Monday, May 25, 2009

I have water!!!

Yea!! I have running water again. Apparently, not the entire village was without water the whole time, just me and a few other families. The water for the rest of the village had been restored the day it went out. When the pastor's wife found out I didn't have water, she made sure the matai took care of it. So this morning at 7:15 a matai came to my house and made sure my pipe was off, which it still was of course. That was also funny because being semi-early in the morning I was still sleeping, so we both laughed because it was very obvious I had just woken up and I was moe umi (or sleeping a long time, even though 7:15 to me is not sleeping in). It took all of 20 minutes to fix the pipe. The problem was it was blocked. Had I known it wasn't the whole village without water I would have done something earlier. So I feel kind of stupid, but why it was taken care of only when the matai found out I had no water I don't get. The women in the fale by the pastors house had no water the past couple of weeks and they knew I had no water. And what about the other families? They had no water either. Oh well, it is probably best I don't ask these questions and just be happy I have running water again. And I got new filters for my water filter so I'm all hooked up again. I guess Dad doesn't have to take a bucket bath afterall.

We had a rubbish seminar on Saturday morning. The Waste Management (WM) division came out and presented all about Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle, proper waste disposal (such as don't throw trash in the river, ocean, or on the ground), & also told us all about the landfill here in Samoa. Not as many people made it as I wanted, but that's ok. It was rainy and nothing happens when it rains, so I have a feeling that is why people stayed home. We are going to try to do the presentation in the school later as well. I did like that people asked about composting; I think some families might try to do that. Hopefully, the awareness seminar might get some people to keep their kids from throwing trash anywhere. A rubbish clean-up is going to happen sometime; it is much needed. Plus, hopefully we can get bins and the trash truck to come into the village instead of just on the main road. I think that is one reason there is so much trash here in the village. No one wants to walk 15 minutes just to throw trash out. I was worried about the seminar being a total disaster because I had trouble getting in contact with the guy from WM to confirm he was coming and then as it came time for the seminar, no one had come yet. And I know taimi Samoa; I gave people extra time. But even when the WM guys showed up, not many people were there. But in typical Samoan fashion, people trickled in. So it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was worried though.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

This whole no water thing is starting to get really old

So it has been a week now that the water has basically been off. Sometimes there is a trickle of water, and thank goodness for that otherwise I’d have no water whatsoever. I’m also really lucky I’ve been hanging out with the women the past week and they fed me, otherwise cooking and doing dishes would be a real chore as well. I’d also not know what I’d be drinking because my water filter doesn’t really work either (I filled the top bucket up a week ago and it is still not done filtering, it should only take 30 minutes or so to filter one bucket). So even if there was water, I wouldn’t be able to drink it. I could try to drink the pipe water, but the probability of getting water out of the pipe that is actually clean and drinkable is very low. My water is kinda disgusting down here on the south side. I fill the top bucket of my water filter up and am amazed when I can see down to the bottom of it. It is rare I ever get water that looks like water; usually it has a brown/yellow tint to it. Yummy! I get plenty of tea and cocoa Samoa when I’m with the women, so I’m well hydrated that way. I’m glad I was able to do my laundry before the pipe went out. That being said it rained for three days after I hung my laundry up to dry, so it took three days to dry. But at least I had clothes for the week. Unfortunately, I’m almost out of clothes again. I feel really bad for my Dad because he comes in a week and somehow I doubt the whole water situation will be solved. Looks like he is going to get the real Samoan experience complete with at bucket bath. And for those wondering what a bucket bath is, I will explain as I have had to take many of them while here in Samoa and quite a few the past week. Here’s what you do: fill a bucket with water, take a bowl and dump water over yourself, lather up, dump water over yourself again, and you are done. This is a common bathing technique for those with out access to running water. It can be done in a shower facility or while standing outside in an ie. The other option for bathing without running water is the river, which many of my fellow residents do as well. Sometimes if it rains hard enough, which rain here is almost never a light mist more like a total downpour; adults will send the kids outside to shower in the rain. All of these techniques are common in Samoa, but those of us palagis are used to our running water and our vai paipa (or pipe water). It wouldn’t be so bad if I had come to the village and have always had water issues. But before this the pipe had gone out only twice and for less than a day each time. So I’m not used to not having water, which is what makes it so frustrating. However, one thing you learn early in training is do what the Samoans do. So, I open the tap, stick a bucket under it and gather the dripping water, hoping it will be enough for a bucket bath. It is funny the affect Samoa has on a person. If thrown right in to a situation with no water, I’d probably really freak out. Water is a precious commodity and kind of necessary to sustain life. Since being here almost a year though, you just get used to things like no water and no power. It is all part of life here in Samoa. Instead of freaking out, I just fill up the bucket and filemu (take it easy). No need to worry, the water will hopefully come back on. Until then there isn’t much I can do about it, so why freak out. With that said, I do hope the water comes back on soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hanging out with the old ladies

