Monday, December 21, 2009

my new adress

Peace Corps Samoa

Rachel Goldstein, PCV

Private Mail Box 7139

Salelologa, Savaii

(Western) Samoa

South Pacific


Sunday, December 13, 2009


I was invited to my first BINGO game yesterday. Apparently every other week the Church Ladies hold a friendly BINGO game. Buy in is $10. I assumed that this money goes towards prizes, which I was told included laundry soap and other domestic items that women here might want. I figured $10 was worth the publicity I would gain by going, not to mention the fact that I was running low on laundry detergent. So at 9am I met my neighbor. As I mentioned in the last post I am living on my own, but the family across the street has kind of adopted me. I have dinner there every night and they tend to look after me. I don't want to call them my host parents, but maybe I will refer to them as Aunt Mina and Uncle Vaifale. So coming back to BINGO, I met Mina at 9am. She was adamant that we not be late to BINGO, insisting that if you show up late, the price increases from $10 to $20. As we walked I got more of a sense of what the game was really about. It turns out it is more of a mandatory fundraiser for the Ladies Committee. If a woman decides she does not want to play BINGO one week, she must pay $20 for not attending! And then the real kicker: this wasn't just old ladies BINGO, it was gambling! The women, who rarely, if ever, smoke cigarettes, we're sitting around smoking, gossiping, and gambling! I learned that yes laundry detergent was on the line, but so was real money!
I bought in at $10 and took my seat on a mat towards the front of the open fale. The rest of the women completed the circle around the fale with the prizes delicately placed in the middle for all to see. I was handed 10 sheets of colored news prints; each sheet contained 9 BINGO games. I thought to myself, oh my god, we are going to be playing BINGO all morning! And then the twist: turns out BINGO is played 9 games at a time! This was very different than the innocent BINGO I had played as a child. I was given an official BINGO Dotter that resembled a glue stick with red paint instead of glue at the end, marked my 9 free spaces, and the games began. I had told myself that yes, this game was going to be in Samoan but at least numbers were one area I was pretty good in. I was not prepared for the speed of the game, speed of the language, and use of the "k" dialect. The first round seemed to wiz by me! I got the sense that all the women were laughing at me, but I didn't care, the more they laugh, the more they like you (or so I've been told!) So I just went with it, and by the end of the next round, Mina was whispering the numbers in English to me. It got kind of annoying because even though it was challenging, I really was enjoying the challenge of listening and applying my little bits of Samoan language. However, like a true Samoan, she does not like to see failure, so she insisted on whispering the numbers every time. I got in the habit of trying to beat her to it, saying the number as a reconfirmation before marking my paper. She liked that, and even helped me mark my dots at times!
In the end, I made out like a true beginner with no luck. Mina walked away with something like $40, not a bad profit for a Saturday morning, and I walked away with a huge smile on my face of the ridiculous morning I had just had. I can't wait till the next game!

