I'm typing this on my failing laptop. It seems that the cable between screen and computer has frayed. I'm blaming ants. The computer guru in Salelologa who has become my hero over the past two months says "age". Oh, well, looks like a new laptop will be my next investment.
About 50 parents showed up for a meeting at the school today to discuss my housing situation. I was seated in front, facing the parents, along with the principal, lead teacher (with whom I currently live) and the former principal, who is now the regional person (called School Resource Officer or SRO). The parents stared at me while everyone made speeches, including me.
Thankfully, the principal warned me and dictated a page of Samoan for me to read. There seemed to be great surprise when I started speaking in Samoan and by the end I'm sure their ears were sore from my bad pronunciation. I got a number of smiles of encouragement, though.
Overall, it was good news. Clearly, the parents are frustrated with the school committee who was supposed to handle this and has spent all the money collected previously from the parents. None of the committee showed for the meeting, by the way, although they were invited. They also expressed (as far as my Samoan could tell) that they really want me at the school.
One woman, who's been a sweetheart from day one, gave a long speech about how wonderful I am. She said she considers me a sister and at the end of her speech said, in English "I love you, Nancy!" So I thanked her in Samoan and went over and gave her a hug. That got a lot of laughs and helped break the tension in the room.
Outcome of the meeting is that there will be a fund raiser on Friday. I heard someone suggest a dance as a fundraiser. They were all staring at me during what I thought was a discussion of a dance. Could this mean I'll be asked to perform Friday? I'll let you know. On Saturday, someone will take the money to the hardware store to buy the supplies needed to build the outhouse for the last house I posted photos of. PC and I were previously told that the supplies were at the house and only labor was needed. Not sure what happened with that.
I was told that someone (who is unclear) will build the outhouse. It should take two days and should be completed in a few weeks. I was given the option of moving in with that family during construction, but opted not to move for the 10th time since I left home. I'll wait until it's done and I can just move once.
BTW, after the meeting, I asked for a translation of what happened. They looked surprised that I asked and said that they'd build an outhouse and I'd move. Uma. Done. A 30 second translation of a 1 1/2 hour meeting.
I'm guardedly excited about the move. I will have an indoor kitchen, which will rock. I've been accumulating more canned goods and they need a home. A friend volunteered to research ideas on a cheap way to improve the plywood kitchen counter tops. I'll be researching how to plug the holes in the tin ceiling. It was used before, so there are rows of holes which let in the rain. Chewing gum? There's gotta be a way.
That's the news for now. We've had a couple of dry days which has been great for laundry. I'll be officially teaching full time next week and the kids and I are both excited about that. Wish us luck!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Grapes are just a tad out of my price range.
Kind of expensive to have salad here in Samoa. I've only seen lettuce once in Savaii and it was half rotten.
|You can't dawdle when trying to get the only bus from the ferry to Apia. Don't get crammed on? It costs $60 for a cab instead of $3 for this fun bus ride.|
I'm used to seeing AAA maps on dashboards, so it took me a minute to react to seeing this one on the dash of my family's truck. It was the map of Florida a friend sent. My host "dad" is fascinated with the maps and takes them everywhere to read while he's waiting.
This is a real time update from the Peace Corps office in Apia. It's 8:34 a.m. and I'm enjoying the complete silence of the place. I planned to upload the amazingly well-written, humorous and thought-provoking stuff I wrote during the week, but realized I saved it to the hard drive on my laptop rather than my flash drive. Just another incidence of memory issues this week. I've had several.
One of the things I wrote about was that I was creating a rating system for every week. Much like in the Diary of Briget Jones. Rather than using cigarettes and liquor as a measure of the week, I'd be using popo, or coconuts.
This week was a 3 popo week. Like every week so far, it had its ups and downs. The week started Sunday morning with a torrential downpour and wind to match. Nevertheless, I heard the church bell, took a cold shower, dressed in a nice puletasi and slogged through the mud and rain to church. There was no one there.
I tried to keep my bible dry while hiking up my full-length skirt to keep it out of the ankle-deep mud while I walked home. I took another cold shower and changed clothes. Literally the minute I was done changing, the bell rang, which normally announces church. I said some inappropriate things under my breath and made some American cocoa (thanks, Donna!) I found out on Monday that the bell was just a reminder to pray at home since there was too much rain for church. I have no idea how to tell which bell means it's time for church and which means pray at home.
The other big news last Sunday was that the puppy disappeared. Or, as they say in the American press "went missing." When did that annoying phrase creep into the media? Sad news, we discovered Sasa's body on Monday. He'd been poisoned. The family assumes it was the neighbors, with whom they've had an on-going and heating-up land fight. They go to court next month and it promises to be ugly. If the other family loses, they have to leave the village and their house will be torn down. Ironic, given that I'm still looking for a house.
Whoever did it, I don't understand it. The puppy never left our compound. He didn't bark too much and other than leaving puddles for me to step in, didn't bother anyone. And he gave a lot of love. I'll miss him.
The week at school was stellar. I did a lot of observing, which was really helpful. I got to be the sub for the day when the Year 1 teacher was at a meeting. Have to admit, those 5 year olds almost brought me to my knees. I've had virtually no discipline problems with the older kids. I told them the rules and while there's the occasional slip, they generally follow them. Year 1 was chaos.
One boy was completely out of control. I'm sure he'd be on Ritalin in the States. It didn't help that I wanted to just laugh and hug him as much as I wanted to duct tape him to a chair. I finally took him next door to let the Samoan teacher deal with him. She called in his mom, who hangs out all morning in the school fale with some of the other moms and Mom suggested that he'd behave if I punched him in the mouth. Perhaps, but I wasn't punching.
Anyway, that day ended with me playing Duck, Duck Goose and London Bridge with the kids, yelling directions in Samoan, while the parents watched. I had an out-of-body experience at one moment. I saw myself sweating in a puletasi while chasing a tiny Samoan around the circle of kids. What was a management consultant doing spending hours singing and playing games with little kids? Laughing and having a good time.
The week was cruising along at about a 4 popo rate when I got a call from Peace Corps on Thursday afternoon. One of the staff called to see how I was settling in to my new house. I had to explain that the deal was off and we were back at square one. I told the PC staffer that I'd explained that to the other staffer the week before. Unfortunately, he's no longer with PC and left the impression that I was all set.
