Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tattoo, Take Two!

My first tattoo was made by the Suluape Family in Apia back in February of this year. Tattoos are a Samoan tradition and great meanings are held in the design and placement of every symbol. Traditional Samoan tattoos have been such a part of Samoan heritage and culture that they have been around for hundreds of years. As a result, the Samoans have a very different method of tattooing than we are accustomed to in the West.

Naturally, in the spirit of Samoan culture, I wanted my tattoo to be done in the traditional style using the traditional tools. However, this was not possible for my first one, as its designs were too curvy and detailed. Once again, Anna provided the necessary means to get things done that I have been putting off.

Inspired by her travels, Anna decided that she wanted to get a tattoo before leaving as a constant reminder of her time abroad. Finding herself in Samoa for her last country, it seemed a fitting time and place to do it, especially with the cultural significance. Early in the week I encouraged her to really think about what she would want. Over her week here, she saw many tattoos, and she soon decided on what she would get. The traditional womans tattoo, called the Malu, is located on the thigh area and extends down past the knee. One of the symbols used is a star, signifying “Navigation.” After two months of travel, what better symbol could she have decided on?

We went to the tattoo parlor together on a rainy Saturday, and as often happens when one is sitting in a tattoo shop, I got inspired to stop the tautalatala (too much talk), and finally get my foot tattoo that I had been dreaming of. Since my first tattoo had been done with the gun, this time I opted for the traditional “tap-tap” method.

Unfortunately, my design could not be done all with the tap-tap because the flower in the middle was too curvy, so my tattoo was done in two stages. Part one was the flower, made by the gun, and the rest of the designs were done with the pillow, stick, razor, and tapping. All in all, I was surprised to say that the tap-tap did not hurt nearly as much as the gun. Maybe it was the style of the design or the placement, but I found the tapping almost soothing, and the pain totally bearable.

Although I cannot predict the future, I think I am done with tattoos for the time being. I have two great designs to last me a lifetime, and to top it off, they were done in a country I now consider a second home by people I now consider friends. I hope that my tattoos will serve as a daily reminder of the people I met, the experiences I had, and the lessons I learned, while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Samoa.

Halloween in Apia

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love creating characters and for one night pretending to be someone or something that I am not. Usually I envision lavish costume ideas that never come to fruition. However, this year, my idea was too good to sit on, and months away from Halloween, I began the preparations. After attending the Magic Circus of Samoa back in February and witnessing the impressive 4-legged man act, there was no question as to what I would be: the 4-legged lady soon materialized in my head, along with all the ways to make it happen.
In true magician form I cannot reveal how I was about to grow two extra legs for the big event, but on the night of the Halloween celebrations, I had transformed from a Peace Corps Volunteer into a fat, four-legged Samoan lady. The costume along with some rehearsed dance moves won me a slot as one of the best costumes of the evening.
The count down has begun for next years Halloween, but if my magical abilities hold true, who knows what will happen next?!

Halloween in the Village

This year I was lucky enough to celebrate two Halloweens, one in the village and one in Apia. The Apia story will be told shortly, but this blog will focus on the one in the village.

A week before Halloween, Anna arrived for her week-long visit! It was so exciting to see her and to catch up, as she had been traveling through South East Asia and had many fascinating stories to tell. Since she had been on the move so much, we decided that it would be a nice change to just stay put and let her experience the daily life of a Peace Corps volunteer. So after a night in Apia, we made our way back to the village and the fun began!

In anticipation of Anna’s visit, I had planned a fun filled week of Halloween activities. Unfortunately, I had not counted on the teachers springing surprise exams on the students, so my first two days of activities were removed. However, with Anna’s help, we kicked things into gear on Wednesday with a mask-making day in the lower levels. When Thursday came around, we did pumpkin carving with the upper levels, and had the students in Year 6 paint faces onto eggplants. Friday was the final celebration, filled with candy (Thanks Ilovea!), trick-or-treating, and a costume contest.

Overall, it was a great success. Anna’s trip deserves it’s own blog and I hope to find the time to get that up before leaving because it was a real treat to have her here, and we did so much!

Craving [CAVING!] for Pizza!

One great thing about having a visitor is that it gives you the excuse to do everything you always wanted to do but never justified finding time for. Anna had told me all about her adventures riding elephants and paddling through floating villages, so I felt the pressure to impress her with Samoa’s natural wonders. Flipping through the tourist pamphlets I have acquired over the past few years, one activity sprung out at me: Dwarfs Cave.

The history of Dwarfs Cave is a bit unclear, and it seems that every person who goes there will be told a slightly different tale as to its past. From what we gathered, Dwarfs Cave is really an expansive lava-tube, formed during the 1904-1911 eruption. The legend states that since it is so long, no person has ever been to the end of it. At one time or other, it is believed that 30 “Eskimos,” lived in this underground layer, feasting at the impressive flat table located just a few minutes inside the cave and bathing in its natural, muddy pools. Although a believable story from the size of the cave, there seems to be no evidence of humans ever having lived in the space.

On a Tuesday afternoon, Anna and I, along with two of my top students Pisi and Sapi, met up with two of the other Peace Corps Ali and Jenny, to check out the cave. Our “tour guide” (some man from the village), dubbed himself the cave man, and led the way through the cave, making sure we got as dirty as possible along the way. The caves have no light, neither natural or brought in, so it was up to us to carry flashlights to guide us on our journey. This proved a bit challenging as the path led us up and down step inclines of muddy rock and through pools waist deep of silt and mud. However we endured and made it to the farthest pool before turning back for the adventure out.

Having just finished reading The Hobbit (in anticipation of the movie release!), I found myself looking around for Gollum, as this cave could easily have been his home. I hope Peter Jackson was able to make the trip out here before filming those scenes! There was not much life down in the caves, other than a few bats. Probably the scariest part of the adventure was shining the flashlight onto the walls of the cave and noticing the large cracks, assumedly formed from recent earthquake activity. I am glad to say we made it out alive, a little bruised and beaten, but overall successful in our exploration.

To celebrate, Anna and I took the girls out for pizza at the local pizzerias (Sekia Pizza). It was a great field trip and I am so glad that we found the time to tackle this cool site. For anyone planning a trip to Samoa, Dwarfs Caves are a must!

Lord of the Rings

Over the past month of school, I have become a champion crafter. Due to lack of activity in the classrooms following the Year 8 National exam, I found myself spending my days in a corner of the Year 8 classroom learning how to weave with the rest of the Year 8 girls. At first it was tricky. My fingers did not want to cooperate with the fine strands of the la’au fala leaves and instead of making mat shapes, I was making long belt-like creations. Then one day, one of my girls made me a ring, and the course of my days were hanged forever. Stubbornly, I did not want to ask for help, so I sat at my desk trying to figure out just how she had done it. After a day of failed attempts, I gave in to my desire to know and asked for assistance. After a 5 minute lesson, I was weaving rings! I started simple, with one color, but soon needed to expand my artistic abilities to incorporate multi-colors into the jewelry. Three days later I have created a small store worth of jewelry. Rings of every shape, size, and color hang from a string in my room, and my arms are adorned with bracelets. I even found the time to create a few headbands, necklaces, and belts. With the jewelry mastered and just a few weeks left in the village, the time has come to embark on my last great weaving challenge: the mat. Only time will tell if I can pull it off in time!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Parade of Nations

This picture is dedicated to all of you who helped with our project!

