Saturday, February 28, 2009

Evolution of Dishwashing

We used the dishwasher so seldom in our house when I was growing up that when my parents re-did the kitchen, the converted the dishwasher space to more cupboard space. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t wash dishes very often growing up. I should confess that I never saw much of the dishwasher’s work; my parents tended to take on all dishwashing duties in our house.

In part, I was afraid of the dishes. My parents used water that could only be described as scalding to wash dishes. I thought it might be one of those things that seemed more extreme when I was younger, but as I got older, the water only seemed to get hotter.

In any case, I left for college with little dishwashing experience and an active distrust of the dishwashing machine. My freshman year roommate was OCD and would wash the dishes incessantly. My sophomore situation was the complete opposite: it was an apartment-wide game of Chicken to see who would crack and wash the dishes first. This game sometimes lasted over a month. It was bad. Junior year sat unremarkably between these extremes. And senior year I met Luisa, who introduced me to washing with rubber gloves.

My mom had only used rubber gloves to wash the dishes after she’d had her nails done. But Luisa used them all the time. It was weird. But right around the same time, a dermatologist suggested that I start using rubber gloves because the strange rash I had on a couple of my fingers might be a reaction to dish soap. So I converted.

I was a little embarrassed the first time I introduced rubber gloves to the 2416 environment. Our water heater was a bit overzealous, and the rubber gloves provided a good shield to the volcanic heat that came out of our faucet, and the boys welcomed the gloves.

Here in Samoa, the dish situation has been different from everything I’ve encountered in the past for 2 big reasons. First, because of my fellow 6-legged co-inhabitants, I’ve had to wash dishes on a daily basis, often doing them as soon as I finish the meal. Second, there is no hot water from the tap, so all dishes are washed in cold water. Additionally, that strange rash on my hand is gone, and rubber gloves are surprisingly difficult to find in Samoa. So I haven’t bothered to use them.

But then last Friday I was trying to get the cap off of a coke bottle because we didn’t have a bottle opener, and one of my tactics split my fingernail. It was just a small split at first, but the crack spread about a quarter-inch toward the cuticle, after which it made a right turn. The whole chunk of fingernail came off. I had been experiencing some strange nail flakiness up to this point, but I interpreted this as a sign that my nails are in a pretty week state.

So I talked to the Peace Corps Medical Officer. At first I thought this problem was dietary. But we talked about it, and it seems like my diet is balanced enough that I should be getting the nutrients my nails need. And then she asked if I did any washing with detergent on a regular basis.

As laundry goes, this was a definite “no,” but dishwashing seemed like it might be wielding it’s ugly head once more. After all, I’m washing dishes daily here; a pace which I’ve rarely, if ever, had to match in the past. And whereas all of my dishwashing in San Francisco has been glovéd, essentially pampering my princess hands, here there was no shield against Dawn and her evil, abrasive ways.

So I found gloves today. And I’m back on the wagon. We’ll see if it helps things.

I brought up this issue with Cale and Sara last night, and Sara snickered at me complaining about my fingernails. It’s not like they’re not buffed to my liking, and I don’t want to take them for a mani… I’m just concerned about their inexplicable weakness of late. So we’ll see.

I hope your fingernails shine like justice. Pictures below.

This is my finger last Friday before the chunk of nail fell off.

Blakey and I had breakfast this morning.

I remembered to order iced tea, and it was awesome. EXCEPT... for one thing. Can you tell me what's wrong here?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Gotta Get Out of this Place

This has probably been the most difficult week since school began. I alluded to this yesterday, but another day of school did not make the stressful week any better. I attribute the week’s sourness to a bad start, and I was never able to get my feet under me long enough to catch up. So I couldn’t wait to hear the bell ring this afternoon. But the day, of course, was slightly more complicated than that.

I gave the quiz to my year 13 class, which yielded mixed results. As the period ended, I heard singing in the hall, and I looked at my year 13s and asked, “There’s no sixth period today, is there?”

“Ha! No.” They shook their heads. How does everyone always know what’s going on except me? It’s like they have a secret language or something…

After I had completely shut down the computer lab, I went and found one of the missionaries so she could explain to me what was up with today. She chuckled. “Uniform checks. You can help if you want.” Every student is required to have two regulation uniforms, and the lower years are required to have an additional uniform for P.E. Staff would be checking to make sure that students had all their things in order.

I admit, I didn’t really want to stay and help, but she’d given me the option, and I’m not quite comfortable enough here to tell people that I have no interest in showing up to certain things (like uniform checks. So I headed over to the hall to see if I could be of service.

When I got there, students had already been neatly arranged into neat rows and columns and separated by grade level. The boys were singing while they waited for things to get underway. A number of the prefects were walking around making sure lines were straight, but they soon sat down with their respective grade levels.

