Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Water Wars

Yesterday the water was turned off. I thought nothing of it because this is a typical occurrence. Every day for a few hours, the water just does not run. It is a hassle only because it always catches me off guard, like just as I am going to rinse out my laundry or do my dishes. I have learned to be quick and do my dishes immediately after eating as a result. Between the possible threat of no water and the very real threat of ants and mice, it is best to get that chore out of the way sooner than later.

I went for my run as normal around 5:15 and figured the water would be on by the time I returned home. For the past week it was coming back on pretty consistently around 6pm. So I enjoyed an intense run and then came home, only to find that no, the water was still not back. Being that it was Monday night, I was expected at my neighbors’ house for dinner at 6:30. I took my chances and went out to the water tank, which hasn’t worked since March. As luck would have it, the spigot turned and out gushed water! I ran inside, grabbed a big bucket and gleefully cleaned up before dinner. I paid some attention to my laundry, which had been sitting in a soapy heap since early in the afternoon, and got it all rinsed out and hung up in the shower. Leaving clothes on the line over night is an open invitation for the village to take what they want, so I have learned not to do that.

Laundry and bathing – these are two things I have learned to do quite well with a bucket, even when water is running. It’s the small things that catch you off guard though, like going to flush the toilet and having no water. Or planning to fill my water bottles only to realize that I let my water filter slack and now need to top up the barrel; with no running water, this becomes a huge ordeal, trudging out to the cement water tank, filling a bucket, boiling the water, letting it cool, and finally pouring it into the bucket to be filtered out as drinking water.

Before going to bed I prepared for the possibility of no water in the morning, although I did not actually believe I would be in the situation. I topped up the toilet, filled a bucket for my bath and a pot on the stove to add hot water to my bath, and the hot water boiler for my coffee. I went to sleep dreaming of the trickling noise I would hear once the water began to flow again.

When I awoke, I did not ever think to check the tap. I had not heard the pleasant dripping of the toilet being refilled and I knew I had my answer – it was to be another day of water tank usage. It was kind of dreamy in a way going out to fill my bucket as the sun rose (I ended up needing more water than I had put aside.) I got to school at my normal time and told myself all will be fixed by the time I return.

No such luck. It is amazing how fast you adjust to the situations you find yourself in, and using the water tank, while not the most convenient, is not that bad. However, I was curious – is it just my house or are the other houses nearby having water troubles as well? My pipes are old and made of plastic and tend to disconnect easily if a child or pig steps on them the wrong way. I asked one of my neighbors and was dumbfounded at what I discovered – the village next to ours is stealing our water! They put a lock on the spigot that allows water to enter our village and will not open it. So I asked who is responsible for fixing this situation and was told the water committee. However, since they are all out of town, the water issue might persist for a while. I am thankful that I have such a huge water tank just outside my door and that it has been raining practically every day to keep that tank full. For now, buckets it will be. The amazing thing in all of this is I am not even fazed by it – it’s just kind of the norm now. Let there be rain, and all will be good.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Time of the Season

My inner clock is fastidiously set these days. It is Sunday morning yet like clockwork, I awoke at 6am. These days it is still dark out at that hour, in true winter fashion. It’s hard for me to get used to the idea that we are now in the winter months. My entire life I have associated June-August as summertime, but now my world has flipped upside down, and the 22nd of June marked the first day of winter, not summer. The days are noticeably shorter, with the sun rising around 6:30am and setting 12 hours later at 6pm.

When we first arrived here in October last year, the sun would rise around 5:30 and we would be out for our morning run no later than 5:45. Any later than that, and it would start to feel too hot. These days, heat in the morning is not an issue. It does get South Pacific hot by mid-day, but the heat is more bearable this time of year. It is not the penetrating heat of January that wipes you out, and makes you not want to move a muscle for days on end.

