Monday, August 20, 2012


My apologies for recently publishing long posts that not only aren't broken up by photos but not even a few in paragraphs. I'm having technical difficulties but wanted to get some stuff up. Sorry for the annoyance. I'll try to correct it when I get access to WIFI.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Uh Oh.

I left school early today to run errands. Since one was an errand for the school and since the electricity was out so I couldn’t do what I was supposed to be doing I felt no guilt. Besides the whole school was getting out in 30 minutes.

I went to the bank to pay my internet bill, went to the phone company to pay my phone bill and then went to the stationary store to get some supplies for the school. One of the things was anti-virus software which they were sending from Apia, but they forgot it. Ah, well. Next week, a return visit.

I wanted to do something different and fun. I’m pretty bored with the daily routine. I decided to go to the wholesale store and buy six cans of chili beans. What an adventure! Unfortunately, when I got there they had no beans. I asked if they would be getting any. “They are out of stock.” “Yes. Will you be getting more later?” “They are out of stock in Apia, too.” “Yes, I understand. Will they get more sometime?” “They are out of stock.” Golly, that was fun.

Luckily, the wholesale store (if you are thinking it resembles Sam’s or Costco you are dead wrong, by the way. Think more of a 7-11 that sells in bulk.) is next to Uncle Bill’s. Or Burger Bill’s since I think they’ve changed the name but not the sign. It doesn’t matter except to show that I’m so bored I write about this kind of minutia, which anybody reading can’t possibly be interested in.

Anyway, I’m tired of chicken. Tinned mackerel and egg salad sandwiches have also been on the menu too often lately, since the parents have been bringing food to us at school. I figured I’d treat myself to fish and chips for dinner, along with a smoothie, which is one of my favorite things on the island. Cold, fruity and icy. Miracle of miracle, they had both the fish and the smoothie!

Multiple times I’ve walked away from Uncle/Burger Bill’s empty handed. Because they had no burgers, no fish, no chips and no smoothies. Just chicken.

By the way, since I’ve already taken us down the useless details path and you’ve followed gamely along, here’s a question. Why is there an apostrophe in Bill’s? Because it’s Uncle/Burger Bill’s restaurant? And who is Bill anyway? Because the photo on the sign is Uncle Sam.

Ok, back to the story. I strolled out to the road and was enjoying my smoothie while waiting for the bus. You’re allowed to stand outside and eat or drink, you’re just not allowed to walk while eating or drinking.

  A kid was also waiting for the bus and we chatted a bit. I finished my smoothie and walked a few feet to the new plastic garbage can next to the gate leading to the parking lot for both burgers and wholesale shopping.

  I was thinking how nice it was that they’d put it there, since littering is a common problem. I unattached the lid, further impressed that they’d spend the money for an upscale garbage can. I tossed in my empty cup, lid and straw still in place. After it left my hand, I glanced into the garbage as I was reattaching the lid. Uh oh. There was a backpack in there. And something else that I didn’t recognize with my quick glance, but it did not appear to be garbage.

As I was walking back to the road, pondering situation, I realized that someone had probably purchased the garbage can, put the stuff they were carrying into and left it there while they ran into the store or restaurant. Now they’ll find my empty cup inside.

I considered going back and taking my cup out, but what if it really was garbage? The backpack or bag or whatever was worn and ripped. Someone could have thrown it away. Did I really want to start rummaging in Samoan trash? And let’s say I did. And it wasn’t trash, but a newly purchased garbage can being used for storage. And the owner came back to wait for the bus and found me rummaging through his stuff. That would be awkward.

I opted to leave it in and walk away to wait elsewhere for the bus. I’m a chicken. What would you have done? Really, what is the protocol here? Sadly, this is not the first time I have (or may have, in this case) had a major uh oh with a garbage can.

