Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hanging Out and Peter Gabriel

The Peace Corps deposits our monthly stipend about 4 or 5 days before the end of the month. There is an indirect correllation between the number of weeks since we've been paid and the number of social gatherings on a particular weekend. It's a bit of a social binge and purge, and this weekend we're engorging ourselves. In addition to last night’s outing, there is a volunteer’s going away party tonight, and the superbowl tomorrow.

With all this going on, there were lots of people in town. My original plan had been to meet up with Blakey for a late dinner (last night’s dinner was being reimbursed by the Peace Corps on account of the VAC meeting), but she ended up attending the wake of her host mom’s father. Since everyone else I knew had already eaten, I stayed home and had peanut butter and jelly.

There was talk of going to see Fono’s show at The Tropicana later in the evening. Fono is the Safety and Security Officer for Peace Corps Samoa, and he moonlights as a musician at a nightclub in Apia. Erik and I planned to share a cab, so I headed to his place and we waited for others to call us to let us know we should leave.

I introduced Erik to The Wire a couple weeks back, and it has dominated most of our conversation since then. He did have time to give me feedback from the station director about last week’s radio show. Apparently I didn’t leave the door to the studio open. That’s all. No comment on whether he found my Fleetwood Mac double play stylistically bold.

For reasons unknown to me, this plan fell through, and a couple others joined us at Erik’s house. Jenny played “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel. I’ve recently become more and more a fan of that song. I was originally fascinated by its 7/4 time signature, but I’ve grown to just like the song itself. Dare I say, more than “In Your Eyes.” Sorry, Lloyd Dobbler.

In any case, the rest of the evening wasn’t too notable.

I splurged this morning and paid to have my laundry done. I think I may do this once a month. Laundry costs about $15 WST, which is on the expensive side. That said, the washing machine does a better job than I do. It’s a risky gamble to count on there being enough consecutive sunlight in one afternoon to adequately dry clothes—particularly during the rainy season. The humidity has a tendency to make damp clothes stay damp, and damp clothes start to smell a little moldy. Ewww. So I figure once a month, my clothes deserve a real wash and dry.

Nature nearly got the last laugh though; it rained on my walk to pick up my clothes. But it let up in time for my walk home with the clean clothes. Booya!

I also got a haircut. It still feels weird to pay for a haircut, but I can’t justify buying a set of clippers. The ones I saw in the store don’t come in a box, so storing them would be tough. Also, my floor is nasty as it is, and if I started cutting my own hair, there’d be all the minute clippings to deal with.

So it’s quite the spendthrift weekend. With the economy in the state it’s in, I hope your weekend is cheaper. A couple pics below.

The Europa 902. The most beautiful yacht with a capacity of 408 passengers.

Jim and Briony.

Briony and Blakey.

The back of Jenny's head and Erik.

The laundromat. It's difficult to type that without two t's.

The barbershop. Or faleotiulu.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Crowded House

The social structure at my high school back home was not traditional, and I always attributed this to the size of our student body. With over 4,000 students, no single group dominated in popularity. Football players and cheerleaders were not the ruling class the way they always seem to be in pop culture. Sure there were the girls in leadership and world guard who were well-known, but their status didn’t really amount to “popular” in the traditional sense. Being a guy who would have fit best into the “geek” contingent of that traditional model, I was always happy to be a little fish in a really big pond. Growing up in that environment, I’m always a little thrown off being thrown into a little tiny pool.

Relative to other posts, Peace Corps Samoa is quite small. According to a Peace Corps staff member, there are about 280 Peace Corps in the Ukraine and roughly 220 Peace Corps in Morocco. Samoa has somewhere in the neighborhood of 40. In addition, Samoa’s land mass is quite small. In many parts of the world, the volunteer living closest to you might be 20 or 30 miles away, but here, 20 or 30 miles gets you half way across the island. And since there’s not that much land or water that separates any of us, we rub elbows quite often.

Mostly this is a good thing. Life is less lonely when there’s another American a bike ride away. There’s someone close by to chat or commiserate or gossip. But the other side of that coin is that sometimes these little islands can feel a bit crowded. It’s weird how a volunteer can grow so accustomed to the solitude of a habitat that the relative close proximity of another Peace Corps can have a style-cramping effect.

It reminds me of eCivis. In the old building, we shared the restroom with all the other companies in the building. If something was messy or there was someone in the stall, an air of anonymity was maintained. But when we moved into the new building, we had our own bathroom. And since we were a tiny company, the bathroom situation became a bit awkward. The mess was a little less anonymous. I would regret recognizing the shoes of the person using the stall.

So where am I going with all this?

We had our first Volunteer Action Committee meeting today, which is the rough equivalent of student government. Each group sends one representative from each island, and they gather 3 times a year to discuss issues pertinent to PCVs in Samoa. And while the meeting was intimate and cordial for the most part, the air felt slightly contentious at times.

Maybe it was just me. I’m a bit cranky after waking up on time for work every day this week (I know. Rough life.). School’s been finishing between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. every day, so going until 4:30 this afternoon took some stamina. “We’re just blowing through nap time today, aren’t we?” It’s also a little weird to go from spending most of your day alone or with very few people who speak English to spending the entire day with 11 of vociferous native English speakers.