This morning I woke up to the sound of birds tweeting and crickets chirping. The familiar background noise of pigs grunting and rosters cocking was there as well, but as I lay in my dark room, I couldn’t help but feel at home. I was reminded of the days when I would wake up early for school in September and not wanting to leave my bed, would lounge lazily as I listened to the noises of the morning. I let myself lay in darkness for a good 15 minutes before surrendering to the desire for coffee. I got up, put on some water to boil, measured out my coffee grinds, and lay back down in bed to read while the water brewed my morning fuel. By now it was just passing 6:20 and evidence of the suns emergence was beginning to show through my kitchen window. A pale peach color spread itself over the clouds, inching slowly towards my village. As the light grew brighter the clouds transformed into their hazy grey-blue mix, a warning that there will be rain within the next hour. I have become good at reading these morning clouds. A strong breeze blew through my windows, fluttering out my flower patterned purple curtains like fluid waves of wildflowers on a hillside. I picked up my coffee and snuggled back into bed with my book. What better way to start a day?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Another Running Blog....THE POSSE

I have a running posse now. It started out small. The first few days of my running I was solo, running by the villagers and waving. I have been consistent, leaving the house at 5:30 and planning my runs based on time and intensity. At first, a few kids would come out to race me; others would just watch, eyes wide open in wonder, as I plodded by. I would finish my run and then the kids would swarm the backyard area where I was stretching and imitate my moves. After a few days of this routine, I invited them to come along with me the following day. Pisi, one of my top students, eagerly said she would come. So the next day at 5:30 I went outside to wait, but there was no sign of her. I gave it five minutes before jogging off on my own. She showed up about an hour after I returned, So sorry, I fell asleep! I said no problem, just come tomorrow! True to her word, she was outside, ready to run at 5:15 the following afternoon, sneakers and all. We charted a course down to the Mormon Church and back, figuring it would take about 20 minutes total. It was a struggle for her but Pisi made it all the way there and back, and we were greeted by loud cheers from my quickly forming posse as we entered the village center. They all followed to stretch. The following day there was a knock on my door at 4:30pm. Sara, we have four today. I was feeling pretty run down from a cold I am struggling through and told the kids I didnt think I would be running. I lay down in my bed to read, but the kids would not leave. Look! We have four! Pisi, Luti, Malo, and Siaki! I said to myself, oh man, there is no getting out of this run today, I have created a monster. I rolled myself out of bed, put on my running attire and walked out the door around 5pm. The kids were giggling and stretching in no apparent order. Pisi had her sneakers on but Siaki and Luti wore Jandals (flip flops) and Malo was barefoot. Some were stretching their arms, others copying yoga poses that I have done in the past. The four runners were in the middle of my backyard and surrounding them were all of their little siblings. It was quite a scene. I led them in some small pre-run stretches for about 5 minutes and then we hit the road. Our goal was once again the Mormon Church. We turned left out of my driveway and began to run, and as we did, more kids flocked to join our group. By the time we reached the other side of the bridge (about a minutes run away) our group had doubled in size. We jogged down the road to the entertainment of all the adults weeding on the sides of the roads. Gradually the group began to taper off around the 5 minute mark, and at the 10 minutes, only the boys were still running. We turned around at the Mormon church and every few minutes overtook a few stragglers. The boys were in awe, they kept saying, wow! Faamalosi teini! Meaning, strong girl! We made it back and I served water to those who finished the run. We stretched and chatted in broken Samoan and broken English. All of these runners are my students, so it was almost like a tutoring session running with them, although I felt I was the one being tutored! They asked me what other sports I like besides running, so I told them basketball. Their eyes light up, oh, seki a! They asked if I know Troy. I think they were referring to football but I said yes and agreed that he was a great player. Then I asked them if they know Michael Jordan and they both smiled, followed by Siaki jumping up and doing a poor imitation of the moonwalk. No! No! No! Not Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan! But they were lost in dance, and we all were laughing. It was a fun afternoon. I am resting this weekend but come Monday the training starts again. Who knows what will become of my posse over the two-day break. I have a feeling it will be larger than ever come Monday though!

The Buses of Savaii

Buses are the backbone of Samoan life. Being that most people do not have cars, they offer the valuable service of transporting people from the village to town and then back again. They carry people, items destined for the market, tourists seeking the pristine beaches, mail, and gossip. They play all of the best music, new and old and Christmas year round. Each bus has these traits in common but a host of other traits to make every bus it’s own unique being.