  I was having lunch at an outdoor cafĂ© in Istanbul one day (which was much more exotic than Burger Bill’s, by the way) when I felt the call of nature. I was directed to a public restroom nearby. My first mistake was trying to walk into the men’s side. I was politely directed to the correct door. Inside the ladies room I used the squatty potty.

 I found out what Turkish women wear under their burkas – beautiful, modern pants suits, perfect makeup and lots of jewelry. After I’d finished my business, I blew my nose and through the Kleenex into the large, covered, blue plastic garbage can.  I lifted the lid with one hand and tossed the tissue with the other. And observed what I’d just done with horror.

 The garbage can was not a garbage can at all but a huge container of water. I was supposed to have used the small blue plastic cup in the stall to fill with water and then flush the squatty potty. As I realized what I’d done and was having a furious mental debate about reaching in for the sinking, sodden tissue, the elegantly dressed women were putting their burkas back on gazed at me, shocked at what I’d done. I didn’t dip my hand in. I just gave an apologetic shrug and walked away.

I’m never touching an unfamiliar covered garbage can again.

Update:  I never did see anyone come back.  It may really have just been a trash can.  International incident averted.

Big News for Someone in Group 84

I found out today that one lucky new volunteer, part of Group 84, will be living and working in ….Pu’apu’a! Whoever gets it will be lucky for a variety of reasons.

First, the bus. The Pu’apu’a volunteer (who will henceforth be referred to as the PPPCV) will be taking the same buses I take. There are a lot of them and it’s a beautiful ride, especially the part between my village, Faga, and PP. Plus it means that you can take advantage of the Tuisivi store on your way to and from Salelologa. And, you won’t be far from the Tuisivi hospital.

I didn’t realize that would be a plus when I arrived, but since it’s the only pharmacy in the area, it’s nice to have it close to get the antibiotics that I can pretty much guarantee you will be taking at some point.

Next is the school. The building is large and nice and the field is huge. Check out the netball photos – that’s your school. Complete with Mickey Mouse painted on the side, welcoming everyone. The PP kids are the ones with pink shirts.

I’ve had a chance to chat with the teachers and principal at the school. Nice folks and some speak English well. One teacher recently hugged me and thanked me profusely for the work I’ve done for her country and her children. It was one of the few times I’ve been thanked and it was much appreciated.

The teachers range in age from 60’s to 20’s and there are at 2 men. One is an expert with computers and your school has a huge computer room with about 15 networked computers. Plus you’ll have a copy machine, laminator and giant paper cutter.

You’ll have the same SRO I do. She’s terrific and although we’ve butted heads more than once on some fundamental issues, she’s a caring woman and will have your back. Plus Pu’apu’a has the best restaurants in the area! That, of course, is a joke.

  Pu’apu’a, like most villages, has no grocery store (just the small faleoloas where you can buy chicken and canned mackerel) and no restaurants. Bring chicken recipes. Lots of them.

Another plus is that another principal in our district lives in Pu’apu’a. She hosted a group 80 volunteer and is terrific. She also drives and comes into Salelologa a lot. She gives me a ride every time she sees me waiting for the bus and I assume will do the same for you. Your principal and his 20-something year old wife live near the school. She used to teach at my school and is cool. She’s the only teacher who’s invited me over for dinner or offered to take a walk with me and I assume she’ll be equally friendly with you.

Whoever gets Pu’apu’a is lucky for so many reasons. Not the least of which is that it’s easy to pronounce.

Update:  Just found out that anyone in the village can use the internet at the school for $5 tala an hour.  1/3 of going rate.  Lucky dog, oe!

Group 84 - Welcome and Packing Hints

 I’ve heard from PC staff that seven of the 15 invitations to serve in Samoa have been accepted.  I’ve already exchanged emails with one excited soon-to-be Samoa PCV.  I remember sitting in Starbucks talking to my friend Darren when I got “the call”.  After a year of application activities and waiting, it’s an exciting time.