Reflections on the move

I'm all moved in and while I wouldn't say I totally feel at home yet, I at least have my own niche in Samalae'ulu. Leaving Manunu was extremely hard. In six weeks, my family there became less of a family I was living with and more of my own family here in Samoa. My brothers were so helpful in encouraging me to learn the language, my tama was without a doubt the best cook in Samoa, and my tina was filled with so much love. The night before I left there was a big going away Fiafia where we performed for our families, doing a traditional song, dance, and sa'sa, or chant. There was dancing, lots of laughs, and everyone just enjoying everyones company one last time. My brother Samu in his poetic manner said it best: "Sister, there are no tears coming from my eyes but know that my heart is crying." I felt the same way, except I was balling because I am ridiculously emotional. Their family taught me so much and gave me so much love. I am forever grateful for their love, hospitality, and patience. I will miss them but know that I will have plenty of opportunities to visit them over the next few years.
I arrived yesterday (actually Wednesday but I wrote this Thursday night) and upon arrival was immediately taken to the primary school's end of the year prize giving. Prize giving is unlike anything school related in America and it is exactly what it sounds like: a day when prizes are given to the top students of each grade. However, the prizes range from candy necklaces (given to everyone, including myself!) to pots and pans, and for the top students, bibles and trophies. Talk about incentive to do well in school! Prize giving is an event that takes months to plan. --- This just in: A Samoan version of the song "Footloose" is being performed at the Evangelical Church Show across the street from me. I will comment on this outstanding aspect of Samalae'ulu life in a minute....for now, back to prize giving! --- So, students start preparing songs and dances for the prize giving assembly about two months before school ends. Then on the last day of school, students, teachers, and the parents gather for the big event. Each grade performs and the top students are awarded. I walked in just at the end of the ceremony and was asked to give a little speech. I did my best to introduce myself and congratulate the students in Samoan and then sat down, relieved that the speech was over. My relief was short lived as I was immediately called up to perform a solo Siva Samoa! Now a Siva Samoa is kind of traditional - I can't remember the real term - but it is a dance where one or two people dance in the middle of the room and everyone else present runs up and puts money in a basket or hat at the dancers feet. If it's real traditional, the dancer will be covered in coconut oil and people will actually stick money right on the dancer! Luckily for me, there was no oil involved, and I had learned some Samoan dance moves for our final farewell to Manunu village. So I pleased the crowd, embarrassed myself, and thats all that is required to make a nice entrance to your new village.
Let me describe my house. I am living in a two room house next to the Fale Komite (the house where the women's committee meets, weaves, etc). The front room of the house serves as the office to the pulenu'u (village mayor) and then my room has an entrance through his office. There are 3 locks on my bedroom door so even with this shared arrangement I feel pretty safe. My room is kind of like a glorified dorm room. When you walk in, the wall to the right serves as a small kitchen with a table, sink and shelves for pots and pans. To the left is a table that holds all of my books and will serve as a desk. In the far left corner is my bed, covered in a mosquito net, and to the right of the bed is my dresser. Pass the dresser and you come to the bathroom, divided from my room by a door frame with a shower curtain hanging in it. So it's a room. A cozy, pretty little thing of a room.
But enough about the living space, I need to comment on the spectacular event that is going on just down the road tonight. For three nights only, Samalae'ulu is being ROCKED by an Evangelical traveling show. And when I say show I am not kidding. Last night was opening night and there was such a mixture of musical acts it would be impossible to summarize it all. I saw one youth group perform that looked like America's Next Best Dance Crew. To be honest, they were probably better than all those MTV crews because not only did they dance like them, but they sang praises in 6 part harmony while doing it! I am sorry I did not think to video it. You can bet if they do go on again tonight I will be running out there to take a video! Then there were traditional gospel style choir's and lots of really animated preachers. Of course I had no idea what they were saying but I did feel kind of like I was in that scene from Borat where people are speaking in tongues. Everyone was really digging what the preachers had to say apparently, and all this in a village with 4 different religious denominations already! Tonight is more of the same and tomorrow night will be the grand finale. I will make another appearance tomorrow, but too much religion is bad for the soul so I'm not going out there tonight.
Adjusting to life here was hard last night. Even with the amazing show, I was utterly exhausted and wanted to get to bed relatively early. However, the village did not think it would be safe for me to stay alone and so they insisted that one of the girls from the village sleep in my room. After a long day of traveling and just dealing with the unexpected that is the last thing I wanted. I felt guilty for having this stranger sleeping on my floor and all I wanted was to have some alone time. I went about my normal business and went to bed but it was strange. Then in the morning, she wouldn't leave! I eventually told her that I needed to make a private phone call and so she went home, only to return two hours later asking if I would go to the 10am Mass at the Catholic Church. Now heres the problem, I want to be respectful and I want to integrate into the community but I need to stay true to myself too. So I have decided that yes I will go to church, but only on Sundays, and as far as that goes, I will rotate churches so as to meet as much of the community as possible. That means, no church during the week! So I stayed true to my beliefs and instead took a nice nap. Tonight they wanted her to stay here again but I was firm and convinced them that I will be safe. I appreciate the concern, but there are 7 locks between me and the outside world; I think I will be okay, and I really need my time to reflect if I am going to make this work!
Today I went and visited my neighbors across the street and it was the best move I could have made. They opened their doors to me with open arms and offered me the sweetest pineapple I have ever tasted, refills of coffee, and a chance to watch Rambo. If you can believe it, I have never actually seen that movie and it's a favorite here, so I guess I will have to learn to love the blood and violence. It's kind of ridiculous though! After the movie, we took a trip to collect coconuts and went to the black sand beach that as it turns out is only about 3 miles from my house. I was so concerned about being so far away, turns out I really did not need to worry! The waves were majestic, crashing into the polished lava rocks and shooting spray up way over our heads. It was more beautiful than anything I have ever imagined. Next time I go I will have a camera in hand! Returning home, the family was concerned that I did not have a stove, so they invited me over for a dinner of fried chicken, taro and ulu (breadfruit). Tomorrow morning I will stop by their house for morning tea before heading out to Salaeologa to do some shopping and pick up my bike that I left n the Peace Corps Office. It is going to suck taking it on the already crowded buses, but I don't have any other option, so thats what will happen. My favorite Samoan Tevaga is coming with to help me navigate the situation so I'm sure it will work out.
I'm finding it hard to believe that the Holiday season has arrived. I heard more Christmas music in October than I have recently, and I see no christmas lights or commercials (because I have no tv!) I almost feel stuck in time, like I have gone backwards to a place in time where internet is dial up, people grow their own food and kill their own meat to eat, if you need a pillow or chair, you make it, clothing is made from your own designs, and less is definitely, definitely more! Chivalry and respect for ones elders still exist, and the fear of God is very real.
Incase I do not get the opportunity to write again before the holidays hit, Happy Channuka, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! I miss you all, send some love this way, you all have my address!
Lots of love,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Married to Samalae'ulu

