Tuesday, June 30, 2009


The mere fact that my house has internet officially dampens the ruggedness of my Peace Corps experience. I admit living in Apia makes my experience sort of Peace Corps Lite. And if that wasn’t enough, when I got home this evening to find my power out, I took my laptop and walked 10 minutes to Aggie Grey’s so I could blog and wallow in electrically generated power. So here I am.

It seems like my reaction isn’t all that different from local Samoans—okay, so they’re not hanging out with me on the Internet patio, but as I walked past houses on the way over, everyone was hanging out outside. And when I finally got out to the sea wall that goes around the periphery of the harbour, it was almost crowded with people.

Mari’s, a shop that’s somewhere between a faleoloa and a grocery store, had generator power, and many people along the wall were sitting in the dark munching on kekepua’a. I do have $7 WST in my pocket, and I was tempted to join them. Maybe later.

I should point out that the connection speed here is vastly faster than it was yesterday. Perhaps someone here read yesterday’s post, ran out and got a better wireless router, and then knocked down a power line to get me back in here. Well, you got it, Aggie Grey’s. I can vouch that all 20 of this week’s podcasts were completed within the first 10 minutes of my connection. Impressive.

Being in the middle of a power outage definitely raises serious questions about my emergency preparedness. I realized I have no candles in the house, so my options for generating light were the LCD flashlight on my phone (which currently has only 2 bars of power), the mosquito zapper’s UV light, or the pilot light from the gas stove (which I only mention jokingly, Mom). So really, if this hotel wasn’t here, I don’t know what in the hell I’d be doing. I guess I could have pulled out the guitar. But beyond that, I probably would have just gone to sleep early. After making peanut butter and jelly by pilot light, of course. Oh, and I do have a battery-powered radio. So there’s that.

I thought about calling Blakey or Erik to see what they were up to, but the power grid in Samoa is very strange, and though Blakey lives nearby, it’s not really economical for her to come down the hill or for me to go up. It’s sad though, because the power going out at the apartment in San Francisco always gave us an excuse to break out board games. I enjoy board games. I beat Chris at my first game of Stratego while the power was out. I wholly admit it was dumb luck, but it was a good time.

Anyway, my time with the Internet is coming to a close, and it’s time for me to head back to my dark house. I may break out the cards for some non-digital solitaire. Or I might turn on the radio and go to bed. But probably I’ll wander down to the sea wall and check out the kekepua’a from Mari’s—if there’s any left.

I hope you got candles around. Pictures below.

Blacked out Apia. Car headlights and the setting sun are the only lights.

Apia with lights after I originally published today's post.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Failure to Connect

I haven’t heard the rumor about the huge internet cable that’s being laid between American Samoa and Western Samoa that is supposedly going to revolutionize the speeds of our internet connections here. This rumor was popular in January when the cable was supposedly going to be connected in March. By March, the rumor had adjusted to May, and by May, June. But talk of this savior cable has quieted, and occasionally on days like today, it seems like the Internet in Samoa has regressed.

The fastest and most affordable connection in Apia seems to be the popular and seemingly ubiquitous LavaSpot. The service allows a user to connect wirelessly with his/her own laptop, and if you buy in bulk, you can pay as little as $7 WST per hour, which is a better rate than you’ll get from any of the Internet cafés.

LavaSpot is run by Computer Services Limited (CSL), which runs one of the more well known Internet cafés in town. CSL and LavaSpot both suffer from a lack of reliability. At times it goes through the normal waves of fast and slow the same as Internet service providers in The States. But CSL is also known to close for a week at a time with no prior warning. I showed up there today with poor, eager Filifili only to see signs in the window saying that they’re closed until Friday with no explanation as to why.

The other reliability problem with LavaSpot is the connection speed varies greatly depending on your connecting point in town. In my experience, CSL’s Internet Café is also the fastest LavaSpot location, which makes sense. Though other locations are much more convenient (Aggie Grey’s, Pasefika Inn, arguably Cappuccino Vineyard), connection speeds can be astoundingly slow. Though such speeds are still faster than dial-up by a factor of 3 or more, it’s not much of a consolation. It may take me 3+ hours to download a 20 MB podcast from my house, but the same download will take 1+ hours at Aggie Grey’s. That’s a long time to sit around bored.

It would be interesting to see some research on the addictive nature of the Internet. It’s weird how for all of the whining I’ve done so far, I actually don’t care too much about using the Internet very quickly. Podcasts are kinda perfect because they’re current and they make it feel like I’m actually listening to the radio while I wash the dishes or sweep or whatever.