Here are some thoughts on what I’d be packing, knowing now what I didn’t know in 2010.  Keep in mind, I’m 61 and female.  Also, I packed enough underwear and clothes for two years of hard wear.  I’ve already begun giving brand new stuff to my friends in the village.  I neglected to consider that I’d have a chance mid-service to go to New Zealand where the shopping is comparable to the US.  

Must Haves:
·         Lightweight cotton clothes.  The thinner the cotton, the better.  It’s cooler and dries faster. That goes for bras, panties and outer wear.  If you’ve ever been to Florida in the summer, that’s what it’s like here, all the time.  With no air conditioning.  Bring things you’ll enjoy sweating in.  We were told to bring collared shirts instead of t-shirts.  What that means is no t-shirts with logos/messages on them.  That’s ok for casual, but for “dress” you need the kind of t-shirts that you can find at any department store in the USA.  The cute kind, not the “going jogging” kind.  For guys, you do need shirts with collars.

·         Board shorts.  They’re good for swimming (swim suits are not acceptable in the village) and I wear them under my lavalava with a t-shirt for casual attire.  And by themselves in my fale.  Let me clarify.  With a t-shirt, since everyone can see into my fale.

·         A good chef’s knife (butcher knife), if you like to cook.  If you don’t, bring one anyway as a gift.  Knives here are Chinese and crappy.  The handle on the first one I bought broke the first time I used it.  I brought the teachers a good knife from NZ and they were thrilled, since they cook a lot at school.  By good, I don’t mean expensive.  Just something sharp and sturdy.

·         A headlamp.  I paid $39 for mine at Gander Mtn. and it was perfect until I used it to death.  You’ll use it for reading in bed, walking to the bus in the wee hours and walking to the bathroom.

·         Rechargeable batteries and a charger.  Expensive both here and in New Zealand.

·         A Kindle, or comparable.  Books are heavy.  Load lots on your electronic device.  I only paid for a few of the 600 I brought because you can get many good books for free (legally).  Google is your friend.

·         A manicure set.  I have a small leather case with the basics and I use it a lot, especially the tweezers.  When you have mosquito bites on your face and feet with dirt so ingrained you can’t scrub it off, it’s nice to have pretty nails.

·         A small sewing kit.  Necessary for small rips, etc.

·         Something small and light that reminds you of home. For me, it’s a crystal that hangs in the window over my sink.  My mother always had one and I have too.  Makes me smile every time I see it throwing rainbows on the tin roof.

·         Multi-color pens.  The kind that have at least red and blue ink.  You aren’t allowed to use black ink at school.  I have no idea why.  You can buy them here, but grab a few at the dollar store – cheaper and they’re light.

·         A small, lightweight pen knife.  Handy for cutting fruit and opening packages.

·         Mask and snorkel.  Very expensive and poor quality here.  Since you’ll be living close to amazing snorkeling sites, why not take advantage?  

·         A swim suit.  It’s an island.  Be aware that even at resorts, really skimpy suits
are not appropriate.


·         Zip lock bags.  They’re available here but expensive.  Throw in a box (without the box, of course.)

·         Sleep mask and good quality ear plugs.  Lots of them.  Samoans are used to sleeping in spite of lots of noise and activity.  Most Americans aren’t.

·         Laptop loaded with music, movies and games
Good headphones.

Don’t Bother:
·         Sheets and towels.  You can buy them here and while they aren’t cheap or good quality, you can buy the size you need.  I brought twin sheets.  I have a double bed.  I brought a “fast dry” towel.  The ones here are cheap and thin and dry faster.

·         Medicines (non-prescription) and stuff like sun block.  Thanks to the generosity of American tax payers, Peace Corps provides that stuff.

This list isn’t definitive but it’s a start.  If you’re in doubt about bringing something, leave it at home.  You can always have someone ship it to you later.  Most important, just bring a sense of adventure.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


I spent the recent three-day holiday weekend (Samoa’s Father’s Day) at a luxury resort in Upolu.  Le Vasa Resort is beautiful and has some of the best accommodations and food that you can find in Samoa.  Also, some of the nicest people.

