Friday, January 22, 2010

She's Only Happy in the Sun (New Years 2010)

Since my Birthday falls two days before New Years, I tend to associate the two together and as a result have a deep appreciation for the holiday. Regardless of how the previous year went, with a new age I always see New Years as a new beginning. I get very nostalgic around sunset, party with friends till midnight, and then get nostalgic as the ball drops in Time Square. Although the general feelings remained the same, this year was to be unlike any New Years I have ever celebrated. Not only did we usher in a new year, but with it came a new decade, and what better way to kick it off on the beach with my fellow Pisikoa?

New Years Eve got under way at 5:30am as I woke, drank coffee, and pulled myself together to catch the 6:30 bus that would take me across the top of the island to Ali's village. Along the way we picked up the other North Shore Pisikoa. Unfortunately our plans were slightly disturbed as the bus driver decided to turn around 2 villages from our destination. Estimating that it would only be 20 minutes or so, we decided to walk the rest of the way. Although we were right, 20 minutes feels like hours in the 8am sun of Samoa! We arrived at Ali's sweaty and tired, jumped in the back of her dad's pick up truck, and were off to the next stop: Maka's village. An hour later we reached Maka's, ran to the fale'aloa to load up on last minute supplies of tuna fish, bread, and coca cola, and then continued on our way in his neighbors pick up. Unfortunately this new ride didn't have a covered roof and we all were pretty red by the time we turned into Faleolupo-Tai an hour later!

The fale's were well worth the trip (and all in all the scenery along the way made the sunburn less painful to tolerate). Eleven or so fales speckled the white sandy beach. The bay was filled with lots of coral which made swimming difficult during low tide but was fine if you timed it correctly. We lounged around as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive and once the whole group was there spent the night catching up on each others' sites and lives as Pisikoa.

At 5:59 Lily and I did a NYC tribute countdown, and as the new year struck for our friends and family back home I threw a coconut in the air to symbolize the New York scene. It definitely beat any crystal ball NY could have possibly dropped!

At sunset we all went down to the water to watch the last sunset on 2009. Faleolupo-Tai is the farthest western point, and as a result, we were literally the last people to see the sun in 2009. Me and my friend swam out to a little coral patch and as the sky faded from blue to orange to blood red and eventually to black, we discussed the past year, the past decade, and resolutions for the new year. Then it was back to the fales for a dinner of oka (raw fish) and salad. A bonfire was created and the rest of the night was filled with typical new years debauchery. I would suggest that if you ever find yourself on a beach at midnight and think it's a good idea to skinny dip, check the tides first; low tide makes for one crazy story the next day, and plenty of battle wounds!

New Years day was rainy and turned into a pretty personal day as the group divided up and we all just did our own thing: reading, swimming, walking, just letting the new year sink in and being at peace with the world. I was bitten by a fish, not once but twice. I now have two nice bruises from the beast. We played some volleyball in the afternoon and in the evening were treated to a farewell fiafia. Our hosts at the fales put on an amazing dance performance for us and then I was asked to speak on behalf of the group. I still am a terrible public speaker, but at least I don't hate it anymore, so it was bearable. I invited our group up and we unsuccessfully tried to perform our dance from the training village but the music was way too fast and we just kind of looked like fools. It was fun though! Then we walked down the street to a Church Siva that rocked; spent some time there, and returned home for a drama filled evening that I will not put down here.

By the time morning came we were all happy to leave. New Years Eve had been magical but New Years day was ultimately too much and I found myself relieved when the bus dropped me in my village. I had the strange realization somewhere on he ride home that I am only homesick when I am around other Americans. You would think it would be opposite, but I guess the constant thrill of the unknown is enough to occupy by interests while in the village. Once I find myself with my Peace Corps group, I am reminded of the comforts of home and I become very homesick very quickly. That’s not to say that I do not love my Pisikoa family, it's just that I am still adjusting and must make myself aware of my feelings when they occur. I don't want my friends thinking I am a miserable person, because I really am not! So with the new year comes new changes, a new life in Samoa, new friends and a new family to call my own for the next two years. I will continue to take everything as it comes. I have no resolution for this new year except to be patient and have courage that all will work out in time. Manuia le Tausaga Foe to everyone!