1. picture of my house in Manunu; 2. Coming back from the plantation with Sana, Tana and my bro Samu.

A new village, a new phase in my life. Last Friday, or Christmas in November as I like to think of it, was the big site placement day. After our morning meeting the Peace Corps office joined us in the hall to make the announcements. They brought in two maps, one of each island, and as our names and villages were called out we were handed our picture and invited to place it on the map to indicate our new homes. The excited energy in the room flew higher and higher with each name called as we eagerly sat with our fingers crossed, hoping for our requested sites. One by one the Savai'i names were called and halfway through my name joined the list! A huge smile crossed my face as I jumped up to add my face to the Savai'i map - I had received one of my top choices!

The weekend was filled with anticipation and then Monday morning at 4:45am we met at the trainers fale in Manunu to begin our journeys across the country. We were driven into Apia and dropped at the market where we caught the 6am bus to the warf. Next was an hour long boat ride and when we docked, a frantic race to find our designated buses before they took off. Ali and I boarded the "Ito o Tane" line and waved a quick goodbye to the other 6 Savai'i people. We slowly made our way out of Salaelogo, stopping at the market, then the fish market, a whole sale store, and lastly a bank. Then the bus turned onto the main road and we were off!

We drove along wide, semi-paved roads, passing brightly colored fales on the beach, turquoise water, and pigs, pigs, pigs everywhere! The bus turned inland, and after about an hour on the bus I was dropped in Samalae'ulu right across from the "Pisikoa House," my new home. I was greeted by a counsel of men - 4 high cheif's, the pulenu'u (mayor), the reverend of the Congregational Church (there are 4 churches here), and a few untitled men. They admitted to me that they had expected a male volunteer but they were just as happy to receive me. An Ava ceremony was performed and I somehow pulled that rusty phrase out of a back corner of my mind. Tevaga, the VP of the school committee and a high chief in the village stated that I was now a daughter of the village. Many words were spoken that I could not understand at the time. Since my house wasn't ready for me yet, I went back to the Reverends house and took a nap there. When I awoke I was taken to undoubtedly the most beautiful place on Earth for dinner. Two rainbows painted the sky in all their glory, touching down on the water just in front of me.