Upshot was that PC is now involved again. I won't bore you with details, but my housing situation has now been announced to all the parents of the school and they're having a meeting next week to try to find a couple of men to help build the bathroom in the house that was offered. Another offer of a place came in, which was incredibly generous, but would involve at least a month of construction to essentially build a new house. The concern is that we'd wait another month or two and if it didn't happen, would be in the same situation as we're currently in.
On Saturday morning, before sunrise, my family got up to give me a ride to the ferry. I've enjoyed a relaxing, rejuvanating weekend in Apia. I chatted with a couple of Australian tourists on the ferry. I enjoyed lunch and "girl time" with a friend. I had dinner with a friend who finished his service with PC Samoa and a PC Washington staffer who's part of the team here to assess reorg possibilities. The evening finished with the RPCV and I heading to a place for live music and cold beer. We enjoyed a beer, music and conversation while sitting under an open fale by candlelight. I felt like quite the grown up.
I slept in a clean room with no bugs. I have a lot of bug bites. I currently have more than 50, mostly on my torso. I counted, during a moment of boredom. It was nice to not accrue any more during the night. The room was clean and quiet but also Samoan. There was no mattress, just a box spring. No worries, compared to the floor it was heaven. It only had one sheet, so I just wrapped up in that and slept on the bare box spring. The shower was clean (hurray!) and had hot water, which was great. The challenge, though, was to keep the water on, you had to press a button on the wall. I've never seen a shower like it. At first I was annoyed, then I realized it was kind of like playing Twister, under water.
Try this at home. Hop in the shower. Turn it on and place you finger on an imaginary button adjacent to the faucet. As you shower, one finger must remain on the button for the water to remain on. Ok, now turn around - don't take your finger off the button! I can just envision this water-saving device on sale on TV at home. "It will save you thousands on your water and electricity bills! Plus, it provides fun and exercise for the whole family! Twist and turn your way clean with the new, fabulous "You Don't Get Water If You Don't Push The Button" shower head!
Yup, ups and downs but overall another good week in Samoa. Fa, soi fua!
|Sailing away from Salelologa, the largest "city" on Savaii, on the ferry.|
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Just some of the mail I've received. Most boxes have been consolidated and are stored with my school supplies. Candy, spices, etc. are stored in rat proof containers.
Because the family I live with sells snacks at the school, they go into Salelologa almost every day to shop. Tuesday, I rode along and we made a stop at the Post Office. Getting mail is especially fun here because the Post Mistress, who has never asked for ID, now recognizes me. She lets me come into the back room, where all mail is kept. I get to sort through everything that’s come in for Peace Corps.
Because I wasn’t able to stop at the PC office to drop off mail for others, I just snagged the packages and letters for myself. I couldn’t even wait to get back to the truck before I start checking out who wrote. I got a Christmas card from Granny T. along with a long letter and crosswords. I got a second letter and more puzzles from Granny T. I got a card with a great long letter from a young friend who’s finishing law school, studying for the bar and working full time. She doesn’t have the time to write, but did. I got a card from Donna with some eye glass cleaning clothes that I’d asked for. I also got packages. One from ML and Ralph with some great goodies, including some blank cards and envelopes. Yes, I get the hint and will start sending snail mail, especially to Granny T. who is the queen of correspondence.
Included in the package was a card with a note in it. I was confused. The package was from ML but the card was from MP? Huh? Then memory hit. MP gave me the card before I left home. I gave ML some stuff that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase at the last minute, for safe keeping. The card was in there. It made me cry when MP first gave it to me and made me cry again in Samoa.
On the front is a quote I love from Thoreau “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” Inside, the printed message is: “The road toward a dream can be filled with challenges. It is easy to get discouraged along the way. Just remember, that overcoming a difficult journey will only add to the satisfaction of achieving a dream. I believe in you and your ability to succeed.”
Last, but way not least, was a package from an address I didn’t recognize at first. Who’d be sending me a large padded envelope from NY? Wait, don’t Mika’s folks, Betsy and Fred live in NY? Yes, and bless them for sending love in the form of a great note and goodies. How did you know my favorite candies? The school stuff rocks! They suggested I enjoy the treats, share them or use them as gifts. I’ll do all three.
I’ve never met Betsy and Fred and this is the second time they’ve sent me love. Actually, the most love they’ve sent comes in the form of tall, fit, blonde Joseph Michael (Mika) who is serving in Upolu. We don’t see each other often anymore but when I do see him there’s always a big hug. Betsy, I think of you when I hug him. I can’t imagine how you and Fred miss him. Hopefully, I’ll see him in a couple of weeks and will give him a special hug from you. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and generosity. Somehow, somewhere, I plan to buy you dinner and spend the evening getting to know you when I get back to the USA in 2012.
I’ve gotten a lot of mail and packages since I came to Samoa. Enough that others have noticed that it’s rare that I don’t have a letter or package when mail comes. I tell the other volunteers it’s just because I’m so loved at home. I hope that’s true. I think it also helps that my friends aren’t fresh out of college and have some extra spending money. Mostly, though, I think it might be because my friends from home and new friends like Fred and Betsy believe in the Peace Corps mission and want to support the work we’re doing.
Several friends told me before I left home that they were happy I was living my dream and appreciated what I was doing. They were looking forward to living vicariously through me. Perhaps the letters and packages are their way of saying thanks for letting us experience this, without the rats and cold showers.
A friend from home asked me today what I need. I don’t need anything. Really. I want a bunch of stuff, but heck, don’t we all? I miss easy access to candy, green chiles and enchilada sauce, but I can get along just fine here, without people sending packages.
In terms of school supplies, it’s the same. The kids don’t need anything. But the things you’ve already sent will be so appreciated. They don’t have crayons here or any art supplies. No stickers, temporary tattoos or other small luxuries. I’m sharing the supplies you’ve given me with the other teachers, to help them make their classrooms more inviting. Kids, teachers and I are all appreciative of your generosity.
