preferences for specific regions or countries but are discouraged from doing so.  By being willing to serve anywhere, PC has more flexibility in assigning volunteers.  I applied to serve in any country served by Peace Corps. 

There are a lot of reasons I volunteered.  One is that I’ve been blessed in my life.  I’ve had family, education and opportunities.  I want to pay it forward.   Because I’ve always been passionate about travel and learning about other cultures, Peace Corps provides me an opportunity to share with others while learning a new culture.

I was also willing to give up the considerable creature comforts I had at home to learn more about myself and learn more about how others live.  Bottom line, at sixty I was not ready to stay in a comfortable rut.  I wanted to stretch myself and hopefully, help someone else at the same time.

Peace Corp Samoa is a tough gig; the diet, climate, language, lifestyle, and lack of amenities. Should Peace Corp train and send nationals living in America to serve in the countries (of their or their parents' birth) rather than sending true blue Americans who have to go through the senses jarring process of adjusting to the local cultures?

First, the Peace Corps is a program of the U.S. government.  You must be a U. S. citizen to join. 

That aside, the easy answer is in the numbers.  Imagine trying to find 20 Americans of Samoan descent, familiar with the diet, language and lifestyle of Samoa.  Who also have all the requirements (physical, mental, education, etc.) to meet the Peace Corps criteria.  Who wish to serve, without pay, for two years in Samoa.  Now, amplify that – we’re the smallest post in Peace Corps.  Imagine finding 450 Americans of Ukrainian descent who meet all the criteria and for whom living in the Ukraine would not be jarring. 

There are three basic goals of Peace Corps.  One is to share knowledge/experience of the volunteers with a country with needs.  Another is to help people in another country have a better understanding of America by getting to know an American first hand.  Third is for Americans to gain a better understanding of another country by having an American who’s lived there share their experiences back home in America.

A basic premise of Peace Corps, and one I wholeheartedly share, is that peace comes from knowledge.  Knowledge gained from knowing and understanding other cultures and people.  I believe there’s a value to be gained in having people unfamiliar with a culture living there.  Yes, it can be jarring.  No, not every aspect of a new culture will be well received or appreciated.  But even as a “true blue American”  with not a drop of Samoan blood, after two years, I think I’ll be able to tell folks back home what it’s like in Samoa.

Is Peace Corp Samoa still relevant; are there better avenues for the American government to assist developing countries like Samoa?

A question being asked by a lot of people, especially Republicans in Congress.   First, PC has a very small budget, as government agencies go.  Let’s start with ”is it still relevant.”  No, not nearly as relevant as it was years ago. 

When PC started fifty years ago, there wasn’t internet, cell phones and other technology that has turned our world into a global village.  Talking to someone who’d served two years in a foreign country most Americans had never heard of was pretty much the only way to find out what it was really like in another country.  Those volunteers could come back and fight stereotypes and give honest, accurate information about life in a different country.  They could also let others find out that Americans are caring, smart, funny and individuals with strengths and limitations, just like people everywhere.

Even though we now have the ability to know more about other places and people, most Americans don’t.  I was first saddened, then horrified, when telling people I was going to be a PCV in Samoa.  One woman didn’t know where the Pacific Ocean was.  You know, like the ocean that touches California??  Many didn’t know there was a difference between Samoa and Somalia.  Even after explaining the difference, people asked if there were elephants on the island.  And, no, Samoa is not a small country in Central America, so I won’t be coming home once a month.  That was another common misconception.

So returning volunteers now have an opportunity to be proactive about spreading the word about the countries where we serve.  For example, I’m part of a program that links serving volunteers with schools in the U. S.  I’m going to be a pen pal with a 7th grade class in a school near Atlanta.  Hopefully, that experience will spark some curiosity in at least one of those kids – who will then go on to learn more about the world.

Are there more effective ways to provide aid to foreign countries?  Probably.   I just wrote and erased a long answer to this.  I realized I don’t have the answer.  It’s a complex question about economics, anthropology, politics and more.  So my answer is just that:  probably. 

One question you didn’t ask directly, but seems to be implied is “Should I be here?”  I’ve been asked why I didn’t stay in the United States since there are huge needs there.  I’ve been asked if I think I can make any real difference.  I’ve been asked if I’m wasting my time, when I should be continuing work as a management consultant to build up my retirement fund.

I don’t know the answers to all those questions, either.  I can’t speak for anyone else.  I just know that when I applied to Peace Corps, it felt like the right thing, at the right time.  It still feels that way and I plan to be here until I feel otherwise.  I’m planning on that being at least two years out.  While I’m here, I hope I take advantage of the time, to learn, grow, have some fun and maybe change one person’s views.

Have you tried the breadfruit pulu?

Leai. But, I’m looking forward to trying it soon.  My brother and I used to chew on pieces of freshly poured road tar when we were kids so ulu pulu should be better.  Much better name, for sure.

It’s the Little Things, Part II

I knew I liked pork but had to come to Samoa to find out I love pigs, too.  A wee conflict. 

I figured sequels worked out well for Rocky and Bruce Willis, so thought I’d do a sequel to the whiny entry I did about the little things that make me nuts. Actually, I could run that list out until we’re all old and grey, since I’m a tad irritable.

Part II, though, is a bit different. Instead of continuing the whining, I thought I’d share some of the little things that make me smile.

The puppy

I could easily add the puppy to the whiny list, since he still leaves puddles, likes to chew on my long skirts and will likely be the cause of my next broken bone, since he believes that wherever my feet are is where he should be.

All that aside, I can’t resist laughing every morning when I open my door and there he is, acting like I’m a better treat than a Milk Bone. Even when I just come back from a walk, he acts like his best friend has just returned. Nice to have all that pure love and energy be part of how I start my day.

The baby

My family has a granddaughter, who’s four months old. Her name is Eden and she doesn’t live here, but visits frequently. She has huge brown eyes, a monk’s fringe hairdo and is one of the best babies I’ve ever met. Initially, she wasn’t fond of me or my glasses, I’m not sure which. She seems to have adjusted though and is very patient with letting me hold and love on her. When we returned from the aborted teacher’s meeting, she was waiting. How could I be cranky when she laughed out loud to the sound of me reciting the Samoan alphabet? There are few things that are more soul-deep satisfying than giving a chubby baby a raspberry and hearing her laugh.

For Whom The Horn Honks

Samoans like to honk. Many have installed special horns to make unique sounds. It’s not about the rims here, it’s about the horn. They honk to get you to move. They honk to let you know they’ve arrived. They honk to let you know they’re leaving. Mostly, they honk because they see someone they know.

It is gratifying to hear a honk and realize that it’s me they’re honking at. One of the neighbors passed me yesterday when I was out for my daily stroll. I’ve never spoken to him, more than a talofa, but he honked and the entire family was smiling and waving energetically. I gave them my best wave back. They passed going the other way a couple of minutes later. We repeated the honking/waving. Felt just as good the second time.

