Thursday, January 08, 2009

3 Months!: The Story So Far and FAQs

This morning marks exactly 3 months since we landed here in Samoa. It’s weird how in some ways it feels like we just got here and the last 3 months has gone by in the blink of an eye—and on the other hand, it feels like we’ve been here forever. It’s kind of funny because if you make the scale smaller, it feels the same way. That is, each day feels extremely long, but the week seems to pass quickly.

I recently posted a bunch of photos spanning the time we got here until just before New Years, but I figure we might benefit by going over the story so far. So here goes.

The Story So Far

We arrived in Apia October 8. We were greeted by a whirlwind of adapting to climate, time difference, and culture shock. To ease us into the country, they put us at a hotel. We were clumped with a group of strangers who would come to be Group 81; that is, the 81st group of Peace Corps to volunteer in Samoa. We have become a family, and like a family, we all love each other and want to smack each other… both at the same time.

Our first Sunday here was a national holiday, which we spent at the beach. The next day was water safety, which we learned by snorkeling. What a life!, you’re thinking. What a life!, we thought. But alas, the honeymoon couldn’t last forever. And like fatted pigs being led to the slaughter, we piled into the van and headed out to the host village.

The first week in the host village was another round of culture shock. Some parts were blissful: meals were prepared for us, our bags were carried, many of us were given the best sleeping accommodations in the household. Other parts, not so nice: the fishbowl effect, the lack of freewill, the bucket showers (which I came to enjoy).

After a week, we came back to Apia and dispersed to visit actual volunteers in the respective habitats. This was essentially a tease. “Look how great life will be. Good. Now, back to the village!”

Returning to the village was actually nice. People were excited to see us. There was a routine once more. We came back to Apia to watch the election returns. Hooray, Obama! Back to the village.

The village stay was great language immersion. And great cultural immersion. I played bingo, I played cards, I went to church, I went to the plantation, I practiced walking with the baby, I hung out with the native twentysomethings in the evening, I played barefoot soccer, I went shopping, I watched TV, I danced. But still, there was the whole lack of free will, the lack of choices, the lack of internet. And then I got the diarrhea that felt like someone was punching me in the intestines.

Thanksgiving came. We went to the Charges-Affaires’s house to have turkey and mash potatoes and cranberry sauce and stuffing. We also attended the All-Volunteer Conference. And then, back to the village.

Returning to the village was ehhhh. People were excited to see us. There was a routine once more. My diarrhea turned feverish. I slept for a day. I got better.

Things started to wind down quickly. Our group did relatively well on the fluency exam. The village rolled out the red carpet for our big Swearing-In Ceremony. At the reception, the local youth group danced and sang for us. We had also prepared a dance, a skit, and a song that we performed for the Women’s Committee. And then it was over.

We were dispersed out to our sites. I will be teaching at a secondary school in Apia. But there has definitely been another round of culture shock. This one is a little more difficult than the first two in the sense that it’s forever and there’s no longer 12 other people in the immediate vicinity to commiserate with. And a week after the newfound loneliness began, it was Christmas.

Seven of us went back to our host families to celebrate Christmas. The other six went to Chris’ house. There was drinking at Chris’ house. There was drinking at our host families’ houses. Christmas was merry.

Back home for a few days, and then out to the far end of the other island, Savai’i, to celebrate New Years. Though we are somewhat stranded there, it’s a good time.

Someone breaks into Phil’s house while he and I are at the grocery store. The guy makes off with a bunch of my stuff and $10 of Phil’s. Sucks.

And now I’m back in Apia, passing the time, waiting for school to begin. And that’s the story so far.


What’s the Internet situation there?
    There are a number of cafés in town. Rates vary, as does quality. There is also a wireless provider called LavaSpot that allows users to connect from about 20 locations in and around Apia. Hours are much cheaper when purchased in bulk. I am currently paying $6.64 WST per hour, which breaks down to between $2.20 US and $2.35 US, which isn’t bad at all, especially since I can use my own laptop (and therefore my own iTunes, Skype, Firefox, etc.). Hopefully sometime very soon I will be able to access the Internet on dial-up from my house.
What’s the phone situation?
    Every volunteer has a cell phone, and all of us are on prepay plans. It costs me $0.45 WST/minute to call someone here and $0.99 WST/minute to call the United States. It costs $0.20 WST to send a text message to anywhere in the world.
How fluent are you?
    I am not very fluent. I tested Intermediate-Mid. I think I was right in the middle of our group. Some people were really good by the end, and others had some more work to do. The thing is that now that I live in Apia, I’m surrounded by people who speak English, and now that we’re out of training, I don’t get to practice very often.
Say something in Samoan.
    Ha. What do you want me to say?
I don’t know. Say whatever you want.
    Okay… Ummm… ‘E leai ni fōma’i po’o ni tausima’i i le nu’u, na’o taulāsea, which means, There are no doctors or nurses in the village, only healers.
Any other sickness than "diarrhea that felt like someone was punching you in the intestines"?
    Not really. I thought I had pink eye near the end of October, but it seems like a lot of maladies show up for a while, and then disappear as quickly and strangely as they appeared.
Are you having fun?
    Yes. It’s a good time. Each day takes a lot of effort, but few things are completely impossible. The first time I did manual laundry, I thought it was an exercise in futility. I had no idea what I was doing and throughout the entire process I vowed again and again that I would pay for my laundry to be washed in machine from then on. But then my clothes dried. And they were clean. And I had successfully washed my clothes without a machine washer or dryer. It was strangely thrilling. I got the same thrill yesterday when I finally got my kitchen light to work. I got the same thrill when I had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. and caught the bus that would get me on the 6:00 a.m. boat to Savai’i. They’re all little things that seem impossible until they’re actually accomplished. And then they don’t seem like they were ever that difficult in the first place. It’s weird.
Tomorrow I’m going to start a series of cultural exploration. Our first topic will be Grocery Shopping in Samoa. Story So Far pictures below!

This is Group 81. From left to right: Joey, Phil, Matt, Paul, Koa, Jordan, Supy (in front), AJ (behind), Chris, Kate, Erin, Dan, and Blakey.

My host family. I like to think of Asolima as my host sister. And her two kids, Leme and Akanese.

This is the moustache that I grew. It was awesome.

This is my duplex in Apia.

This is my bike.

This was my halloween costume. I was supposed to be a mosquito. Hard to tell, I know.


Christmas. Dancing.


Anonymous said...

I like the recap. For anyone who hasn't been reading your blog, it's a good place to start. For those of us who've been around from the start, it's a nice review!
I miss you.

Anna said...

id like to hear more about the cultural differences and what your experience has been as a young american male. and the lack of "free will" and what that means to you :)

marija said...

Hi Matt,
I was very glad to read your blog, with detales on the bugs, footware, cultural and cooking experiances, and loved you recap. The past mounts seems to be great experiance for all of you. Looking to hear more.....
Koa's mom