What means the most to me is that you care enough to take the time to get in touch. A comment here on the blog. Email, a letter or a package. It really is the thought that counts. Your support gets me over the humps: large, small or in my imagination. Thanks for helping!
Just in case your brain has been numbed by boredom over my housing situation, here’s a brief refresher:
December 18, 2010. I was supposed to arrive in Faga and move into my own home. House A. Instead, I was put in a temporary room in a home until renovations on “my” home could be made.
December 31, 2010. The renovations were supposed to have been completed on House A so that I could move by the end of the year.
January 12, 2011. The day I cleaned House A, in preparation for moving in the next day.
January 13, 2011. Someone else was living in House A.
Late January, 2011. I was taken to see House B. It was deemed by village members to be unacceptable for a variety of health/safety reasons. After I had a meltdown, the housing search continued and I was taken to see House C.
February 3, 2011. Peace Corps came to the school and met with representatives from MESC (government schools), the School Committee, the principal and me. After lengthy discussion and viewing House C, all agreed work would be completed and I would move in the following week.
February 9, 2011. No work begun on House C. Told by homeowner that the School Committee would be coming on February 11 to begin work to install windows and build outhouse. I would not be moving that week as promised.
February 11, 2011. I was informed by the MESC representative that the committee had found House D, but that it was too far from the school and was not an option. Unclear as to what had changed with House C and why they were even looking at more options.
February 11, 2011. School Committee met at the school to discuss a variety of issues. I crashed the meeting to introduce myself to the committee and let them know how much I looked forward to teaching at their school for two years, without pay (I didn’t say the last part out loud). And how much I appreciate their help in resolving the housing issue. I also apologized for any offense I might inadvertently give because of my lack of knowledge of fa’a Samoa (like, say, calling them nincompoops for not getting my housing resolved).
Later that day, I ran into the only committee member I’d met previously. Coincidentally, the only woman on the committee. She informed me that after I left the meeting they decided that they should find housing for me.
February 15, 2011. Scheduled meeting of School Committee to discuss efficacy of House C and how needed improvements might be made.
Yeah, we’re back to square one. My frustration is that I’m living in limbo. The room I’m in was meant to be temporary, so isn’t up to PC standards. And trust me, PC standards do not involve luxury. The room was/is used for storage. The irony that I’ve been sleeping on the floor while 3 feet away is a bed that is used to store fine mats has not been lost on me. I’m beginning to find it somewhat concerning that the walls over where I sleep are covered with funeral wreaths. And, because they also can’t find room for me at the school, all my school supplies are jammed into my sleeping space. At least I have plenty of paper and crayons very close by in case I get bored.
On Friday, Peace Corps staff Friday assured me that they will continue to monitor the situation. Goody, that makes me feel better. I will continue to take long walks, meditate by the ocean and eat boxes of cookies to help maintain my composure. Unfortunately, those techniques do not seem to diminish my sarcasm.
I was in a snit when I wrote this entry at 3 a.m. this morning. I realized after the sun came up and I was in a better mood that this experience has provided the fodder for a great country song. Here are some potential lyrics:
I was lyin' on the floor
Right next to the bed
Starin' up at death
With thoughts of a home in my head.
What do you think, Garth??
Kids picking up rubbish before school.
You might actually consider this the first week of school, since it’s the first week that classes were taught. Last week was just cleaning and organizing. I was scheduled to observe the Year 7 (think 7th grade) class for the week. Here’s what actually happened:
End of school on Monday I was told I’d be teaching English to Year 7 the next day, since the teacher would be out on a personal day. Oh, and correct these 40 workbooks by tomorrow morning – math and English.
On the way to school the next morning, I was told that I’d be teaching all subjects for Year 7 that day. I was feeling unprepared, but did enjoy the irony that I was being asked to teach Samoan.
Thanks to the very patient kids and the goodies that friends have sent, the day went well. I only taught English and math, breaking the day up with that old standby, Simon Says and some English songs, along with the ever popular Hokey Pokey.
On Monday, I was helping individual students with their math. One group, mainly of the most challenged students, was just sitting. I asked them why and one girl shrugged and said “Laei penital”. (No pencils.) They are not allowed to use pens to do math, so simply weren’t doing the assignment. On Tuesday, I had the class divide into teams to do math relay races on the board. I set up one challenge to be sure that every team would “win”. The prize was a pencil for each member of the team. The pencils came from generous friends in the U.S.
I also pulled out stickers as prizes. You would have thought I’d pulled a sack of gold out of my bag. Competition was hot and heavy and there was much debate over which stickers to choose. The packet I’d brought had photos of dogs and cats/kittens and puppies. The dogs/puppies were overwhelming favorites. Clearly, Samoans are dog people. I’m very grateful to everyone who has sent stickers and will be using them sparingly to ensure that they remain a special treat.
On Wednesday, the principal, who also teaches Year 8 was late, so I stepped in. I taught English, in a completely unprepared, ad hoc kind of way. Then I was told it was time for social science on the radio. The school system has a series of educational broadcasts every day on different topics for different grades. Today was the history of Samoa, for Year 8. It was broadcast in English. I believe the programs are developed in New Zealand.
I was told to take notes so that I could then translate the lesson and teach it in Samoan. Perhaps they didn’t notice I don’t speak fluent Samoan? I listened to the lesson, as did the kids. The English was at a level that it would have challenged 8th graders in the States. Plus, the volume of the radio wasn’t loud enough to be heard clearly over the pounding rain. Nonetheless, the kids sat relatively patiently through the 30 minute program.
I then spent an hour “translating” the lesson for them. I used some Samoan. I used drawings. I used my finest acting skills. My favorite part was when I played the role of Tonga and had a boy play Samoa. We then “fought” the battle in which Samoa drove the Tongans out after years of rule. There was much laughter. I hope there was some learning.
I introduced three rules to the classes before we got started. Rule 1: no hitting. I don’t hit you and you don’t hit each other. Rule 2: When I clap my hands three times, silence. Rule 3: Aua le tautelaititi. Don’t be cheeky. By the end of the week, all I had to do was give “the look” at a kid and hold up the appropriate number of fingers. The child in question would say which rule they’d broken and knock it off. I realize it’s the honeymoon period, but so far the rules are working.
