Friday, April 30, 2010

The “Twilight Zone” is real?!?

I have vacation days I must use before the beginning of June (PC rules say we can’t take vacation within the last 3 months of service). I wanted to go somewhere, just didn’t know where. Tonga, Cook Islands, and Tokelau all sounded interesting but expensive or not easy to get to. So I decided to take the quick, cheap vacation to American Samoa.

Day 1 - Monday
The plane you fly on is a 19 seater prop plane and it wasn’t full at all. I haven’t flown on a prop plane since I was a little kid and my dad flew a tiny little plane here and there. I got to sit right behind the pilots; with a prop plane that small I felt like Indian Jones in Temple of Doom, luckily the pilots decided to not ditch the aircraft and leave the passengers to fend for ourselves (although I would like to try skydiving someday). The flight only takes 30 minutes and the view is nothing but open ocean. I kept looking for something cool like a whale or dolphins, nothing but white caps. As we came into land I saw the gorgeous mountains. They are steep and dramatic, much prettier than in Samoa in my opinion. There is no fringing reef (or at least not much) around Tutuila so the water gets deep really quickly and crashes into shallow coves or right on to rocky out croppings.

We landed and took the five minutes to get through customs/immigration/baggage claim (it’s not a busy airport). I rented a car at the airport for my 4 days. Oh the feeling of driving! Such bliss!! I then started out on my vacation.

I remember growing up watching the old episodes of “Twilight Zone.” I very much enjoyed this old show and the crazy possibilities the writers always came up with. Going to American Samoa was just like an episode of the “Twilight Zone”…it’s America, but Samoa.

I drove past Carl’s Jr/Green Burrito, KFC, & Pizza Hut and noted those were places I must eat at before I left. I’ve never been to Carl’s Jr back in the States; they aren’t in my neck of the woods, but I’ve heard about them from other PCVs who have been. I ended up watching baseball on ESPN while eating a chicken burrito, yum! I drove past the movie theater, high schools, and Ace Hardware. I enjoyed seeing the yellow school buses (both regular size and short bus mind you). The thing which took me a minute to figure out was the buses which went all over the island. They are loud in speaker volume and in paint job just like here in Western Samoa, but looked odd. At first glance they are the same wooden buses as in Samoa, but the front grill was really low and I couldn’t figure out why. I then got a good look and realized the engines were those of Dodge or Ford trucks, the big Ram or F-150 types, and the wooden frame was built on top of the truck base.

I enjoyed driving down the single road to Pago Pago, taking in the coastline as we curved with the natural features of the rugged island. I got into the harbour and marveled at its beauty. Pago Pago harbor is a natural harbor, made from the collapsed caldera of a volcano. The water is blue-green/turquoise and boats of all types are anchored in the harbor. I drove past the US Post Office and police station, past the 2nd McDonalds on the island (yes, you read correctly, there are 2 McDonalds on Tutuila), the Bank of Hawaii, and several restaurants.

I’m not allowed to drive a car while a Peace Corps Volunteer unless I’m on vacation. So I haven’t driven in a while and it has been even longer since I’ve driven on the right side of the road. It is just like riding a bike though. I only had one issue and that was a roundabout. It wasn’t the roundabout which was the problem, it was the direction. I’m so used to driving left around them that if it hadn’t been for a sign indicating I should drive right around it I most likely would have gone left. But no worries, all was ok, no accidents whatsoever.

I drove all the way out to the eastern side of the island that day. I drove past the tuna canneries. The Star-Kist tuna cannery somewhat remind me of the Del Monte banana packaging plant in Costa Rica, not really impressive but produces a lot of goods. I drove through the tiny villages and noted all the western style houses, only a few open Samoan houses. The beaches were beautiful, palm trees and rocky shoreline. I drove all the way until the road ended, turned around and saw it all again. I enjoyed my first look at the islands.

Day 2 - Tuesday
I got up early and went to the National Park of American Samoa. I drove up the mountain and down at about a 45° angle, a little steep. I hiked a little trail which led out to really nice point with a great view. No one was around, just me and the birds. I was surprised to see a frog! There aren’t any frogs here in Samoa, but in American Samoa there are bunches. I was shocked to see it. It reminded me of when I went to Fiji with the girls and we were so enamored by all the frogs there that people probably thought we were weird for being so obsessed with the frogs.

I drove further into the park to do another hiking trail. This was a short trail and took me to a beach. The waves crashed on the rocky beach and to the left was a large rock face with a bunch of arches carved out from the waves. Birds were all around in the jungle above. There are so many white rumped swiftlets around. Driving through the village near this trail I saw people doing exactly what people do in rural villages here in Samoa…play cards, sit around and chat, and wait for buses.