Today was the much-anticipated “Parade of Nations” for my Year 7 students. When I began the postcard project back in May, my objectives for the students were to raise their level of reading comprehension and to increase their knowledge of the world at large. From a reading and writing project, it soon evolved into an ongoing geography lesson, and in these final weeks, it became an outlet for practicing methods of research and presentations.

Last week, all of the names of the countries we had received were put into a bag. One by one, the students drew country names until each one had their own country. I then gave each student a packet of information on their country, including printouts from Encyclopedia Britannica, a map of their country, and of course, the post cards received from their country, and guided them through the material, helping them highlight key information and answer guiding questions. Next, they had to assemble a paragraph worth of information on their country, and when that was complete, I gave them an atlas and they were responsible for finding their country’s flag and painting it. So after days of preparations, today was the final presentation! It was really exciting for me to see these students get up in front of the class and in English inform their classmates of their chosen country. A lot of new words were learned, and although it was a challenging assignment, I think everyone gained something from it.

After the presentations, we went outside and took a class photo of the kids and their flags.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Nothing beats the sensation of walking past a flowering frangipani tree and catching a whiff of it’s sweet scent in the breeze, picking one of the white buds and placing it behind your ear, savoring the fresh scent all day long.

Teach Your Children Well

Last week was the trial exam for the Year 8 students’ National Exam. Every day, the students in Year 8 came to school to take a 2-hour practice exam for the final exam, which will be held in two weeks. On top of the pressure of the exam, the Year 8 students and their parents were also required to prepare food for the teachers all week. As traditional school feasts go, we were treated to fried chicken and sausage every day, stir-fried noodles, and lots of taro. Boiled eggs and buttered bread rounded out the mix and the koko samoa flowed. It was a nice change, since we are not usually served meals at school (many schools in Samoa do have this luxury!)

During our extended breakfasts and lunches, the students were left on their own, and supervised by a top student or two from the level above them. Being that we took our breakfast in the classroom holding grades two and three, I was privileged to witness these tiny children teaching each other, and what a sight it was! The Year 3 teachers’ grandchildren are both in Year 3, and so they naturally took over the class. The little boy likes to rule like his grandmother and would walk to the front of the room with a big stick, ready to hit any children who misbehaved or got an answer wrong. The granddaughter was much sweeter though and would sit at the teachers desk, calling up students to recite things on the board and encouraging them with phrases like, “Very good, Peni, keep it up!” This went on the whole time we ate and although I felt a little guilty for sitting there watching the children teach themselves, it was so adorable, and there was something remarkable about witnessing the students drive to learn from each other in the absence of a teacher. These children do not have it easy, and to see them take the initiative to continue learning was quite admirable. I like to think that in five years, this class will have great results on their Year 8 exam. And who knows, maybe I will be back to see it!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Island Perimeter Relay Race 2011

This year I participated in the Island Perimeter Relays Race once more, but due to knee injury, this year I was not a runner. Being an honorary member of Team Kope Keine (or in English, “Hurry Girls!), I was made the team driver, responsible for getting the runners from one exchange point to the next, making sure each runner was sufficiently supported in terms of food, drink and medical relief, and possibly most important, scouting out Mormon Church’s (for those who do not know, Mormon churches have SWEET bathrooms!)

The race was as epic as any 104km run can be. After an evening of preparing sandwiches, filtering water, and me learning to drive on the wrong side of the road, we got to bed early in anticipation of our 2:45am wake up. By 3am we were out the door, and at 4am, the first runner took to the empty road, glows-tick baton in hand and ipod strapped on. In order of runners, our team consisted of 6 Peace Corps girls: Natalie “the animal” hailing from group 83, Kaelin “the flash,” Jenny “kuka and MVP,” Lily “the warrior,” Dana “the killer,” and Corina “CorinaC”* (her name sounds cooler altogether but due to Peace Corps policies I cannot give her full name here). I was given the snazzy original name “Driver.”

As one can expect, the day was full of emotion and team spirit. Along the way, Peace Corps who were not running met us on the road to cheer on the runner and give support. Inside the car, we blasted our favorite “pump you up” tunes and tried to keep the atmosphere light. Ten hours and forty-three minutes after setting out we reached the finish line in Apia. Many of our office staff had turned out to cheer on the runners at the finish line as well as a host of volunteers. It was a really beautiful day highlighting the tight bond that has formed between this group of 35 volunteers and our staff and I am proud to say that I was a part of it. Kope Keine took first place in the open women’s division and the mixed team of Peace Corps Runners took first in their division as well. I am proud to be a part of Peace Corps Samoa!

Keke Pua'a

Keke pua’a translates to “pig cake.” It is a glorious Samoan food combining three of my guiltiest food pleasures: fried dough, soy sauce, and pig (or really any of the various mystery meats that find their way inside of these tasty buns!) Keke pua’a costs $1 tala (or about 45 cents) and can be found for sale on the side of the street, at school canteens, and at the market, but my favorite keke pua’a are the ones sold between the hours of 4am and 6am at the Salelologa wharf. This delicacy has indeed become one of the main reasons I opt for riding the ridiculously early 6am ferry when travelling to Apia. Yes, it requires me to wake up at 2:45am and catch the 3:30 bus to town, but it is well worth it, for nothing beats fried salty meat and soy sauce in the morning!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Farewell to Mail

1:58pm I receive a text from Emi: “Are you home, I have your mail.” I was at home and asked where she was. “On the bus, about 15 minutes out, will text when I get closer. Left side of the bus.” And so it went that on this raining Wednesday afternoon without having to leave my village I received a carepackage full of delights from home, a postcard from Africa, and music to keep me rockin’ till December! It was all so perfect that I must admit I shed a few tears, missing my friends back home and loving the support they continue to offer me, two years into my program! To those that have sent mail, postcards, music, etc. during my time here, it goes without saying that it has been super appreciated and keeps me going when I am feeling down. I will be eating Mac and Cheese for dinner tonight and cannot convey my excitement properly! I promise Samoan treats for all of you when I return J

And as my service comes to an end, I have been advised to put up this statement that reminds me that yes, this experience really is passing: Any mail you wish to send will probably not reach me before I leave, so it is time to return to emailing. It has been a fun snail mail run while it lasted! That being said, any postcards u may wish to send should be posted no later than the end of this month. Thanks to all who have participated, my students and I truly appreciated your support and eagerness to see our project succeed. Thank you!!!!

