Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Patty's Day - Island Style

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, the day where everyone is a little bit Irish, and me with my lack of Irish blood celebrated the only way I knew how: with tons of green-ness!

The night before, I gave myself an “Irish Manicure,” painting my toes and nails in a stylish florescent green. When I awoke Thursday morning, Flogging Molly was turned on and the dancing began even before the sun had risen. I drank my Vermont coffee (yes, not Irish, but still good), and biked to school wearing a green pulatasi. At school I used only green chalk and green pens to mark my students papers, and I tried to teach my year 7 students a little about the holiday. I quickly realized that all I know about it is that it celebrates someone named Saint Patrick and that Americans like to wear green and drink beer on this day. My lesson didn’t progress too far as a result, but my students did get the idea that people wear green.

Anyways, I have had a tough readjustment to school this year, but I guess the luck of the Irish was with me today. For the first time in seven weeks I did not want to cry at school and my lessons all ran according to plan.

I returned home to more Flogging Molly and decided to get creative with the green. I put some food coloring into oil and then made popcorn. The result was not too impressive, but I did get one or two green kernels out of the experiment. The best creations were my four leaf clover green pancakes, green eggs, and egg-white wine. All in all, it was a very festive day. I acted similarly for Valentines Day, making red heart shaped pancakes and putting heart stickers on my students’ papers. I look forward to the next color holiday when I can get creative again! Maybe for Independence day I will bring out the blue. Till then, it’s back to normal colored foods!

Infestation 2011

About a year ago I stopped using my mosquito netting. It was too hot, bothersome to tuck in, and annoying to maintain (taking it down to shake it out outside is a major pain due to how I have tied it up). However, I began using it again a few weeks ago after another spider scare. I would have thought that my arachnophobic tendencies would have weakened by this point. Who knows, maybe they have. However, I still can’t sleep with the idea of those long legged hairy spiders creeping over me as I slumber. So, the net came down once again, the dust was shaken off, and I had peace of mind while I awaited the death by Mortein of this large spider hovering too close for comfort.

The next morning my mind was set at ease as I found the spider dead on the floor. I decided to keep the net down though, just because it has been too hot to sleep with any kind of sheets, and having the net up offers protection incase a stray mosquito or spider did slip into the room. Little did I know that a few weeks later, the mosquito net would protect me from one of my worst nightmares: a swarm of hideous cockroaches!

I write this Thursday night, after a week of interrupted sleep. It began Monday night. I awoke around 1am to the pitter-patter noise created by one of two things: a cockroach, or a centipede. The noise wasn’t much and I located the sole roach with my flashlight. That settled, I fell asleep and slept till dawn. Upon arising, I noticed 4 dead roaches, not localized but scattered around the room. I didn’t think much of four, even though it had been a while since I had had any. I wish I had insight as to what was to come.

Tuesday night I am again awoken around 1am to the sound of pitter-patter. But as I lay in bed trying to drift back to sleep, the sound escaladed and pretty soon I was seeing the shadow of roaches climbing up the sides of my mosquito nets and flying through the air. I was totally grossed out and thankful for the netting. I checked where I had tucked in the net to make sure I was safe, and with the help of some music to drown out the noise and my airplane eye mask to block the shadows, I did eventually fall back asleep. When I awoke, the death count was a startling THIRTEEN cockroaches. Three were in my sink, four by the head of my bed, and the rest in various locations. I swept them up, made coffee, and searched for any stragglers.

Wednesday night was the same story, although not as bad as Tuesday. The death toll was a mere eight, with only one in the sink and five near the bed.

Like I said, it’s Thursday night and I am putting off sleep. I am curious about what I will find waiting for me in the morning, and part of me is dreading the 1am horror show. However, tomorrow is Friday, so on the bright side, regardless of the total number, I can get to town and buy some serious death traps for these nasty creatures. On that note, I am heading to bed. My mosquito net is solidly tucked under my mattress and my Mortein is close at hand. Good night!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Magic Circus of Samoa

I first heard about the Magic Samoan Circus last May as I drove across the Cross Island Road. In what felt like the middle of nowhere, a large colorful sign advertised the circus and pointed down a deserted road. I inquired about it when I returned to town and was told, “Oh yes, there is a great circus, but it is not here right now, it is on tour.” I thought to myself, “Wow, not only does Samoa have a circus – a magical one at that – but it is so good that it goes on tour!” I promised myself that whenever the circus returned I would be sitting front and center for opening night.

Months past and my dream moved to the outskirts of my mind until it was hardly even an aspiration anymore. I had almost forgot that the magic circus even existed until one day in September when I got word that the circus would be returning! I asked when, but no one knew. December came and I went home for break, still not having seen the circus. But when I returned, there is was - a big top situated right on the seawall in Apia, running shows every night and coming to Savaii in February! I was so excited – I wanted to go right away. But of course, everyone had seen it while I was away on holiday and I did not want to go by myself.
Weeks past and I did not see the show. Then February arrived and the sign went up: The Magic Circus of Samoa would be in Savaii for one week before packing up and heading to American Samoa. My time had clearly arrived – it was now or never for this much anticipated show.