Dylan used to claim that he had to keep lists of things to do so he wouldn’t just stare at the screen blankly. I guess I can relate to that a little.

Nonetheless, I try and make it to the main CSL once a week, and nothing breaks the heart more than rounding the corner, approaching their eternally confusing push/pull French doors, only to be locked out. Also, the sign in the window reads, “We apologize for any conveniences [sic].” As Cale put it, “Don’t worry about it. No convenience here.”

I hope this page loaded quickly for you. Pictures below.

There was a chick in the middle of the road on my way out of the house Saturday morning. It was too small to fear me. I picked it up.

My pule showed up just as I was leaving, and he took it.

Kate, Erin, and Erin's mom.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beach Sunday

While I was at university in Los Angeles, I’d occasionally head to the beach as late as November and as early as February or March. Occasionally days would be sunny enough to warrant a trip to the beach, but no matter the sun, the water was far too cold. You could put your feet in or maybe wade up to your knees, but LA ocean water in the winter is as cold as San Francisco ocean water in the summer. Fortunately, the water is warmer in Samoa.

Peace Corps Samoa worries about its reputation as “Beach Corps”; the phrase is brought up at meetings as a way to bring caution and seriousness to our jobs. We all must actively work to dispel this reputation. And we do. Teachers are serious about improving our students’ educational environments, and village-based volunteers get a lot of grant money and do a lot of customized work for their village.
But what’s the point of having a “Beach Corps” reputation if you can’t get to a beach?

So when a family at church invited me to lunch and a trip to the beach this morning, I accepted. I am in no place to deny free food or a free trip to the beach. It also seemed like a solid way to better integrate into my community (Peace Corps buzz word bonus! Heyo!). Also, it wasn’t like a strange family approached me to ask about the beach; it was a family I usually sit near and I’ve slowly befriended over the past 6 months.

The Peace Corps is a constant lesson in readjustment and adaptation, and it’s funny (annoying?) how adapting to one situation requires that you later re-adapt to the original situation. It’s like how jet lag’s a bitch coming and going. I’m pretty well adjusted to living a semi-ascetic life, and spending the day with people who live in a tax bracket 3 or 4 jumps up from mine required me to step outside the box a bit. Luckily, the beach doesn’t discriminate by class. Also, it’s not difficult to adjust to L&P soda, real brewed coffee, and Cool Ranch Doritos. So the adjustment wasn’t all that difficult.

And one of the family members attended university in New Zealand and majored in psychology and we had an insightful and slightly witty conversation about Maslow. It was pretty awesome. It felt like a Woody Allen movie.

We went to Aganoa Beach on the south side of the island, which I’ve heard about from other volunteers, but I’ve never been myself. When we rolled up, there were admission prices for vans, trucks, and 4x4 vehicles. I thought it was weird that regular cars were not listed, but I soon understood when we had to drive through 2 feet of water for about 30 yards on the road down to the beach.

Most beaches in Samoa are reef beaches, which means you have to wear sandals to keep your feet from stepping on coral, and it’s nearly impossible to walk on the sand since it’s mostly jagged pieces of dead coral. Aganoa is a sweet sandy beach that actually has waves. It was pretty awesome. Also fun was that the entire family hung out in the water the entire time. We all just floated around and chatted. How pleasant.

The kids’ swimming skills were like none I’ve seen in Samoa. I challenged the 11-year-old to swim with me aways out, and she said, “Okay. Let’s do breaststroke.” Daaaang.

The day was really fun. I hope I get invited again.

Hope your weekend was great. Pictures below.

Kids burying each other in the sand.

The truck wading through the water on the way out.

Picking up a hitchhiker who needed to go up the cross-island road.

Papapapatai Falls off the cross-island road.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Burning Out, Fading Away, and the Death of Michael Jackson

Afterschool Thursday, I told Mira and Filifili that Michael Jackson died, and after reacting to the news, Mira asked, “What time did this happen?” I thought about giving my answer in Pacific Daylight Time, and then I considered Samoa time, but then I shrugged and said, “During Interval.” We all chuckled. Black humour, but humour nonetheless. But the more I think about it, the more appropriate it is that he died in the middle of the day here because I feel a little in the middle about his death.

Where were you when you heard Heath Ledger died? How about when Ray Charles died? I know exactly where I was when I heard about Ledger: I was working at my desk at CNET when Carmen called out, “Heath Ledger died.” There was an online frenzy. I probably sent an instant message to 20 people. The time between when his body was found and the time word spread to my buddy list was maybe an hour.