I may have written about a negative experience I had recently when a bus didn’t stop for me, even though I was signaling and the driver clearly saw me. I talked to someone who knows several of the bus drivers. I don’t know what he told them but I haven’t had that problem again. And now, the buses honk when they see me. All of them. Plus, I get the special wave that cool guys do here. I give ‘em my own cool wave back, along with a big smile.

The kids

I like kids. I like that they are eager to try new things. They want to learn. They don’t care if doing something makes them look silly. If it’s fun, do it. There are a lot of kids in Samoa and unlike the States where we have to be so cautious when near a child, there’s always a kid to play with here.

Like the six year old who comes to watch me read at the beach fale. How bored would you have to be to sit and watch some lady reading? He relieves his boredom by singing. So then I sing something. Then we work on a tune together. Ends with smiles, every time.

Yesterday as I headed out on my walk, a girl of about 13 was trying to ride a bike. It wasn’t going well. She’d pedal once, get her other foot on the pedal and then lose her balance. I asked if she knew how to ride. No, and clearly a bit embarrassed about not being able to ride. I told her where to put her feet to get started and said “Just pedal. I’ve got you. Just steer straight and pedal.” We only made it about ten feet before she ran off the road into the bushes, with me holding her up, but it was 9 feet farther than she’d gotten before. More smiles.

Pe’e pe’e

No, that’s not peepee, it’s coconut cream, pronounced peh-ay, peh-ay. It’s labor intensive to make, but Samoans put in the effort and use it on everything. The other day the family asked me to join them for to’ona’i (big Sunday lunch). The first thing they put in front of me was a soup bowl full of something that looked like oatmeal. Nope, it was hot, mashed ripe bananas, cooked with fresh coconut cream. It took everything I had in me to not lick the bowl.

Soup made from fresh papaya and coconut cream? Lovely. Fish cooked in coconut cream and onions? Delicious. I haven’t found anything with coconut cream that I haven’t liked and I’m looking forward to the next thing.

Reactions to my eating

A couple of things. First, palagis, especially American palagis, are known as picky eaters. Second, Samoans eat with their hands. So, people tend to be a bit surprised and pleased that I will eat pretty much anything they put in front of me, with my hands. People seem surprised and happy that I actually seem to like the food they give me. I’ve heard my host sister proudly brag that “She eats limu and kui kui and oka. She eats like a Samoan. Except that she doesn’t like too much talo, kalofai.”

Luckily for me, I’m not a picky eater. I was as a kid, but my parents broke me of that habit. They believed that people’s tastes change as they get older, so I had to try everything new, even if just one bite. And, even if I didn’t like it, I had to try it again the next time it was served. They were right. I hated cheese as a kid. Too strong, even the American slices that come wrapped in plastic. Now, there’s not a cheese made I don’t relish and the stinkier, the better.

So when someone here puts food in front of me that I don’t recognize, I don’t ask questions, I just dig in. Sunday it was what I’m assuming was chitins’, based on the word “pig” and where the person pointed on her body. They were delicious. The best part, though, was after lunch. I excused myself and was walking back toward my fale, when I heard them discussing with what seemed like great delight how much I like “their” food.

Natural beauty

It’s really hard to stay in a pissy mood when such raw, natural beauty smacks you in the face every way you turn. The constantly changing moods and look of the ocean, the clouds that seem to be lit from within in shades of red and blue at sunset and sunrise, the sound of the wind through the leaves of the breadfruit and banana trees. I can’t describe the physical beauty of Samoa. I might have trouble walking out of the cold shower I just shared with a couple of cockroaches if I wasn’t stepping out into paradise.

And, have I mentioned the beautiful people? Samoans are some good looking people, from babies to old folks. Not all are beautiful, of course, but there are a lot that are. And if you’re into the not-an-ounce-of-fat, tan six-pack kind of guy, come to Samoa. Working in the plantations as most of the young men here do is hard physical work. On numerous occasions I’ve glanced over at a group of men working, wearing nothing but lava lavas wrapped around their waists, sweaty muscles gleaming in the sun, with abs you could crack walnuts on. Don’t judge me – bet you’d smile too.

Running pigs

I know it’s not just me, or the pig races at state fairs wouldn’t be so popular. I’m not sure what it is about running pigs, but they crack me up, every time. Pigs running in the rain? They send me into giggling fits. I try to tone it down, because the Samoans don’t seem to share my amusement. But it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, if I see the dog sneaking up behind a group of pigs, I get up to get a better view. I know that Blackie will get right behind the biggest pig, let out a bark and the chase is on. Pigs squealing and running surprisingly fast, with Blackie and the puppy in hot pursuit.

I tend to write about the negative stuff. As you read it, I hope you’ll take it with a grain of salt. There’s also a lot here that I smile about every day. Way more than I’ve written in these paragraphs.



I didn't write about how much I love getting packages, because they're not a little thing.  The love sent in those beautiful boxes (shown here in the bus on my way home from the Post Office) is HUGE and I can never thank you enough.


Some flowers next to the beach.  Beautiful, isn't it? 

First Day of School!




The only other person who showed up for the teacher's meeting. 


Written Wednesday, January 26, 2011

School officially begins on January 31, 2011. I heard earlier this week that we’d be having a teacher’s meeting on today, Wednesday, January 26, 2011. I was told to be ready to go at 8:05 a.m.

I was excited. I’m more than ready to get this show on the road. I did my nails, laid out a puletasi and packed everything I thought I’d need in my briefcase and went to bed early. I woke up early and was disappointed when I went to take a shower. Instead of regular water flow, there was very little water pressure. It happens fairly regularly, which is annoying because one thing worse than a cold shower is a cold shower with only a trickle of water.

I finished my abbreviated shower and put on my puletasi and even put on some make up. The nails and make-up, by the way, weren’t to impress my new boss and co-workers. They were just to make me feel more like my old professional me and give me a boost of confidence.

I was ready at 7:30 a.m., so had some crackers and peanut butter and a cup of American Cocoa. (Thanks, Donna!) At 7:55 a.m., I saw K come out of her fale, heading to the bathroom. At 8:02 a.m., I saw K start her laundry. Hmmm. Since she’s not dressed and told me we’d be leaving at 8:05 something seems to be amiss. Also was confusing was that the resident driver had driven off at 7:45 and hadn’t returned.

At 8:15 I asked K what was up. She seemed confused. Why was I asking when we were going? “Not so early. No one will be there this early.”

She said we’d go after she took her shower and got ready. And, after our driver, who was at the plantation feeding the chickens, returned. We headed out about 9 a.m.

She was 100% correct. We were too early. When we arrived at 9:15 for a meeting scheduled to start at 8 a.m., the only one there was the guy using a weed whacker to cut the lawn.

We waited for 15 minutes or so, chatting and swatting flies. Then she made a couple of calls. The first apparently was to the former principal, who was working in Apia. The second call was to have someone come back to take us home. Seems that the meeting had been cancelled due to weather (it was cloudy) and the new principal was supposed to have told us the night before.

While we were waiting for our ride, about 9:45, another teacher arrived for the 8 a.m. meeting. K told her the meeting had been cancelled.

