Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Everybody Knows Your Name

Last summer in San Francisco, I attended a going away party for my friend Rahul. We had dinner at his place and then headed to a nightclub in The Mission. During the cab ride, the driver turned to the guy sitting next to me, one of Rahul’s investment banker friends, and asked, “Is your name Sunil?” The kid looked surprised and then nodded hesitantly. “Yeah. I thought I recognized you. You work at Bank of America” It was unclear if this last part was a statement or a question. Sunil nodded. “And you live at… Franklin and California.” It was a little creepy, but completely reasonable. Sunil had no car and worked late most nights, as most I-bankers did at the time (before the mass lay-offs began), and this cab driver worked the financial district regularly, so they crossed paths often. But it was still weird for two strangers to meet so regularly in a big city like San Francisco.

I found myself in a similar situation a few minutes ago. It’s pouring rain right now, and I took a cab home from Erik’s place. I told the cab driver where I was headed, so he gets on his walkie-talkie and calls out in Samoan, “Yeah. I just picked up a Peace Corps. I’m taking him to his school.” A little less creepy since he didn’t know my name. And I had just told him where I worked. But still… he referred to me with a familiarity that was a little disquieting.

Samoa is largely a rural country, and most volunteers end up in some sort of village setting, but a few of us do live in Apia. That distinction is important, but also a little deceptive; it makes Apia sound like an urban metropolis, and New York City it is not. Compared to most incorporated cities in America, Apia is fairly small. In The States, it would probably referred to as a “town” technically. And as much as it doesn’t have the intimacy of village life that so many other volunteers deal with, there is the sense that everyone here knows your business.

I walked from my house to the Peace Corps office and back tonight. It’s a short walk, but I ran into Phil’s brother from the host village, a woman waved at me and called out my name, and I ran into one of the students from my 11.4 class. This is a short walk through a relatively urban environment and 3 people recognized me.

Another example was when a bunch of us were at the local bar for St. Patrick’s Day. While I ordered a drink, a man sitting at the bar struck up a conversation with me. He manages a rugby team that had toured The States. He was chatty, and I humoured him, and conversation got around to his brother working for the Peace Corps. It turns out his brother is H.P. who is the director of training who headed up all of our sessions while we lived in the host village.

There’s no way to prove it, but I suspect that if you did a sociological experiment, you’d find that six degrees of separation are far more than are necessary in Samoa. I’d hypothesize that most people connect to each other within 4, and most times less than that. I acknowledge that my Peace Corps brethren and I stick out more than the average Samoan, and that could play a part in making it easy for people to recognize us and make connections. But still, in a relatively small population with a collectivist culture, it isn’t surprising that people would be well-connected to one another.

But it’s still a little odd when the cab driver knows more about you than you expected.

I hope you enjoyed March. Pictures below.

It's been rainy here lately. And Apia tends to flood.

Overcast over Apia Harbour.

Erik got a cat. (S)He is tiny.

Erik made fried rice for Trent and me.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Just Do It

If you have enough computer savvy to access my blog, I’m assuming you’re probably familiar with the ins and outs of Microsoft Word. You’ve probably had at least some exposure to PowerPoint and Excel, but you know Microsoft Word. You know how to indent, italicize, double space, check spelling. And any part that you don’t know how to do or don’t remember how to do, you could probably figure out intuitively inside of 5 minutes.

So how did you learn to use Word? There may be a fringe few who took a Microsoft Office Suite class back in the mid- to late-1990s, but I’m guessing the great majority of us simply learned by doing. You had to write a paper for a class, a resume for a job, an official letter to someone, and so you opened up Word and started writing. And when you need to align the text on the right side of the page, you figured it out. Word is designed so that you can figure things out.

For the rest of the week, I’m implementing this as a teaching strategy. I spent the day teaching copy-and-paste today, and it was a mess. I would go through it step-by-step with the class, and then release them to get it done on their own. Half the groups didn’t know where to start, no matter how basic the task, and so I’d have to sit and walk each of these groups through the process, one by one. Meanwhile, other groups finished quickly.

The saying, “Idle hands do the devil’s work” originated in a computer class.