I don’t remember how I learned that Ray Charles died. The media fanfare was different back in March 2005 with Facebook just budding and Twitter non-existent or the wide use of text messaging in the United States, but there wasn’t much immediate fanfare anyway. As much as it was news, it wasn’t completely unexpected. Charles was old. News of Charles’s death didn’t oblige the immediacy or intensity of Ledger’s.

In my generation’s first real brush with celebrity death, a passage in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note read, “It is better to burn out than to fade away.” Perhaps this logic explains why Ledger’s death was a media event and Charles’s was quieter and less urgent: Ledger’s star was still burning bright while Charles’s fame had cooled. Though Charles was only 58 when he died, his passing made sense; he got older and he died. Ledger’s death was an anomaly; it was senseless.

And that’s where I think Kurt Cobain is wrong. Perhaps it is amazing to watch a star burn out, but it doesn’t compute. Other than the tragedy of the celebrity lifestyle, there’s nothing to be gained from Ledger’s death. On the other hand, I remember feeling devastated by Charles’s death. His music has a lively glow that endures so well it seems impermeable to aging and death. Charles’s death can’t be blamed on accident or a rock and roll lifestyle; Charles died of complications from old age. That’s a lot more ominous; it’s something none of us can avoid. Perhaps fading away is less shocking, but on some level it is far more menacing.

So did Michael Jackson burn out, or did he fade away? I think he did both.

Media standards point toward burn out. Even in Samoa, I received text messages from Luisa and my sister before and after the news was official. And as soon as I read the first text, I immediately needed to tell someone. Since Digicel has a promotion right now I had 30 free text messages, and I texted half of Peace Corps Samoa with the news. Within 10 minutes of the man’s death in Los Angeles, the news was relayed to rural Savai’i.

Jackson’s death was captivating and awful. He was only 50 years old; by no means an old man. He’d been so hard on his body over the years, and it took its toll. He died young. His death was senseless.

And though his star has certainly faded, its brightness was still shocking. On Thursday afternoon, I had a couple minutes left when I was done with my less in 9.1, so I asked the class if they knew who Michael Jackson was. Despite the kids only being 13 years old, and even though they live in developing country, all of them knew who he was. They were familiar enough with him that when I asked if they knew he had died, they all looked at me like I was crazy. He wasn’t some obscure figure; they knew him well enough that they knew he was still relevant and almost certainly alive. So they shook their heads. I had to clarify that he actually died that day. And when they finally understood, they were shocked.

But it’s undeniable that Jackson’s star had faded. With the scandals and the plastic surgery and the Jesus Juice, things had gotten weird. “Thriller” came out 26 years ago. The man was weathered by life.

So what does that mean that he burned out and faded away? I think in some ways it brings things to a new level. It is wholly deserving of a media event, of specials on TV and radio, of seemingly unending coverage on VH1 (although I’m told VH1 coverage has been minimal). Even on the big radio station here in Samoa, Magik 98.1, they’ve been playing all kinds of MJ tributes. And why not? There’s a lot to make sense of. He had aged, but he was still a star. Still a big star. A big star who had aged. Pretty ominous.

And yet I can’t help feeling ambivalent. The intensity of the media fanfare didn’t have the Heath Ledger intensity because with all of Jackson’s strange health issues, it wasn’t entirely surprising. And I don’t know that his fade away is as menacing as Charles’s; he essentially burned out in the early 1990s, and his life since then has been completely outside my reality.

The man was iconic, and I respect that people are in mourning. But I can't help feeling a little ambivalent. If anything, I feel like we've all been in some kind of mourning over Michael Jackson for a long time.

In any case, I hope you’re not forgetting the Jackson 5 LPs. Pictures below.

Briony and Erin 78. Erin 78 is finished with her service. She leaves Monday. This and the pictures below were taken at her goodbye dinner last night.

Rosie, Sara, Cale, Casey.

Cale and Christian.

Casey, Kate, Koa, Erin, Sara.

Friday, June 26, 2009

That Darn CAT

Note: I know I had promised thoughts on the passing of Michael Jackson today, but, and I say this with all due respect to the deceased, he’ll still be dead tomorrow. Today’s events are worth recounting today. We’ll talk about Michael Jackson tomorrow. I swear.

