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!