Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I almost went into a food coma

A couple weeks ago we had a visit from Jared, Ruth, and their son Hugo. They run a charity bottled water company which just launched in New Zealand. The company seems really cool. All the profits from the company go to fund small water projects in third world countries. They had a holiday planned for Samoa so they donated money to my village’s project and came to see what their money went towards. We gave them a tour of the village and went down to see the spring fed pool. The vaita’ele isn’t quite finished but almost. I think they enjoyed the visit and I know I enjoyed meeting them and getting faces put to e-mail addresses. Their son Hugo (1 year old) seemed to enjoy playing with the girls in the family I live with. The girls wanted to carry him around a lot; that was amusing.

How the vaita'ele is going to work is this: the covered part is where the spring bubbles up. The water flows out from under the concrete bridge and will form a pool. The concrete making the pool isn't finished yet, but soon. As you can see from the pictures the water still flows out in to the river. Soon enough though the concrete will be laid down to catch the water. Rocks will be placed on the bottom of the pool so dirt and sand won't cause the clear, clean water to be dirty and silty. I'm excited to see the finished product. It looks great already.

I showed Anita and the girls how to make homemade ice cream in a plastic bag. They enjoyed this easy treat. It’s not difficult at all: milk, sugar, & vanilla in a small bag, ice and salt in a bigger bag, and shake until it has ice cream texture. The girls were literally climbing the counters while we were making the ice cream.

Anita finished weaving her fine mat. It is huge 27’ by 14’. She asked for advice on how to do the feathers at the bottom of the mat. I was shocked to be asked this…what does a palagi know about fine mats? She took the advice I gave and I was glad to see it turned out really well. She should get a good price for it when she sells it.

We had our Thanksgiving celebration Saturday at the embassy representative’s house. The feast was supposed to be Thursday as Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday of November, but since we are in Samoa and that day wasn’t a holiday like in the US, Saturday worked out much better. Oh, the food! Amazing! I enjoyed very much the turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, etc. I even made pear salad, a tradition in my family on Thanksgiving. I ate a whole plate full of the delicious eats, went back for seconds, and then of course had some pumpkin pie for dessert. I was stuffed, as one ought to be on Thanksgiving. I haven't eaten like that since...well, last year's Thanksgiving. It's not healthy to gorge yourself on food like that, but Thanksgiving comes once a year so you have to go all out. Food comas are expected on Thanksgiving and I could have taken a nap shortly after eating (course a lot of that is due to poor sleep the night before and missing my regular afternoon nap, but the food didn’t help). There was even football on tv. The embassy representative has satellite tv so before we enjoyed the feast we watched football. It was almost like being in the USA. Good day!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Grandpa Would Be Proud!

My grandfather has been a member of the Lion’s Club for decades. Every time I go up to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house in West Virginia I see the plaques commemorating his fine years of service. I knew Lion’s Club was international; I’d seen their signs in Costa Rica while I was there on a field biology course, but I didn’t know they were in Samoa. That is until they delivered aid to me Saturday afternoon. I got pisupo (corned beef), spaghetti, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, water, Ramen noodles, etc. We took some pictures and I told them my Grandpa was a Lion too, so I’m sure they got a kick out of that. I borrowed a camera from another volunteer to take some pictures and caught the kids being their normal, funny selves. Charin likes to sing for the camera while Alofa prefers trying to be the photographer, always curious as to what that goofy thing is I’m holding. I was able to get a funny video of Alofa and Charin fake fighting. If you tell Alofa to “fusu,” she takes a martial arts stance, bobs her head like a bobble head doll, and then attacks. It is so funny and I always get a kick out of it, never gets old. This family, especially the kids, is the only thing keeping me sane at times. Of course sometimes they compound the problem (you know how difficult kids can be and I still haven’t gotten used to the whole family sleeping right outside my door), but the majority of the time they make me laugh when I need to or in talking with the adults my apprehensions are relieved.

The bus continues to be an interesting experience. I thought I’d seen just about everything. In the States there are certain things you can’t do: bring a puppy or any other form of animal (exception of seeing eye dogs) on a bus for fear of biting or allergies, here not so much an issue, kinda of funny what comes on a bus actually; weed whackers, not really a good idea either; machetes are a big no-no unless one is a crazed killer or wants people to think so; and the whole sit on a strangers lap would never happen in the States (you know how we palagi are, not big fans of touching, we need our bubble of personal space). All this I’ve gotten used to as normal; there isn’t much that goes on concerning the bus which truly shocks me anymore. That being said, the other week coming back from Apia and just one village from mine, a fight broke out between two soles. “Great!” I thought, “I’m almost home and these idiots are causing trouble.” They started in the back and worked their way up front. They got up by me and I hunkered down as they shoved each other into me and continued the punching and wrestling. I really didn’t want to have to go back to the office the next day and explain why I had a black eye or worse. I found it very cute when the Samoan lady next to me put her arms around me and yelled to the boys “Teine Palagi, Teine Palagi!” That did nothing to stop them, but it was cute. The lady had a kid about three on her lap who was about to lose it when the boy were wrestling on top of me causing me to be shoved into them. Eventually, the bus driver and other men got them separated. The driver kicked one guy off and told the other to stay put; he didn’t want this continued in the street. From what I heard the fight was about bus fare. While money might be a big issue, $6 is not enough to warrant a bloody nose and several face lacerations. But, I believe alcohol was involved as well so that would explain most of the stupid behavior. Just another day on the bus.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Long lost dog has returned!

Well, it took a whole month but I finally found her. I was sitting on the church steps last Tuesday, waiting for singing practice to begin, when I saw the little mutt sauntering down the road looking halfway lost as always. I walked down the steps and did the familiar whistle she knows as me. She stopped in her tracks and looked at me on the fist whistle, started wagging her tail on the second, and took off running towards me on the third. I think she was a little surprised to see me after a month. I’m pretty sure all the Samoans thought it was funny to see me and the dog. Oh well, I’m glad to see she is ok. She has been a bad girl though and is pregnant…again. I have to get her de-sexed but that isn’t easy without a car; that will happen after this litter comes though. Dogs are something not in short supply here and more dogs are not needed in this country. She followed me up the road after singing (waiting so patiently for me where the old house was until singing was over) and has stayed at the house since then; although, I had trouble finding her the past couple of days so I think she went back down seaward. I tried giving her a bath last Wednesday. As with most dogs, she wasn’t a fan. It was a short bath and she still smells like a dog, but I didn’t want to stress her out too much since she is pregnant. Pretty sure my family found me giving the dog a bath amusing.

Wednesday night there were some interesting sights in the sky. I saw two shooting stars. They both had green tails and lasted 2-3 seconds so I’m thinking they may have been part of a small meteor shower. They didn’t seem like regular shooting stars to me. The really cool thing was the aura or ring around the moon (also known as a halo). When the first shooting star caught my eye I saw the ring around the moon. I’ve seen rings around the moon before, but never this big. As I looked up I put my thumb on the moon and my index finger on the ring, 3 inches or so. I’ve only seen them an inch or less. Really cool to see. Pretty soon I had the whole family out there looking at it. That was funny because I told one person; they gave an exclamation of surprise and called another until the whole family was outside staring at the moon. They kept asking what day it was because since Wednesday was the 28th the next day was the 29th and the one month anniversary of the tsunami. They thought something bad would occur the next day. I kept trying to tell them the ring was only because of moisture in the air, but that didn’t seem to be a satisfying enough answer. Oh well, it was still fun to gaze at the moon with them.

It is funny how life comes at you fast. I went from living alone and by the sea to living with a family and in the jungle. I used to fix my own palagi food but am now given Samoan food. Although, we get a lot canned foods (beef stew, mushroom soup, baked beans, etc) as part of aid given to the other family whose house was destroyed and shared with me because they feel bad I was affected more than a lot of families and I haven’t been given aid. I told them I appreciate it, but it isn’t necessary; they send over stuff anyway. They aren’t used to the palagi canned foods so they give them to me. The girls in the family tried apple juice for the first time and made funny faces. They said it was o’ona or bitter. I had a box of raisins and we put them in the oatmeal along with chopped walnuts we were given as part of the aid. I thought it was fantastic and really added a lot to the oatmeal. Charin, the 4 year old, spit every walnut and raisin out; e le masani (she isn’t used to it). That was amusing.

I am working on a proposal to get funding for a new pre-school. Of course the other, which was my house, was destroyed in the tsunami. We should be submitting the proposal soon. We picked up three computers Friday, thanks to Jenny for giving us two of the four she requested and Sara and Cale for an additional computer to replace the whole order as well as for fixing them up and keeping them safe. I’m hoping to keep a little busier on an everyday basis either messing around on the computer or actually doing my job and teaching people how to use the computer. Work comes in spurts so it will be great to have something more often to do.