Manu v. Namibia

“Are you from Namibia?” a man asked me as I was fighting my way to the front of the ticket mob, pushing and shoving to get our tickets for the 4pm ferry. “No, Go Manu!” was my reply! This was to the be the boat-ride of the year, for boarding time was 3:20 and the Manu Samoa were set to play their first rugby match against Namibia at 3:30. Wearing my blue shirt for support I rushed onto the boat at 3:20 to join the crowd gathered in the air-conditioned area of “the big boat.” This ferry is new to Samoa, beginning its operation just last year and boasting two flat screen TVs inside the air-conditioned cabin. Of course, it was the place to be for the match. The seats quickly filled and in no time at all we were watching the players march solemnly into the stadium in New Zealand. The Samoan national anthem was played and a few patriotic Samoans sang along on the boat. Next the Namibian anthem was played, and then we got the show we were all waiting for. The Samoans took the field and performed their traditional war dance, the haka. The boat went crazy as the men chanted and slapped their arms and chests! And then the game began and I remembered that I do not understand rugby. But there was hope! Sitting behind me was a man from New Zealand calling out all of the terms and thus educating my American sporting mind. I found myself really getting into the excitement of the match. Number 11, can’t remember his name, was unstoppable and scored almost all of the teams touches. The kicker was also precise and the whole team just stunned me with their athleticism. I had to feel sorry for Namibia as the game wore on, for they were just towered over by the powerful Samoan team. A controversial play that was particularly memorable was seeing one Manu player practically “clothesline” a Namibian player – at it was considered fair play! Wow, rugby is an intense game! The match was a sweep and at the end of the brutal game, Samoa walked away the victors, having scored 48 points to Namibia’s… zero. Next match is set for Friday, and as long as my schedule allows, I will be on the ferry cheering on the Manu!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

In rereading some of my earlier posts, I have noticed a trend in my writing themes: laundry, lack of water, and the kindness of others. Today I intend to focus on all three.
I awoke as usual around 6:30am and did some yoga. While in a meditative state, I resolved not to go to church and at the same time not to go to Apia as I had intended. I figured this Sunday would be the perfect day to catch up on laundry, reorganize the house, and get in some good hours on guitar. All was going according to plan. Laundry was soaking, kitchen was polished, and my guitar was waiting patiently for me in the corner. I decided I should get the laundry out in the sun sooner than later, so I went to ring it out and then as is always the case when I have planned a laundry day, the water was not running for me to complete the “rinse” cycle (aka dumping the clothes into a bucket full of non-soapy water.) I figured I would give it a half hour then try the tap again.
At that moment, my neighbors called me over for the Sunday meal, so I went over to feast of pig, taro, and chop-suey (all the staples of a toonai.) I noticed their tap was running, so at the end of the meal I returned to my house with high hopes for my laundry. But I was out of luck. Not only was my tap not running but the spigot near the store was off as well, meaning my side of the road was without water once again. I called my neighbors as asked if theirs was still on. They apologized saying no, but assured me it would be on again in a few hours. I told them my laundry dilemma and they asked if I would like to come finish it at their house. I did not want to impose on their water supply, but they insisted that they had a 44 -gallon barrel of water set aside for these reasons.
I loaded my soapy laundry into my own smaller bucket and walked over to their stashed water. And twenty minutes later, my laundry was hanging on the line to dry during the prime sunny hours of the day. Yes, I get by with a little help from my friends. ☺

Teuila Thursday

This week marked Samoa’s’ annual “Teuila Festival,” a festival celebrating Samoan culture and geared towards tourism. In Apia it is a big deal and every night different events take place, ranging from the Miss Fa’afafine Pageant (drag queen Miss Samoa) as well as the REAL Miss Samoa Pageant, to traditional Samoan dance competitions and my favorite, the long boat race. In the village however, it is re of an after thought. People gather at night to watch the televised broadcasts and speculate on the results of the Miss Samoa Pageant, but for the most part, the festival is not celebrated.
However, Thursday as I walked to school I was greeted by the decorated faces of the village’s two women’s committees. The village, being so large, is divided into two groups: the sasa’e group (meaning south/east), and the north/west, although I forgot the name for that group. Around 7:30 in the morning, the women of the north/west, all wearing red and white, were gathering at Mina’s house across the street from me. As I walked by, Sineva ran out and insisted I join their group once school let out. I agreed and so began my day.
An hour later, school was over, as all the teachers were planning to participate in the villages Teuila activities. I raced home, but on my Maliolio Girls shirt (from the Samoa Challenge last year), and got to the volleyball court where the games were just beginning. The south/east team was decked out in red and blue shirts with yellow lavalavas and had clearly been practicing, because they began singing and dancing at 9am and did not stop all day! My team was a little less organized and it took some coaxing to get them signing, but both sides were merry and fierce on the court.
The volleyball games went on for hours, and not once was I invited to play, although I had been chosen for a team. Then finally, my opportunity came and I was thrown in. I soon remembered how much I dislike volleyball, and the blazing noon sun only furthered my lack of enthusiasm for the sport. I enjoyed my first game, and then was shocked to learn that my team, although the losing team, was slated to play two more rounds! By the end we were all exhausted, however, in traditional festival mode, we all danced back to our teams shaded trees where the older woman were beating time on old metal cracker containers and the younger woman sang. This strut back to our team areas turned into a dance off with every woman trying to out dance the others. Laughter, song, and dance grew to a loud peak, and then died off to await the next round of players. The day continued like this till 5pm at which point the women sang their final songs and then loaded up into cars to drive home and reflect on the day. I will never forget the music of that day!

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Today I was able to check off a long awaited goal of Peace Corps Samoa – that is, I learned how to make the wispy brooms, called salu. A few weeks ago at school I had mentioned to Sapi, one of my year 8 students, that I desperately needed a new salu for my house and that I would love to make my own. “Come to my house after school!” she immediately offered. I was going to Apia that afternoon and had to pass, but I told her I would love to take her up on the offer the following week.

So today Sapi arrived at my house around 2pm telling me to get ready, her father, Siaki, would be here with his car any minute to take me to their home at the other side of the village (about a 30 minute run away from my home…so pretty far!) We arrived at her home and gathered in the large open fale to drink koko and watch music videos with the rest of the family. Sapi disappeared to cook our lunch as I conversed with her father, grandfather, mother, little sister, two little brothers, and two men from the store. The youngest brother was not happy about something or other and kept balling up his fist in a tight ball and with the full force a four year old can offer was laying punches into his mothers arm. She just laughed and called him cheeky. I smiled and hoped he wouldn’t turn on me, because I would not be so polite in dealing with him! Sapi soon reappeared with chicken soup and rice, and it was delicious!

After lunch, Sapi grabbed a fine matt and some pillows and dragged them outside to the shade of a mango tree. The children and I lay under the tree digesting and enjoying the breeze while her father went of to collect coconut leaves for our project. About a half hour later he returned and Sapi’s mother, Matelena, brought us each a knife (me, Sapi, and Sapi’s 7 year old sister, Gagau). The girls each took a coconut palm and handed me one as well. They then proceeded to show me how trim the desired leaves to their spines and pluck them off the main stalk. After we had collected a pile of about one hundred spines, we returned to the matts in the shade and began the task of cleaning the stalks with our knives. Sapi taught me how to press the knife against my thumb and glide the blade against the spine of the stalk to strip it of any remaining leaves. Once “cleaned,” we cast the finished stalks aside and continued with our task. Over the next hour we worked together to create two brooms. Sapi said I should take both home, but after all of her work and the generosity of her family, I insisted that they keep one for their own home.