I’ve had some fun the past week. There is a big conference held in Maluafou for all the EFKS pastors so our pastor was out of the village last week and is out this week. While he and his family are gone some of the older women are staying in a fale near his house to make sure nothing happens. One morning they brought me cocoa aliasa, which is rice in chocolate soup and is amazing. Since then they have invited me over for every meal and have stuffed me full of food. I hang out with them during the day and at night a lot too. We play cards, which as you know family is a big deal and I’m excited to be playing cards. I don’t get to play Euchre (although some my fellow PCVs know how to play and we play when we get together, which isn’t often but better than going 2 years without playing) or Michigan Rummy, but rather a game called suipi (pronounced sweepy) which I learned in my training village of Amaile. It is a fun game and I’m excited to teach all you back home how to play. The women are impressed by my playing ability and also love the way I shuffle palagi style. I told them I like to play cards back home so I’m not new to the concept. We have a good time talking and they like to tease me in traditional Samoan fashion. One joke we had was how I was to go fishing in the MPA and bring back two of the clams from within the pens for one of the older ladies. This was obviously not going to happen since one of the major points to the MPA is a no fishing zone, but we had a good time joking about when I was going to go and who was going to get the punishment for fishing in the MPA. Like always, I get teased about boyfriends. They loved it when I told them I had one uo in Apia, two in Savaii, and many here in Salesatele. Then they tried to guess who my boyfriends were here in the village. It was quite funny hearing them discuss who they could be, even more funny since there isn’t one of course.

More observations on the kids

I think the first word Samoan children learn is aua, or don’t. I have heard kids who can barely speak saying aua like it rolls naturally off their tongue and they have been saying it forever. They hear this word 50 times a day at least and usually for just being a kid and exploring their world. Oh well, that’s just the way it is. But it is funny to hear really young kids saying aua to the older ones like they own the world. Kids seem to like to fai mea’ai or make food. They play this game where they gather some leaves, put sand or rocks on the leaf, and then pretend to eat the food. It is really funny to hear the kids say fai mea’ai and then proceed to gather leaves and rocks. It is no different from what palagi kids do, except Samoan kids have no Easy Bake Oven or plastic kitchen complete with plastic eggs and bacon. In Samoa your kitchen is outdoors, your oven (umu) is made with hot rocks, and your plate is a leaf (at least for to’ona’i, for other meals usually plates are involved). There is a little girl in my village whose middle name must be Trouble. When this child smiles, you can tell she is up to no good and she likes it that way. The adults call her “o le itu” or the devil, which sounds really cruel, but is really funny in actuality. She is a just full of energy and likes to push the envelope. One thing I hate seeing is the kids being hit. They get smacked a lot, and usually pretty hard. I especially hate it when a kid does something, usually it is nothing really terrible just a kid being a kid, and an adult hits the kid for it, causing the kid to cry, and the kid gets hit more until he or she stops crying. How hitting a kid is going to make them stop crying I will never understand. While in my training village I did hear a kid being beaten with a broom and while in another village I saw a kid being beaten with a broom. This never gets easier to witness. I don’t see much of that happening here in my current village, but I know there is a lot I don’t see. I have heard a few bouts of smacks and I did see one kid get hit with a belt, and luckily these episodes don’t go on for long because I am always tempted to intercede even if it may not be my place to do so. There is never a situation where hitting a child is ok, no matter what he or she has done. While I was hanging out with the women, we heard a scuffle and the sounds of someone being hit. From what I could gather from the women who went to stop it was someone was smacking a kid around. The kid must have been a teenager though because we heard no crying, only the sound of someone hitting. Both the belt and the above beating occurred in the same day, which was rough on me. I never like to see or hear these things. Kids are just kids and where palagi kids have outlets for their energy and smarts, Samoan kids do not. There are no soccer leagues or little league baseball. No playgrounds with rock climbing walls, ropes, or slides (best we have here are swings, which are at my house and the adults don’t really like them coming over to use them, which kid of defeats the purpose of having them). Kids here are not kids for long. They help cook, clean the house, and take care of the little kids. There is very little time for the kids to go play with friends, they have chores to do. I see kids who are only 10 or 12 going off to the plantation to fai popo or collect coconuts. The kids work hard here and it is a shame they have no outlet for fun. The boys play rugby in the evenings before the sun goes down, but that is about all there is to do here on the south side.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My how things change

