Monday, February 14, 2011

Oh Sugar.

Today might be my last day as a teacher here in Samoa as I committed a cardinal sin this afternoon. I accidently stole the sugar supply.

We had had visitors at the school today and as a result the village came together to provide an overwhelmingly large feast for the visitors as well as us teachers. Foods served included spaghetti sandwiches, fried tuna sandwiches, boiled and half boiled eggs, papaya pudding, pisupo crackers, chicken (both fried and grilled), pig (umu style), fresh fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, and koko Samoa. That is just to name a few. After meal number one I was sufficiently stuffed and went back to my room to prepare lessons for later in the week. I wandered the classrooms looking for a class to teach, but most of the students were busy serving lunch or cleaning the rooms, so I was out of luck for the day. I gave out library books, did some tutoring, and played a review game with the students still remaining in my year 7 class. By the time I finished those tasks, I felt that there was nothing to do but to go home early. The other teachers would not allow me to help with the serving of food, and I was feeling useless, so I asked permission to leave.

The teacher in charge seemed offended that I would request to miss out on lunch number two and so I quickly retracted my request, but by this point it was too late and she insisted that I leave, but that I take a doggie bag of food home with me. Never feeling like more of an outsider I took the package of food that had previously been wrapped in brown paper and headed home. On the walk home I decided that I really did not want this extra food, so being the nice person I am, I stopped by Mina’s house and presented it to her.

“Oh Sera, thank you!” she said, “What is it?” I relied that I did not know but assumed it was sandwiches and crackers. She opened it in front of me only to reveal a bag of what must have been three pounds of sugar. My heart skipped a beat. Not only did I not stay for food but I also accidentally stole the schools sugar supply and gave it away! I couldn’t take it back after gifting it to Mina, so I sucked up my courage and went home.

Like I said, I am dead tomorrow. I have no money so I cannot buy more for the school until next week, but I will bring my small jar of sugar reserved for my morning coffee and hope it suffices tomorrow. Never a dull day in Samoa! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I am Respectfully and Lovely For You

These words could come from a bad romance movie, or maybe be used by an illiterate person in their wedding vows. But today I was told this line by one of my year 8 students, and although she was apologizing for disrespecting me either in the day and I didn’t want to let her slide so easily, the full hearted attempt at an apology in broken English was enough for me to smile and forgive her. Let me take a step back to where this all began.

Last year I began a Homework Center after school. Every day from 3-6 I would sit at my house and help students with their homework. At first I had what I felt to be a ton of students coming: 5-10 per day spread over the course of two hours. The students quickly learned that I was not offering to do their homework for them and the number trickled down to 2 or 3 every few days. By the end of term two, the homework center had seen it’s end, and only a few students would stop by per month. I felt defeated in my effort but somewhat relieved to have those after school hours back to myself, giving me time to take a rest, then wake up and go for a run before settling down for the evening.

This year the Homework Center started again, and it is flying! I spent the majority of the last school year with the Year 7 students, and now these year 7 students are in year 8 preparing for their college (high school) entrance exam. This class has 28 students, 15 of which have come to my house every day for assistance with their work over the past week. While I am so glad that they see me as a resource, it is exhausting having 15 kids show up immediately following school and staying until the bell rings signaling “sa,” the time they must be in their houses.

I have made it my mission for the year to see this class get accepted into the top schools and so I cannot turn the kids away, it just feels selfish. While on the phone with my parents the other day 4 girls showed up and I apologized to my parents saying I had to go tutor. My mom put it well: “Don’t apologize,” she said, “go do what you went there to do!” That statement has become my motto. When the kids are cheeky, when it seems like my little house cannot possibly fit another student, I find a way to get to them, to help them understand and to learn. We cover English, Math, Social Science, Basic Science, Economics, and even giving speeches.
However, I am not superwoman, and although the motto worked Monday through Wednesday, by Thursday I was spent. I walked home from school at 2:30, made myself a snack, and by 3pm, 15 students were knocking at my door: ALL AT ONCE!!!!! I took a deep breath, smiled, and opened the door. The assignment was easy and I was able to give each student individual attention, but by 5:30 my head was pounding, my eyes were closing, and I just could not focus any longer. I told the students that I was much too tired to do anymore with them for the day, and they respectfully left. I went into my room, lay down, and not 5 minutes later, there was a knock at my door. One girl who had already spent an hour at homework center was back, with two girls who had not come. I opened the door and apologized to the newcomers, assuring them that I wouldn’t mind looking over their work in the morning before school started. They seemed disappointed but they understood. I lay back down, and then the one girl who had already been at home work center started getting cheeky. She sat down next to my window and began talking loudly in Samoan and broken English, saying that I am the worst Peace Corps and that she wishes I were nicer, like the other volunteers she has met. At that point, I lost it. I went outside and once I started yelling at her, I felt like I couldn’t stop. This girl has been continuously rude to me over the past year and it was like I was finally letting it all come out. She walked away, head hanging low, and I went back inside to finally get some sleep.

I awoke an hour later feeling much better, made some dinner, and then heard a faint knocking at my door. When I opened it, there she was with a bouquet of flowers picked from her garden. “Rachel,” she said, “I did not mean to make you sad. I am respectfully and lovely for you and only tell joke before. I no mean what I said before.” And with that she handed me flowers and held out her left hand for me to shake. I smiled and invited her in to talk. She left a few minutes later and I felt relieved that we had been able to talk it out. So many times at school I witness the students not being able to resolve their problems with one another through talking and instead, they just resort to smacking each other. Although she has been a pain, to see this student come and apologize, in English, was pretty great. Maybe I should start yelling at my students more! But then, I would not be me. I do not appreciated being disrespected, but I hate yelling, I hate holding a grudge, and I hate to be angry. So I need to be firmer with my rules and be honest with myself. If I cannot do a homework session, I won’t. I will continue to remind myself of why I came here, chant my motto, and remember, patience is the key to success in this job. And for my respectfully and lovely students, I will teach another lesson on how to use adverbs.