There are so many fun and filthily unproductive things to do when you have downtime and a full-functioning workstation. Make all your toolbars disappear. Open up 15 blank documents. Save the same document with 15 different file names. RE-TYPE EVERYTHING WITH THE CAPS LOCK ON. Delete every file in the My Documents folder. Close Word. Open it again. Close Word. Open it again. Close Word. Open it again…

So starting tomorrow, I’m going to harness that energy and curiosity by handing out hard copies of a document and having them re-create it with little to no instruction. They will be allowed to explore the depths of the program until their hearts are content, and they’ll have a specific goal to work toward. And yeah. I’ll make myself available to make the toolbars reappear.

I see 3 potential drawbacks to this plan:
  1. My students have come up through a school system that has rarely asked them to rely on their intuition. It’s quite possible that I will let them out of the gates, and they will have no idea what to do.
  2. They will be tested on ridiculously minute details of Microsoft Word. Hanging indents. Fix-width fonts. The annoying technical jargon will have to be taught also.
  3. There may not be enough time to explore. I started using word in 1995. I’ve had time to explore. The students have about 4 weeks to master the program.
So that’s why I’m giving it a week. Maybe I’ll give a quiz next Tuesday to see if this method has stickiness.

I don’t know if it makes sense to try this with Excel; it seems a lot more nuanced and tricky, but Word has nothing to hide. So I guess we’ll see.

I hope you’re re-evaluating your methods too. Pictures below.

It was overcast for the entire day today with occasional rain. Ominous, ay?

The art building outside my classroom in the rain.

I ran into Koa sitting on the patio in an area of Apia nicknamed Palagi Alley for the people who frequent the area. This evening was one of those moments when everyone there made the place live up to its name.

Koa and I went on to have dinner at Skippy's, during which he became aware that I had some TV Shows he was interested in getting. So we both whipped out our laptops, and had a little data exchange. The only thing that was weird was how weird it wasn't.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Phil thinks it looks like a scene out of 28 Days Later or Evil Dead 2 or some other zombie movie. I’d also compare it to that seen in Vanilla Sky where Tom Cruise runs into Time Square and finds it completely empty. No cars, no pedestrians, nobody. That’s Apia on any given Sunday: a ghost town.

I briefly mentioned in the post I wrote our very first Sunday in country. That particular Sunday was a holiday, White Sunday, and while the absence of people was striking, it was hard to know whether that was how things were every Sunday, or if things were deserted because it was a holiday. But no. Things are always like that on Sundays.

The Sabbath is taken very seriously in Samoa. It is the Day of Rest in the most literal sense imaginable. People get up early for church and then come home and take intensely long naps before getting up for the second round of church services late in the afternoon.

Being a palagi, I don’t feel too called to adhere very strictly to this policy. One of the grocery stores in town, Farmer Joe, is open all day Sunday, and I go almost every week. And then I’ll go on a walk or a bike ride. Or I’ll plan ahead to clean the house or sort through papers or do school work on Sunday afternoon.

Inevitably though, I find my Sundays becoming increasingly Samoan. I get home, and the urge to plop down on the nearest surface for a good nap is overwhelming. It’s like the sleepiness of the surrounding neighborhood is in the wind, bringing lethargy through the mosquito screens.

And it’s not just at home when the urge the snooze hits. One of my first Sundays living in town, I went for a walk along the sea wall, and the absence of activity weirded out my brain. The waves crashed lackadaisically, there was a light breeze, the sun beat relentlessly, and other than that, nothing. I had to take a 10-minute power nap on a park bench to ensure I had the energy to get home.

Today it rained, which felt a little like the gods upping the ante on the “day of rest” thing. Productivity was out of the question. So I read my book for a bit, wading slowly into a 2-hour nap.

It was still raining when I woke up. It was a good moment. It felt like what I imagined the Peace Corps would be like. Humidity. Torrential rain. Banana trees out the window. iTunes played a Spanish song from Pink Martini. Admittedly, it was more of what I imagined Peace Corps to be like in South America, but still a satisfying moment.

The rain preempted the bike ride. So I’ve spent the rest of today playing Minesweeper and Mah Jong and loathing the papers that need to be graded before tomorrow.

I remember reading something about how yawning is so innate in the human psyche that simply reading the word can make a person yawn. And maybe it’s that lethargy in the air again, but writing a blog post about sleepiness sure doesn’t help with any post-blog-posting productivity.

