Saturday, October 31, 2009

Three Stories from My Trip to the Village

Bus Fun

Since the bus ride to the Safata district is roughly 2 hours long because the bus is slow and the path meanders around the island, there’s a customary stop at a faleoloa either leaving Apia or rolling into Safata. I like to use this stop to pick up a bottle of coke and a couple bags of chips for Akanese and Keleme.

So yesterday our bus rolls into a faleoloa on the south side of the island. I’ve been standing in the back the entire way, so many people get off before me. I make my way to the back of the store and pull a coke from the bottom shelf.

For whatever reason, the bottle slips from my hands and falls to the floor. Rather than simply shattering, the coke bottle—with all of that compressed carbonation inside—essentially explodes. The store goes silent. The shopkeeper’s eyes are on me, as are the other 140 eyes that just got off the bus.

I get a few cuts from projectile shards, but mostly I want to dig a hole and hide in it.

I am one of the last to get back on the bus, and as I climb the steps the driver released the parking break. The bus lurches forward, and 140 eyes that just saw me explode a bottle of coke see me fall from the bus’s sudden motion.

A woman tsks and says pitfully, “Kalofai.” Poor boy.

Where the Babies Have No Names

Phil’s host sister Tuese just had a baby, and I’d heard she named it Filipo—after Phil. This was my first time back in the village since the kid was born, and my family piles in the van to go see the baby.

Wanting to allow Tuese to tell me the news herself, I lob the question, “What’s his name?”

“Mati!” She yells, claiming the baby is named after me. This surprises me and I tell her she’s lying. “Filipo! Isaac!” She claims. I stare quizzically. “Leai se mea.” She laughs. He has no name.

The kid turns 3 weeks old tomorrow. I’m pretty sure his name is Filipo.

Rock Movers

Asolima’s nephew, Malo, has moved back to Fausaga after his job at the Samoa Packing plant in American Samoa shut down and he was laid off. He and Oge leave the house before I wake up this morning, and while I ask Mele about hemming my ’ie, Malo walks up and dumps a pile of dead coral on the ground.

He looks at me. “Fia o i le sami?” Do you want to go to the beach with me?

I have no swim trunks, but Asolima is quick to bring me a pair. She hands me a t-shirt, which I decline.

My mistake. We wade into the marsh and walk through 300 yards of waist-high mud to get to the beach. Oge meets us there. We fill 5 gunny sacks with rocks—as it turns out, we’re re-paving the driveway.

Oge hands me a sack to carry, which must way upwards of 70 pounds. Ha. I’m able to carry the thing, but my shoulder is quietly sobbing. Luckily, the plan is only to carry the sacks out to the small outrigger canoe, which is on the near side of the 300 yards.

When we finish carting the 5 sacks, Oge and Malo and I bathe together in the community pool. Fun times.

I hope you’re well. Village pictures below.

Tuese, Keleme, and the nameless baby.

Fipe, Keleme, and Akanese.

Crying baby on road.

This is the home of the family that owns Sina PJ.  A lot of the buildings in Tafitoala tai are still standing.

Oge, Keleme, and Malo at the kitchen table.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Before the Party

One summer during college I interned at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which was full of bohemian art-types who enjoyed fancy things. And one particular Friday in July, the secretary organized an indoor picnic potluck lunch. I made a joke about bringing peanut butter and jelly with the crusts cut off, but everyone thought that was a great idea. But what sounds good in theory is not always good in practice, and the middling results have convinced me to never bring peanut butter and jelly to a potluck ever again.

The Peace Corps experience has an alarming number of potlucks built into it. Most large volunteer gatherings involve an element of BYO or BSTS (Bring Something to Share), and a fair amount of teacher parties at my school require attendees to “bring a plate.” This is particularly difficult for me because my kitchen isn’t equipped to handle large-scale food preparation. I have a camping stove and a mini-fridge. What do you want from me?

Today is the student teachers’ last day, and yesterday my pule asked that all teachers bring a “light plate”. I was told that this translates to sandwiches or cakes. October has been a budgetarily tight and I didn’t have time to go to the store yesterday and hell if I would have known what to get anyway. But thinking about it last night, I decided what better melds sandwiches and cake than peanut butter and jelly?