Jesus Walks (a sunday to remember)

I don't know what I expected when I agreed to attend a "Worship Group" instead of attending the typical Sunday service in my village. I was picked up in a bright red sports car and driven about two miles to the other side of the village. From the moment the car pulled into the driveway I realized I had gotten myself into something I could never have imagined. We had arrived at a family fale, not a church like I had envisioned. Wearing my Sunday Whites I felt way over dressed as the rest of the group wore regular pulatasi's and other colorful garments. A band of three musicians played rocking music on drums, piano, and electric bass as a choir of 5 sang their hearts out into microphones in the front of the fale. In the middle of the room was a plastic Christmas tree heavily adorned with colorful butterfly Christmas lights and a podium lit up in the same fashion. Green fabric encircled the fale with white Christmas lights casually draped over to bring the full Christmas spirit to light. The congregation consisted of 3 rows of plastic chairs with no more than 5 people per row, but the chairs were unnecessary, for as I quickly learned, the whole service was to be conducted through song and dance, with a brief pause towards the end for a reading (and sitting).

I was ushered to the front of the congregation and placed between the pastors' wife and daughter. My bag got to sit but I was not given the chance as the congregation around me was already swaying and singing praises at the top of their lungs. I gently moved from side to side a little and nervously fanned myself. Towards the end of the first song everyone started just shouting praises and I was asked by the pastors wife if I was okay since I was not singing out my praises, too. So, I gave a few weak alleluias and prayed for the service to be shorter than I knew it would actually be. The second song in I was still nervous but by the third song I realized I needed to just cut loose and do what the rest were doing. I busted out my best dance moves, avoided the singing/praise part, and tried to look like I knew what I was doing! In front of me, totally oblivious to the chaos surrounding them sat two 3 year old kids, quietly blowing on broken balloons. No one seemed concerned, after all, we were in Gods house. The service continued like that for two hours. I said a little blessing when it was finally over and thanked the pastor for exposing me to such an interesting form of praise before anxiously looking for my ride. I was hungry and a little freaked out. Part of me thought I was going to be led to some water for baptism or something.

As I waited for the car to pull up I was profusely thanked for coming and hugged by every person there. Although our religious views may not be in line with one another, I did enjoy meeting the congregation in the end. For the most part, they seemed to simply be a group of people who love to sing and dance and find that individual worship fits them better than an organized weekly prayer session. Although it may have felt like a night club gone terribly wrong to me, to them, it was just what they needed to bring in the new year. I was told many times that Jesus will be coming soon. According to the pastor, all the signs are there: A group in Kansas that has just begun a 7 week vigil of pure prayer; tsunami's, earthquakes, and wars. Soon we will fly up to meet Jesus. I wish I could believe but sadly my imagination doesn't go that far. While the country waits for this magical return, I will do my best to stay out of the way and just teach some solid English. Shalom.

Elephants on Parade (the komite shows their colors)

Today is the Women's Komite competition. I woke up and went next door to watch them rehearse their marching one last time. Then around 8am the komite from the other side of town arrived and the games began. It started with a marching competition which was hilarious. My first thought was that the scene from the jungle book where the elephants are stopping through the forest had come to life. I sat on my front doorstop sipping my morning coffee as the groups approached. The women wore matching uniforms and were strutting around in the funniest manner, shaking their butts while walking hunched over, kicking legs and flaring arms. About halfway through the strutting I heard a terrible sound: the MC singing Silent Night, and I soon realized that was her way of calling me up and asking me to be a guest judge, so of course I said yes. I sat front row center for the rest of the performances. The activities included song, dance, and of course drama. The dancing followed the marching. We were suppose to be judging on how athletic and unique the moves were since this program is sponsored by the Ministry of Health in an effort to help women lose weight. After the dancing came 3 categories of song (and I don't know how any of them related to health, but it was entertaining!): first, solo, second, duet, and lastly, an a-capella act, all of which would have been much funnier for me if I understood the lyrics. What I got from it was that the women had changed the words to popular songs to fit Samalae'ulu life and they were cracking up more than anything. Last were the dramas. Both included women dressed as men pretending to drink, pick up women, and hit their wives. Everyone thought it was pretty hilarious and it was, although we would definitely call it politically incorrect in America!