I hope you feel a nap coming on too. Pictures below.

There are no $1 WST bills. Only $1 coins. And when I bought cookies yesterday, my $6 change was given to me in coins. It was difficult to remember that they weren't arcade tokens.

Saw this guy running around the house last night. I was surprised I could get my toes so close without him running away.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Today was a landmark day in my Peace Corps experience, if only for the fact that I’ve been itching for a shelf since the moment I moved into my house. So many different things have stood in the way of me acquiring a shelf, but today I finally bit the bullet—and mind you there was quite a bit of figurative bullet-biting involved—and now I have a shelf.

Yesterday afternoon, Filifili asked if he could leave his backpack at my house for the night because it was too heavy to carry home. He’s a year 13 student who is not my class, and their history teacher had scheduled a class for Satuday morning. At first I was weary of a student leaving something at my house, but Maegi, my missionary neighbor, happened to walk by at the time, and so I played it off as a joke, “Hey Maegi, Filifili wants to leave his bag at your house for the night.”

Maegi shrugged and said, “Well don’t come knocking too early.” And her being cool with it made me feel like I could be okay with it. So Filifili left his bag at my place.

That meant I had to wait for him to come pick it up after class this morning. He came by around 10:45 a.m., which left little time to get my shelf before shops start to close at noon. But I had little else to do today, and I’ve been meaning to get this shelf for 3 months. So I buckled down and headed to the hardware store.

Part of the problem in communicating with the people at the hardware store—beyond the language barrier—was I had little idea of what I wanted. So I told the guy, “I need 3 pieces of wood, 1 foot by 8 feet.”

“You need a 1 by 8?”

“Sure.” I realized that he was asking if I wanted a 1” x 8” piece of wood. But whatever. This was progress.

The guy takes me over and shows me 1” x 8” wood, which is luckily right next to the 1” x 12” wood. So I point at that, and ask if they can cut it into 2 metre pieces.

“You want 2 pieces?”

“3 pieces.”

So the guy goes to get the saw. I had this done at Home Depot several times during college. They have their elaborate circle saw setup, and they measure it and saw it, and the whole thing takes 5 minutes.

The guy comes back with a hack saw and a tape measure.

After 15 minutes, the job is done, and I head over to pay. Places that take credit card are rare in Samoa, but certainly the largest hardware store in Apia will take Visa. Right?

Wrong. I head to the bank. It’s 11:42, and the girl at the cash register tells me that she’s closing out and I’ll need to pay at the other end of the store. The missionaries had told me that the hardware store would deliver the stuff to my house for free. I ask the girl about this and she mumbles something about asking someone else.

I arrive back at the hardware store at 11:53. I walk back to the original register and ask the girl about what I should tell the people at the front. She writes the specs of the 1”x12” wood on a Post-It. I take it to the girl up front, who tells me that 1”x12”s don’t exist, which is amazing because what was that guy doing with the hack saw?

It takes 5 minutes for them to realize that they do indeed exist and for me to pay. I head back to the lumber section. The guy who cut the wood asks about my car.

“Is there a truck that can deliver it to my house?”

“No. Not until Monday.”

Ugh. So I got a taxi van. It cost me $5, which was $5 fewer than what I was expecting. We loaded it up and the rest was easy.

So it was some teeth-pulling and hoop-jumping—as much as I’d expected—but I have a shelf now, and it already brings the room together well. So now I’m in the market for a new project… teaching Samoan high schoolers to use computers? Ehhh maybe.

I hope your Saturday was also productive. Sorry. No pictures below.

Day I moved in.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Sports Day

Did you ever watch “Wild and Crazy Kids” on Nickelodeon? Each week they would go to a different American middle school, break the student body into teams, and have kids compete in different sports. Each team would wear a different colored t-shirt, and among the show’s hosts was Cuba Gooding Jr.’s brother, Omar Gooding. Sports Day at my school reminded me of a 6-hour episode of that show with the notable absence of Mr. Gooding.

One of the teachers who sits on the organizing committee came to the computer lab after school yesterday and asked me to type a new version of the schedule for today. And the day went surprisingly close to the plan. There was a short parade around the field, a short prayer, the singing of the national anthem by the collective student body, and then it was game time.

