Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The End of the Village, the End of Training

We’re done with the village stay! We’re back to a life of internet, running water, and free will! Hooray! I did the unthinkable and brought my laptop with me to the village for the final 3 days. A number of the other volunteers have been bringing theirs since early November, but I’ve been deathly afraid. If this thing were to break, it would be the equivalent of losing an important body part. Having it in Fausaga has allowed for some extra writing and this blog post is a bit long. That said, it’s the last time I’ll be internet-less for such a long period of time, and therefore the last time I should need to cover 2 weeks+ in one blog entry.

One more thing before I begin: When running a marathon, a common sentiment is that you actually finish the first half at mile 20, and the last 6.2 miles are so physically and mentally strenuous that they are the second half of the race. The same rule seems to apply to the village stay. Back in early November when we came for the 3-week stint, within 45 minutes of getting here, I was enjoying myself. I was happy to be with Akanese and co., and things seemed all right. This final village stay began under a much darker mood, and times seems to have crawled by at a much slower pace.

So without further ado…

Saturday, November 29
    9:00 a.m. Before we set out for the village, we have our All Volunteer conference where all of the Peace Corps Volunteers from across Samoa come together. The bus driver forgets to pick up the trainees. We arrive a half hour late.
    11:45 a.m. During lunch, I slice all 4 fingertips on my right (i.e. dominant) hand while trying to open a cracker tin.
    11:45 a.m. I have resorted to an all-cracker diet because my diarrhea has reached crisis level. So the fingertips thing is really just adding injury to insult.
    4:48 p.m. We arrive back in the village.
    5:33 p.m. While watching sandlot volleyball, my body feels a little achy and I get a light headache. This does not bode well.
Sunday, November 30
    1:28 a.m. I have a raging fever brought on from angry diarrhea. I’m burning through the sheets and my mouth is arid. I realize my fresh new bottle of water that I bought in Apia is locked inside my host family’s house. My only other option is the water bottle my family bought for me, which is the prime suspect in The Case of the Diarrhea Causer. So I thirst my fever.
    7:32 a.m. Ignoring the “lots of fluids” advice works handily. My fever is gone when I wake up. I skip morning church to sleep.
    2:00 p.m. We go to afternoon church 2 villages over in Vai’e’e. This is a special event where choirs from all over the region come to perform. 9 choirs in all, and each has a pastor that gets up and speaks for about 8-10 minutes before the choir performs. Afternoon church stretches out for over 2 hours. My body is miserable.
    4:22 p.m. I go to take a nap. My nap stretches to Monday morning.
Monday, December 1
    7:00 a.m. After sleeping for 22 of the past 24 hours, I finally feel niceably better.
    8:00 a.m. We start preparing for 3 days of model school at Palalaua College down the road. We’ll be teaching condensed computer lessons to a class of 20 students.
Tuesday, December 2
    8:30 a.m. We are introduced to the Palalaua students at an assembly. Our training director gives a short explanation of our presence, and then invites us to introduce ourselves. I am sitting on the end and he gestures for me to go first. Normally I’d be fine with it, but in this situation, do you get up and give the introduction in English, or do you take a gamble and do it in Samoan? My kneejerk reaction is to go with Samoan; afterall, these are rural Samoan students. “O lo’u igoa o Mati. Ou te sau mai California i ‘Amerika.” The rest of the group follows my lead and does the intro in Samoan. Everyone giving their name and state. And then Onofia, one of our language instructors, gets up and gives his name and his district in Samoa, imitating our nervousness and lack of pronunciation skills. This joke kills. Onofia is beloved among our group though, and if someone had to make fun of us after we’d just been thrown under the bus, it’s just as well that it was him.
    5:37 p.m. At sandlot volleyball, one of the guys serving (They play with 1 permanent server and 6 field players. Local rule.) is wearing short shorts, a short-sleeved skin-tight t-shirt, and puka shells. Also, his serve is over-the-top effeminate and explosive. In San Francisco, I’d know exactly what statement this guy was making, but here, not so sure.
Wednesday, December 3
    7:30 a.m. Today is the first day off the all-cracker diet.
    9:44 a.m. Dan and I argue about whether Kevin watches the same violent old movie in Home Alone and Home Alone 2. Also up for debate is whether those scenes were shot specifically for the Home Alone movies, or if they are actual old movies. Those with abundant internet time, your verification is appreciated.
Thursday, December 4
    12:32 p.m. I have the last class on the last day of Model School. For all of these kids, all of this information is review, and they are bored to tears. So I get them to play Simon Says, which goes over strangely well. Then we do charts in Excel for a half hour.