The second of the Peace Corps’s three core goals is “Spreading American values and ideals in foreign countries.” I see this peanut butter and jelly thing as a diplomatic effort. “Greetings, Samoa! I come bearing peanut butter.”

I’ve heard two broadly divergent rumors about Samoans’ taste for peanut butter. My friend Ruane, the Red Cross truck driver, absolutely loathes it. She hates the texture and doesn’t care much for the taste. On the other hand, Paul told a story at our Early Service Conference about how, on Friday afternoons, he would make a large batch of sandwiches and offer them to his students as a reward for their work that week. And according to Paul they loved it.

I’m heading out to the teacher function now. We’ll see how things shake out.

Later on that Day…

They were qualified hit.

At first reception was tentatively accepting. I had to walk past a bunch of students to make my way to the teachers’ lounge, and students definitely found them appetizing. I got cat calls and requests for a bite or two.

When the buffet line started in the teachers’ lounge, the peanut butter and jelly mostly went unnoticed. My vice pule picked one up, and quickly called me over to tell me how good it was. But it was the kind of deal where I wasn’t sure if she was just giving me lip service. She liked it a little too much and a thanked me a little too quickly, you know?

The PB&J sat there for a long time, and I was starting to suspect they’d turn into leftovers. But then Tavita—one of the nicest guys on staff, also I often refer to him as Samoan Barack Obama—who’s been waiting to be last to eat, picks up one and tries it. He nods, and then takes all the remaining sandwiches. He didn’t know I was watching from across the room.

So I’m going to chalk that up as one convert. I’m calling this a goal #2 success in my next trimesterly Peace Corps report.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The finished platter.  I cut the sandwiches into sixths.

Other teachers' portion sizes were bigger.  This platter of sandwiches is considered a "light plate"?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 31

I coasted through last couple weeks of Term 1, which was not ideal, but I got through it. But if term 1 was coasting, term 3 is barely eking by crawling on my fingernails. Granted there was a bunch of time off for Swine Flu and Tsunami Recovery, but other than that, school seems to have been going non-stop since we came back in June. Yes, I know, you work in a corporate job and you have to work the whole year and blah blah blah. Yeah, I’ve been there. I’m just saying I’m ready for a break. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • I took a practice LSAT late Monday night, and was consequently exhausted on Tuesday. And then I spent downtime Tuesday—i.e. sitting in the back of the classroom observing the student teacher—reading through practice questions. It was overkill, and my brain was fried Tuesday night. Thus the late post.
  • I was teaching my year 13s last night, and I asked for a common file extension for a graphics file. Marie yelled out, “J-B-G!” So I asked her to clarify. “B as in Boy?” I asked. “B as in Bicture, ” she said.
  • The door in my classroom has yet to be fixed, so the lab has been operating without air conditioning all week. This has separated the men from the boys as far as true interest in computers goes. I’ve invited the year 10s in after school all week, and many are very excited until they find out there’s no air conditioning. After that a sizeable portion lose all interest. I see how it is.
  • I got a new t-shirt at Mr. Lavalava’s yesterday. It has a logo for Woody’s Beach Taxi in Mission Beach, California. It’s a sweet t-shirt, and it fits well, but I haven’t decided if Woody’s is real. Maybe Google will know.
  • Last Sunday was the monthly tea after mass. There was pizza and popoesi and egg rolls. Best monthly tea ever.
  • Christmas plans are finally beginning to materialize.
  • On that note, the Christmas season in Apia seems a lot less strong than it did this time last year. Maybe I’m just in town less, but I feel like it was full-on by the time we came back from the village at the end of October. This year, I’ve only heard two Christmas songs so far:

    • A kid playing deck the halls on the keyboard outside Cappuccino Vineyard; and
    • A car drove by the other night with a techno reggae version of silent night blaring.