I also spent some time on the playground with the kids, much to the amusement of the other teachers. There are no playground monitors here and in the three schools I’ve visited, I’ve never seen a teacher play a game with the kids. I’m trying to balance my time during interval (30 minute recess in the middle of the day) to spend time with the teachers, so I can be part of the gang, while also spending time with the kids. The kids really seem to enjoy it and so far, it’s the best part of my day.
I really love the kids. Yes, there are cultural differences. Mostly, they’re kids. They love to see a grown up play the fool. They love to sing and dance. They’re excited to learn and they adore getting personal attention. I love it when one of the little kids comes up and slides her hand into mine, as if she doesn’t think I’ll notice. I even love it when the older kids act a little cocky when they say hello to me outside the classroom. They’re showing off their English, using a variety of phrases. If a PCV wasn’t here, they wouldn’t be speaking English outside their lessons.
BTW, every time I think of greetings, I think of Joey on Friends and how he’d say “How you doing?”, with a kind of leer. I suppose I shouldn’t teach them that, although it’s a temptation.
The week was not without challenges. Corporal punishment has been used for years in Samoa. The corporal punishment I’ve witnessed includes slapping, punching, hitting with a stick and kicking. Although it has been outlawed, it is still widely used. I believe it will take a long time to change a culture in which hitting is viewed as the most effective means of discipline.
During training, we were advised not to intervene if we witnessed a child being hit. If a beating was severe and we were worried about the well-being of the child, we were told to never step in. Instead, get a Samoan to handle the situation. The reasoning is that the person doing the beating could turn his/her anger on us and put us at risk for physical harm. The second concern is that by butting in to something that is perceived as none of our business it would make it hard for us to continue teaching with that person.
I had my first challenge with it this week. A teacher punched a child. The child is fine, but I’m still troubled. I’m hoping that by demonstrating classroom management techniques that don’t involve violence, teachers will see there’s an alternative.
I’m not a Pollyanna when it comes to classroom management. I know that Samoan kids can be “cheeky” and “naughty” as it’s called here. But, I used to teach in a residential treatment center for teenage girls. We were a special facility for pregnant teens and took in a variety of kids, including some from teen prisons. If I can discipline kids convicted of murder without hitting, I think I can handle the kids here.
A much smaller challenge was just figuring out what was going on and where I was supposed to be, when. Friday morning I got up at my usual time. I was outside drying my hair and my host sister walked up and stared at me. I stopped and asked what was up. “You’re late.” No, actually, it’s 30 minutes before the time you said we were leaving. It seems we had to make a stop at the hospital to drop off some fine mats to cover the body of a woman who’d died the day before. I’m not sure how I was expected to know that. Perhaps the same way I was supposed to translate the history lesson from English to Samoan.
My family selling ramen, chips and vi (in the bucket) before school
My "sister" is sitting in my outdoor kitchen. I introduced her to the closest version of chicken enchiladas I could. She loved it and wants to make them for the church.
School was over and I was waiting for a ride by the road. Cute or what?
The Year 1 room. Mats provided by parents. Those are the desks. They sit on the floor. Me, too.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
I'll need to learn all their names. The school has about 200 kids. This was morning assembly.
There is so much to write about school. So many things that are different than in the States. Rather than try to capture everything now, here are some highlights. I’ll be adding more stuff as time goes on.
Day one sucked. My day got off to a rocky start when I received an early morning text with some bad news from home. Just financial stuff and being handled, but not a good start to the day. Then we got to school and no one else was there, again. But that quickly changed and kids and teachers started arriving. The former pule (principal), who’s been promoted to School Resource Officer for the district, greeted me warmly, with a hug and kiss on one cheek, which is how women friends greet each other in Samoa. One teacher said hello and the new pule said “Malo.” and shook my hand. That was the last time he spoke to me on Monday.
The school day started with assembly in the open fale (fale aoga – school fale). After much direction and confusion, kids sat closely together in rows. Each class together, with boys in a row and girls in another, much like lining up at school at home. Except they were sitting on concrete. And sand, which was used to fill in some holes in the concrete.
A striking similarity was that the year one students are just like kindergartners at home- clueless. They’ve never had to line up before and just drifted around, like baby ducks without a mom. Finally, they were herded into rows and all tears dried.
There were prayers, hymns and a short lecture on respecting God, parents, teachers and pastors. At least I think that’s what it was about. Everything is done in rapid fire Samoan and my Samoan is still limited.
The lead teacher, who’s the woman I live with, then told the school about me. Again, it was all in Samoan so I could be wrong about what she was saying but I heard my name and Peace Corps, plus she pointed toward me a lot. And the children all turned to stare at me. I just smiled and tried to look friendly, but still like a tough disciplinarian.
The kids were then turned loose to start cleaning up. The whole week was dedicated to getting the school and teachers ready to start teaching, which will happen next week.
When I taught in the public schools, I took for granted the school janitor and crew that maintained the grounds and the building. Here, the kids are the janitor and grounds crew.
Monday was dedicated to grounds cleanup. First was collecting the rubbish, which means leaves. Candy wrappers, tin cans, etc. may or may not get picked up during rubbish collection. Every leaf will, however. Part of that is for appearance sake. It’s also because breadfruit leaves are big and when they are left in the rain they start to rot and smell.
While the 120 or so kids started collecting rubbish, the teachers retired to the office. I was invited to sit at what I realized later was the “adults” table, with the SRO, pule and lead teacher. The other teachers sat at a separate table. The meeting started with the lead teacher explaining that there were problems with finding me a place to live and that the PC might move me to another village. There was much discussion in Samoan, with frequent tongue clucking and “kalofai!”, while everyone looked at me. Kalofai, by the way, is slang for “what a pity” or “poor thing”. Awkward.
For the remainder of the morning, the teachers and pule chatted with each other. Sometimes in full group, sometimes individual conversations. A couple of times, it was clear that the SRO or pule were addressing the group, but that didn’t diminish the multiple conversations or the use of cell phones. At one point during a full group discussion, a teacher asked me a question in Samoan. I thought I understood what she was saying but knew I was wrong, because they wouldn’t be discussing my love life at a staff meeting. I said I didn’t understand and she rolled her eyes. She translated in English. Yes, they were discussing my love life. Now the search is on for not only a place for me to live but also a man to share it with.