The afternoon was quite memorable and reaffirmed everything I have been telling myself about these next few months: that I must seize every opportunity I can to live village life to the fullest. Since I had travelled so far from my home, I was able to interact with the women who live on the other side of town who I rarely see, and truly took them by surprise when they found me making brooms right next to their scheduled volleyball game! It was really fun just sitting around chatting with them and laughing, laughing, laughing! In this spirit, I had made a solid commitment to not turn down any invitation that comes my way from here on out. So tomorrow night, I will once again join this great family, for their Friday night dinner. I am so excited at the outcome of today and have already made a mental list of other skills to acquire (and where to go to acquire them!) before leaving. Three months to go, and it doesn’t feel like enough time to do it all!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Le Manu Samoa!

Yesterday around 2pm I found myself in a taxi heading towards the market to catch the bus to go back to my village. Low on cash and exhausted, I figured it was for the best to leave Apia Saturday instead of Sunday. Then in an instant, it all changed. As I was approaching my final destination, the Australian rugby team passed by heading towards their match in Apia Park. I was caught in a moment of limbo, and then instantaneously asked the taxi to turn around: when will I ever have the opportunity to watch the Manu Samoa play live again? It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I could not miss!

I raced back to the office where I found Elise and Matt getting ready to go to the game. Remembering there was blue face paint in the office, I asked Elisa if she would paint my face, and then I painted hers. We raided the offices “free box,” and were soon geared up and ready to go cheer on our team!

Walking to the game which was to take place about a mile down the road from our office, we found ourselves loaded with excitement and anticipation. The street was filled with others decked out in their white and blue Manu gear, all heading to THE place to be.

We arrived at the stadium, which felt like entering another world. High, clean bleachers surrounded a pristine field. Samoan flags waved in the wind, and the bleachers, packed with fans, seemed to sway as the ocean of blue danced and sang.

The game began and I quickly realized that I do not know the rules of rugby. I met an Australian woman who tried to explain it to me, but ultimately, we were both at a loss. Here is what I took out of the game:

1. Samoans are incredibly quiet spectators, until a “touch” is made.

2. Rugby is WAY more intense than American football – they do not wear padding of any kind!

3. The players throw themselves at one another, sometimes being dragged across the field – their laundry bills must be high!

4. The ball can bounce off the ground without going out of play.

5. The kickers would make great NFL kickers as they kick from seemingly impossible angles.

6. The team does NOT always do the Haka. Too bad!!

Overall, I am incredibly happy with my decision to stay for the game. I felt like I was witnessing some great feat of human power watching those teams battle it out. In the end, THE MANU SAMOA WON!! All in all, it was a great day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Savor the Moment

With under four months left till my departure from Samoa, I have been making a conscious effort to appreciate the here and now while I still can. For a while I found myself caught up in a last quarter funk, desperately craving the comforts of home. But then it hit me, when will I ever have the chance to live in a Samoan village again? I need to live each day to the fullest and take in all Samoa has to offer before it’s too late.

Strolling to school in the mornings, I no longer rush by the women as they ask me where I am going. Instead, I make an effort to engage them in conversation, if only for a brief moment. Yesterday was the epic return of BINGO to the village and I found myself sitting in the middle of the huge church hall with a circle of teachers, in a situation where I once felt out of place but now felt among friends. I looked around the room between games and was met by smiles of familiar faces. And in the end, even though I spend $24 to place and only made back $2, the day was worth it for the memories alone.

Today in school there was no tea to start the day. Having had a heavy morning of song practice with grades 3, 4, 5, and 6, I eagerly awaited the bell signaling interval, and guaranteeing tea. When the time finally came, a fifth grader brought me my cup with a smile: “Rachel, tea!!” I took my cup, gazed into the milky mixture, and had to laugh. Not one, not two, not three, or four, but five ants were floating at the top. With less ants I would have scooped them out and drank my tea, but following the culinary rules I have come to learn over the years, for than 4 bugs in a dish means time to toss it. I took out my water bottle, soothing my over worked voice, and made a mental note to enjoy the moment, for in America, I doubt I would have laughed being served ants for lunch!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hey, Jude!

This blog is dedicated to Mystery Man Jude, travelling through Asia and Europe and sending post cards as he goes. I think our count is close to 10 but I haven't been to the post office in a week, so I can't wait to see what awaits me when I go. To you, I just wanted to say an official, blogged-out THANK YOU, because without your support, my project wouldn't be nearly as full. The kids love your notes and have learned so much about a part of the world previously so foreign to them. So Jude, thank you again. My kids would love to write back to you and to your students as well, so if you read this note, I would love to get your information. Till then, I will remain your grateful, curious, snail-mail friend!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Diagnosing the Problem

Yesterday I walked home from school feeling exhausted. I felt the sense of accomplishment that usually accompanies pure exhaustion when suddenly it hit me: what had I actually accomplished? I had walked to school late, leaving my house when the morning assembly usually begins. Upon arriving at school I had not attended the assembly. Instead, I had opened up the staff room, turned on the copier, and put on my glasses, prepping myself for the day of photocopying at hand. It is exam week and so naturally on the first day of the exams, all of the teachers run to me to ask me to copy their exams that they had created over the weekend. I have been encouraging them to learn to use the copier themselves and type their own exams since it will be upon them when I am gone next year, but I make exceptions for exams week, knowing that they are all very busy preparing tests for five subjects, where as I am done after making my two for English and Reading. In anticipation for this, I had prepared my English Exam last week, knowing I would be swamped with requests to type, copy, and staple this week.

I began my copies and all was well. Then, tragedy struck: a teacher brought me her exam to type, and the computer would not turn on! Walking home later in my exhaustion, I thought back on the day of mindless copying and computer failure. To the best of my abilities, I had tried to figure out what was wrong, but in the end, I had made only the most basic of diagnoses: that something was most definitely wrong! I caught myself feeling accomplished and laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all. Today, the computer people will be called and we will try to work this out over the phone. Tomorrow, hopefully we can all get back to our normal routine of typing and printing, just in time for the final exams.

Making Paper

I remember making recycled paper when I was a kid. I did not remember how much preparation is involved and how messy it can be! I guess those are the things you learn as you move from the role of the child to the role of the adult. In anticipation for “Earth Week 2011” (to be held next week, just a few months past the official date), I have been creating Earth friendly lessons. Lessons to be taught include the importance of recycling, the harms of pollution, and how we can all pitch in to help keep Samoa, and the world, beautiful.

Although I am still a new teacher, I learned a very important lesson from my “No Bake Cookie” lesson a few months back: that is, do not attempt a project in the classroom you have not already rehearsed at home! So yesterday was the trial run for paper making.