Sounds like a fabulous weekend, doesn’t it?  Well, it was, but it was also a working weekend.  I was there to provide customer service training for the staff.  This was round two.  I’d done the basics a few months earlier.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I’m not allowed to earn money during my two years of service.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to earn money AFTER my two years are up.  Rather than paying me for the training, the resort owners give me a nice room (staff quarters, no air con and no hot water but nice) and food and drink.

I decided to upgrade to a garden room, paying the difference out of my own pocket.  The room was bigger, nicer, had air con, although no hot water, and was closer to the main part of the resort.  The biggest difference between the rooms, as well as my house in Savaii, was that the garden room had mirrors.  Lots of mirrors.  One was full length.  Do you have any idea what it can do to your psyche when you are faced with lots of mirrors after multiple months without? 

I was coming off the netball tournament and a badly sunburned face.  I knew from feeling my face that it must look bad.  Red and peeling.  I did not need mirrors to confirm it.  But they did.  I also suspected that the couple dozen or so mosquito bites on my body probably didn’t really add much to my Reubenesque curves.  The floor length mirror proved I was correct.  The mirror also suggested that perhaps eating as a form of emotional comfort was not the best plan.  Add up the curves, the sunburn and the bites and the mirrors reflected lumps, welts and flaking skin alternating between glowing white and flaming red.

After deciding that looking at myself in the full-length mirror might induce trauma that only psychotropic drugs could erase, I stuck with the bathroom mirror.  Face only.  That was fine until I took a good look.  What the hell was that on my cheek?  It’s like a white crescent.    Wait, there are smaller versions around my eyes.   When I smiled, they disappeared.  Holy crap, I have tan lines on my face.  For heaven’s sake, I’m turning into the Marlboro man!

It will be no problem when I get home.  No one will notice.  As long as I never stop smiling or squinting. An d never wear a cowboy hat.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Netball Photos

The kids could not have been more excited on the bus ride to the tournament.
As an honored guest, I got to sit at the head table for the opening ceremonies and received this ula - made from local plants and flowers.
Competition was fierce and physical.
Two of the other boys teams, in an early match.  There were four courts with four simultaneous games.
Our winning boys team, waiting to get on the bus for Day One.

Friday Update

I wrote a post last Friday about the kids next door making a saka (fire and boiled food) at 3:21 a.m. I was incorrect. When I got to school that morning, I discovered they had been making an umu - the hot stone oven. They were doing it to prepare breadfruit and taro...for the teachers. Unbeknownst to me, we were having an all day barbeque to celebrate the boys' win at the netball tournament. Unfortunately, I had several things I had to do on Friday that didn't leave time for sitting, eating and drinking with the other teachers. Instead, I finished typing the Year 8 trial exam and also wrote and typed the criteria for the Reading Week competion in poetry, short stories, skits and posters. I also prepared copies for the other schools in the district. While I worked the kids ran wild and the teachers hung out together. It was a holiday from school. By the end of the day, the kids who'd been up most of the night making the umu and then barbequing the chicken at school were exhausted. But very, very happy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Village Visitors