During most of the meeting, I had no idea what was being said. I listened carefully and picked up words here and there but finally gave up and started making notes on things I wanted to discuss with the pule. At a signal that I didn’t discern, everyone stood up and left the room. Not a word to me. I trailed after the group and we went down for tea time. While the teachers were chatting and enjoying a hefty snack, the kids were released from rubbish pick up and were enjoying recess.
After recess, the kids started weeding the grounds and the teachers hung out. Some hung out in the lounge together, others monitored the weeding, and some did some work in their classrooms. I wandered around, generally ignored by both students and staff.
After a much abbreviated first day, we headed out. I went to Saleloga with my family and we hit the bank, market and post office, where I was told there was no mail.
Later in the day, I was taken to see the house that the school committee had chosen for me. I wrote about it in a previous entry so won’t bore you. My reaction to it was dismay. It also compounded the feelings I’d had during the day when being ignored at school. Nobody loves me, everybody hates me and I’m going home to eat worms.
Tuesday began much as Monday had, although more children showed up for school. I also was much more assertive about talking with everyone. Was it a BBC show in which one guy called another character “She who will not be ignored”? That was me. I wouldn’t say it was a love fest, but people, especially the teachers, were friendlier.
While waiting for assembly I watched the lead teacher enroll new children. She sat on a bench at her desk while the parents and children sat on the floor next to the desk. I was sitting on a wooden bench used by first graders, so it’s very low to the ground. That’s when I realized there are no chairs at school. Just wooden benches suitably close to the ground for children.
During registration, one girl tugged at my heart. While waiting to register, she and her grandmother sat on the bench next to me. Her grandmother encouraged her to speak to me in English and she was reluctant. I was surprised when she started talking to me in fluent English. Seems she was born and raised in New Zealand and just came to Samoa. She speaks very little Samoan. I feel her pain. As her grandmother left, she was in tears, but soon sucked it up and joined some of the other kids. I’ve made a point of checking in with her every day and she seems to be making friends and getting along.
Assembly was held in the year one classroom because it was raining and the roof in the fale aoga leaks. Again, the assembly was prayers, hymns and a brief lecture about respect. The teacher leading the session also asked me several questions in Samoan, expecting me to answer in Samoan. I wanted to poke him with a stick, since he knew he was putting me on the spot in front of the whole school. I know that, culturally, he’s doing what’s appropriate to encourage me to speak more Samoan, but if he and I are in a room together with a sharp stick, he’d better watch out.
The day continued with more meetings for the teachers while the children cleaned the rooms.
After school on Tuesday, I went with the family again and they stopped next door to the Post Office. Score – letters and packages for me! Several Christmas cards and a Valentine’s card that was sent in November.
Overall the day was much better than Monday and the week was improving.
Wednesday there were even more children. Final enrollment should be around 225, with eight grades. The SRO was holding a meeting for all the principals in the district in the school office. Apparently to keep them from being disturbed, there was no assembly and all the girls were gathered in one classroom and the boys in another. I was sitting in the classroom with the girls, waiting for something to happen.
After about fifteen minutes, I asked the only other teacher present, what was going on. She explained that the kids would just sit and wait until the meeting of the principals was over. I asked if I could sing or play games with the girls. She waved her hand, so I hopped up.
The kids looked expectant. First, I’m the new teacher and a palagi to boot. Second, they were bored with just sitting quietly on the floor. I sang, danced and played games with about 100 girls, ages 5-13. Just me and the kids. I was totally unprepared. I had nothing planned and am just supposed to be observing for the first month. It’s been a long time since I was a kid and as a management consultant for the last umpteen years, I’ve played a lot of corporate games, but none suitable for a five year old Samoan girl.
Thankfully, kids will happily repeat things forever. We did the hokey pokey. To make it last longer, I started “putting in” more body parts. Head, stomach, tongue, bum. The kids loved it. We also played Simon Says 942 times. I taught them the BINGO song, which they really liked. We also got into teams so little kids were mixed with older kids and played I Spy.
At one point, a teacher came and got me for tea. I was given a snack of three fish sandwiches and a hot dog. And a large bowl of ramen. I enjoyed half a sandwich and some Koko Samoa.
Then back I went to the girls who were waiting impatiently for more Simon Says. After another hour and a half of sweating while getting a work out with Simon and the Hokey Pokey, as well as teaching them to limbo, it was time for the kids to go home. When I walked into the lounge to get my things, I was greeted enthusiastically by the other teachers. Seems they really appreciated me taking on the kids so they could work on getting everything ready for lessons. I was ready for a nap.
That wasn’t going to happen, though, because it was time for gardening. I’d planned to have a garden at my house, so wonderful friends sent me seeds. Rather than just have them sit, I gave them to my family to plant at their plantation. They asked me to go along to show them how to plant them.
We spent the next couple of hours in the afternoon sun planting corn, radishes, spaghetti squash, two kinds of carrots, beets and watermelon. I tried to explain what a radish is. We planted a small plot to see how they’ll do in this climate. If things go well, they’ll clear more land and we’ll plant the rest of the seeds and try some new stuff. They were very excited. I was even sweatier and more tired
But happy. This was what I expected with PC. Time with children and sharing ideas/new things with the locals. Laughing together. Even better, the teacher said she had found a house for me and we’d go see it in the evening.
I took the best cold shower ever and was guardedly optimistic about seeing the next house. The house is great. I described it in a previous entry, so won’t waste your time, but left there feeling really good about life in Samoa.
Before bed, I went through my stuff to find more games and songs. I figured I’d better be ready if I was put on the spot again.
Thursday, though, I didn’t have to worry. Each teacher took their own class to their classroom and cleaned and organized some more. They began handing out notebooks for the year. There are no text books.
I was called in by the SRO who wanted to tell me she’d heard about what I’d done the day before. Her granddaughters attend the school, and several parents had also talked to her. Seems they’d arrived early to pick up their kids and watched me through the open windows.