Two weeks ago the school was divided into four “houses” named for the 4 major islands of Samoa: Savai’i, Upolu, Manono, and Gryffindor… whoops, I mean Apolima. Each house was assigned a color: Red, Blue, Gold, and Green respectively. Your form class (homeroom) defined your house. I don’t have a form room, so I was assigned to the Sports Committee, which meant instead of coaching, or being able to freely walk around and watch the games, I was assigned to ref girls’ volleyball for the entire day.

I was mostly cool with this, although there were several drawbacks. First, it would have been cool to have a little more variety in my day. Second, it doesn’t make for a lot of variation in the photos below. And last, it meant standing in one place in broad, tropical sunlight for 5.5 hours. I wore sunscreen, and I seem to have escaped the day without getting burned, but still… That much sun gets a little taxing.

It was good times though. I remember at Pioneer Elementary we had Field Day, and at USC we had intramural sports, and, appropriately, the day felt like a hybrid of the 2. The level of play was surprisingly competitive, which felt more like my college experience. But I think the only people who really cared about intramural sports in college were the ones who played, whereas today the entire student body was out cheering when they weren’t playing.

I co-reffed my games with the other computer teacher. She was more in charge of blowing the whistle, mediating boundaries (which were not clearly marked and ended up being defined on one side of the court by her sandals and on the other side by my sandals), and generally arbitrating play. I kept score, which was good because I am not confident in my knowledge of the rules of Samoan volleyball. At one point yesterday, I was told I’d be reffing rugby, which would have been a complete mockery since I know absolutely nothing about the sport. I’m good at making tally marks though, and was thus qualified for my job.

There was one point in the day when I juxtaposed the colors of the Upolu and Savai’i houses and incorrectly gave the win to Upolu. And Savai’i was not having that. It caused quite the stir and everything was put on hold for about 20 minutes while the mess was resolved. Due to the language barrier, I was not clear on what the issue was for the first 18 minutes, which made things take longer. But when I was finally included in the conversation, we were able to start again relatively quickly.

In all, we reffed 12 games, which actually took the entire 5.5 hours. There was no break, but there were students who would occasionally come around to serve me Kool-Aid.

After the games were over and the house points were being tallied, teachers representing the different houses played some entertaining games. The cruelest involved a version of Bobbing for Apples in which the bobber must eat the entire apple while it is submerged. This seemed like a stone’s throw from waterboarding to me, but it made for great laughs!

In the end, Upolu won the junior level, Savai’i won the intermediate level, and Apolima won the senior level. Mostly it was just a fun day, and I was pleased to take a break from the computer lab. As were the students, I’m sure. As was my voice definitely.

I hope you’re keeping good tally too. Pictures below.

National Anthem and Raising of the Flag.

Chrispune, Filifili, and Me. As taken from the distance of Chrispune's arm during a brief break in play.

I spent the day standing on the cement at the bottom of this pole.

The teacher in the yellow lavalava on the right wore an oversized Yankee's cap, and would occasionally swat at players with the large stick she's holding. The players found this hilarious.

The winning tug-of-war team.