I then drove to Cost U Less. Oh the wonderful smell of bulk goods, large appliances, and patio furniture!! Cost U Less is basically Costco or Sam’s Club. I bought some food and wished I had brought a bigger bag in which to take more back to Samoa. I caught a movie that afternoon as well, of course enjoying “The Backup Plan” with some “Raisinets.”

On the drive home I realized how much I miss driving. There is nothing like the freedom of being behind the wheel of a car, belting out (off key naturally) the words (or what you think are the words) to a song. One thing that struck me is the courteousness of the drivers; they let people out into traffic a lot more than in the US. That being said it is a good thing the speed limit is at most 25 miles an hour, pulling out into traffic when one should not is rampant, glad the brakes on the rental car were good.

Day 3 – Wednesday

I hiked in the National Park again this day. I drove up the Fagasa Pass and hiked up Mt. Alava. The trail was 7 miles roundtrip and I did it in 3 hours 54 minutes (including 40 minutes at the top for pictures, water, and banana chips). The trail was rated moderately strenuous and I believe that. At first it isn’t so bad, then come the rocky inclines which go on for a couple hundred feet. The views are amazing! If you go to American Samoa and enjoy hiking, take advantage of all the trails, you will not be disappointed.

I was the only hiker in the park that day (and yes I know Mom, I shouldn’t hike by myself but what’s a girl to do when she has no one to go with? I’m not missing out on a great time). It was just me and the birds, and the several lizards I startled by tramping through their turf. Lots of species call the mountains home. Most numerous are the white rumped swiftlets. I saw some pigeons and a couple of purple swamphens as well. I saw tadpoles hanging out in a puddle at the top of the mountain.

At the top of Mt. Alava, all 1,610 feet above sea level, there is a cable car station. The cable car no longer runs, but it is fun to see the wires and gears. There is also a tower for tv broadcasts up there too (that is still in operation). From the top, you get great views of the harbour, Rainmaker Mountain, and Mt. Matafao (the highest point on Tutuila). The view is breathtaking. Again, if you go to American Samoa and you like hiking/nature, hike up the mountain. It’s a lot of fun.

After the hike I drove til the road ended in Western Tutuila. Those roads would make any West Virginian proud…steep, curvy, mountain passes. I had a blast winding my way to no where. I went past more beautiful coves and rocky shorelines, past deep drop offs and very nearly ran into a school bus (had to back up so the bus could pull forward so then I could go forward).

I went past Leone and some of the tsunami affected villages. These villages still look pretty bad. Still lots of rubble and plenty of people are still living in tents or shacks. I hope they can get back on their feet soon.

I drove past a high school practicing football. And not the football I work with everyday, but good old American gridiron. I also saw a bus which was marine themed; I tried to take a picture, but could never get a shot.

Day 4 – Thursday
Last day of vacation. I ate a pancake breakfast at Sadie’s CafĂ©. The restaurant was nice, I recommend it. The pancakes were a cross between American and Samoan pancakes, kind of odd. They weren’t as light and fluffy as American pancakes, but tried really hard to be, yet looked more like Samoan pancakes. This probably makes no sense, but if you had seen them you’d understand. The half-breed pancakes were good by either standard.

I wasted some more time driving around and doing not much of anything. I bought some more stuff and managed to find a spot for it in my suitcase. I went to KFC for lunch and watched CSI as I enjoyed my chicken and more importantly…the buttery biscuit. I returned the car and sat under the “Big Ass Fan” I kid you not, this was the brand of the fan. I watched ESPN and awaited my departure. My Twilight Zone experience was coming to an end. But not before going through immigration and straight to the plane. No bag check whatsoever. This made me laugh. I’m not sure if TSA has jurisdiction in American Samoa, but if they do they probably wouldn’t be happy at the non-existent security screening. Even the little Fagali’i airport here in Samoa did a little inspection of luggage. Oh well, they know all people want to do when going from American Samoa to Samoa is smuggle in bulk goods from Cost U Less anyway.

So ended the “Twilight Zone” experience. I drank as much “Mountain Dew” and root beer that I could find, especially root beer, I’m kind of addicted…it’s like crack. Spending the US dollar but hearing people speak Samoan was odd. I didn’t notice as many lavalavas as here in Samoa, much more Western style clothing even out in the rural villages. People in rural villages still wave at a palagi driving by. Seeing a high school practicing football was just bizarre, haven’t seen football in person in a while. Sending a package from a US post office was a fun little experience too…I felt like I was home. Watching American TV was of course amazing! I ate a bagel with cream cheese!!