I came home, changed into my everyday clothes and am typing this. The sun is shining, although there are clouds on the horizon.

I’ve heard that if the dress rehearsal for a play is a disaster that means that opening night will be stellar. I’m hoping the concept translates to school in Samoa. Since I’m scheduled to leave for Apia to attend a PC meeting on the early ferry tomorrow morning, not returning until Sunday afternoon, it looks like I’ll first meet my new principal the first day of school.

Based on what I’ve experienced so far, along with what I’ve heard from previous volunteers, this will not be an isolated incident. Things starting much later than scheduled or not happening at all is very common. Locals laugh as they call it “island time”.

I’m a nut about punctuality. My weather-watching father was also a clock watcher and I learned young that being punctual was important. I was in firm agreement with the facilitator of a time management course I took years ago when he said “People who are chronically late are simply rude and showing their disrespect for others by wasting their time.” So I tend to be just a wee bit obsessed with punctuality.

I figure two years of “island time” will have one or maybe more of these results:

• I wait one-too-many times for something to start and just jump in the ocean and start swimming for home;
• I learn patience and get a lot of reading done while I wait for events to start;
• In two years, after returning to the U.S. I am at least an hour late to everything.
P.S. In case you were wondering what a well-prepared PCV teacher carries in her briefcase for her first teacher’s meeting:
• 1.5 liter of bottled water
• Blank pad of paper
• 2 pens
• Toilet paper
• English/Samoan Dictionary
• List of common Samoan slang terms
• Mr. Kindle, who prefers to always be by my side

Cyclone and Other Updates


 Waves crashing over the sea wall near the beach fale where I hang out.  They got much worse.
 Written Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Weather

I swore I would never turn into my dad, who was obsessed with weather. He would sit and watch the weather channel for hours.  Here, I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum, since I don’t have television or radio.  I heard from the PC that a cyclone was coming, although predicted to be small and miss a direct hit on Samoa. 

A cyclone, by the way, is the same as a hurricane.  If you’re in the northern hemisphere it’s a hurricane, if you’re below the equator, it’s a cyclone. 

We’ve had steady, heavy rain, with some wind for about a week.  On Sunday morning as we drove to church we saw that waves had come over the seawall, past the beach fales and across the road.  The waves left huge piles of sand, debris and in one stretch, boulders that were washed from the seawall into the road.  It was a mess but cars could still get by.

We received periodic texts Saturday and Sunday from PC, updating us on the weather predictions and putting us on alert for possible (although unlikely) regional consolidation.   Mostly we were told to just watch the weather and use our noodles, as Granny T. would say. 

According to the PC, who uses the most reliable weather sources possible, the threat of the cyclone was over on Sunday night.  Monday, I woke up to more rainy, stormy weather. I was a bit stir crazy so used a break in the rain in the morning to walk the mile or so to the store.  I’m glad I did, since I got to see the biggest waves I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’m guessing the winds at 30 MPH with stronger gusts.  Rain was spitting and I made it home just in time for the worst weather I’ve seen since coming to Samoa. Heavy winds and torrential rain that didn’t stop for over 20 hours.

The wind blew rain across the open fale, so Mr. Kindle and I stayed in our room, trying to stay dry, since the windows don’t close completely.  Thanks to the generosity of my friend Kay, I’d downloaded the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” before heading here, so I enjoyed a great book during the stormy day.  And, thanks to Kia and family, I was sipping Crystal Lite while I read.  Very cozy.

Work and Housing

Last week there was a meeting for all school principals and lead teachers.  That included the woman I live with, since she’s the lead teacher at my school. When she returned she told me, over the course of two days, that: I had a new principal; I started work on January 26 instead of January 31; and the school committee has to find another place for me to live, since I would not be moving to the house I’d cleaned in preparation for moving.

So, for now, I’m staying where I am. It will mean taking the bus to and from school, or walking six miles or so a day.  Not having a place to unpack and settle in is frustrating and having absolutely no control over the situation makes it harder.  I’m trying to make the best of the situation and go with the flow.  The next few months as I start teaching and find out where I’ll live should be interesting.  I hope that’s not the same as the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.”

Host Sister from the Training Village

I’ve stayed in touch with Fa since moving to Savaii.  I miss her and think the feeling is mutual.  When I told her about my housing conundrum, she suggested I just move back in with her.   Unfortunately, that would mean leaving the PC, which would mean having to leave the country since my visa would no longer be valid. 

When I lived with Fa, she had some health issues, primarily with aching joints.  It seems that after I left it got worse, to the point that she’s no longer able to walk.  She’s now staying with family and had to leave her beloved home and animals.  She went back to check on things last week and one of the pigs, Snow, is missing, along with four of her piglets.  It’s not just the loss of a valuable commodity that hurts.  Snow was like a pet to Fa.  Hard to think of her as Sunday dinner, but that was likely her fate.

Please say a prayer that Fa’s health improves quickly and that she’s able to go back to the home, church and life that she loves.  I really empathize because Fa is one of the few middle-aged women I’ve met here who live alone.  It’s not easy to do here for a variety of reasons.  She values her privacy and independence.  I hope she gets it back soon.
  Waves made a mess in the road but crews had it cleaned up the next morning.



This may look like debris, but it's actually the materials they use to make fine mats.  They put it out to dry in the sun.  Not very effective during a cyclone.  Amazing that it didn't blow away.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's a Sign of the Times

I've always enjoyed signs. I annoy people in the car with me because I read them while cruising down the road.

I thought you might enjoy a few signs I've seen in Samoa:

In English, this means "Good Taro - $15.00"  Apparently, that's different than Talo Leanga - Bad Taro

Reminds me of Thailand where you could book a tour, buy a hammer or a wedding dress.  I was surprised to see a liquor department in an appliance store.  And karaoke??


The only kind of snow you'll see in Samoa.  This is in Apia.  I have the luxury of drinking something cold about once a week when I go to town and splurge.  Ice?  Haven't seen it in a month.
We love our volleyball in Samoa!

Heaven help me, I may resort to this when I return to Apia.  

The green "Reload Here" sign let's me know they can "top up" my cell phone.  Seki a Digicell!

These were over the driver on the bus I took last week.  Hard to argue.

Hair!

No, I’m not talking about the 60’s musical, although I’m humming that to myself.  I’m talking about the amazing hair in Samoa.  I was born with a head of white blonde, baby fine, curly hair.  Over the years it darkened to dishwater blonde and became a bit wavy rather than curly.  It’s still baby fine.   Growing up in southern Arizona, I was always incredibly jealous of Latina women’s hair – thick, dark and luxurious.  I’m equally jealous here in Samoa.

It is customary in Samoa for women to wear their hair up.  Most pull it back in a pony tail, and then wrap it around to form a bun.  Some of the buns are huge.  When I pull my hair back and wrap it around it doesn’t form a bun.  It forms a ridiculous tiny lump.

I sat behind a young woman on the bus the other day.  She was wearing her hair in a single French braid down her back.  It was so thick, that I couldn’t have gotten my hand around it.  We both sat with the wind blowing through the bus windows.  I got off looking a hot mess, like I’d just been on a bus with the windows open.  She got off without a single hair out of place.