When I got back from Apia and picking up the computers Friday, I was called over to the pulenuu’s house. Three trucks from DMO, Disaster Management Office, were there. Apparently, they have been trying to find me for four weeks and the last time they tried to find me I was in Apia for the fiafia to welcome the new group; go figure, I was in the village all that time except for the time they came to deliver stuff to me. Well, my family can stop being mad at the village for not giving me aid (even though this didn’t have anything to do with the village, it was all DMO). I got a bunch of cereals, canned foods, noodles, rice, cookies, soap, laundry powder, a non-stick skillet, bowls, and a box of NZ Artesian water. Since I am now part of a Samoan family I shared. I gave my family everything since they cook for me anyway. They had me keep some things, like the toilet paper, toothpaste, two packs of cookies (in case I get hungry), and the bedding for when I need to change my sheets. We should be eating really well for the next few weeks. We have enough cereal to feed an army; the kids enjoyed it for dinner Friday night. I’m interested to see what else might show up, not that I need it or really want it, but it will be given anyway since I’m a tsunami victim. My family gets well fed; I’m ok with that.

It is still really weird to drive past Poutasi on the bus. There is still a lot of debris. They had to knock another building near the secondary school down because of water damage. The area near the school looks pretty cleaned up; although just a giant field for the most part now, but just to the side where there are more trees there is a lot of tin used for roofing and wood scattered everywhere. It is a little unnerving to be on the bus and when we get to Poutasi everyone turns their head to see how the clean up is going. My village will change soon too. Those of us whose houses were completely destroyed by the tsunami aren’t returning to where we once lived. Many of the families whose houses were not damaged at all or only minor water damage sustained are starting to move up to the road as well. They are pretty scared to live down in the village center near the sea and I can understand their wish to move inland to be safer. I was a little unhappy to hear a matai knocked his house down just so that he could get aid. His house sustained no damage, yet he is taking advantage of the disaster. From what I’ve heard, this is happening all over Samoa and I’m sure it happens worldwide, but that doesn’t make it right.

The best part of my days, besides the nap which is a cultural requirement, is right around dusk. I love watching the bats fly around. The palm trees are mere silhouettes, the sky is shades of blue, pink, red, purple, and orange, and the air is starting to cool off from the warm day. The bats emerge from their mountain roosts and fly out in search of the evening meal. The bats are peaceful things to watch at the end of the long days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

I’ve been back in the village about a week now and am enjoying living with a family. I’m just off the main road now, so it is much easier to catch the bus. I don’t have to walk 15 minutes to get back to my house while carrying a back of groceries and after walking around all day in Apia. It is a totally different atmosphere than what I had before. Usually, only four people live there, but because of the tsunami we have an additional six people living there. We had another two as well, the parents of the people I am living with, but they are building a house just up the road and already have a small fale up where they sleep. The others will move out as well. They are re-building where the old fale was by the sea.

There are two kids in the family four and six, and for now a one year old and a one month old. It is fun to see the kids play. They do the funniest things. The family tells the one year old, Alofa, to “Fai maso” (flex your muscles) and little Alofa does a strong man pose, flexing her little arms and grinning ear to ear. It is so funny. The kids were playing the other day when Alofa got the best of the four year old, Karin. Alofa was terrorizing Karin who was lying down trying to watch a movie. Alofa comes running towards Karin so Karin put her foot up to try to stop Alofa. Instead of being stopped by the foot on her chest, Alofa acted like she was going to eat Karin’s foot. Alofa’s reaction to the foot on her chest was so quick; no time lost thinking at all. I cracked up laughing. I take the kids on walks and we watch movies together. It is fun to be around the kids.

Anita is the mom of the family. She is like a Samoan sister to me. When I lived alone, she would invite me to her house for dinner and to hang out, even gave me papaya and ripe bananas. She was the one who saw me not doing anything but sitting around after the tsunami and invited me for lunch at her house. She immediately started getting a room together for me. Anita takes care of me, but doesn’t overwhelm me which can happen sometimes in a Samoan family. She lived in town and was really good friends with other Peace Corps Volunteers, so she knows we palagi need alone time sometimes. Salesa is her husband; he said he would protect me from the cheeky boys. I really like this family so I’m glad to be living with them. They gave me a nice room in their house, even my own bathroom in my room (no more out house).

Now that I’ve been back for a week my things are starting to be returned. I was walking with the kids on Wednesday evening when one of the men in the village was waving for me to come over to his house. I went over and he gave me my dive watch and a pair of eyeglasses back; I was shocked. I know him and his family and they too are really nice so I’m not shocked they would be nice enough to give my things back, but just shocked in general I got things back. I’m glad about getting both back and especially happy to get the glasses because I only have one extra pair of contacts left. I have horrible eyesight so it is nice to be able to wear the contacts during the day and put my glasses on at night. This way I can save the contacts until more come by mail.

Taua, a matai who is a really helpful counterpart, has been going around finding out where my stuff is. I’m so glad to have him as a friend. I got a suitcase back, beat up pretty badly but who cares, a pair of shoes, my external hard drive and thumb drives (don’t work, but that’s ok), and most shocking cds & dvds (really scratched but appear to work). Not everything, but it is a start. I’ve washed everything, but I’ll be finding sand in all of these things for years to come.

The women on my Peace Corps committee and the pastor’s wife washed my clothes they found. I was shocked to see how clean they got everything. You can’t even tell the clothes went through a tsunami. I didn’t get much back, just 4 puletasi (what a shock those wouldn’t get stolen, but t-shirts which are clearly mine, like have things which say Peace Corps on it, I see kids wearing), 3 t-shirts (not the good ones I wanted, but I’m not in a position to be picky at this point), a rash guard, that is very useful to have back, and a few other random things. I was hoping for some other things, but I’m glad I got these things back. It was very nice of the women to wash everything for me. I’m glad I have good Peace Corps friends who gave me extra clothes they had. Whenever we volunteers get together, at least one person will be able to say I’m wearing their shirt.

So I’m glad to see that living in the village for over a year did make a difference with some people. I’m glad to have the women on my committee and Taua looking out for me. Now I have a family to look out for me too.

It is weird to walk on the paths in the village center and not see my house or be going home. I’m going to have to get used to not seeing the ocean all the time and not going to sleep or waking up to the sound of the crashing waves. It is odd to see where my house was; gives me a weird feeling. Not fear or anxiety, just weird not being able to go back to the way things were.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A few bad apples don’t ruin the bushel

Despite the fact people looted the few things I had left after a tsunami destroyed my house, the stories of people rising to the occasion out shine the actions of the bad. It isn’t like looting is a Samoan concept; evil people worldwide take advantage of others’ misfortune after disasters. Ever since the tsunami people have rushed to help. As I was coming in on Tuesday a few hours after the disaster, caravans of cars were already headed over to the south side to help. Teams from New Zealand and Australia have come in to help in the relief effort. People are volunteering their time to help distribute food and clothing to the displaced families, while some are given the solemn task of looking for those who did not survive. Since Tuesday, Peace Corps Volunteers have come in from their villages to help out in Aleipata and Falealili, spending long hours in the sun helping those in need. Companies have donated time, food, materials, etc to help out the relief effort. A phone company gave free credit Tuesday and I think Wednesday as well so people could get in contact with friends and family. They also gave generators and cell phone recharging stations to Red Cross relief stations so people can charge phones and continue their hard work. A restaurant shut down to the public and cooked exclusively for relief workers. A telethon raised over $600K tala for the relief effort.

Many of the families do not want to leave their homes, even if all they have left is the foundation. They set up tarps and crowd as many people under it as possible. Efforts are being made to get tents and simple household items they can use to cook. Most of the clean-up is done and soon the painful rebuilding process will begin. Many on the south coast do not have the means to rebuild or are too scared to go down to the sea again. The south side looks like a different world. While driving through Lalomanu, it is hard to see where the beach fale resort was where I had vacationed just 4 months ago. Nothing is left of most of the area. All the way up to the mountain is nothing but destruction. Despite all this, people are going out everyday to help the victims. As much as we as humans can get discouraged by all the bad aspects of human nature, it is encouraging to see the good come out and the true spirit of humanity shine.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Heartbreak

While I viewing my collapsed house Thursday with a couple of the Peace Corps staff and letting them check out my new residence, we decided to come back Friday with a team of volunteers to break my house apart and see what we can find and salvage. I told my village I'd be back, not to touch my house, we’d clean it up the next day. So Peace Corps comes out strong, 2 cars, 12 or so volunteers, prepared with gloves & hammers, ready to break my house apart (we also donated food and clothing to the other family). We get there, not only is my house already apart, everything is gone. Anything I could have salvaged was gone. Now I know a lot of my stuff was taken by the waves, but I saw things in the wreckage, just couldn't get to them until we broke the house apart. All that was gone. I asked about where everything was, including stuff I saw Tuesday and Thursday...response" Leai se mea" there is nothing. They said they found my computer on the steps of the church (I know the computer won’t work, but I want the hard drive to see if I can get anything off of it); I asked where it was…response “I don’t know.” This is heartbreaking, not because everything I own is gone, but because my house was looted by my own village.