The experience was weird…Samoa, yet America. But I think it made me finally get excited about going home. Up until this point I didn’t think I was ready. I didn’t really want to stay here in Samoa, but didn’t want to go home either (that’s not really a good predicament to be in). After being in American Samoa I think I’m ready to go home. I’m going to freak out over really stupid things and get excited about things I wouldn’t normally get excited over, so much that I’ll probably embarrass whoever I’m with, but that is part of the fun too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Soreness is almost gone

Tuesday concluded the 5 day coaching/women's development course here at the Football Federation. It was run by an Australian elite coach instructor who works for FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation. It was a really good course; I learned a lot. It was a great opportunity for people here to learn more about coaching and women's football, especially since it was free (just about all coaching courses have fees attached). I'm really glad I attended. I look forward to coaching at home.

I haven't played soccer since I graduated from college (university to those who call high school college). This means I've gone 2.5 years with out touching a ball, with exception of the high school alumni game I played in 2 years ago. Either way, it has been a really long time since I was out on the pitch. I was playing in soccer boots made for indoor soccer since that was the only pair of soccer related shoes I own.

Indoor flats + grass (especially wet grass) = not a good idea.

I slipped all over the place...a lot. I'm quite sure that having improper equipment is a major factor as to why my groin felt a little strained by the end of the course. Feels much better now with a couple of days rest.

We got some really nice gear for the course. Shorts, shirts, warm up suit (not going to do any good here in Samoa, but I'll wear it back in the US), and actual soccer boots. This will be nice for coaching the kids on Saturday mornings and any other kicking of the ball I do. No more slipping and sliding all around the pitch.

My job changed once again. I'm now in charge of competitions instead of media. Our former competitions manager decided to switch to media so now I get that fun. Problem is there is no current thought to getting a new competitions manager. While it is good experience, it's not really a Peace Corps job. I'm having a hard time getting that point across to my boss at the Football Federation. Developing football and doing grassroots programs = PC...not doing a job a Samoan could do. Oh well, make the most of it right?

Here's a link to the Samoan Observer article I wrote about the coaching course.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A collection of somewhat random experiences

In Samoa, the long distance, silent conversations are quite common and usually involve lots of head nodding. People can be on opposite sides of a room or half a football field away and somehow still get the point across. It's quite impressive.

I was walking in town yesterday when I heard a "hey! hey!" I looked over and see this kid I know from Saturday football. He was about 1/2 a block away and I was walking across the street. He asked where I was going, I replied to the store to shop. He replied with a head nod and a smile, then said bye as he went his way. I said bye, then continued to walk down the street. It then hit me what had just gone on...a silent conversation from a distance. Granted is was no drawn out, in depth conversation, but it did get a laugh from a passing Samoan. I then had a smile on my face while walking down the street. I've apparently not lost all of my villageness and can still hold the silent conversation.

A bit later, I get stopped by a man. He shook my hand and said hello. He then asked if I liked it here. I said "yes, it is nice." He then cocks his head and says "Peace Corps right?" I smiled and said "yes." Then we conversed in Samoan. He asked what I was doing; I told him I work for the Football Federation and he asked some other questions. We wrapped up our conversation after a bit and I proceeded to the store. It did make me smile when I thought about it...he instantly knew I was Pisikoa.

My job here with the Football Federation of Samoa continues to evolve. Most of my work used to be on Saturdays. Saturdays involve me playing coach to the kids, organize/supervise ball kids for the games, help the referees if they need it, sometimes play 4th official, and pay the referees. I would help in the office during the week as well. I organized/filed all the referee reports, went through the reports and made a spreadsheet of top scorers, I helped a player with a visa so he can go to New Zealand and play, and various other random jobs around the office. Not really exciting, but what office job is?

Now I have a whole new area of work. I was appointed to the Disciplinary Committee as secretary. I, along with 2 lawyers, decide punishments for players who have received a red card. Many of the punishments are the standard 1 game suspension, but some involve multiple game suspension and fines. This is interesting to me. I do have a football background so I know what is appropriate in the game and what's not. I'm learning a lot about the ins and outs of football from a technical side. Everything has to be done a certain way and a decision has to be made following a certain set of rules. It's a good experience; I'm enjoying it.

I'm now the interim Media Officer as well. This is a whole new aspect of a job. I'm a marine biologist; I have no journalism or media background at all. Well, that's not entirely true. I was on the yearbook staff for 2 years in middle school, but as far as I'm concerned that doesn't really count. Now I'm in charge of contacting tv stations, writing press releases and articles, and taking photos. I like taking pictures so that part of the job I enjoy a lot, especially because the camera is awesome!

