Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday in Apia

I thought you might enjoy reading about the details of my day in Apia.  Today was pretty typical of a day in the capital city.

I was awakened at 6:45 a.m. by a text from the volunteer I was planning to meet for breakfast.  She was running late because two of the three buses that serve her village had been reserved to take mourners to a large funeral in the next village.

As I walked to meet my friend, I saw two women being attacked by several dogs.  The women defended themselves by throwing rocks at the dogs.  I used to think that was appalling.  Now, I’m a good aim.  When the attack was happening, a young man was passing me on the sidewalk. I commented “Leaga maile.”  Bad dogs.  He seemed surprised that I spoke to him in Samoan, but agreed.

He asked where I was going, in English.  I told him and we started chatting in both English and Samoan since his English was on a par with my Samoan.  We were walking in the same direction and spent the next ten minutes talking and walking.  Imagine that in the United States.   First, walking for ten minutes and second, a young man voluntarily chatting with an older woman, just to be friendly.

Breakfast was lovely and it was nice to catch up, but I passed on food.  I enjoyed a cappuccino and after our time together moved on to a restaurant I wanted to visit, where I could have a burger for breakfast rather than eggs.  Not only was it significantly cheaper than the palagi restaurant but they served any food, all day.  Samoans seem to share my view that God did not decree that only eggs and pancakes are allowed to be served in the morning.  An issue I debated with my mother (unsuccessfully) since I was a girl.

Another plus of the restaurant was that they had a rerun playing of the Olympic opening ceremonies on an enormous flat-screen tv.  Rain set in while I dined, so I dawdled.  Eventually, the rain ebbed and I headed out.

Rather than walking, I used the rain as an excuse to take a taxi to a store I’d been told had refried beans.  They did.  They also had taco shells. The first I’ve seen in Samoa.  Neither were inexpensive, but such a treat. I also bought a bag of pretzels.  I’d tried to explain them to my Year 7 kids because we read about them in a book.  I promised I’d find some in Apia but had been told the only store that had them charged $20 a bag.  I was thrilled to find them for $7 a bag.

The taxi driver who’d taken me to the store had waited for me, to take me back to my hotel. He was young, friendly and polite.  I was ready to head back to my hotel and then realized I needed to go to the Baha’i Temple to take enlargeable photos for a woman in Arizona who’d found me on this blog.  We agreed on a price and I gave him directions to one of the major tourist destinations on the island.  It was about a 20 minute drive through the rain.  We chatted as we drove, again in both English and Samoan.

After taking the photos, we headed back to my hotel.  We were talking about music and he played his favorite song for me.  It also happened to be my favorite Samoan song.  He said that meant he should be my boyfriend.  Then he laughed heartily.  Because he was handsome and 23 and I’m….not.

Back in the hotel, I turned on the internet, the television and the air conditioner.  Not necessarily in that order.  While I was watching the replay of the Olympics opening ceremonies and working on the internet, there was a knock at the door.  It was the housekeeper and her daughter, here to service my room.  I asked her to just service the bathroom, so I could have a clean towel (that I hadn’t washed in a bucket). 

She noticed that I had the Olympics on TV, so she sat down to watch with me.  I didn’t invite her to and she was supposed to be working, but we’re casual and friendly here in Samoa.  Besides, the Olympics only come around every four years.  We watched together and chatted for about ten minutes and then she got to work.  I realized after she left that she’d taken my dirty towel but hadn’t left a new one.

After the opening ceremonies were over, I decided to brave the heat and walk to a couple of nearby grocery stores to get the goodies I’d come to Apia for.  At Citimart I scored not just the olives and hot peppers I was looking for but also two boxes of…drum roll, please…Kraft Macaroni and Cheese – Original Recipe.  Wow.  Sure, it was $2.20 USD a box and I remember back when I was in college and dinosaurs walked the earth and it was only $.20 a box but still, a bargain.

I headed off to Farmer Joe’s to see what further palagi food delights I could find. My hope was that some of the cheese was approaching its expiration date. In the past I’ve gotten wonderful cheese for a couple of bucks because the normally priced $30 stuff was due to expire the next day.  Really, how can you tell when bleu cheese expires?  I crapped out on the cheese but scored on yogurt.  I don’t even usually bother to look at yogurt.  I can’t fathom paying $20 for a four-pack of individual servings.  But $.75 for each individual serving?  You bet.  I only bought two since I can’t take them back to Savaii without spoilage.

