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


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.