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.