All in all, it was nice to see people, and I do feel like we took steps to improve Peace Corps Samoa. I got to write on the board at the front of the room, which I always enjoy. If nothing else, I have my penmanship to contribute.

I also vehemently advocated incentivizing certain surveys that have had poor completion rates in the past. I think the creative implementation of this idea (i.e. Finding non-monetary ways to reward people) could be effective. It was Joey’s idea, and I’m a fan.

That was my day.

Best quote from tonight’s radio news:

Regarding the cruise ship that has docked in Apia for the next 2 days, “The Europa 902 is said to be the most beautiful yacht with a capacity of 408.” I myself have seen plenty of yachts with a capacity of 408, and I must agree.

Only 2 pictures below. Have a great weekend.

For some reason, these grass clumps reminded me of "The Wump World" by Bill Peet. Bill Peet always reminds me of one moment in fourth grade when Ms. Schoon played a guessing game and Amy won.

This picture was on the computer at the Peace Corps office. I love it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Supplies and Exercise

It’s a little unexpected that the school where I’m teaching in Samoa (albeit private) has a much higher budget than the school where I taught in West Oakland (albeit public). I realize that comparing private and public education is somewhat pointless, but I’m nonetheless struck by the contrast. I guess the flat screens should have tipped me off, but the discrepancy didn’t really sink in until yesterday when they started handing out supplies to the teachers.

I’ve been budgeting January carefully, but last week I realized that I was probably going to need to spend a bunch on teaching supplies. I definitely needed some sort of calendar or planner, and a couple notebooks would also be necessary. Good thing I didn’t buy anything. At our staff meeting yesterday afternoon, each teacher received a:
  • 3” binder;
  • Small notebook;
  • Pair of mid-sized notebooks;
  • Large notebook;
  • Teachers[sic] Plan Book;
  • Roll book;
  • Pack of 50 Coloured File Folders;
  • Ruler;
  • Bottle of Kids[sic] Paste;
  • Package of glue tape; and a
  • Healthy amount of surprisingly high-quality pens.
I don’t recall ever receiving any supplies from my school in Oakland. There was a lot of secondhand stuff you could forage for in many of the seemingly abandoned classrooms around the school, but we were certainly never given new things.

And again, I understand that I’m skewing things by comparing a Samoan private school to an American public school, but if you were in my shoes, it would beg the comparison, don’t you think? Also, I was thinking about this: If you compared the wealth of my students in Oakland to my students here in Samoa, and you accounted for exchange rates, etc., who would have more? I honestly don’t know.

It’s not like the students at my school are incredibly rich compared to other Samoan students. In fact, many students who attend school here bus in from rural villages for the week and return home on the weekend. Many of them pay their tuition via in-kind donations of brooms and mats. Also (I’m not completely sure of this, but I can ask some other Peace Corps…), I believe that public schools in Samoa also charge a small tuition. I’ve heard it’s minimal, perhaps $50 WST for the semester, but it’s not like the fact that my kids attend a private school means they’re well-off. So it’s impressive that the school provides teachers with supplies.

In other news, now that I have internet at my house, I no longer have to schedule my day around making it to the internet café at a reasonable time. This has left my afternoons wide open, and I’ve taken advantage of it so far. Yesterday I had time in the afternoon to read 47 pages, ride my bike to the ocean and to the Samoa Aquatic Centre, and write yesterday’s blog. Today I met with my host family, read a lot more, and went to visit Erik at his music school where I touched a piano-like instrument for the first time in 3.5 months. My skills were rusty to say the least.

I also exercised yesterday. I ran a 3-mile loop along the sea wall. It was a slight shock to the system. Some of my group would wake up early in the training village to go running. Joey, who is here to lecture on physical education and kinesiology at the National University here, is in tremendously good shape. I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle. It wasn’t so bad; the weirdest part was wearing shoes. It’s the first time I’ve worn shoes since our first week here. My feet felt huge. Also, running 3 miles along the sea wall in Apia was a much sweatier time than doing the run around Lake Merced. I did sit-ups in my kitchen when I got home, and there was a pool of sitting water (errr… sweat) on the floor when I finished. It was gross.

And with that pleasant image, I’m going to sign off. Have a great Friday. Pictures below.

This is the room where all the supplies came in. Students also get supplies from the school. Notebooks, pens, etc. I didn't get an itemized list of what they received.

This girl was washing windows when I walked by, but by the time my camera was ready to take a picture of her working, she got all giggly and completely stopped working.

While most of the school was out weeding and trekking grass clippings back and forth, the year 13 kids were back behind the school maintaining the fire that was used as a makeshift incinerator. Also, they were bumming free niu off the palm trees in the back (you can see a girl drinking one at the left of the picture.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Jack Pretty

I now have internet in my house. I have uploaded this post to Blogger while I sit on my couch. Yes, it is dial-up. But dial-up isn’t half bad. During the 1990s, we all bulked up our modems faster than internet service providers could keep up. Near the end there, just before DSL became affordable, we all had 57.6kbps modems that were connecting to modems at the AOL hub that were only 14.4kbps. We all remember dial-up loading pages at a snail’s pace, but it’s really not that bad.

Skype works. Sure, there’s more of a delay than there is with a broadband connection, but I’m still talking to The States at a rate that is cheaper by a factor of 6. I downloaded the NPR Shuffle podcast last night (Approximately 20 minutes long, approximately 9MB big); it took about 20 minutes. Not terrible.