I went to town early Thursday morning, grinning wildly the entire bus ride. Since the show wouldn’t begin until 7pm I had the whole day to shop, do some grading, and get in a swim before heading over to the circus grounds, located right next to the ferry to the left of the wharf. I could go on and on about my anticipation, but the circus was so amazing that I need to get to it.

Lili and I were given complimentary VIP tickets thanks to the kindness of Lusia, and when we arrived, we were literally seated front row center in the box seating area. Lili bought a hotdog and I bought some cotton candy bigger than my head. Nothing has ever tasted so good. In true Samoan fashion, the ticket said 7, but the show did not begin until closer to 8 when the audience arrived.

The circus reminded me of what circuses once were before the glitz and glamour of shows such as the cirque de sole. There were no animals, aside from one very frightened, squealing pig incorporated into one of the clowns’ acts. The stunts were well practiced and daring, but on a small scale. Highlights included four pole dancing men who defied the rules of gravity, a “four legged man” who danced hip hop and “cut off” two of his legs behind a velvet curtain, two clowns, an impressive trampoline act, and some daring juggling. The lowest point was surprisingly the fire dancing – a Samoan tradition which I would have expected to be the best of the best at the circus! Regardless of the subpar Siva Afi, the circus was a great success. Not only were the entertainers captivating, but the crowd was fun to watch as well. Seeing Samoans who rarely leave their village being drawn into the comedy routines was hilarious. One older man was taken onto stage to have his head “cut off” by the clowns in their guillotine. It was clear that he actually thought he was going to die. This poor mans terror fueled the enjoyment for the rest of us as we watched him call out his love to his wife and say his prayers before defying death and living through the dropping of the guillotine.

In short, the circus was nothing less than spectacular, and I am so glad that I was able to catch it before it headed out to tour the rest of Oceana. As is always the case after I see a circus, ballet, or musical, my passion for the arts reignites and I find myself dreaming of one day joining the circus. For now, I will have to be satisfied with life in a foreign country. But who knows, maybe one day, I will be juggling flaming torches while hanging upside down from a trapeze. A girl can only dream.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Samoan Tattoo!!!

I have heard it said that in this world, there are people who have read Harry Potter and people who have not, as if it is such a life changing adventure that once you have completed the journey you can call yourself a proud graduate of the Harry Potter series. Similarly, there are people in this world who have tattoos and people in this world who do not. Until last weekend, I belonged to neither of these not so elite clubs, but as of Saturday, I can proudly claim that I am “tat’ed up!”

Tattoos are not a form of rebellion, vanity, or self-loathing here in Samoa. Instead, they are part of Samoan culture just as ear piercing is a part of our American culture. Traditionally, warrior men would get the full body tattoo as a sign of their bravery and courage, and well-respected women would receive the maliu as a gesture of honor and respect.

Many of the Peace Corps Samoa volunteers decide to get a tattoo halfway through the Peace Corps experience as a way of honoring the culture that they have come to know and respect, as well as for a lifelong memory of the experience here.

On Saturday, I went with my friend Dana to mark ourselves permanently as Peace Corps Samoa volunteers. Dana had had a tattoo before and she decided to incorporate her new tattoo, the tauvai, around her old one. Her tattoo circles her ankle with traditional symbols of strength, power, faith, courage, and love. It looks amazing!

I had been pretty set on doing a non-traditional tattoo on my foot, where the flip-flop line would be. To me, this would not only represent Samoa, but also the drive for an endless summer, and the reminder to always stay connected to the earth. In yoga, the mountain pose is one of the most powerful poses – to an outsider, it appears that a person is just standing still, but to the practitioner, it is a pose of balanced energy, pressing your human energy against the energy of the earth pushing up against you. I loved the idea of having a foot tattoo as a constant reminder of this force. However, it was not to be.

When I arrived at the studio, I was unimpressed with the images I saw of people who had previously tattooed the flip- flop line. It seemed like something that I may still do in the future, but as a way of capturing the traditional Samoan designs, it would be a waste of creative energy, as there would not be much space to work with. I had tossed around the idea of getting a tattoo on the side of my body, and as I flipped through pages of images, I was struck with an idea: a hibiscus flower with traditional designs running up and down in wave-like curves from the flowers center. It was perfect. I talked to Paul Jr. (the artist) and he sketched it out on my upper left rib cage. Then, with a room full of support (Dana, Ali, and Lili were all there), I climbed the table and stretched out for what I feared would be the worst pain of my life. I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t painful – I had to resort to squeezing Allie’s hand REALLY hard at times, but I did not cry, and after about 45 minutes, my personal tribute to Samoa had been etched on me as an ever-lasting memory. Three days later and I am still feeling slight discomfort, similar to that of a bad sun burn, but the tattoo is doing well and looking great, and I could not be happier with my decision to go through with it.

