Friday, October 15, 2010

Tortilla Flat

Luti, Pisi, and Siaki posing with the tortillas

Luti and Pisi in the kitchen

Pisi with her creation

Me and the kids post tortilla party

For tonights fiafia, Lily and I decided to make burritos for the new group. Last night, I invited some kids over to watch Mamma Mia and cook. Enjoy the pictures!


Jazzercise is the Samoan equivalent of an aerobic dance class. A few weeks ago I began a health project in my village with the intention of raising awareness about diabetes and health disease and the determination to lower the risk of both diseases in the twenty women who joined my program. Joey, group 81, arranged the program with such detail that we each received practically a play-by-play book of what to teach during each lecture. I recruited my friend Vern to be my counterpart and together we recruited 20 overweight women to join our program.

Of course, no one showed up for our first meeting. So we tried again a few days later and had 12 women show up. At the first meeting we took basic measurements of height, weight, waist and hip circumference, and Joey came out to the sits to measure blood pressure. After a long morning we decided against jazzercise but promised the women an aerobic workout at the next meeting.

Meeting number two went even better than the first and although 5 women did not show up, we had 5 new women join the program, so our number hovered at 12. The session was lively and the women were really interested in all that we had to say. Finally we reached the exercise portion of the afternoon and the women jumped to life. Blasting Waka Waka, Vern and I led the women in a dance routine we had created the week before. For those reading this from back home, all those years of marching band paid off, and I was able to incorporate the very first marching band dance I ever learned into the Waka Waka chorus. Smith would be proud. And big thanks to Shaun for teaching me how to dance all those years ago!

Today was session number three and attendance was down to 11 women due to a conflict of time (apparently the village had declared 5pm Wednesday to be the weed removal day, so women were busy raking grass clippings into piles and burning them.) Talofai. However, the women that did show up were energized and many of them had dropped a kg or two since the first week, which was a real moral booster.

I led a light yoga warm-up to some Wyclef and then we got into the heavy dancing of Waka Waka. I brought over my water filter to serve water in between dances and the women got a kick out of the crazy palagi contraption I use for my water. They drank it with skepticism. We Waka Waka’ed for about 20 minutes and then went on to our new song, “Baby” by Justin Beiber. Unfortunately Vern and I both forgot the routine we had made, so that song will have to be properly re-introduced next week. We closed the session with another yoga cool down and we discussed exercise for the upcoming week. I encouraged the women to get out and play volleyball with the rest of the committee tomorrow, or go for a long walk in the late afternoon.

White Sunday

This weekend marked one of the biggest holiday weekends here in Samoa, White Sunday Weekend. White Sunday, also called “Aso Sa Tamaiti,” or “Lotu Tamaiti,” is the holiday that honors Samoan children. For this day only, children are excused of their daily feau’s (chores), they are showered with gifts from their parents, and they eat first, a right at all other times reserved for elders, parents, and special guests. In addition to the pampering at home, church also shifts it’s focus to the children. Although the holiday originated at the EFKS (congregational) Church, it has been adopted to fit all the churches here.

I decided that being a teacher, I needed to be present to celebrate all of my students White Sundays with them, so instead of limiting myself to the EFKS church, I made an effort to visit the other denominations in my village as well.

I began my church tour Thursday night by attending the Assembly of God (Worship Center). This church is very different than the others here. It is sometimes called the “Pati Pati Church” (meaning “clap clap”) because the congregation is in a constant state of singing and dancing. I find it a little weird, but it is nice that people are free to worship through self-expression, however they feel fit. The show started around 8pm and went till 11. It was chock full of rock hymns, interpretive dances, small dramatic interpretations of the bible, and a Bible Trivia game offering prizes to the bright students of AOG. Although I was a little worshipped-out by the end, I did enjoy seeing my students perform. It turns out one of my students is the drummer for the AOG band, and many others get up and sing solo’s on a weekly basis. People of all denominations were in attendance of the show, so I did not feel like such an outsider. I felt more like a community member supporting the children, which is exactly what I intended to do.

The next day was my dancing with Mormons experience so check the last blog for that experience. Then Saturday I planned to go to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, however my ride never showed up. So instead of going to church, I watched Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on the projector with a few of my neighbors. I love that movie!