Bobbing for apples.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 7

Yesterday’s vocal inabilities carried over into today, as did drum practice. And whereas the ridiculous of the situation yesterday was wacky and absurd, today it was old and annoying. But as I said, the voice thing is latest facet of a vicious cycle of laziness and exhaustion that I’ve been caught in for the last couple weeks. I’ll be the first to cop to the fact that I’m only in front of students for a little over 3 hours a day, and that we frequently cancel classes. Nonetheless, it’s been 9 weeks straight of being at school at 7:30 a.m., and I’m ready for a 3-day weekend. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • I bought Simon and Garfunkel’s “April, Come She Will” on iTunes on Tuesday.
  • I’m reading a Don Delillo book, and I’m mostly weirded out by it. I took a ceramics night class at Pasadena City College a while back, and a bunch of the older artsy crowd had a smug conversation about Don Delillo once. So far the book is affirming a lot of the prejudices I have about the older artsy crowd that takes night ceramics classes at Pasadena City College.
  • I finished “Arrested Development,” and I’ve moved on to 10 episodes of “The Office” from the most recent season. I haven’t seen an episode in 5.5 months, and I thought it would be all nostalgic to see all the characters again. But it wasn’t. It just felt like another episode. And it was, literally picking up where I’d left off. Felt weird that it didn’t feel weird.
  • I’m getting to know students’ names better, and I think they don’t mind the fact that it’s taken me 2 months to become familiar with their names. Although actually, I think that I’ve set the bar pretty low during these first 2 months, and now that I’m actually learning names, they’re happily surprised.
  • I told my year 13 class that they could have an extra period to work on the test that I gave them today. When they finished their test today and already missed most of the class they have after mine, they made sure I’d worked it out with their teacher. I hadn’t. Oops.
  • Today I was excited about the fact that I haven’t seen a palagi since Monday, and I was hoping to continue my streak through tomorrow. But then I realized that I had to go into town to buy a white T-shirt for Sports Day, which is tomorrow (I’ve been assigned to ref girls’ volleyball.). It turns out there’s a huge cruise ship in Apia today, so I binged on seeing palagis.
  • All the palagis in town also created a temporary price increase on goods that are usually pretty cheap. e.g. T-shirts. BOOOOOOOOO!
  • My students use the latin abbreviation “e.g.” quite often. It’s impressive because, in my experience, most Americans who speak English natively use “i.e.” when they should be using “e.g.”
  • Bananas were served along with the muffins today. I appreciated the potassium boost.
  • I ran into Joey and Peace Corps trainer H.P. on Sunday morning. They invited me to come to a get-together happening at Jordan’s tonight. I forgot about it. They just called wondering where I am. Oops.
  • I found that the computers in my lab can convert documents to PDF. This is incredibly exciting.
  • All the stores here sell generic brands from New Zealand. Pam’s is one of the more prominent ones. Pam’s makes surprisingly tasty tortilla chips, which is impressive being that there’s an ocean between Pam and Latin America.
  • Working with the Microsoft Office Suite so often here, I have grown to have strange things about obscure parts of the program. In PowerPoint, I have a much better appreciation for a “corner point” in the free draw tool. And I’ve come to really like Calibri as a font, and I find it extremely disappointing that it only comes with Office 2007, mostly because none of the computers that are hooked up to printers here have 2007.
  • I set a goal to get to in my Don Delillo book this afternoon, and just as I reached that goal, I fell asleep. But it was not an intentional nap, and when I woke up, I had no idea where I was or what time it was. That feeling is always a little off putting.
That’s all I got. Hope you’re not off put. Pictures below.

One of my year 13s had blue all over her face because she'd written stuff on her hand in blue pen and it had spread. And then one period later, this kid comes into my 11.2 class with weird royal blue stains on his shirt. All of it incredibly reminiscent of Arrested Development. There’s got to be a better way to say that.

I have no way to prove it, but I believe when this cruise ship sailed into Apia Harbour, it became the largest man-made structure in the country.

A little bit more perspective on the cruise ship. The building on the right is the main government offices, and they are considerably closer to my vantage point than the ship. And they still appear to be the same size.

White people in town today.

In my search for a white t-shirt, I came across this gem at the thrift store. Unfortunately it wasn't my size.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Perfect Storm

I blame the McDonalds. After last night’s contour cow session, Reverend Joe took me through the drive-thru, and my meal was upsized. Or maybe it was the thick coffee I had at the office last night. Whatever it was, I was wide awake at 3 a.m. waiting for the caffeine to finish coursing through my veins. And as the lack of sleep piled up, I could feel something in my throat.

This morning the throat issue had worsened. I was hoarse when I got to school early to make new changes to the class schedule so teachers could have their new schedules as soon as they showed up for the school day. Part of that croakiness in my voice was just morning grogginess. By Interval at 10:30, the pipes were all clear. I had three cups of tea, and I was good to go.

I have the year 12s for 4th and 5th period on Wednesdays, and that went pretty smooth for most. We did the Hokey Pokey when they slouched too low. I belted it out and it was great.

And then, in a flash, my voice was gone.

11.4 took their sweet time in showing up for 6th period, and by the time they rolled in, I had little left except hoarse yelling that sounded somewhere between microphone feedback and a yeti. And while Samoan students are shockingly polite compared to their American counterparts, my rasping was fair game.

