Friday, September 28, 2012


I knew that I wouldn’t be teaching the kids today.  I’ve been too busy typing and copying and my boss has his priorities in order.  Anyone can teach.  Only the Pisi Koa and make magic on the computer.

School started for me at 6:45, when I did get to hang out with some kids.  I needed to watch a video of the siva (dance) I need to learn and they were enthralled.  Watching me do a Samoan dance is always fun because while I’m enthusiastic, I’m also hilariously bad.

The video was one I filmed during our COS conference.  One of the resort employees offered to teach us a dance they use in their Fiafia Night for guests.  I filmed not only her, but the ladies of Peace Corps, practicing behind her.

Having me there in person was funny stuff, but having a video of young, cute Pisi Koa, doing a Samoan siva?  Priceless.  But I think this morning was when they realized they’d been cheated.  They got the old wrinkly Pisi Koa instead of the young, hot Pisi Koa.  Too bad for them.

I spent half an hour before school with one of the teachers, showing her some more stuff on word processing.  While all the teachers have expressed interest in learning, she’s the only one who actually shows up every day. 

School started as it does every Friday morning with assembly.  First prayer, hymns and religious education then announcements and discipline.  The discipline today was because some of the kids were playing in the road yesterday on their way home and almost got run over by the husband of one of the teachers.  I was screaming at them from a distance, seeing that they were being stupid and oblivious to traffic.

Ordinarily, that offense is worthy off a beating but because I was there they held back, much to the chagrin of the teacher who usually administers the punishment.  I believe that when I leave she’ll make up for lost time.

The announcements were about the Teachers’ Week program next week.  The big day for the kids will be Wednesday.  We’ll be up in the dark, walk to the end of the village, I’ll wait an hour in the dark with the kids for the other teachers to show up, then we’ll march through the village singing and yelling and waiting for parents to come out and give money to the teachers.

I was taught it was shameful to beg and have had trouble with “tausalas” (dancing for donations) and constantly asking the parents for food and money.  I have to keep reminding myself that just because my values are different doesn’t make them better.  It is still hard for me, though, knowing the parents have so little.

Once we get to school, after the march, the kids will each perform songs, dances and poems (all in Samoan) and then dance to encourage their parents to give us more money.  Then the teachers will dine on food prepared by the families of our students.

After assembly, the students were sent to their classrooms.  The teachers hung around in the hall for another half hour or so, discussing the logistics for Sunday’s teachers’ prayer service and then gossiping.  My boss had brought additional papers for me to copy so I was sent upstairs to work while the remaining staff relaxed and the kids ran wild.

 I practiced patience and humility as I worked, which are two traits that are really, really hard for me.  I’ve developed a new phrase that I only use in my head.  When really pissed off and frustrated and know that I need to suck it up and not show it my mantra is “I’m gonna  get all Mother Theresa on your ass!”  As in, keep pushing and I am going to act like a freaking saint.  On the outside,   I’m all cool and angelic while on the inside I’m a gangsta with a halo.

The rest of the morning I made copies.  I typed and scanned images into an exam that will be used district wide in two weeks.  It is 30 pages long.  I’m copying it double-sided but had trouble explaining that I still have to make 100 copies of 30 different pages.  Each page takes 13 minutes, with no interruptions.  I was interrupted an average of 4 times each half hour by other teachers needing to use the copy machine.   I expect to get it done by Christmas. 

As I was copying, my boss, as she’s done all week, observed.  While the machine was copying I was working on the Answer Key for the exam and then some plays for English Day.  I had to stop copying and print out what I was doing so she could check it.  As a consultant I was unaccustomed to this level of micromanagement.  I continued mentally goin’ gangsta.

Happily, she collated and stapled another large document that she’d asked me to copy.  That gave her something to do, which was good for me.  I’d finished what I needed to do on the computer, so turned on the siva so I could watch and try to get the moves down, while the machine was copying.

That got her interest and we had a good conversation about Samoan dancing and I was able to let her know that I really do understand that the movements mean something related to the words of the song.  I just seem to be physically incapable of dancing so that it tells a story.  Well, besides the story –“Here’s a woman who has no sense of rhythm and absolutely no grace, which is why she’s a barren old maid.”