Silent Night (Christmas BBQ's and things)

Christmas has come and gone, and just like Thanksgiving, it was very different than how I typically celebrate back home. For starters, I went to church (but that has started to be less of a shock, even to me - it's just kind of what you do.) Last Christmas Eve I was working the opening shift at Outback and rushing home on icy streets to make sure I got home in time to eat the delicious Christmas dinner my dad had prepared. This year, Christmas Eve was a night filled with song and dance at the Congregational Church. I can't remember what I ate, probably chicken and taro. I wore my green pulatasi to be festive and showed up at 8 as I had been told. Everyone was in white pulatasi's. Of course, fa'asamoa, the show didn't actually start till 8:30 or so. I was slated to perform a solo of Silent Night so the first half hour I was freaking out. And then, it was my turn. I got up, sang, wished the congregation a "manuia le kerisimasi", and that was it, it was over before I knew what had happened! The rest of the night was spent watching the show, which included song, dance, and reenactments of Jesus' birth. It was actually really good; these kids are hams!

I returned home and watched Grey's Anatomy while sipping hot chocolate; I made the great (and awful) discovery that the Peace Corps office in Salelologa has a huge movie collection in addition to it's wealth of books. So Grey's Anatomy, the complete second season, is now in my borrowed possession. I figured Christmas Eve I would treat myself to a taste of home. While I still love the show, it definitely loses it's thrill the third time you watch a season. So this might be the end of Grey's for a while. It's kind of an end of an era you could say!

Christmas day. I woke around 7am - no alarm needed, the fale komite next door my neighbors across the street seemed to be having a competition for who has the loudest sound system. The komite was preparing to display their fine mats, the intricately woven palm mates that women work on a little bit every day. The neighbors were preparing their Christmas BBQ. At the end of the year the mats are displayed for the village to see in the Fale Komite and then are paraded around throughout town. As it so happened we had the biggest rain storm of the season on Christmas day just as the women were taking their mats out. It didn't stop them; the whole komite paraded through the downpour singing and dancing in the streets. I lamely watched from my window like the rest of the village.

Although the mats were eventful, Christmas here can be described in two words: BBQ and volleyball. So like I said, I woke up at 7am. By 7:30am I was munching on BBQ lamb and chicken - a true breakfast of champions. I tried to help my neighbors out but they had things pretty under control, so by 8:30 I was napping. I woke up at 11 to get ready for Christmas BINGO. Ate another plate of BBQ and went to BINGO with Mina and the rest of the women. When I returned, I was feeling very homesick and just wanted to sleep. I forced myself out of the house though and found the volleyball tournament. Volleyball is not my favorite sport so I opted to watch. It didn't last long as I was immediately drawn into a game. From there it was all fun and games, I must have played and hung out for 4 hours with the volleyball crew. These people take volleyball very seriously, or at least more serious than everything else here, which doesn't mean it's too serious. But they are some good players! I didn't have any balls spiked at my head and was able to return the balls hit to me so I didn't make a total fool of myself and yes, I did have fun. If there are some pick up games today I will definitely try to get in on some!

I rounded off Christmas with one final plate of BBQ and then retired to my room to watch some more Grey's and get to bed early. It wasn't the typical Christmas, but it was something to remember. I never thought I would say it, but I find myself missing snow. It does not feel like Christmas has come and gone and it is hard to believe that my birthday is almost here. I have nothing planned for the big 2-5 because we have huge plans for New Years and I just didn't want to organize one more event for the day before our big trip to Faleolupo. It's going to be weird celebrating my birthday without Jacob. To be honest I have never even referred to it as "my" birthday because it has always been "our" birthday. It still is, just without my other half. Jacob, you better celebrate doubly for the both of us since I will only be there in spirit! Happy birthday dude!

Le Sunlight De Tropiques (Peace Corps Beach Corps)

If you’re hoping to read about hardships here in Samoa then don't read today's blog because today I want to discuss the luck of being assigned to Samoa. Before I begin I need to clarify that I do not see life as one big party, and I did not sign up for the Peace Corps to spend my time on the beach. I plan to work, and work hard. But for the moment we are all waiting for February when the schools reopen after the "summer holiday" (it's summer here - very strange to say that just one week before Christmas!) While we wait, we have been asked to just integrate into our communities, get to know key people, families, and the daily routines here. Over the next month I hope to meet with every family in the village. I began the other day and visited 10 families, introducing myself, telling them a little about what I am doing here and where I come from, and then asking for their suggestions as to what they believe their community would benefit from. Idea's so far have included an internet cafe to generate income from the passing tourists as well as keeping villagers in contact with family members abroad, raising funds for sewing machines and a sewing center where the women could design and make pulatasi's (the customary outfit that includes a matching top and bottom), and a lot of interest for individual family gardens, aka me helping acquire resources for them to start and maintain healthy gardens. So the projects are wide and varied. Today I plan to meet with another 5 or 6 families but it will all depend on when I get started. If it's too late in the day, it gets too hot and no one wants to talk, including myself!

