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.