  • My student teacher filled her quota of lessons on Tuesday this week, but I told her she could keep teaching classes as much as she wanted. She agreed to teach some of my classes only if I didn’t come and observe. I found this deal satisfactory.
  • The “Mad Men” DVDs have commentary on every episode. Occasionally there are 2 commentary tracks. Who has time for all this?
  • With Halloween only 2 days away, everything (i.e. my costume and party plans) are still way up in the air. Last night I gave up on the feather boa idea, only to swing right back toward it today. But tonight hasn’t gone so well, so back to the drawing board. Party plans are equally bleak. Last year’s party was great, and in an attempt to recreate that, we wanted to hold it in the same place. But that place wants to charge a $20 cover, and a bunch of volunteers are not down with that. We’ll see what happens.
  • Whatever happens, group 82 won’t be there. They’re staying in the host village for 4 weeks. 4 weeks! We never stayed in our host village 4 consecutive weeks. And these poor kids were going into it for the first time. They barely knew what to pack! My heart goes out to them.
That’s all I got. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Tui and Marie laughing on Saturday.

This pack of dogs came tearing out of the police station parking lot.  They're difficult to see and a bunch are behind the van.  But they were clearly up to no good.

Fun with the macro lens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's for Halloween

Depending on your costume, shopping for a Halloween costume in The States can force some strange shopping choices—wigs, face paint, capes—but Halloween is such a national holiday that people accept the weirdness with little to no explanation. Since Halloween is not very big in Samoa, costume shopping is a lot more tedious with all of the confused looks and baffled salespeople who try to solve the mystery of The Palagi with the Strange Request.

Part of the problem is my approach to Halloween. I’m not a good costume maker. I don’t know what exactly is wrong or missing from the way I assemble a costume—in part because something is wrong or missing. Perhaps I tend to fixate on details and miss sight of the whole picture. This was definitely a problem with last year’s mosquito costume: I was so focused on making sure I had an extra set of legs and a pair of wings that I didn’t realize the incredible bulk of the overall costume. I have a tendency to over-accessorize, and I think I could use some of the less-is-more approach.

In any case, my obsession with detail makes the conversation with salespeople even more confusing. I remember last year I was at Big Bear and I needed human-sized mosquito antennae. I found a bundle of sticks that seemed like they might work, but I only needed one. “How much for one?” I asked the lady. This was an odd request. People need bundles of sticks. Why would someone need a single stick?

“What’s it for?” She asked. In The States this question might be overstepping; our Constitution suggests a right to privacy, and we don’t like people delving too far into our business. But Samoa is a collectivist culture, and part of having your neighbor’s back is knowing your neighbor well. So privacy can sometimes fall by the wayside.

To answer the lady’s question, I could say, “I’m trying to make myself look like a mosquito,” but instead I settled for “It’s for my Halloween costume.”

I’m worried I’m falling into the same trap as last year. Though I still haven’t settled on a particular costume, I was shopping around today, and at one point I decided I might want a feather boa. These things are not common in Samoa, so it took 3 stores, but I found one. The salesgirl showed picked it up off the display and handed it to me.

It was very short, maybe a foot and a half. And there was a hair clip in the middle to which all the feathery strands were glued.

“Do you have a longer one?” I asked.

She looked at me perplexedly and then cocked her head to the side. “What’s it for?” She asked.

A Gypsy-style striptease? My cousin’s senior prom dress? My efforts to bring burlesque to Apia?

“It’s for Halloween.” I say.

“Oh,” she said. “We’ve got some longer ones over here.”

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Year 13 camp is going on now.  Thus the towel on the balcony of the second story.  Feels like a motel.

Magik Cinema, the only movie theater in the country is betting high on This Is It, the new Michael Jackson movie.

This is the first time since I've arrived in country that I've seen a movie playing on 2 screens at the same time.  It probably happened for Mamma Mia!, but I think that was before Group 81 arrived.

Tsunami-flavored lavalavas are apparently all the rage right now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kids in the Hall

Since school re-started after the earthquake, 5 classes have been taught in the Great Hall. There are no walls between “classrooms,” and chalkboards are precariously affixed to whatever convenient surface could be found. It can get a little loud down there—a fact I’ve noticed more recently since I’ve had to keep the computer lab windows open because we’ve been unable to use the air conditioner. In any case, when it comes right down to it, the open-air classrooms aren’t ideal, but they’re not terrible.

