Friday, November 26, 2010

Give Thanks

“Fa’afetai Iesu mo mea’ai, amene;” or in English, thank you Jesus for the food. It’s the first and only prayer I have learned to say in Samoan and I say it on a nightly basis before eating meals with other families here in the village. I say it at school before eating lunch with the teachers. I say it at the women’s to’ona’I before the Sunday feast. And sometimes I even say it in the comfort of my own home, just for fun. In each scenario, I truly am thankful to the women I am eating with for providing my food for the day. But this past year has given me more to be thankful for than just food.

On a day when I have struggled to get my water pipes fixed three times over the course of five hours, I think it most fitting to start off with a thanks to my next door neighbours, Mina and Vaifale. Vaifale is the self-appointed president of the water committee here in my village and therefore he is the go to guy for all water related issues. Over the past week he has fixed my pipes seven times. Today I proposed maybe getting new pipes… only time will tell what happens, but I think it will save him a lot of time if he agrees. At this point, I am totally willing to pay for them!

But water aside, Vaifale and Mina have become my parents away from home. If the power goes out, Mina is at the door with candles. If a cyclone is on the way, Vaifale is there updating me with the latest news from the radio. But perhaps most importantly, the two of them have opened their home to me. I eat dinner with them three nights a week and stop in on almost a daily basis just to say hi, to sip koko, and to chat. Without them, my village would feel like a village but not like a home. They make me feel at home, and for that homeliness in a strange land, I am truly thankful.

Along the village lines, I am thankful for my faifeau and his faletua, two of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met. When I moved in, the faletua sewed new curtains, bed sheets, pillowcases, and stocked the kitchen area with plates, bowls, forks, and knifes. They have proven to be just as welcoming as Vaifale and Mina and I am thankful for their endless support for me and my strange palagi ways.

Lili deserves her own paragraph of thanks for being the best friend I could have ever found. Her optimistic and hilarious texts always keep me laughing and using up all of my free texts throughout the day, and time goes by as if we were hanging out every day, not just once every few weeks. When we do get to kafao, be it in Salelologa or Apia, we always have the wildest adventures and part knowing that the next time will be just as fun. When I am having a down day, Lili doesn’t hesitate to call, and when I spend all of my money, she is quick to lend a few (hundred) tala. I am so happy that Peace Corps has introduced me to someone as great as Lili who I am proud to have as a friend and a sister.

And to the rest of my Peace Corps family, do not feel left out! Group 82 whom I came into this amazing country with has truly been a family from the beginning. My Savaii girls, Emi, Ali, and Elisa, provide the best stories and laughter every Saturday at Lucia’s (I am thankful for Lucia and Tui, too!), and I look forward to the weekly unwind Saturday afternoons with you girls. Tana, my other Savaii sister, was the first Peace Corps I met and although we might have had a shouting match the first night in our hotel back in LA, I have grown to love her so much. Samoa would not be the same without your enthusiasm Tana! I can’t wait to get tattoos in January! My Savaiian Brother, the mysterious Matt – you are one for the books, with such a positive outlook on life. I love how you inspire me to be calm, go with the flow, and just realize how BEAUTIFUL everything really is! I hope the yoga retreat happens! And to the Upolu volunteers, I love you all the same, and value the time we spend together in Apia. Bring on the ice cream!

To my friends back home, especially those who have supported me through emails, facebook updates, and calls now and then, I really appreciate your commitment to our friendship. Leaving everyone and everything you know for two years is an experience that is just as hard as it sounds, and without the contact with all of you, I would lose touch of who I am and where I came from. I look forward to seeing my Skyview Family, Rockland County Crew, 615 girls, Bucknell boys, and every one else in between in just a few weeks! Best care-package award goes to Haile with Ezra as a close second. For all of you who want a shout out at this time next year, I will be here another year, so get those packages in the mail; I love cheetos, chocolate, and pretty much anything manufactured in America. But to be honest, Arianna’s never failing holidays cards mean just as much as the treats which fill out my belly and my clothes, and I can safely say I have all of them hanging on my wall. Thanks girl! I could go on and on, but calling you all out individually goes against the spirit of what I am most thankful for: you. Friendship isn’t a competition, and with friends like these, how could I ever seriously compare?!