I was nervous when she said “I heard you were even sticking out your tongue.” that I’d done something culturally insensitive. Nope, they were just shocked to see me dancing and acting the fool. The parents thought it was funny to watch and their kids were anxious to come back to school for more. She said she thought more kids would come to school because they heard it was so much fun. Plus the new pule was happy with me for keeping the kids engaged.
Friday morning, I noticed all the older boys carrying machetes. Imagine the reactions if 30 boys carried razor sharp machetes into their classroom in the States. Thursday lulled me into a false sense of security. On Friday morning, I was sitting in a classroom, waiting to see what would happen for the day when a teacher led in all the kids from grades 1 – 5. About 140 kids. She said that I should teach them songs and games for the day while the teachers worked and the older kids did the heavy cleaning and yard work.
So, I started with more Simon Says. And, I was prepared with a couple of new songs. So, we sang, played and did the Hokey Pokey. As time went on, the crowd grew. As the older kids finished their chores, they wandered into the door ways to watch. Some joined in. The room was filled to capacity so I told everyone to head to the fale aoga.
By the way, year 8 girls speak English fairly well and are used to being teacher’s helpers. I’d tell them what I wanted and they’d make it happen. I tried playing London Bridge with the group, but the fale was too small and there was too much confusion with such a long line. So, I taught them follow the leader. I led the entire school out onto the field. I marched, I waved my arms, I hopped, I skipped. I got over 200 kids in a circle. I stood like Superman and they stood like Superman. I yelled “I’m Superman”. They yelled it. I yelled “I speak English.” They yelled it. I yelled “I love school!” They yelled it. I was tempted to yell “Nancy’s beautiful!” but resisted the urge.
During all this, the teachers and several parents watched from the shade of the fale. They laughed and cheered us on. Then they rang the bell for break.
I collapsed in the lounge with water and one of the teachers fanning me. We were all laughing and talking. Ok, there’s still the language barrier, but I really felt like one of the gang. After sitting for a few minutes and eating as much of a Samoan banana as I could, I headed back outside. Some kids were sitting, others playing or walking around. I asked a group of little kids if they wanted to play a game. Yes, fa’amolemole.
It started with about ten kids. I was teaching them to play Duck, Duck, Goose. Other kids joined in. With 5 minutes about 150 kids were in circles, playing. I noticed there were quite a few parents watching and cheering and realized it was past time for school to be over for the years 1-3. But they didn’t want to leave, so we kept playing. Then we did relay races. The big hit was when I showed them how to do wheelbarrow races (one person holds another one’s ankles while he walks on his hands). That was a hoot to watch. All these kids, some wearing backpacks, walking on their hands across the field. Collapsing, laughing, just being happy kids.
Monday was rough, but the week got better and better. I’m exhausted but so happy to be here. Thursday one of the teachers asked me to go for a walk with her in the evening. I did and she invited me back to her house to have prayer time and dinner with the family. It was lovely. The best part of the walk, though, was seeing one group of girls doing the limbo. And hearing another group singing BINGO.
Some kids walk to school. Some, like this group, take the bus. That's not a school bus, by the way, it's the same bus I take to town. Less than 10 kids are driven to school.
Each child had to bring 2 or 3 (depending on age)
The small snack I was given one day.
Boys cutting the thick brush with machetes. Never run with a sharp pencil, or a machete.
My new house, I hope!
I love International House Hunters. It’s a show about Americans who are either buying vacation homes in other countries or moving there. You get to watch as they look at three different options and choose one. I feel like I’ve been doing my own version of the show here. As I’ve ranted on about, the house I was supposed to be moving into didn’t pan out. I still have no idea what happened.
Folks here seemed rather surprised and concerned when I told them that PC might move me to a different village. PC had already offered me the option of changing villages, but that’s a huge deal and I didn’t want to do it unless things were desperate. A lot of reasons I didn’t want to move, not the least of which is that I’m very familiar with the phrase “out of the frying pan, into the fire.”
PC wants to do whatever they can to make sure we have not just safe housing, but also housing in which we’ll be happy. That doesn’t translate to luxury. We’re expected to live at the level of the people in the village, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, hard to fit in and really be a part of the village if you’re living like a tourist. Also, it’s not as safe. PC does try to get us a place of our own, whenever possible. Experience shows that volunteers who have a private living space tend to be happier and don’t quit service early as often.
The woman I have been living with, who is also a teacher at my school, went into overdrive working on finding housing options for me when she realized I might leave. It’s the school committee’s job to provide housing and they ponied up the first housing option, which fell through. Thanks to the teacher’s pushing, the committee came up with option number two. On Monday, January 31 I went to see it. Let’s just call it a fixer-upper. The biggest problem, from my perspective was the proximity to the main island road. Like most houses here it had an “outhouse”. It’s a small building that holds the shower and toilet, usually with running water, although not always.
My concern was that this bathroom was literally a few feet from the main road. And anybody driving by would be able to see me strolling there. Which would require me to be dressed in a socially acceptable way, every time I wanted to use the john. I’ve seen similar situations here, and seen men and women strolling between their house and their bathroom wearing nothing but a towel. I’m not sure PC wants me to share that much of myself with the village.
On Wednesday evening I was taken to see housing option number 3, which the teacher found. I was told it was perfect. It had everything a palagi could want. It even had a kitchen, which housing option number one didn’t. My expectations were not high but I was very pleasantly surprised.
The house, which I hope to move into next week, is about 14’ x 14’. It is made of cement blocks and has jalousie windows, which are brand new. They’re frosted, so I can close them for privacy. Ok, that means I would die of heat prostration if they’re kept closed, but at least when I’m changing clothes I can close them. For the last six weeks, I’ve been changing clothes in the dark, since I can’t close the windows here to change. Yes, I’ve worn my underwear inside out on more than one occasion. Hard to tell in the dark.
On Thursday, a rep from PC came over from Apia and met with me, the president of the school committee, my new principal, the teacher I currently live with and the district representative from the school system, who happens to be the former pule of my school. We all agreed that the new house sounded like a good option. After speeches by everyone present, we had a field trip next door to see the house.
The PC rep agreed that it was fine and the homeowner promised to build a new shower/toilet building, since there currently is none. The school co. president offered the help of the school committee to make it happen.