I would have thought after a year of living in the village, going to church every Sunday, doing projects for the village (including getting them $4,000 tala worth of sewing machines), and just generally being around these people and thinking I might be a friend my things would have been returned to me. They found some things, like my backpack and wallet, but $100 tala was missing from my wallet once returned. Getting my things looted and stolen by members of my own community hurts more than losing everything I own.

I was very disappointed by the behavior of my village. I know it was probably only a few bad people in the village, but it still hurts. I’m going to do my best to ask around and see if things will be returned to me, but I’m not hopeful. Yesterday was a sad day. I had some hope of getting some things back, but my village took care of all that hope. Only two houses were destroyed, mine and another families’; one would think the village would rally and take care of us. I guess at the end of the day, no matter how much I do for the village, how many times I go to church with them, or how many hugs I get from the little kids, I will always be just a palagi.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Update

Ok everyone here's an update. I went back today but so much damage I'm going to need some help as will the village because no aid organizations have come (they are focusing on Poutasi and Lalomanu who were hit hardest). So the Peace Corps Office has organized a work day in my village with the volunteers. We are going clean up the remnants of my house and see what we can do to help the village clean up. We are also going to donate what we can to the family who lost everything. I have some pics to show you courtesy of Casey letting me borrow his camera.

First, this is my house before:

After:


You can see a bit of the foundation next to the open fale which is still standing. The tsunami basically picked my house up and deposited it 10-15 feet in front. My toilet however was about 50 feet from where it should have been. No more papaya tree or garden of course. Below is next to my house. There used to be an open fale which looked like the one in the picture above except raised off the ground a few feet. As you can see, it is no longer there. The rubble in front used to be signs which told of our marine protected area. Looking today, the buoys are gone marking the boundaries and the men were trying to find our giant clams. We had over 300 clams we were raising to repopulate the reef. I'm curious to see the condition of the MPA when I go back.




This is leading into the mouth of the river. Trees are down and mud everywhere. I was just past this as the water came.


This river forms the eastern boundary of my village. The road into my village parallels this river. I was a few hundred feed from this river as the water rushed up it. You can see the damage done by the wave. The bridge this picture was taken on was wet after the tsunami from water rushing over it.
This is what is left of the Salani Surf Resort. Salani is the village to the east of my village. The resort was destroyed but most of the village has survived. Some houses have collapsed, but the damage is not as extensive as other villages. No one in Salani died from what I have heard. I guess the rumor of a boy dying was false, thank goodness.



This was a damaged house in Salani. Most the village is ok, a few collapsed houses like this one.


This is Poutasi. There used to be a school building running perpendicular to the building you see on the left. As you can see, the area is basically one big clearing now. Poutasi got hit hardest in the district.

Poutasi is now a giant clearing. It is like after a tornado...not much left.

Better news is I now have a place to live. After the tsunami a family was already tidying up a room for me when the Peace Corps Office came to get me. They offered to house me for the rest of my service. I really like this family so I'm happy I'll be able to live with them. The mother of this family happens to be the daughter of the family who's house was near mine and destroyed. So we are all pretty close. I went out with the office today and we talked with a family. All that needs to be done is to fix the locks and windows and I'm ready to go. Hopefully by Monday or Tuesday next week I'll be back home.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I’m lucky to be alive

I’m sure most of you have heard about the earthquake and tsunami that hit Samoa by now and am wondering how I’m doing. Well, here’s the story:

I was sleeping when the 8.0 earthquake hit. My house started shaking and things were falling off shelves. Books fell down, the phone mounted on my wall fell down, cans of food fell…I’m smart enough to know when things start falling it is probably wise to get out. So grabbed my phone and left my room. The shaking lasted a long time too, at least a minute. I texted a good friend here with the message of “shit that was big” when it was over. She agreed. About that time I got a call from the Peace Corps medical officer that I should probably move inland because the possibility of a tsunami. So I grabbed an ie and left.

I was walking on the road which parallels the beach when I noticed something wasn’t right. I could see structures like rocks and coral which I have never seen above water, not even at the lowest of low tides. This didn’t bode well. Then I noticed the really odd wave action, something just wasn’t right. I had just turned the corner of the road and was now headed inland, versus parallel to the beach as I had been just one minute before, when the waves hit the beach and surged up the road. At this point I started running, as did my village. As I was running I could hear the water surging up the river, tearing trees down.

I got up to the main road where most everyone was. The matai were directing everyone to head to Siuniu, the village inland. I could see the look of panic and worry as parents asked where their kids were, for they were headed to the primary school which is near me. The matai were organized and knew where to direct the parents to in order to find their kids. I went up to Siuniu and waited with my village. At this point we were getting reports of a school in Poutasi (a few villages to the west) collapsing and killing three kids. Everyone was on phones, calling relatives and friends in neighboring villages, trying to find out what was going on. Reports came that 50 people in Poutasi were dead, buried in the sand. A boy in neighboring Salani died. And 15 in Aleipata were dead. As far as I know at this point, no one in my village died. We are lucky.

Then I got a report that my house and another were destroyed. I wanted to go and see if this was true, but I knew to stay. I waited a few hours then went to see what the damage was. Sure enough, my house was flattened. The tsunami ripped the house from its foundation and deposited it 10 feet in front of the house, collapsed beyond repair. I could see all of my stuff waterlogged and muddy. I’m not sure what can be salvaged. I’m going back tomorrow to find out what I can still use, but I know most things will be trashed.

While that is unfortunate, at least it was just my house and not my home. The other family I feel bad for because it was their home. I had stuff there which will be expensive to replace, but it wasn’t everything in the world I owned, just everything I Samoa I owned. Most of my stuff is still back in the US. I feel bad for the other family who truly lost everything. I feel really bad about the three computers I had in my house for the school. I don’t think those will be salvaged, but another Peace Corps Volunteer already told me she would donate two to my school, so I’m happy about that. I also am upset that I don’t know where my dog is. I saw her after the earthquake, and then don’t know where she went. I hope she is ok. Animals are smarter than humans in many ways, so she probably left before I did, but I’m still worried. I hope I find her.

The Peace Corps Office came out and drove me to Apia. I could see the damage in the villages as I passed. Poutasi looks pretty bad; boats are inland, houses devastated, and the school collapsed. Their village is pretty flat on the seaward side, so the wave did quite a bit of damage. The district hospital there looked like it was spared, might have water damage though. As we were driving over Cross Island Road, many cars were headed south to help clean up and try to find their family.

Once in Apia, small aftershocks could still be felt throughout the day. Around 5:30 pm the tsunami sirens went off. Everyone headed up the mountains carrying what they could. It turned out to be a false alarm, but better safe than sorry. Most businesses were closed as people went to help.

Report is over 80 here are dead. If you want to help:
http://www.redcross.org.nz/cms_display.php?st=1&sn=13&pg=6341

I want to say thank you to all my fellow PCVs. I don’t think my phone was quite for five minutes yesterday morning. Everyone wanted to see if I was ok; thanks, makes me feel loved. When I got to Apia, a bunch of people offered up their house and everyone wanted to know what they could do to help. I appreciate the support guys. You guys are awesome! Also to everyone who posted on facebook and sent me e-mails, thanks for your support as well. And finally to Teuila; I was awake after the earthquake but not enough awake to be thinking about a tsunami. If she hadn’t called right after the quake stopped, I probably would have been at my house. If I had left my house just a minute later…well, yeah.

I gave a written eyewitness account to Sydney Morning Herald and a phone interview to NY Daily News. Here’s the link for the NY article:
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2009/09/29/2009-09-29_tsunami_hits_american_samoa_.html

And the Sydney article:
http://www.smh.com.au/environment/i-could-hear-the-waters-rushing-up-and-tearing-trees-down-20090930-gcay.html

So that is all I know for now. I’m off to buy some new clothes because I have the clothes on my back and one spare. I’ll keep you posted on what goes on.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Brake Check

I was on my way to Apia via the bus last week and was traveling down Cross Island Road, or Tiavi as the Samoans call it, when the bus had a showdown with a cow. Cross Island Road is quite steep as it is goes right up a mountain. It would be a fun road to ride a bike down, a little unsafe with the twists and turns and blind corners (not to mention the crazy drivers), but fun nonetheless. We were coming down the mountain towards Apia when a cow ran out into the road. This cow was good sized too, definitely enjoyed the grasses which grow on the mountain slope and would have caused some issues with the bus. The driver slammed on the brakes as the cow barreled into the road. I look up, see the large cow, and think “Oh boy, this is going to be messy.” Luckily, the bus stopped in time and the cow crossed the road with no issues. The Samoans gave a “Malo fa’auli” or “good driving” to the driver. It would have made some nice steaks had we hit the poor bovine, but the Samoan cut of beef isn’t great anyway (hacking with a machete usually ruins the cuts of beef).