The Ferry is Broken.

This will be a short blog, as it was a brief, amusing story that will only truly resonate with those of us who have rode the ferries’ of Samoa. On Saturday morning after my epic journey to get to the wharf, I found myself situated on the small ferry at 11:45am, just 15 minutes before the ferry was to depart. Gazing at the sea, I felt a sense of unease as I had not taken any Dramamine, but the weather looked promising and the waves seemed pretty flat from my prospective. I took out my travel lavalava (I always bring an extra to use as a pillow, bed sheet, or towel), crumbled it up into a ball, and put my head down to nap.

I awoke 15 minutes into the trip. A storm had blown in and the ferry was splashing water on our ankles. Too tired to care and a bit seasick, I put my bag on the seat beside me and went back to attempting sleep. At one ‘o clock I received a call from Dana: “We can get our tattoo’s at 3:30 today, does that work for you?” I excitedly answered yes, but checking the progress of the boat, I was not so sure. Land was not in sight after an hour on the boat, and the journey usually only takes about an hour, maybe an hour and fifteen minutes.

An hour and a half into the journey we were still a good distance from land, and when we finally docked, it was just before two. Then to the shock of us all, the ramp that lets passengers, both on foot and in vehicles, onto the ferry, was stuck – it would not lower! I called Lili and was about to call Dana to tell her I would not be making it to town on time, when the ferry workers pulled out the entrance ramps that are used with the big ferry (the big ferry has a side entrance for passengers) and in a makeshift manner, they propped the ramp up against the side of the small ferry. It barely reached, so four workers had to hold it in place as we crossed in a single file across the ramp and onto the waiting dock. The two men on the end helped people step down, as there was a gap about a foot high between the ramp and the pavement below. The five cars that had been on the boat were out of luck, although they must have made it off at some point because they were not there the next morning when I returned to Savaii.

I hailed a taxi, got to town at 3pm, and had just enough time to visit the market before heading over for my tattoo. But that’s another story, read on to see how that went!

Tell Me What you Wanna Hear

One of the most frustrating things I have come to accept as the norm here in Samoa is the assumption of an answer. In America there is a crude phrase that warns, “If you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.” Although I feel it cliché to repeat such a phrase (and a bit cliché to even use the word cliché here…!), it is a very true statement that needs examination. I have been guilty of assuming peoples preference for food or drink, interest or lack there of for certain shows and movies, and other trivial matters that I never quite felt made an ass out of anyone. However, in Samoa, the assumption is not made around solid facts. Instead, people try to assume what you want to hear. In preferences of drink such as tea verses coffee, no real harm is done when you are served one without being consulted first. However, in more pressing matters such as, “is the ferry running?” or “will there be a bus soon?” it can be maddening t receive the answer someone “thought” you wanted to hear, regardless of if it is true or not.

Although I confront these assumptions daily at school (ex. Does everyone understand the homework? YES THANK YOU! When clearly they do not…), the most recent confusion occurred last weekend.

I was planning a trip to Apia Saturday morning to celebrate Lili’s birthday in town with her and some of the other girls. They had all gone in Friday, but due to the opening of a new church hall in my village, I had decided to come in Saturday morning and hopefully spend the day by the pool reading and relaxing. Friday night as I went for my afternoon run I decided it would be a good idea to stop by the “Bus terminal” to check out the times of the morning buses. I was hoping to catch the 8am ferry and was curious if there would be a bus leaving in time. The owner of the buses was at the store and I know he understood when I asked if there would be a bus leaving for the 8am ferry. His response was, “yes, but you will not make it in time.” Huh? I was confused. I asked again: “What time will the bus be leaving?” His response was 6am, or 6:30, but again he warned that I would not make the ferry. I figured this was just him being overly cautious and I thanked him, announcing that I would be waiting at 5:45am to make sure I did not miss my bus.

I awoke at 5am to a starry sky draped over a slumbering village. As I sipped my coffee by the front door I marveled at how pleasant village life is and how lovely this hour of the morning felt, long before the roosters started their racket and the sun scorched the earth and air. At 5:45 I heard the bus rumbling from a distance, put down my coffee, and ran out to the road. I watched in horror as the bus appeared, going the wrong direction! Sure enough, the bus had left “for the 8am ferry,” however; it would be another hour and a half before it reached me going the proper direction to take me to the wharf. I had not thought to ask which direction the bus would be going at 6am, only to ask if it was running. And Mika had not wanted to disappoint me with a direct answer. I assumed and made an ass of myself. Silly me.

Over the next few hours several buses did pass me, all heading the wrong direction. At 7:20 that first bus finally rolled back through my village. I hopped on defeated, knowing that I had missed the 8am ferry and the 10am would not be running. I had woken up at 5am to take a boat that left at noon and would not arrive in Apia till 3pm due to ferry issues. I arrived in town and settled into Lusia’s for some breakfast as I began my long wait. Never again will I assume anything about a bus, or try to take the 8am ferry!