Changing subjects, I had my first "Peace Corps Beach Corp" experience the other day. There is a picturesque beach about 10 miles from my village so Monday afternoon a few of us decided to meet there. Every beach I have seen so far has been more splendid than the last and this was no exception. I took the 15 minute bus ride and was dropped at the entrance to the Tanu Beach Fale's. If you come visit, this will be where we go! You walk through the gate and step back in time to a slower pace of life. Open beach fale's dot the picture perfect seashore, and just below the fale line the waves gently touch down. Light turquoise water laps over a nearby reef and into the lagoon. The water is shallow and warm. I cut up a pineapple my neighbors had given me and we ate a lunch of fruit and beer. Next we took out a frisbee and just enjoyed the afternoon sun from the water. At some point a volleyball game began just up the road but I opted out and strolled down the beach just taking in the atmosphere. On my return a bell rang and the 5 of us plus the 5 or 6 other guests staying at the beach were summoned for dinner. We ate at one long table, giving the impression that everyone here is family. As night descended and the stars began to come out I had a hard time believing all of this was real. The sky looked like a dark blanket encrusted with thousands of perfect sparkly diamonds. Countless shooting stars shot across the sky like necklaces of light. It was truly something out of this world and the next day as I awoke it was as if I was awaking from one amazing dream into another. I opened my eyes and gazed past my feet to the water that was breaking just below my fale. Needless to say I did not want to leave, but knowing that such a pristine, magical beach lies just up the road will no doubt get me through some rough patches here (as every teacher knows they are to come!)

So now I am slowly waking from the dream life of the past few days, I just cut open a papaya my neighbors gave me, and I am sipping a cup of Speeder and Earls coffee (I brought a pound with me!) I am waiting for Tevaga to come by and we will discuss the families we visited the other day and get ready to visit some more today. The feeling of outsider is drifting away and I find that I am happier and happier here. Manuia le aso!

Words of the day: malolo = rest; malulu = cold

Sa malolo a'u i le matafaga = I rested on the beach

Samoa i vevela tele, NY i malulu! = Samoa is very hot, NY is cold!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Catching Up and dreams of pizza

Malo everyone! I have written about 6 blogs since the weeks leading up to Christmas and beyond, but unfortunately my computer and the computer here in the office both have many virus's. The virus's aren't debilitating until they combat each other, resulting in no new blog posts for me until I can tap my computer into a wireless source somewhere. Chances are good that will happen next week. In the meantime, here is a brief summary of life on the island.
Christmas: full of BINGO, BBQ's, and TV. Not too shabby.
My Birthday: Went to town and was treated to lunch by Ali and Lili. Returned to my village and had ice cream and beer with my "host family." Overall, it was a nice, relaxing day. The real party was New Years, and I don't want to spoil that blog post, so in the meantime, imagine pristine water, a beautiful sunset, and lots of fun times.
I made the discovery that there is a pizza place about a half hour bike ride from my village. SO naturally, I had to check it out. I waited and waited and then one day I woke up and decided I just couldn't wait any longer, I needed some tomato and cheese action! I got on my bike, pedaled for a solid half hour under the blazing sun, and when I finally reached the heavenly pizza joint, discovered I had forgotten to bring my money! I sat down in defeat and drank three bottles of water with the owners wife before turning back. On the ride home, I was chased by a vicious dog who took a few snaps towards my leg. I kicked him in the face and as he ran away learned the importance of carrying rocks on my bike in the future!
The pizza story is not a total failure though. Yesterday Jim biked over to use my totally un-advanced computer system. Since pizza is on the way back for him I tagged along for the bike ride and finally got some of my long desired pizza. Mushrooms, cheese, and all. It was delicious. And no dogs chased me on the way home, so it was well worth the effort.
Ok time to go check out the market. I have been inspired by yesterdays good eats and I am putting an end to the daily tuna lunches! I am going to get lots of veggies and start eating (somewhat) right.