In any case, it makes my living situation feel pretty darn complete, with the exception of the cinderblock shelves that have yet to be purchased. I think I might wait on those anyway since I’m pretty close to coming in right on target budgetarily for January. Also, truth be told, I’ve always been a little intimidated buying lumber from the hardware store. It’s so raw; it’s not wrapped in plastic and hung on a rack. How do I deal with that?

This sense of completeness is good with school starting. We finished the schedule yesterday, but the yardwork wasn’t complete, so I go to hang around with a group of boys. I was supposedly “supervising,” but I just watched the machetes swing back and forth. It has that hypnotic allure that is also inherent in things like squeegeeing a windshield or vacuuming a dirty rug; there’s no real reason to watch, but for some reason it’s just so interesting to see the windshield go from splotchy to crystal, the floor from dusty to fresh, the plants from overgrown to hacked-to-death.

They did focus on the area around my house today. They picked up a lot of the trash that was here when I moved in, and one of them climbed my tree to hack the branches that grate against the roof when it’s windy. So that was nice.

My interaction is still minimal. Every student I see on my walk to the teachers’ lounge in the morning says “Morning” to me. Not “Good morning,” just “Morning.” Sometimes I echo it back to them, sometimes I respond with a Samoan “Mālō.” The rest of the day is a series of raising my eyebrows and more mālōs.

I printed out the final schedule today after school. This is the second time I’ve worked in the lab afterschool and another teacher asks if they can come to work and brings his/her children. I’m totally fine with it, and watching the kids use the computer give a bit of a preview for what I’ll be working with once classes start next week.

On Monday I introduced the art teacher’s niece to Microsoft Paint. I went back to working on the schedule, and after about 5 minutes, she called me over to help her. She hadn’t figured out how to click the mouse.

All things considered, this isn’t alarming. She’s a freshman so there’s not too much that is expected of her coming in, and the freshman year curriculum is incredibly basic. I also should emphasize that, while many of my students have never touched a computer before, others are pretty savvy. I’m not trying to tell a horror story or insinuate that all of my students are computer illiterate; I just want to give you a flavor of where we’ll be starting from.

In my interview with the Peace Corps when the recruiter floated the idea of me doing Information Technology, I balked a bit. I don’t have a lot of background in building computers, working with hardware, or troubleshooting operating system errors. But the recruiter explained to me that because the classes are so basic (e.g. “To click the mouse, you press this button”), many people who have a strong IT background aren’t interested or effective in teaching such classes. They’re way too overqualified.

It’s a weird position though. On one hand, we are teaching incredibly basic computer skills, on the other hand, we are expected to maintain derelict computer labs on a shoestring budget. Okay, so my computer lab has flat screens and a few dual core processors. But the great majority of my Peace Corps brethren (Supy, Blakey, Phil, Koa, Jordan, Sara) are trying like mad to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It’s high level IT work (and praying) mixed with teaching at an incredibly basic level (and praying).

We have our first Volunteer Action Committee meeting on Friday, which means tomorrow is my last day of work before school starts on Monday. I need to get chairs up in my lab and I need to figure out how I’m going to teach on Monday without a whiteboard. Or maybe we’ll just jump off that bridge when we get there.

I hope things are well with you, loyal reader. Or site newcomer. Have a great day. Pictures below.

Guys from SamoaTel installing the new jack.

Weeding my front yard.

Brown-noser's on his way to an A.

This book is displayed in the school library. Those of you who were also in Ms. Dalton's class will remember that this was our text book in 4th Grade Social Studies. And it's even the same edition! Maps include Yugoslavia. I didn't check whether East Germany is.

Another book in the library is this one called, "On Monday When it Rained," by Cherryl Kachenmeister and Tom Berthiaume, which is full of pictures of this same kid. Wait. Is that you, young Carter?

This is the head of the maths (yeah. Maths.) department at my school. Wait. Is that you, Samoan Barack Obama?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

For Weedings and a Fun Excel

At my apartment in San Francisco, we once hosted a Nintendo GameCube Mario Soccer Tournament. We had 10 players, but the game can only configure a maximum of 8 players. Brian was skeptical, but I convinced everyone to let me try and build an Excel spreadsheet that would dictate who played whom. I designed a sheet that, in addition to tracking tournament standings, also kept stats on wins, losses, goals scored, and goals allowed. As I replaced the generic player codes that I used to design the spreadsheet with our real names, Liam said, “Wow! Any doubt I had about this is completely gone!” It was an exciting moment. And I had another one of those yesterday.

Part out of laziness, part out of a need to drag the school kicking and screaming into the 21st century, part because I had nothing to do yesterday afternoon, I figured out how to get Excel to spit out teacher schedules. I tried Sunday night to get it to do it, but my brain could not wrap itself around certain issues. Excel kept shaking its head at me. “I have no idea what in the hell you’re trying to get me to do,” it kept saying. But then I gave it another stab yesterday afternoon. See, the alternative was to go sheet- by-sheet and input everything manually. And I felt like “The Wire” would be more fun.

Here’s the solution I came up with:

    CATENATE($R$9,$F3,$S$9,I$2))=1,$R$9," "))))))

And then it worked! Nerdgasm!

I may be puny. I may not know how to fix a loose video card. I know nothing about BIOS. But I will throw down when it comes to Excel.