Written Saturday night, August 4 2012 It’s been a busy week and it made me realize how accustomed I’ve become to the slow pace of village life. On Tuesday, Sikoti (Scott), an RPCV who served in Savaii 25 years ago arrived at my school with a much appreciated gift of lots of green chiles. Along with him were his two teenage sons. We spent time with Years 7 and 8, singing, dancing, taking photos and having two of the Samoan boys weave baskets. The kids really enjoyed it and Sikoti demonstrated that even after 25 years, his Samoan is much better than mine. I’ve given up- it is a losing cause. After Sikoti spent several hours talking with a Member of Parliament who lives in my village, he and his sons decided to spend the night, rather than head back to Apia. I was walking home after reading with my normal posse of kids and met them on the road and we went back to my house for a very casual dinner of Mac and Cheese. Thank you Kraft! I was thrilled to find the Mac and Cheese in a store in Apia. I bought the only two boxes they had. It was great talking with someone who’d been a volunteer in Savaii so many years ago. It was interesting to get his take on how things have changed. In the case of food, he said they eat exactly the same things now as they did 25 years ago, with the addition of tinned mackerel and corned beef. It was also a pleasure to hear the impressions of the two teenagers. They seem to be smart, thoughtful kids with a genuine interest in travel and other cultures. I thought it interesting too, that they agreed their friends would have absolutely no interest in their experiences on this trip. Our conversation also reinforced how lucky I am to have all the modern conveniences, like electricity and running water. If you think I whine a lot now, just imagine how bad it would have been then. Of course, then, you wouldn’t have had to read about it since I wouldn’t have had a laptop or the internet. I’d store up all that whining and let ‘er rip when I got home. As Scott and his sons and I were chatting, surrounded by a gaggle of excited and curious kids, we noticed two other strangers. We started talking with Carol and her son Glenn who stopped in Samoa on their way from Taiwan (their home) to Michigan, where Glenn will attend Michigan State. Go Trojans! Two days later, they came to school, which had just gotten out early for netball practice. I showed them around the school and it was interesting to hear the value placed on education in Taiwan. A very different picture from Samoa…and most other countries, for that matter. For example, dating is strongly discouraged until after high school because it is believed it would interfere with concentrating on studies. Imagine that in the States. No prom – just finals. Also imagine ten hours a day of school, six days a week. It’s a world economy and that’s our competition. We hung out and watched netball, then the kids did some singing and dancing. Carol loves to dance and joined in with gusto, much to the kids delight. After five minutes, she was doing a much better Samoan siva than I do. Between Sikoti’s language and Carol’s dancing skills, I was feeling a bit like going home to eat worms. Carol and Glenn caught the last bus to Manase where they were staying. Sadly, it wasn’t jam packed. A Spanish couple staying at the same beach fales told them that riding a packed bus was really fun and a must do. Yeah, that might be true when you’re enjoying it as a novel cultural experience, but I can assure you the fun wears off after the 40th Samoan sits on your lap. Between school, reading center and out of country guests I was exhausted by Friday. I went to bed early last night to be ready for today, Saturday. Carol and Glenn are picking me up at 7:30 a.m. for a trip to the market and then some sightseeing around the island. In their car! Yeah, I’ll let the tourists enjoy the bus. Give me a nice, quiet, clean car any day. With no one sitting on my lap. Carol and Glenn picked me up and we headed to the market in Salelologa. I wanted to buy a fish for the family and they wanted to check out the fish market. Tuna were at a premium this week, I assume because we’ve had a lot of wind which means the fishermen can’t go out far beyond the reef. I did snag a lovely whole red snapper for $65 tala, though. That’s a whole, large red snapper for about $32 USD. It was enough to make dinner for about 12 Americans. Appetizers for 12 Samoans. We brought the fish and my other purchases back to my fale, where we just hung out and talked. It was so good to talk to well-educated, well-traveled people who have a genuine curiosity about the world. It was also interesting for me to learn about a new culture to me. We talked traditions, values, challenges and joys. We also tried to make it possible for Carol to hold Julius, my baby. He was having none of it. She’d tried to hold him the other day and he screamed. My “dad” suggested she give him some food to distract him. He liked the food but was not won over. I ended up taking him and he smiled, wiped drooly food all over my shirt and screamed whenever Carol came near. Apparently, I am his palagi. Which brings up the question of what is a palagi? People on the street have been giving Carol and Glenn the “bye bye, palagi” routine since they arrived. But people at school and at my home said they are not palagis. They are foreign and Asian. I am a palagi because I am white. Whatever the terminology, no matter how sweet and gentle Carol was, Julius was determined to scream when she approached. Carol treated Glenn and I to a lovely lunch at the Savaiian Resort. I really like the place – nice people, good service and great food. They were happy for Asian inspired dishes. I was thrilled with tuna sashimi. We stayed on after the late lunch for hours more of conversation. They were so open and candid about relationships (including their own) and the pros and cons of their country. It was a delightful time. On our way back to my place, we took a detour to Vaiola College. It’s a Mormon school, built on a hill (or small mountain, depending on your perspective) and has great views of the coast. As we started up the road, a Samoan man flagged us down. I asked Carol if it was ok to give him a ride and she readily agreed. It is fa’asamoa to help each other get to places where buses don’t often frequent. The man either didn’t speak much English or had had enough Vailima (local beer) to believe that with my stellar Samoan, English wasn’t necessary. I did discover that he knows my host family and that he went to school with my boss. Relationships and who you know are everything in a small island nation. We dropped him at his house, where he lives with a group of men who work on the buses. It gave Carol and Glenn a chance to see how people take showers in the open – with a lavalava to protect their private parts. It was hard to say goodbye to Carol and Glenn. Scott and his sons had gone, now the lovely Taiwanese mother and son were leaving. I was back to being the palagi in the village. As much as I love that, I really do miss the long and deep conversations with others who share my language and similar life experiences.