Pisi, my next-door neighbor and one of the top students in the school, came over to assist. Every day for the past week she had been coming over to ask if we would be making paper today, but due to rain, lack of running water, and lack of supplies, the much-anticipated trial did not take place until yesterday.

Last week at school I had doen a major clean up, and instead of throwing out my paper, I ripped it into small shreds and through it all into a bag. Yesterday, I took out the blender that has been acquiring dust below my sink and we began the process. I had Pisi pick some flowers to incorporate into our paper, and then we each took turns dipping the wood-framed molds into the pulpy mixture. The color was a light blue, and we carefully inlaid pink flowers to give our stationary a nice look. As mentioned before, the paper was surprisingly messy to make, but the overall steps were easy.

One on one the process was smooth, but in a class of 30 students it might get a bit out of control. Luckily I will have Arianna’s helping hands, as well as the teachers of the school, so divided into small groups, I think the project will be a great success! More on Earth Week to come next week.

Cup of Noodles

When I was twelve I went to sleep-away camp for the first time and was introduced to another first: the wonder that is the “Cup of Noodles.” I had never had these three minute noodles before and I soon learned that they were the best late night snack and quick meal replacement. All you need is hot water (sink water worked in our case back then) and three minutes. Fork and seasoning come included! My bunkmates were obsessed with the noodles and I remember one girl having her mom ship up a Costo sized crate of them, ideally to last her all summer. Thinking back on those camp days, I wonder how any of us could ever have opted for the Cup of Noodle meal when the camp had employed some of the best chefs in the state of Maine (ok, that may be an exaggeration, but our camp food was real good, borderline great for cafeteria style cooking…I mean, there was a vat of marshmallow fluff present at every meal!)

Comparing those Maine Teen Camp days to life in Samoa, I envy those kids whom this very day are eating French-toast by the plate full and Spaghetti Bolognese fit for a king, while I attend a staff meeting and am served a Cup of Noodles. My dinner for the past three nights has been some form of quick noodle. I was recently introduced to a form of the noodle that cooks in three minutes and then you drain it and mix in the seasonings. It feels real classy. I bet the sodium levels are off the roof, so it’s a good thing I can’t read Chinese! I wonder if the kids at camp are still requesting boxes of the noodles from their loving parents, or if that fad has passed and they have finally learned that in the end, nothing beats a real, homecooked meal.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Serenaded at Sunset

I boarded the bus back to my village around 5pm and took my normal seat towards the front of the bus. The front is usually reserved for older men and women, handicapped people, pregnant women, and foreigners. I always feel a little guilty sitting up there and am quick to move if someone gets on and needs my seat, but I always start off trying for one, since I am typically one of the first passengers to exit the bus and it is a hassle to try to pass 40 other people through the isles! The ferry was docking and I knew we still had 5 or 10 minutes before the mad dash began for the boat passengers to exit the ferry and grab a seat on their respective buses. For some reason the bus drivers are not very patient. When the bus seems full (enough), they take off with heavy feet in the direction of their final destinations. Any delays exiting the ferry and one is likely to miss their bus.

A handful of other passengers had already boarded the bus and were going through the pre-departure routine of buying keke pua’a, “chips tala,” popcorn, and donuts from the child vendors meandering through the packed bus lot. I bought myself a bag of popcorn and sat back to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes: people watching.

In the front set of our bus, a man sat with a megaphone, a ukulele, and dark glasses on. I quickly realized he was blind, and then it struck me: he was the same singer that plays at the wharf on Upolu! Many times I had listened to his music while waiting for the ferry to depart, and as it turned out, today I was in luck, for he soon picked up his megaphone and announced that he would be playing music during the bus trip!

The bus loaded and we were off. As promised, the man soon picked up his ukulele and began to play. I could hardly contain my smile as we made our way up the coast listening to his mellow vocals and soft ukulele. I tipped down my sunglasses, leaned back and closed my eyes, almost on the verge of tears from the beauty of it all: Of the music, of my surroundings, of life in Samoa, and of the fact that four more months still awaited me, ready to surprise me at any moment, just like today had. And then the moment was shattered. Some young Samoan, in their need to play DJ, took out their cell phone, turned the speakers on, and started blaring that same, maddening synthesized music that you hear everywhere. To my disbelief, NO ONE SAID ANYTHING! I turned and gave my meanest stare but that wasn’t enough. This rude, ignorant teen (wow, I feel old!) kept his music on, challenging that of the singer. I leaned my head closer to the music coming from the front of the bus, straining my ears to catch the music, but the moment had passed, and I could not get back to the serenity from which I had came. I felt tension and anger building within me at the situation, and on the verge of yelling, I did the next best thing: took out my headphones and tuned out the battling musicians with some Phish. My BOSE headphones did the trick, and soon I was floating in a haze of memories from concerts past and daydreaming of future shows yet to come.

At one point, I curiously removed an earbud to check on the progression of the musicians’ battle. To my pleasure, my guy had won, and the bus was once again driving to his tranquil tunes. I smiled, but not quite ready to leave my newfound peace, I replaced the earbud in my ear and turned to face the rushing trees as the bus danced on through the jungle at sunset, towards home.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fake Flowers, Farewell to the Chief

Funeral flowers

Growing up I had a friend whose mother owned a flower arranging business. I distinctly remember her preaching the superiority of fake flowers to the real thing, trying earnestly to convince me that while real flowers will die, the fake ones will last a lifetime. And with a little perfume, the fake ones can smell just as good or even better than those living beauties! As it turns out, Samoans are on her side.

Dressed in my best Sunday Whites and arms loaded with a large ring of fake purple and white flowers (ideal for the death of a man I have been told), I walked down the dirt road towards the church. The service was set to begin at 11am so Mina and I took a slow pace under her umbrella, leaving my house at 10:30. Of course we shouldn’t have bothered, as were we by far the first guests to arrive; the next coming almost an hour and a half later, just before the service began at noon.

When the train of cars finally pulled up to the front of the church, we joined the passengers and gathered at the churches entrance. Then, almost in wedding formation, the casket was carried down the center aisle to the front of the church, followed next by the congregation, then family, and last, those of us bearing flowers to drape around the table and casket. I was the last one in, not completely sure of my role in the progression. When I finally reached the front, I placed my flowers next to another beautiful ring make of blue and yellow. Avagas’ sister grabbed my arm and insisted I sit next to her in the front row. And like that, I knew I was family.

It was an emotional service and I understood more than I expected to. The choir had practiced some new songs for the event and they sang with strength I had never heard from them before. It was gorgeous. After a bible reading and some words from the pastor, Avagas’ sister took to the podium and weepingly read her speech. A matai followed, and then I was next. I had prepared a paper with what I intended to say and I had resolved that I would hold it together, but alas, emotion is a powerful thing, and my voice cracked as I began my first words. This being my first eulogy, I had not anticipated the rush of emotion that hit me. I spoke in English, starting with an apology in Samoan to those who would not understand my words. As my part finished I took my seat, trembling, and Avagas’ sister put her arm around me: “You miss your father, don’t you?” I smiled and replied, “ioe” (yes).