1 staff member started walking up the year 9 sector asking to see uniform stuff. Another teacher patted a student on the head as he walked by. But it turned out he wasn’t being friendly; he feeling each student’s hair, making sure it was not longer than regulation permitted.

For some reason, I found this fascinating. Why not just look? Why the incessant noogies? At one point, he got to two boys. I was unclear on their infraction, but the teacher was able to get the boys to smack each other across the face. It was bizarre. And fascinating.

But after the double face slap, I didn’t think the event could be topped, and I’d been standing around watching for 20 minutes, so I decided to make my escape. I found a wing of the hall where there were no people and hopped the small gate to get out. I then walked around the back of the school to my house.

What a sanctuary of normalcy my house can feel like. But I needed to get out of there too. I don’t typically feel so urgent about this sort of thing, but today, I needed to be with other Peace Corps pronto. So I rode my bike to the office and sat around doing nothing in particular for 3.5 hours, occasionally using the internet and chatting it up with whoever was there.

Cale and Sara showed up and planned to have dinner up the mountain at a place called “The Curry House,” and invited along whoever wanted to come. So I went. And then we rendezvoused with the group back in town later this evening.

It was a much needed respite from the inanity of school life, and I have 2 more days to keep school at bay. Awesome.

I hope you’re making the most of your weekend. Pictures below.

Oh, I forgot. This bus was parked on the lawn this morning when I walked to school. It apparently took the 9.5 class to watch an international Greco-Roman Wrestling competition. Okay.

This was my meal at The Curry House. It was good. The rice serving was small.

This is Ben from group 80 in his finest Friday-night frat boy threads.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 3

I think going to Savai’i two weekends ago and the village this past weekend combined with Sunday’s fever has all just left me exhausted and perhaps just a little cranky. It’s not that I feel tired; it’s more of a mental weariness, I’d say. But the Peace Corps lifestyle does not accommodate fatigue very well, so I feel a bit like I’m crawling through the week in anticipation of a very lazy Saturday morning. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Let’s say you had all of your grades saved on your flash drive. And then your computer refuses to open the file, saying that your flash drives been corrupted. And, just for fun, let’s pretend you’re 5 weeks into first semester, but you’ve already had 2 quizzes. Do you ask for everyone’s quizzes back, or do you just start over with keeping track of grades and hope no one notices?
  • Listening to Paul Simon makes me wish I liked poetry. But I don’t really understand poetry. I just like Paul Simon.
  • My shower caddy is rusting already. You’re a shower caddy! It’s your job to be wet!
  • School ended after 4th period today because of “sports.” I’m unclear on where these sports took place, let alone what sports were played. I might have gone, but I open up the computer lab to staff after school Thursday, and today was busy.
  • One of my kids lost his calculator after class yesterday. It was almost surely picked up by someone in the same Year 12 class that the kid is in, but I don’t know how you pull the strings to make the calculator re-appear.
  • More of my listening time in my house is devoted to NPR podcasts rather than music. You’d think that this was some desperate need to get news from America, but I think it has little to do with that. I think it’s the same reason that talk radio keeps me awake when I’m driving; it’s nice hearing another talking voice.
  • Here’s a story from a long time ago that I forgot to tell. Joey, Koa, and I were cabbing to Dan’s birthday party, and after a couple minutes in the taxi, I whispered to Koa, “Is this deep-album ‘Hootie and the Blowfish’?” Koa looked at me like he thought I was high. But two beats later, the taxi driver turns up the music and says, “HU-Ti! Hu-ti and the blow-feesh.” YES!
  • With the PSSC Meeting earlier this week, I’m still trying to make sense of all this official testing stuff that I have to do. The South Pacific Board of Education has a tendency to use very similar terms to describe things that are very different, and going through all of the paperwork we received is hard to stomach.
  • Yes. I know that saving all my grades on my flash drive is the technological equivalent of putting all of my eggs in one basket. But what’s done is done. The question is how do I move forward?
  • I’ve had “Just You ‘n’ Me” from Chicago in my head all week.
  • I finally cooked the ‘Maccarrones y Queso’. The powdered cheese melted to the pan much worse than the Kraft cheese did. The pan has been soaking, but it doesn’t look like it will be very easy to get the cheese off. It doesn’t bode well for the other two boxes of Maccarrones sitting in my kitchen.
  • When I think about how much time I spend alone in my house, it’s weird. It doesn’t feel like I’m alone that often. I would say it’s the NPR. Or the blog. Or the lizards. Or the frequent trips to town. Or being on campus all the time. Or the frequent visits from other Peace Corps. I really don’t feel like I’m alone here THAT often.
  • Man, who recognizes Hootie and the Blowfish 12 years after the fact? And I still had a working knowledge of the ‘Cracked Rear View’ album. Sad.
  • CD-ROMs with the required PSSC information and forms were distributed to all of the principals, and I feel like if I could just borrow that from mine, I would totally understand what I need to do. I feel much more compatible with the new technology than with randomly being handed strange packets of instructions.
  • During my volunteer visit, Cale and Sara assured me that Choco Coffee Tim-Tam are amazing. I’ve finally tried them, and I agree. It’s almost like it’s a completely different snack cookie. It’s mindblowing.
That’s all I got for now. Some pictures below.