    1:17 p.m. We have a goodbye assembly. The entire school sings for us. Loudly. Sitting in front of a couple hundred voices singing at the top of their lungs feels like a weird combination of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and that scene in “The Little Mermaid” when Sebastian’s orchestra goes from dead silent to bursting with sound in one beat.
    9:04 p.m. Phil and his sister come over to play cards. I am freezing. So cold that blood stops circulating in some of my fingers. It’s summer here in the Tropic of Capricorn. No one else is cold. Fever #2.
Friday, December 5 - CULTURE DAY
    6:30 a.m. Today is culture day. Men are scheduled to go to the plantation and kill a pig. Women are going to stay home and make soup. I show up late on account of the fever, so I end up spending less time at the mosquito-infested plantation. Well played, Matthew.
    9:56 a.m. The group actually kills 2 pigs. Rather than slitting the throat, the common method here is to lay the pig on its back, lay a stick across its neck, and then stand on either 9:00 end of the stick until the pig suffocates. This method is a bit long and gruesome. After, the top layer of skin and innards are removed, the body is stuffed with hot rocks and banana leaves, and then the both pigs are roasted along with taro, breadfruit, palusami, and fish.
    10:01 p.m. I confirm that my family plus Phil and his sister are going to the movies tomorrow. Let that marinate in your head for a moment before continuing. Put yourself in my shoes. When someone tells you we’re going to the movies tomorrow, what assumptions do you make? Thought about it? Good.
Saturday, December 6
    6:15 a.m. I am woken up by Akanese. Church bells rang in the middle of the night, which sometimes means that someone died, so my guess is that’s what’s up. When I show up for breakfast, Asolima tells me urgently, “Get ready!”
    “For what?” I ask, confused and slightly annoyed.
    Asolima is more annoyed though. “I told you we’re going to the movies.”
    For a split second, I try and use reason, “Right, but...” and then I cut myself off, and decide to roll with it. We pick up Phil and his sister and drive across the island to Apia to the country’s only movie theater.
    8:57 a.m. We arrive at the theater after making a couple stops to see family along the way. We decide to see “Australia,” Baz Luhrmann’s new film, which starts at 10. We drive aimlessly around Apia because we have time to kill. Because we woke up at dawn to see a movie that is showing 4 times today.
    1:34 p.m. Akanese is really getting on my nerves in the van after the movie. We make another stop to visit family, but most of us sit in the car. Akanese sticks her finger in my ear. This is the last straw. I get out of the van, pull her out of the back of the van, slide the door closed, and then hop back into the front seat, locking the door behind me. I forgot to lock the sliding door though, and Akanese quickly figures this out. I reach through my open window, and pull the door shut. Akanese screams and the clutches her fingers as she cries. It turns out, as I very much suspected at the time, that she was faking. But she’s a really good faker. She has asthma, and has found that it gains her a lot of sympathy if she can roll and asthma attack into her crying fits. Asolima comes back to the car. We leave.
Sunday, December 7
    10:16 a.m. After church, we go to have big Sunday brunch, to’a’na’i, in Apolima with the entire extended family of my dead host father. To’ana’i is such a big deal in Samoa that the Samoan name for Saturday is Aso To’a’na’i because traditionally, Saturday is spent preparing Sunday’s brunch.
    2:06 p.m. Bored at the family party, I hang out with the kids. One five year-old I meet is Iva from New Zealand. She says unintentionally hilarious things (“You smashed my lolly, but I’ve fixed it.”). I get the feeling that she is a nerd. We are able to bond over our nerdiness and our ability to speak English. Picture below.
Monday, December 8
    8:00 a.m. We start practice for our final language exam, which will be held on Thursday. We each have a 20-minute interview with an independent auditor. It’s slightly stressful.
    8:37 p.m. My host family starts playing bingo for money at home. They are avid church bingo attendees, so the home experience is pretty authentic. Same varying bingo patterns to win, same cut-throat attitude. 10 sene per card per game. I lose.
Tuesday, December 9
    8:00 a.m. Happy birthday, Danielle Giles.
    8:17 a.m. Group 81 proves itself to be a governmental body when we have to democratically come up with a mission statement. After a strangely heated discussion that hurts many feelings, we come up with the following flowery, new age, non-speak:

    As teachers, lifelong learners, and active participants in our communities, group 81 hopes to inspire our students’ love of learning and encourage our fellow teachers to pursue the highest standards of education. With the idealism to bring sustainable improvement and the humility to work and learn within the Fa’asamoa, we hope the growth we promote will be reflected in ourselves. We will develop local resources to be used beyond our years of service while we impart a greater understanding of Samoa to our communities back home.