I laughed “with” them as best I could, and a smarted teacher would have given up. But I rarely afford my body such mercy, and today was no different. Even as the smart alecks in the corner started calling out, “Adrian!” in surprisingly culturally literate impressions of Sylvester Stallone, I continued.

During points in the lecture when I stopped talking (bellowing?), I realized I was competing with a lot of noise, which was the reason for all the yelling. But my class was quiet. It turns out the 10.1 class was in the Great Hall, just outside my classroom, wailing and rhythmically tapping sticks and rulers on the cement floor.

“What are they doing?” I asked my class in a sandpapery whisper.

“They’re practicing for Culture Day,” came the answer. Culture Day is 5 weeks away! You can’t do that on the balcony, buddy?

But I was unrelenting. I was going to finish this Intro to Word Processing lecture, come hell or high water.

And then came the high water. It started with a burst of thunder that seemed no farther than a couple hundred yards in the distance. And then buckets of pouring rain. My roof is a bit more insulated than the fales in the training village, but it’s still not much. And hell if pouring rain doesn’t create a roar.

The class could not have been more entertained. Between their mocking hoots and hollers, they found the drumming from downstairs contagious, and that clap of thunder was, I admit, pretty fantastic.

So at the end, I announced next week’s test and apologized for class and applauded them for bearing through it, and they started applauding. And it turned out that with all the noise, we hadn’t heard the bell ring. It was quite a day.

I hope you’re finding your own low sexy, Chewbacca tones. Pictures below.

Drum rehearsal.

Rain on a hot tin roof.

I forgot to mention that I my PowerPoint presentation was on the flash drive that the other computer teacher borrowed yesterday and didn't bring back today. I like this picture. Reminds me of one of those Far Side cartoons where an animal writes bizarre, diabolical, misspelled notes.

One of those Far Side cartoons where an animal writes bizarre, diabolical, misspelled notes.

The rainbow over my school this morning. The calm before the storm.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nunchuck Skills, Bow Hunting Skills, Computer Hacking Skills

One of the most humbling parts of the Peace Corps application process, for me at least, was the portion of the application in which I was asked to list my useful skills. I remember being so baffled by what I could write in that part of the application that it got saved for last, the way the difficult part of the crossword puzzle gets ignored until it’s the last 11 boxes left. And when that happens, I usually just scrawl in letters that seem the least nonsensical and hope no one notices.

Honestly, beyond your resume, which is a different part of the application, what other useful skills do you have? I can hold my own when I watch Jeopardy with others. I have good Minesweeper times. Probably the best I know of. I can flare my nostrils. I can tread water for hours. I can quote the first 45 minutes of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I can play Weezer songs on a clarinet. Certainly each of these things is worth bragging about (when you got it, flaunt it!), but none is terribly marketable in the developing world.

And yet every once in a while, it’s shocking how some things come in handy.

In last Thursday’s Odds and Ends, I briefly mentioned the year 13 Maths teacher coming to me with a problem with simplifying a fraction to get the radicals out of the denominator. Today at lunch she was waiting for me when I got to the staff lounge. The first problem was a warm up. I don’t remember the exact problem, but it involved factoring a -1 out of the denominator, cancelling the a binomial out of the top and bottom, and getting an answer of -1. It was quick. She started laughing hysterically and then high-fived me. But that was the warm up.

She has one more. It’s the last problem in that particular lesson in the math book. The ridiculously involved one that the author saved for last. The problem was:
    Prove that the line going through points (at², 2at) and (a/t², -2a/t) has a distance of a(t + 1/t)².

    (Solution below.)
Which brings me to my point: I can do bizarre, arcane, completely pointless algebra. I don’t really chalk it up as a useful skill because it is bizarre and arcane and completely pointless. Who knew that Mr. K’s Algebra 2 / Trigonometry class was preparing me for public diplomacy?

Later this evening, I was working at the main office for the Congregationalist Church, making a title page for the Treasurer’s Annual Report. Just as I was finishing up, the Treasurer asked, “Do you think we can add some cows?”

See, the church owns a bunch of livestock, which is worth money. Over the year, some cows give birth to other cows, some cows die, and some cows are sold. He wanted to represent this visually. The Microsoft clip art library is slightly lacking on the livestock front, and so he needed a simple cow image that could be manipulated to bring the numbers to life.