A lot of Samoans have curly hair.   I saw a woman the other day who, for some reason, had let her hair go “natural”.  It came down to the middle of her back and was a HUGE Afro. 

Hair products are big in Samoa.  One of the smells I will forever associate with Samoa is hair gel.  You can’t miss it on the bus on a hot day.  Stores sell a wide variety of hair gels in sizes ranging from small to “are you kidding, who could ever use that much gel in a lifetime” large. 

Instead of gel, a lot of women use baby oil to tame flyaway strands.  I’ve watched women come out of the shower with freshly shampooed hair, pull it up into a bun, then smooth a handful of baby oil over it. They look great and are ready to roll in 2 seconds.  I, on the other hand, have to dry my pathetically thin locks with my fan.  It takes at least half an hour, with me fanning frantically while getting dressed. 

I’ve also noticed that most men here don’t lose their hair.  I grew up with a dad who’d gone bald before I was ever born.  Thick head of hair or bald as a cue ball, doesn’t matter to me.  I’ve met a few men with shaved heads here, who appear to be balding, but I’m guessing the bald gene is recessive.

I thought that I was the only one obsessed with hair here, but it seems that Samoan women are also checking out each other’s hair.  How long it is, how thick it is, how straight or curly are all topics for conversation.  I’ve never heard it in a disparaging way but always a “Oooh, look at her hair, how thick it is” with just a touch of envy in the voice.

My hair’s getting longer, to the length that I really should start wearing it up rather than hanging in a “flashy” way.  Rather than exposing my pitiful bun, though, I’m just going to get it cut.  My hair does attract notice, mostly because of its color.  The sun has lightened it even more than usual, so with the silver that age has given me, it’s very light.  It’s not unusual to be on the bus and feel a small child stroking my hair.  No doubt they’re thinking, “Poor palagi, she has hardly any hair.”

Sounds in Samoa


This is an open fale near me that has been wrapped in tarps due to the wet/windy weather.  I saw another fale that had been "wrapped" in palm fronds, placed vertically, then held up with a rope wrapped horizontally around the house.  Ingenious, these Samoans.

The sound of the ocean is always present. The house where I’m living isn’t on the beach, although it’s within easy walking distance. I can’t see the ocean from the house but I can hear it.

Years ago a friend was heading to Florida on vacation to see the ocean for the first time. She was in her 40’s and it was a big deal. I told her the best part is falling asleep to the sound of the waves. When she got home I asked how she’d liked it. “Did you fall asleep to the waves? Wasn’t it great?” I gushed. “Yes.” She said thoughtfully. “But did you know they go on all night?”

The sound of the waves never stops. It changes but is always there. Sometimes it sounds like a 747 coming in for a landing. Other times, it’s just a powerful whisper. There’s a barrier reef here and I can see and hear the waves crashing there. During high tide, small waves also crash against the sea wall, so there’s a sort of aquatic echo. That’s my favorite time to be at the beach fale.

Animal sounds are also omnipresent. During the day, it’s the birds, pigs, dogs and chickens. Yes, chickens are birds but their sounds are completely different. One evening I thought pigs were being slaughtered, based on the horrendous squealing I heard. Nope, they were just letting us know it was dinner time and they were hungry. I now know that when I hear a pounding sound in the evening that’s someone calling their pigs to be fed. In the training village, rather than hitting a 2X4 on a tin roof, they yelled. Everyone used a similar tone, sort of a Samoan “suueeeee, suuueeeee.” I was asked to call the pigs once, then asked to stop. Seems my calling technique was just scaring the pigs.

Because dogs are used to keep people away from the open fales, they bark and growl every time they sense a stranger approaching. Dogs also roam the neighborhood in packs and occasionally meet up to rumble. Sometimes as I watch them from the beach fale, I hum songs from West Side Story, since it does look like two gangs, doing their best to show who’s the most macho. These dogs all live in close proximity. They all know each other. What prompts them to occasionally try to kill each other is beyond me. And, just as with humans, if a couple of dogs get into it, the rest of the dogs coming running to either watch or join the fray.

The fights result in howls of pain and pathetic sounding squeals of anguish. Sometimes the pain is caused by another dog. Frequently, its caused by the rocks or sticks that kids use to break up the dog fights. Sometimes rocks are thrown at dogs just for fun.

At night, lying in bed in the dark, I hear other animals. Geckos “sing” rather loudly as they hunt for insects. Cockroaches make a surprisingly loud scratching noise as they go about whatever they’re doing in the dark. Fruit bats make a sound like a bird as they call from the breadfruit tree outside my window. My favorite nighttime sound has become the clatter of the rat trap as it snags another victim.

Samoa is a place of contrasts in so many ways. One of them is that, rather than yelling to someone in public, they simply mouth the words. Very polite and something I wish we’d adopt in the States. If not in a store or bus, though, yelling is fairly constant. It seems to be customary that to get someone’s attention, you yell their name. And you keep yelling it, repeatedly, as loudly as you can, until they respond.

Imagine I’m staying at your house and I’m in the shower. You want to get my attention. So you stand in the kitchen and scream “Nancy” every three seconds. Since I’m in the shower, I can’t hear you. No problem. Just keep up the shouting until I’m out of the shower and can holler back. Now imagine that there are ten of us living together. You’re still calling me and now your spouse is calling “Tom”. Every three seconds. As loudly as possible. Now your sister decides that I’m not responding to you quickly enough, so she helps by yelling “Nancy” as loudly as she can, every three seconds.

While the yelling is happening, there’s also music in the background. Well, actually, it’s in the foreground, since it is turned up as loud as it will go. Which makes people have to yell louder over it. The music is usually from a small radio with poor reception. Sometimes a TV. Sometimes a stereo system with great woofers and really powerful base, so you can almost feel the fale shake.

The music being played is usually Samoan hymns. Or popular American music that’s been remixed in Samoa to a reggae beat. Or made into rap. Christmas songs were a hoot here. Every morning in the training village, my sister turned on the radio to Good Morning Samoa (no, I’m not kidding.) After the news, given in both English and Samoan, came music. We listened to Christmas carols done in rap, reggae and to a polka beat. I taught Fa to polka to the beat of a Polish/Samoan version of Jingle Bells.

When the radios and TVs aren’t tuned to music, they’re usually tuned to religious programming. Evangelical preaching, in Samoan, delivered in stereo. My house is located between two Pentecostal churches. Because the churches here use large amplifiers for the music and the preaching, I know when those churches are having their services. Sometimes, during evening prayer services, I hear preaching from both churches as well as the radio of the next door neighbor and the preacher on the TV in the next fale.

Samoans love to sing. Pacific Islanders are reputed to be amongst the best singers in the world. Going to church is akin to going to a great choral concert, reputedly. I overheard a conversation recently. A man said “Samoans are the best singers.” His wife responded “Samoans are the loudest singers.” I’d have to side with loudest, which does not necessarily mean best.