My side of the island (Northeast-North Shore route) has about 6 different buses. There is the pink Queen Maggie, which I have only ridden once as it is not really my bus of choice. Then the white Jane’s Beach Fales buses, which are a bit more regular but again I do not chose to ride them if I have a choice. Then there are the green buses. My loyalty lies with the green bus line, Paradise in Heaven. A man in my village owns these buses and as a result there are always familiar faces on these buses. I know all of the drivers and they know me. If I am walking down the street, the buses never pass without a friendly flash of their headlights and a quick wave and smile from the driver. I can say that this familiarity has been a major factor in feeling accepted into the village and the island.

The green buses vary amongst themselves. There is the one driven by Peni with its bobble head dogs above the front window and stickers of weight lifters stuck to the front windshield. Then there is the bus which sports a Jamaican flag with Bob Marley’s face in the center strung up above the drivers head. On early morning rides this flag is illuminated by a single light bulb and the rest of the bus is dark. It is a hauntingly peaceful sight. Lastly there is the somewhat plain bus that has a few giant stickers of feet with the word “STOP” written on the soles. I have debated those feet and have decided they are just there for color. This particular driver needs some interior decorating advice from the other drivers.

Some buses drive fast, others go nice and slow as if getting you to your destination is the least of their concerns. Some are so packed that people sit on laps, crowding four people to a seat, while others are so empty that you feel like you are on your own private charter bus. Some blast loud music with seat rattling base lines while others keep it so quiet you can hear the grunts of pigs and sounds of birds overhead as you pass by. Ironically, the quiet buses tend to drive faster than the loud ones. I guess the drivers are more relaxed with music on. Most drivers keep a crate of cigarettes above their heads and will smoke a few packs over the course of the day. I have even experienced one driver who likes to keep a beer at hand for the end of the day drives.

My favorite area of bus travel is its transportation of goods. Often times people will pull the chain to stop the bus not to get off but to hand bags of food or mail to someone waiting on the side of the road. The first time I did it was to deliver cat food to a PCV lower down on my bus route, and I felt like I had finally reached the state of being a true PCV. I have seen pigs bigger than myself laid out in the isles, cooked, bound in hand woven baskets of banana leaves, and being transported to be shared at a feast or given as a gift. Often time’s fine mats will crowd the isles as well. Things are loaded onto the bus in any way, shape, or form. I have seen piping tied to the side of the bus, babies passed from mother to stranger, and bikes strapped down to the wooden plank that juts out behind the bus. Last week I was on a green bus destined for home and was drifting deep into thought when the bus suddenly pulled off to the side of the road in front of the pink Queen Maggie. A man ran up to the door asking, “O fea le pusa keke?” Where is the box of cakes? Everyone, including the driver looked back at this man as if he was crazy. The man moved on and then another man came up demanding the same question. There were a few murmurs and then a women sitting towards the front pointed to a box above the drivers head, “Lea!” There! The driver reached up and without checking the contents of the box handed over what he assumed to be the cakes to the man. The man thanked everyone on the bus with a big smile and then hopped back on the pink bus as we drove away. Shortly thereafter the pink bus passed us with a honk of friendly hello and undertones of “Thank you.” The green driver honked back, clearly saying “Your welcome.”

Later on that same bus ride we hit a piglet. The bus driver just shook his head in remorse and a few people made clicking noises with their tongues. A few minutes later no one remembered the incident. Thus is the routine of a daily bus ride. You never know what you will get but expecting the unexpected is the rule of thumb.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Different Kind of Shopping

I went for a bike ride today not for the exercise but because I was hungry and I was sick of the same old packaged goods that are sold next door at the fale aloa. I left my house with dreams of papaya, eggplant, and maybe if I was lucky a watermelon or pineapple. To my dismay, the typical hotspot road stands were empty. I passed a few selling taro but I was not in the mood for the heavy starch. My goal was to reach the stand about 15 minutes down the road that always looks great from the bus. I biked and biked and when I finally reached what should have been Eden, I was met with the bare wooden frame of a lifeless vegetable stand. Even the plastic lining which the fruits and veggies are normally placed on was missing. Maybe the family had taken a holiday, or was still out working the fields. With much regret, I turned around and started brainstorming what else I might be able to find. As I turned the corner towards my village at three corners (or at the “T” as we call it in America) I was met with a promising sight: there before me was a stand with something other than taro. I indulged my vegetable craving, buying a large bag of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes. I raced home, chopped them up, added in some onion, sprinkled on a light dressing of balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil with a dash of Italian seasoning, and my lunch was served. I never realized how much I valued a good supermarket until they were gone. Then again, the adventure of obtaining food is still fresh and fun, and you never know what you are going to get!