The Common Assessment Test, or CAT, is a computer practical that every year 12 computer student in Samoa takes on the same day. Administering the CAT is an incredibly difficult balancing act because the lady at the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Culture (MESC) takes it very seriously, but no one else does. We attended a series of meetings at the beginning of the school year emphasizing the importance of the CAT and the seriousness, solemnity, and dedication it requires on the part of the teacher. No one else at my school attends these meetings though, and the disconnect is astounding; comically so at times. Like today.

The last few days have been stormy, but last night ups the ante. I sleep under a window, and the wind was strong enough that it blows rain at such a slant droplets fly past a metre of overhang, through my window, and on to my pitiful bed sheet. The storm lasts until moments before I leave my house to walk to school. This works out for me, but it means students have to travel through the storm to get to school, which means many students don’t come to school at all. I start to worry about what kind of showing I’ll have from the students.

Another worry is an assembly has been scheduled for this afternoon. We had the Mother’s Day assembly during my last CAT, and it was a pretty big distraction. That said, the biggest worry of all is when/if MESC will deliver today’s CAT. In order to maintain the utmost security, the test is not delivered to the school until the morning of the day it is to be administered. My school was forgotten for the first CAT, and the second CAT arrived an hour late, so I have my doubts about today.

I go to the secretary’s office before school and after first, second, and third periods. No CAT. I sit nervously through interval watching for cars thinking maybe one of them will bring my CAT.

Finally I reach my breaking point. I go to the secretary’s office, and she dials MESC for me. The MESC Computer Studies lady is not happy to hear from me. She claims the CAT has been delivered, and asks for my secretary by name.

My secretary, Faalau, gets on the phone and immediately begins to mumble in Samoan. The conversation goes on for a full 90 seconds before, without looking at me, Faalau opens the top drawer of her desk and pulls out the CAT, which had been delivered an hour before.

I take the envelope, pretend to swat at her with it, and then begin to leave before she snatches it out of my hands. She sets it in front of her and continues talking in mumbled Samoan. Finally she hands me the handset and says ominously, “You were in town.”

I look at her quizzically and then speak into the phone. “Hello?”

Before I can decipher words, I notice the MESC Computer Studies lady is irate. “Is this your normal arrival time? Were you not aware of the CAT?”

I glare at Faalau who looks back at me with apologetic eyes. “No, this is not my normal arrival time,” I say. “I had an appointment in town this morning.” Faalau smiles, out of entertainment or relief that I caught her drift, I am not sure.

“You had an appointment on the day of the CAT?” Asks MESC lady. I have blasphemed.

I apologize and apologize and finally get off the phone. Faalau looks at me and smacks her forehead gently, “I don’t know how I forget these things.”

But then…

I’m happy to be back in the driver’s seat early enough to administer the CAT before the assembly at 1:00. We only have enough computers for half the class to take the test at one time, and I get the first group started fine. A couple of them finish, and the rest are at least halfway through the test by the time I told the second group to show.

It turns out that the assembly is starting 35 minutes early. I want to give the first group another 15 minutes, but that means telling the second group to sit in the back row of the assembly so I can pull them out quickly when it’s their turn to start.

I begin to talk, but I stop mid-sentence when I hear it.

It’s across the field. It’s the sound of car horns. I look over to see a caravan entering campus. The cars and trucks are brightly painted in neon green with banners for the national phone company, SamoaTel. The drivers blare their horns like they’re in a corporate wedding party. Two large pick-ups carry truckloads of men. The men play drums. My mind makes the connection to what I heard my vice principal say during our Interval staff meeting:
    Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan Toa Samoa Samoan Samoan Samoan Samoan
I turn to my class. “Are the Toa Samoa coming for the assembly?” It turns out they are indeed. The Toa Samoa are the national rugby team. The guys are national celebrities. It’s almost the equivalent of my high school principal saying, “We’re having very important STAR testing today. Also, we invited the 49ers.”

The entire team shows up. They bring popsicles and noisemakers and visors and promotional T-shirts. The student body, which has already assembled in the hall just below my room, starts to shriek.

Needless to say, my CAT is wrecked. I could force my kids to finish the test—over the clamor of hundreds of screaming students—but it seems cruel and pointless. A couple of kids from the second group show up after the assembly and one or two from the first group come back to finish their work. Other than that, the test is shot.

The nice thing is whatever happens—if I re-administer the test Monday, or grade the tests with a slightly easier eye—no one’s going to put up much of a fuss, I think… except that lady from MESC, and I’ve already got her on the war path.

The most annoying part is I didn’t get a visor. Lame.

That’s all I got. I swear, MJ coverage tomorrow. Toa Samoa pictures (and more!) below.