Note: I admit that to REAL Excel nerds, the function above is actually pretty simple. Erica at CNET would look at it and roll her eyes. But it still felt cool. Shut up, Erica. You never taught me vectors.

One problem with my solution above is that it doesn’t tell you when a teacher is scheduled for 2 classes at the same time. I need to work on a system for that.

In any case, the function above was my biggest triumph on the first day of school. Mostly because we didn’t do anything on the first day of school. We had a short staff meeting. Then an assembly. Then the kids started weeding. Yeah. I said weeding.

The first week of school in Samoa tends to be a lot of housekeeping; cleaning out classrooms, pulling weeds, making sure desks and chairs are correctly distributed, etc. Part of the reason there were no classes scheduled is because the schedule of classes was not (and is not) finalized. We completed the schedule during yesterday’s weeding, but it still needs tweaking here and there.

But when I’m not in a meeting with a clear task at hand, walking around is a little chaotic. I haven’t been very clear on where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to be doing. So I follow the missionaries around, in part because I’ve known them longer (they’ve been here since I moved in) and in part because they speak English and they sympathize with my ignorance of Samoan. They’re like big sisters.

To this point, my actual student interaction has been minimal. I smile at them. Or I nod. I’ve taken pictures. But I’ve had little business that requires student interaction. It doesn’t worry me too much. I figure my relationship with the student body has lots of time to grow.

In fact that’s how I feel about the whole thing. I kinda like that school has only kinda started. It feels like we’re easing into the school year. I’ve had to get up at the real time every morning, and it’s good to know what that feels like before I have to get in front of a class. During training, I tested very high in polychronism, and I figure my being okay with this week is another facet of that.

I hope things are well at home. Pictures below.

This is the crazy chalkboard with the entire schedule laid out.
18 classes x 6 periods x 5 days of the week = 540 tiny boxes

This is my crazy Excel file. See, you enter the classes you're teaching on the right, and your schedule gets populated on the left.

The morning of the first day. Left to right: Apong (he's a new missionary), unknown teacher (sorry. I'm new), Faalau (the school secretary), and Sonya (another missionary).

Assembly on the first day.


More weeding.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Into the Wild

Note: Yes, today was my first day of school, but being that I didn't teach--I never planned to since students clean for the first week-- I figure I'll put off talking about that til tomorrow. Also, I was up til 2:00 a.m. writing the following thoughts. So I figure I'll validate the sleep deprivation and post today. School news tomorrow.

In the copy of Into the Wild my dad sent, he put a note in the pages saying that he had read the book after 2 of his colleagues had an argument about it over dinner on a recent business trip. Well I just finished watching Sean Penn’s filmic adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book, and I think Mr. Penn and I would have quite a lively argument.

What a garbage movie! Sean Penn is obsessed with melodrama and milking a moment for more than it’s worth. He also has a tendency to go for ridiculously over-the-top symbolic imagery that feels more and more like a cheesy student film. My biggest qualm with the movie though, is in its portrayal of the protagonist’s philosophy.

Part of what makes the book so engaging is that Krakauer’s starts with asking what lit a fire under Chris McCandless’s ass. Krakauer had his own Great Alaskan Adventure, and so with a sense of kinship, he seeks to understand McCandless. Krakauer follows the guy’s journey while weaving in experiences from his own youth. He talks about their common love of adventure and the fact that they both had overbearing fathers.

Sean Penn takes the rebellion angle to heart and makes it the focal point of the movie (Right down to the “Last Temptation of Christ” ending, which was stupid, but I just read that too and it was an interesting coincidence).

The thing is, Krakauer also epigraphs each chapter with quotes from Jack London and Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy and others. And what Penn overlooks is McCandless wasn’t just running from his parents, he wasn’t only fleeing society. He was heeding the call of the wild. He was giving in to his compulsion to find the joy and sorrow and solitude and triumph and sacrifice that adventure provides. It’s the same thing that compelled Jack Kerouac and Thoreau and Larry Darrell in Sommerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. Hell, it was what called me to join the Peace Corps.

Yeah. I guess I feel all riled up about Sean Penn missing the point because I think I feel my own affinity for Chris McCandless. I’m not claiming to be nearly as hardcore as the guy in way, shape, or form. He hitchhiked for 2 years and shot a moose in the backwoods of Alaska; my Peace Corps experience has me typing a blog entry on my laptop. I realize there’s a discrepancy there. Nonetheless, I think a large part of my being here has to do with a similar calling, that same compulsion.

Krakauer points out that McCandless highlights this passage from Tolstoy: “I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence… I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.”

Larry in The Razor’s Edge: “ I thought I’d start by going to Paris… I don’t know why , but I’ve got it into my head that there everything that’s muddled in my mind would grow clear.”

My late grandpa (whose birthday is today) on Creedance Clearwater Revival: “I really like them. They hit on something deep down. Something primordial.”

Furthermore, I think part of the reason that this “something deep down” is so difficult to articulate is because I don’t know that McCandless knew exactly what he was looking for in Alaska. Nor did Krakauer know what he was looking for in his mountain climbing days. Nor does Larry Darrell in Paris. Nor do I in Samoa.

Some join the Peace Corps with a very specific goal in mind. Some want to share their gifts with the world. Some want to learn a new language, to see a new part of the world, to build up their resume. And I guess I want to do all those things. But more than that, I felt a calling. A voice inside. Something primordial.

