Monday, October 5, 2009


As most of you probably know there was an earthquake at about 6:50 AM local time last Tuesday. I had woken up at 6 that morning to open our gate, then went back to sleep. Fifty minutes later an 8.0 earthquake woke me up again. I quickly jumped out of bed, and stood in the doorway between my bedroom and the living room. I’m not exactly sure how long it lasted, but it seemed like a very long time. There was this rumbling noise that sounded like the noise of a subway about to enter into the station. Couple of toiletries fell off of the shelves, but nothing broke. I did not realize the severity of the earthquake, and decided to go back to sleep. At exactly 7 AM, I received a call from our Peace Corps office, and was told to go inland. So I quickly put clothes on, and got on my bike to go to our evacuation point. After riding for about 25 minutes I arrived, and met up with other PCVs. A fire truck came by with its sirens on, and a guy was shouting into his megaphone to go further inland. We got back on our bikes, and rode for another half an hour inland where we waited out the tsunami warning. On our way up, I received a couple of calls from the States asking about the status of Samoa. This is when I realized the severity of the situation in the South Pacific, as it was making headlines all over the world. I later returned back home that day around noon when we got the okay from the Peace Corps.

My village got hit by the tsunami but villagers said it was just a three-foot wave. Some outhouses were destroyed, and rocks lining the sea were knocked over and spread over the streets, but no one was injured. I stayed home that day, but many Samoans spent the night inland in their plantations, thinking that another tsunami would hit.

The next day only about thirty kids showed up for school. I decided to go into Apia that day to help out on the other island, ‘Upolu where the tsunami was much bigger. Reports say that it was a ten-foot wave that it. I spent Friday morning cleaning up the village where the one and only Volunteer was truly affected. She lost her entire house. Later that day and Saturday was spent helping out the Red Cross Samoa in the Aleipata/Lalomano/Falealili region.

Here are some pictures of the devastation (in southern ‘Upolu).

There used to be beach fales all along the beach here.

Houses destroyed by the tsunami.

Houses destroyed. You can see the yellow and blue columns that used to hold up a house.

Mormom church still standing. Lots of debris outside of it.

Outside the Mormom church a tent was set up. People there and all along the area were sleeping under these tents.

Supplies being sorted out and delivered by the Red Cross.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


It's been a long while since I have blogged. I'll try to do a brief summary of what has happened since April.

By the end of April, I was preparing my Year 12 class for their second CAT (Common Assessment Task) which tested them on Microsoft Word. Many extra classes were held before and after school in order for all the students to get a chance to practice, since having between eight and ten computers (they're always breaking) didn't allow them enough practice in-class. After all the practice, the students did pretty well. The average for the class was an 82 percent.

I brought all of their CATs to Apia after it was administered that day (May 8th) because Paul, Phil, and I were catching our flight to Fiji the next morning at 5AM. So I quickly graded the CATs, and asked Matt to submit them to the Ministry of Education for me. That night in Apia, Phil, Paul, and I joined Matt and his parents (who were visiting) for dinner at The Curry House. The next morning we cabbed it to the airport at 3AM. We left Samoa at 5AM on Saturday, May 9th, but arrived in Nadi, Fiji, after only an hour and half flight at 630AM on Sunday, May 10th. After crossing the International Date Line, we practically lost all of Saturday, May 9, 2009.

Fiji was awesome. We had a great time being in a country with an actual city and eating many types of food that cannot be found in Samoa. We met Peace Corps who were volunteering there, and ended up staying with them for all of our stay in Fiji minus the first day when we stayed in a dorm in Suva. We are probably the only tourists in the world to go to Fiji and not ever step foot on a beach.

When we got back, we had a week of training with the Peace Corps. We stayed at a beach fale on the southwest side of 'Upolu called Faofao. It was just our group, Group 81, so nice to be hanging out all together again.

After training, I headed back to my host village for a week and stayed with them. It was the first time I had been back in several months, so it was nice to see my Samoan family. Before going, I brought a bunch of food for them in Apia so they wouldn't have to spent their money on me. When they saw all the food, the were happy, but insisted that I not waste my money and just eat the food from the village. It was really nice to be back. I felt very comfortable being back with them, hanging out, staying in the bedroom that I occupied for the first two and half months here in Samoa.

School started again two and half weeks ago. We are in our third week and I have been busy again, trying to prepare the Year 12 students for their next CAT (which is this Friday, June 26th). We also had Saturday class last weekend that last for three hours. It was pouring rain, and the kids didn't want to leave, so they did not mind sitting there and learning more and more about Microsoft Excel. It was interesting to see them in their street clothes. Many of boys came with a nice button-down shirt, and the girls had stylish clothes and wore earrings. One of the girls even had her hair down which in Samoa is very, very uncommon, especially in the villages. Girls typically have their hair in a pony tail or up in a bun.