Socks in the village

As I get ready to go for a run in the late afternoon heat through my village I am struck by how strange it feels to be wearing socks. When I came to my village mid December of last year I was determined to keep up my running routine. After a few early morning runs where I had to fight off mean looking dogs I gave up on the idea of exercise in the village. However, after my recent trip to Apia, I am determined to keep up my routine. I am taking a new approach. Instead of waking up before the sun rises to get a run in before school and fend off the dogs as they are waking up from their nightly snoozing, I am going to attempt to run before “sa” in the late afternoons. My reasoning is multi-layered. First off, I will get more sleep and therefore be happier going to school. Secondly, more people will be out and about getting ready for dinner and doing their afternoon chores of weeding and taking down the laundry. This means that a. I will be more social, seeing more people on the roads, and b. there will be more people out to protect me from mean dogs if anything were to happen. There is no third. It won’t be any cooler, but at least it won’t be the mid-day heat. So here I am, my feet snuggled up in socks and shoes, my body dressed in an oversized tee shirt, spandex, and a lavalava wrapped around my waist to avoid being culturally insensitive. Now all I have to do is get out there and run.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My first 10k!

The Peace Corps Runners pre-race

Sorry it has been ages since I last wrote. There has been so much going on, but things get back to normal this coming week. Check for new posts soon. For now, here's a bit about my first race!

Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run… Set the gear shift for the high gear of your soul, you gotta run like an antelope out of control!

Yesterday I ran my first race ever, and a day later, I am steal beaming from the excitement of it! My knees are not as happy as the rest of me, but overall, I am feeling good and am looking forward to training for more runs in the future.

It all started about two weeks ago when I heard a rumor that a 10k race would be held as part of the Samoan Independence celebrations. Being a former athlete, I immediately took to the idea and started talking about how much fun it would be. I did not think much about training, telling myself that 6 miles is nothing. In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to do some training. I will keep that in mind for future races. However, I did not go at it cold. Over the past two weeks I did do a few runs, mostly 5k’s, but never much more than that. So to go from 5 to 10, I was a bit concerned.

The night before the race the PC office was bustling with other Peace Corps who had come to town to run the race. Lili and I made customized outfits to run in, naming ourselves’ “Team Rock the Nation.” We figured looking good was half the battle. I don’t think we were wrong being that we each finished the race! We all “carb-loaded,” eating hefty portions of pasta and bread, hydrated to the max, and called it an early night.

I awoke at 5:30am, chugged a bottle of water, ate half a Cliff Bar, strapped on my shoes, and was out the door by 5:45am. We met with the other Peace Corps in the office and then all walked over together. Kyle, Lili, and myself represented group ’82. Group ’81 had a strong showing with Joey B (aka coach), AJ, Dan, Matt L, and Phil. Joey C represented for group ’80. With Casey and Chris cheering us on, we left the starting line at precisely 6:30am, each with our own personal goals in mind. For me, it was to finish in about an hour. Lili just wanted to complete the race, and the boys were in it to win it.

The course left Apia heading out to the east, and after 15 minutes running through town we met the sea and ran along the beach road. It was early enough that not too many cars were on the roads, but an occasional bus or taxi would pass by and offer a ride, not understanding why anyone would possibly want to run anywhere just for the fun of it. The sun rose over the ocean as we ran and although I began questioning why I had decided to run, I got into the zone about halfway through the race and really enjoyed everything past the turn around point. When I rounded the corner to the finish line I saw all the people cheering me on including our Peace Corps and JICA friends, both runners and supporters, and it felt great to pass the line and know that I had completed a 10k race. I was handed a chilled niu (coconut) with a straw, and a immediately drank it, followed by another, and then another. Next race will be the Island Run, where teams of 6 run the circumference of Upolu Island. I can’t wait. Let the training begin!