And how do you feed an insatiable urge like that? You do something to change it up. You hitchhike for 2 years and shoot a moose in the backwoods of Alaska. You climb a bad-ass mountain. You move to Paris. Or Samoa.

McCandless himself writes, “Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” I don’t think he’s advocating that we all become hobos, but I think the call for drastic change is there.

Yesterday morning, I was making small talk with the family I met at mass, and the daughter asked me why I joined the Peace Corps. And my answer was, “To come here.” I don’t relate this story because I thought the moment was wise or profound; I just think it’s interesting that I didn’t say I was fleeing a terrible economy or coming to rescue Samoan students from the pitfalls of Microsoft Excel. I came to feed the insatiable urge. You know… that superabundance of energy.

This is a promotional photo from that crap movie. The real Chris McCandless is picture at the top of this post.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Only Inches on the Reel-to-Reel

I finished The Last Temptation of Christ on the bus to Fausaga on Friday afternoon. And last night, after what has become my normal routine of eating dinner over the sink and then settling in for one episode of “Arrested Development” and one episode of “The Wire,” I picked up the copy of Into the Wild that my dad sent me for Christmas. I couldn’t really put it down. I finished it this afternoon. Very rare that I finish a book in less than 24 hours. And while I have much to say about it, I think it needs a while to ruminate. So I’ll get back to you on that.

In the mean time, I should tell you about last night’s radio show. To put it lightly, it was a disaster. Erik asked if I’d be interested in filling in for him on Wednesday night, and I was elated. Elated and cocky. I came back early from Fausaga yesterday morning so I could meet with the station manager, and at 4:00 p.m. yesterday, I showed up at the station ready to go.

Things started off on the wrong foot when the security guard wouldn’t let me in. This was the third time I had come to the station, and on previous visits, the same guy had actually shown me how to get around the locked door. So it was strange that he was singing a different tune last night. He was quite adamant about not letting me in without a note from the station manager. When I asked if I should go and look for the station manager in the back, the guard told me, “No. He’s not here. You’ll have to go and find him somewhere.” I imagined myself roaming the Samoan countryside going door to door asking for information on the whereabouts of Corey, the station manager of Live 97.3.

“What’s his phone number?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’m just doing my job.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. You have to go and find him.”

I figured at the very least I would make myself a thorn in this guy’s side until I got bored. I figured the repetitious interrogation tactic was interesting enough.

“Can I go in the back and look for him?”
“No. He’s not here. You’ll have to go find him. I’m not letting you in without a note.”
“What’s his phone number?”
“His phone number?”
“Oh. It’s uhhh… 555-0714.”

Wait. That worked? I just had to ask you enough times? The sphinx never would have given up so easily.

I called Corey, and Corey told the guy to let me in. Done and done.

But oh, how I am baffled by soundboards. For the first hour, I couldn’t find the headphone jack. I had to listen on the monitor, and when I turned on the microphone and the monitor cut out to avoid feedback, I had to just assume things sounded okay.

The other big problem was the computer program that controls the playlist. Every time you make a change to the playlist, you have to double click on the playlist for it to accept the changes. Erik, who is an old pro, still forgets to do this occasionally, and it definitely screwed me up last night.

Another problem was making sure ads were playing when they were scheduled. At one point I dragged and dropped something or double clicked something else or perhaps I single clicked in the wrong place and for whatever reason, I played Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” back to back with Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” Idiot.

But there’s more! The worst flub of all was the weather report. The weather report, which happens nightly at 6:10 has an intro clip, a long extended clip that plays while the DJ read the weather, and then an ad from the sponsor of the radio clip. I got the intro to play. My reading of the weather was mediocre (“We just heard Creedance Clearwater Revival ask ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain?,’ and that’s a good question because it looks like Monday and Tuesday will be pretty stormy.” Yes. I really said that.). But when I was done, I had to skip from the extended music to the SamoaLife ad, and I did not do that. I realized in that instant that I had never skipped a song in the middle of the track, and I had no idea how to tell the computer to do that.

There are buttons for pause and play for each track, so I figured I’d hit the play button for the insurance ad and then hit the pause button for the weather music and hopefully that would be awkward, but seamless enough. Unfortunately, I hit the button for the weather intro instead. So the weather gets re-introduced and then the background music, which is piercing needles into my soul at this point, start right up again. Ack!

Somehow I manage to find a Corinne Bailey Rae track to play, and I eventually get the damn weather music to stop. And once things have cooled down, trying to console myself, I uttered, “Oh, who’s listening?” AND THE MIC WAS STILL ON! Idiot.

And that was my radio debut. The show’s playlist is posted below.

In other news, the family that I have been sitting next to at Sunday mass, it turns out, owns Lesa’s Samoa Telephone Ltd., which is the company that installed the computers at my school. So it was exciting to meet them serendipitously.

It rained on my walk home from church, which was annoying because I brought my umbrella last week and the week before when it didn’t rain. If only I’d heard a quality weather report for today…

Hope things are well back home. More pics from the village below.

Me holding the baby.

Akanese. A little washed out.

Akanese doing a littleSiva Samoa.

This kid was outside the local faleoloa. He was excited about his picture being taken.

Sleeping baby in the foreground. Bingo players in the background. Okay.