I continued copying and she continued observing for the next several hours.   We chatted as I copied and since both of us will be turning 62 next month I asked how old she felt.  She said “Like you.  I’m very young, maybe 23.”  Then she giggled.   It’s those moments that I treasure – I get so damned uptight about things needing to be done, children to be taught and my Samoan friends are trying to help me enjoy the moment.

Then it was interval time and the two male teachers joined us and the three of them watched me work and commented on how busy I was.  Deep breath…and live in the moment or not…Mother Theresa…on all your asses.

My bosses bought us all ramen noodles and instant coffee so I took a break and we enjoyed dining together.  Then it was time for school to be dismissed 1 ½ hours early so we could have singing practice with all the teachers from two districts in Salelologa.  These are the hymns that we’ll be singing Sunday at the service for all the teachers of Savaii.  It will be televised nationwide on one of the two channels in the country.

My boss offered me a ride in her air conditioned car, which was so much better than the bus.  Her cousin, who’s also my neighbor, was our driver.  She seemed surprised but pleased that I chatted with him in Samoan since I usually only speak English at school.

We stopped to take care of a couple of errands she had and one was at the market.  I asked if we had time for me to run in and buy some carrots.  We did.  Technically, we didn’t but she’s the boss and we were operating on island time.

I bought two expensive mangoes and a pricey avocado along with the carrots.  Saves me having to take the bus to the market tomorrow which takes hours even though, by car, it’s only a 30 minute drive.  And it means that tonight I’ll be having a cabbage salad topped with crab, mango and avocado.   With an orange vinaigrette.  You can’t imagine how hard it is for me to be both a saint AND Julia Child.

We were early for practice because it started 45 minutes late.  Our teachers were 1 ½ hours late.  I have no idea where they went instead of coming directly here.  During the singing, I tried to stay incognito.  As the only volunteer (the other Peace Corp and the Japanese volunteer wimped out), I’m hard to miss but I do my best.  Ironic then that just as we came to the end of one hymn and there was a moment of silence, my phone rang.  Goody, now everyone knows I’m here.

It was my country director, calling to discuss the schedule for the session I’m facilitating the first week of training for the new group, which is in just over a week.  Yes, PC staff has had almost two years to prepare the schedule.  Yes, I’m sure there are a lot of good reasons why we’re coming down to the wire with a schedule still in flux.    I did my best to be calm and flexible.  Mentally, however, I was goin’ Mother Theresa gangsta, again.

After singing I was supposed to go to siva practice at a nearby resort with the other volunteers.  However when I checked with them they hadn’t started (it was planned to start an hour prior) and I decided I wasn’t in the mood to sit around waiting for something that might never happen, so I headed for the bus home.

I caught the same bus that about 50 other teachers were getting on, to say nothing of the normal passengers who must have been doing their own mental version of gangsta when they saw a herd of teachers waiting for the bus.  Normally, teachers get priority seating, but when it’s this crowded you take what you can get.  I got a seat and no one took me up on my offer to sit on my lap.

It was very hot, very crowded and a very slow trip.  It was also a preview of the hellish ride we’ll have next week from the Mulifanua Wharf  to Apia (normally about 1 ½ hours) when ALL the teachers from Savaii are headed into Apia to march in the big Friday spectacular conclusion to Teachers’ Week.

I got home to find my family hanging out in their faleo’o, as usual.  And, as usual, I stopped to say hello and get my Julius fix.  When he heard my voice, he turned, gave me a heart melting grin and started his unique one-knee-up-one-knee-down crawl as fast as he could toward me.
We giggled and cuddled together for a few minutes, then I put him down.  I was feeling all warm and happy inside.  Then I saw Julius turn on the million watt smile again.  The same one that always dazzles me.  This time it wasn’t for me.  It was for the rooster who was standing in the fale next to me.  Really, Julius?  I’m in the same category as a rooster?

I trudged off to my house, unlocked the door and threw my bags on the bed.  After taking down the laundry from the line I went inside and stopped dead.  Because something smelled.  Dead.  I went back over to the family and asked for one of the younger kids to come over.  I wanted them to stand on my toilet so they could look into the space between my roof and ceiling in the part of the house that has a ceiling.

All the kids came along for the fun and while I was getting a flashlight, one of the sisters said “Do you think the smell is here?”  And pointed up.  To where the body of a lizard was rotting after I’d apparently squished it to death when I closed the door this morning.

I scraped it off .  That’s what Friday’s are like in Savaii.  

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