My computer lab after school. Teachers are on the far side. Today was their day, and they were not happy that I allowed some of the Year 13s in to work on a big assignment they have coming up.

These two guys live on campus here, and also attend school here. I didn't realize this until yesterday. And the one on the left is in my class. He's very nice though.

I had a pineapple Shasta today. Shasta is available EVERYWHERE. Any small village faleoloa with a refrigerator is bound to sell Shasta. Kinda random.

This Chinese restaurant is near my house. It's good.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I realize I’ve been a little heavy on the Jesus front lately, what with the Ichthuses on Monday and starting out with Bill’s stand-ins yesterday, but I’ve painted myself into a corner with today being Ash Wednesday. So don your purple, get ready for Clam Chowder Fridays, and whatever you do, don’t scratch your forehead.

I almost forgot too. I had to stay after school because students come and hang out in the computer lab on Wednesdays, and the entire time I was looking forward to a lazy afternoon spent lounging in boxers in front of the fan. I’m not really sure what jogged my memory, but I got back to my house around 4:30 p.m., and mass was at 5:30 p.m.

Now Ash Wednesday is no Easter or Christmas, but it packs the pews, and I was already looking at a 20-minute walk to the church. And hell if I was gonna stand around in the back. So in order to get there early and ensure my seat, I barely had enough time to walk in and walk out of my house.

On Sunday I go to the 9:15 English mass, which is nice because it’s in, you know, English. But when they announced the mass times for today, they didn’t clarify which services would be held in Samoan and which would be in, you know, English. So I dawdled a little walking in, trying to figure out what language we’d be speaking tonight. And that was when I heard my new Samoan name called.


I looked up to see one of my year-12 students sitting in the back row. The look on her face was one of shock. I smiled and said hello and sat down next to her, doing a mini-genuflect and the sign of the cross as quickly as possible. “So you’re Catholic?” She asked, still baffled.

“Yeah.” Believe it or not.

I could understand her state of mind for 2 reasons. First, it’s weird teaching at (and attending, I assume) a school run by a religious organization that you are not a part of. And it’s difficult to try and pick out who the other Congregationalist-poseurs are. Second, it’s weird to think that teachers are actual humans when school is not in session. It didn’t seem unlikely that some of my teachers either lived in their classroom or faded away to nothingness when students left for the day. So I was hitting this girl with a double-whammy.

She was only sitting in the back row because she was waiting for the rest of her family to arrive, and she soon got up to go sit with them, leaving me in the back row. I had come early to get a seat, but now I had to flaunt my seat in front of all the people standing in the back. Oh well.

Songs were in English. The sign of the cross was almost always in English. The readings were in English. Most other stuff was in Samoan. No holding hands during the Our Father. No Sign of Peace. And the quick English translation at the end of the homily was just a reminder that everyone (EVERYONE) should be avoiding meat on Fridays. Children younger than 6, and elderly who are older than 60 – ehhh… 65 – shouldn’t worry about fasting.

So mass was spiritually hollow, but I did run into that same student on my way out afterwards, and she was happy to see me again. So I think it was worth going.

On my walk home, one of the bouncers outside the dance club near the church yelled, “Sole!”, which means “Dude!”, and then gestured that I had something on my face. But I didn’t wipe.

Hope you’re keeping your hands off too. I am promising you a Jesus-free Thursday! Picture below.

Saw this snail crawling across the lawn in broad daylight right after school today. It was huge. Didn't have the heart to steal it's shell.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Note: Yeah. I drew the State of New York backwards. Get over it.

When Bill had knee surgery at USC, a number of other priests stepped in for a week or two at a time while he recovered. Bill hand-picked them in order to make sure his progressive theology was not railroaded by a bunch of conformist hacks. So we got to sit through a string of Los Angeles’s more colorful priests, a few of whom were quite memorable. In any case, we had one that was particularly good, and, growing up in the family I grew up in, I approached him after mass and told him that I really liked his homily. That he was very engaging. And he told me, “You know, at least half of education is entertainment.”

Even at the time, I agreed wholeheartedly. When I taught swimming lessons, I was most effective when the kids were having a good time. I had a difficult time connecting to the 'tweener kids — the 6-9 year olds — and there were never very many classes for older kids, so I ended up teaching a lot of tiny tot classes. And I was good at it. Coming through my class, the criers would be swimming a decent 5 yards of Big Arms. So how did I entertain the 5-year-olds enough that I could teach them to swim? I did it by entertaining myself.