It turns out I am also very familiar with creating simple, vector-based images that work well in the Microsoft Office Suite. Once again, not a skill that one would think useful to the Peace Corps. If I’d listed the PowerPoint cartoons that I made in 8th grade, I don’t think it would have made any difference in my application. But who knew that one day a man would come along and ask if I might be able to create a good-looking cow for an upcoming PowerPoint presentation? How fortunate that the United States government sent me here for this noble cause.

I hope you’re finding niche demand for your useless talents too. Pictures below. Happy Birthday Jesse!

Note: I should point out that I did use a clip art cow as a jumping off point for the cow above. The original was poorly designed and extremely difficult to manipulate, as is most Microsoft clip art. My cow is cleaner, more contour, and far easier to re-size, re-color, re-pasteurize. I also like to think that my cow has a lot more personality. That is all.

My year 11s have to sit through my PowerPoint lectures now, but there aren't enough chairs for them to all sit at the computer like the year 12 and 13 students. So they have to sit on the floor to take notes. I don't know what else to do.

This Friday is Intramural Sports Day, so students stayed after school today to practice. Netball drill above.

Students practicing under ominous clouds. Mountains in the background.

I find this picture so tragic. This boy was sitting by himself behind the rugby posts while others practiced on the field. Not sure what was going on there.

Yeah. I have this kind of time on my hands.

Monday, March 23, 2009

O, ‘ie, ‘ie

Note: Lavalava and ’ie tend to be used interchangeably although lavalava is technically a general term for all clothing.

Before I had my own sixth grade classroom in Oakland, I trained teaching senior English over the summer. And the first thing you notice about an inner city senior is the grill. Even in my days as a twentysomething urbanite in San Francisco, I hadn’t witnessed anything close to a grill before. A grill is a bulky, gold-plated apparatus that fits over one’s teeth to achieve a look that is menacing and ornamental. But perhaps even stranger is how quickly I became used to it.

The first time a student spoke to me with his grill all hulking and shiny, it set off a fight-or-flight response in my body. There was a kneejerk wince, a deer-in-the-headlights confusion; sweet Jesus, what is that thing? But, I swear, by day 2, I was over it. All of my students (girls and boys alike) had them, and my brain made the switch with relative ease. And that’s pretty much exactly how it’s been with the ‘ies.

I remember in preparing to come to Samoa, a number of people in The States asked whether I would have to wear a skirt when I got here. I supposed so at the time, but I don’t think I had any idea that I would be wearing a lavalava every day here. But even more unexpected is how nonchalant it feels to wear it day in and day out. I get up every morning, decide which shirt I’m going to wear, and then discern which of my ‘ies matches best. It’s exactly the same thought process I used to choose slacks in The States.

I had a tough time at first with the ’ie; not so much in accepting it as appropriate clothing but in the actual fastening of the ties that hold it on. As much as I like to pretend to be the assimilated American living in Samoa, nothing makes you feel more like a 5-year-old than host-mom or a fellow staff member fixing your waistband, putting her arms around you like she’s helping you properly re-secure your Huggies.

And they don’t seem to be too much cooler than pants. The less formal lavalavas are made of thinner fabric, and they tend to breathe well, and wearing one makes sense. The more formal ’ie faitagas, ’ies with pockets, tend to be much thicker and on hot days, they’re sweltering.

It’s interesting how quickly we want to make a foreign fashion our own though. The Peace Corps gave us black ones when we arrived, my host family gave me ’ies in white and grey, and I bought my blue one. But I have room in my wardrobe for a brown one and a green one. I feel like more color would allow me to better express myself. Ha.

The ’ies available in Samoa tend to be monochromatic and a little uninteresting. But on a trip to Fiji, Dylan got a couple ’ies that had pin-stripes and other patterns… And when Dylan finished his service, they were his most sought-after possession. Unaware of their popularity, I casually asked about them, and Dylan told me I had to get in line behind half of Savai’i.