I am thankful for running water and electricity. For a reliable (green) bus, and an entertaining feud between my bus and the pink bus for never ending entertainment. I am thankful for the pili (lizards) residing in my room and the chickens eating centipedes outside. To red wine. Thanks Gwenn for the dress and The Lady Samoa II for the time served – we miss you, queen of the va’a! I am thankful to have such a supporting office staff and particularly the best PCMO in the whole world who is there to reassure me that my medical issues are not that severe and that almost everything can be fixed with a Benadryl. To DJ OKAY and Phish – may a remix of your music one day happen and further rock my mornings. And to Christmas lights being ok in November. I am thankful for my loving family back home and for all that they do for me. My thoughts are with you all until I return. Stay strong. I love you all. To Jacob, thank you for never letting me slip through the cracks. I appreciate your honesty and sincerity and am so glad to call you my twin.

Lastly, I am thankful for this wonderful adventure that I have been living for the past year and I look forward to the next year of Peace Corps service. The challenges faced and lessons learned in the face of those challenges have been some of the most insightful and meaningful ones of my life. It is hard to process service while still active, but I know a part of me has change for the better, and I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to grow in this manner. So Happy Thanksgiving to all, may it be full of food, family, and love. Amene.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mapping the World

The Painters - Day One

The last few weeks of school here in Samoa are characterized by song and dance practice. Teaching and exams are over and the students are left to work on what will be the best performance of the year… an event called Prize Giving. Prize Giving is a special day, which honors the top students for every subject in every grade. Three weeks before Prize Giving (this year December 3rd) my school began their preparations. Divided into three teams, each team will compete for the best song, dance, and sasa (traditional chat/song/dance combo). Being the Peace Corps, I was not assigned to a group. Instead, I was asked to work with the year 8 students on their number. I chose Thriller.

After the first few hours of song and dance practice I was more sick of my favourite song and dance nuber that I ever imagined possible. I decided we needed some variety in our daily plans for the last few weeks and the thought struck me: here is my opportunity to do the world map project I have wanted to do since hearing about it! Unfortunately for me (and fortunate for the students of the school), the villages’ past Peace Corps volunteer had beat me to the punch. So, to modify the project, I decided my group would do a map of Samoa, including all the villages and geographical features. The year 8 teacher and his students loved the idea, and soon I was off to town to buy plywood and gather the Peace Corps World Map Kit. I should note, although I may be wrong, that this is a trademarked project of the Peace Corps. Peace Corps volunteers have used the very same map and colour scheme in countless schools and communities around the world. A cool legacy to join. Here is Samoa, we have a world map kit which is two large woven baskets containing four large cans of paint and about 8 smaller ones of the less needed colours. Paint-brushes and a book explaining how to get the map on the wall, board, or fabric of choice is also included. We had to do without the book but managed to get a great image of the country traced in chalk onto our plywood board using the schools new projector (thanks Skyview!)

Day three of the project and the map is almost done…except for the more important part – the country itself! We began the project before realizing that we were out of green paint. So the ocean is painted, the country name is complete, and the Peace Corps logo is done. Now all we need to do is fill in the islands, label the villages, and outline the whole thing once the paint is dry.

The map has proven to be a great break from Thriller practice, but with the delay in the painting, it looks like the next two days will be strictly song and dance once more. Then come Monday, we will complete the map, and the year 8 students will join the world map legacy. I will post pictures of the completed project after prize giving. For now, enjoy the work in progress!

Take Me Through the River

Saturday, November 20th, 12:25am. I am standing at the kitchen sink putting away a few dishes following an epic evening with Emi, Ali, and Elisa where we made heaps of spicy (and not so spicy) delicious Thai food. Practically comatose from the food we fell to the floor where we watched “Whip It,” a great movie featuring the drama and fun of Texas’s own roller derby (Go Texas! – Emi). Following the film in my compulsory cleaning frenzy I found myself finishing up the dishes when I heard a strange, yet oddly familiar roaring noise. I thought out loud, “there is no way that could be the river…it is way too early in the season! And yet…that certainly is not rain.” Skeptically, I grabbed my phone which doubles as a flashlight and went outside to peak. Low and behold, there was the river crashing through my backyard in all of it’s muddy glory. I raced inside and grabbed the girls, who were not as thrilled about my late night burst of excitement as I was but came along to check out the site regardless. Being that 363 days out of the year this river runs dry, it truly is a source of pleasure to finally hear water running through the riverbed. Elisa caught the excitement and together we convinced Ali and Emi to take a midnight stroll down the road to where the river crosses the road. Being that it was almost 1am, we were some of the only villagers out and we took the opportunity to take some pictures. We headed back to the house and went to bed wondering if the river would be crossable by bus in the morning.