When I first moved here I had a 24/7 guard. That got old the first day. Someone was always here watching everything I did and even sleeping at my house. I suppose for the first few months it was probably a good idea, but you know how it is…I didn’t really feel like I needed a babysitter 24/7. Gradually, the watch lessened during the day but I still had people sleeping here. I kept telling them they didn’t have to sleep here it was ok, but I didn’t really think I was having an impact. The all of the sudden it all stopped. No one came over for lotu (15 minute family prayer time right around dusk), no one came with food, and no one came to sleep at my house. It was great, but since it stopped so suddenly I thought they were mad at me. Turns out they were ok with leaving my on my own and I appreciate that. Everyone still thinks it is odd I sleep all by myself. I routinely get asked if I'm scared sleeping alone. Sleeping alone doesn’t really happen here, especially not for young females. I guess I can consider that as one of the goals of Peace Corps, pass on aspects of American culture to host country nationals.

I went from not really having anything to do in the MPA, to snorkeling around and documenting all the species I saw, which is really just an effort on my part to do something in the MPA, to working a lot in the MPA. As I described earlier, we recently put fish houses and started the clam farm; so now I have lots I can monitor and do for the MPA. Combine the work for the MPA with the work for other projects and I actually have things to do. I still have a lot of free time, but I’m glad I have at least a few hours of actual work; it makes the day go by so much quicker.

The way I get my meals has changed a lot too. I usually feed myself all three meals a day, except for to'ona'i which I eat with the matai or one of the women's groups. People send stuff over quite often or if I’m out in the village someone usually sends something home with me, like sugar cane, papaya, bananas, niu, etc. But for the most part, I cook for myself. The Salesatele Fisheries Management Committee, made up of matai and a few untitled men of the village, now sit in a fale near me and leoleo the MPA, or watch over their clams to make sure no one steals them. They send over cocoa Samoa in the mornings a lot, usually bring me lunch, and sometimes even dinner. And since this is Samoa, the portions are huge so each Samoan meal usually lasts me two meals. This is why refrigerators are so great…I can stick what I don’t eat in there and be set for another meal. They have brought over pani popo (buns with coconut cream over them…so good) and crackers. I’ve been well fed by them.

A little bit of life here in rural Samoa

Utilities here are interesting to say the least. My electricity goes out at least once a week, but usually only for a couple of hours each time. Usually it is out only during the daytime so it isn’t much of a big deal. Although, there have been nights when I’ve been eating dinner and watching a movie on my computer and all the sudden it gets very dark and the only light anywhere is the glow of my computer screen operating off batteries. I have had multiple candlelight dinners here, except I was all by myself so something is lost in the romanticism of the candlelight dinner. Oh well. Electricity going out multiple times a week is just something you get used to as being a part of Samoa. I was lucky last week though…power 24/7, hey hey hey things are looking up.