The baby, Leme.

Here is my line-up for last night's radio show:
  • The Cure, Just Like Heaven
  • Jason Mraz, I'm Yours
  • Hootie & the Blowfish, I Only Wanna Be with You
  • Madonna, Crazy for You
  • The Proclaimers, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)
  • Scissors Sisters, Take Your Mama
  • Jesus Jones, Right Here

  • Jack Johnson, Taylor
  • The Jackson 5, I Want You Back
  • Gnarls Barkley, Crazy
  • Janet Jackson, Runaway
  • Jamiroquai, Virtual Insanity
  • David Bowie, Let's Dance

  • Duran Duran, Rio
  • Huey Lewis & the News, Power of love
  • Billy Joel, River of Dreams

  • Jack Johnson, Better Together
  • Paul Simon, Kodachrome
  • U2, The Sweetest Thing
  • The Eagles, Desperado (Live version)
  • Cyndi Lauper, Time After Time
  • Counting Crows, Mr. Jones
  • The Cure, Friday I'm in Love
  • Crowded House, Don't Dream Its Over

  • Fleetwood Mac, Don't Stop
  • Toto, Africa
  • Rolling Stones, You Cant Always Get What You Want
  • Beatles, Norwegian Wood
  • Styx, Come Sail Away
  • Huey Lewis & the News, Heart Of Rock'n'Roll
  • Talking Heads, And There She Was
  • The Clash, Should I Stay Or Should I Go
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival, Who'll Stop The Rain


  • Corinne Bailey Rae, Put Your Records On
  • The Corrs, Breathless
  • Alanis Morisette, Ironic
  • Pretenders, Back In The Chain Gang
  • Bonnie Tyler, Total Eclipse Of The Heart

  • Ben Harper, Steal my Kisses
  • Police, Message in a bottle
  • Aha, Take on me
  • Bon Jovi, Livin' on a Prayer
  • John Cougar, Hurts so good
  • Lionel Richie, All Night Long
  • Madonna, Dress you up in my love
  • Men at Work, Overkill

Saturday, January 24, 2009

14 Hours in the Nu’u

I just realized that my trip to the village last night was the shortest I’ve taken; all the other times I stayed for at least 3 days, but last night I arrived around 6:00 p.m. and I left this morning just after 8:00 a.m. And sitting down to write about it, I still feel a little overwhelmed. The village is so interesting and so different from life in America—and even life in Apia, for that matter—that I feel like it’s incredibly difficult to capture in words. And it’s not just the sights and sounds and smells that are different. It’s the way things work and the way events occur and the general way of life. For example, within 20 minutes of arriving in the village, I was handed a baby and a piece of fruit, which I’d never seen or heard of before let alone tasted. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My meeting went long yesterday, and it was a bit of a scramble to post a blog, purchase some credit for my phone, pick up some food for the family, and make it to the bus by 4:00 p.m. One fun thing about taking the bus back to Fausaga is that you get on a bus headed to that region, and there is usually 4 or 5 Fausagans on the bus already. And because the village is relatively small, and because there were only 13 Peace Corps in our group, everyone in the village knows my name. I’m kinda big in Fausaga. Ha. So when I got on the bus, a bunch of Phil’s distant relatives were already on, and they invited me to sit with them.

There is a code to riding the bus. Men sit in the back, women sit in the front. Older people are given priority seating. When things get crowded, people sit on each other’s laps. Women sit on women’s laps, men sit on men’s laps. And so on. However, being palagi trumps all, and even if I try to follow the rules, I am stopped. “No, no. You sit there.” Fine.

My family was at Kate’s family’s house when I arrived. It’s a short walk across the village, and I headed over. It was kinda fun to walk across town because I’m kinda big in Fausaga. “Mālō Mati!” I heard over and over. When we lived in the village, this celebrity status meant no privacy. But after living in the anonymity of Apia for a month, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.

Kate’s family’s house is near the house where Phil’s sister’s sleep, and when I walked by, Tuese was sitting out front. I’ve kept in good touch with her, and it was good to see her. We did a little catch-up, and she gave me a piece of fruit called an ifi. It looked a bit like a mango on the outside, but I guess you only eat the inside. “Old people eat this,” she told me. Okay. There were also palm leaves strewn all over the lawn. Phil’s other sister, Tafale, was apparently drying them in the sun so she could weave mats, or fala. Okay.

Tuese walked me over to Kate’s house. My family was excited to see me. Asolima handed me the baby. The baby was born April 18 last year, so when we first arrived in the village, she was exactly 6 months old, and now she just hit 9 months. It’s crazy how fast babies grow and develop. In addition to being physically bigger, she’s working on talking and walking now, which is very entertaining. At Bingo last night, she chatted baby nonsense for an entire game at one point. The Bingo crowd couldn’t decide whether to laugh or to shush her. But once again, I’m getting ahead.

We left Kate’s house pretty quickly and headed back home. I gave Mele the bag of apples and mangos I’d brought. We sat outside and chatted. And after not too long, it was time for evening prayer.

Mele had to do some searching to come up with the songbook and bible. I’ve often wondered how much the praying is routine and how much is just a charade they put on because I’m there. In any case, we sang song #98, which we sang almost every night during training. At this point, I’m very familiar with the tune, but I still don’t know all the words to the verses. I meant to copy down the words. Maybe next time. I read Psalm 1 in Samoan. I’ve gotten pretty good at anticipating punctuation and sounding like I know what I’m reading about.