I woke up Sunday around 7am and hit snooze, enjoying the fact that I did not have to be at church till 9am. However, I was awoken by a phone call from Mina 15 minutes later, inviting me for morning tea. How could I say no? I jumped out of bed, did a quick bucket shower, and was over within a half hour to sip on sweet coffee and eat delicious homemade pudding (kind of like a ginger-papaya sponge cake made on the stovetop). Mina and I walked to church together around 8:45 and took a seat in the second pew.

At 9am, the children lined up outside and paraded into the Church, boys walking down one aisle and girls the other. They sang a beautiful song and joined each other in the front of the congregation. The morning service was not a traditional one: instead of the Faifeau preaching, the children each recited small prayers and then put on a magnificent show of songs, dances, and story re-enactments for the next two hours. I have to admit I fell asleep a few times, but it was still an excellent show!

I returned home around 11, gulped down a cup of coffee for fuel, and then headed over to Faoa’s house for Toonai (Sunday lunch). Faoa was having a family reunion and had invited me to attend, however when I showed up, one of her cousins whom I did not know looked at me as if I was lost and asked if he could help me. I responded with, “Fa’amolemole, ou te fia ai!” Meaning, “Please, I’m hungry!” Faoa showed up laughing at that point as her cousin looked at me questioning, and I was invited in to sit with the children (and therefore be served first!) The plates were piled high with sausage, BBQ chicken and fish, Taro, Breadfruit, and palusami. A side dish was set up with Oka (raw fish in coconut cream), and a special dish of my favorite food, fe’e, was served just to me! I guess it’s a good thing to talk about the foods I like all the time – it pays off in the end! I ate as much as possible, but Faoa was displeased and made fun of me, calling me too skinny. I tried to eat more taro but just couldn’t do it, so I was sent home with a heaping plate of BBQ chicken, taro, and of course, the fe’e.

I went home to enjoy a nice long afternoon nap and awoke at 3:45, realizing I was late for second service! I threw on my Sunday Whites and headed down the street to watch part two of the entertainment. The afternoon was so much better than the morning. Every family had prepared either a song or dance to perform in front of the congregation. My favorite was a family of about 12 kids who did a fake beauty pageant - lets call it a “Prophet Pageant.” They had 4 children dressed up as Abraham, Moses, Noah, and I forgot the last one, but each was equipped with an outrageous beard and paraded across the stage flaunting their staffs and wardrobes. It was very funny. The quality of the dancing was great, and overall I really enjoyed the afternoon.

When it ended I was invited to the Faifeau’s house for the evening meal where once again a plate of BBQ chicken and friend fish, palusami, taro, breadfruit, pisupo, and cake was placed in front of me. Again I was made fun of for how little I eat, but it was all in good fun. The meal was topped off with ice cream bars and picture sharing.

When I woke up this morning I was worried about offending my three favorite families by not being able to experience White Sunday with all of them. As it turned out, I got the best of all worlds. Each of these families feels like home to me. They are all so different but their common quality is the pure love and acceptance they have for me. And I feel the same for them. If all goes as planned tomorrow, I am going on my first fishing trip with Vaifale! I hope it goes through, I am ready for another village adventure!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dancing With Mormons

Tuesday I was told that there would be a dance at the Mormon Church on Friday to celebrate White Sunday. Being that I have a newfound obsession with dancing, there was no question as to where I would be spending my Friday night. Plus I had come up for the name for this blog sometime Wednesday afternoon, so for the sake of the blog, I had to go dance with the Mormons. And “Dancing With the Stars” has nothing on us!

As the day drew closer I began to get cold feet. I had never actually been to the Mormon Church and I was not sure how many people I would know there as a result. I run past the Mormon Church when I am in the mood for a long run, but other than that, I do not get to that part of town too often. Then there was the question of dance styles. I was reassured many times that it would be “just like a night club,” meaning “siva palagi” (foreign dancing) would be in full effect. I have been to a fair share of dances between my time in Manunu, dances in Apia, and dances in Salelologa, and each has it’s own distinct flavor. In most cases you can expect an exceptionally loud base, drunken sole’s inappropriately groping at least one or two times, favorite songs played on repeat, and a fluctuating level of alcohol. I knew that the Mormon church would be free of the drunken sole’s and thus free of groping, but I knew nothing else.