I am happy to report I finally got computers for the village. I’ve been working on this for nearly a year now and am happy my patience has paid off. A company in NZ donated a few hundred computers to Samoa. Most of them went to the Ministry of Education to be put in schools of their choice, but 30 went to Peace Corps Volunteers since two of my fellow PCVs were key in getting the computers here. So I applied to have a few of the 30 and was successful in getting three of them. I’m excited to set them up and start teaching people (I’m looking forward to exploring the Linux operating system as well; I’m usually a Windows gal). I know a few of the women in the village are eager to learn so they can get jobs in Apia and the kids want to learn as well. Teaching computers should keep me a little busier as well so I’m excited.

Funny child story: I was working around my house a few weeks ago trying to nail down some loose boards when two of the pre-school kids came over to swing on the swings (my house used to be the pre-school and the swings are still there). I was squatting down trying to straighten out a bent nail when one of the girls came up and started petting my head. It is odd to have a four year old petting your head, but they also like to rub my arms (Samoans don’t have a lot of arm hair and it is funny to them to see it). The girl continues to rub my head and then says “Manaia lou ulu” or “you have nice hair.” Ok, quite the compliment. I’m just amused the girl was petting my head, makes me laugh.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lesson Learned

I learned an important lesson last night…a mosquito net not only protects one from vile, bloodsucking mosquitoes, but also from all the other things which lurk in one’s room and only come out when the lights go out. Last night was a pretty nice night, temperature was nice and not too many bugs were out. Since it wasn’t buggy, I decided I didn’t want to feel suffocated by my mosquito net as I slept and lit a mosquito coil to keep the few mosquitoes away. I was sleeping pretty well, occasionally awoken by the rat(s), which where eating my soap or the plastic off of something (I’ve found out that even though there is lots of food hanging from a number of trees outside, rats prefer to eat sponges, soap, & plastic in my room, go figure). All of the sudden I feel this thing land on my face. I shook it off and without thinking went right back to sleep. I’ve learned it is best not to think about what it was or sleep won’t come the rest of the night. I’m pretty sure it was a cockroach, but don’t want to think that hard about it. Other friends have had centipedes fall on their faces as they have slept (strangely enough once even while under the mosquito net). So lesson is: as suffocating as it may be, as mosquito net is good for more than protection against mosquitoes.

Back to the rat…a few months ago I had a really weird experience involving my sponges. I’m a really, really light sleeper, just about everything will wake me up. As I was sleeping, the rustling of a plastic grocery bag woke me up. I got my flashlight and looked around my room to see what was making the odd sound. I had sponges in a plastic grocery bag and they were all the way across my room, halfway under my door like they were going out for a stroll at 2 in the morning. I thought that was a little odd. I got out of bed and put them back in my little kitchen area. I went back to sleep. I woke up the next morning and put my feet down. As I get up out of the mosquito net, I looked down. What was at my feet?….the sponges. This was before I knew I had rats so I was very weirded out. I thought I must have a ghost who had a traumatic experience with sponges so it was trying to get rid of them so as not to relive the awful memory. Ok, not really…this was the first clue that I might have some resident rats. Since then, I’ve caught one in a trap, but they still run around in my roof and have a lot of guts to come down in my room. I also now have my sponges in a bag hanging from a nail.

Some better news is my village has three computers waiting in Apia for us to pick up! I’m very excited for this; I’ve been working nearly a year to get computers. Thursday we’ll pick them up and as soon as I get everything set up and loaded on the computers I’ll start teaching lessons. Some of the women keep asking me when we will get computers because they want to learn so they can get a job in Apia, so I’m happy to now be able to say Thursday. This is a major step in getting the library/computer center set up. Back in March, I requested books from an organization in the US and told a bunch of other volunteers about the organization. Other volunteers got their books in a month, but after six months I still had no books. I put in another request and I’m hoping in a couple of weeks they show up. It is a little ironic I found the organization, requested books first, told other volunteers about it, and am the only one still without books. Oh well, that’s they way it goes. If I’ve learned nothing else while here at least I will truly know that patience is a virtue.

Friday, September 18, 2009

History Made

Well, Samoa had the historic road switch last week and as far as I can tell it went off without any real problems. There was some minor protesting (a village in Savaii put rocks in the road so cars couldn’t pass), but that was all resolved quickly. I got a ride into town on Friday and driving on the left didn’t seem odd, but traffic on my side of the island is quite light. When I got to town though and saw all the stop lights, intersections, and roundabouts I thought it was weird. I have to pay extra attention when walking around now so that I don’t walk out into traffic. Oh and the big shipping container is off the reef in Apia now (see previous post for story). It was sitting at the wharf last time I was in town, didn’t look so good though, still keeling to one side. The little fishing boat is still stuck on the reef; it might be permanent.

I had the most uncomfortable bus ride back to the village last week as well. Apparently, there is only one bus for the whole district that has the door switched to the proper side so passengers don’t exit out into traffic. This makes for extremely full buses. I was waiting with some others in my village for the bus at the bus stop by the fish market when the bus arrived. There was a mad dash for the bus as it pulled in. It was kinda funny to see a swarm of people walking very quickly, nearly running to get to the bus. We all piled on and so began the process of sitting on laps. I ended up on a guy’s lap, which is not really a good thing considering how cheeky Samoan men are and I try to avoid this as much as possible, but what was I supposed to do when the bus had at least 50-60 people on it (keep in mind the proper amount is 33)? I couldn’t even see the door, driver, or out the front window and I was only a few rows back. Since the bus had so many people on it, driving up the mountain nearly killed it. The bus somehow made it up the mountain, not quickly as it took me almost two and a half hours to get home, but indeed it survived.

Church is an interesting event here in Samoa. I live near the church so every Sunday I wake up to the sound of the church bell ringing, announcing there is one hour until church begins. Wake-up really isn’t a good term because usually I nearly jump out of bed I am so startled and it isn’t really a church bell it is an empty gas tank. It goes on for five minutes and during that time I’m holding my fingers to my ears so that I don’t go deaf. At the end of the service the church offerings are announced. Anyone who donates to the church has their name read aloud and how much they donate. This past Sunday was really cute. I was sitting in the pew listening to the endless names and amounts when I heard “Aliitasi Onofitu, 20 sene.” The whole church burst into laughter; not because it was only 20 cents, but because the donor was a four year old. I guess she decided the church needed a little something extra this week.

I went out to monitor the MPA a few days ago. The village is raising clams and they are getting quite large, some at least a foot long. I saw some really cool fish out there as well. First, a Snowflake Moray Eel, pretty cool to see just sitting there letting me take as many pictures as I wanted. I saw another eel briefly which I swear had a head bigger than my hand, but it shot into a crevice before I could get a good look at it. I also saw a Scorpionfish. This is why walking on the ocean floor really isn’t a good idea, highly venomous (lots of pain if you step on it). I also saw a juvenile Oriental Sweetlips. The juvenile of this species swims really peculiarly, undulating rapidly more like an eel. I was perplexed when I first saw the fish as to what it was, I was hoping for a baby shark, but no luck. I even saw cuttlefish in the MPA a few weeks ago. This is why I became a marine biologist; I get to snorkel around all day in the South Pacific and technically be working…awesome!

Funny story while in the MPA: I was swimming around seeing what I could, when I felt something take a little nibble. It wasn't a real bite or anything, just a little peck of a nibble on the back of my knee, but enough to creep my out a bit. I turned around to see what it was, but couldn't see anything. So I turned around and started swimming again. I felt the same little nibble. Now I was curious to find out what little thing was trying to eat me. I looked around for a while, seeing nothing but regular reef fish who I knew didn't want to have me for lunch. I kept searching, when I spotted these little fish poking their heads out of holes in the coral. They were aggressive for their size, only 5 in or so. I could identify them as blennies, but didn't know the species. They were funny to watch because they had more guts than some of the bigger fish. They would poke their heads out of the holes and when you weren't paying full attention to them would swim out of the hole and attack. I got back to my house and looked them up. They are Piano Fangblennies and feed on the skin and scales of fish, or in this case human skin.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Earth Shaking & Boats Aground

I woke up early Sunday morning not to the church bell announcing church will be starting in one hour, but rather to my house shaking at 4 AM. I’ve gotten used to the 2-3 second tremors as part of life in Samoa and on the Ring of Fire and I woke up to the shaking thinking it would stop after the usual 2-3 seconds. However, this time not only did it not stop, but it intensified as the shaking was due to a 6.6 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter 110 miles West of Apia. While the earthquake Sunday morning was by no means a big quake (no damage here), it was the strongest I have ever felt. It is unsettling to wake up to your stuff dancing on your bookshelves. I heard the rumbling of the Earth and the clatter of my books on the shelves. I have about 30 feet before a small cliff and the ocean. When the rumbling didn’t quit but became stronger I was a little anxious I might have to bolt out the door, but alas the 10 seconds of fun ended & I went back to sleep.