Usually I have running water 24/7. I am lucky in this regard because when the electricity goes out, most people who have water via electric pumps have no water. My village gets its water from a spring in one of the neighboring villages, so we usually have no issues. Even if on a village system you can have problems. If another village controls the pump, they can shut off the pump whenever they feel like it. We, however, are fortunate to be supplied with running water a majority of the time. That being said, the water usually comes out slightly brown or with random bits of plant life exiting with the clean water. The pipe infrastructure isn’t really good. Thin PVC pipes run for miles and miles usually cracked and if repaired, done so in a fashion which isn’t really fixed in the long term, but for the short term it is “manaia” and will do for about a day. So as time goes on and after miles of cracked pipes with water spraying out everywhere, dirt and grime tend to get into the water. It is good I have a water filter. Many times I fill up the top bucket and can’t even see down to the bottom there is so much dirt in the water. This is why I say my laundry isn’t really ever clean but I pretend it is. Again, you just get used to all this and chalk it up as life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

A few days ago the water went out, pe le paipa. Since this doesn’t happen often here, I was a bit concerned. I didn’t know why the water went out and when I asked people, they had no idea either. Well I didn’t know the water was out until it was almost dark and I wanted to take a shower. If I had known I had no water I would have gone down to the river in an ie and bathed with everyone else. Being that it was getting dark, this wasn’t going to happen. One house in the entire village still had water and lucky for me it was a neighbor. Since the water is from a spring it is gravity fed, meaning it flows down via the wonderful force of gravity, this house was lucky and so was I. I filled up a bucket with water, brought it back to my house, and took a bucket bath. I got pretty used to these in Amaile, the training village. Their water was off all the time it seemed and bucket baths were the norm. Here in Salesatele though, I don’t take bucket baths usually. Granted at times the water barely trickles from the tap and it would actually be quicker and easier for me to use the bucket, but the running water is such a novelty I have to indulge myself. The water issue is still not fixed and throughout the day the water goes on and off, seemingly with out cause, so I keep a bucket filled with water on standby just in case it is off when I want to shower. People say “ita le vai” or “the water is angry.” I still don’t know why the water is acting funny, and neither does anyone else for that matter. Oh well. That isn’t so bad I guess, but now my water filter doesn’t really work either so life has been really interesting. Hopefully, when I go to Apia later on this week I can see if I can solve the water filter issue. The pipe issue is kinda out of my hands and I’ll just have to ride it out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This is why I chose to become a marine biologist...I get to snorkel, look at cool fish, and consider it work. Awesome!

The village got the second installment of money for the MPA so work has jumpstarted. The Fisheries Department has been out to the village for meetings the past few weeks and has been teaching the village about clam farming. The men built a pen in the MPA to house the clams.

Usually villages get clams to start the farms from the Fisheries Department, but their stock has been out for a while. So my village went out on the reef and collected the wild ones in the area. This sounds all fine and dandy except for the fact since money was involved people went nuts collecting the clams. The village paid the collector based on the size of the clam. Some people got over 100 Tala in a single day for collecting clams. The village filled the pen in one afternoon and clams were put outside the pen it was so overcrowded. When the men built a second pen to house them all I thought this was a good idea. Rule #1 of aquaculture…Don’t overcrowd. We can space the clams out, put the clams outside the first pen inside the second pen, and the clams we have will have plenty of space to grow. But no, since money was involved, clam hunting was opened up again. People went nuts a second time trying to rape the natural reef of all the wild clams. This is so very smart, lets take all the wild clams off the reef, overcrowd the pens, have all the clams get sick and die, and have no more clams anywhere. I tried to express my opinion that the clam farming should probably stop because we have plenty, but again since money was involved that was basically ignored. I really do like seeing the village so proud of their clams, but I think they went a little overboard on the collection. There are over 300 clams in the pens at the moment. The goal is to re-populate the reef with the clams we raise in the MPA, but it seems like they might have been doing ok on their own. We will see how it turns out, I’m curious to see. They said we didn’t have any wild clams in the MPA, but this wasn’t true I see them every time I go swimming. Well, we have plenty clams in the MPA now.