It is amazing at the variety of jobs I've done while in Peace Corps. I've worked with a marine protected area, written grants, organized a bunch of programs (sewing clinic, rubbish seminar, animal de-sexing clinic), etc. Now I'm doing a variety of jobs for FFS. PC always say be flexible and do the job which needs to be done, and I think I've accomplished that. It amazing the new skills and confidence I've gained.

I'm taking part in a course here at FFS about the development of women's football. This is exciting for me. As I think I've written before, I think I might go back to the US and do some coaching. So this course is a good experience for me. We had a little 4v4 tournament today. That was the first time in 2.5 years I've played soccer, aside from the high school alumni game I participated in before coming to PC. I'm a lot rusty and have the touch of a brick wall (course some of that can be blamed on me being a goalkeeper too). Maybe my the end of the course I'll be a bit more to form.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Finally Some Rain

There aren’t many good lightning storms here in Samoa. If there is lightning, most of it is cloud to cloud, all you get is some rumbling. There is very little of the make you jump out of your knickers lightning which I find fun to watch.

Of course there is always an exception to this. I remember back in February I think it was: I was sitting on the porch of the fale palagi my host family owned writing in my journal. It had been a rainy day with some distant rumbling. The 2 girls were hassling me as usual, asking all kinds of questions. All of the sudden a flash and a loud crack! The girls went running inside to the safety of their mom’s embrace. I have never seen them so scared. The lightning was really close; it seemed to hit the house next door. They kind of reminded me of the sheltie (Lily) my family had. Every time there was a storm she would run to my mom. If Mom was in the study, Lily would be under the desk cowering at Mom’s feet. Or if Mom was relaxing on her reclining chair, Lily would be up in the chair too, as far back and pressed as hard against my mom as she could possibly get. Many times my mom had to stop doing what she was doing just to sit with the scared dog we had. Poor pup.

I grew up in the Midwest (St. Louis) which is in the region of the US known as Tornado Alley due to the massive amounts of tornados those states get, moved to Huntsville, AL which according to one statistic is the 5th most dangerous city for frequency of long track F3-F5 tornados, and then went to college in Florida and when you think Florida, think thunderstorms and hurricanes (along with sunshine, Disneyworld, oranges, beaches, and key lime pie if in Key West of course). I have many memories of tornado drills in school where we went out to the hallway and curled up into a ball with our hands over our necks and noses to the ground or crouching in the closet under the stairs while at home or hurricane parties and waiting out the hurricanes with my cousins in Florida. I’ve lived in places which get good storms so I guess I enjoy watching the raw force of nature.

We had heat lightning in the clouds during the soccer games on Saturday. The games continued through the flashes going on above. I found this a little odd that flashes of death were going on above and we were still allowed to have a full set of games. I guess this stems from Florida which gets heat lightning all the time and I have many memories of being at soccer practice or a game and seeing our athletic trainers holding a lightning meter, measuring how far away the lightning was from the field. If the lightning was within a certain mileage (I think 3-5 miles), we had to go inside until ½ hour after the last lightning strike was measured to be with in that mileage. But that is Florida, the lightning capital of the US.

Monday night we had a pretty good lightning storm. There were lots of flashes, but only rumbling, very few real cracks of thunder. Tuesday was a very wet day. The weather has been very dry the past few weeks and the islands were in desperate need of some rain. The soccer fields are looking brown and the water levels in rivers are low. As the rain came down yesterday, I thought I might need a canoe to run my errands in town as rivers were sprouting up where the water was running off. Luckily by the time the afternoon rolled around, the heavy rain was done and all that was left were sprinkles of drizzly rain.

Today is looking better, cloudy, but still plenty of sunshine.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Robbed at Gunpoint

I wasn't robbed at gunpoint so don't worry. A Westpac bank in Vaitele (just outside of Apia) was robbed Thursday. It's the first bank robbery ever in Samoa. Here's the front page of the Samoan Observer from Friday morning.

And the link to the article:

Here's a few other links to articles:

In other news not nearly as the football (soccer) games on Saturday I was the 4th official for one of the games. I recorded goals and substitutions. I'd never done this before so I didn't really know what I was doing, but it turned out to not be very complicated. Luckily the game wasn't complicated by yellow or red cards and no fights. So it was a good experience.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The New Residence

Before I forget, here are some pics of the new place:

First off, my little room. It's not much, but does have a ceiling fan and hot water in the bathroom.
Next the kitchen, oven & stove top as well as a fridge. Lots of counter space too.