The dance was scheduled to start at 4pm and go till midnight, but when I went for my run at 6:30 no one was at the church yet, although music was blaring loudly to draw people in. I ran home, ate a Cliff Bar for dinner with a bag of Doritos for dessert, and went to pump up my bike tires as I planned to meet Vern and bike over with him. I was most nervous about biking to his house because the dogs at night are vicious in Samoa and I had no headlight. Lucky for me and unlucky for Vern, my bike tires were flat as could be and my pump was not working, so Vern came to fix my bike up for me and I did not have to bike by myself.

We arrived at the dance around 8:30 and of course only a handful of people were there. The music was off and it sounded like prayers were going on. We biked right into the Mormon complex and pulled up our bikes next to the open fale. As we entered we were greeted by the smiles of many of my children and their parents, and I even recognized a few women who have signed on to my health project! A Peace Corps cannot go anywhere and not have a fuss made over them, so naturally I was called up to perform the opening dance and thus start the night. I felt like a queen arriving amongst my people. I have learned to expect this solo dance whenever I am a guest of honor yet I am still uncomfortable with the Siva Samoa. My body just does not move that gracefully! So as I made my way to the dance floor I made the decision to wow the crowds with some true palagi dance moves, and I performed a horrible cross between siva samoa and siva palagi. However, my dance had the effect I desired and people were cracking up at my ridiculously foreign moves. Before I knew it, I had at least 10 back up dancers and for the first time the song did not feel painfully long as it usually does.

Shortly after my initiation dance my student Gerald slipped word to the DJ that Waka Waka is my favorite song and must be played. The DJ began playing clips of the intro to Waka Waka in anticipation of the songs debut for the evening, and then bam, it was on us, blasting in all its glory. Vern and I did the Jazzercize routine we created for the women and a few of our ladies joined in, too. As the night progressed, Waka Waka was played 4 times. Like I said, Samoan’s are not shy to appreciate a good thing!

Other highlights of the evening were dancing with the children (who copied every move I did) to “Mambo Number 5” and “The Vegabus” (at least I think that’s what it is called, it has been a long time since I have heard that song…yet tonight, I heard it 3 times!) A touch of Samoa that I really liked was seeing two children passed out in the corner of the dance floor, as if there was not a pounding base rattling the floor around them. Their mothers sat protectfully by making sure no dancers got too close.

The night ended too soon, around 11, with a prayer from the faifeau and blessings for this special weekend. As I mounted my bike, my reoccurring break problem kicked in and a loud squeaking resistance met my every pedal. I dismounted and unhinged the back break, reminding myself to not ride too fast home. There was no hurry though and on this moonless night, the stars were shining extra bright, as if to light our way by their light alone. Thankfully Vern accompanied me home so I did not have to brave the dogs and his bike light helped us avoid hitting the groups of people hanging out on the road. I felt like I Could bike forever in the cool night air with the magical stars overhead.
Since moving to the village I have spent almost every evening by myself: watching movies, reading books, or going too sleep early to forget that I have nothing else to do at night. This past week has been a real eye opener for me as to all that I have been missing in my reclusiveness. For one, my Samoan language has taken leaps and bounds just this week by getting out there and hanging with people. I am embarrassed that I was not doing this all along as much as I am now, but I had to go at my own pace to feel comfortable. Monday I enjoyed an afternoon sipping Koko and weaving with some neighbors whom I had never met. Tuesday and Wednesday night I watched movies with some of the high school kids and although it was maddening at times (they are proud of the English they know and constantly wanted to fill me in on what was about to happen in the movie, thus taking away all elements of surprise), it was actually a lot of fun to do what I always do, just with people. Thursday night deserves its own blog, as it was spent at the Assembly of God’s (Worship Center’s) White Sunday show. It was my first time returning to the “Pati Pati Church” since I boldly went last Christmas, and I was reminded why I do not go. However, it was a nice evening, especially because I got to spend time with the students who I do not see on a weekly basis at EFKS, and their parents. I will try to blog about that experience later, but no promises.

