Monday, September 17, 2012

Teachers' Meeting

The bus waited for me today rather than me waiting for it.  It had stopped for my brother and I was not far behind, so they waited.    I arrived about 40 minutes early for the meeting and was shocked to see about half of the teachers already there.  I remember my first meeting with all the teachers.  I was terrified about where to sit and could I speak to anyone in Samoa.  And it was uncomfortable at that first meeting.

Today, I strolled in with several teachers from other schools who knew me, gave hugs to those already there whom I knew and was kissed and hugged by some of the teachers from my school.  Then the lead SRO asked me to sit in the front “pew”.  That actually worked in my favor later because he also invited me to join him and the other SRO for the two meals (in a 3 hour meeting) so I got the premium food.

Most of the teachers had arrived by 8:00 a.m. and we were ready to start but the minister was running late.  He arrived about 20 minutes later and we started with a short speech by the minister, then a speech by the eldest male teacher present, then a hymn, then a sermon, then a prayer and two pese lotu which means prayer songs. 

During the minister’s prayer, I once again realized the problem with my Samoan.  Many words in Samoan have a lot of meanings and the only way to determine the meaning is through context.  That puts me at a disadvantage.  I did hear two words in one sentence that I know – cheese and crying.  Either the minister felt my pain about leaving my cheese in Apia or I misunderstood the context.

That was followed by a speech by one of the principals, thanking the minister for coming.  That was when the minister received his mealofa (gift) of food and cash.  He got two large trays of food.  One was a variety of sandwiches, oranges and apples along with some boiled eggs.  The other had two $18 containers of crackers, two dozen eggs (uncooked), two large bowls of uncooked ramen noodles and a couple cans of soda. 

After the minister gave another speech, thanking everyone for the respect and the gifts, the head SRO made a speech and then we took attendance.  That meant calling the name of each school and all the teachers from that school strolling up to stand and face the whole group.  Any absences were pointed out.  I took photos of each group of teachers, which everyone seemed to enjoy.

It was now 9:10 and time for a tea break for 30 minutes.  The one thing that shocked me was that no ulas were given out.  It is the first meeting I’ve attended where there were no lei’s.   As we started tea the head SRO asked me to join him and the other SRO at their table and instructed his staff to bring me one of the special platters reserved for the higher ranking staff – principals and SROs.  I felt kind of bad for the Japanese volunteer and the young, female PCV who were eating with the rest of the teachers but wasn’t about to turn down the respect being shown to say nothing of the superior food.

Tea was Koko Samoa, two mackerel sandwiches, two corned beef sandwiches, a slice of toast with a fried egg on top, a piece of papaya, a banana and an apple (imported from New Zealand).  I ate the egg, toast and apple and drank the Koko.

Finally, the actual meeting started.  We reviewed dates for the remainder of this school year and the starting date (Jan 28, 2013) for next year. Next the SRO reviewed several school policies which he’d apparently been asked to review by the CEO of the Ministry.  Several times he referred to her as the “female CEO who is afraid of the government.”  It seemed clear that he disagrees with the policy of MESC against corporal punishment, which is against the law but happens in every school I’ve visited in Samoa.  His message seemed to be more about keeping the media from finding out than actually stopping it.

I believe what he was referring to was a recent spate of newspaper and television reports of severe incidents of corporal punishment in the schools, including one incident that resulted in the death of an eight year old girl.

He reviewed several more policies, such as the fact that it is preferable for the teachers to come to school five days a week and it is best when they arrive prior to the students.  One thing I’ve seen here that he referenced was teachers having older students teach younger ones so that the teacher doesn’t have to be in the classroom.

After discussing the importance of being a quality teacher, we moved on to review the activities for teachers’ week.  Because this is Samoa’s 50th year of independence they’re doing a lot of celebrating of all government activities.  All teachers in Samoa are supposed to march in a parade through Apia followed by a ceremony on Friday, October 5.  That means I’ll be heading to Apia on Thursday, the 4th, for overnight, then returning to Apia the following week to assist in training the new group of volunteers. 

We ended the meeting with hymns, prayers and food.  Once again I was invited to sit at the “grownups table” with the two SROs.  And, I got the same food as them and the principals.  Most of the principals didn’t eat, choosing to take their food home.  I wasn’t too hungry but the SROs were eating and I didn’t want to be rude.  Besides, I’ll be honest, I was worried that they’d take away my tray of uneaten food, as they’d done after tea.  I enjoyed two mussels, cooked in coconut cream, half a lobster and some really tasty octopus, also cooked in coconut cream.  I nibbled limu (seaweed) as a salty accent.

I still had tons of food on my plate and the SRO said I could take it with me.  He’d been teasing the principal’s about taking theirs so I was glad he offered.  He did one better – he started loading food from his plate onto mine.  And announced to everyone around that he was giving all his food to me.  That’s a big deal in Samoa where how much and what kind of food you get is based on how much status you have.  It was very generous of him.

My SRO kept asking how I was going to get it home, since she knows I take the bus.  I was hoping she’d offer me a ride, but she didn’t since it would be several miles out of her way.  The staff wrapped the food for me and I got on the bus with a briefcase, purse and a tray about the size of a large pizza, filled with food. 

Before leaving, though, someone had cranked up the music on full blast, Samoan style.  I was standing next to the SRO when it happened and started dancing.  I assumed he’d just laugh, which is what usually happens when I dance.  If you’d seen me in action, you’d know why they laugh.  Instead, he started dancing with me.  The other teachers were staring and I’m sure the rumors are now flying.  Talofi.

After about 15 minutes, one of the principals wanted to talk to me and I used that as a convenient way to make my exit.  The SRO didn’t skip a beat and started dancing with a couple of the other women. 

It was a good meeting and pretty much what I’d predicted.  The food was much better than expected, though, and for us Samoans, it’s all about the food.

P.S.  Once home, I took a couple chicken legs off the tray to save for dinner, then took the tray of food to my family.  It included two whole fried reef fish, two deep-fried sausages, potato salad, scrambled eggs, coleslaw, octopus, limu (seaweed), taro and a boiled green banana.

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