After more time in my air conditioned hotel room, it was time to fetch dinner.  And what could be better than pizza?  I got another young, friendly taxi driver, who waited with me for the pizza to finish cooking.  We went through the normal questioning process. Him:  “Are you married?”  Me:  “No.”  Him:  “Do you have children?”  Me:  “No.”  Him:  Looking me up and down as he considered the situation…”How old are you?”  Me:  “61”.  Him:  “Oka.” (sort of like saying, holy crap)  Me:  “How old are you?”  Him:  “23.” Me:  “You’re a baby.”  Him:  “Yes.”

What a wonderful palagi weekend away from the village. Now I just have to figure out how to pack all my groceries into my suitcase.

Friday, July 27, 2012

More Savaii Photos

My Sunday dinner recently.  From top left - giant chicken thigh, hot peppers, squash, taro and palusami.   Palagi food meets Samoan food.  Yum.

My washing machine.  Also known as a bucket.  These were just-washed clothes waiting by my door for me to hang them out to dry.

Tino in a tree.  He's 12 and like most of the Samoan kids, an amazing tree climber.  This is the breadfruit tree that drops huge ripe breadfruit on my tin roof.

Love this little girl.  I yell "Gutu!" and the kids put their finger to their lips to remind themselves not to talk.

The Photos Keep On Coming

I am sitting in air conditioning, watching a rerun of last night's opening ceremonies for the Olympics.  Happy as a clam.
Three of my little buddies.  They carry my bags home from reading center twice a week.  They're standing in my doorway.

Some of our pigs, waiting for dinner.

I've talked so much about the sores I've gotten on my legs.  This one took about six months to heal.  This is month 4.  Many of the kids have numerous sores like this.

Sunset view from the beautiful Le Vasa resort on Upolu.  Samoa - Island Paradise.

More recent photos

My buddy Lefu, the Year 3 teacher at my school with her beautiful baby girl.

My favorite bus driver.  We have an on-going joke about him marrying me, although he has a wife and several children and is 30 years younger.  I have no idea why he was wearing this mask, other than to get laughs.  I also don't know how he kept it on because there was no rubber band to go around his head.

One of the fales near me was stripped down and rebuilt.  I'd gone there to wait in the shade for the bus. 

Three of my students from last year.  We were on our way to church.  The sign overhead was to welcome people to the village and the 7th Day Adventist meeting.

Spider in my bathroom.  This is the kind I take showers with.  They are harmless but large and disconcerting when only a few inches away.

Samoan flags have been everywhere since the 50th Independence Day celebration.  This is inside one of my buses.

My church.  The car is a rental belonging to a couple of tourists who came to church that day.

Faga Photos

Random photos from recent months.  Enjoy!
View from my seat on the bus from the wharf to Apia.  This is near Aggie Grey's resort.  Nice breeze from the open door.

My family's fale.  This is the view from my house.  Look through through their house and you'll see the ocean.

My brother preparing new roofing materials for the faleo'o.

My house - with a tin roof.

Any question why Julius brightens my day?  That's my brother Peter in the background.

The door of my refrigerator.  Note that I have butter, cheese, 1/2 an onion, mold around the door and a very dead, very flat small lizard who I squished in the door by accident.


My family was nice enough to call a taxi driver for me to start my trip to Apia.  I hate to take the bus to catch the 6:00 a.m. boat to Upolu.  First is the challenge of getting to the road.  It involves walking a couple of hundred yards which sounds like no big deal but it’s an obstacle course. 

Half-buried lava rocks to trip over in the dark.  And dogs.  Our family has four that sleep near our houses.  The family next door has six now.  They all sleep between my house and the road.  And in the dark, even my dogs go ballistic when they hear me coming.  Barking, growling and in some cases, charging and trying to bite.  All while I’m trying to quietly move past my family sleeping in their open family.  And carrying a suitcase, backpack and purse. 

The other problem is that there’s no bus schedule.  The bus should come by, ideally, about 4:45 a.m. to get to the wharf on time.  But it may come at 4:00 a.m.  Or not at all.   I prefer to pay $20 tala for a taxi, which I can schedule and is theoretically more reliable.

