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 ( 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 (

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.