As you can see, this week has been a true turning point in my Peace Corps experience. I feel more and more integrated as the days pass and less eager to leave the village and hang out in town. While those days will always be special days with my Peace Corps family, I am finding that my village has become a home away from home like I never imagined it could be. Plus I cleaned and rearranged my room today so I don’t have the disgusting mess to avoid anymore…!

Continuing the trend of new church experiences, I have agreed to attend the Seventh Day Adventist service tomorrow, which will also be a White Sunday celebration. And Sunday I will return to my home base, EFKS, to celebrate with my most familiar congregation. A few weeks ago, I would have dreaded a weekend like this. But now, I could not be happier.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teacher's Day...please pass the pig!

Today started of like any other day but quickly turned into the laziest, best day, of the school year. Today was Teacher’s Day, the day where the children bring gifts and perform acts to show their appreciation for us teachers. There was about 2 hours of teaching in the morning before the festivities began. The festivities included poems recited in both English and Samoan, dances, songs, and sort skits about the children’s love and admiration for us teachers. Following the show, each class lined up in front of the assembly and one by one presented gifts to their teachers. The year 8 teacher insisted that I accept his gifts from year 8 being that I have done so much for them. That is arguable, but it was a really touching gesture. So loaded up with tons of new hand soaps, 2 lavalavas, a handful of necklaces, and about $20, I sat down thinking I had made out pretty well.

After the show, the children were dismissed, and us teachers gathered in the year 3 classroom to feast on pig, taro, and palusami gifted to us from the village. Beer and coconut vodka was included. We spent the next 5 hours eating, chatting, and watching ridiculously emotional Pilipino soap operas. After one afternoon of chilling with the teachers, I feel so much closer to all of them. Everyone let their guard down and we were able to just have a fun celebration of us. Next on the party agenda: prize giving. After today, I cannot wait to see what prize giving has in store for us! Enjoy the pictures:

Blame it on the Water

Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what’s eating at you. I tend to brush things off pretty easily, but recently I have been in a bit of a funk. I tried to analyze what’s going on: is it the constant struggle to encourage a learning environment at school when no one else wants to teach? Is it the one-year mark quickly approaching and my personal desire to have accomplished more by this point? Is it the lonely hours in the village or the overwhelming amount of work? To be honest, it’s probably a combination of all the above, but the one factor that looms over everything is the water. I blame it on the water.
For the past 6 weeks my stomach has been in knots (to put it nicely) thanks to my lovely water source. To top it off, my water pipes have been coming apart on what seems to be a weekly basis. So three out of the seven days a week I have no running water. This means that everything water related must come from either the rain or the mysterious water tank located behind my house. The water tank was probably the cause of all the trouble to begin with but I’m not even going to get into that….
The one year mark is just days away and with it comes anxiety about what the next year will hold. Maybe my language isn’t where I wanted it to be. Maybe I have not accomplished the 10 projects I envisioned at the start of service. But reaching this critical point in service does have some perks. I still have a full year and a half to go. That means time for the projects, time for the language, and time to continue coping with all that it is I am learning to cope with. For starters, the water came back on today, so all is not bad! I just need to make sure my back-up water reserves are full in anticipation of the next pipe break.
Walking home from school today I was invited to a neighbors house whom I had never met before. I joined her and her daughter for a cup of Koko Samoa while they were preparing leaves to weave into mats. I surprised myself by maintaining a conversation with the two of them strictly in Samoan! They were really impressed which of course boosted my slacking self-esteem and they invited me back any time to come weave with them and kafao. And just like that, a successful language lesson occurred and I actually spent an hour outside of my lonesome fale. It’s things like this that I must remember.
So to my friends in country, thank you for putting up with me over these past few weeks. And to my friends at home, I apologize for the depressing emails sent recently. On this emotional rollercoaster we call Peace Corps, things are on the rise. Only a matter of time before they drop again, yet keeping my optimism about me is going to help, and looking on the lighter side of things will get me through. Tomorrow is Teachers Day, so there will be no teaching. On the bright side, it will be a full day of praise for me and my fellow teachers – singing, dancing, acting, and funny poems will all occur. And the year 8 students have promised to bring me coconuts. All in all, I can say things are taking a turn for the better. Happy Teacher’s Day!