I say theoretically because sometimes the driver is reliable and sometimes he’s not.  Once he showed up spot on time, right at my door.  Another time, he showed up an hour late and I missed the boat.  Yesterday, he was supposed to arrive at 4:45 a.m. 

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. when the roosters started their racket.  I had packed the night before so just had to get dressed.  I did, then read and relaxed until 4:45 a.m.  No taxi.  The church bells rang at 5:00 a.m.  No taxi.  At 5:15 a.m. he arrived.  And parked in front of my family’s house, which meant I had to make the dog-crossing.  Nope, not happening.  I stood in my door and waved. 

He drove slowly to my door, got out and cheerily said good morning and asked how I was.  “Late.” was my very ungracious response.  Which he did not take well.  I’ve learned here that people do not like it when you get angry, especially if the anger is because of something they’ve done.  You are supposed to be a good sport and just accept it.  That’s not just for palagis, it is expected of everyone and most Samoans seem to be much more comfortable with it than I am.

I didn’t realize until yesterday morning how much that annoys me.  If you promise to do something, deliver something, arrive somewhere, then do it.  If you don’t, I want to have the right to be pissed.  I think it’s an extension of “island time”.  I still get annoyed when teachers show up an hour after school has started.  They don’t make excuses, none are expected.  Sometimes stuff comes up.  Perhaps you had a family emergency.  Or, more likely, it was cool out and you just wanted to sleep in. 

Recently, I’d been nagging my boss because I wanted him to finish writing the very long exam he wanted me to type, copy and collate.  Previously, I’ve spent entire weekends doing the work because I didn’t get the handwritten copy until the last minute.  I was determined not to have a repeat.  He delivered on time, as requested.  I thanked him profusely and then asked why he did it.  “I’m afraid of you.  You get ita (angry).”  He was joking, sort of.

Yup, that’s the American in me coming out.  When I order eggs and bacon I want eggs and bacon, not a spaghetti sandwich (at the same price as the eggs and bacon.)  When work is scheduled to start, I want it to start.  When the taxi is scheduled to arrive, I want him to be there so I don’t miss the boat.  And when those things don’t happen, I want to be able to be pissed.  Not fit-throwing, just annoyed.  Because holding in the pissedness and acting as if nothing is wrong will give me an ulcer.

I'm Not Prepared to Come Home to America

I talked to one of the Peace Corps staff yesterday and she expressed some surprise that so many of our group are talking so much about leaving.  Some have already bought their tickets home.  Most are considering grad school and job options, including myself. 

Given the challenges, both physical and emotional, we’ve faced here, I don’t think it’s surprising that we’re looking ahead.  In my case, it’s not that I hate Samoa and can’t wait to get out.  Actually, one of the options I’m keeping open is extending here for another year.  But I am looking at all of my options.  I’ve begun job hunting  (Experienced, funny Independent Management Consultant available for consulting or teaching English.  Liberal use of common sense.  Available January, 2013.  Tell your friends!) and considering what all my options are.

It’s going to be a big transition, at least for me.  In Apia this weekend, I’ve already experienced a bit of culture shock.

Sadly, no one is calling my name or waving from their fales as I walk by.  I expected that.  But today, brushing my teeth, I realized how ingrained village behavior has become.  Do you brush your teeth with hot water?  I don’t.  Of course, I don’t shower or wash dishes in hot water either.  I’ve become used to using the left tap on the bathroom sink when I wash my face or brush my teeth.  It turns easier than the right tap.

 Half asleep early this morning, I turned on the tap as usual.  I started brushing.  The longer I brushed and rinsed my brush, the less pleasant the experience.  In the village, it’s not unusual to get a brief burst of warm water, coming from where the pipe is on top of the sand and sun-warmed.  But this water was getting actually hot.  I stopped brushing, stood up straight and considered the situation.  Well crap, I was using the hot water tap in a hotel that has hot water.  I’m going to have to retrain myself to only use the right, cold tap.

I glanced up to the space over the sink.  At home that space is filled with exposed 2X4’s.  Here, there was a mirror.  I discovered that I have an amazingly distinct farmer’s tan.  I’m not sure I like having a mirror larger than the small hand mirror I have at home.
Tilt your head to the right and check out the string hanging on the left of the showerhead.  What's up with that?

Nice shower, but do you see anyplace to put the soap?  My shower at home only has one handle.  Cold.