In a fit of intellectual elitism, my school kept all the higher level students—those with .1 or .2 suffixes—in the classrooms and sent lower levels to the hall. The five classes in the hall are 9.3, 9.4, 9.5, 10.4, and 11.4. My first class I had in the hall was 11.4.

My biggest worry wasn’t the noise coming from other classes. In fact, it was quite the opposite: I worried I would be too loud. I believe it was my 9.1 class who, earlier in the year, started laughing every time I spoke during class. I asked what was funny. “Why are you shouting at us?” asked a boy in the back row. When I’m teaching, my natural inclination is to project as loudly as possible. This probably comes from my swimming lessons days when I’d have to yell because we were outside and the kids’ ears were all pressed up next to the pool gutter, which was in effect a large echo chamber. I’m a screamer, and I was nervous other teachers would be annoyed.

Not so. Just like at the pool, no amount of one person’s yelling can escape one class’s area. There’s far too much competing noise. Classes that once were able to control themselves during a free period—that is, a period when no teacher is assigned to class, or when the teacher fails to show up—now find themselves without barriers literally and figuratively. It’s hot and it’s the end of the year; classes are getting raucous.

Another awkward aspect of having no walls is other teachers can see you teaching. Teachers are a strange bunch, and things like this can cramp style. I remember when we did the Safe Environment for Children project in Oakland, the teachers were one of the lousiest groups, and I think it’s because the profession allows omniscience on a micro scale. And one way of screwing up that micro world is taking away the walls. It’s not quite a fishbowl because mostly no one is actually watching you, but anyone could look over at any second, and that lack of privacy can be a style cramper.

Last, I think the kids in the hall are going a little stir crazy. I think they were willing to put up with the situation for the first week or two, but now the idea of having no walls and being able to fly under the radar is beginning to sink in. In my 10.4 class today, I’m pretty sure the back two rows had no idea what I was talking about. At this point, they’ve probably established their own Lord of the Flies hierarchy, and I didn’t have the conch shell.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The view from the back row of my 10.4 class.

The 10.4 chalkboard, complete with 9.4 to the left and 9.3 to the right.

The view outside.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Things Fall Apart

I was called out of my first period class this morning to replace the printer cartridge in the main office. My mom once speculated that GATE kids were no smarter than anyone else, they were simply better at getting out of class, and the words rang true this morning. I figured out the printer cartridge and took advantage of the moment to discuss Saturday’s door problem with my pule. I think he still thought the problem was ridiculous but he agreed to have someone take a look at the door.

Our problems were redeemed when the teacher who went to check it out, apparently the resident fix-it guy, agreed that the lock no longer worked and that we’d need to get a new one. “The pule says he’ll work on getting a new one today or tomorrow, and you can still have class in there until then, but since the door won’t close, you can’t use the air conditioner.”

I have no problem not using an air conditioner. I spend a good chunk of my time out of the lab in different classrooms anyway; going without air conditioning is no big deal.

But it is.

Maybe because my room is on the second floor, maybe because it’s not made out of cinderblock and mortar, maybe because there are 13 machines constantly running, but with all the windows open and a gentle breeze flowing through, my students and I agreed we were baking.

The rude awakening was worst for the 10.1s, who I agreed to let use the computer lab afterschool. They paraded in waiting for the lab’s signature wall of cool, only to be greeted by the opposite.

About an hour before that fit of sadness, another computer lab in Samoa suffered a worse fate: Phil’s school experienced an abnormally large power spike, and evidently every single computer in his lab exploded. Yikes. I announced the news to my class—in part because power spikes are on the curriculum. In any case, more details on Phil’s situation as they come in.

With the 10.1s in the lab having extra-curricular fun, I took the time to play some Freecell. I’ve been doing well lately, and at one point I broke out the calculator to see how many more games I’d have to win to get another bump in my winning percentage. But it turned out my calc.exe file had disappeared. Strange, but not distressing.