The pastor, also a dear friend of Avagas’, told many stories, amusing the audience with his perception of Avaga: “A Jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.” Amongst his stories, he told one of my favorite stories about Avaga and I, where Avaga had given me his last-name. The congregation let loose in laughter, and my tears dried up as my fond memories overtook the sadness.

Following the service we went to Avagas’ house where a cement tomb had been build and Avaga was placed into the ground. Removed from the casket, he lay wrapped in blankets, and he looked at peace. Our flowers surrounded the tomb, and songs of farewell were sung. Then we loaded into cars and travelled to the family home where gifts were presented and food was served. It was a day of great sadness, but the love this village had for Avaga shown through and it will remain with me as a beautiful memory of a great friend.

Where AM I?

Have you ever woken up to horses in your back yard? Or cows? Or pigs? If you said yes, then you probably live on a farm somewhere and that is understandable. BUT I DO NOT LIVE ON A FARM! For the past few weeks, I have been surprised to awake to all sorts of animals meandering in weeds between my house and the dried up river. The cows are the most frequent visitors, and I know they are just coming from across the river where their pasture lies. And the pigs are the Samoan equivalents of deer–they are pesky, intrusive and eat up your garden! But the horses have been a mystery. They showed up a few weeks back tied to a tree and hanging out in the dried riverbed. I figured their owner had just gone to work with the cows or something and had left them there for the day, but the next day, the horses had been moved closer to my house, and were now tied to root stubs of old trees in the weedy area. I was surprised, but didn’t think much of it. Small mysteries like this you come to tolerate pretty quickly living in Samoa. However, the third day I felt like I was in that scene from The Shining where the twin girls are in the hallway and they keep getting closer and closer….for the horses were waiting next to my water tank when I woke up! I was so startled I almost dropped my coffee (luckily, I held tight to my Speeder’s blend morning bliss). The horses hung out for a few days, and then just as they had arrived, they were gone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tofa Mai Feleni

You can’t say goodbye to someone once they have died. You can only reflect on the moments in life you shared together and through memories, the deceased may live on. Friday I learned that a very dear friend had passed away, and so this blog is dedicated to his memory. Avaga, Ava, my friend, mentor, father – you will be missed.

Upon arriving in my village, I was greeted by a small welcoming committee of matai (chiefs) from the village. Ava was among them. The first words I received we’re a somewhat grumbled, and disappointed “oh, we thought you would be a man. At least you are a pretty girl!” I awkwardly entered my future house filled with these men and in broken Samoan and English went through the still unfamiliar Ava ceremony. I was too nervous and too new to the language to understand what was said, but later on, Avaga explained it all to me. His words had been words of welcome, and within them, he had declared me a daughter of the village.

As time went on the village, I had many ups and downs with Ava. People joked that he was looking for a new wife and he had decided that I was to be the one. The fact that he was 60 years older than me just made them love the idea even more, and although I knew they were joking, it definitely grossed me out! After a few months, it got really old to be asked, “Where is your husband tonight?” Yet I persevered and went along with the joke. On Friday when I heard of his death, I had to crack a joke and say, “I guess we never will get married after all,” to which the teachers let out a collective, hearty laugh. But then one of the teachers said something that really moved me, and I don’t know why I didn’t see it all along. She told me that although we always joked, Ava really considered me the daughter he had never had, and he referred to me as such within the village. I was moved to tears – the first of many over the next few days.

Ava was instrumental in my understanding of village life and culture. We spent many afternoons discussing anthropology and sociology, two of his favorite topics. He is the one who gave me the history of the village in a “family tree” style that I am still trying to figure out. When I moved in, he installed my laundry lines, and when I showed up to church with no church hat, he brought me one his niece had sent from Tonga to make sure I never again showed up without a hat. I made the mistake of not wearing it one week and every woman asked me what had happened. I had figured it was just a fashion statement, but it turns out, that hat means a lot more than style. I have worn it every week since.

The last time I saw Ava was on the ferry a few weeks ago. He was returning from a failed operation in New Zealand but insisted that somehow he had been cured through Chinese medicines. He promised to stop by for coffee sometime soon, but unfortunately, that opportunity never arose. I will miss him greatly, for although our relationship was short in the scheme of life, it was intense and beautiful. The village is in morning, and the roads have been lined with palm leaves in preparation for the funeral procession Friday. Tofa mai felelni, Avaga.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vacation Mode - Fiji

As our plane flew into Nadi Airport I was struck by the size and dramatic landscape of Fiji. Samoa is tiny in comparison and relatively similar all throughout. Fiji however, seems to vary every direction you turn. There are the volcanic mountainous areas, level plains filled with grazing cows and vegetation, dense jungle, and arid sand dunes. There are sandy beaches and rocky coasts. Bays, functioning harbours, and no pigs as far as I could tell!

We touched down just as a rainstorm blew in and since we had planned to fly to Suva 3 hours later, we spent our layover making plans in the airport. When we went to check in for the Suva flight however, we were met by a surprise – our flight was not for 7pm, it had departed at 7am that morning! Of course we had no idea that Fiji airlines light their times in 24hour time, so we were baffled and bewildered that our Suva dream might not become a reality. However, we were in luck. The check in desk, for a hefty price, put us on the 8:10 flight, set to touch down in Suva by 9pm. Now we had planned to meet the other Peace Corps out on the town, so this was a bit of a bummer, but whatever, we made it happen.

Dana and I changed in the Nadi Airport bathroom and got our dancing clothes on. Then we hopped on the plane and jet setted over to Suva, and linked up with the other volunteers around 10:30pm. Talk about life in the fast lane! It was really fun to see them all there, and we were all in shock of Suva’s bustling city night life. It was a really fun change from our calm, quiet Samoa lives.

The rest of the week was spent sipping Mojito’s, eating EVERYTHING that came into site, shopping, and of course, spending some time enjoying the beauty of Fiji. Highlights of the trip include: Diving at Mana Island (with reef sharks and the worlds most beautiful soft coral), Steak Dinner at Uprising Hotel, Dancing the Night away at Beach Comber Island (all hail the Limbo King, Michael!), and the scenic bus ride along the Coral Coast from Uprising back to Nadi. Five days was not enough time to do Fiji justice and I will certainly return in the future, next time, for at least a month. And I will dive, dive, dive!

Vacation Mode - Samoa

Wow! Has it really been almost six weeks since I last wrote? As mentioned in the last blog, I planned to not write for a while, but this is absurd. Well, it is time to pick it up again, and what better place to start than my 3 week vacation?

The month of May was incredible. It kicked off with my English Day celebration (Check post: English Day Term One), which in turn ushered in the last day of Term One at school. I spent the first week of the holiday setting up my “Traveling Library” (blog to come on THAT!), and tidying the house for Tonto (okay, I think I can now call you Michael) who was to arrive the following week.