After class ended, I went down to the market to help out with the health fair that another PCV, Nick, organized at the new market on Savai'i. Many of us came out to help. It was a two-day event (Friday & Saturday). It was covered by the local TV stations, and my kids saw me on TV!

I have also been busy trying to organize my village, Vailoa, and two other villages nearby, Vaito'omuli and Fa'ala, for the arrival of some former Peace Corps Volunteers, who are now eye doctors. They're coming back to screen Samoans for eye diseases and problems. They'll be here next Monday, and will stay for a week. So, every day after school next week, I will head over there and help out with the screenings. I have continued to help out at the women's committee with their computer center, teaching kids computers.

I have been managed to host a couple of couchsurfers as well.

An update on my computer lab -
After meetings, letters being written, and site visits from higher authorities, I was able to acquire some things for my lab. The school committee finally put the last piece up in the ceiling, and painted it. Yesterday, the brought two electricians, and four ceiling fans were installed! Bright green curtains were put also put up. All done in the nick of time, as an inspector came to check on the computer lab earlier this morning.

Here a few pictures from last weekend's health fair -

Everyone working away at the health fair

Jim and a couple of nurses

Nick being interviewed by the TV station.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Ceiling's Going Up

So today we decided to take an off-day. Dan has come over and worked every day since last Tuesday (with one day off ). We went to Lusia’s on Saturday to celebrate Briony, from Group 80’s, birthday, and AJ came and stayed the night, offering his help with the roof the next day.

On Sunday we woke up pretty early, had some breakfast, and got to work right away. We tried to work without Dan’s guidance, and did pretty well. Dan came a bit later after attending church. We worked all day until the sun was about to set, with only one lunch break. I made pasta and dhal curry (from a can). It was delicious.

Around this time, AJ decided that he’d stay and help even though he knew that he wouldn’t be able to catch a bus back to his village until the next morning. So I was very appreciative of him staying, knowing that he’d have to get up extremely early to catch two buses back to his village to be at his school on-time.

Nearing the end of the day yesterday, I went back to my house across the field for to get liquids for everyone, and ran into some soles, or guys between the ages of 16 and 25, who’s primary job is hanging out. They called me over to the fence, and asked what I was doing. I told them about my friends and me putting up a ceiling, just to find out that doing such work was not allowed. I knew that particular villages have certain rules for Sundays, like riding your bike on Sundays is not permitted in some villages, but these rules tend to vary from village to village. They were not angry, nor mean about it, but more informative. At this point it was already half past five, so we finished up some things, cleaned up, called it a day, and headed back to my house for dinner.

I had bought ground beef in Apia last time, and froze it. So I thawed the meat, got bread, and some baked beans from the store across the street from the school (which is opened on Sundays, only in the evenings after church). I made burgers with cheese and a side of beans. It was good.

This morning I had some kids help me set up the room again, knowing that we wouldn’t have to move the computers for work today. I thought it was a good idea, since the Year 12 kids have their next CAT (Common Assessment Task) in about two and a half weeks. And they’ll have the chance to use it again tomorrow before we have to move the computers to be able to continue work on my lab again after-school tomorrow.

This is a picture of my ceiling, taken before work started last Tuesday afternoon, April 14.

This is what was put up on the April 14, and this picture was taken before work began on the 15th.

I didn’t get pictures on Thursday or Friday, but this Dan working on Saturday before we went to Lusia’s

Taken as we were finishing on Sunday, April 19th. AJ hammering away. Dan supervising. A wall board has been put up in the back right corner of my room.

Also taken yesterday…All of the frame going up-and-down have been put up, now we’re working on the last two going left-and-right.

Kind of a bad picture, but only had a few from Lusia’s. From left to right, that’s Phil (81), Dan(81), Paul(81), the birthday girl, Briony (80), Jacob (78) to her right, and AJ’s head (81). (The numbers in parenthesis are the PC group each person's in.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

April Update!

Although it was only a four-day week, the week seemed to go by slower than any other. Last week as you all know was Easter. We got Good Friday and Easter Monday off, making it a four-day weekend. I managed to leave on the twelve o’clock boat on Thursday getting me into Apia at around half-two. That Thursday we had a special Easter program in which all the Form (Homeroom) classes had to participate. We had to put on a performance pertaining to Easter, and present it for the entire school. My Form class, 11B, reenacted Jesus struggling while having to carry the cross to be crucified, and also the actual crucifixion. In addition, we decided to do a dance. So the co-teacher for 11B and I had to come up with dance moves for a song that the class selected. You guys know how I feel about dancing, so I was of little help. But we had a good time practicing – lots of laughs, good student participation, and positive student-teacher interaction outside the academic setting.