I came back an hour later to teach my year 13s (camp has started again), and to my great dismay, freecell.exe had disappeared—so much for the winning percentage. I ran my antivirus program to see what was going on, and it recommended I restart immediately. When I logged back in after the restart, I was immediately logged out. And so it’s come to pass that my server’s been eaten by a virus.

Bummed about this, I started pacing the floor of my lab while my students skimmed through old PSSC exams. As I paced, I noticed a crack in the floor. I pointed it out to a couple students, and then a student pointed out there were cracks all over the floor. And it’s true. There’s a huge grid of cracks in the linoleum in my computer lab, no doubt due to The Big One.

It was a rough day for technology in Samoa.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Open windows in my classroom.  And it just happened to be Lawnmower Day!

My server saving my settings after automatically logging me out.

Cracks in the linoleum.

This guy, Loto, is an art teacher at my school.  He played guitar through the duration of my year 13 class, which was cool, but not optimal for study, I think.  But we kept the door open nonetheless.  And it was kinda cool.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Crossing the Line

Near the beginning of training, our Medical Officer Teuila showed us a graph somewhat similar to the one at left. I can’t find the actual one she showed us, and mine is a terrible reproduction, but it captures the essence of what I took away from hers. According to my ears, the overarching point was the Peace Corps is an emotional rollercoaster that has ridiculous ups and downs at the beginning, but which evolve and become more elongated as time goes on. And any time you cross the x-axis, your chances of going home early become higher. At Volunteers en Masse events, we often recall this chart and talk about how accurate it was.

Teuila’s chart also had a more specific timeline. There are specific moments in the life cycle of a volunteer when most cross the line: the first couple weeks of training, after 1 month, after 3 months, after 6 months, after 12 months, and after 24 months (I’m reciting all this from memory, so take it with a grain of salt.). And as group 81 has passed each of these milestones, we’ve noticed the collective mood swings.

I bring this up because this morning I made arrangements to hang out with two people, one midday and the second for dinner, who are having particularly difficult times crossing the x-axis at their respective points. The back-to-back scheduling was a coincidence, but I worried a little about what this one-two punch would do to my psyche.

The first was a fellow member of Group 81. My group just hit our one-year mark, and most of us should be crossing the x-axis in the next couple months. We’re at the point when a lot of factors are coming to a head: our first year of school is coming to a close, many volunteers are going home for Christmas, stuff is starting to feel re-hashed, the excitement of new things has dwindled. Though we’re just about halfway through service, there’s a feeling of culmination in the air right now sort of like the kicking a field goal right before halftime, or bringing down the house just before the end of Act 1. And people are getting antsy about coming back after intermission.

Conversation went as well as can be expected.

Dinner tonight was with an outgoing member of Group 82. I’d say the first 4 months of the Peace Corps are the most difficult, as is demonstrated in the frequent ups and downs in the graph. The days are so long, and going to bed with the satisfaction of getting through the day is erased the next morning when facing another day is daunting. There’s adjusting to the new place and the new climate and a new set of friends. Then adjusting to the host village. Then adjusting to training and having your hand held. And when you’re finally adjusted to all that, you’re kicked out of training and there’s a whole new round of re-adjustment at your permanent site. All feelings are tentative, and the ups and downs and loop-the-loops can be nauseating. It’s not uncommon for people to want off the ride.

Once again, conversation went as well as can be expected.

The encouraging thing was the two conversations forced me to assess my own situation, and it seems like I’m doing okay. I like my job, I like my site, I like Samoa. There’s a constant feeling that any state of mind in the Peace Corps is temporary and tentative and that line-crossing can come any time, but today things were good.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Jordan and Briony laughing at Lynn's faleoloa.

Luke McGrath and his posters advertising Punjas Breakfast Crackers are all over Samoa.  Dude isn't listed in Wikipedia nor on the first page of "Luke McGrath" hits on Google.  He is wearing goggles in the picture and by googling "Luke McGrath" AND swimming, I found out Luke McGrath is a reasonably talented ocean swimmer from Fiji.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stuck in a Moment

As I was turning off the computers after class this morning, Filifili rattled the door knob and said, “Ummm… Mister?” As I walked around turning off the uninterruptible power supplies, panic began to set in, and when I was done with all my stuff, I walked over to try the door. The kids clearly had hoped I had a magical remedy for opening it, but I had nothing. I turned the knob and pushed and pulled and nothing happened. Panic!

