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


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


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:


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.