Saturday, I helped make fish houses with the men of the village. Fish houses are actually very simple to make. We made a ring of rocks as the base, added some chunks of dead coral, cemented the whole thing, and added wire for coral gardening. We left them to dry, and then Monday went to work putting them in the MPA. We broke the first two trying to get them off the paopao (boat) and into the water, but after that it was smooth sailing. I helped tie the coral on for the coral gardening on the first couple of houses, but then swam ahead and scouted out good places to put the houses. It was good work, really tiring. I went back Tuesday to get some pictures and see how the fish were growing accustomed to the artificial coral reef structure. Not many fish were in the houses, but some were getting used to the idea. Hopefully, the houses will provide good protection for the fish and the coral gardening will jumpstart the coral to grow into a nice big reef.
Snorkeling the past week has been a real pleasure. I love that I get paid, even though my pay is basically nothing, to snorkel and see really cool fish. A few days ago I saw a porcupine fish about 18 inches long just sitting in a hole in the coral. It was cool. I have been seeing lionfish recently too. I have wanted to see a lionfish for a long time because they are just so cool. It figures though, I didn’t have my camera with me when I saw the porcupine fish and my lens was fogged when I found the lionfish again. I still got a few pics of the lionfish, but none really good. I guess I just have to keep snorkeling until I can get a good picture. I saw a really cool juvenile Emperor Angelfish. It was blue with swirling white lines as you see below. Now that I have documented most of the big fish I see all the time, I am trying to see all the little things as well. I found some shrimp the other day, as well as a sea slug. There is quite a lot of diversity in the MPA. The coral isn’t as good as I would like it to be, but it is coming along. We have hard and soft coral and anemones complete with anemonefish and clownfish. We have starfish, sea cucumbers, and cowries. I look forward to the days when the tide is good and I can go for a swim; even better that I can record it as time spent working.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The good parts of the job

Three or four of the Year 8 girls have been coming over to my house nearly every night for homework help. A few weeks ago they came over in the afternoon. As it started to get dark, I flipped the switch for the light. Nothing happened. I don’t think I have had one week yet where the power hasn’t gone out. Power is usually out for a few hours 3-5 days a week, so you just get used to it after a while. So I lit a candle. As the girls finished up, it occurred to me how funny this was. I remember having to do my homework by candlelight when I lived in St. Louis. I lived out in the woods and strong thunderstorms or ice storms would knock our power out and not doing my homework wasn’t an option. So I found the situation of me helping kids with homework via candlelight quite entertaining. Then we started making shadow puppets. They were in awe at some of the simple puppets I could do. We had a fun time. Again, getting through PC service is sometimes all about the little moments. This was definitely a PC moment, helping kids with homework via candlelight and making shadow puppets. A few nights ago they came over again. After they were done with homework, some of them started taking their pencils and tapping the table like it was a drum. Being a drummer myself, even though it has been a while since I’ve played, I couldn’t resist teaching them a little beat. I taught them a paradiddle. It is really simple, just R L RR or L R LL. They had fun copying the beat and trying to go fast. I teach them little handshakes too. You know the kind where you do a side high five, then back of the hand, then some fist pounds, etc. They get a real kick out of the handshakes I come up with. Why I am teaching the kids this I don’t really know, but they enjoy it.

A couple weekends ago, I went diving with the dive club. We went with Aqua Samoa again. This time the dive sites were “Stage left” and “Supo Laumei.”
Both dives were good, although there was quite a current on both. I would be looking at a fish, then the current would come and the fish was five feet down stream and I was kicking with all my might to not smash into the coral. We saw turtles on both dives; we got pretty close to them too. A couple swam right past me, within just a couple of feet. We had another fun swim through; the current made this a little interesting and a few of us got small cuts from knocking into the rough sides of the swim through. Even so, it’s always a good day when diving.

