Friday, October 26, 2012

What's the Training Village Like?

The training village is actually two villages that are so close together that they seem like one.  Located on the southeastern coast of Upolu, the villages are small and well-kept.  One of the villages is on the water.  It looks as if all of the houses and structures are new, because they are.  The village was essentially wiped out during the 2010 tsunami and was rebuilt “uta”, away from the sea.  That’s the second village that is hosting the training.

The “tai” (close to the sea) village was rebuilt to host the trainees.  This is the fourth time the village has hosted Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) and they are justifiably proud of that record.  They are paid to feed and house the PCTs but the money doesn’t come close to covering the actual expenses, let alone the inconvenience and disruption caused by hosting 13 PCTs, several PCVs who are helping with training and Samoan PC staff.

Each PCT (or couple, since there is one married couple) has been assigned a host family.  Some families built accommodations from scratch, just to house their trainee.  My favorites are the traditional faleo’os (also called fale Samoa) that are small, cozy and have sea views.   Each has a small enclosed room which can be locked and is large enough to hold a mattress and small table and a suitcase, and a covered porch that is just a bit larger than the bedroom.  Each has an overhead light, just beneath the thatched roof.  There are no electrical outlets.  The faleo-os have colorful lavalavas (pieces of cloth used for sarongs and a variety of other uses) covering the thatched ceilings to minimize insects, mice and natural debris from falling into the fale.

The fale’s also have mulit-colored curtains, although the cotton is thin and doesn’t provide much privacy.  The mattress is on the floor.  The entire floor, both in the bedroom and on the porch are covered with mats – some of the mats are plastic woven mats made in China, while others are the traditional handmade falas (mats) made by the women in the family.

For someone like me, who was in college during Woodstock, the fales are a flower child’s dream come true.  The PCTs, most of whom weren’t alive in the 60’s (there is a 71 year old woman), may not have the nostalgic appreciation (I used cheap Indian bedspreads back then, but the effect was the same) but they seem happy with their tiny new houses.

Volunteers who aren’t in the traditional fales have been given a room in a family’s palagi fale – a western style house.  While several of the volunteers are living in the “tai” village, close to the sea, there aren’t enough families there to host all volunteers.  Others are in the other village “uta” about a ten minute walk away.   They’re in either a traditional fale or a palagi fale as well.  One volunteer’s palagi house has been dubbed a “palace” by her fellow volunteers, because of the tile floors and other amenities.

Most volunteers have both outdoor showers and toilets, usually connected to each other.  Imagine an outhouse that has a toilet side and a shower side, separated by a shoulder-high inner wall.  It’s a flush toilet and generally a cement shower with PVC pipe, sans a shower head.  When I’m dreading stepping under a cold shower, I distract myself by considering that I am a PCV, taking a shower under a PVC pipe.   My humor has not become more sophisticated here.   I also find pig farts laugh-out-loud funny.
The large fale tali malo where we’re doing the training is “uta” and no more than a ten minute walk from the furthest volunteer.  I’m housed there, along with the Samoan PC staff/trainers.  When the family (headed by the ali’i – highest chief in the village) found out that an older female PCV would be here for two weeks to help with the training they “built” a faleo’o for me to use.  I discovered last night that they didn’t actually build it, but moved it from a house not far away.  New or used, it’s comfortable and about twice the size of the small faleo’os built for the trainees.  I’ve been alone part of the time, but shared it with one of my favorite PC staff members.  She and I also shared it with chickens.  After the big meal on Sunday we were napping on our mattresses and a chicken came in the front door, walked over Teuila’s mattress and then flew out the “wall”, which is open air.  Scared the beejebbers out of her and gave me a good laugh.

At night we share the fale with pigs and dogs, since they both like to sleep under the fale.  The first night, when I was alone, I woke up and heard breathing and thought for a second someone was in the fale with me.  Then I realized a pig was softly snoring directly under my head, about a foot away.  

I’ve heard some funny stories from the new group about their first couple of weeks here, but will let them share those.  Let’s just say they have discovered that there is no such thing as alone time in Samoa – even when you’re taking a shower or using the toilet. 

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