I’ve always felt that the funniest comedians are the ones who gain entertainment from their own act. I should draw a line between those who think they’re funny and laugh at their own jokes and those who others think are funny and laugh because there’s no other appropriate reaction but to laugh at the hilarity of the jokes they tell.

On Saturday Night Live, funny skits become much funnier when the cast begins to crack up. Two examples of this are the Debbie Downer goes to Disneyworld sketch and the original Matt Foley Motivational Speaker skit. David Spade and Christina Applegate have to hide their faces in the couch to keep it together.

My point is, if I can find a way to make myself smile when I’m teaching dry curriculum (like Computer Theory), I choose to go for it every time. So today, after I told my class that ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, I yelled out, “AMERICA! WHOOOOOOOOOOO!” The students laughed and I laughed, and it was good.

I was a bit disheartened when a few of them, confirming why the joke was funny, asked, “Matthew, are you from America?” Yes. Duh. You thought I was a Kiwi?

So they asked, “Where in America are you from?” I get this question a lot, I think out of pure politeness. California is well known around the world, but here I am always met with blank faces.

The question today gave me the opportunity to jump into an American geography lesson. I think I was more bored with ASCII than the students, and playing the ‘Where is…?’ game sounded much more fun.

“Where is New York?”

“Where is Washington?” (When I clarified, he was asking about Washington state, which I found random)

In any case, it brought a flavor of spontaneity to the class, and I think the kids thought it was funny that I thought something was funny.


U – S – A!
U – S – A!
U – S – A!

Student taking notes on digital cameras while I take her picture with digital camera.

Apong, a missionary and the other rookie non-Samoan speaker on staff, led this week's prayer at the Monday morning assembly. Show off.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Doesn't It Seem a Little Precarious?

Now that we’ve fallen into a bit of a routine, I sometimes get reminders that all arrangements are tentative. I guess this is also true in The States, but I think it’s a little more jarring to be thrown off the beaten path here. There’s no Target, there’s not much food open late, and there’s no voice of reason to say, “Hmmm… Maybe we should schedule this meeting for after school.” The precariousness my situation made itself known through 2 things in the last 24 hours.

First, I ran a fever for most of the day today. I had coffee during the Oscars yesterday, and that’s my prime suspect at this point. I was all queasy last night, and then came the chills and dizziness. And I had really weird dreams last night, although I’ve forgotten them.

In any case, being sick here is just kinda weird. Part of it is the general mugginess of each day. It’s hard to know where the perpetual Samoan sweating ends and the feverish cold sweats begin. I also get really exhausted, but much of my life here straddles the line between laziness and “laid back”. Also, I probably should get more sleep.

The second thing, which is far less dire (not that the fever is all that dire… it’s come and gone now), is after this morning’s assembly, Maegi approached me and told me that we needed to go to a meeting at the secondary school across the street at 1:30 p.m., and that I should end my last class early accordingly.

This was a bit strange to me, but it was only cutting 10 to 15 minutes off my last class of the day, which seemed harmless. And then Koa texted me and said he was coming. And then when I got out of my last class, Phil was standing around waiting to head over to the meeting.

They called Phil last night at 9:30 and told him that he needed to come to Apia today. Koa was also told at 8:30 this morning. So Phil is staying over tonight, which is cool. But it’s just funny that there’s no notice.

And I feel bad because my house is filthy. And I had some Skyping on my agenda for the evening. And I have dirty laundry on my kitchen table. I would have, you know, put the dirty laundry away or whatever.

I should also add that the meeting was kind of a waste of time. There was no sound amplification, so we couldn’t hear anything. Also, none of us were any clearer on the new changes to the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate exam that our year 13s are taking at the end of the school year.

Anyway, I hope you’re also keeping on your toes. Pictures below.

Me, AJ, Phil, and Koa. I was going to post this up top, but I really wanted to say that we look like a really geeky mellow rock band. Maybe even Christian? Maybe we started out as Christian rockers to get big, and then we crossed over into the mainstream? Koa is definitely the drummer.

The missionary sitting in front of me... bored to tears. Or Ichthuses. What's the plural of Ichthus?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Double Debrief: Oscars and Nu'u

First the Academy Awards… In high school AP Psychology, Mr. Friedman used to talk about a study where chimps filled out multiple choice tests, and guessing at random, their average score was approximately 25%. So my score (9/24 = 37.5%) beat the chimp. So there. And Sean Penn won! Wowa. And he and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black were quite vocal in their support of gay rights. How exciting! Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t stand Sean Penn, but I’m pretty happy with tonight’s results. And shocked. Maegi and I both gasped when they announced his name. “REALLY?!”