Diving was fun a couple of weekends ago. We dove the Rock & Apolima Gardens. The Rock is supposedly the best dive in Samoa. We had a pretty good dive as the weather was perfect for diving. We saw a 3 foot White-tip Reef Shark, who wanted nothing to do with us and bolted the second we desended, a massive Humphead Wrasse, which can get up to 7.5 feet and this one was probably that big, & a school of 13 barracuda, all 3-4 feet long, which circled us for a while deciding who they wanted to have for brunch. I guess they didn’t fancy any of us because they soon swam off to see of there was anything better to eat elsewhere. Apolima Gardens was a good dive as well. We saw two turtles, which came within 3-4 feet of me (up close encounter!) and another Humphead Wrasse, this one was only 5-6 feet though, small fish. The coolest part of the trip was the odd noise we heard on the second dive. It was low, almost like a foghorn. I thought something was wrong with someone’s gear. It wasn’t until we ascended did the dive master say the noise was whales. Awesome! Humpbacks are the most common whales seen here in Samoa, so most likely those were the originators of the sound. It didn’t sound like the typical high-pitched sound of Humpbacks, but perhaps the call was not of the mating purpose (as the high-pitched sounds are) and the low-pitched sound was another sound in the whale’s soundtrack. Not a bad day diving at all, but then again any day diving is always a good one in my book.

If you have been keeping up with my blog I just posted about the road switch and added a link to a Wall Street Journal article. Recently, PASS had a motion to the high court trying to stop the road switch. They lost, so Monday will be a very interesting day here in Samoa. I had planned to be in Apia to watch the fun, otherwise known as complete chaos, but since the PM declared Monday and Tuesday holidays (meaning no buses) that means I would have to come in Saturday and stay in until Wednesday and that is just too much time to be in Apia doing nothing. I will just have to listen to the radio for anything interesting happening. I’ll let you know if anything interesting goes on. I’m still curious to see what happens with the buses after the road switch holidays because they are planning on protesting. They have a just cause since cutting a new door will take $50,000 Tala and takes two weeks or so for each bus. Savai’i will have a really hard time getting their buses cut because only one place can do it on Savai’i and cutting new doors for all the buses there will take 2 years. Meanwhile, they aren’t supposed to drive with the doors on the opposite side as they are now. I’m really unsure what is going to happen. It is going to be an interesting week next week; that is guaranteed.

There is an odd sight in the wharf in Apia this week. A large shipping container is stranded on the reef, keeling to one side and seems like it might become permanent. It was headed to Tonga and is carrying cement so it isn’t like it is a light load. The tugboats trying to pull the ship free couldn’t budge the ship, so for now it is an interesting sight in the capital. The funny thing is a small fishing boat is now also stranded. From what I heard on the radio news was the fishing boat didn’t know the shipping boat was stranded so it headed in the same direction, only to find ground. I’m not sure how the boats are to be freed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Just found this online!

Front thumbnail on Yahoo and printed in the Wall Street Journal...awesome!

Shifting the Right of Way to the Left Leaves Some Samoans Feeling Wronged
Government Calls Traffic-Rule Switch 'Common Sense,' but It Sparks Road Rage
By Patrick Barta
APIA, Samoa -- Sometime in the early morning hours of Sept. 7, residents of this small Pacific island nation will stop their cars, take a deep breath, and do something most people would think is suicidal: Start driving on the other side of the road.

Samoa is about to become what's believed to be the first nation since the 1970s to order its drivers to switch from one side of the road to the other. That's spawned an islandwide case of road rage. Opponents have organized two of the biggest protests in Samoan history, and a new activist group -- People Against Switching Sides, or PASS -- has geared up to fight the plan.
The prime minister who hatched Samoa's scheme, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, refuses to do a U-turn. Road-switch opponents are just trying to rattle the government, he says. He has compared a prominent opponent of the switch to a local "avaava" fish -- a sea creature that swims in shallow waters and eats garbage, an insult in Samoan culture.
For full article, click link below.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Village Vaita’ele

I have a good project success occur just recently. I am working to get funding for a vaita’ele for the village. A vaita’ele is a spring fed pool used as a source of clean, freshwater for drinking & cooking as well as for bathing, & laundry. The pipe water in my village comes from a river in a nearby village. When heavy rains come our pipe water is so brown I can’t see to the bottom of a small bucket. We have the spring cornered off with cement, but this area is so small it is unusable and the freshwater runs off into the river unused.

So I applied to Appropriate Projects to fund the project. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers run the organization with the aim of helping current PCVs fund small water projects. They put the projects online and ask people to donate money to fund the project. We don’t need much for the project, just cement and paint. We have a carpenter and plenty of labor can be provided by the men in the village. I figured this would take a while, but with in a week they said they would fund the project. Awesome! No village is complete without a vaita’ele.

So if anyone is feeling charitable and wants a tax break, please feel free to donate to the cause (http://appropriateprojects.com/node/28). It doesn’t have to be much; any amount will be put to good use. I have a fellow PCV here in Samoa doing a composting toilet project and I’m sure she would appreciate some help in that effort as well (http://appropriateprojects.com/node/27).

You are doing what to the roads?

The big thing going on in Samoa right now is the road switch. On September 7th Samoa will switch from driving on the right hand side of the road to the left hand side (apparently in the 60’s they switched from the left to the right). I listen to the radio a lot and have heard some very interesting news about it.

According to a fellow PCV, $3.5 million Kiwi dollars has gone into this project. Some of this spent money has been spent visibly (signs, tv advertisements, etc), but that is a lot of money and I’d like to know where it has all gone. The roads have been painted with new lines, speed bumps put up, and signs have gone up about keeping to the left of the centerline (most of those signs were covered, but a few of the bags were ripped off and the signs were legible). Commercials are on tv and signs are strung up in Apia demarking the day of the switch. Money was given to bus owners so they could change the buses’ orientations for driving on the left, but I doubt this will actually happen.

A big court case about the switch is also taking place and I’m sure much of that money has gone to this. There is a large group of people who are against the switch. Two villages have already said they will stop cars driving on the left hand side of the road when they move through those villages as their form of protesting. An organization (PASS – people against switching sides) has taken the action of the government to court. The group has a valid point; people can’t wake up one day and magically drive flawlessly on the left hand side of the road. The government is giving two holidays for this event (September 7th & 8th). The government’s reason for the switch is “to give all Samoans the equal opportunity to drive as many come from overseas (mainly AUS & NZ) and by driving on the right hand side they are at a disadvantage.” The decision should be ruled on sometime this week. I’m not sure what will happen if the group wins and the court says the government shouldn’t switch the road.

Second, the switch will start at 5:50 in the morning. At that time, police in Apia will stop all traffic and the cars will sit for 10 minutes pondering the upcoming switch. At 6 am, the cars will move to the left hand side of the road and then will pause for another 10 minutes of contemplation. At 6:10, driving will commence. This is going to be fun to watch, a total disaster, but fun nonetheless.

I had originally said I’m staying out of Apia during this time, but the closer we get and the more that occurs with it the more I want to be in Apia at that time. One word…roundabout. Oh yeah, I’m sitting on one of the benches near the government buildings and the biggest roundabout in country September 7th, 8th, & 9th just to watch the fun. Should I be working at that time, probably, but I have those government holidays so I might as well enjoy them.

Have I really gotten used to this?

Life in Samoa, as in any South Pacific country, moves very slowly. Patience is a virtue everywhere, but even more so here. I’ve learned not to push too hard for anything, because it will happen in time just maybe not this second. There is taimi palagi (western time, 5 o’clock means 5 o’clock) and taimi Samoa (5 o’clock is 6 or 7 o’clock). I learn to just chill, things will happen when they happen. When the village has a tausala (dance to raise money), I ask the start time and then show up an hour or two later when it actually does start. Things like this you just get used to. The 10 o’clock bus comes sometime around 10, but maybe not until 10:30. So you just wait. I almost missed it once because it came at 9:50; I was so shocked it was actually early.

It is funny what Samoa does to people. I have always been pretty laid back, but have had my times of complete neurotic freaking out over little things that don’t matter, that is just human nature. Now in Samoa, I am even more filemu or take it easy. Things that I should do now turn into “I’ll do that later” or “whatever, doesn’t matter.” I’ve gotten into the carefree, easy going Samoan lifestyle. That has been good and bad.

My shower faucet broke within the first month of me getting to the village. I could still use it there was just a little trick to it. Same thing with the sink faucet, still usable but you had to remember which way to turn the handle or water would go everywhere. Every house (even my little hut on the Pacific) has its kinks. Well, over the course of the past year, the faucets have gotten worse and worse, finally ending in me having to use a wrench to turn my shower on. When I have to ask myself before I shower if I have my wrench, I think it is time to change the faucet.

So I asked my PC committee if they could help me install the new faucets when I got back from Apia. They said they would be there that evening to help. Ok, I get back with the faucets and wait. No one comes. Ok maybe tomorrow. Nope. So I ask again. “Ok, tomorrow” they say. Nope. In the course of a month and a half I asked committee members seven times for help and still never got anywhere.

So, that was the time for being a teine palagi (white girl), forget the patience and just do it myself. I went to Apia, bought a hacksaw, PVC pipe glue, & seal tape. People laughed when I told them I was going to fix my pipes myself or said I was so talented and had many skills (both with the tone I was crazy & didn’t know what I was doing). Thing is, piping here consists of PVC. All one has to do to change the faucet is cut the pipe and add the new faucet, not complicated and takes about five minutes. So I’m sure Dad is proud that I fixed my own pipes.