I scheduled class for today because Marie requested it during our one-on-one yesterday. She surfaced the idea as a time to go over the common exam, but then immediately followed the suggestion by saying, “I hate staying home on Saturday.” It’s unclear how much studying she wanted to do and how much she simply wanted to get out of the house, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt, and hell if I had anything to do.

The day was uneventful until the door incident. I’m having a difficult time recalling if it was me or Filifili who was last to close the door. Phil called me about 5 minutes before I ended class, and I stepped outside to answer my phone. And I think Filifili might have come in after that. It was a little unclear as to why he’d come at all since he’s not in my computer class and no other teachers held class today. Whatever.

My first inclination was to kick through the door. There were four strapping Samoan young men in our ranks, and I had no doubt that the four of them and my puny frame could collectively ram through the door. But then I thought about explaining the broken jamb to my pule and having no security for my computer lab for the next 48 hours, and I figured ehhh… maybe we shouldn’t kick the door in.

We all had cell phones though, and I figured bringing another adult into the picture might do some good. I dialed my pule and handed my phone to Filifili to do the talking. My pule sent his 9-year-old son Atonio and one of the 4-year-old twins to bail us out. No matter the scope of the fe’au, best to send a tamaiti.

The seven of us (Me, Filifili, Marie, Tui, Sione, Sinaumea, and Sisigafua) stood at the window and watched Atonio and his little sister trudge across the field toward the lab. When they got there, Atonio put the key in the lock and turned it and nothing happened. The door had never been locked though, so this solution seemed doomed from the beginning. It became clear we were going to have to break out ourselves.

In a MacGuyver-style fit of brilliance, someone disassembled a set of nail clippers out of the lost-and-found clutter on my desk and tried futzing with the door. I let the boys go at the problem while I snapped photos. Marie, at one point, stood on a stool and pretended she was going to jump off and plow through the door. Goof ball.

After a while I felt guilty and took my turn at the door. I was able to use a part of the nail clippers like a small crow bar, and pry part of the jamb off. This was my only contribution to our escape, but it proved vital. Sinaumea took over for me finishing off the prying, and then he and Filifili and Sione all seemed to be picking at the lock from different angles. And in a show of trademark Samoan collectivism the three of them got the door to swing open. Everyone cheered.

The ordeal took roughly 35 minutes, and we enjoyed the extra time with the air conditioner. I was able to padlock the door without letting the latch catch. We should really get someone to look at that.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Standing at the window waiting for Atonio.

Filifili and Tui attend to the door.  Sisigafua stand behind.  Marie is doing who-knows-what?

Marie and Sisigafua pose while the boys work on the door.

Friday, October 23, 2009

mp3 players

My year 12s and 13s are constantly late to class. I had a double-period with my year 12s on Wednesday, and only 4 showed up for the first period. And today was no exception for my year 13 class. I turned on all of their computers, and then sat playing Freecell for 9 minutes. And then Marie sauntered through the door and asked where the rest of our class was. Good question, Marie. She went to look for them while I put the jack of spades on the queen of hearts.

She came back and said the rest of the class had gone to a marketing event at the National University of Samoa. Two weeks before the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate exam and I have two hours with my kids, and they schedule a field trip. Boo. I looked at Marie, “What do you want to do?” She smirked and walked to the computer at the end of the room.

The computer at the end of the room is popular in all my classes because it has loads and loads of music. I’ve tried repeatedly to purge my classroom of the stuff. Ethical Issues is a unit in the year 13 curriculum, and we talk about piracy and intellectual property. But beyond the moral and legal issues involved, the most annoying thing about having music on the computers in the lab is there are no headphones and one computer playing DJ OK is annoying enough, let alone two or three or five.