Early Morning

I apologize for not posting sooner.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the village.  Luckily for me, I have some time this morning to write.  Of course, it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’d prefer to be sleeping but that isn’t going to happen.

I’m a light sleeper.  I need dark and quiet to get a good night’s sleep.  That is hard to come by in the village.  At 3:21 a.m. this morning, I was awakened by the sounds and light of the children next door making the saka.  That means building a large fire and boiling stuff (taro, breadfruit or green bananas, usually) in an enormous pot.  They have to chop the firewood and because they are siblings there has to be squabbling.  They clearly were trying to keep their voices down, but they’re kids.

They awakened me but it was other things that have kept me awake.  The sound of breadfruit falling on my tin roof, for example.  It’s not at all windy so I don’t know what’s up with that, but it’s like someone lobbing a softball onto the tin roof.

The heat doesn’t help.  No breeze and no cool night temperatures.  My fan has been blowing directly on me all night and I’m still sweating.

Of course, there are always the mosquito bites.  And other assorted bug bites.  Before you start asking if I’ve tucked in my mosquito net I want to point out that almost all of the bites were received in daylight hours.  Of the 23 bites I counted, the ones on my elbow (3) and butt (4) are the itchiest.  Yes, I counted them.  Because when it’s 3:30 a.m. and you’re trying to get back to sleep, counting mosquito bites is the tropical equivalent to counting sheep.

The roosters aren’t helping.  They usually start around 3:00 a.m. and go on sporadically until dusk the following night.  I think the lack of sleep has made them psychotic which is why they crow so much at completely random hours.

The pigs are also out and about.  Who knew that pigs are nocturnal?  At least ours seem to be.  Or would they just be classified as early risers because they get up and start grunting, snorting and rooting around my fale around 3:00 a.m.  

And what is it about the magic witching hour of 3:00 a.m.?  There’s even a song about it, for heaven’s sake.  “It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place.  Except the mosquitoes, pigs, roosters and me…”  Ok, I paraphrase.  That’s the Peace Corps island version of the song.

It’s 5:00 a.m.  How do I know?  Church bells.  I understand why they ring them in sets of 3.  Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, presumably.  But then why the last one, so that it’s always a total of nineteen?   And the compound is now dark and quiet, except for the roosters, pigs and tap of my keyboard.  The neighbor kids are back in bed.  The lights are off in their house.  I don’t know why they needed to cook at 3:20 in the morning.

At least the early wake up call gave me an opportunity to get some writing done.