Mustn't forget the microwave. And yes, I do make popcorn in it. There used to be a toaster, not really sure what happened to it.

The washer is really nice to have. The spin cycle makes all the difference...dry the next day even when left indoors. Amazing!

This is a panoramic of the complex. The fields are in the backyard as well as the mountains. A pretty waterfall pops out when it rains.

So that is the living situation for the next 4 months. I'm never late for work since the office is above me. I have security guards who patrol the grounds and lock/unlock the gate for me when needed. So not bad. Can't complain about housing that's for sure.

Wonderful Easter Weekend

I finally got more than one day for a weekend and it was spectacular. I had Friday through Monday off…wonderful! Since I work 6 days a week now, I don’t get much of a weekend. I do get a ½ day every week to take whenever I want to, so I took mine Thursday afternoon and started my Easter weekend early by meeting a couple of volunteers at the movies. Afterward I ran some errands, which surprisingly were productive and I got a lot done (this doesn’t happen very often because I always get distracted or can’t find what I need).

I met the people I went to the movies with at the Peace Corps office and they convinced me to go to Faofao beach fales for the weekend. I had been thinking of going to Savaii since I need a vacation off this island; however, since this past weekend is one of the most traveled weekends in Samoa I didn’t want to deal with the really crowded buses and boats. John had rented a car which made the deal even sweeter. We Peace Corps Volunteers have a fondness for Faofao as it has been a great place for us to get away when we need too. They take care of us at Faofao and we enjoy going. Faofao is in Aleipata, the area which was hit the hardest by the tsunami back in September. Right after the tsunami, we couldn’t even tell where Faofao had been even though we had been there several times. When the other PCVs told me they were going to Faofao and invited me, I was very hesitant to go. Back in December when my Mom and Aunt were here just driving through the area was really hard for me. I didn’t know how I would react if I went for the weekend. But I decided to see how I would do, knowing I wanted to go back sometime.

We decided to be true tourists that day and stopped at Togitogiga Waterfalls to go for a dip in the cool water. We also did the coastal walk there as well. I highly recommend this do anyone coming to Samoa. I had no idea it was as amazing as it was. The path to get to the car park is 4 km and is an adventure in itself. The 1.8 km trail takes you through a jungle of pandanus and overlooks the crashing waves. There is no barrier reef on this section of the south coast so the water is deep and crashes powerfully against the large sea cliffs. Natural bridges and amazing rock formations have been cut by the strong waves. There is also a lava field and blowholes at the end of the path. It is a pretty cool thing to do and I wish I had done it sooner.

I am very impressed at how well they have done getting Faofao back up. They have 6 fales built and are in the process of building more. They have a large dining/hanging out area complete with a bar which John’s students at Don Bosco built. The beach looks great as does the coral which was really surprising considering the destruction 6 months ago. None of the fales have electricity, which adds to the rustic nature of the resort. I don’t know if they plan on putting electricity in or not, but for now a kerosene lamp will have to do (or the light of your cell phone). Six of us went and had a very enjoyable time talking, swimming, walking the beach, reading, etc. The typical things one does while relaxing on a beach with friends. Benj found a kite surfing board so we messed around with that while swimming in the ocean. We had a perfect day for the beach too, sunny and warm (course that describes most days here). The sunrise Saturday morning was one of the most beautiful I have yet to see. We left early Sunday morning to get back to Apia; I could have used another day of that gorgeous beach, but we had to get back.

I was able to fix my bike and ride it into town on Monday. I had problems with the pedals locking up (it did go through a tsunami and somehow still works, course this is mostly thanks to Jim and Trent who fixed it up for me). I sprayed lubricant on it a lot and the pedals still locked up, causing me to nearly tip over when I rode it to the next village to shop for my family; luckily I was coming back from the shop and didn’t have far to walk back. Somehow yesterday they decided to be nice and not lock up; I’m thankful. It is 3-4 miles I guess from my house to the PC office. Going there wasn’t so bad, mostly downhill. I thought I would die going back since it is mostly uphill, but thankfully my heart didn’t explode. It turned out to not be nearly as bad as I thought I was going to be, even though not all the gears on the bike work. Running and biking are very different and I’m in ok shape running wise (not going to run a marathon or anything, but can run a few miles no problem), but didn’t know how biking would suit me. I didn’t use the bike much when I lived on the south side. Once, I did ride 12 miles (in the rain) to Siumu and 12 miles back the next day…that about killed me. But today after the bike ride, only my bum hurts from the seat. So now that I know I’m not going to die from riding the bike I’ll have to do that more often. No cars hit me either which is a big plus too.