Tuesday was spent with a grand tour of the village led my Tevaga. We started at the primary school where I met the eight teachers and was introduced to the kids. Then it was off to meet key members of the village. As we strolled we talked about many things. I was blown away by our conversation. Tevaga told me he knew I was a twin the moment I met him. When I asked how, he said, "I read it on your face. You are calm and collected and connect to people. It is clear that you have that relationship because you form relationships naturally. It is science, and science does not lie." This little old man is quickly becoming my favorite Samoan. He took me to the women's committee fale and then then to the preschool. As we approached the preschool Tevaga continued to blow my mind with words. He explained to me that during the Ava ceremony he had introduced me as a daughter of the village but also as a marriage in three parts: Color, Language, and Culture. My coming to Samalae'ulu is a marriage between brown and white, of English and Samoan, and of American and Samoan cultures. Did I mention this man is poetic? Yeah.

So here I stand, Lasela, daughter of Samalae'ulu, married to a threefold harmony of culture, color, and language, caught between these two very different worlds, and ready to offer whatever I can while learning as much as I can... and loving every minute of it.

Lots of Love,


Saturday, October 31, 2009

My apologies for forgetting to tell you that we have begun the village stay portio of our pre-service training and as a result have no access to internet (and many other things as well!) Being that today is Halloween and we have been working non stop since we arrived in Samoa about a month ago, our group begged for a day off, and thankfully received it!
But let me fill you in on what has been happening! We arrived in the village of MAnunu around 4:30pm on a Saturday afternoon, to one of the most welcoming ceremonies I have ever experienced. We were shuffled off the bus and immediately guided into an Ava ceremony in the open fale (house) next to the church. One half of the Ava circle was already filled with the Matai (titled men) of the village and we filled in the other half after walking around and shaking the hand of each Matai. The ceremony was similar to the one we experienced upon our arrival to Samoa, only this time we were in a beautiful village an hour away from anything, surrounded by fantastic mountians. While I'm at in, let me describe Manunu - it is the picture perfect image of a storybook village. To reach the village our bus climbed a steep hill leaving the coast, drove past taro, banana, an dcow plantations on a windey road, and eventually reached the turnoff to Manunu, marked by a beautifully carved wooden sign. As we drove down the road we passed a few more cows, take a turn, drive down a short but steep hill to cross a cement bridge that has a gental flow of water cascading over it. We then sharply hike up another short but steep hill, and, BOOM! we are in Manunu paradise!
The dirt road into the village is lined with colorful, cheery flowers, colored fales define the circular village and as our bus pulls in the children of the houses come to life, coming to greet the newly arrived Palagi (term for foreigners, literally meaning "burst from god" or more simply, "white.") Did I mention Samoa is incredibly religious?

But where was I - the Ava ceremony was just as long and complex as I remembered it being. Once the ceremony was done, the women's committee came into the fale, handing us each a coconut with a straw and draped us in freshly strung lai's of flowers. I almost cried from the beauty of it all. The women sat down in the circle and then our names were called out as were the names of our host mothers, and like children, we were embraced by our new host mothers and rushed out to claim our bags and find our houses.

I couldn't have asked for a better host family. My samoan family consists of Site, my Tina (mother), Asa, my Tama (father), five brothers, and a sister. My sister and one of my brothers lives in Apia so for the most part its just me, my parents and three brothers. I have a generous room with a perfect "princess" bed (aka a beautiful mosquito net surrounds my sleeping quarters). Other than that, the room is pretty plain, but it serves my needs. My Tama was a cook at Samoa College back in the day, so I eat like a queen here! Chop suey is big, so is fried chicken, fresh shrimp and fish from the river, and did I mention the Ramen noodles?! But seriously, it's awesome.

