Friday, May 20, 2011

Still in Samoa

Hi y'all.. I'm still alive and still in Samoa. I extended my service for third year, and now volunteering at an NGO in Apia, called Samoa Victim Suppport Group (look us up in facebook, or our brand-new website,

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pictures from Samoa

Apologies for not posting in a long, long time.

Here are some pictures of Samoa…


One of the boats that goes between the two main islands (Upolu and Savaii). I live on Savaii.

These are the buses that wait for the boat to arrive at the wharf in Salelologa, Savaii. The bus to my place is the pink and green one in the middle.

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).