 Then I prepared to take a shower.  As I reached in to turn on the hot water I noticed a string hanging from the ceiling.  Hmmm.  I’ve never seen that in a shower before.  I wonder what it’s for?  I considered possible negative consequences for pulling it.  Perhaps it activates a camera?  Why not give them a shot of my glorious naked self?  I pulled the string.  Nothing. I pulled it again.  Still nothing.  I tried to avoid it as I showered, much as I try to avoid the spiders in my shower at home.  Perhaps adjusting to city life won’t be so hard after all.


I've got air conditioning and high speed internet.  I'm in Apia taking a weekend vacation.  Thought I'd share the joy with some photos...

Is this where buses are born or go to die?

We stopped for gas and the driver got out.  I think it's gone one step beyond "gently used".

I'm coming to get you, palagi!  This is ten month old Julius.  My boyfriend.  Yes, I'm a cradle robber.

What is this?  Why I love tipolo!

Julius' uncle Peter and I played Scrabble on my computer.  I won.  No, I did not cut him any slack just because English is not his first language.

My boyfriend and my "father", next to my fale.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Last Friday in the Village

It was a good day.  I got to school early to open the library and turn on the computer so the kids could play with the English games I’ve loaded.

I gave the Friday tests to Year 7 on vocabulary.  They learned new adjectives this week.  One was ‘obnoxious’.  I loved hearing one Year 7 girl tell a boy in her class that he was being obnoxious.

The highlight of the day was the visit from a couple from Taranaki.  Yes, the same Taranaki which I visited in May.  Small world in the Pacific.  Jenny is a retired teacher and her husband, Michael, was a dairy farmer.  He also raised sheep for some time.  They seemed to enjoy the children and the feeling was returned in spades.

The children have little curiosity about visitors - who the people are or where they come from.  New Zealand?  Cool, that’s all we need to know.  They prefer to show off what they know and can do.  They danced, they sang (in English and Samoan), they threw rocks to knock down some tipolo.  Ok, that was self-serving because I wanted some tipolo.  It’s some kind of hybrid citrus that seems to be a cross between lemons, limes and oranges.  It makes great lemonade.  I had the boys demonstrate how skillful they are at getting fruit and coconuts by throwing rocks.

Two boys weaved baskets from a palm frond.  Jenny and Michael were impressed with their industriousness.  Samoan children are competitive and these boys were going full on to see who could make the biggest, best basket first.  Brandy won, by a hair.

While we were hanging with Years 7 and 8 in the hall, two boys from Year 8 were helping the Year 7 teacher make the nets for the netball court.  They used a machete to hack down a tree, used tape and some kind of plastic to make the hoops and dug holes to mount the posts.  They did it quickly and well.  Samoans are impressive when they decide they want something done.  They can figure things out and make it happen.

At the end of the day there was netball practice.  I watched.  I don’t understand the fine points but have the idea.  The big challenge is making a basket.  There’s no backboard so it’s much harder than basketball.

By the time school was over I had a stiff neck.  I’m not sure if it was the amount of typing I did today or the way I slept last night, or the heavy bag I carried yesterday or a combination of those things.  By the time I got home I couldn’t turn my head to the right or touch my chin to my chest.

I told my sister I’d pay her $20 tala for a 30 minute neck and shoulder massage.  She smiled and agreed but in the Samoan way that made me know it would never happen.  When my 19 year old brother got home I made him the same offer.  He jumped on it.  We agreed that I would take a shower, he would do his chores, then we’d do the massage. 

When he showed up, he had a young woman with him.  She’s a member of the women’s committee and someone I know.  I teach her Year 3 daughter.  She’d volunteered to massage me.

I sat in the only chair in my house while she stood behind me.  My brother gave us his bottle of coconut oil to use.  We all chatted as she massaged.  My neck is much looser and I feel much better.  She didn’t want to take the money but I insisted that it was a gift for her children. 

I’m now contemplating reductions in other parts of the budget to accommodate regular massages.

By the way, the word for massage is fofo.  Not to be confused with the fofo pronounced with emphasis on a different syllable, which means masturbation.  I have to concentrate before I say I want fofo.

After she left I thought I’d take another shower, since I had coconut oil in my hair.  But my father was working on the pipes.  I had no water.  It didn’t matter.  I felt better and smelled very coco nutty.