Speaking of the river - there is the most magical swimming hole located just 15 minutes by foot from our village. The entire first week we heard about it but didn't have the time to actually go and check it out. However, when we finally did, the beauty was paralyzing. A perfect lagoon has been naturally carved out by the thunderous pounding of a 50 foot waterfall (afu) which drops down from the river above, creating a landscape that only a truly talented artist could dream up. We walked down the staircase carved out of stone and leapt in (fully clothed, the Samoan way).

Our trip to the afu was too short due to Manunu's 6pm curfew, requiring all village members to be in their fales for prayer. This is every day, not just Sundays. Sundays are another story. It is pretty much a requirement to go to church and do nothing else the rest of the day except faifailemu (literally meaning, take it easy). It is actually illegal to run on a Sunday, so instead, we go for long walks. I have been going to two church services every Sunday - a typical service in the morning filled with the most amazing music you can imagine, and a youth lead service in the afternoon where the youth group performs songs, dances, and a skit that they create just hours before performing. The first week we were in the village the pastor invited us to join in on the fun, so for the second service, a small group of us got up on stage and sang a song that we had prepared for the Fiafia held by the Peace Corps. It was pretty crazy for me to be in a church, let alone to actually perform on stage in one! but it was fun, and honestly, what else am I doing?!

There is so much more to report on and I apologize for this run on entry. I originally had planned that this blog would have some sort of organized structure to it, but apparently that will have to wait till I get settled into my new village - which I will know in about 2 or 3 weeks! A few last notes before I sign out:

1. I am slowly but surely getting over my fear of anything creepy-crawelly. The ants are everywhere and there is nothing you can do about them. It turns out they particularly like underwear and socks, so your only defense is to wash your clothes as soon as you take them off, otherwise, the ants have a field day. It's pretty gross.

2. Cockroaches - another fact of life. I have come to regard them as my night guardians because as soon as the lights go off, the roaches crawl out of the nooks and crannies and mats of the house and don't disappear till morning. I'll let you know how that philosophy pans out for me - so far, so good though!

3. My favorite creepy-crawelers are the gecko's that dot the ceiling at night. You wouldn't believe the size of some of these things, they look like they should be in tanks at a pet store, yet there they are, hovering above my head as I sleep soundly in my mosquito net haven.

4. As for the giant centipedes - the poisonous, creepy, giant skeletal centipedes - I have only seen a few legs of one of the massive creatures but it was enough for me to know that I do not want to encounter a full one!!

5. Off the subject of bugs - if you ever want to leave a new instrument, join the Peace Corps. I have been playing guitar like it's m,y second job here and have already learned to solo on a few of my favorite Phish tunes, including First tube and Divided Sky. I was playing and listening to only Phish for the first few weeks here but then I had a nightmare that Phish broke up and I took it to mean I should probably branch out musically. so I've been making sure to tap into the old classics, and soak in the cheesy christmas music that is already playing here in Samoa.

6. Running and yoga = amazing. I still can't get over the sheer beauty of the morning dew as it rises above Manunu. The soundtrack of cocky roosters isn't really pleasant, but it does remind you that another day has arrived!

7. School. It's Saturday. I don't want to discuss school. I'll mention that we have been doing tons of language, TESOL, medical, and safety courses. Language is my favorite. On monday we will start teaching at a model school, and then next week we will co-teach with Samoan teachers at local schools. It's all pretty exciting but nerve racking. I've learned to say "Sit down" in Samoan. Now I need to learn how to say, "Be Quite" and "Listen Closely!"

8. I experienced my first earthquake. It was pretty cool, especially since I was far away from the ocean and therefore didn't have to worry about anything.

9. Cold showers - it's still hard to get use to, but hey, at least it's a shower!

Well, that brings me to the end of this short novel. I hope it holds you over till the next time I get to write, which should be in about 3 weeks. Thanks to everyone who has sent me email/snail mail - I love hearing from you and miss you all a ton! Tonight we are throwing a Halloween bash for the village kids - it won't be the same kind of Halloween I've grown use to, but it will be fun none the less.