How lame was that telecast? Hugh Jackman. Boo. The opening musical number and the tribute to musicals were both painful. The one musical highlight (which was actually the highlight of the entire 3.5 hours) was John Legend and A.R. Rahman and whoever that girl was mixing the 3 Oscar-nominated songs. That was awesome.

I also liked the way they edited older movies into the Best Picture clips. I can see how other people wouldn’t like that so much. Am I the only one who did?

The worst part of the show was the In Memoriam. Why were we watching weird panning views of smaller monitors paying their respects? Watching a TV on TV is redundant and stupid and difficult to read. Hella lame.

My travel blog just morphed into a mediocre amateur entertainment blog, and I apologize.

Anyway, I wanted to do a little follow-up to yesterday’s post about the village. I took the pasi mulimuli on Friday. It’s the last bus of the day, so anyone who doesn’t get in is pretty much stranded in Apia, save for hitchhiking or paying an insane cab fare. So if you don’t make it on, you’re SOL. The nice thing though is that bus drivers are incredibly sympathetic, and most of them are willing to stop and pick up anyone who needs to get on.

This is awesome if you’re late getting to the bus and you miraculously catch it. This is not awesome for those who would like to get home in a timely manner (I was in no rush… but still the bus can take forever.). Also, physics tells us that there is a finite amount of space within the confines of the walls and roof of the bus. That said, the policy here is to fill as much of that space as possible.

This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Strangers sitting on strangers’ laps (although lap-sitters are always of the same gender unless the two people are not strangers); and
  • Cramming the central aisle to the extreme.
I tend to be smaller than the average Samoan (believe it or not), and thus I am an eternal lap-sitter. This is certainly as awkward as it sounds, and my ass has made a bit of return to the boniness of my youth. So… sucks to be that guy. That ride was nearly 2 hours.

As far as the actual village goes, the baby definitely recognizes me now. And she walks! It’s insane the progress she’s made after a month. And Akanese has started kindergarten and there was a palpable change in her behavior.

Leaving the village yesterday morning was difficult logistically. I wanted to hang out as long as possible, but I did not want to get stranded in the village; I didn’t bring clothes for church, and taking a 5:00 a.m. bus on Monday morning in order to get to school on time would be lousy. I asked a bunch of people when the last bus would leave, and I got a different answer each time. So my plan was to catch the 10:00 a.m. bus to be on the safe side, but my family assured me that there’d be another. Finally, Asolima called the bus driver to confirm that he’d be making a trip to Apia in the afternoon. Calling a Muni driver in San Francisco would be bizarre, but here, it’s pretty normal, I think.

That’s all I got for now. Hope your weekend was nice. Pictures below.

I made popcorn for the Oscars. I may have made popcorn on the stove in 1992. It's been about that long.

The TV at Maegi's house. I just got that Eddie Murphy was the new Nutty Professor. Duh.

This is my huge cool bus panorama. Click on it to see it big. It took forever to get it together... so click on it. Do it.

Octopus and banana prepared.

Akanese swimming in the public bathing pool. I felt kinda like the uncle who comes to swimming lessons and takes picturs. She'd still be a tiny tot, I think. Maybe a Level 1.

One last Taupo pic. This is me with Tone... She's good friends with Phil's sisters.

Special Edition! Oscar Picks

Those of you who knew me well back home know that I get a little obsessive about the Oscars. I follow the politics and the predictions, and I even like the movies themselves (Yeah. I genuinely enjoyed “The English Patient.” Sue me.). And usually my predictions are pretty accurate. I came in first place in the 2007 CNET Office Pool, although I fell to a measly 3rd in 2008. Elizabeth, you would have a target on your back if I was still stateside.

Usually I see most of the movies as soon as the Golden Globe nominations come out, but this year of all the films up for best picture, I’ve only seen “Slumdog Millionaire.” So I’m making my picks blindly, but I figure The Academy is often predictable. So here goes…

Note: I realize I’m a bit down to the wire, but I’m posting this at 12:36 p.m. Samoa Time, which is 3:36 PST, and 6:36 EST, so I’m going on the record with my predictions before the show starts. Cool?

Best Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire."
Actor: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Actress: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Foreign Film: "The Class," France
Adapted Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley, "Doubt"
Original Screenplay: "In Bruges"; Dustin Lance Black
Animated Feature Film: “WALL-E"
Art Direction: "Changeling"
Cinematography: "Changeling"
Sound Mixing: "The Dark Knight"
Sound Editing: "The Dark Knight"
Original Score: "WALL-E," Thomas Newman.
Original Song: "Down to Earth" from "WALL-E," Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
Costume: "The Duchess"
Documentary Feature: “Trouble the Water"
Documentary (short subject) : "The Witness — From the Balcony of Room 306"
Film Editing: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Makeup: "The Dark Knight"
Animated Short Film: "This Way Up"
Live Action Short Film: "Spielzeugland (Toyland) "
Visual Effects: "The Dark Knight"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taupo for an Evening

There’s a sign along Highway 101 just a ways south of Gilroy that says, “It’s Happening in Soledad,” which is somehow supposed to boast tourism to Soledad, California, I think. There’s something inherently pitiful about that sign, and it seems to be a bottomless font of humor for those of us from parts of California with, you know… buildings and people and automobiles and such. I mean, really, what could be happening in Soledad?