Apia was relaxing last weekend. Everything was completely closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday, except for the market next to the Peace Corps office, run by Asians, of course. We’re such hard workers (just kidding). This is also true in Spain. After living there for a year, we learned to always rely on the Asian-run markets to be opened on Sundays, late, and on holidays. But anyways, there were random restaurants opened on Easter Sunday surprisingly. We did not eat out too much this time around learning to better budget our money.

It was a pretty low-key weekend. There was a lot of cooking in, card playing, we got a couple of games of Monopoly in, but also went out one or two nights too. Usually when in Apia, us teachers from Savai’i have a hard time rushing around to get things done. We tend to get the two o’clock boat, making it to Apia at about four o’clock on Friday when everything is about to close. On Saturdays, stores are only opened until about noon, and everything is closed on Sundays.

Like I was saying, this week has dragged by very slowly. I thought it was be a quick week, especially because we had Monday, the day which I have the most classes, off. It could be that my body was getting used to the relaxing weekend, and is ready for this term to be over. We’re now three weeks out from a much-needed three-week break. It could also be the number of hours I have put in this week. As I have mentioned in prior posts, I have been having a lot of trouble with my computer lab. One, is the number students to available computers ratio. My sometimes ten, usually eight or nine, working computers for a class of 40+ does not work that well. Secondly is the lack of cooperation I get from the principal and the school committee. The former is the person who I should relay any concerns or needs to, while the latter is the one in charge of all of the school’s money, most of which they ai tupe, (literally meaning, “eat up the money”) in the words of the staff and villagers.

It was rough at first with the principal, but it has gotten much better. I understand that in his situation as a new principal, needing to gain the trust of the entire staff and committee, while having to run a completely unfamiliar place could be difficult, hence the lack of care for my computer lab. But through various meetings that took place here both here on Savai’i and in Apia, I got to know some of the higher-up staff in the Ministry of Education to whom I expressed my discontent with the actions of the school to assist in making my classroom a viable place for computers. The Ministry responded by offering to send me to a school in the village of Asau, located in the northwest part of this island (Savai’i), where they do not have a computer teacher, but a lab. I told them that I would feel guilty leaving all the students at my current school who signed up for this novel class, then suddenly abandoning them because of the committee’s inept handling of the school’s money. But if I were to go to the school in Asau, I’d have it good there with a completely set up computer lab (thanks to a former Volunteer).

I’m not entirely certain, but I think it was the higher-up people who got the principal to starting working with me. That and the Ministry’s threat to entirely cancel the Computer Studies program because of the state of the lab. So the principal has recently bought one ceiling fan for our room. We came to the conclusion that a ceiling must be put up first before the fan, as birds, lizards, insects, etc. enter via the roof. So I spoke with Dan, another Volunteer living about a ten-minute bike ride away, about the situation. He is a carpentry teacher at his school, but his school lacks the tools and wood needed to conduct such a class. So I proposed that he bring his kids to our school, where we have loads of wood and tools from the Design Tech class that we used to have, and have them work on the ceiling. This would simultaneously help out his students, while helping me out. Problems with the logistics and the timing of the project deterred the realization of this plan. But Dan has been coming to take on this project himself. We started work this week every day after school for a couple of hours, hence being extra tired this week.

The week leading up to Easter was the first of four national practical exams called CATs (Common Assessment Tasks) for all Year 12 students taking Computer Studies in Samoa. Since we got such a late start in setting up the computers, my students were really behind. All working computers were only set up two weeks prior to this test. The reason behind this was that I thought that the committee would be more motivated to go out and get a cooling system if the computers weren’t being used, but that didn’t happen. Anyways, before-school, after-school, and Saturday classes were held so they could catch up. The extra work paid off because most of them did very well. The average was twelve out of fifteen “marks.” My kids were very happy. CAT 2 is coming up on May 8th, so I’m hoping the ceiling will be done soon, so that the classroom could be put back in order, and the kids could get back on the computers.

During one of my after-school classes some of the kids were instructed by the principal to clean out the back room of the computer lab where lots of the school’s wood is stored. As they were cleaning, one kid stumbled upon a litter of kittens. You probably wondering how a cat could get in. Well, this back room is actually an enclosed area that is fenced in, but opened to the outside.

We decided to leave them there for the mom cat to come back. I check up on these kittens on a daily basis, but have only spotted the mom cat once in the morning about two weeks ago. So I have recently started bringing milk to them. I try to feed it to them but they don’t ever open their mouths, so I just now milk in a tray for them. And I come back in the morning, and it’s gone. I don’t know how appreciative they are of this act of kindness because they still hiss at me. There is one black one and two tiger-stripped ones.

Here are some pictures:
The boat is approaching the dock at wharf in Salelologa on Savai’i. Cars are lined up waiting to get on the boat to ‘Upolu island.

This is Dan hard at work in my lab.