Pick-up full of rugby players with caravan in tow.

My students go crazy at the window as students at the assembly begin to shriek. Amanda forgets the window to pose for the camera.

Toa Samoa in green distributing schwag.

Luaao was the only one who stuck around and continued working on the CAT. I finally forced him out of the room. It just felt wrong having him stay up there.

One of the boys dancing for the Toa Samoa.

Toa Samoa doing their pre-game chant.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 17

I’ve been cranky this week. I’ve been bored and one of my computers stopped working and I’ve been going to bed too late at night, and it’s made me pissy. And it’s been raining too much. Anyway, yesterday was the worst of it. I’ve been in much better spirits today. I’ve been away from people too long, but I think I’m having boarders this weekend, so that will be good. Here are some other odds and ends from this week:
  • Michael Jackson died! I was going to devote some bullets to the subject, but now that I think about it, I think it’s worth an entire post. So look out for that tomorrow.
  • Speaking of music, I found this new artist online, Rosi Golan. She’s another in the Feist/Ingrid Michaelson trajectory, but I like Feist and Ingrid Michaelson, so I accept. I only caught this new girl on a podcast, so I don’t know how widely available her stuff is. One of her songs was on Grey’s Anatomy recently, so she can’t be that small-time. Anyway, if you can find it, try her “C’est L’amour” song.
  • One of the teachers was working in my computer lab late into the afternoon yesterday after I left. He was supposed to padlock the door, but instead he just threaded the padlock through the eyehole without closing it. Everything’s still here, but it still makes me not want to trust that guy next time.
  • So you know the picture of the English rugby team from mass last week? I heard later on that the church had volunteered to hold a luncheon that day for the English team as well as Samoa’s treasured Toa Samoa after mass last Sunday. Well there was miscommunication, and the first time the alleged organizers heard about the luncheon was when it was announced at mass. Oops.
  • I’ve been talking about center alignment with the year 9s and 10s all week, but I realized yesterday that they spell it “centre”. Oh well.
  • I’ve played over 1,000 games of expert Minesweeper in the last 2 weeks. I am not proud of this.
  • But my win average is 20%, which I am proud of. In an embarrassed pride sort of way.
  • It’s pretty cold at night these days, but I still have a hard time sleeping under a sheet. Yeah. One single sheet is still pretty warm. It’s best to turn on the fan to make the room cold enough for a sheet to be necessary.
  • I was teaching the 9.1 class today, and after I wrote the definition of word wrap on the board, I turned around and started reading it aloud, and the class immediately broke out into laughter. They apparently felt I was speaking very loudly. So then I started speaking very softly, and it killed. I’m so funny.
  • Speaking of being funny, I got my first “chee-hoo” in my 11.1 class on Monday. It had to do with using student names in an example and giving them fake English grades. I admit I have no idea what was funny about it, but it was “chee-hoo” worthy, and I’m taking the credit.
  • A “chee-hoo” is somewhere between a “yippee” and the “whoop” that my follow a surprising or scandalous joke. Dan gets lots of them in his classes. His brand of humour is big and confrontational, which resounds better with high school students than my brand of self-reflexive nerd humour. But when I can, I give the people what they want.
  • I really enjoyed teaching class last Saturday, and I was thinking it might be something I’ll do regularly during this term. But I’ve been in consequent sleep debt ever since, and that’s pretty lousy. So I’ll continue my policy of keeping Saturdays to myself unless class is absolutely necessary.
  • Two of my Clif Bars had their wrappers breeched and the ants found the two very quickly. There’s speculation that the ants are the ones that caused the breech, but ants in my house aren’t known for doing that. I’ve had a packet of M&Ms on that shelf for a couple months when I first moved in and the ants respected that wrapper, so I don’t know.
And that’s all I got for this week. We’ll talk MJ tomorrow. Pictures below.

High jump practice. Finals are next Friday.

Anyone know how to fix this?

This guy was twitching in the doorway of my bathroom this morning. The weirdest part is their little heads.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back to the English

I remember once while my friend Elizabeth was doing the Peace Corps in Guinea (where they speak French), she came home to visit once and I asked her if it was weird to be speaking English. “Yeah. A little. I guess,” she said. “Not really, but a little bit.” I always imagined the brain would have a difficult time recalling obscure vocabulary or maybe phrasing and syntax would be difficult after speaking a foreign language for a while. But now that in my experience interacting with native English speakers after a long time in the cold, I think the issue is less about the actual nuts and bolts of language and more about style.

