Monday, March 30, 2009


I finally might have accomplished something real. I got word a few weeks ago that books are on the way. Yea!!! Finally, I can start on the library for the school. I’m very excited about this project. It’s a big relief to know the waiting has paid off. I know the library will be very small, but that is ok. At least the kids will have some books for resources for help with homework and also some pleasure reading. I also got word the grant I wrote for sewing machines for the women’s committee was successful; another thing where patience has paid off. All this couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been getting a little depressed thinking that in the seven months as a volunteer I’ve done nothing. So now I will have something to keep me busy and raise my spirits. I’m not sure when all this stuff will get to my village, but hopefully within a month. I’m very excited for all this. I’m hoping it will give me a little more respect in the village and have people trust that the young girl can do something for the village. In the mean time, I’m keeping myself busy with the MPA. I’m up to 100 species identified and I know there is a whole bunch of species which haven’t come out to say hi to me yet. This is ok; it means I still have lots of monitoring, otherwise known as snorkeling, to do.

Liz came out for a visit the other week. We took the bus over to Togitogiga Waterfalls in Pupu-Pu’e National Park. This was really fun. We’d both forgotten how nice it feels to swim in freshwater. The water was cool and clean, so refreshing. We jumped in the pools down from the upper falls and relaxed in the cold water. I climbed up the rocks where the falls are and played in the rushing water of the waterfall, feeling the power of the spray. I even jumped in the pool where the lower falls are from the pool of the upper falls, but didn’t have the guts to jump from all the way up. I thought about it, but the rock jutting out made me nervous. And although I am the adventurous type who rarely ever backs out of daring things like that, I didn’t really want to go to the hospital that day and even more so didn’t want to explain to our PC nurse what stupid thing I did to crack my skull open. The look of disappointment which surely would have crossed her face was enough to make me not jump. It was a fun day and no trip to the hospital, so in the end it was a positive decision.

The village had its Fa’aMati last week as well. I didn’t attend the actual event because I was busy, but from what I was understand the women weave mats and on the Fa’aMati day they are given to the pastor and other churches. I saw the mats when they were displayed the day before, and some of the fine mats were really spectacular. Each member of the women’s committee had to make a laufala (fine mat), a papa laufala (sitting mat, light colored), and a papa malo (sitting mat, dark colored). Laufala is the name of the plant used to weave these mats. The leaves of the laufala plant are shaped like a single leaf of a palm tree, long and tapered, only start out wider. The leaves are much stiffer and have sharp, little spikes on the edges of the leaves. The leaves are cut off the plant, the sharp edges are taken off, and then the leaves are dried in the sun, which makes them light in color. Then strips are cut and used to make mats. The width of the strips can vary from 2 cm to a few millimeters. Sitting mats are made from strips about 2 cm, while fine mats made from strips only a few millimeters wide are considered the highest quality and will sell for thousands of Tala (these fine mats are called ie toga). The fine mats are used for fa’alavelaves (weddings, church openings, funerals, births, etc). The mats the women made were more like sleeping mats. The strip width was about half a centimeter and on the borders of the fine mat were different colors of yarn. In the old days instead of yarn there would be bird feathers, but now usually you see the yarn, every once in a while a fine mat will be made with feathers, but usually fake feathers you see in craft stores back home. Some had dyed laufala weaved into patterns. It takes a lot of skill to do this weaving. I have joined the women in weaving few times but have never done one with dyed laufala. You have to have a lot of experience to know how to weave these kinds of mats. I was quite impressed with some of the women in the village.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The bike does still work

There is really nowhere for me to go on my bike. I use it to go up to the main road to take my trash out or go talk to the mayor, but other than that it usually just sits in my house, much to my dismay and disappointment in having nowhere to go. Friday, I did manage to get over to see the volunteer in Lotofaga, about a 30-40 minute bike ride away. Each semester her village hosts American exchange students who are taking a Pacific Islands course. The students’ 10 day village stay was over so the village was throwing a fiafia (eating & dancing party) to say good-bye. I had a fun time having nothing to do with the fiafia at all and only had to sit and watch. I did have to go up and dance the final dance with Liz in the taupo headpiece and belt thing (I don’t really know how to describe it better than that). I was smiling and laughing while they got Liz dressed in the taupo wear and then my smile quickly faded when I saw a second set of taupo garb appear and the women told me to turn around so they could tie this stuff on. It was ok though, most of the time was spent laughing because one of the women was hiking up Liz’s skirt so she could show her malu (traditional tattoo for women which wraps around the thigh), apparently dancing is the time to show it off. It was a fun night.

The next day we walked to To Sua Trench. It’s just a big hole in the ground, but you can go down the biggest ladder I’ve ever seen and swim in the trench. It looks pre-historic at the bottom of the trench; sunlight beaming from up above, ferns growing from the sides, and long roots streaming down to the water. We also explored the lava field and blow holes on the grounds. There is a little cove surrounded by hardened lava rock where ocean water still reaches, but it is mostly enclosed and protected. The most beautiful, built up coral and blue water is in this little cove. I really want to snorkel in it; the reef has to be incredibly pristine, but because the coral is so built up there are only a few channels one can fit through. The way the tide surges in and out is a problem too. It was really cool to see rainbows appear when the water shot up from the blow holes. The ocean drops off quickly and waves are huge on this lava field, leaving interesting structures carved from the lava rock. I had fun exploring the trench.
I did notice how I was able to explore all this potentially dangerous land with no warning signs or fences taking all the fun away. One could easily step in a hole and break a leg, be swept off one’s feet by a huge wave and be hurt, killed, or taken out to sea, or fall off the rock face just trying to get down to the lava field. I just loved it; I could get as close as I wanted. We all know in the States there would be signs and fences so one couldn’t get close to all the cool stuff and really explore all the things one wants to see because some idiot got hurt due to his or her own stupidity and since they felt so dim-witted decided to blame someone else to try not to look like the idiot they actually are. All the fencing and signage just takes all the fun away and is completely unnecessary. I guess it helps that no one here has the money to be able to sue or if sued would have no money to give, but still I liked being able to explore a natural wonder without being baby-sat.