Through those doors are where the kittens were born. See how the ceiling is open.

We were practicing creating and saving files. And one of the students saved this file, so I took this screen shot of it.

Random fruits and veggies in my house one day. Starting on the left, going clock-wise outer items: coconut, bok choy, tomatoes, grapefruit, two vi’s. From left to right inner items, going clock-wise: cucumber, avocado, rambutans, and two starfruits.

As I was doing laundry yesterday a huge gust of wind blows into my house and my mirror that I have propped up next to my kitchen sink fell. So I’ve decided to glue it back together as if it were a puzzle. And that’s my kitchen floor. (I just realized that I have yet to put up any pictures of my house…next post?)

After day one of Dan coming to build my roof…wooden beams put up.

These are the kittens.

Friday, March 13, 2009

St. Paddy's Day Celebration

I just thought I’d do a quick update. So it’ the end of the week, and it’s been a productive week, I’d say. Aside from yesterday’s cancellation of the last two periods, a lot was accomplished.

Yesterday after interval (our break after third period), the principal decided that we needed to cancel classes for “counseling.” So we broke off into groups…the boys with the male teachers in one room, and the girls with the female teachers. The two main topics that had to be discussed with the boys were a small fight that had broken out between two villages (Sili and Gatavai) and a haircut issue. There was a fight between about ten students a couple of weeks ago. There was a lot of physical punishing of the kids before they were suspended for a week. This week there was a smaller quarrel, and it turns out that they decided to suspend a student from Year 12, in fact, one of my better students. Then there’s the haircut issue. The higher authorities at the school have a problem with students gelling their hair up in a fauxhawk. They said that it was breaking the uniform code. I do not see what the big fuss is. These fauxhawks are maybe a three-quarters of an inch high max. Well anyways, the vice principal and another teacher went around and snipped off more than half the boys’ fauxhawks and any other hair-do’s they did not like.

On another note, I've been getting some good news from the other faculty members in regards to my computer lab. They are adamant about getting my lab in good shape. Meaning that they're really keen on getting me fans and cleaning up the lab. Many of the teachers have expressed their disappointment about the school committee. They are here every morning and they just sit around drink ava and disturb classes. One day the principal told them that get away from the windows because they were disturbing class. So they went between two buildings, sat on rocks, and continued their "meeting." The vice principal on a separate occasion approached me and said that we would have already had a "dress-down" day, in which students give money and are allowed to dress out of uniform. He said that he would talk to the principal to enact this next Friday, so we'll see what happens.

The principal has also approached me about painting the tables. So on Tuesday, he and I went into the "Design Technology" room (a class that is not given their year), and tapped into their supplies. We got wood stainer, and I have so far stained half the tables a "Cherry" color.

I have also been talking to the women's committee in my village. I had offered them help in computers weeks ago, after they told me that they had computers. Weeks passed until anyone followed up. Yesterday, I was told to go to Tausaga's house (the lady who lives in front of me). I went their, and her son, Oti, took me to the women's committee house. To my surprise, they had five very nice computers with internet, networked, 80-gig hard-drives, air conditioning, nice speakers, a photocopier, and a printer/fax/scanner/photo copier, an all-in-one thing. It was very impressive. So I had my first computer class with the women's committee yesterday. There were five women and three kids. Today they'll be discussing extending the class to the community, not restricting it to only females, but opening it to everyone. I believe they said they wanted to charge a tala a person a class. So it'll be a good way for the committee to make a bit of money. After class I walked back with my neighbors and had fish, taro, and koko samoa for dinner at their place.

I'm going to be heading into Apia in a couple of hours. I have been sick. Since Monday, I have taught every single period because loads of teachers have been sick and absent because of meetings. So I have covered many classes from Math to English to Science, in which we are told to teach and review topics referring to students' notes. The vice principal joked around about me having to cover a Samoan class. Imagine me teaching Samoan to Samoans. Anyways, on Monday I started to lose my voice, and every day it just got worse and worse. So I've already exhausted my meds after having a sore throat after New Years', so I figure I could go see our medical doctor. But also it's an excuse to go to Joey's St. Patty's Day party, and also there are at least three PCVs who are turning or who have turned 27 this week. That calls for some celebration, eh?

This is a my computer lab. And the table is stained. Only got to do half the class. That on the left is a pile of my bad computers and computer parts.

Every morning I get up at 6 (believe it or not) to open the gate. The kids don't actually get there till after 6:30/6:45, but I don't want to see them in the morning (shirtless and half asleep).

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Five Months in Samoa...

I can’t believe that it’s been five months. Tomorrow marks the five-month mark for Group 81. Time is going by quicker than I imagined it would. I guess I could attribute that to the structured schedule that being a teacher offers. Knowing that with the completion of each day means that I am one day closer to it being the weekend helps me get through the week.