I picked Michael up Friday and over the next few days we hit up all the Savaii hotspots, including Lusia’s Lagoon, Tanu Beach, Le Lagoto, and of course, my village for some culture. It was so much fun catching up and sharing my island with him! Michael was getting dive certified, so I tagged along for some snorkeling up at Dive Savaii and was blown away by the difference surface diving verses deep diving. Snorkeling above Coral Gardens, a site I thought I had memorized from diving there so many times, I was impressed with the changes you observe from above. For one thing, I got to see how immense of a site the Gardens really are, and have a new appreciation for it. Other highlights included Sea Turtles, “Nemo” fish, and swimming through what felt like a city of house sized corals. It was very cool.

My village was extremely welcoming and hosted us to a beautiful Toonai following the church service. We ate all the traditional foods and Michael even got a taste of Ava. It must be nice to be a guy in Samoa. I was not offered any of the special drink. Talofai.

The remainder of the Samoa trip was spent on Upolu, where we linked up with Dana and rented a car to see the sites of the other island. We were out of luck at many of the sites as Samoa had been suffering a dry spell and many of the magical waterfalls and impressive rivers were bone dry. We did have an amazing time floating in the To Sua Trench and enjoying the park like premises there. I will definitely go back there a few more times before my service is up!

We lived the Apia life for a night and then it was off to Fiji for the next adventure!

The National Orchestra of Samoa

This year marks the celebration of 50 years of Peace Corps service worldwide. To celebrate this momentous occasion, the United States Embassy is hosting a Peace Corps/Independence Day Celebration next weekend in honor of the 4th of July. The evening will be chock full of entertainment, featuring Peace Corps project displays, a health awareness play, and what is set to be the highlight of the night, the National Orchestra of Samoa! Of course I had to join.

I am not sure much about the history of this orchestra, but it operates out of the university facilities and is made up of people of all ages, both Samoans and of the expat community. I heard about it through some of the other Peace Corps who have been actively participating for the past year. Although the level of the group operates around that of a beginning elementary school band, it has been a lot of fun to have the opportunity to play my flute once again.

For the Fourth, we will be playing a mixture of patriotic American tunes, patriotic Samoan tunes, and a few waltzes and other standards. The conductor does not really conduct, his style is more to say something like, “one, two….play.” It is all very amusing and I love comparing this experience with all the others I have had back home. Ed Simons would be laughing his head off to observe our rehearsals, and Marvin would have just quit. Smith would call it all “very bad business,” and Jacqui would see it as a teaching opportunity. Forever learning from my teacher even out of her presence, I am siding with Jacqui here and taking it as a teaching opportunity. The students are hard working, dedicated, and I can forse them growing into solid musicians. They just need a little guidance along the way. How exciting to be apart of this organization! One week till the big show!

Postcard Passports!

The postcard project has gotten off to a great start. The first week back from vacation, my mailbox was bustling with cards from Japan (thanks Dan!), Poland (thanks Yagil!), Switzerland (thanks Cousin Mary’s friend!), and Croatia (thanks Vanessa and Brian!)! Add to that collection my postcard to my students from Fiji, and we have five different countries already! To top it off, we received a package from a class in Atlanta, Georgia filled with letters and postcards, too! Thanks Wendy!

I began the project by introducing my students to the idea of postcard writing: brief, short notes about yourself and the country or place you happen to be writing from. Next, we took out the cards, one per day, and discussed the make up of a postcard: sender, recipient, postage stamps, etc. Finally, we began interactive lessons using the cards for reading, writing responses, and vocabulary enhancement.

Ever evolving, the program is now moving towards social studies and geography. I had the students make passports, and now every time a card comes in, we look up it’s country of origin in our Student Atlas, and the students must enter the country name, capital city, continent, and draw a picture of the countries flag. There are 23 students in my class, and once we reach 23 countries, we will do our very own “Parade of Nations,” where each student will represent a country and will do a small research project on their assigned country. It is really exciting to see this project evolve (so quickly!) and I find myself eagerly awaiting every trip to the post office. Thanks again to all who have participated so far!

We Love Ya, Ilove'a!

This post is dedicated to a very special reader from California, Ilovea. Ilovea found my blog looking for blogs about Samoa. And I am so grateful for this chance encounter, for it introduced me to an amazing, generous woman.

Abut two months ago, I received an email from an unknown woman. She was planning a trip to Samoa and was eager to visit some primary schools while touring the island. Would my school be interested in having her come visit, and would it be okay if her friends raised some funds to sponsor some of the students? Well, of course I said yes, and we proceeded to arrange the details from there: what school supplies are needed, what are kids into out here, etc.

Fast-forward two months and Ilovea was at our school! As promised, she brought a host of goodies for the students, but most importantly, she brought her positive, giving self and loving heart. I can safely say all of the students were touched by her generosity, and the example of giving set by Ilovea will hopefully install that quality within my students in their futures.

Every class prepared a song or small dance to perform in honor of the visitation, and the proudly performed them for Ilovea as she traveled through the classrooms. It was truly a special day at our school and Ilovea’s visit will not soon be forgotten.

Ilovea: thank you for thinking of our school and taking the time to visit. The students were so touched by your visit, and I see them using the new supplies every day. The girls love all of the lotions and lip glosses, and lets just say the boys smell a lot better these days! Every day the students ask for an update on where you are know and when you will be coming back. Again, thank you for your kindness and support. If you get the chance, send a note for the students my way and I will read it to them. I am sure they would love to hear from you and your family!

The (Not So) Fun Run

I entered the Samoan Independence Day “Fun Run” for the second time in my Samoa career. Last year, it was my first race and with that first race came all the nerves and excitement of the unknown. This year, as a veteran runner, it was my third race.

Last year was a challenge because I did not know the racecourse, was not aware of where the turn around would be, and was scared of the dog potential. Running the race this year, I knew where the turn around was and therefore could better pace myself and prepare, I knew landmarks and used them as bench-markers, and I knew that this particular stretch was not a heavy dog area. With all this knowledge, the race should have been nothing but fun. However, halfway through, my pesky knee started acting up, and by the time I was crossing the finish-line, the pain was excruciating. I am happy to have completed the race, but really bummed about the very likely possibility that I will not be able to do the island relay race this fall, because my knee has not really recovered from the fun run. I am doing small runs in the village to train, but nothing more than a mile and a half per run, and that just will not cut it for the island relay. What a pain, literally. I can only hope that my knee will strengthen and come September, I will be back out there with my team, ready to take first once again for the Peace Corps Kope Keine Girls!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Lovely Sunday

I awoke late this Sunday morning. It was 7:50 and church was to begin at 8:30. Knowing that the regular pastor was not here, I quickly decided that I was not going to church. I put on my pot of water to boil, and as I was pouring my stemming hot liquid of life, I changed my mind, raced to get ready, and was on time to church. I guess all I needed was come caffeine to get me going! It was a short service and at the end as I was leaving, a few of my year 8 students approached me and asked what I was doing for toonai. As I had not planned to be in the village today, I had made no plans for the after-church meal and jokingly invited myself to all of their houses. The four girls laughed and said, “don’t worry, we will come eat with you!” Not knowing what to expect, I raced home to prepare a little food myself, but I should not have worried, they had it all covered.