One Sunday I was lucky enough to attend a service that involved the choirs from five different Congregational churches. It was three hours of fabulous music, with great harmony. I’ve also visited churches where they made a joyful noise unto the Lord. Not necessarily good music, but great enthusiasm.

The family next door, who I can hear but can’t see, due to the foliage between the houses, has a lot of kids. I’m not sure how many, but I know it’s more than 10. They live in an open fale about 20 feet away from where I sleep, so I can hear most of what happens in their home. As you can imagine, there’s a fair amount of children/babies crying and a mom yelling. My favorite sound from their fale, though, is the one little boy who loves to sing. He sings all day, every day. Mostly hymns, but other songs, too. He’s not a great singer, but he’s enthusiastic and even when I’m craving quiet, it’s hard not to smile when I hear that sweet, out-of-pitch voice belting out a song. Especially when it’s “Row, row, row your boat.” which I taught him last week at the beach fale.

I’ve learned to tell time by the sounds I hear. If I hear a conch shell being blown in the morning, it means it’s time for the fishermen to head out on the lagoon. And just as with calling someone’s name, sometimes the shell must be blown repeatedly. Sometimes for over half an hour.

The bells are rung at the churches for a variety of reasons. First, let me say that bell doesn’t necessarily mean the kind of metal, bell-shaped object that you may be thinking of. More often, a bell here is made from an old oxygen tank, which is then pounded. Or an old propane tank. Or anything metal that will make noise.

Bells are rung to indicate that morning prayer services will start soon. They usually start at 5 a.m., by the way, so the bell ringing usually starts around 4:30. Don’t worry about that waking you up, since the roosters really get going around 4 a.m. The bells continue throughout the day to announce choir practice (random times), church services, youth practice (usually around 4 in the p.m.), bingo (usually in the afternoon), evening curfew and, sadly, the death of someone who belongs to that church.

I asked the 18 year old who died, after hearing the bell the other day. She said “No one died.” “But the bell rang, slowly and steadily.” “Like this? Bong….bong…bong. Or like this Bong.bong….Bong.bong”.

After I explained it was the first, steady ringing, she agreed that that was the bell to announce a death, but she didn’t go to that church, so didn’t know who had died.

Bells are also used to announce a tsunami warning. After the death of over 200 people just over a year ago as a result of a tsunami, people have started taking the warnings seriously. I asked how I could tell the difference between choir practice and the need to run for the hills, she said I’d know. “It’s really fast, really loud and all the churches will be ringing their bells at the same time.” I asked how long they rang the bell for warning. “For a long time, or until the kid ringing the bell gets scared and runs.” That’s not a job I’d want.

In the wee hours the other morning, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to tell if the approaching headlights were of a car or a bus. I didn’t want to be out there flagging down random cars, but didn’t want to miss the bus. I shouldn’t have worried, since you can usually hear the buses coming. In addition to the sound of a rough, loud engine and grinding gears as the bus slows for the numerous speed bumps, there’s also the music blaring. The buses are each privately owned and it seems to be a point of honor as to who has the loudest music. Not a great selling point, in my opinion, but does make it easier to know which vehicle to flag down in the dark.

Last night we were under an alert for a cyclone. The storm is what caused all of our rain the last several days. The family, in preparation for the storm, moved all four cars/trucks away from large trees. They filled oil lamps with fuel. They gathered extra coconuts to have on hand for the pigs/chickens. Then, while I laid in bed, they prayed. Prayer here is often in song form. So for an hour, I laid in the dark, listening to the family sing their prayers to keep us safe from the cyclone. In harmony. The storm passed us and is now aiming for American Samoa.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What is That Smell?


Sundays in Samoa means to'ona'i - or the weekly family feast.  This is a shot of the smoke coming from the outdoor kitchen at the neighbor's fale as they prepare the umu (oven) for the feast.


 I remember coming home to Orlando on a late night flight with my brother once.  As we stepped from the plane into the jetway, he stopped, drew in a deep breath and said “Ah, I love the smell of Florida – the smell of things rotting.”    We laughed as we walked on, but it’s true. 

The smell of Samoa is the scent of things burning.  The majority of people in my village, including the family I live with, cook over an open fire.  The smoky smell of wood burning and food cooking is an every night constant.  It’s frequently mixed with the pungent smell of garbage burning.  There’s garbage pickup in the village, but many people opt to burn all trash, including plastics, rather than pay for pickup.

Another inescapable aroma is from the myriad of plants and flowers.  There are beautiful flowers, like the orchids that grow wild as well as in gardens, that don’t have an odor.  Then there’s the large plant that many people use as hedges.  It’s also commonly used in ulas (leis) and has a strong, sweet, almost overpowering, odor. 

I love getting ulas and appreciate the effort and thought that goes into them, but really have a problem wearing the ones made from the yellow-green plant.  The smell makes me sneeze and something in the plant makes any bare skin it touches get red and itchy.  The smell, though, from afar is lovely.

Family vacations when I was young were usually road trips to visit relatives who lived five hours away.  After a couple of days of visiting we’d hit the road again and head to Baja, Mexico.  Back before Ensenada became a cruise port, it was a tiny fishing village and we spent a week there every year.  I still associate the smell of the sea with those family vacations.  Not surprising that I love the smell of the sea here at low tide. Salty and a bit fishy, I can close my eyes and let the smell take me away.  Calgon, it’s the smell you were trying to find.

The market is always filled with competing smells.  The tantalizing aroma of freshly fried donuts and chicken that is occasionally overtaken when a breeze blows from the nearby fish market.  The ava has a subtle but distinctive scent that provides a sort of earthiness to the blend of market smells.  One section of the market is reserved for the sale of taro and other large root vegetables.  Strolling through, contemplating what the heck you do with a three foot piece of starchy vegetable, I enjoy a pleasant whiff of the rich earth still clinging to the roots.  The other market smell that permeates is the ever present hair gel.  A sweet, pleasant smell that is almost overpowering when a group of young men with carefully styled and gelled hair pass.

Night time in Samoa will always mean the aroma of burning mosquito coils mixed with the smell of burning garbage.  A surprisingly good smell.

Customer Service

One of the families pigs.  Nothing to do with customer service, I just like pigs.
 
Written on Saturday, January 15, 2011

While in Apia this week, I went to lunch with a couple of PC friends. We decided to splurge on a palagi-style restaurant that’s aimed, and priced, for tourists. A splurge, but it was close and we were hot and tired. The power had been out all over town and crossing streets with no traffic signals was an adventure we didn’t care to face any more than we had to.

We ordered nachos for me, a tuna/avocado sandwich and a chicken wrap. We found a seat and waited about 15 minutes for our food. The waitress came out to explain that because the power was out, they could only serve a limited menu. Did they just notice it had been out for over two hours? The nachos were out along with the tuna and chicken sandwiches. No tuna? Perhaps they only had an electric can opener. After a bit of discussion, we determined that they couldn’t serve the tuna sandwiches because they were toasted. We all agreed that untoasted was fine and we’d all get a tuna and avocado sandwich.