Equally, it’s incredible that five weeks of school have already elapsed. It hardly feels like that long. The amount of material I have covered in my classes definitely does not reflect this. The truth is that although we have officially finished five weeks of classes, teachers have not actually been standing in front of a class educating students for the equivalent amount of time. The new principal at Palauli College (that’s the name of my school by the way) arrived on the first day of classes without anything prepared, nothing planned or scheduled. So the first two weeks constituted of setting up schedules, rules, and guidelines for teachers and students, and school clean-up. At home, school administrators would meet prior to the start of school to sort out these types of things, so that on the first day of school classes would be held. So we had a bunch of teacher meetings (most of which I did not understand because it was all conducted in Sāmoan), while students cleaned the different classrooms.

On the Friday of the first week we finally got to setting up the schedule. This comprised of the principal telling the teachers to congregate in a room and set up their schedules. This does not work too well when there are twelve picky teachers, all with very specific requests. I only want to teach Math to Year 11 and 12, but not have classes last periods, nor on Fridays. Or I’ll teach all the Year 10 and Year 11 Science classes only if I have Year 10.1, 10.2, and 10.3 on one day and Year 11.1 and 11.2 on another day. (Science classes at Palauli only meet three times a week, but that wouldn’t work anyways.) Ultimately, they had me put up a timetable on the board. The PE teacher was elected to write on the board, while the rest of the staff sat and determined the class and teacher for each period. So we went by class, starting with the Year 13 class. We started with Monday 1st period, ending with Friday 2nd period. I forgot to mention that on Fridays, 3rd period is blocked off for singing and 4th and 5th period are for sports. So we actually only have a total of (4x5+2x1) 22 periods. This started off pretty democratically, but it ended up with everyone shouting above the person next to them with their requests and the PE teacher having to hand off the chalk to a younger teacher. After five hours, nothing had been accomplished in the end. Teacher X would, for example, be teaching Physics to Year 13, Science to Year 11.1, and Math to Year 10.2. It was a complete mess – teachers left frustrated, there were numerous scheduling conflicts, and we had wasted yet another day of school. So I took the liberty of noting down all the information and going home and making a completely new schedule for them. On Monday I presented the new schedule (or “timetable” as they call it). It worked well until we found out that two of the teachers were actually assigned to another school, and that two others that were suppose to come back decided to extend their vacations indefinitely in New Zealand. So we went back to the blackboard and the scheduling grid, only to realize that working with so many people and so many requests weren’t going to work out. Hence, I was delegated the task of coming up with Palauli College schedule version 2.0. It was another late night, but the teachers were satisfied with the finished product. This is now Week 3 of school by the way.

The disarray of start of school is also attributed to the random cancellations of classes. We were warned prior to the start of school by other PCVs about this, but I didn’t know that it would be this bad. We cancelled classes one day so that the students could fix our bus stop (aka collecting rocks from the river to make the bus stop a foot higher), or after a couple of weeks of school having already been in session, the principal decides that the bathrooms are too unsanitary for classes. I am not sure if there was an ulterior motive for that (teachers did get paid that day, money which had to be collected at the bank a twenty-minute bus ride away).

My lab by the way is a mess. My computers are not set up yet. It’s very, very hot in Sāmoa and computers do not work too well here, especially when there are 40+ students and other computers running at once at noon. A cooling system was requested, but denied because of the costs. So, I said that fans would be better than nothing. This was over two months ago. The money goes through the school committee (which is comprised old men from the various villages around here). The come to the school on a daily basis, mainly to have “meetings,” which means sitting around and drinking ava (cava) all day. Their attendance record is better than some of the students. But these men have known about my need for the longest time, but are working at Sāmoan pace. So it’s frustrating. I could essentially set up these computers, but I feel like that would deter them even more.

I’d like to end by writing about this an interpretation gig that I had. On February 16-February 18, there was an international meeting on tsunamis here in Samoa. There were delegates from all the Pacific Islands, Australia, the US, China, Japan, Malaysia, South America, and even Pakistan. They had tags saying which country each delegate was from with their flags. The delegates from South Korea were not happy with their North Korean flags. Opps!

It was held at the tallest building in Sāmoa, the Development Bank Building in Apia. Officially it was called the 23rd Session of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group of the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System. It’s a sub-organization under UNESCO. It was pretty awesome. I sat in a booth in the back interpreting on-the-spot English to Spanish for the four delegates from Ecuador and Chile. They were all-day events going from 8AM to 6PM. I did so much talking, I left with a sore throat every day. I don’t know if it’s probably something I could do for a living, if it requires so much talking, but it was definitely good experience and practice for my Spanish.

And I wasn’t paid for this, of course, because as Volunteers it is not allowed, but the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and the Disaster Management Office (DMO) put me up at Hennie’s Motel, which is by no means a five-star hotel (hence, being a motel), but there was A/C, hot water, and a TV.