Finally, it’s weird how once you’re in the mindset that a lavalava is fashionably appropriate, it’s hard to remember the way things were before. Before Dylan left, he was talking about a wedding he was going to attend soon after he returned to The States, and how he thought it would be kinda cool to wear an ’ie to the ceremony. And the rest of us agreed. And then I said, “Well why couldn’t you? You totally could.” But after receiving blank stares from the rest of the group, I thought about it a little more and agreed that it would just be weird and baffling to the rest of the wedding party.

I should point out that when I’m not teaching or engaged in otherwise formal activities, I wear shorts. I don’t really spend leisure time in my ’ie. And whenever Peace Corps volunteers are gathered together, it’s rare to see an ’ie. But still. They’re pretty comfortable. Might be good to wear to work on a hot day. Right?

I hope you’re finding ways to ventilate. Pictures below.

I tend to cross my legs like this fairly often. No Samoan has ever expressed a problem with this position, but I don't think I've ever seen a Samoan sit in this position.

P.E. My favorite part of this picture is the three girls who are sitting off in the distance while the rest of the class either plays or actively watches volleyball. Those three girls were definitely in all of my P.E. classes growing up. I guess some things are universal.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Consistently Inconsistent

I realize that being in Apia makes me life easier than many others, but those who are privileged with consistency are more apt to complain when things go wrong. We are doomed to make assumptions and take things for granted, and when they’re taken away from us, we don’t know what to do. Although I will say that being in the Peace Corps has taught me to deal more gracefully with such situations.

Let me explain. See, I went on another bike ride to Luatuanu’u today after last Sunday’s relative success. I went by myself this week, in part because I felt like going alone, and in part because I was too lazy to invite others or coordinate a meeting time and location. I left earlier, and consequently, I was able to go farther and stay there longer. I went about a quarter mile past the actual surfing spot before I turned around to see if I could find a good piece of beach where I could plant myself for a while.

And then a cold front came along out of nowhere, and poof! Rain. I don’t know that I will ever get used to rain without rainclouds. I didn’t get a picture of it, but I was essentially looking at sunny, blue sky and pouring rain. I stubbornly stayed on the beach for about 10 minutes before the weather broke my will. I headed home.

When I rolled up, my neighbor Maegi was walking up to her door carrying a bucket. “There’s no water,” she told me.

Like I said, living in Apia, our water and power is fairly consistent. A couple weeks back, Ryan 79’s village had their water shut off for the span of a couple of weeks. Meghan 77 told us horror stories about being in the shower covered in soap only to have the water go off mid-shower. My water goes off late at night occasionally, which can mean brushing my teeth with bottled water, or foregoing the whole teeth-cleaning routine all together.

But having the water out in the middle of the day on a Sunday is just lousy. It’s particularly lousy being that I was drenched in a smelly combination of sweat and rain. So, living alone in my bachelor pad as I do, I took off my nasty clothes and lounged naked for about an hour until the water came back on (I didn’t get a picture of this either). It’s an exciting moment when you hear the toilet reservoir start to refill itself. That’s the sound of freedom. Haha.

When the shower started to work too, I jumped in. Big mistake.

See, when the shower water comes back on, everyone else who had been lounging around their bachelor pad naked, or were otherwise waiting to shower, jumps in too. So the awesome water pressure slows and then drops to zero. And by then, I was covered in soap.

And that’s when the privileged side of me came out. I could handle the rain with no clouds. I was okay waiting for the water to return. But to have to stand there, all lathered up, staring at the ridiculous trickle coming from the showerhead, I could bear it (bare it?) no longer.

So I stood there. Yelling at the showerhead. Sitting, waiting, wishing. Angrily.

So apologizes to those of you who deal with this on a regular basis and accept it as a part of life. I’m just asking that the shower come on and stay on.

I hope you are able to get the shampoo out before it runs into your eyes. Pictures below.

This is panekeke. I love panekeke. It's pretty much a doughnut hole.

Mele cutting up palm branches to make a fala, a traditional Samoan mat.

The scene out the door during my breakfast yesterday. Clothes on the line and the bathroom and shower in the back.

The baby.

A small waterfall I saw during my bike ride today.

Another bike ride picture. I didn't realize the palm tree's shadow was partly in frame until I saw it on the computer, and now I'm bummed I didn't capture the whole thing.

The surfing spot is on the other side of this rock with the antennae. The rock with the antennae totally looks like it was setup by the Dharma Initiative.

My bike next to the beach.