Another 15 minutes later, the waitress came toward us again. We let out a collective sigh, since she was not carrying food. “We’re out of avocados, so we can’t serve the tuna sandwich.” We shared a look and stood up, in unison. We just couldn’t go through another discussion about the possibility of just serving the tuna sandwich without the avocado. The fact that someone was selling avocados about twenty feet away just added to the frustration.

About the nachos. There is not a doubt in my mind I would have hated them but ordered them just the same. She described them as “Mince cooked with sweet chili and tomato sauce and some cheese.” “Is that served on top of nacho chips?” “Oh, yes, there’s something under it. I’m not sure what.” Only my desperation for anything Mexican made me order them in the first place.

Mince, by the way, is an abbreviation for “minced meat”, the New Zealand way of saying hamburger. Sweet chili is a sauce that’s used a lot here and I love it. Think of the Thai sweet/spicy sauce that comes with coconut shrimp. Tomato sauce is ketchup. Wattie’s is a New Zealand brand and they make the best ketchup. It has a hint of cloves.

After lunch, we ran around the corner so I could get a photo printed. Photos are fairly expensive here and a luxury that people love. I took a picture of Ruta and her cousin’s family and wanted to take them a print when we go back to see the waterfall again.

I’d had numerous prints made at the place and the lady recognized me. She explained that the power was out, so the printer wasn’t working. I pointed out that she was using her desktop computer, so perhaps the power had come back on. She looked around, realized the lights were on, and she was in fact using her computer. “Oh, then maybe I can make a print for you.” She did. I’m looking forward to seeing the family again when we make our grand tour of Savaii next month.

Today, I walked the mile or so to the Tuisivi store. I stood in line to buy some ramen and stuff from a middle aged woman who didn’t seem happy to be there. She became even less happy when another employee insisted she take a phone call. She stopped cashiering while she talked. For several minutes she chatted, while about ten people waited patiently in line. When she finished, she completed my transaction and threw my change at me. I thought perhaps she didn’t care for me or palagi’s in general, but looked back to see her throwing change at the next customer, a Samoan.

On the other hand, when I checked into my room at a great bargain place in Apia, the Livingstone Accommodations, the owner stayed in my fale for a few minutes, showing me the amenities and chatting. Before she left, she gave me a hug. That’s the Samoan service I love.

A Day In the Life



Lindsey, the puppy is on the bottom, Lassie (no kidding, Lassie) is on top and that's Blackie, the pig chaser, sticking his nose in.


Written Wednesday, January 19, 2011

If you’ve read Matt’s blog (Group 81), you know that he was persistent and consistent in posting an amusing and insightful entry every day.  He took great pride in it and he should, it’s a lot of work and a real commitment.

Having said that, Matt had the internet in his house in Apia.  Note some differences between his circumstances and mine.  He had internet, he had a house and he lived in the capital city.  Matt occasionally struggled to come up with fresh topics each day.  I empathize although things are still new enough to me that I see stuff to write about everywhere I look.  My day to day routine, however, is nothing to write home about unless you’re hoping for a soporific. 

It’s still summer vacation here so I’m not teaching yet.  It’s a small village with very little to do other than volleyball (voli), going for a savali (walk), watching the ocean or Bingo.  I don’t do voli and haven’t tried Bingo yet.  So I don’t write a daily report of my activities.  Today, though, I thought I would describe the last two days, to give you a detailed glimpse into my current Peace Corps reality.  I promise, I won’t put you through this on a regular basis.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

As usual, I woke up about 6:30 a.m. I could hear roosters crowing, dogs barking, children yelling and a Samoan hymn playing full blast from a tinny radio.  It was cloudy and overcast and I laid in bed contemplating staying home to work on my Samoan or heading to Salelologa to post on the blog and check for mail.  I decided to be good and work on the Samoan.

Because it was cool and breezy and I was feeling lazy, instead of immediately hopping into the shower and getting dressed, I put on my robe and dragged my laptop out to the table in the fale. 

My robe, by the way, was a gift from a friend to replace an identical one that had become embarrassingly ratty.  It is described as a “patio dress” on the website that sells it and is floor length, has short sleeves and is made of a heavy t-shirt type of fabric.  I would never consider wearing it in public at home.  The first time I came out of my room with it here, the family asked me if I was going someplace special.  I was, to brush my teeth.

After booting up my laptop, I started work on my current effort to learn Samoan.  I’m copying a 3,000 plus list of vocabulary words into a small notebook.  Or, what will be a series of small notebooks.  I figure I can always have it nearby to study, or refer to when I’m stuck for a word.  So far, I’m up to the “d” words.

After about an hour, the 18 year old came from the other fale with a cup of Koko Samoa, always a welcome treat, especially since I hadn’t had anything yet to eat or drink.  I told her that I thought a rat had stolen the bait from the trap in my room.  She went to check it out and came out with what she called a rat and I called a small mouse.

Her father came to see what we’d caught and I took photos.  Then we talked about Samoan language for a few minutes before the conversation drifted and we started talking about various things and places.  I pulled up some photos of my hometown on the laptop, then some other photos that included my home state of Arizona, along with some travel photos.  We spent over an hour together talking, which was one of the longest conversations I’ve had since Ruta went back to New Zealand.

They left to go to Salelologa for the girl to take her driving test and I showered, dressed and went back to work on copying Samoan words.  After another hour or so, I was hungry and wanted to move around, so decided to head out to find some food.  My options were either to walk to the Tuisivi store to see if they had any sandwiches or keke pua’a left, or to walk the opposite way, toward my future house, to see if the lady was still selling avocados in front of her fale.  I opted for the avocados and headed that way.

I was watching the sky and noted that the horizon was dark with a storm slowing moving our way.  Still, a nice overcast, breezy day for a walk.  I passed one woman selling cucumbers.  She let me buy just one last week, although she sells them in groups of seven. Things are generally sold here in sizes suitable for a large Samoan family, which can make shopping for one challenging, and expensive.  Plus there’s the palagi premium that most people charge me.  PC told us during training that people in our village would be giving us prepared food, along with fruits, vegetables, koko Samoa, etc. and would never consider charging a PCV.  I believe they were misinformed.

Anyway, I chatted with her for a minute and told her I’d buy a cucumber on my way back.  I continued walking, keeping an eye on the dark clouds moving my way.  I was in luck and the family selling avocados was there.  I bought two perfectly ripe avocados for $2 and moved on to the faleoloa near my new house to buy a can of tuna.  As I paid the $4.50 for the tuna, I chatted with my future family member about what was happening with the family and my house.  Seems that the woman staying in the house had returned to Apia and the homeowner had said that if I showed up to let me know that I could move in any time.

At this point, I’ve got some concerns.  The renovations to the home, which were supposed to be completed in December, then were going to be done last week, still have not begun.  There were also some other small issues. I called the PC office and explained the situation.  They agreed that it was best not to move yet.  They’ll continue trying to contact the homeowner and sort things out.  It’s frustrating for me and I’m sure for the PC staff.  I’ve heard that there are several other volunteers are in similar situations. 