I’ll be the first to admit that I live in Apia, that I speak English a great majority of the time, and I Skype frequently with The States. That said, most of my daily interaction with other humans is chatting with my staff or teaching high school students, none of whom are native English speakers.

Communicating across a language barrier forces changes in the way one speaks. I definitely annunciate differently and I think I talk more slowly. There’s also a different voice inflection that is used in Samoan that inevitably carries over into English. Supy is a little inflection chameleon. I think he was the first during training to start using the Samoan “question” inflection, which he still uses prominently to this day, in English and Samoan, even when he’s not asking questions.

The JICA in town are fascinated by Supy, and Supy is the chattiest volunteer in Samoa, so he winds up talking to them whenever he’s in Apia. Consequently, he has picked up the Japanese-English inflections and occasionally slips into those. When Phil’s friend Robby came to visit last month, we were at the river fales and Phil mentioned that we might see Supy that evening. “SO nice,” said Robby, doing an uncanny impression of Supy’s Japanese-English inflection.

In any case, I’ve adopted another technique. When I notice a student use a particular English word, I make a mental note, and my brain stores it in a special go-to lexicon. It’s not scientific by any means, but I think my brain figures if one Samoan kid knew the word, chances are good that others are familiar with it too. So should the need arise, that word is mentally flagged as communicating that particular idea well.

This works well in teaching, not so well when moving back across the language barrier and speaking to a native English speaker. Last Friday during the morning assembly, Afoa noticed I wasn’t wearing my Independence Day uniform, so she asked, “Have you even gotten your shirt stitched yet?” While I told her I hadn’t, my brain locked on the word “stitched.”

Cut to this afternoon when I finally walked into the tailor shop. The man at the front referred me to the “seamstress” in the back. The lady was older and clearly a New Zealand transplant. She smiled at me and I said, “I want to get a shirt stitched.”

She looked very confused. “I’m sorry?”

I was the deer in the headlights. What’s the real English word for this?
She tried to help me. “You want us to repair your shirt? Did you rip it?”

Finally I broke through with lowest-common-denominator caveman English. “I have material. I want you to make me a shirt.”

“Thirty-five tala.” She said, happy to have me back.

I guess it’s a little weird to be speaking English. Not really, but a little bit.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

I've been practicing the art of serif block lettering. I've been exploring the chalk medium lately, but maybe I'll mature into other artforms later.

Still working on my Excel spreadsheet, I needed the grading levels for year 13s today. In America, this is the kind of thing I would email someone about... Not gonna fly here. So I took a picture of the sheet that's posted in the teacher's lounge. Technology finds a way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Filifili Meets the Internet

If you were going to show a young adult from the third world the Internet, what web sites would you show him? I was faced with this question this afternoon when Filifili and I finished creating his email account. The kid has been anxious to get an email account since we came back from the break. Nearly every day last week he would come to my classroom and beg me. While Filifili speaks broken English, his tone in the international language of Student is right on, and since I’m not too far out of school, I still understand. So let me translate: when he said, “Can you help me get an email address? Can we go to CSL?” , what he actually meant was, “Can you help me get an email address? Can we go to CSL? Also can you pay?”

I agreed to the whole thing on principle. First, I sometimes feel like my presence here is a little frivolous, and I look for opportunities to leave some sort of lasting impression. Second, though Filifili is not in my year 13 computer class, he hangs out in my classroom all the time, so I felt like he’d earned an email address. Third, I plan on taking my year 13 class down to the Internet café at some point this year to get them email addresses, and I figured the process could use a dry run before I dive in on that one. Fourth, I like to think that some of the connections I forge here will last longer than my time in Samoa, and its in my interest to get my kids online so they can email me later.

So today after school, he and I headed into town. I was still skeptical he actually had anyone to email, and I figured we’d discuss that on the walk over, but we chatted about school and gossiped about teachers, and soon enough we were at CSL.

Pretty much as soon as he’d asked me about an email address, I decided on Gmail. I figure it’s the most user-friendly, right? I still use my Hotmail account, but the interface is so cluttered with all the ads and such. So I didn’t really give Filifili a choice in the matter. Gmail it is, kiddo.

One thing that I learned will be important in prepping my computer class for their turn at the Internet is making them thing long and hard before they go in about what they want their email address to be and especially what they want their password to be. Fili got away with firstname.lastname, but choosing a password seemed to take forever. To Fili’s credit, choosing a password is sort of a vague concept when you think about it. “Choose an 8-letter word that you will be easy for you to remember that no one else will remember.” In the end, he accepted one of my suggestions.