Beware of Centipedes

I got up in the wee hours on Monday to take care of business, if you get my drift.  I was half-asleep as I walked back to bed in the dark.  I stepped on something and a second after that registered someone slammed my toes with a hammer and set them on fire with a blow torch. 

At least, that’s how it felt.  I turned on the light and saw a roach.  They crunch under the feet but cause no pain.  Then I saw a large centipede, slithering away as fast as his many legs could take him.  I got out the Mortein and chased him around the house, spraying, swearing and limping.  One of those moments that Alan Funt would have loved to film.  For you youngin’s, Alan Funt had a TV show called Candid Camera where he caught people doing stupid, but funny, stuff on camera.

My foot smarted.  It ached and burned.  I like to think (falsely, apparently) that I have a high threshold for pain.  I’ve had half inch in diameter abcesses in my leg and they didn’t come close to hurting like this sucker.

I’m happy to report that with my trustee Mortein at my side, I killed that vicious, attacking creature.  Or innocent bug who got stepped on and stung in self-defense.  It’s all in your perspective.

By morning, my toes were too swollen to fit in my sandals.  And I hadn’t gotten much sleep so I passed on school.  Kids came, with my host father, to get the keys.  He was concerned because I’m always the first one at school and it was now 7:15 a.m.  I explained what happened and he happily took the centipede corpse.  The kids watched him feed it to the chickens.  I felt like the brave hunter who’d brought home a trophy, while sadly getting gimped up in the process.

I lounged around for the day, hot and bored.  Tuesday I was ready for school and discovered that today was the day I’d be taking a tour of the other schools in the district.  I’d asked if I could because I wanted to see what they were like and how well the other kids did on English.

I spent half an hour in the sun during interval at one school teaching them Duck, Duck, Goose and playing Simon Says.  They moved on to netball and I moved on to shade.  And to wait for the postman.

While playing DDG, I got a phone call from the Samoa Post guy.  He’s the one who came to my school to deliver a package to me last month.  He had gone to my school to deliver another package and the teachers explained I was visiting other schools.  He wanted to know where he could find me.  Persistent little bugger.  Can you imagine if the US Postal Service was that service oriented?  And tenacious?  Heck, they said they couldn’t find me to deliver a letter to me from the IRS and here I am, reporting up to the office of the President of the United States.

The postal delivery guy called twice to confirm where I was and delivered the package with a smile.  It was filled with candy, food and amazing stuff for the kids.  Thank you, Sister MM.

My foot is better and I’m chewing on a Starburst.  Life is good!

Thursday, July 19, 2012


In Florida, in the summer, it usually rains for about an hour in the late afternoon.  You can almost set your watch to the rain storms that blow through.

In Samoa, the rains usually come in the early morning hours.  An hour or two before sunrise.  I’d prefer that the cooling rains come when I’m trying to get to sleep in the humid night rather than just before my alarm is set to go off.

Today we had rain.  It began about 4:00 a.m.  It continued, just a drizzly sort of rain with a slight breeze, until almost 6:15 a.m.   I turned off my fan and snuggled under my thin sheet, letting the curtains slap me in the face.  That may not sound restful to you, but compared to lying in a pool of sweaty sheets, it’s heaven.

The lightening sky made me realize my alarm would be going off soon so I got up.  I looked out the window to check the weather and saw the pigs in front of my fale.  Using their snouts to dig up large chunks of lawn.  It is the dogs’ job to keep the pigs from digging up the yard but they were sleeping.  I hate having to walk over the chewed up lawn so out I went, mu’umu’u flapping in the breeze.  For those not familiar with Samoan, think muumuu.  A large, roomy caftanesque kind of nighty. 

I was the only one awake so didn’t want to raise a ruckus to chase off the pigs.  Instead I used my flapping mu’umu’u and my fierce face.  It worked.  The pigs headed to the swamp and I strolled back into my house.

I left for work at the school at the usual time, a little before 7:00 a.m.  I noticed that there was no one else there. While I’m typically the first teacher, usually there are at least a few children.  Nope, I was alone.  I opened the office, turned on the copier and computer and prepared for the day’s lessons.  A few kids had joined me, but no teachers.

At 7:50 a.m., when school usually starts, there were two other teachers.  One in his classroom and one selling food from her canteen.  The kids were in the hall.

Over the next hour, as the other teachers arrived, they explained that it was cool and rainy.  Too hard to get out of bed.  Damn my palagi obsession with being punctual.