My computer has been out of commission for a month now (the computer doesn’t recognize it is plugged in anymore). I was freaking out a little when I realized it was slowly dying, but now that I don’t have it there really isn’t anything I can do, so what is the point of freaking out about it? It was nice for entertainment purposes and for little things like work (reports, who wants to do those anyway?). I can always come into Apia to use the Peace Corps office computers for work & e-mail (as I’m doing now).

Reading has become the entertainment. I already read a lot, but now it is the main form on entertainment. I had forgotten how nice it is to sit down with a book and just read. I have always enjoyed a good book, but back in the US it is sometimes hard to find the time and energy for your brain to process the words on the page. When I tell people my computer is broken, they give me a look of “wow! That sucks, how are you passing the time?” This is a somewhat sad reflection on our over-stimulated society. I thought I would miss the computer more, but it has been a nice break. That being said, I will enjoy having it fixed so that I can watch movies or tv shows from my hard drive, or more importantly write grants and reports. But for now, lying in my hammock with a good book is just fine with me.

Another thing you get used to include sitting on some stranger’s lap. That is not something I thought I’d ever say is normal and not odd. Some would say “Didn’t you ever sit on Santa’s lap at the mall? He was a stranger.” While this is technically true the man dressed as Santa was a stranger, but I thought he was Santa and when you are a kid Santa is no stranger; he is SANTA, the man with the ability to fly around the whole world in one night stopping at everyone’s house & delivering joy wrapped in red & green.

Anyway, as I’ve posted before the bus can get really full. The capacity for the bus is only 33 people, but a full bus is more around 50 or 60 people. How is this accomplished? A very involved process of shifting and sitting (really, it does get involved just sit on a bus at peak time and you will see just how involved it can be). In the front of the bus sit the old ladies and matai. If a young woman is sitting up there when someone older gets on and the seats up front are taken, she will move to the back of the bus. A young man (sole) will automatically go to the back of the bus.

I usually sit in the middle of the bus, although the palagi seat is in the front I try not to occupy it seeing as how I live here and am not a tourist. Middle is good for me; too far back and I’m stuck with the cheeky boys. I don’t realize how full a bus gets sometimes as I see people get on and disappear behind me. It isn’t until I look back that I see everyone is sitting on each other’s laps and pretty soon I am going to have to as well.

The involved process of the bus comes from the delicate positioning of everyone to sit on each other’s lap. There is always a sole that helps the driver. He is in charge of helping people get their stuff off the bus and is also the director of the sitting. As a bus starts to get full, he will tell people to move and who’s lap to sit on; he will move cargo around so people can sit on it. It really is funny to watch sometimes the effort and intricate process of bus riding.

A full bus is one where not only does each bench have two people, but those two people also have people on their lap (or sometimes one, single person will have two little kids on his or her lap, ultra space saving there). The boys and girls in the back are the first ones to start sitting on laps and the process works up to the front, up until the old ladies and matai (they don’t usually have people sitting on laps, kids maybe, but no one my age). I’ve had to sit on many strangers laps and as uncomfortable as it is (on most buses a bar sticks out to support the back of the bench and that bar always will jab straight into my thigh) it isn’t really odd anymore, just a part of life.

I’ve gotten used to other ways of Samoa as well. Eating off of a leaf is again not odd. I eat to’ona’i (the meal after chuch) with the matai or one of the women’s groups in the village. The meal is served on a leaf as that is tradition. I’m not sure when that became routine for me. I was eating to’ona’i the other day and realized I was eating off of a leaf. Made me wonder when it became something I didn’t notice anymore.

Being touched all the time is routine (although it still bothers me most of the time). I’m not big on being touched; like most palagi I like my bubble of personal space. That bubble doesn’t exist here. In church, people reach over me for a songbook and rest their arms on lap while someone hands it to them. The bus, as you can imagine from above, has no allotment for personal space. Samoan handshakes last the whole conversation. During singing practice for the church choir, we sit really close together and usually are squished together even if there isn’t anyone else on the bench. Yes, we have to share songbooks, but that doesn’t require us to be squished together. Why we do this in a country as hot as this I will never understand, especially when there is room on the bench to scoot over. Something one just has to get used to.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Circus fun

When thinking of Samoa, something that does not at all come to mind it circus. I had heard rumors of such a thing, but never thought of it as actually being true. I figured it was just like the rumor of a bowling alley. I heard about it, said “that’s awesome, where?” and was then informed it was no longer in operation. Now why did you get me all excited only to crush me with disappointment? However, on Friday night I was present at just that very thing. Not only was it a circus, but it was the Magic Circus of Samoa.

There were jugglers, trapeze artists, a contortionist, a human fountain, clowns, Batman & Robin, motorcycles in a globe, Spiderman, and more. It was a cute little circus and actually felt more like a circus than others due to the fact that it was outside and under a true big top rather than in a convention center or arena. Felt more like the traveling circuses of old. This circus has a training center here in Samoa, and I must say they really are quite good. They travel all around the South Pacific; American Samoa, New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, etc. No animals, except for a small dog, but transporting elephants, horses, etc would be quite the feat here in the South Pacific as everything is in the middle of nowhere.

The evening started out with three Chinese boys spinning in round hoops. Now this looked more like fun than anything else. Next came the 12 year old contortionist who sat on her head. That just seems painful. There were unicycles of all sizes and shapes. I thought unicycles were of single shape, only variation was height. Well, someone somewhere created a zig-zag unicycle. In the shape of a Z and boy did it take some balance to ride. One unicycle was 3 meters tall and person jumped roped over a unicycle (not the 3 meter high unicycle, that would have been super impressive). There was a magician, not the greatest, but good effort. Batman and Robin made an appearance as well. There was an apparatus with two cylindrical, open cages which rotated on an axis. Batman and Robin rotated the apparatus; kind of like a hamster wheel only the cages were fixed and moved around the axis. Again, looked like fun to me. Batman took some risks though and started running on the outside of the cage, a little dangerous, but not as dangerous than when he jumped rope on the outside of the cage. That was impressive. Nothing in Samoa is complete without Siva Samoa, and sure enough there was Samoan dancing. Trapeze artists flew through the air and I was impressed by the double switch where one guy was holding on to another guy while a third guy flew from a trapeze and switched places mid-air with the second guy being held by the first guy. If you can follow that I’m impressed because that is not explained well. One of the Chinese guys balanced six chairs and did handstands on them. Spiderman walked the tight rope. A guy threw knives (impressive, but needed to land closer to the girl for it to be really impressive) and another did a headstand on a trapeze.

Now the other act I haven’t mentioned yet was the human fountain. A lady from India figured out that if you chug a bunch of water your body doesn’t actually like that and you will regurgitate it back up. Not really all that impressive, in fact a little gross. The really gross part was swallowing four live goldfish and having them come out of the fountain. The circus had to end with a bang, and that meant putting five motorcycles in a globe and having them go really fast. This is extremely dangerous and was cool, but Ringling has them beat (if I remember correctly Ringling had six and went much faster with all six in). However, for a small time, traveling circus I was impressed.

It was a fun night and I was impressed by the talent from all around the world. There were some Samoans, as well as people from India, China, Hong Kong, Kiribati, etc. The circus was an unusual treat for a night in Apia.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My coconut wireless is totally broken….along with everything else in my house

I was sitting in my house Friday night preparing dinner and thinking about what movie or tv shows to watch for entertainment that evening when I heard the sound signifying singing practice. I had no idea why we were having it so late as it is usually held at 4:30 in the afternoon on Tuesdays & Fridays or recently on Saturday and Sunday. I wasn’t keen on going but someone came by and convinced me to go so I did. When I got there, barely anyone was there but this isn’t unusual (we have cancelled practices due to few people before). As I was talking with someone the words maliu (funeral) and oti (dead) came up. I inquired as to what she was talking about and she was surprised to hear that no one had told me we had a funeral in the morning. I said “oh, ok good to know”. . .it was 8:30 the night before and I was just finding out, great. At least it was better than the other two funerals I have been to here, no bus at 6 am going to Apia to pick up the body. We waited here for the church service instead. This is sometimes the problem being the palagi in the village and living by yourself, you don’t get told much. Even for Peace Corps related things I am usually the last one to know about things. Oh well, that’s my role in life…walking around confused all the time.

Some random things about life in Samoa:

I’m not sure who exactly is in charge of the movie control board, but it must be a man. The movie “Milk” was banned here in Samoa, because of the gay theme. However, the movie titled “Lesbian Vampire Killers” is allowed. I’m not sure how you can ban a movie because it involves the subject of homosexuality, yet you allow another movie with the word lesbian in the title. How does that make any sense? I guess I can just chalk that one up to being a palagi and I’m never actually going to understand Samoa.