So, I started trudging back to my fale, thinking that the dark clouds moving closer perfectly reflected my mood.  I said “Malo” to a young man walking past me and then realized he was carrying a large basket made of palm fronds.  

“Are you selling something?” I asked in my best Samoan, meaning really bad Samoan.
“Yes.”
 “What?”
“This.” And showed me a packet made of the leaves of the breadfruit tree. 
“What is in it?”
“Limu.”

Ah.  Limu, a type of seaweed that looks like green blackberries and is delicious.  Just hours before I mentioned that I haven’t seen limu for sale for weeks.  The kid charged me $6, rather than the standard price of $5.  I assume because I’m palagi, or maybe there was an upswing in the world market price of limu.  In any case, I took the limu and kept walking.

I stopped at Moana’s faleoloa to see if they had any ‘apainu, and they did.  I paid $2.50 for a can of Malaysian-made orange soda.  Not the best, but cold and bubbly.  The storeowner asked what was in the breadfruit ato (bag).

“Limu.”
“How much?”
“Six tala.”
“Too much.”
“Yup.”
I added the soda to my bag of goodies and crossed the street to buy a cucumber.  She asked what was in the breadfruit ato (bag.)

“Limu.”
“How much?”
“Six tala.”
“Too much.”
“Yup.”
The good news about typical conversations is that it doesn’t really stretch my limited Samoan.  I paid her $1 for the cucumber and headed off.  After contemplating the clouds, I decided it was safer to head home to eat the avocado than risk getting soaked in the beach fale.   The house was still empty when I got home, save for the dogs who seemed thrilled to see me. 
After a lunch of crackers, peanut butter and avocado, I worked on my Samoan vocab some more, as the rain began to pour.  The storm continued while I called a friend in the States.  After the 37 minute call (that’s 7 tala for the first seven minutes followed by 30 free minutes), I retired to my bedroom with Mr. Kindle.  The rain was still pouring down and the wind was blowing it into the open fale.
The family came home and brought me some of the limu I’d left on their table, along with a boiled banana, then retired to their respective fales to wait out the rain.  I spent the rest of the day snuggled up with Mr. Kindle. Dinner was crackers and peanut butter, prepared and eaten on my mattress on the floor, by the light of my headlamp. 
About 9 p.m. I heard a rustling, then a snap. I went out to find someone willing to see what the rat trap had caught this time.  Just another small mouse.
More reading, until about midnight, then I turned off my headlamp and went to sleep to the sound of the rain, which had continued, unabated, all day.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I woke up after 7 a.m. to the sound of pouring rain, the steady beat of a too loud bass from someone’s boom box and a woman yelling.  I was tangled up in the lava lava I use for a sheet and my down blanket.  I didn’t really want to get up, but figured I might as well get moving.  I was tired of sitting around and was hoping the rain would let up so I could catch the bus to Salelologa.

I headed to take a shower and found out that when it rains that hard, for that long, it’s not just humans that want to come inside.  When I first stepped into the bathroom I noticed a large insect that I assume is a type of grasshopper.  It was about 2 inches long, with wings and what looked like small horns.  Then I noticed one of his friends on the other wall.  I just ignored them as I stepped into the shower.  You know how worms come out on sidewalks in the spring when it rains?  Well, in Samoa, worms seem to come out into the shower.  I tried washing them down the drain and that worked for some.  The rest I just tried not to step on as I showered.

I used my still-wet bath towel from yesterday to get as dry as I could before getting dressed.  I’ve started using my beer crates to store my clothes and love being able to see what options I have for clean clothes without having to paw through a suitcase. 

Dragged the laptop out in the fale and gratefully accepted two slices of dry toast from the family for breakfast.  They dined together in the other fale and brought the toast to me to eat while I type. They’ve left their fale now, some drove away in the car, others went into different fales on the compound to wait out the rain, which shows no sign of stopping. 

I’m listening to a Ricardo Arjona CD that I bought in Guatemala.  If I’m going to work on my Samoan, it’s probably best to turn off the Spanish music.  Then again, I hear Mr. Kindle calling me…

Ok, Mr. Kindle won out.  I read for a few hours then went back out to the fale.  It was still raining and I had cabin fever.  The 18 year old was in the kitchen, preparing food for their dinner.  She chatted about her boyfriends for a bit and I wandered back to my fale.  I worked on my Samoan and played some computer games.

The rain continued to fall. The family went to prayer service, which lasted over three hours.  I made chili mac for dinner.  That’s boiled macaroni and a small can of Hormel chili without beans.  I served it with an avocado.  It was delicious.

I was back in my room, reading and listening to the rain and the rats in my room when they returned from church.  I asked if I could use the rat trap again and the 18 year old looked perplexed.  “Is there a problem?”  “No, I don’t think so.  I’ll have to ask my dad.”

Fifteen minutes later she was back, talking about her boyfriend and I asked her about the rat trap.  “Oh, we don’t know where it is.  My dad will look for it.” 

I was a bit perplexed, since we’d had the trap that morning.  We’d also had a discussion about the fact that we were just finding baby rats and the parents were probably still in my room.  Have I mentioned it’s a small room?  Perhaps 10’ X 10’, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for the rats and I to share?

An hour later I was ready to retire for the night so asked again about the rat trap.  “My dad can’t find it. Maybe tomorrow.”

This is a great example of my dilemma with communications in Samoa.  Samoans don’t like to say no.  Indirection is a big part of the culture.  So, did they need the rat trap for someplace else?  Were they tired of me asking them to bait it and remove the dead rats?  Was the trap really lost?  I don’t know.  I may never know.  And it’s still raining.


 The 18 year old rat catcher in the open fale we share. She's standing in our kitchen, living room, her bedroom - I sleep in a separate, attached room.

The "rat" which looks a lot like a mouse, to me.

Why, yes, I have been bored.  Which is why I took a picture of dog poop.  Plus, it was just so darned colorful, don't you think?
Heidi - this one's for you.  This is the beach at the resort 2 minutes from my house.  Ya'll come visit!


Fa'i Samoa - tastes just like "palagi" bananas, but they're HUGE!  My first day visiting my new school, they handed me two for a little snack.

I've Got Answers

 I'm alive and well, but just in case...this is actually on display to show off the work of a carpenter who lives near me.



What’s up with the Q & A format?
I don’t know, I just find it easy to do. No theme, just random stuff that occurs to me as I’m going through the day.

What are the best things you brought with you from home?
My Kindle, headlamp, rechargeable batteries, a good kitchen knife, a decent frying pan and a medium sized washable nylon purse with several zippered pockets and a strap that I can wear diagonally across my body.  Oh, almost forgot the down throw that Greg and Vicki gave me years ago for Christmas.  It folds away to nothing, is very warm and has been a huge comfort on the chilly nights we’ve been having. 

Is there anything you wish you’d brought?
Not really.  I wish I had taken the Buck knife that I brought with me to the training village.  I use a knife here a lot – for cutting fruit, opening packages, prying stuff open, etc.  Handy to always have on hand.