    10:30 a.m. We have a slew of “finals” today. One bizarrely long-winded test for Life and Work, another for health, and one for safety and security.
    12:06 p.m. I give the Medical Officer a stool sample so she can figure out what’s up with my diarrhea and fever problem. I don’t think I’ve ever collected a stool sample before. I find the process surprisingly easy and painless.
Wednesday, December 10
    9:00 a.m. I have my final in-house language assessment. The atmosphere is jovial.
    12:00 p.m. When I get home for lunch, a shiny red car is parked in our driveway. This turns out to be Uncle Laumatia’s rented car. Uncle Laumatia lives in Salt Lake City. He is also the highest chief in our family. The highest highest chief. This means my guest status is immediately downgraded to economy class.
    7:02 p.m. My host mother’s entire extended family has dinner at Jordan’s house. While we are economy class guests now, we are still treated like royalty. Oh, and I forgot. Uncle Laumatia calls me “Martin”. I don’t object because I think it would be rude. He calls Jordan “Jonathan”. These names will stick for the duration of our time in Fausaga. Kind of grating. Oh well.
Thursday, December 11
    9:00 a.m. I have my interview with the independent auditor. I need to score at least Intermediate-Low, and I score Intermediate-Mid, which is good enough. Later I find out that over half the group has scored Intermediate-High. Stupid overachievers.
    1:28 p.m. We have the afternoon off and take advantage of it by going to the beach. While at the beach, a sea slug attaches itself to Supy, and Paul organizes the first annual coconut shotput accuracy challenge, which ends up being as ridiculous as it sounds. We also explore what is left of an abandoned resort, which turns out to feel like an eerie mix of MYST and the Dharma Initiative.
    5:44 p.m. Back at the ranch, I go to fill my water bottle, and the Country Director Dale is sitting at the trainers’ house. “Hello, Matt!” He calls out. I’ve never had a conversation with him, but I like that he knows my name.
    10:18 p.m. I finish reading “The Christmas Train” by David Baldacci. It is one of the worst books I have ever read, and I recommend it to no one. It has a completely unnecessary twist at the end that just makes the whole thing more strange. But really, the whole book was unnecessary.
Friday, December 12
    10:00 a.m. Dale is in town to do individual interviews with each of us as part of the Peace Corps initiation process. Conversation in mine rolls around to me not going to Turkmenistan and also hating teaching in Oakland. I think I make him nervous.
    1:52 p.m. Koa and I go to meet with the Treasurer of the EFKS system. EFKS is the Samoan Congregationalist religion and Koa and I will both be teaching at EFKS schools. We are skeptical of coming to meet the man because he invites us under the guise of discussing our living accommodations, but we suspect that he really just wants us to come look and fix his server problems. I don’t know anything about servers. It turns out he simply wanted us to come and talk about living accommodations.
    2:49 p.m. We drive to my school, and I get to see my house. Stupidly, I take no pictures though my camera is in my pocket the entire time. I also take no note of the mosquito netting situation. What I do remember is that the place is fairly narrow. There’s a living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen. There’s no hot water. It is definitely bigger than my apartment in Pasadena, which isn’t saying much.
    10:12 p.m. I win bingo! Real church bingo! I tie with 2 other people, and we have to split the winnings, so I end up with $3.70 ST, which is just slightly more than $1US.
    11:14 p.m. On the walk home from Bingo, I ask Asolima if we are going to Phil’s party tomorrow because I will need to come back early from Apia if we are. Asolima gets a little mad and says, “We always invite Phil to our stuff, so they better invite you.” And thus, I innocently set a chain of events in motion that will wreck Phil’s party.
Saturday, December 13
    8:29 a.m. We go to Apia. I blog and Skype and shop for presents for my family to give Monday night. Asolima calls me to tell me to come back early so I can go to Phil’s party.
    1:53 p.m. Phil calls me on the bus on the way home and tells me that Asolima’s mad and she said that we always invite Phil to our stuff, so they better invite me.
    3:02 p.m. We head to Phil’s party, which starts out okay. They are drinking vodka and Sprim (essentially Kool-Aid), which is hilarious. Neither Phil nor I drink that much, and mostly we hang out with the barbecue.