But if there’s one thing trips to the village have taught me, it’s that there really are interesting things happening in rural Samoa. Every time I go there, there’s some sort of village party going on. Last month it was the siva in Tafitoala, which was more like a church converted to a surprisingly legitimate dance club. This time, the siva was in Fausaga, but this Siva was more like a church fundraiser. The lights were bright, every other dance was a money dance, and there were an abundance of children less than or equal to seven years old. But for all intents and purposes, this was just as fun.

When I rolled into town on the pasi mulimuli, the last bus of the day, people were excited to see me, but the air was definitely abuzz with the impending siva just hours away. After settling in, catching up, praying, and dinner, I set off with Phil’s sister, Tuese, to walk across the village to pick up the rest of his family. Phil was not present in the village, but it’s just easier to refer to his family as his.

He did call though. He called Tuese on the way to her family’s place, in fact. I decided this was an opportune moment to make a phone call myself, and the moment where the two of us were standing on the road in front of her house waiting to finish our respective phone calls felt strangely American. I’ve been in situations back home where there’s been 3 or 4 of us in the car and by weird coincidence (or yuppy lifestyle), we all end up talking at the same time. One would think it an improbable situation for Samoa; particularly if at least one of the parties is actually Samoan. But it happened.

Anyway, arriving back at the siva, we took a seat on the wall across the road from the church hall and waited for the event to begin. I was thirsty, and my family’s house is right behind the church, so I walked back to grab some water. I was on my way, when my host brother (cousin?) Oge approached me.

Oge speaks very little English, but he had a lot to say, so he blurts out a long string of Samoan. The one word I am able to pick out is Taupo, which is the ceremonial virgin and traditional Samoan events. I was unclear on what was going on, but I figure the situation would work itself out. So when I grabbed my water, Asolima told me, “Mele wants you to be the Taupo for our family at the siva tonight.”


I was handed a string of shiny yellow beads that fall somewhere between Carmen Miranda and New Orleans Mardi Gras co-ed. The rest of my sparkles would come later. I was then given a crash course in the traditional Taupo does. It was later pointed out to me that Taupo is the female term, and that I was actually the Manaia, but everyone in my family continued to use the word Taupo to describe me, so take that for what you will.

Apparently Akanese had been originally slated for this Taupo duty, but when I showed up, it was decided that I would bring in more money. So not only did I feel a bit ridiculous, but I was also upstaging a 5-year-old. Great.

The one mitigating factor that allowed me to get this done was that I always feel like a bit of a buffoon in the village. So dressing up as the Taupo, and properly butchering the traditional dance was not dusting up my reputation; it was fulfilling my reputation.

And so this brings up some of the issues that Dylan touched on in his comments last weekend. Being in the Peace Corps, you want to maintain a certain level of dignity and respect that will allow you to get things done in your job. Otherwise, what was the point of coming all this way? But Palagis are perceived to have a bit of inherent buffoonery to them. Given this, volunteers must navigate the area between keeping a sense of humor and staking out a respected role. But all this happened in the host village, so it wasn’t too big a deal.

My Taupo number went fine. No one really cared one way or the other. In fact, it was downright anticlimactic. I asked one girl how she liked my siva. She said in broken English, “You were good. But not that much.” Whatever. At least it wasn’t Soledad.

Akanese dancing with some boy. Action shot!

Asolima called on Thursday night and asked if I could pick up a backpack for Akanese. This is the one I got.

They yuppy cell phone moment. I believe the kid's name is Jasper.

Phil's host father, who is my uncle (I think?), caught octopus. We had it for lunch today.

Tuese and the baby. The happy/sad juxtaposition is good.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 2