Maybe I am actually making a difference.

I’ve been a Peace Corps Volunteer for a little over six months now. I haven’t much to show for those past months, no projects, workshops, or anything of that nature. The projects I’ve tried to do have fallen through. Organizations I’ve wanted to bring out to my village have already been here and the villagers are starting projects with them; which is good for the village don’t get me wrong, but leaves me feeling slightly useless. I am waiting for responses to requests and grants, yet have no hard evidence of whether or not me being here is making a difference. Let’s face it…part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is wanting to make a difference and change the world. I’ve felt a little ineffective and get frustrated thinking I have nothing to show for my time. I think I’ve done a good job of integrating and knowing my village, but having not completed any sort of Peace Corps project isn’t where I wanted to be at this point. I thought I’d have something to show for my time. But alas, such is not true. So how does one measure effectiveness here in the Peace Corps? Is it the number of projects and amount of stuff you got your village? How many Ministries, NGOs, and other organizations you brought out to your village to do projects? How many babies were named after you? Truth is, since each PCV has a different experience, so that answer varies. I still have a year and a half to go so I have lots of time to do projects, but it is frustrating feeling like I have done nothing for six months but hang out in Samoa. All this being said, last week I was walking and talking with a member of my Peace Corps committee when the MPA came up. She told me the men had gone into the MPA and taken all the Crowns of Thorns out. It then hit me that maybe I am making a difference. See, I had been doing that for the past two weeks. At least once a week taking Crowns of Thorns out of the MPA would be the mission of my swim. I had talked casually with the mayor and other people in the village about the MPA and how Crowns of Thorns are bad for the reef because they feed on coral and in high numbers could decimate the reef. I didn’t think much of the conversations, just letting people know what I was doing in the MPA. When I heard the men had gone in there and taken the Crowns of Thorns out, it made me realize that my job as an “ecoliteracy educator” (as my official PCV title says I am) might actually be getting done. This brings much needed relief and gives me a new sense of accomplishment. So maybe in my six months I have nothing material to show my time hasn’t been completely worthless, but maybe I am using my marine biologist skills to educate people on the marine environment and doing my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Diving with stingrays and turtles

Saturday I went diving with the dive club here in Samoa. The dive club is made up of Japanese, Australian, and American volunteers working here in Samoa. It’s a good way to meet and hang out with other foreign volunteers here and also diving is just fun so why not. It was a really nice day for a dive, sunny and of course being Samoa, warm. We went with Aqua Samoa, based out of the Aggie Grey’s resort. We took it easy on our two dives (only going to max depth of 73 and 77 feet), as I hadn’t been diving in 3-4 years, another volunteer had just gotten certified before coming here, and another volunteer was nursing a hurt foot. I felt like I was seriously missing equipment. Being in the tropics you don’t need a wetsuit if you don’t want one, and even if you want one a shorty and not the full monstrosity will do. It was wonderful to go diving in just a swimsuit with shorts and a rash guard. There was no awkward pulling of a wetsuit trying to get it off. Also, since the scuba company is based out of the nicest resort on the islands, they took care of everything for us. We didn’t have to carry our own gear to the boat or even hook up our tanks and regulators. I liked feeling like a tourist in that regard.

The first dive spot was called Circus. Another volunteer and I had some issues right off the bat though because neither of us were weighted right and hence couldn’t get below the surface…kind of a problem when diving. Once we got more weight, we were golden. We saw a sting ray right as we got going. We snorkeled around the massive reefs looking at all the little fishies. We saw parrotfish, angelfish, anemonefish, butterflyfish, etc. For me personally, it was a great dive to get back into things. My buoyancy was perfect (once I got the extra weight that is) so I wasn’t struggling to stay off the bottom or rising up to the top all the time. It was an easy, slow just look at all the pretty fish and coral.

Our second dive spot was about the same. It was called Laumei (turtle). The name was chosen because people often see turtles when diving on that spot, and sure enough so did we. It was cute, gliding off a little reef drop off. We saw an anemonefish who likes to munch on people, two giant longfin spadefish (about the size of two or three dinner platters), giant clams, filefish, etc. The most fun part was the swim through, a tunnel/break in the coral about 25 feet long. It was fun to go under/between two large coral reef sections and look back as others came through. At one point about halfway through the swim through I looked up and back towards the surface, seeing nothing but coral to the sides, towering above me, fish swimming over me, and light streaming through a gap in the coral sections. It was awesome!

Anytime I’m in the water I’m happy, so being able to go diving was great. I hadn’t been in a really long time, but it is kinda like riding a bike, you don’t ever really forget what to do. I got to try out my dive watch/computer too (thanks Dad)…the thing is awesome! I loved seeing the temperature, depth, dive time, having a countdown timer for how long I can be at a certain depth and not need a safety stop, seeing how much nitrogen is building up in my blood, warned by an alarm when I’m ascending too rapidly, and having a timer for my safety stop. It was all so easy to figure out too. I figured with something as complicated as a dive computer I would have alarms going off all the time for things I hadn’t set right on it, but nope…everything went swimmingly. And now all the info is stored in my watch and I can’t wait to see what kind of fun I can have downloading it to my computer. So unlike most weeks, I now have something to do…play with my dive watch and anxiously await our next dive.