What is especially confusing about all the dislike in Samoa about this movie is the fa’fafine aspect of Samoan culture. According to the dictionary we were given during training, a fa’afafine is an effeminate man. Division of labor in Samoa is very strong. There are things the men do and things women do and that is not to be mixed. Sometimes when a family doesn’t have enough girls to do chores, they will raise a boy as a girl and he/she will do the girl’s chores. The little boy will be dressed in women’s clothing and will be called a girl. When older, some fa’afafines abandon the women’s clothing (at least on a daily basis) and go home to a wife & kids, while others continue the cross dressing lifestyle and have relationships with men. In most cultures, a man having a relationship with another man is classified as a homosexual relationship. However, in Samoa that is not classified as gay (which is probably good because homosexuality is illegal here). Some teacher PCVs have said when teaching they get answers of there being 3 sexes, male, female, and fa’afafine. There are many fa’afafine pageants and competitions in Samoa and the Pacific and if walking around late enough in Apia one can see them on street corners strutting their stuff.

As much as being a fa’fafine is ok by most Samoans (although there are some who look down on them), they seem to get picked on a lot. During the sewing clinic in my village, one of the teachers was a fa’afafine. She was picked on a lot it seemed, but she gave it right back too. When on the bus, the fa’afafines get picked on. They seem to have developed a thick skin to it all though. Trying to get the best of people is sort of a Samoan thing, which is why we palagis get a lot of teasing, but to me it seems the fa’afafines get picked on a whole lot more than other people. All part of the fa’aSamoa I guess.

On another note: There are no helicopters in Samoa (rumor has it there may be one, but this is just gossip; general consensus is that there isn’t one). I was sitting in my hammock reading one day last week and heard this awful racket. At first I thought it was the little boat from Salani taking surfers out to the surf spot. As it became louder I could tell it wasn’t the boat and began wonder what on Earth was attacking Samoa. I then saw a helicopter fly by. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped to the ground I was so shocked. The real funny thing was the little annoying dog which won’t go away pretty much did the same thing and seemed really confused as to what that weird flying thing was as she watched it go by, never taking her eyes off it until it was out of eyesight. I began thinking, especially a couple days later as it went by again, what is this thing doing here? I then hypothesized that it must be for Survivor: Samoa and getting aerial shots. I guess they will airbrush my house out then. I’m contemplating putting up something really annoying and seeing if I can find it on their footage. We will see if the boredom comes to that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

4th of July & Birthday Fun

I left Fiji on the 5th of July and, due to the International Date Line, returned to Samoa on the 4th of July. I got about 2.5 hours of sleep the whole night and that was from sleeping in a chair at the Peace Corps hostel because all the beds were taken by people coming in for Independence Day celebrations. Jenny and I weren’t all that happy coming into the hostel at 5 in the morning, wanting nothing but a bed, and seeing them all taken. Oh well, such is life; que sera sera and all that.

We had a really fun celebration for the 4th up at Robert Louis Stevenson’s house. A Navy ship was in town for the Pacific Partnership Program, where they hold health clinics for humans and animals as well as helping with infrastructure projects. We had a little softball game against the Navy and might I add a job well done by our boys in the 14-4 win. I was supposed to play but seeing as how I had very little sleep I decided I didn’t really feel much like actually using energy that day. So I kept the official score, complete with marking singles, doubles, outs, etc. I never learned official scoring, but I kept semi-official score and that was a fun skill to learn. We had a fun evening of chit chat with the Navy guys about their jobs here and where they were going next, as well as really good food. We had real hot dogs, none of that chicken frank stuff you get here, baked beans, potato salad, chili for the hot dogs, and free wine and beer. Quite a few people were in attendance besides us PCVs & Navy personnel including the Samoan Prime Minister and Head of State, Miss Samoa, and of course the master planner of the event, the Charge de Affairs. A small Navy band played music and we danced to the live music, enjoying being able to dance to something other than Samoan music or hip-hop. We lit sparklers, ate ice cream, and enjoyed the night.

My birthday was a pretty chill event, which is what I wanted (anything other than sitting in my room alone the whole day; I didn’t really want to do anything in the village because they would make it a big spectacle and that was the last thing I wanted). I went to Apia and went out to dinner with some of the PCVs who were in town. I had said a few weeks ago I was going to save up my money and buy a steak for my birthday and that is just what I did. I enjoyed it too. I had already given myself a pretty big birthday present in the trip to Fiji (best present I have ever given myself and it will be hard to beat), but I felt a steak was a worthwhile present on the actual day of my birth. It was quite nice to have cake on my birthday as well (thanks guys).

Most of the other PCVs are older than me by a couple of years; I’m second youngest in country and was the youngest until Group 81 came last October. It is funny to hear everyone’s reactions when they find out how old I am. To most of the volunteers I’m but a baby as they are in mid to late 20s. Acutally, we have a young group here in Samoa as the average age for PCVs is in the 30s. Even the Samoans think I’m too young to be here and away from my parents. They don’t really understand that as a 23 year-old I wouldn’t be living with my parents anyway, but that is a cultural thing I’m not sure they will ever really understand. I’m pretty used to being the youngest or close to it though. I was always the youngest in school and of my best friends I’m the youngest by months. So another birthday gone and one more to go before I leave (I hit the hat trick and will celebrate three birthdays during my 27 months of Peace Corps service).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bula!

I got my first vacation/trip off the island and it was fantastic! I went to Fiji for a week with my four fellow Group 80 girls Karin, Jenny, Liz, & Briony. We had a blast. We flew into Nadi early morning on Sunday, June 28 then rented a car to drive down to the Coral Coast to stay in a resort there. We all commended Briony on her skill of navigating roundabouts and driving on the left side of the road and right side of the car; she received only a few unpleasant honks.

Our first looks at Fiji told us it was nothing like Samoa. The mountains are bigger, there are rolling foothills, and even pine trees. Nadi seemed very dry, even for the dry season. Fields of sugar cane lined the roadway. There is even a little train to take the sugar cane stalks from place to place; I’m assuming to a sugar cane plant which makes sugar out of the sugar cane. We stopped at Sri Siva Subrahmaniya Swami Temple right in Nadi town. This might seem out of place in a South Pacific country, but Fiji is nearly 40% Indian due to British colonization. The temple was very colorful and ornately carved. Indians were having meals blessed and praying with the help of a monk. We admired the paintings on the ceiling of Shiva and all the stories they told. As we ventured further into Fiji the coastline became less arid and more mountainous and beachy. The roads were roughly the same as in Samoa, winding and littered with potholes. The beach at the resort was pretty, especially at sunset with the rocks and palm trees. One of the funny things was the coconut catchers on some of the palm trees. Large metal baskets were raised just under the coconuts and would catch any coconuts before they fell on guests’ heads. The baskets could be lowered to collect the coconuts as well. Bats flew around catching insects and attacking fruits. It was nice to relax and be on vacation. That is until about an hour after dinner and I got food poisoning. That wasn’t so much fun.

The next day we went to the art village in Pacific Harbour. I wasn’t 100% yet, but even with nausea and a light head I wasn’t going to miss vacation. The crafts were interesting to see. There were kava bowls, masks, pearls, and even cannibal forks. Yes, you read correctly, cannibal forks. The forks with four prongs in a square shape were used to cannibalize enemy tribes after they were defeated and poor missionaries who failed in their task of converting the natives. There were Indian bangles and carved tables as well. We drove back to the resort for some beach time. At least for the others; I slept the whole rest of the day, hoping I would feel better in the morning.

We drove to Suva Tuesday to the Raintree Lodge up in the mountains. It is a cute little hotel with a restaurant on a little lake converted from an old quarry. We finally were in a real city; first time in over a year. There are coffee shops which serve real coffee, amazing! There is a six screen movie theater, malls, department stores, and a KFC/Pizza Hut. There are dvd stores which sell pirated movies for just a few Fijian dollars. The advantage to pirating all the movies is you can create collections of dvds and have them all on one disc. For example, they had Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Band of Brothers, action collections, horror collections, Disney/Pixar collections, and even a Josh Hartnett collection. There are big buildings, a flea market selling sulus (Fijian word for an ie), a regular market selling food (much like our market, but bigger and with better quality foods being sold), and best of all a whole floor of the market devoted to nothing but kava and spices, but mostly just kava. The Fijian word for kava is yaqona and is supposedly stronger than Samoan kava. Suva is a large, bustling city, but as a typical South Pacific country, all is closed at 4 or 5 pm.

Jenny and I hiked in the Colo-I-Suva National Park just a five minute walk from Raintree Lodge. This was a really fun hike. Some of the trails were a bit rough and a little Indiana Jonesish, but that was what made it fun. There were little waterfalls and pools to swim in, which are never complete without a rope swing. It was overcast and a little chilly to go swimming in the pools, but on a hot day a swim in the mountain pools would be refreshing. I recommend going to the park if you are in Fiji.