I was assured it will be done the week of February 7 and the PC rep would be back to do a final inspection and help move all my junk in. It is a two minute walk to school, if I hop the wall. A five minute walk if I go around the long way. It is about a two minute walk to the ocean. There is a store and fale between me and the beach, so not a great view, but not bad.
Speaking of junk, I have discovered that I am a pack rat. I came to Samoa with 2 checked bags and a carry on. Because I have started purchasing household goods (kitchen stuff, buckets, mop, broom, pillow, iron, etc.) and have received so many packages from my amazing friends, my room is now stuffed to the gills. Additionally, because there is no place at the school for me to store the supplies they provided (paper, chalk, markers, etc.), all of that is also in my current bedroom. Oh, and the 3 Vailima beer cases, which are working out fabulously as storage for my clothes.
The thing I’m most embarrassed to admit that I’ve collected is the food. I have one bucket for candy I’ve been sent. Another bucket stores stuff like crackers, bread and cookies. Plus, I have a giant bag of canned goods. Some I was sent from home. Treasures like enchilada sauce, green chiles and spices. Others I bought in Apia. Stuff that I can’t readily get here, like a can of 5 bean salad and some chili without beans. I eat for comfort. I knew that. Now I know that I horde food for comfort, too. Oh, well, at least it’s not dangerous. Unless the giant bag of canned food, that’s stored at the end of my bed, falls over in the night and crushes me.
I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the next time I write it will be from my new home. Where I’ll be able to have internet, which could mean more regular updates.
The house is one large open room. Currently there are some people sleeping there - these are two beds pushed together. I hope they'll leave one bed for me. No more sleeping on the floor!
View of the house from the corner by the beds. That's the kitchen behind the room divider. They need to finish installing the jalousie windows before I move in. And build the bathroom. Not sure why they wrote "banana" on the wall - fa'i. They also said they'd paint before I move in.
I'm most excited about this excellent kitchen. Peace Corps will provide a small refrigerator, there's a nice sink with running water and check out all the counter space. Plus, a real luxury here - there are cabinets so I can store the canned goods I've hoarded!
Writing a blog is challenging. There’s been a lot going on which means I have more stuff to write about, but little time for writing. So, I’m going to try to be succinct and give you the highlights of the last week or so.
On Saturday, January 29 we had a mandatory session for all volunteers and staff in Samoa. A bunch of us met for dinner at the Yacht Club the night before. Nothing fancy, but the rain held off and we dined outdoors next to the water, which was lovely. I was encouraged to try the fish enchiladas. It was more like a burrito, made with a flour tortilla and didn’t have enchilada sauce but it was definitely tasty.
The venue for the meeting was the Hotel Millenium. It was very nice, complete with air conditioning, tv (which we never turned on) and hot water. Mostly, it was clean. You know like you could step out of the shower onto a clean floor. So nice. I wasn’t looking forward to bunking with two other people, but my roommates were Sia, the other geezerette and Emi from Group 82, who’s my closest neighbor.
Mostly the meeting was for teambuilding with both volunteers and staff. It was the first time we’d officially met Group 82, who has been here a year. They are all teachers too, so it was good to hear their perspective and get some advice.
I wore my best puletasi and strutted my stuff for the Best Dressed contest. I figured I’m too old for Miss America so this could be my last chance for the runway. I won! Got a lovely certificate, which indicated commended my fashion sense as well as my “overall seki a-ness”. Seki a means cool. Most important was the prize, which consisted of a lovely tiara, the certificate and a Mars bar. I wore the tiara proudly and did not share the chocolate.
The big news of the day was made by Dale. He announced that due to budget cuts and other political realities, Samoa, Fiji and Tonga PC will be consolidated and the Country Director/staff will be based in Suva, Fiji. That shouldn’t impact me too much, depending on what they do with local support staff. The Americans working here are losing their jobs. Dale, our country director will finish out his contract and stay until 2013. My buddy Denise will be leaving and I’m bummed. Kellye, who I also really like is also leaving, but was already scheduled to leave fairly soon.
Some mucky mucks from Washington will be here this week to take a look around and determine how it will all work. We heard that they will only have one PC Medical Officer for the three countries, based in Fiji. I’ll be interested in seeing what they do for us for local medical support.
The other exciting thing was that we finally got our calendar so I can start looking at vacation dates – both to leave the island and to have visitors.
The rest of the day was uneventful. As always, the biggest concerns at off-site meetings is usually food (very good) and room temperature (too hot). For me, the biggest thing was the opportunity to meet some of Group 82. Nice folks.
Those of us from Savaii spent an additional night at the hotel, since ferries don’t run in the evening. I was excited about getting some pizza on Sunday, but that didn’t work out. I did spend several hours in the PC office, hanging out with other volunteers and copying movies, TV and teaching resources onto my external hard drive. The biggest disappointment is that now my laptop doesn’t recognize the hard drive. It sounds like there’s something loose in the hard drive, which doesn’t bode well. Unfortunate, since one of the things I downloaded was a bunch of Animal Planet shows to show at school.
Anyway, it was a nice break from village life, although I spent too much money. Mostly on food. I brought back stuff like syrup, pancake mix, peanut butter, chili beans, etc. That stuff either isn’t available here or is way more expensive. Overall, it was a great opportunity to enjoy some amenities and a change of scenery and recharge my batteries.
I've got a bunch of photos to upload and will try to make that happen this week. Sorry for none with this post!
A friend who’s been here a year cautioned me to take notes on all the things I find unusual now, since in very little time, they’ll have become part of my new normal. Here are a few:
A big, burly Samoan man strolling down the street in a wrap around “skirt”, carrying a man-purse and frequently holding hands with another man. Or,carrying a fan. Nothing effeminate about it, trust me.
There are some beautiful Samoan women. Some of them are actually men. Some men dress and act as women and seem to be readily accepted in the society although homosexuality is still against the law in Samoa. Last week in church a person who appeared to be a young man stood with the women in the choir. He wore make up and long earrings. He wore a shirt, tie and formal wrap around “skirt” worn by men.