I went to Savaii for an early Cinco de Mayo party. I got to see the infamous Lusia’s lagoon fales all the Savaii kids talk about. Lusia’s is apparently where all the Savaii volunteers get together every week to hangout. Lusia’s has a dock where most of the party occurred. We jumped off it and swam in the calm waters of the lagoon and hung out on it all Saturday night. A few of the volunteers made a piñata in honor of the holiday. And since the party was also to celebrate Jim’s birthday, he did the honors of breaking the piñata; although, he nearly killed a few fellow PCVs when the stick broke on the piñata. I stayed in a fale right on the lagoon, which was awesome. I woke up way too early Sunday morning considering I was up late Saturday night, but it was nice to see the sun on the peaceful water…and also a turtle. It was nice to get out of the village and hangout with people, especially the Savaii PCVs because I don’t see them too often.

I moved my mountain

It may be a bad idea to put this on the internet for the whole world to see, but I think it is important for people to know service as a Peace Corps Volunteer doesn’t always involve saving the world and making a difference. You do have situations which cause you to question why you are here and figuring out what to do about the situation isn’t always easy. While most people really do want your help, you get others who do not make your service easy. Only putting up the fun stuff I have done as a volunteer would be a disservice to all those back home who wonder what being a PCV is like. So here it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

A big shakedown occurred here in the village and I caused a bit of drama. I have had some serious issues with a matai who just so happened to be on my PC committee (the committee is made up of people from my village who were selected by the matai council and their job is to take care of me and help me with projects). I never really liked the guy (I always had a bad feeling about him) and then he added to my dislike by coming over drunk and doing some things he should not have done (Note to self: trust your instincts). That happened in January and somehow he was still on my committee. I’m still trying to figure out how and why the village allowed him to stay on my committee, but I’m sure I will never be able to figure it out because like most things here it doesn’t make any sense what so ever. I put up with him being around and tried to move on, but he continued to make comments which were inappropriate and downright disgusting. Basically, the guy is a dirty, creepy, old man who is single and old enough to be my father. When I have another matai on my committee ask me if I want to sleep with this matai, something needs to change. I am not 7,000 miles from home to be sexually harassed. That is not in the Peace Corps Volunteer job description. Putting up with general Samoan cheekiness (like comments about me needing a Samoan uo or how I should marry one of the matai on the committee) is one thing and I do have to be culturally sensitive, but I don’t have to put up with being sexually harassed in my village. I was really motivated to act when the matai lied to the office and said there had not been an incident at my house. Last time I checked coming over to my house drunk and doing things you are not supposed to do would be classified as an incident. He knew he lied and just didn’t care. This tells me he thought he did nothing wrong and will probably do it again. I was pissed and then realized I needed to not be around this man anymore or I was going to be driven insane or be really angry all the time. The PC office was hesitant to come out because they didn’t want the situation to blow up, which is usually what happens when the office comes out in situations like this. I knew I needed to get him off the committee and if I didn’t there was no way I was going to stick around for the 15-16 months left in my PC service. So I figured I had nothing to lose, I either take care of it myself or leave. Leaving was not really an option I wanted to pursue so I flat out told the committee and pulenu’u I didn’t want him on the committee anymore. Feeling uncomfortable around a man because he is sexually harassing me would have gotten me no where here in Samoa, but when I told them I was angry he lied to the office that got things done. Villages in Samoa are kinda terrified of the office and really don’t like for them to come out. So the mention of me being angry because he lied to the office worked. I never would have even tried this if I didn’t feel reasonably well integrated into my community, but I’m in good standing with my village so I figured I might be able to get away with kicking someone off the committee. I am so much happier now that I know I don’t have to see the matai on a regular basis. This is wonderful; it will make my job and my life so much easier for the next 15-16 months.