After prayer, I asked Asolima if she had the Vaniah (sp?) CD. Vaniah is a Samoan singer, whose album is extremely popular here. His voice makes him sound like a Polynesian Aaron Neville. While the album is overplayed, a bunch of us in group 81 want it for nostalgic reasons, but it costs somewhere around $50 WST. So I was going to burn it.

But Asolima didn’t have it. She put on different music though, and while she prepared dinner, Akanese danced. This was a new development. I’m not sure what happened, but when she thought no one was looking, she got up and started doing a little Samoan dance. And, though it bugs me to say this, it was darling.

Over dinner, Asolima told me, “When you’re done, we’ll go shopping.” Okay. We hop in the van and head over to Vai’e’e, which is 2 or 3 villages over. It turns out Mele needs a new bingo marker; afterall, Friday night is Bingo night. And by the time we get back home, it’s time for Bingo.

The baby fell asleep in my lap on the way home, and Oge ended up sleeping at the plantation last night because someone has been stealing the family’s taro. So with no one to watch the sleeping baby at home, we brought the sleeping baby to Bingo. Okay.

I failed to get anything close to Bingo last night. Also, it’s funny how at the beginning of the evening, I’m really good at hearing and comprehending the bingo numbers. But as things grow long, my brain starts to get baffled. Ono, which means six, starts to sound like uno, which is one in Spanish. And tolu, which means three, just doesn’t mesh with my synethesia.

After Bingo, we went home and caught a bit of “Lost,” which they show here on Saturday nights. The family tried to get me to sleep in the big bed in the house, but this felt weird to me. Why wouldn’t I sleep on my little tiny mattress. They said it was because my room was messy. It’s hard to know when to accept what the family tells me and to do what they say, and when they’re trying to be nicer than they need to be. So I insisted on taking the bed in my room. That seemed to go over okay. And I slept well.

I needed to be back in Apia before 11:00 a.m. today, but I didn’t want to seem too rushed. It worked out okay. I got up around 7:45, had a chat with Mele, ate papaya and panakeke for breakfast, and headed out.

I should also mention that Paul and Supy also stayed in the village last night. They arrived earlier in the day, and left later in the morning. Show-offs. Also, my Havaianas were apparently stolen from Tafale. She is, once again, shoeless.

I have much more to say. Maybe some other time. Some photos below. More village photos tomorrow. Hope things are well.

Me on the bus, with Soloa (in white), and Samoa behind us (in black).

Tuese and the ifi.

Margarita was asking about food, so I went to take a picture of dinner. But when Asolima saw that I was taking a picture, her plating instincts went into high gear. "Wait! Wait!" she yelled. She added the mug. And then, after thinking about it, the apples. All 3 pictures are here.

The baby at Bingo.

Matatia and his friend, who's name I can never remember. They were chilling outside Bingo.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dinner and a Movie

I’ve been to the movie theater twice before last night, and I wanted to talk about it on the blog, but both times I’ve been, it was in the middle of the village stay, and it was lost in the sea of other things that were going on. I pointed out earlier this week that the theatre was still playing Mamma Mia!, but today they finally got a couple new movies in the schedule at Magik Cinema, and so a large contingent of group 81 made plans to head over.

While I was at the internet café posting last night’s blog, Blakey, Supy, and Jordan began preparing dinner at my house. Blakey and Supy bought some carbonerra –flavored pasta, and I had called Jordan in advance and had him pick up a loaf of bread so we could make grilled cheese. I met up with Paul around the internet café, and when he and I finished, we both headed back to my place and the 5 of us ate.

I introduced them to adding honey and rosemary to the inner side of either piece of bread. I discovered this revolutionary change in grilled cheese production when Luisa and I used to occasionally hold Grilled Cheese Experiment Nights. It’s glorious. It will blow your mind.

After dinner, we headed to the movies.

The outside of the movie theater is not much to write home about (literally, apparently), but once you get inside the lobby, it does feel surprisingly similar to a Cineplex in The States. It’s air conditioned and clean and has real tile floors and interior decorating that feels generically corporate, which is strangely comforting.

Blakey also pointed out that the theatre has a “fountain pop.” At first I thought she was using a quaint Samoan phrase; something akin to “ice bob,” which are the popular ice pops they sell in the village (I really need to blog about Samoan confusion of the English uses of the letters “B” and “P”.). In any case, it took me a moment to realize that Blakey wasn’t using a quaint Samoan phrase, but rather, a quaint Minnesotan phrase. You mean like a “SODA fountain,” Blakey? Ha.

The theatre itself gives a surprisingly American experience as well. The seats are a cheap, red crushed velvet, and the flatness of the theatre is reminiscent of the now closed Festival Cinema that used to be across the street from Kennedy Park in Hayward. When was the last time you went to the movies and didn’t have stadium seating? It’s a blast from the past, right?

The movie we saw was “Body of Lies” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, a spy thriller that felt like a cheap John LeCarre story. I had mixed feelings.