A shout out to Alvin, Melissa, Jill, and my mom who are all celebrating birthdays around this time. To anyone else I may have forgotten, sorry - I still love you!

Lots of Love,


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monday, Monday, So Good to Me....

Monday Monday, it was all, I hoped it would be....! Thanks Mama's and Papa's for providing a theme for Monday's adventure. After a relaxing weekend we were back in action with the training Monday morning. However, it was not to be an ordinary training day. We traded our hot conference room for a day of safety and security lessons at the beautiful Aggie Grey Resort just outside of Apia. Our lesson included about 25 minutes of safety briefing, then we loaded up a catamaran and were off for some hands on learning (aka snorkeling on the reef!) The reef was somewhat of a disappointment as much of it has died away, but there were some small school's of brilliant blue fish that made it worth our while, and the view from the boat was better than any underwater paradise could have been. Aqua blue water gently lapped the palm lined sandy coast and the mountains of Upolu rose like giants in the background. The water was crystal clear and felt like luke warm bath water. The only downside of the safety and security course was the paranoia that comes with knowledge: knowing that a stone-fish could be buried under any sandy beach waiting to prick our feet or a man of war may be floating by aimlessly seeking it's next prey. It was reassuring to hear that sharks are a rarity on the reef though!

After the S&S class we loaded up our brightly painted school bus and travelled across the island to the other side of paradise: pristine beaches, tranquil waters, and beach fale's (sheltered, raised platforms) awaited us. We ate a lunch of oranges, peanut butter, crackers, and something like American cheese that was surprisingly good (or maybe I was just really hungry!) We swam in the luke warm water and played frisbee on the beach.

Then it was off to the tsunami struck area. I had intended to write a good deal about the experience of driving through such a devastated area: what we saw, what it once was, and what it will take to restore things to how they once were, but I find myself at a loss for words (not such a good thing for an aspiring blogger!) Twenty FULL villages were washed away to the point that you could not tell that any life had been there before. What was once an area of pristine beaches is now covered in mud, debris, and wreckage. All but one of Samoa's resorts were destroyed which is taking a huge toll on the economy, and virtually every Samoan seems to have lost either a friend or family member. Being on the other side of the island we are really sheltered to the after affects of the tsunami, but driving through the disaster area really brought to light the fact that it will be years till Samoa fully recovers. Hundreds of people are homeless and their land, inhabitable. It is frustrating to be cooped up in Apia studying language all day when 2 hours away a major recovery effort is under way. All of us feel like we should be out there aiding in the relief, but there isn't much we can do about it at this point.

On Saturday our group will move to our host village about an hours drive outside of the city where we will live for the next few weeks (no one is sure if it will be two, three, or four weeks!) There we will live with host families, have intensive language studies, and practice teaching ESL in a model school. I am eagerly looking forward to the new challenges that lay ahead!

Being that it is 8:30 I am getting sleepy and am going to head offline for the evening. I am still on this incredible morning schedule and the days are draining between the heat and the lessons, so if I am awake past 9:30pm it is a miracle! Then again, no one else is awake, so there really is no point in being a night owl. Manuai la'po (good night!) and be in touch!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The First Days are the Hardest Days

The first day in a new place is always difficult as you slowly begin to navigate your area, the food, and the people around you. Add an evacuation due to a tsunami threat and you get one hell of a memorable afternoon!

Our official Peace Corps training began hours after our arrival in Samoa. A typical day here is as follows:

5:45 = alarm

6:00 - 6:45 = morning run and yoga by the sea

7-8:00 = shower and breakfast

8:00 = check in

8:30 - noon = two morning sessions

noon - 1:30 = lunch

1:30 - 4:30 = two afternoon sessions

4:30 onward = dinner, free time, etc.