So once that was over, we went through a crash course on how to write an email. I think by then he was starting to feel overwhelmed. He was cool with the concept of entering in someone else’s email address, and he could write out the body of the email okay, but he seemed a bit baffled by the “Subject” box. We’ll work on it. His first email was to me. It reads, “You are to invited to birthday party tonight , please come .” Thanks, Fili.

Then he emailed some guy he knows who lives in Korea. He knew the email address off the top of his head, and he didn’t get any immediate notice about it not being deliverable. So I guess he actually had good reason to get an email address. Cool.

Once we finished with email, I took him for a spin around the Internet. We went to:Yeah, toward the end there, my id realized there was fast Internet available, and I got a little selfish. But I feel like it was authentic and more pertinent to him than the New York Times’ web site anyway. I think I might leave the Facebook part out when I bring my class.

And then our time ran out. We were heading in opposite directions, but he seemed genuinely thankful. It's not every day you get to meet the Internet for the first time.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Walking to the Internet.

Internet's POV.

Clouds sitting on hill behind Internet café.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Self-Imposed Mental Endurance of the Peace Corps

Sure, it’s difficult being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Posts tend to be isolated and the lifestyle can be destitute. There’s the occasional sweeping of the 20 millipedes or the difficult flushing of the slug crawling through the kitchen sink. There’s the disease, the challenge of the primary project, the cross-cultural difficulties. Blah, blah, blah. It seems to me the most difficult challenges volunteers face are the self-imposed kind.

I’m not sure that we all do it. I’m only really familiar with group 81 and a little bit more of Samoa. I can only infer about the rest of the world. The Peace Corps recruits across demographics, and people come from vastly different backgrounds. That said, it seems like all of us have this bizarre masochistic urge to impose difficulties and restrictions on ourselves if for no other reason than to prove to ourselves we can deal with them.

When Rosie 79 moved to her site on Savaii back in December of 2007, she stayed out there for her first 6 months. Phil refuses to buy groceries for himself until he is completely out of food; I think he occasionally subsists on canned tuna for days on end when he is trying to get rid of the food in his house. There’s all kinds of volunteer lore about past volunteers who did forged slightly bizarre lifestyles “just to see if they could do it.”

There was another guy who decided to try and co-habitate with the bugs. K8's a vegan, but I guess she had been for a while before she came here.

For me, the self-imposed restrictions are mostly slightly more extreme variations of the normal difficulties bachelors and lazy people impose on themselves. But I feel like since I have a goal in mind, there’s a dividing line between me and the lazies. It’s been about 6 weeks since I’ve done laundry, but I really feel like if I keep my head down and focus, I can hold out until the end of the month next week. I desperately need a haircut, but if I put up with it for another week, my hair will be a good length for my distance relay race in August.

It makes sense the Peace Corps is such a good breeding ground for inane personal goals like these. The adventurous personality combined with the desolation of Peace Corps posts combined with the lax formalities of third world personal upkeep all make for arbitrary crucibles we lay out for ourselves.

And none of these things are physically difficult. It's all just mental endurance. It's all just testing the outer limits of the Peace Corps asceticism. Trying to find your own niche in a long tradition of meaningless tests. And why not? It's not like we don't have the time.

I hope you’re pushing your limits. Pictures below.

Another cruise ship today.

Some English rugby team was at mass yesterday. This is them trying to cram into the pews after church started.

This clipper (pirate?) ship has been in Apia Harbour all week.

My pule's twins, Faith and Grace. They are darling.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the summer solstice. It’s the longest day of the year; so much sun, so much life. We never did anything about it during my upbringing, but I started inviting people out to the beach for the summer solstice around the time I started working at eCivis. It wasn’t out of paganism or anti-Catholic sentiments or anything too subversive. I simply enjoy the grandiosity of science, the starting pistol of summer, the predictability of the earth’s wobble.

I remember the first time I invited people out to the beach after we moved to San Francisco, my roommate Brian set out some chicken to thaw in the sun—yeah, strange, I know—and since the sun was on the northern side of our apartment, he set it on the dining room table. Five months later, the sun was pouring through my window on the south side of the apartment, and I got really excited because the movement of the sun was so overtly evident. Brian wasn’t as excited.

Whatever, Brian. You thaw meat in the sun. Heathen.