Another week into the school year and the honeymoon is definitely coming to a close. I’ve implemented a weekly quiz, and the results have been bafflingly varied. And yet as much as the path is unsure, we’ve settled into somewhat of a routine, and it’s comforting to know that there won’t be any adapting to a whole new environment until November at the earliest. Here’s a list of some other thoughts from the week:
  • I get weird songs in my head here. At lunch the other day, I had the “Wheel of Fortune” theme playing forever. Today as I was biking downtown, it was “She’s Always a Woman” from Billy Joel, apropos nothing.
  • Speaking of music, I was in the Congregationalist Church Treasurer’s truck last night, and we heard K-Ci and JoJo and Edwin McCain and Boyz II Men, and it was like being at a middle school dance in Samoa. In the Treasurer’s truck. 13 years after middle school.
  • I need to start exercising. I can’t be grilling pizza AND engorging on taro hashbrowns without a little jog now and then. I’d say the biggest obstacle to exercise is the laundry. In part, I feel like I don’t have the proper clothes in which to exercise, but also I’m not confident enough with my manual laundry techniques to employ them on a daily basis.
  • It’s fun seeing tourists around town because there’s a certain outsider bond that can be immediately forged. At the same time, it’s disappointing because they don’t have a bit of the insider perspective as well. But then it’s exciting to feel like an insider.
  • I had to whip out makeshift butcher skills on the pork this evening. It’s not like the pieces are nicely chopped or in any way boneless. It’s almost as though they diced the pig into large cross-sections and then distributed them. In fact, that’s exactly what they did. It’s so fatty though. And I’m no butcher. It was a bit of a farce staring cluelessly at the hunk of pork, arbitrarily deciding which parts would be edible.
  • I talked to my friend Chris who works at the US Embassy in Mexico for a bit on gchat today. Just FYI, should you and I ever have a conversation on gchat while I’m still living in Samoa, I’m liable to drop out without notice. The internet here gets a little overwhelmed when gchat enters the picture, so don’t be offended.
  • The other day I had a classic rock song in my head that goes something like (and I’m totally unsure of the actual lyrics), “Holiday roo-OOO-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oad / Holiday roo-OOO-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oad.” Who sings that? Why is it in my head? Also, “You are the woman that I’ve always dreamed of / I knew it from the start…” What song is that? And what’s the next line?
  • For some reason last Sunday, the streets of Apia were full of forlorn looking Americans (which is weird because usually the tourists are Australian or New Zealish or, strangely enough, German) aimlessly wandering. I overheard one asking a bank security guard, “So things will definitely be open tomorrow…. Right?” Ha.
  • The new computer teacher has been conducting all of her classes in the students’ normal classroom; i.e. not in the computer lab. On one hand, I’m impressed by this. I feel like the kneejerk reaction is to let the students loose. On the other hand, I’m still nervous about what will happen when she finally does let the students into the classroom.
  • One of the more exciting things about getting the camera back is I had promised my host family a large print of one of the portraits, and now I can actually deliver on that promise. I got 2 5”x7”s developed yesterday, which cost $30 WST. Ouch!
  • It sounds a little silly, but I am excited about going back to tea and a muffin at break every day. Supy told me his staff gets meals every day of every week, and I was jealous, but I’m ready for the simplicity of the muffin again. And the speed-guzzling of the tea in order to make sure I could pack in as many cups as possible. It just sounds less stressful than brown paper-wrapped pork.
That’s all I got for this week’s odds and ends. I’m heading to the host village tomorrow afternoon, so I’m going to shirk my blog responsibilities once more, but I’ll be back Saturday. And I swear after this weekend, I’m not going away until the 3rd-ish weekend in March. In the future, I think I might explore employing a guest blogger for days when I’m gone. For fun. We’ll see.

Hope things are well. Pictures below.

This is the brown-paper-wrapped pork in my refrigerator. It was better wrapped when it was given to me.

Hair on the pork.

Cooked pork. It turned out surprisingly well. I'm not sure there's any more meat in that brown paper bundle though.

In the insect "Cultural Exploration," I didn't talk about the bees. Generally they stay out of peoples' way, but they are huge. To the point that they FREAK ME OUT. This one got into my house somehow, and I had to put him down fast.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Troops are Restless

I spent my newly acquired prep periods this morning transposing some Samoan newspaper articles into Mavis Beacon because I have a hunch that it will increase their typing speed. I had planned to have my 11.4 class type for time today. I would like to make a little chart in the room that shows everyone’s typing speeds. I think it will be a good motivator.

Talking to other teachers, it seems that students here tend to respond well to such publicized charts, occasionally getting downright excited. But going into the period, I knew it would be heavy on logistics, and I abandoned the plan almost as soon as the period began.

The first problem with acquiring such data is that it entails each student doing a complete round of Mavis Beacon on his/her own, completely unassisted by peers. The other side of that is the peers need to be somewhere away from the computer for the entire duration of the round. This would mean corralling the majority of the class to a weird part of the floor and occupying them while they wait for their turn. This would only work if the entire procedure is taut.

The second problem is the actual typing speeds would need to be recorded, which would require matching each student with their speed, which would mean having each students name written down. I have never received a roll sheet. I don’t have a list of student names. So if things had gone as planned today, I would have had to collect typing speeds and names, which would not be a taut procedure.

But what really drove the nail into the coffin was the third much larger problem that I noticed as soon as the period began: students are starting to give up. Being part of a 4 student:1 computer ratio is starting to wear on them to the point that it’s easier to just sit the period out on the linoleum than to try and get on a computer.