We began the day with our first Ava (or Kava) ceremony. We found traditional skirts, or lavalava's in our rooms and were asked to wear them to the Ava ceremony. All the women of our group received beautiful red lavalava's, and the men, traditional black ones (although men do wear colorful lavalava's as well here!) Our conference room was transformed into something which resembled a traditional fale, or house. Woven mats covered the floor and we sat on the mats in a squarish-circle: new Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) making up one half and Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and staff the other. A few words were spoken in Samoan on behalf of the island welcoming us, and then our Peace Corps staff responded on behalf of our PCT group. Most of it passed me by but I did catch a few references to both Obama and Uncle Sam, and even though we didn't understand the Samoan being spoken, it was clear that there was a lot of joy and pride, as well as humor, in the welcoming ceremony. The Ava was placed in a traditional carved wooden Ava bowl and wrung out by a female member of the PCV group, then 4 bamboo branches were ceremoniously positioned throughout the room: 3 pointing to the highest ranking members of the group and one pointing to the Ava bowl. After the words were exchanged, Ava was served to the group, beginning with the highest ranking members and eventually continuing to each one of us. One by one our names were called as the Ava was brought to us. As we accepted the coconut cup filled with the muddy looking drink we tipped out a little Ava onto the mat and said, "Luo Ava lea le a'tua....soifua!" and the group responded, "Manuia!" Pretty much meaning, "Ava is our God, we drink to you," and the group cheerfully replying, "Success!"

We feasted on a lunch of the sweetest oranges I have ever tasted, strange meat patties that resembled pigs-in-a-blanket (but tasted nothing like them!), salads, tuna and egg sandwiches, and of course, tea. Then it was off to our rooms for a half hour nap before beginning our first language session. Fifteen minutes into the break we were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. Jet lagged and full from lunch we were startled to learn that there had been an earthquake on Vanuatu and Samoa was on tsunami watch. We were directed to move into the conference room and wait for our next move. Upon reaching the conference room our director informed us that there was no need to panic but that we should probably get water and move to higher grounds. As we went back to our rooms for our water her blase suggestion turned urgent: "Get to the cars immediately, we need to move now!" Shoe-less I grabbed the closest pair I could find, my water, purse, and we ran to the parking lot, where the 22 of us were loaded into two PC vehicles waiting for us and rushed out into the street. By this time warning sirens were sounding, the streets were packed with cars, people, and police, and everyone was slowly heading for the mountains. It was unnerving being in the trunk area of an SUV with 4 other people, all staring out the back window and noticing that the people fleeing by foot were moving faster than us in our super high tech government car. Eventually we cleared the traffic and made our way to the PCS directors house were we stayed for an hour before being given the information that the threat had past and we could return to our hotel.

Needless to say it was one scary day, but it proved to us that the security precautions do work and are effective when executed properly. Thankfully there was no wave, but we were out of the city in virtually no time once the warning was issued and for that I am reassured that in face of a natural disaster, although you cannot predict what will happen, we have a pretty reliable plan of action. It worked a few weeks ago, and although I hope to not be tested again, we know it can work if need be.

We had a brief language study class where we learned a few key phrases, went to dinner as a group at Seafood Gourmet where I had some tasty grilled fish with mashed potatoes and my first Samoan beer (there is only one kind - it tastes a little like Heinekin but better), and then passed out from all the excitement around 8:30pm.

Stay tuned to here more about the past week and the weeks to come!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Safe and Sound and Samoa

Talofa from Samoa! It's been a whirlwind of a week settling into Peace Corps life here in Apia, Western Samoa. Twenty two of us meet in LA on October 6th to embark on the biggest adventure of our lives. I thought I would be nervous, but there was no time for that; a calm, collected sense of readiness had engulfed me and I found myself eager to get on the plane and get to Samoa!

We registered with the Peace Corps Monday night, had a night to relax, and then Tuesday morning our adventure began. A day of conferences kept us busy, and then at 6pm we checked out of our luxury hotel and left for the airport. After having our last American beers and burgers at The Roadside Cafe in LAX we boarded the Air New Zealand flight to Samoa. I intended to watch a movie or two but fell asleep before dinner was served and slept the next 9 hours. When I awoke, we were only an hour from Samoa and the reality struck - we were about to be on an island for the next two years of our lives!