Here’s a picture of all the delegates.

Me in the makeshift booth set up. They were going to have me sit in the room in the back left, but the head phones were not working, so I had to listen to the delegates speaking over the loud-speaker.

This is one of the delegates from Ecuador listening to me!

This conference makes the paper!

A siva afi (traditional fire dance) at the reception on that Monday, is something I had not seen before. I question if it’s actually traditional, or if it’s a tourist attraction.

This is my school compound. My lab is the room all the way on the left.

Inside my disheveled computer lab. Nothing’s set up. Bunch of monitors…not many computers. You see the two middle computers? Well that’s where I show my PowerPoint presentations. And all 45 Year 10 kids crowd around on the floor.

This is the bus stop the kids put rocks in. Sorry I couldn’t get a good picture. Taken from the bus. But that's my school in the back.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Waterfall and Some Pictures...

So after the dance ended up being really nice. The prime minister, the head of state, and a lot of important people attended in limos. Five schools were invited to dance and/or sing including my school, AJ's school, and Paul and Dan's school. I was told to be ready by 6. I got ready, and at 6, met the principal and school committee for breakfast in the teacher's room. The principal drove us to the opening of the market at 7. We stayed 'till 1PM.

The next day, Saturday, January 30th, Dan, Paul, Phil, Erin, Paul's roommate, Tetsuya (a Japanese volunteer, JICA), and I went to the waterfall that's about a ten-minute walk inland from my place. The waterfall was dry, but got to swim and had the place all to ourselves. After, we headed down to the wharf and had lunch at Lusia's, a favorite hangout for the Peace Corps here on Savai'i. There's a deck over water where you could sit and have lunch, and even dive off of it. We had a good time throwing each other off of it.

Erin, Phil, me, Paul, Tetsuya, and Dan at the waterfall

Where we swam (where the waterfall is supposed to be)

The principal who just got transferred to a school in Apia, Faleata

Boys lining up for their dance

And the girls

The new two-story market

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Meeting the New Village and Emotional Good-byes