It was appropriate that we went to the movies last night being that the Academy Award nominations were announced yesterday. I was really hoping that they’d include a film or two that I’d already seen, but I think everything up for best picture has been released since I arrived in Samoa. I guess I should just be happy that I have already seen “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Anyway, we got into the movie after the lights had already gone down. So it was a funny surprise when the lights came up and a ton more Peace Corps had also been in the theatre the whole time. Attendees of tonight’s movie included: Me, Blakey, Paul, Jordan, Supy, Cale, Sara, Chris, AJ, Dan, Erin, Jim, Ben, Aaron, and Max. Yeah. Just the 15 of us. I hear this is a slightly common occurrence, which isn’t that surprising. The cost of admission is relatively cheap ($6 WST), they don’t change the movies too often, and they’re almost all American movies… So a bunch of Americans showing up to finally get to see something new isn’t that surprising.

It was a fun night.

My staff meeting this morning was excruciating, in the sense that it went on for 6 hours, but fun, in the sense that everyone knows my name and I was able to contribute.

Props to Luisa's friend, Gary, who got a call this morning and starts a new job at the White House on Monday. Congratulations, Gary, you've renewed my sense that there is justice in the world as well as my own feelings of inferiority. Respect.

Tonight I am heading back to the host village for no other reason than to visit and hang out. I’m coming back pretty early on Saturday morning, so it’s not much of a trip.

I hope things are well at home, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Pictures below.

The lobby of at Magik Cinema.

This picture is on the wall in the men's bathroom. Yes, it is a color print out on an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper. Yes, it is a movie poster for "Bloodsport," the 1988 cinematic masterpiece staring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Gobs of Peace Corps on the street in front of Magik Cinema after the movie.

Supy and Blakey and pre-grilled cheese sandwiches.

Jordan. He says his family let's him know very soon after I post any pictures of him. So I suppose we'll test the response time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tacos and Scheduling

This week has been busy. I think in the lead up to school starting, people are getting antsy and restless, and where else is there to go in Samoa when you’re antsy and restless besides beautiful Apia? Hot and rainy Apia? And since I live within walking distance of downtown Apia, my place becomes a popular stop-in for weary travelers.

It’s a fun place to be. I get all the good gossip. And it definitely hasn’t been a very lonely week. It’s a weird juxtaposition from last Friday.

Tentative plans were made before I posted my blog yesterday for Mexican Night at Erik’s to finally happen. I called over when I was done, and it turned out that the evening hadn’t begun yet. In the end, it ended up being Supy and me from group 81 and Aaron, Max, and Erik from group 80.

Group 79 is gathering in town for their mid-service training this weekend. They’re heading out to the beach at Faufau, which is on the southeastern side of the island (I think?). When Supy and I were walking home last night we both notice a bit of an us and them feel to the evening, which I think it kind of inevitable when you have a bunch of guys from a particular group seeing each other for the first time in a while.

All in all, though, it was a fun night. Erik made tortillas from scratch using a wine bottle as a rolling pin. Wine bottles are extremely popular as rolling pin stand-ins here in Samoa. It was Supy’s job to scrape the label off the wine bottle, which was a surprisingly painstaking task. I chopped an onion.

Someone brought a bottle of peppermint schnapps, which brought a Jenny Schwartzkopf air to the evening.

We mostly spent the evening talking about surfing, Judaism, The Wire, other volunteers, veganism, Polish cinema, and Samoans naming babies after Peace Corps volunteers.

The AA batteries in my camera died before I could get any pictures last night. Thus the skimpiness of the photos below.

I had a staff meeting to start determining the schedule of classes at 9:00 a.m. today. Class schedule is not the same every day like it was for me in high school; that is, on one day here, math will be second period, and another day, math will be fourth period.

One might think that the best way for such a schedule to be put together would be for one person to sit down, gather all the necessary information, and then plot the whole thing out. This person would be lauded for their efforts, and everyone else could do something better with their time. This is not how it happened here though.

We did the whole thing democratically. There were 10 of us in the room. One guy stood at the chalkboard with a meticulously drawn grid, adding things to the schedule when those of us seated at the tables told him to. This wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if complications didn’t continue to arise.

They have a system in which you choose one elective from the A group, one elective from the B group, and one elective from the C group. For the year 13 students, Computer Studies was the only elective in the C group. This effectively meant that every year 13 student would be in my class at the same time. This is a problem because a.) I don’t have enough computers, and b.) there’s a large discrepancy between the 7 students who scored extremely well on the standardized test for year 12 students and the 14 students who have never had a computer class before.

Another problem arose when the C group of electives for year 12 students was Computer Studies or Visual Arts. The teachers estimated that there would be 20 students in the computer class and between 5 and 10 students in the Visual Arts class. There are 150 year 12 students at my school. This leaves 125 students with nothing to do for a period every day.

So today’s meeting was a bit of an ordeal. This seems to be right on par with most volunteer experiences at Samoan secondary schools. We ended the meeting after 3 hours, eventually giving up on the grid we’d worked on all morning, opting to start from scratch tomorrow morning.

The rest of the day has been rainy and overcast, which has been a welcome change to the ridiculous heat we had earlier in the week. Blakey and Supy stopped by this afternoon, as seen above.

I hope things are well back home. Just a couple pictures below.

This woman sells coconuts right next to me (this picture was taken from inside my house). She gets there really early, and sits outside, rain or shine. It's pretty hardcore.

These are two lizards that were on the wall in my bedroom. I'll let you make up your own caption.