Saturday morning comes and we hopped on the first bus we saw. Thankfully the water had retreated quite a bit during the early morning hours and the bus was able to cross with no problems. I mentioned in on of my earlier blog entries (A River Runs Through It) that the designers of the Savaii roads thought it unnecessary to build a proper bridge over the Mali’oli’o River since the water only effects the road one or two days out of the year. Being that the river has flowed three times now in the past year, I would say their philosophy might need to be updated. Regardless, the concrete slab which serves as a bridge was built at river level, so when the river comes and it’s flow is strong enough, traffic comes to a complete stop on both sides of the road. Savaii only has one road circling the island, so one could argue that this creates a significant problem, especially for tourists trapped or prevented from reaching their touristy destinations at the top of the island. However, like I said, we were lucky this particular morning and got to town with no problems.

We did our shopping, did the typical afternoon chill session at Lucia’s Lagoon, and then it was time to head home. I loaded the bus not knowing what the river had in store for me and nervous as anything. I had texted Manuia, the guy who works the store right next to the river and he had told me that the river was flowing strong but was probably passable. I didn’t like that answer, however, I had to try my luck. Too soon, we reached what felt like judgment day. As we approached the river crossing, we were met by dozens of cars lined up on the side of the road, waiting for the river to retreat. We came to a stop just before the river and waited as a few people hopped off the bus and dozens hopped on. Starring out the river I wondered to myself if I qualified as stupid for staying on the bus and I had the impulse to jump off. Had we sat there a few minutes longer, I might have given in to my fear, but just as I was pondering my escape, the bus began to move forward. I turned to the man sitting next to me as I plotted my back up escape route through the window to his left and made a face implying, “do you think this is safe?” He just smiled at me and responded with, “This is the strongest river in Samoa, you know?” Some how his words did not help. The feeling you get in your stomach as you accent to the peak of a rollercoaster in nervous anticipation of the drop was the feeling that crept into me as we descended towards the riverbed. Then like a turtle who moves slow and steady both in and out of the water we began our progress across the short concrete bridge (completely hidden at this point). Water nearly reached the windows of the bus, but a man stood in the water showing the driver where the side of the bridge ended (and thus where to avoid!) Somehow, his calm presence in the gushing water was reassuring. If he wasn’t being swept down stream, chances we low that we would be. The bus creaked and moaned and then in a flash, we were out of the water and back on dry land. I think I breathed for the first time in about five minutes.

My river adventure over for the day and possible the year, I headed into my house, fixed a big bowl of cereal for dinner, and settled down to watch a movie. Who knows when the river will return again? Next time, I’m taking a canoe to town though!

Monday, November 8, 2010


yum. palolo.

A year ago, hearing the word “Worm” conjured up images of long slimy earth worms living in the garden back home. Although gardeners would argue with me, I have never seen much in these animals. Along with spiders, they were a big reason why I never really wanted to get into gardening. I have a vivid memory of walking the track early Saturday mornings before marching band practice and having to consciously avoid all of the worms which had crawled off the football field in the early morning dew only to die on the track. Maybe that was the beginning of my lack of appreciation.

Since moving to Samoa, my immediate image of worms has changed. Instead of thinking of slimy animals in the ground, I now think of nasty bugs living inside the human body. I wonder if this is true of all Peace Corps worldwide? Although I am unsure as to whether or not I have actually had worms since coming here, I have had plenty of stomach issues, and it would be safe to assume that one tiem or another, worms may have been the blame.

However, Samoa has once again changed my minds image of the word worm. Two weeks ago was the big palolo, or sea worm, harvest. This culinary delicacy appears twice a year, around the time of the full moon in October and November. I need to double check my facts, but from what I have gathered, palolo is the sex organ of coral, and just before sunrise around the time of the full moon for a few days a year, these small worms emerge to reproduce. Due to it’s rare status, thousands of Samoans flock to the coral reefs during this palolo harvest to try their luck at capturing these worms. Those who are successful either feat on the worms within their families or sell them for huge profits. A small bag of the precious worms starts at about $100 tala, and a half-liter will sell for about $500.

People eat it live, dead, cooked, or uncooked. I had made plans to go fishing with the guys who run the store near my house, but come palolo morning, they slept through and thus I missed my opportunity to fish. Their older brother was successful in fishing though and brought about $100 worth back to the family. I was offered a small portion of the still live worms and although I pride myself in trying anything once, I just couldn’t eat the live worms. I resolved to seek out some cooked ones, however that never happened. Luckily for me, another volunteer, Supy, had gone fishing for the palolo, and brought some dead ones to our Halloween celebration. Still uncooked, yet dead, and on Halloween, it seemed fitting to give the worms a try. I took a small spoonful, swallowed, and was please to discover that it was not so bad. Pretty much, the worms tasted like salt water. Makes sense. Next year, I plan to find the palolo and prepare it the proper way – fried with butter and served up on crunchy toast. Till then, I hope to go another year without any kind of worm in my life.