I got my ziplines and diving in as well. Jenny and I went back to Pacific Harbour Thursday so I could dive on Friday morning. We stayed in an awesome hotel called the Pearl South Pacific and got a great deal (otherwise $384 Fijian dollars, or about $140 US, a night wasn’t going to happen). This hotel was fabulous! It was stylish and modern; if it wasn’t for the gorgeous view of Beqa Island I would have forgotten I was in Fiji. There was a spa, pool, pool table, amazing restaurant (the pork loin was amazing), and best of all a tv (with more than 3 channels even). Jenny and I don’t have tv here in Samoa and even if we did there are only 3 channels. The hotel had satellite so they got lots of fun tv. We watched Blue Planet all night and it was amazing! As we were checking in, I overheard someone talking about ziplines. I inquired at the hotel tour desk how I could sign up to go and she said another group is leaving in 5 minutes if I wanted to go. I got my shoes on with no more questions asked. I didn’t even know what room I was in, but I knew I could figure that out later. I had a lot of fun ziplinning. I could tell the Fijian staff really enjoyed their job. There were 8 lines and we went around twice. I’m a big sucker for this adventure type stuff and zip lines in the jungle and over rivers can’t get much better.

Briony and I were going to do diving together, but since I got food poisoning the first few days were out and she left our group to go to a friend’s wedding on one of the outer islands, we had to dive separately. I went with Beqa Adventure Divers in Pacific Harbour. We dove in the Beqa Passage between Vitu Levu and Beqa Island. These were the two most amazing dives I have ever been on. We saw two White-tip Reef Sharks, lionfish, ribbon eels, clams, nudibranchs of several colors, huge anemeones, shrimp, lobsters, and all kinds of colorful fish. Our first dive was Carpet Cove. This was a deep dive down to 104 feet, 4 feet past the limits I’m supposed to go but no worries. There was a wreck we dove first, admiring all the shrimp, coral, and fish which had decided that was home. We then moved up to about 50 feet and dove some pinnacles. The coral was amazing...wire coral, soft coral, hard coral, sea fans of all different colors. I now know why Fiji is the soft coral capital of the world. The second dive was E.T. and the coral was even more amazing here. There were huge swim throughs lined with sea fans waving hello. The sea fans on these pinnacles were huge, at least 4-5 feet. I’m a big fan of diving in Fiji now and am already planning the next trip.

Fiji is very different from Samoa. Houses are not the open houses you see here, but closed houses due to the cooler weather and many had chimneys. Most of the houses are scantily built shacks of wood or corrugated metal, which shows the level of poverty. The traditional bure is seen occasionally as a family’s everyday housing, but seems like it might be more for meeting houses as I didn’t really see too many of them outside of resorts. Fijians look much different than Samoans, a little surprising since the islands are very close. Samoans are Polynesian while Fijians are Melanesian. Fijians are darker skinned and have a different facial structure. Landscape wise is very different too. Nadi is drier than the mountainous Suva. In Samoa, there is just one line of mountains, but in Fiji there are a few rows of mountains, followed by rolling foothills. There are 322 islands of Fiji, with Viti Levu being the biggest. Samoa has two main islands, two smaller islands, and a handful of uninhabited islands. Temperature in Fiji this time of year is great, mid-60s at night to 80 or so on a sunny day. It was overcast a lot while we were there so we were chilly and had to wear long sleeves, but we enjoyed the change. We didn’t feel any repercussions from the coup and the non-democratic government at all. Life seemed to be going on as normal in Fiji.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be going back to Fiji sometime in my lifetime. I loved it and had a great time. I would love to be able to get out to some of the other islands and explore them; I’ve heard they are even more spectacular than the main island of Viti Levu. Only a week in Fiji was not enough.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Good week followed by an even better weekend

Sorry Mom, I just can’t sew.

Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development (MWCSD) came to the village all last week to instruct a sewing clinic for the ladies of the village. The women finally got to make good use of the sewing machines we got from a grant I wrote to NZ High Commission. Some women knew how to use a sewing machine, while others did not. It was fun to see the progression of sewing throughout the week. Early in the week, people learned how to thread the needle and cut fabric patterns. By the end of the week the women had made all kinds of clothing: shirts, shorts, puletasi, skirts, etc. Most people started out with a puletasi or shorts since those are something they did by hand before. By the end of the week people were sewing shirts for their kids and husbands, dresses for the girls, and muumuus for grandma. I bought fabric with the intention of learning how to sew a puletasi. Well that was all fine and dandy, except no one really taught me how to do it. I think the fa’afafine teacher was a little peeved I didn’t know how to sew. She mostly did it for me because she didn’t want to waste time actually teaching me and having to redo everything I did wrong. This was a little frustrating, but then I figured who cares. I’m going back to the US in 14 months where I’m going to buy my clothes off a rack anyway, what good is it going to do me to know how to sew a puletasi? Also, the clinic was for the women of the village anyway, so it really was more important for them to get the instruction they needed. So sorry Mom, I still can’t sew. I did put some of the stitches in though and not all of them had to be redone. Friday we held a display of all the clothes everyone had made. TV1 came out and did a story on the event. I think the women were really excited for this and were really proud of themselves. They had a stereo going and sang to the songs. It was comical to see the women crooning on the microphones like they were Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. There was of course dancing and they made me dance even though I can’t siva Samoa. The village wants me to be the village taupou (unmarried girl, usually by Samoan custom a virgin who is singled out for her charm, looks, and manners, with the duty of mixing the ava and opening and closing a fiafia) but I don’t know why they want me to hold this position. I don’t know how to properly mix the ava or siva Samoa and those are two really important tasks of being a taupou. Oh well, it is flattering I guess when they tell me to make the ava for a matai meeting or when they have a special guest come (like my Dad; oh yes, I made the ava for him too). Anyway, the clinic was a huge success and I’m glad to have a good project finally completed.

The Manu Samoa


After the weeklong sewing clinic I decided I deserved a little reward. I caught a ride into Apia with the Ministry of Women people, took care of some business, and then went to the Manu Samoa vs Junior All Blacks game. This was awesome! Manu Samoa is the national rugby team of Samoa and named after a famous warrior chief from Sapunaoa (the village right next door to me). The Junior All Blacks are the second string of the world famous All Blacks, the national team of New Zealand. Being a typical American, I don’t really have a clue about rugby and neither did Benj, Casey, or Kate who went with me. We get the general idea of the game, but the rules and intricacies of the game we miss because well, how many people in the US actually watch rugby? Not many, in fact I had no idea until about two months ago the US has an international rugby team. But for 10 Tala, we got great seats, covered and pretty close to the field. We watched with great interest the Junior All Blacks perform their haka and the Manu Samoa do the tau Samoa; how many professional sports teams do you know which perform a war dance before they take the field? (click the link above to watch a video of the war dances, really awesome) The Manu didn’t play very well the first half, but the second half was really exciting. Manu Samoa came back with scores and was only down one point. The last 15 minutes was incredible. Manu Samoa kept driving and were so close to scoring. Unfortunately, they couldn’t pull out the upset and lost 16-17. It was a great game and so exciting to hear the crowd roar with support of the Manu Samoa. I can’t wait to watch another Manu Samoa game, hopefully I can watch a Manu Samoa vs All Blacks and see how the Manu Samoa do against the A team.

This feels like a weekend soccer tournament!

After I got back from Apia, I went over to the neighboring village of Sapunaoa to watch our village boys take on theirs in rugby. I figured this was just going to be a small, two village event. I was wrong; it ended up being a six village affair and tons of people were there. When I got there, Matatufu and Satalo were playing. Next game was Saleilua vs Salani. Then came our boys. It was a great game. I heard a rumor that Sapunoa gets players from Manu Samoa to play for them even if they aren’t related to the village. This tends to not sit well with our boys apparently, so this was a big game. Our boys were leading most of the game, but a big push in the second half gave Sapunaoa a 20-14 lead. Our boys needed another score, plus the two extra points to win. They drove hard and tried to push their way in, but the clock ran out on them. They played really well though and I’m proud of my boys. As in most rival sports games, fans tend to get out of hand after the game. About two minutes after the end of the game, a big fight broke out. I have no idea what the cause of it was, but you know how tempers flare at sporting events. My women were protecting me though. They are funny like that. I was walking with Siniva and Fuataiina. They both took my hands and got really close, trying to shelter me from anything that might go wrong. We were a ways a way when the actual fighting was going on; I only saw one punch thrown since most of my view of the fiasco was blocked. The fight was broken up by the time we walked that way (and we had to go that way to go home), but Siniva and Fuataiina still felt the need to be body guards. It was cute actually; they weren’t going to let anything happen to me while I was in their company.

I got a really odd feeling as I was watching the games. It felt just like so many soccer tournaments I participated in during my soccer days. People were sitting on the grass all around the field or in cars pulled up next to the field, people were selling food (nothing like you would find in the States, no pizza, hotdogs or candy, but chips, rice, & taro…the Samoan equivalent), people were huddled in the shade, had umbrellas or the Samoan equivalent…an ie. The crowd cheered loudly when their team scored and would tease the opposition around them (ok to do since they are most likely cousins anyway). It was fun; I think the village really enjoyed seeing me out there supporting our boys too.