    5:16 p.m. All hell breaks loose when Uncle Laumatia shows up. Let me explain. Phil’s cousin, Onosai, has a birthday coming up, as does his son, Tony. Phil’s birthday is Friday, so this was intended to be a small, quiet family party for the 3 of them. So hush-hush was it that my family didn’t learn about it until I asked them about it. When they found out about it, they told Uncle Laumatia. When Uncle Laumatia found out about it, he told the other Peace Corps families. So just as cake is being served, Uncle Laumatia and the masses show up. Cake is passed around to the guests, which are the Peace Corps trainees and Uncle Laumatia and his father. There ends up being no cake or barbecue for Onosai or his son. They had also brought out a bottle of white wine (an extreme rarity around here), which Onosai also didn’t get to drink at his own party. While I didn’t really do anything wrong, I still feel indirectly responsible. Sucks.
    9:03 p.m. Me, Phil, his sistser Tuese, and Oge go for a walk down the road, which brings us into the neighboring village of Fusi. We hear “Little Drummer Boy” coming out of one of the houses, and we all start to sing along… really getting into the “pa-rum-pum-pum-pums”. We continue singing for quite a ways. It’s funny.
Sunday, December 14
    12:04 p.m. Me, Phil, Dan, and Jordan go to Jordan’s for to’ana’i. After the meal, Uncle Laumatia gives a bit of a speech saying that we are all adopted into the family now and that we can come back whenever we want, etc. I get the feeling that one of us will be expected to give a speech after Laumatia finishes. And then as he ends his speech, he says, “Now the floor is open if any of you would like to say anything.” Hint hint. Dan says, “Matt? Phil?”
    So I figure I’ll say something (G.O.B.: Typical) thanking the families for hosting us. I speak exclusively in English while Laumatia translates, which is nice because it gives me time to think of what to say next. While zoning out in church that morning I was thinking about the time Martin Sheen told my mom that she should have brought up the Corporal Works of Mercy with the bishop (how hilarious/surreal is that sentence?). So I weave that into my speech, “When we were hungry, you gave us food; when were sick, you took care of us; etc.” I’m not usually good on the fly, but I am pretty proud of this one.
    1:37 p.m. When we get back to our fale, my family has gotten their hands on the Elf DVD. We watch it. It ends just in time for afternoon church. Awesome.
    10:13 p.m. After choir practice, Phil’s sister Tafale plays cards at our house. Someone took her shoes from choir rehearsal, so she ends up borrowing my black Havaianas for the night.
Monday, December 15
    8:17 a.m. Phil tells me that Tafale loves my Havaianas. I feel somewhat obligated to give them to her since I have 2 pair and she has none. I suppose I can leave them with her for now and bring her a different color when I come back for Christmas. I gotta keep the black, right? They go with everything.
    2:04 p.m. Our Swearing In ceremony turns out to be a pretty big deal. The Samoan Minister of Education shows up, as does the US Charges d’Affaires. Chris gives a speech on behalf of the trainees (we elected her). She’s a fast-talker, and my expectations are admittedly low. She docesn’t talk too fast though, and her speech turns out to be pretty good. Props.
    7:58 p.m. During the fiafia, I sit in the front row for our sasa dance. And I’m confident in my knowledge of the moves. I false start on the second part, and the crowd laughs. After the fiafia, my family and Phil’s family remind me repeatedly that I screwed up during the sasa dance.
And now we’re back in Apia! Hot showers for now, free will, internet. Zany. Okay. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, internet! Pictures below.

Jordan, Dan, and Erin on the bus back to the village.

Me sweeping the church on our first day back. Using a one-handed broom with my sliced fingers. Good times.

Language Trainer Onofia shadow-boxing. He's awesome.

Phil's sisters. Tuese, Fipe, and Tafale.

Girls at the model school.

I realized that part of the reason it doesn't feel like Christmas is because there aren't Christmas lights on any houses. The absence became apparent when I noticed the Christmas lights on this grave. Yeah. Graves are a big thing here. Most people have them in front of their house. And they decorate them elaborately.

Uncle Laumatia, me, Mele, and Akanese up front after the Swearing In ceremony. It felt like high school graduation.

Matatia and another kid doing wheelbarrow-oriented chores. Matatia is the EFKS pastor's son. The other kid is around a lot. Never learned his name though.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Congratulations on surviving training! We're really proud of you. I wish we could have attended your graduation.

Sorry to hear about your fingers. Did you have a tetanus shot before you left? Any information about your other health problems?

I miss you!