It’s hard to know how to combat this problem. Given the amount of micro-rotating, trying to regulate a rotation system seems slightly pointless. I could pull away part of the class and start working on computer theory while a third continues typing, but this would be awkward because of the layout of the room and the need to rotate a third of the class in and out every 15 minutes. And how would that lesson work? “All of you have some notes, so it’s your job to figure out who has the notes you missed.” It doesn’t seem too effective.

I figure the best I can do is to try and motivate every student to elbow his/her way in to get some time with Mavis. And that was what I was trying to do in the first place! So I figure problem #3 is going to have to be solved over time. Problem #2, on the other hand, I was able to solve today by walking around and compiling a list with each student’s name. This only solves the problem for 11.4, which means I’ll need to collect names for 11.3, 11.2, and 11.1, but hopefully the lesson will be taut (taught?) next week.

In other news, Blakey and Supy came over last night. We had taro hash browns and pizza. It was as filling as it sounds. It was a fun night though. At one point I grilled a pizza sandwich. It was a revelation, and I highly recommend it. Two pieces of pizza put face-to-face and fried, grilled-cheese-style, in EVOO. Man, I miss the Food Network.

I hope you’re getting your fill of Rachel Rae (Actually, I much prefer the Barefoot Contessa. It’s a guilty pleasure.). Pictures below.

One ritual that volunteers do whenever the get together is the traditional sharing of external hard drive files. Here is Supy doing just that.


Grilled pizza. Fantastic. Kinda like a pizza panini. Or a "pizzanini" as Blakey referred to it. Has this been mass marketed? If not it sure as hell should be.

The green onions that Blakey bought at the market came in a Safeway bag. Okay.

Rugby practice was held after school today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Boys and Girls

I once held hands with Lara in the backseat of my mom’s car on the way home from a movie. My mom was driving, and my sister was in the passenger seat. Later that evening my mom asked about the hand holding, and thinking back now, I still cringe. I’ve always found the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” completely relatable, and I found people like Adam and Kristen from high school baffling in their public displays of affection. But here in Samoa, if there’s any dating going on at my school, these kids bring underground to a new level.

Boys and girls separate from each other like oil and water. As you can see in the picture above, they sit apart from each other in the classroom. All of my classes do this without my asking. They eat lunch in unity groups that are foremost determined by gender. They tend to leave school in separate groups.

I admit it’s not that weird that high school students should think that their counterparts have cooties, but coming from America, you expect a lot more interaction. Not only are romantic relationships completely absent, but even casual encounters between one boy and one girl are rarely seen.

From what I’ve seen, most boy/girl relationships fall into one of two categories:
  • Über-Professional Relationship. This one I see more in my older kids. They are (teacher-elected) prefects looking to plan a particular school event or high achievers asking each other about notes or studying. Admittedly, I’m not privy to what is being whispered, but the body language in these interactions not open or flirty; it’s straight-laced and to-the-point.
  • Jenny-and-Huy Wrestlemania. Named after my two friends from college, I see this most in the middle group. It’s that strategy of getting human touch through relatively abrasive and aggressive actions to compensate for the lack of romantic human touch. I’ve seen instances where a boy pushes a girl only to get walloped upside the head by her in return. And it’s the same intensity as Jenny and Huy, where spectators immediately feel the need to excuse themselves. AND they do that same thing where it starts out as a game and then it stops being fun for one of them. But then they always play again the next day…
I should draw a line between domestic abuse and the Wrestlemania thing. Boys are not hitting the girls to oppress them or to make them subservient. The roughness is on both sides, and the male is often the sad puppy who has to whimper away after play got too rough for him.

In fact, from an educational perspective, I haven’t really seen any instances of gender inequality. The ratio of boys to girls is roughly 1:1 in every grade level here. And from what I’ve seen they break out pretty evenly in terms of grades and schoolwork. They are about equally vocal in class, equally scholarly goofus in not doing their homework, and equally trite in coming up with reasons they should be able to turn it in tomorrow.

When it comes to jobs around campus, they fall back in to gender roles—boys will do the heavy lifting, girls will sweep—but those roles seem more defined by society and less by the school environment.

But I still get a little weirded out every time I have them sit on the floor in my class and there is a clearly defined line between where the boys sit and where the girls sit. Like oil and water.

I hope society is treating you a little more solublely. Pictures below.

Boys and girls sitting on separate sides of the hall at the semi-weekly assembly.

Stock picture of girls using computers. Notice there's no boys.

Stock picture of boys using computer. Notice there's no girls.

Different class with genders sitting separately. I have never asked any class to do this. They just do it.

This was my spontaneous idea for how to teach secondary vs. primary (or main) memory. See, the refrigerator is the the hard disk drive, and the stove is the RAM, and the table is the processor. Get it? Mostly I'm proud of my doodles.