Meeting the New Village and Emotional Good-byes

It's about time that I got to know some of the people in my village. It's been about five weeks since I've gotten to my new place here in Savai'i, and prior to this week I had only a few people in the village. I had met the owners of the little store across the street, the family of mechanics who live to the right of the school compound, and a couple of people who live in the house in front of the school compound who thought something was up because of all the noise I was making while putting nails into my walls (I used a rock as my hammer) my first Sunday here (apparently I shouldn't have been doing that as Sunday is a day of rest), and on a separate occasion offered Paul and me a coconut (both times they climbed the fence separating the school and their land).
So, there's a big, two-story market opening tomorrow, Friday, January 30th. It was actually supposed to open at the beginning of December, but it wasn't finished (as of yesterday, Wednesday, it still didn't look ready). Some schools on Savai'i were selected to perform a siva (dance) and/or pese (song). Our school was selected to do both, so for the last three weeks or so students have been practicing. At first, practices were held at school, but recently they have moved it down the street to the faife'au (pastor's) house. I went to a couple at school, but felt uncomfortable sitting in front of all the students while they all sang/starred at me. I kind of felt obligated at first since they were practicing ten feet away from my place in the adjacent classroom. This week, my pule (principal) encouraged me to go, saying that they're gotten much better. So he and I went. The first two days I just sat with some of the school committee guys and watched the students do their thing. But to my surprise there was ava (cava) served yesterday and today. Yesterday, the ava was passed among the six or seven of the school committee guys and me in the backcorner of an open-fale. Today it seemed more official since: First, all ten of us sat spread apart along the perimeter of the fale. There was a guy directing to whom the ava should be given. There was a guy running the ava to them. Upon receiving the ava, people said a little blurb, essencially saying thanks to God, then soifua, spilled a bit, drank it, and threw the last couple of drops out. And finally, the ava bowl (actually it was a plastic tub,which makes the ceremony less official I guess) was placed in the back center of the fale. It's kind of funny how all the students arrive there early and sit there waiting for one of the school committee guys, basically the director, before they begin practice. I guess it's fa'asamoa (the Samoan way).
Today's practice was actually the dress rehersal. The girls dressed in their red and white pulatasi's, and the boys were shirtless and wore white ie faitoga's and had a red fabric tied around their waist. They danced first, then sang. But while I was sitting there watching, one of the school committe guys dragged me to the front and had me dance to their pese. At that point, it turned into a mini fund-raiser event as a bucket was placed in front of me, and people came up to threw money in it. Fifty-four tala, fifty sene were raised. The money went to the school committee who basically manages the school's money. Some are skeptical, and say that it helps fund the committee's drinking needs.
Though dancing in front of everyone was embarassing, I got to meet many people today. I met teachers with whom I'll be working, the vice-principal (or as Samoans call it, the deputy-principal), the entire school committee, the pulenu'u (mayor) of my village, and some villagers who have assured me that they'd help me with whatever I needed.
On a separate note, I spent all of last week on the other island, 'Upolu. All, but one of us in our group made it to Apia to celebrate Dan's birthday on January 20th. We all went to Chris' house where she prepared a Mexican dinner for us before we went out. I had planned on staying only for two or three days, but that turned into almost a week. I made my rounds, and stayed four different places (Joey's, Matt's, Jordan's, and Blakey's) during my time there. I'd say my time there was productive... I got to go shopping for food ('cause there's not much of a selection here on Savai'i), got a package (thanks Chai and Sahn)that was brought here by Hannah (from Group 78) who was home for the holidays, got to see Body of Lies at Magik Cinema (yeah, there's a movie theater here), helped Matt and Jordan out with their computers, had tacos at Eric's (from Group 79), learned how to make Matt's awesome grilled cheeses, got to hang out/go out...
I also went back to my host-family for two days. At first, I wasn't going to go since I wanted to get back to Savai'i. But since, yes, my brother did name his daughter after my mom at home, it's official and it was grandpa's birthday, I decided to go back. I bought loads of baby stuff for the baby, and didn't know what my seventy-four year old grandpa would have wanted, so I got him beer knowing that he loves his Vailimas (the beer here). I wish I had brought my camera, so that I could put up pictures of the baby. She's tiny though she was born 9.5 lbs. She's pretty light-skinned and has dark, curly hair.
I came back home on Monday, thinking that the principal and I would have to make final preparations for school. I meet up with him on Tuesday, and we have tea and talk for about thirty minutes before he tells me that he will not be at Palauli College this year, but rather, has been transfered to a school in Apia because of the progressive improvements of students on the national exams here. He's happy because his wife and kids live in Apia, and prior, he stayed here during the school week and went back to Apia for the weekends. Though he is no longer the principal here, he has stuck around to see the students' siva tomorrow . But how fa'asamoa, school starts in four days and there's no principal, no schedule set, no classes chosen, nothing.
So tonight, I had small dinner with my principal, his wife, one of the school committee guys, Mata'afa (who happens to be one of the matai's here), his wife, and his kid. We had breadfruit, banana, fish, pork, miti (coconut cream with onions and salt) and cocosamoa. It was great! But when dinner ended, Mata'afa spoke for five minutes then started tearing/crying. My principal ensued, and the same thing ended up happening. Then Mata'afa's wife started crying, then the principal wife. So it was a bit awkward. It's strange to see these big Samoan men be so emotional. It reminded me of my last week in my host-village when everyone was crying left and right.
The night ended positively. The matai and his wife who are extremely nice, though hard to understand, have promised to help me with whatever I need. Throughout the week, my principal and his wfie have been insisting that I go and stay with them in Apia. Overall, I'm glad to have met a lot of people this week, but particularly those with whom I had dinner tonight because they seem to be very genuine and happy about having me here in their country.
Okay, well it's past midnight and I have to be at breakfast at 6 AM. The principal's wife is making pancakes. Then off to the opening of the new market...
Oh, and thanks Matt (my compañero de piso) for the CD from Spain, I have it in right now and some David Bisbal song is on.
I'll post pictures of the dance soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Finally a New Post, Right?

So yeah, I have been a little bit lazy with keeping up with my blog. Sorry. I do apologize. But a lot has happened since the Thanksgiving post. Thanksgiving was delicious by the way.

We went back to our host village of Fausaga for our final two weeks with our host families. It was kind of a hectic time for all of us. We had a week of Model School, all of our assessments for Medical, Safety/Security, Cross-cultural, and Languages classes, our Language Proficiency Assessment (which we all had to score better than the Intermediate Low Level, or else we'd have to go through forty extra hours of Samoan language after training, but we're a smart bunch, and all passed), and we also had to prepare for our fiafia, or farewell party for the village.

First, we had a Model School, in which I had to prepare three thirty-minute computer lessons for a class of about fifteen. So, as I'm setting up the posters I had prepared I hear in the peanut gallery, blah, blah, blah, Bruce Lee, blah, blah, blah, Saina (China). So I figure they're talking about me, and start and introduce myself in Samoan - my name, age, that I'm a Pisikoa (Samoan for Peace Corps), where I'll be teaching, and then I jokingly say: "'O Bruce Lee 'e le lo'u uso ma 'ou te le sau mai Saina, 'ou te sau mai 'Amerika," which translates to "Bruce Lee's not my brother and I'm not Chinese, but American." That broke the ice, the kids thought it was hilarious.