I told a Samoan from Upolu that I was moving to Savaii. She sneered “They let their children run naked.” She was 100% correct. Yesterday I saw two neighbor kids walking along the beach. They were collecting pieces of coral to take back to use as a walkway to their fale. That’s backbreaking work, by the way, and these kids were about five and six. The older girl was wearing a pair of panties. Nothing else. The boy was wearing a pair of boxers that had a huge rip in the front. Children frequently swim naked, even older boys of 8-10. No fear of nudity here.
Ever try to explain what cottage cheese is to someone who’s never seen or tasted it? How about explaining the trophies a friend has mounted on his wall, animals he killed in Africa, to a six year old. Or, try to explain a theme park to someone who’s never heard of the concept. Or a mall. Yesterday I was talking about going to the mall and said they don’t have them in Samoa. “Oh, yes we do! The Bluebird Mall in Salelologa!” Ok, how to explain that I’ve been in houses larger than the “mall” they’re referring to?
I haven’t seen many baseball caps here. I’ve seen a ton of t-shirts worn as hats though. I think it’s an excellent idea. You’re a young guy with abs of steel and it gets hot. Just take off your t-shirt, wrap it around your head and you’re good to go. And, eye candy.
I’ve been in a lot of countries where transportation provides an opportunity for personal expression. I’m lucky enough to live in a location where I can take a variety of buses. The variety of inside and outside décor along with music and creative names is amazing. I’ll start taking photos and do an entry on bus décor soon.
There’s more than one way to mow a lawn. Some do it with machetes. Kids, women, men. Just grab a machete and start hacking. Next time your 12 year old complains when you ask him to power up the gas mower, just hand him a machete. The most common way here is with a weed whacker. It seems you can make a decent living with a weed whacker and willingness to work. I’ve only seen one “real” lawn mower since I came to Samoa.
I have yet to see an infant or toddler car seat here. It’s like being back in the 1950’s, when you just held the baby, or, if you were driving, put the baby on the front seat next to you.
Speaking of driving, I watched a neighbor and his four year old son driving home yesterday. The four year old was driving. I had such a flashback to sitting on my dad’s lap while he let me steer. Another thing I remember from my youth is riding in the back of pickups. You see that a lot here. Old ladies, little kids, entire families. Some standing, some sitting on the wheel well.
Meal times are a bit different here. The families I’ve lived with don’t do breakfast. Instead they wait for morning tea, about 10:30 a.m. It can be tea and toast or it can be a full spread. Lunch usually happens between 1-2 p.m. and is usually fairly light. Dinner tends to happen late. For my current family, dinner frequently isn’t until after 10:00 p.m. The constant thing about dinner that I’ve noticed is that as soon as dinner, frequently a fairly large meal, is over it’s time for bed.
I’ve noticed that items I buy in the store aren’t always sealed. Bleach, dish soap, shampoo, etc. I don’t want to cast aspersions, but I’d bet you a lot of tala that many of those items have been diluted. Maybe I’m just suspicious, but I don’t remember dish soap being the same consistency as water.
Lard buckets are a hot item in Samoa. They’re white with red print and red tops. They’re labeled Salisbury Edible Drippings and hold 18 kgs. I bought two in Apia and was happy to pay $15 tala apiece since I’d been to six other stores, trying to find them. I bought another one for a bargain price of $6 tala in Savaii. The reason they’re so popular is that they seal tightly and are the only bucket around, reputedly, that the rats can’t chew through.
I’m used to any kind of outside-of-work meetings being held in the evening or on weekends. Sure, if it’s a gathering of the ladies from the country club, they’ll probably meet at lunch time on a week day. But, if you’re planning a meeting of the committee for the Sunday school, or if you’re scheduling a bingo game, you’ll do it outside of normal work hours. Right?
Not in Samoa. Many Samoans work on the plantations, growing everything needed to feed the family. Their hours are their own. There is also an incredibly high rate of unemployment. Something like 78%. So no regard is given to “business hours” when planning activities. I’ve heard numerous stories about people not showing up for work because they had another obligation. Work doesn’t seem to take first priority.
One thing that is a priority is taking care of the front yard. I’ve watched someone dispiritedly drag a muddy mop over a floor for a few minutes, spreading more dirt than cleaning and then run outside to energetically begin digging weeds. I’ve seen people out in the pouring rain, collecting the fallen breadfruit leaves. And then toss an empty soda can in the backyard.
Samoans don’t queue. Buying a ticket for the ferry is a great example. No line is formed. Instead, a mass of people huddle around the cashier’s cage, with arms outstretched, holding out their money. I’ve been physically shoved aside on numerous occasions when trying to buy a ticket. Getting off the ferry is similar, with people jammed into stairwells and corridors, pushing to get off.
One time, a guy shoved past me on the stairs of the ferry. The stairway is narrow and I’m not. He was determined to get to the step in front of me. Ten minutes later, the same guy jumped out of his seat on the bus to offer it to me.
Women touch my butt. A lot. My bum hasn’t had this much action for 40 years. Shortly after we arrived, I asked one of the Samoan trainers about it. She said, “No, that’s not a Samoan custom. You must have just run into a cheeky lady.” Which I thought was hysterical. Cheeky? Two hours later, she tapped my butt to get my attention. I called her on it, in front of some of the other trainers and they laughed and agreed they did it, just weren’t conscious of it.
It's a cash society. I'm used to using my cell phone at home. I had a plan that gave me so many minutes at one price. If I went over, I had to pay a bit more when the bill came. Here, I have to buy credits, paying cash at almost any store. Usually $10 tala at a time. If I run out, I can't use my phone to call or text. I can get messages, just can't respond. And if I happen to run out on a Saturday night, which has happened occasionally, I can't buy more credits until Monday because stores aren't open on Sundays. I did just find a site where I can buy credits over the internet - or you can buy them and give them to any phone number. But that requires the internet, which most people don't have.
Electricity here is much like the cell phone situation. You pay in advance for your electricity and when you run out of credits, you have no electricity. I know that because it happens fairly regularly to me. It's called "cash power" and is purchased in town. The people I've lived with try to let it run as close to zero as possible, without running out. Sometimes, the calculations don't work and there's no power. This morning, for example. Hopefully they'll make it into town today to buy more cash power or it will be a weekend without electricity.
The pay-as-you-go system has made me much more conscious of how much I spend. Not a bad thing.