Anyway, today’s summer solstice in Samoa isn’t nearly as exciting for 2 reasons. First, it’s pouring rain right now as it has been for most of the day. Second, Samoa’s in the southern hemisphere, so today is the winter solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year in Samoa. The sun rose just before 7 a.m. and set around 5:30 p.m. It’s all dark and dreary.

It’s just one of the problems in the northern hemisphere centric world we live in. Christmas is the Christian incarnation of the pagan holiday to celebrate the winter solstice; I think the 25th of December is the first day that longer days are perceptible by human standards. So the darkness and dreariness of the winter solstice is alleviated by a big celebration.

Here in the southern hemisphere they have it backwards. The big celebration comes right along with the longest day of the year. True, it’s the same holiday that I’d invite friends out to the beach for, but I think it works better as my own informal holiday. Here, like everywhere else, Christmas is a cultural phenomenon. But who needs a season of giving in the middle of the summer?

So, without being too dramatic, I want to call for a southern hemisphere revolution. Gone away is the blue bird, here to stay is the new bird! The days are about to get longer once more! Run out to the garage, pull out the tinsel, the wreaths, the decorations. Whip up some egg nog. It’s time to celebrate! Another year over, a new one about to begin! The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them has the light shined. For today, the sun changes course through the sky.

Better yet, just come to Samoa. We’ll all go to the beach to celebrate. Cool?

Bring beer.

I hope your solstice was great, whichever side of the equator you’re on. Pictures below.

Potential celebration at Town Hall in Auckland.

Potential celebration in Cape Town.

Potential celebration in Buenos Aires.

Potential celebration in Sydney.

Potential celebration in Apia.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday School

Last night was 16-bit Video Game Night at Cale and Sara’s, and since transportation is difficult, Erik, Ryan, and I slept at their house. With the upcoming CAT looming, I had made arrangements to teach my year 12 class at 9:00 a.m. today. So Erik and I woke up at 7 and shared a cab back into Apia. I walked home from Erik’s through the rain, threw a lesson plan together, and headed over to my classroom at 8:45 to turn on the computers before students showed up. Silly me. There I was expecting students to be on time on a rainy Saturday morning.

It wasn’t bad though. Saturday classes aren’t uncommon, and as I walked past other classrooms, there were 2 or 3 classes going on already. And as I approached my classroom, I saw a couple of year 13s, Site (pronounced See - tay) and Mira, standing around outside my door, looking bored. So we chatted for a while. They were there to type their history papers. I had no prior arrangement with them; they didn’t know I was coming. So I’m not sure how they would have gotten into the lab without me unlocking the door. But psychic events like this are extremely common in Samoa. I choose not to question it.

The idea of showing up on Saturday morning to teach classes was loathsome to me when I first heard about the practice during training. Growing up, the phrase “Saturday School” was a punishment one was given when he showed up tardy to regular school classes too often; how dreadful it was, those truants having to go and learn on a Saturday.

But I’ve come around to actually enjoy Saturday classes. I think my biggest change of heart came when I heard that students like Saturday classes because it gets them out of doing chores at home. They’re also far more casual than regular school. I wore a t-shirt and shorts (as opposed to my business casual collared shirt and ’ie faitaga), and students aren’t required to wear uniforms. So the atmosphere feels fresh and laid back.

And they didn’t all show up, which was pretty great. I didn’t send any notice home, so it’s not like parents knew to force their children to come. The ones who showed up are the ones who want to be there… or perhaps they’re the ones who just really wanted to get out of the house. Either way, with a smaller, more invested class, teaching is a lot easier.

I think the rain really made the day though. The virtue of Saturday classes is their coziness, and what better way to feel cozy than to be inside when it’s raining? I think it’s why we all remember Heads Up, Seven Up so fondly: being inside on a rainy day just feels good.

We did a practice CAT together, and then I set them free to work on another one independently. They stayed for about an hour and a half before they packed up and headed back out into the rain. It was the kind of deal where I almost felt like taking them out for McDonald’s or something; maybe if we all had cars to pile into that would have worked (and McDonald’s prices weren’t outrageous). Maybe if we were in The States.

But there Saturday school would be a punishment, and therefore undeserving of McDonald’s. Oh well.

I hope you’re staying dry. Pictures below.

Site and Mira hanging out.

Motu in the foreground, Elisapeta in the background with her friend. I think 3 of my students brought friends who came and watched them do Excel for an hour and a half. I had no problem with it.

Tetris at Cale and Sara's. Sara beat me in a head-to-head match.

Weezer on the playlist at 16-bit Video Game Night.

WWF Wrestling (before it became WWE) projected on the wall.