About ten minutes after I had arrived home, the first of my guests arrived. Pisi had a bowl of curried chicken soup, three large taro, and two palusami. Then Luti arrived with Saimini and taro. Alofagia joined the party with chicken and tomato soup, and last to arrive was Sasa, empty handed but ready to eat! Pisi, my “caretaker,” sent her home to bring food to contribute, and I opened a can of pisupo (corned beef), which I then friend with some golden onions. We lay down a mat, dished out the food, and the feast began. Sasa reappeared with some chicken soup and a plate of saka (bananas) and there was so much food that everyone ate until they could no longer move. It was really fun to have them over and quite possibly the most fun toonai I have ever been to because it was so relaxed, unlike the others where I feel like I am constantly being stared at and my every move analyzed.

After toonai, the girls went home to rest, but they have good memories and last night I had promised a movie. At 1pm, a group of seven kids of all ages appeared at my door, ready to watch a movie. I chose “Elf” for the occasion, because although it is totally out of season, it is a really entertaining movie that I thought they would probably understand. Visually, it is so well done that even if they did not understand what was happening, I knew they would at least enjoy the cinematography.

The movie ended in perfect time as the second church service was about to begin. I have started running a library out of my house, so the students signed out books and then went on their way to get ready for church without me having to rudely kick them out (as is sometimes the uncomfortable case). I have spent the rest of the day cleaning, and organizing my ideas for next term so that I do not have to worry about that later in the break. I can only hope that the week to come is as carefree and beautiful as today was. Then, Tonto is coming to visit, and then I am off to Fiji, so I anticipate no blogs for a while, but be patient, they will return. Till next time, Fa Soifua!

I Want to Ride my Bicycle

On Mothers Day Monday (because for even Sunday holiday we get Monday off as well), a bunch of us were hanging out at a local resort when we decided to commit ourselves to riding around the island after the last day of school. All week, I began to pump myself up. I rode my bike to school every day, went easy on the running, and hooked up my bike for optimal riding comfort. I was lacking a water bottle holder, so I duct-taped one on, and I rigged my bicycle rack to actually function. Come Friday, I knew I would be ready for the big trip.

As it turns out, I was not ready. I left my house and made it to Emi’s house in a record hour-and-forty-five minutes, and although I awoke the next morning feeling strong and ready to bike, the sky was never ending down pour of rain, and I found myself curling up into a ball and hoping the other girls didn’t actually want to bike in this weather. In any physical feat like this, mind is half the battle, and my mind definitely got the best of me. I know I could have done it, but the desire was just washed away by the rain. When the rain finally cleared, we decided to ride in the direction I had come from and hopefully reach Ali’s house, another hour or two past my house. Again, the trip was smooth, but by the time we reached my house, it was 5pm, and I was hungry. The idea of biking another two hours did not appeal to me at all, and so I cheered Emi and Elisa on as they set out into the afternoon sun and then I settled down for a hearty dinner followed by a deep, tranquil, well-deserved sleep. I am not one to quit on such missions, so I am a little disappointed in myself, but I know that physically I can do the island. Now I just need to conquer the mental side. Whatever happens, I must complete the circuit before my time here ends. This break is three weeks long, so who knows, maybe it will happen sooner than I expect! Till then, I will keep riding my bike, and be ready for when the time does come!

English Day Term One: Heal the World

In a whirl, the last day of school has come and gone, and with it, my first attempt at directing, stage-managing, writing, and producing a play. I am not fishing for your compliments here, but to be honest, even I am not exactly sure how I pulled it off in the end!

In an earlier blog, I described the formation of the idea and the hardships faced while rehearing. In short, the idea came to me while at church one Sunday morning about six weeks ago. This was the first Sunday following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and so naturally, it was on my mind as I sat quietly contemplating the previous week while a sermon in Samoan rang throughout the church. Lost in thought, I scribbled down the musical, and by Monday morning, I had a script and an idea to present to the principal and other teachers. We got to work immediately, and six weeks later, a production was presented to the mothers of the school children.

The show went well, all things considered, and I learned a lot about producing a play in Samoa. First and most importantly, never again will I attempt a show on the last day of school. In the second to last week of school, the students were preoccupied with exams, which made rehearsals unreliable, but offered a good distraction for the kids after their daily test. However, being that exams finished Friday and there was a holiday Monday, many students decided that school was optional the last week and I guess there parents agreed, because for the dress rehearsal, only half the cast was present! I told myself that more students would be present for the actual show because we had worked so hard and they had seemed so excited, but to my dismay, I was mistaken, and even fewer students came to school for the final show! I had not cast any understudies (my second lesson in directing is to never forget to do that again!), but fortunately, a few of the year 8 students were eager to jump in and fill the deserted roles. They picked it up well and the show went relatively smoothly.
The parents seemed to enjoy the show, the students definitely enjoyed performing, and I felt a great sense of pride for what we accomplished as a school. I had assumed that my presence would be needed the entire time back stage for scene changes, but two of my year 7 boys really took to the behind the scene action and surprised me with their ability to follow the story-board and set the stage accordingly. I stayed with them to ensure smooth transitions, but next time, I think I know who my stage managers will be because these boys really stepped it up and impressed me!

I am so glad that the show was a success and am relieved that I am now on break and can just relax after such a stressful, unpredictable, last two weeks of school. Term Two the plan is to do an even more epic English Day celebration, and I will write another play to perform. I am thinking it will be based around the theme of “Under the Sea.” I am now taking song suggestions, so send them my way!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

There are Cucumbers in my Pumpkin Patch!

Since my arrival in Samoa I have been fantasizing about starting a garden. I tried to start one about a year ago and was somewhat successful, with eggplant and chili plants sprouting. However, my joy was short lived as the plants were ripped up by some cheeky pigs (or children….), and I, too soon, threw in the towel and gave up on my dream. About two months ago with the help of some of my students, I returned to my dream. We spent a week preparing the area. First came the massive weed clean up, which took two days in itself. Trees were cut, pig droppings were shoveled away, and rocks were combed away. Next came the building of the rock wall to keep out the pigs. And finally, we planted. It was a meager garden attempt. All that was planted were two stalks of laupele (kind of like spinach), and a pumpkin plant we had found growing among the weeds. Of the three plants, one died right away, and the garden was left to it’s own devices. Every few days I go out and do some weeding, but I have not put great effort into this project.
A few days ago I began to admire the massive growth that has occurred in the pumpkin plant. From one simple plant I would now argue that I have a pumpkin patch! After school today I decided to check it out. I wandered over to the corner of my rock fence to check the progress of my pumpkins. And wouldn’t you know, there was a cucumber growing in my pumpkin patch!! I thought it was a joke; that someone had put it there, but no, I began to look closer and realized that 6 other small fruits are blossoming as well! My ignorance and willingness to believe that any leafy, viny, green plant with small yellow flowers would be a pumpkin plant gave me false hope for pumpkins. But now I have something even better to look forward to: cucumbers! Let’s hope the children don’t discover it!