Why is everybody carrying a hand towel?
A lot of people carry hand towels, but not everyone.  Some carry wash cloths.  Some carry hankies.  Some carry tea towels.  They’re used to wipe the sweat off your face.  Most people, including men, also carry a fan.  I carry a hanky and a fan. No, I don’t wear makeup, because it would just melt off during the mid-day sweating.

Does your laundry actually get clean when you bucket wash it?
I doubt it.  Clearly, based on the filthy water when I’m done it’s cleaner, but all things are relative.  After washing, rinsing as well as I can and hanging in the sun/breeze, it still smells like something that’s been in your grandma’s closet a decade too long.

How do you dry your clothes there, since it’s been raining for several days straight?
I hang them on the line under the open fale.  I’ve also learned that “dry” is a relative word and is interchangeable with “slightly damp”.

How long will it take them to dry?
Completely dry?  Probably will never happen.  How long it takes to get dry enough depends on wind.  If there’s a breeze and it doesn’t blow the rain on them, just a few hours.  No breeze and a hundred per cent humidity, it could take a day or two.

If it’s such a pain in the ass to wash a lot of clothes at one time, why did you let your laundry pile up?

Good question.  Partly because I was in Apia, so that was two days worth of clothes.  Then it started raining and the covered clothes lines were full of other people’s clothes.  Yesterday, I was just lazy.  I read a book instead.  Yes, the entire book. 

What was that young couple doing outside the faleoloa yesterday?
Eating ice cream.  It’s considered impolite to eat and drink while walking here, so people buy ice cream cones in the only store in the area that sells them, then stand outside to eat them.  In this case, they were also eating donuts.  Ice cream cone in one hand, donut in the other, alternating a bite of donut with a lick of ice cream.

You spend a lot of time sitting at the beach fale.  Have you seen anything interesting?
Yes.  Twice, I’ve seen huge schools of small fish, flying across the water.  Clearly, there were predators below.  It was beautiful. 

While waiting for the bus in the wee hours the other morning I saw a Russian submarine.  Well, it actually was probably a fisherman with a strong underwater flashlight.  But sighting a Russian submarine sounds much more exciting.

I’ve been here a month now.  I can still happily stare at the water for hours. Which is a good thing, since I spend hours staring at the water.

Do you miss any food from home?
Mexican food and anything with cheese on it.  And bacon.  And steak.  They sell bacon at the nearby store, but it’s $20 tala a pound.  It will be a treat every few months.  They sell cheese for $8, so I’ll be getting that, once I get a fridge.  I don’t know when that will be. I also crave a good, old-fashioned grilled hamburger.  They sell hamburgers in some restaurants in Apia, but they’re made New Zealand style.  That means with a paper thin meat patty, a fried egg and something similar to coleslaw.  Tasty, but just not what I crave, which is a thick, blood-red rare grilled burger on a bun with a schmear of mayo and a thick slice of sweet onion.

What do you eat?
I don’t often eat with the family I’m staying with and my ability to cook here is very limited.  I eat a lot of crackers with peanut butter.  Sometimes with jam, sometimes with avocado, since they’re in season and only $1 tala apiece.  I’ve been buying a piece of fried chicken at the market in Salelologa each week when I go in to shop and use the internet.  Only $2 tala for a leg/thigh and delicious.  My iron stomach hasn’t let me down yet, so no problems eating the street food.

I’ve been eating a lot of ramen, too.  Cheap and easy to make.  The big store that’s about a mile away sometimes sells sandwiches for $2 tala (either tuna or egg salad) so I’ve had those a few times.

I eat a lot of fruit.  There’s a star fruit tree in the yard and I seem to be the only one who eats the fruit.  There’s also vi, which is tasty.  And, sometimes I buy bananas and pineapple.  I also try to eat vegetables.  Cucumber, tuna and sweet chile sauce is really tasty and easy to make.

Having a house with electricity for my two burner hot plate, a fridge and a clean surface on which to store food and cook will enable me to have a healthier, better balanced diet, with more variety.  Meat options are very limited, though.  At the only “supermarket” in Salelologa, I’ve seen chicken legs/thighs and some fatty cuts of lamb.  I’m really hoping the rumor is true and they’ll be opening a Farmer Joe’s here.  At Christmas I bought a small piece of chuck steak at Farmer Joe’s for $7 tala.  Pricey, but I could have made a stew with it that would have been several meals. 

Why do you always keep your door closed?
To keep out the chickens and the puppy, who’s still leaving puddles throughout the house.

What kind of poop is that on your shirt?
I believe it’s lizard poop.  My clothes, along with everything else I own, is covered with poop.  Usually, it’s small and dry and I just shake it off. Sometimes it’s not and it’s messy.  I thought it was rat poop, but after a serious discussion over dinner the other night, we agreed that it was probably lizard poop, based on the color, size and texture.  Lizard poop, by the way, is not to be confused with gecko poop, which is similar but smaller and not as prevalent. 

Yes, we do discuss poop over meals.  We’ve also been known to discuss the appearance of scabs, infections and other issues we all face.  Sometimes we catch ourselves and move the conversation toward books, movies and other more appropriate topics.  Sometimes we don’t. 

Do you ever speak English?
I speak English most of the time.  People expect me to speak English and they like to show off their English, which works for me.  Plus, even though I’m still studying, my Samoan is still very limited.  I do speak some Samoan every day, though.  I’ll be speaking a lot more in school.

Do you ever watch television?
The family I live with has a TV in their fale, but I’m rarely in there.  I’ve watched a couple of movies on my laptop and I’ve listened to a few podcasts of “Wait, wait, don’t tell me” that I downloaded before I left home.  I wish I’d downloaded more.

Shockingly, since I was a world-class, TV watching, couch potato pre-PC, I don’t really miss TV.  For the last five minutes, for example, I’ve watched the puppy wrestle with the old dog, the puppy chase the chicken around the fale and the baby pigs run flat out through the rain.  Quite entertaining.

Are you going to write a book?
What, after reading this boring entry, you want more?  Yes, actually, I am planning to write a book.  I’m making notes now.  Have chatted with a publisher.  My current plan, which could change at any time, is to go around the world again when my two year service is up.  I’m planning to use my separation money from the PC to book a 4 month trip around the world on a freighter.  Lots of time at sea to write. 

The book will include a lot of stuff this blog doesn’t.  It will be more candid and will be about more than just the two years in Samoa, although that will be a big part of it.  Hopefully it will be funny and interesting.  I doubt it will get me an invitation to the White House or to be an ambassador.  I doubt if Oprah will put me on a list.  Dr. Phil may want to do an intervention, though.

My uncle always said he was going to write a book.  He was funny and a good writer, so I always hoped he’d talk about it less and write more.  He finished his book and self-published just before he died, in his mid-90’s.  I’m hoping it won’t take me that long.


 I was enjoying the shade of this tree, then glanced up.  Yes, those are coconuts, or as I like to think of them, death, waiting to fall on me.  Seriously, I have to be aware of falling coconuts. They weigh a ton and can cause serious damage.
Nice display of fa'i pula (ripe bananas) for sale just down the street. Yes, that's the ocean in the background.