On the Friday after Model School, we had Culture Day. That morning, my family dressed me up, tied teuila leaves around my legs, made a Samoan hat, etc. The guys went to the plantation and collected taro, coconuts, taro leaves for the umu, or Samoan oven, while the ladies stayed behind and made cocoesi, or a soupy mixture of papaya, coco Samoa, and sugar. Yum. After we prepared the umu and killed two pigs, some chicken, fish, taro, breadfruit, palusami, etc. We then drew roles for who would get to be the ali'i, or high chief, the tulafales, or the orators, and those who would have to serve them. I was an untitled person, as was Matt, so he and I got to fan the orators', Phil, Erin, and Onofia (who's one of our language trainers, but also an orator in his village) food while they ate. Joey was the ali'i, and Jordan fanned him and his food. Here are some photos of that day:

Walking back from the plantation with coconuts (I changed into shorts and T-shirt for the trip to the plantation, but kept the hat

Making the umu

Joey and Chris scraping the taro

My brother, Fa'avevela choking me as I peel the breadfruit (and that's Phil on the left)

This is what breadfruit looks like growing on a tree (Yeah, I didn't know either before I got here)

Jordan, Chris, Falefia, Blakey, and a Samoa whose name I forgot posing while killing the pig

The week that pursued was when we had our aforementioned assessments, which was a relief to be done with. That week was also our last week, and my family was busily trying to get me the best outfit to wear on the day of our inauguration and also the day we departed the village. So they hassled my aunt, Telesia, to sew yet another ie faitoga, or pocket lava lava, and shirt. If I haven't mentioned, my family had about ten different outfits sewn for me, and I am very grateful for them, 'cause now I don't have to go shopping for nice teacher clothes. I'd also like to mention that during that week, my mom, Elena, was quite emotional, and sad that the other Pisikoa and I were going to be leaving. So she'd just start tearing up randomly, which made it a bit awkward for me. One instance, she was making Samoan pancakes (which are round and spherical, as oppose to our flat and circular pancakes at home) for breakfast and starting to cry expressing that it'd be the last time she'd make pancakes for me.

On December 15, we swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, and my family had a new outfit for me, and insisted that I wear a white tie with it. So I did. And I was the only one in our group with a tie.

After the ceremony, my family adorned me with at least twenty candy-filled necklaces. We then had lunch, and the village put on dances for us. Later that day, we put on our sāsā, or Samoan dance, performed by men and women, the guys' slap dance, and then we put on a play, in Samoan.

Group 81's Sāsā

Guys Practicing the Slap Dance

Later that night, I presented my family with the I Love NY, Yankees, and Mets T-shirts I had bought for them back in States. I gave grandma and grandpa perfume/cologne. I gave the kids coloring books and crayons. They were very happy and emotional again, and even more so when I read my farewell speech in Samoan that was prepared for us. The next morning the entire village of Fausaga came to say their good-byes. There were a lot of hugs and kisses all around, but I think we were all pretty happy to be done with training and to be moving to our new sites.

Thought I might throw up these pictures of the village:
A view from our classroom of a sunset in Fausaga

Beginning of our village of Fausaga which is the district of Safata

So that's the main road in Fausaga (above) which would take you ten minutes max to traverse our little village. And my house is on the left between the second and third electricity poles.

I'd also like to mention that most of the guys in our group decided that we'd grow out our moustaches for entire duration of training. I participated. Here is a picture of us (from the top to the right: Matt, Phil, Koa, Paul, and me) (AJ grew out his moustache too, but shaved as soon as we got back into Apia that day)

And here are my before and after pics

So on December 18, 2007, the Peace Corps drove us and our stuff onto the ferry and to our new sites. I'm living on Palauli College's school compound which is where I'll be teaching. In my next post, I'll write about the living situation and put pictures up.

I went back to the Fausaga to spend Xmas with my host family. We were supposed to go to church, but "our car broke down" so we didn't go. So there was just a lot of hanging out, not really any gift-giving at my house. I, though, got the two pictures I posted on Thanksgiving, printed them out, and framed for my family. I got the kids each waterguns. They were happy.

For New Year's, we went out to the westernmost point of Samoa, to a place called Falealupo. Samoa lies right on the International Date Line, so we got to see the last sunset of 2007, and also got to celebrate the last New Year's in the world. Crazy.

Group shot of the last sunset of '07

Me on the beaches of Falealupo

So I just wanted to end this post by letting you know that my brother, Fa'avevela (the one who's choking me in one of the prior pictures) and his wife, Pēnina, gave birth naturally to a baby girl on January 10, 2008. She was 9.5 lbs. My mom, Elena, called me and said that they would have named the child Supachart, if it were a boy after me, but since it's a girl they wanted to give her my real mom's name, Supalak. So it's not official yet, but I was honored when they asked if it was alright if they named her that. I'll update you in my next post.