Our plane touched down just before dawn and as we passed through customs we were serenaded by few melodious guitars and gentle voices. We collected our bags with little difficulty, sent our bags through screening, and were greeted on the other side by a host of current Peace Corps Samoa staff and volunteers, loaded with big smiles and flowery lai's. Somewhere in between landing and meeting our Peace Corps escorts the sun rose and as we loaded the bus to take us to our hotel in Apia, we were struck with the beauty of our surroundings. Palm tree's lined the entrance to the airport, and after a few turns in the road, we found ourselves driving along the sea wall. Men board their fishing canoes, children waved as they waited for their school busses, and the fish circled and jumped.

We arrived at the hotel, got our room assignments (4 to a room!) and then passed out for a few hours before the first day of training began.

So much has happened in the past week and I will go into more detail because it has been every bit as adventurous as I imagined it would be! But for now, it is Saturday afternoon and it is our first day off, so time to hit the beach! Tofa for now!

My address here in Samoa:

Rachel Goldstein, PCT

Peace Corps Samoa

Private Mail Bag

Apia, Western Samoa

Points of intrigue for the next entry: The tsunami evacuation, yoga at dawn, my new name (Lasela!), delicious fish dishes, and pictures pictures pictures! So make sure to check it out!

Samoan word/phrase of the day: "Manuia le aso" mean "have a good day"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another Sleepy Saturday

The clock has just struck noon here in New York and 3 cups of coffee into the day I'm sitting down to do what I've been trying to do all week: finish the never ending stream of Peace Corps paperwork that is due before I depart in less than a month. Wow. Less than one month till my 27 months of service begin.

Let's take a step back.  Last October (2008) I decided it was about time to stop talking and start acting on my dream to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I went to the website, filled out the pages upon pages of forms, updated my resume, wrote a few essays, and collected my recommendations.  All of this took a few weeks, but when it was all done, I breathed a sigh of relief thinking, "wow, the hardest part is over!" I was wrong.  I waited for a few months, then one day in February received a phone call: "You have passed the initial screening, now we need to set up an interview."  I arrived at the interview more nervous than I have ever been in my life but was immediately put at ease.  My recruiter was so encouraging and a pleasure to talk to.  Instead of the 45 minute interview I had anxiously anticipated, I spent the next two hours chatting with my recruiter.  

After the interview, I was nominated to the Pacific Islands Region, but was told I would not find out my country till just before departure.  All of this seemed fine, and I kept just going with the flow.  Medical papers came.  Shots were taken.  Fillings we're filled and my boss was informed that I would be leaving soon.  

Months later, my medical file was cleared and I was informed that my invitation was on the way.  For an entire day I waited for a package to arrive; a package containing the information on which direction my life would be heading!  It did not come that first day, and I started to think - be patient, give it time.  As I was thinking that, the doorbell rang, and there was my beautiful FedEx package waiting for me at the door.

Heart fluttering, I grabbed it, ran to the kitchen table and opened it as fast as I could: SAMOA! I jumped for joy and yelled to no one, for no one was home.  Then the phone calls started.  Somewhere between calling/texting everyone I knew I fell asleep.  I awoke thinking that it had all been a dream, but no, there was the nice, blue folder with all its neat contents packaged inside.  Time to open it up and start reading.  

I should have known the work wasn't over.  So here I am now, 3 weeks from departing for the biggest adventure of my life, and instead of finishing my paperwork, I'm starting a blog.  I have always wanted to have my own blog and I figure this is the perfect opportunity.  

More interesting entries to follow.....

Musical quote of the day: 
Oh, Fee, you're trying to live a life
That's completely free.
You're racing with the wind
You're flirting with death
So have a cup of coffee
And catch your breath
Thank you Phish.  A Phish entry will surely follow.