One day I went in and cleared all of the music off all the computers in there, and I watched carefully as my year 12s discovered the Grinch had stolen their Christmas. But just like Whoville, they didn’t bat an eye, and they’d already uploaded quite a bit of music from their rogue flash drives by the time the bell rang at the end of the period.

In any case, Marie, who normally sits in the middle of the room, seized the opportunity to acquire new music on her flash drive. Right now I’ve regulated the music selection so there is only remixed music from Samoan DJs and a couple of Samoan artist tracks. Yes, I realize intellectual property exists in Samoa too, but artists here tend to make music readily available to the masses.

It was my last class of the day, and when I finished shutting off the other computers, I walked over to Marie’s computer to watch.

Samoa has clearly defined musical tastes, and it’s amusing to see what American music is popular here. Beyoncé and Akon are huge. On her flash drive, Marie also has mp3s from Rhianna and Lil’ Wayne and Jordan Sparks and Five for Fighting. Yeah, I said it. Five for Fighting.

“Can you help me?” She asks.

I sit down next to her and I scan the flash drive for viruses (there are 7). Then I check the capacity. She has 13 MB remaining. So I recommend we cut some stuff. She runs down the list with a skeptical eye. She nixes Mariah Carey. And Kelly Clarkson. And Chris Brown. I think I probably save the Green Day by getting excited and playing “21 Guns”.

She takes some Savage off the computer. And some Vaniah Toloa. And a couple of DJ OK remixes.

The period passes and we talk about music and Samoa and family, and then the bell rings and she leaves.

I saved you, Green Day. If nothing else, I've kept pop punk alive in Samoa.

I hope you’re well. Pictures will be posted later this evening.

Me and Blakey deconstructing the day at my house.

Student teacher is hanging in there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 30

It’s been nearly a month since the last Odds and Ends Thursday, which if far too long, I think. It’s indicative of the state of things here: the last month has been a blur with the earthquake and the aftermath and the new group and our group’s own anniversary and student teachers and school and the fiafia and all. This week has been relatively low-key, and that should carry into this weekend hopefully. It’s a chance for Samoa to catch its collective breath. Here are some other odds and ends of late:
  • Have you noticed the pictures are bigger? To celebrate the blog’s one-year anniversary (though it didn’t go daily til January), I’ve started uploading all pictures at a higher resolution, and I changed the aspect ratio to 4x6, so you can take them down to your local photo-lab and print the entire picture at a higher quality. Enjoy.
  • Okay, Family, let me break it down for you. I fully admit I enjoy the challenge of competition. I also readily admit that I love to win. But I maintain that I am not all that competitive by nature because I don’t need to win. I enjoy a good board game… and board games are reliant on the rule of law and the players’ collective agreement they will follow the rules, Annie. Enjoying a game does not a competitive person make.
  • Ask my roommates in San Francisco. I used to get my ass kicked nightly at Mario Soccer. Did that ultra-competitor within me spend hours alone practicing, honing my skills, gunning to be the best? No. Because for all the frustration and hurt pride that came from playing that game, I wasn’t competitive enough to strive for Mario Soccer greatness. Yet I still showed up on the couch night after night because playing games is fun.
  • Also, Liam never nickeled me.
  • The water utility situation has been quite a ride lately. With that 5-week drought we had, service was intermittent, and seemed to be perfectly timed to shut off whenever I’d try and take a shower. It’s been more steady since it rained last week, but we’ve seen little rain since then, and I fear the water supply might begin to dwindle once more.
  • During the tsunami relief effort, we stopped at Lynn’s in Vailima on the way back into Apia, and I got a couple of kekepua’a because I was hungry. That is when I discovered that Lynn’s has easily the best kekepua’a I’ve ever tasted. In addition to the pua’a, they bake in green beans and onions and leafy greens. It was amazing. Trent and I tried to go back and have it again last night, but they were out.
  • When the tsunami alarms went off after the twin quakes in Vanuatu, a bunch of us were eating at Mari’s Café. Mari’s is known among Peace Corps as being the only known place in Samoa that offers Mexican food. My chicken burrito was so-so, but hell, it was a chicken burrito.
  • On the other hand, I’ve decided Pinati’s is the closest thing to Mexican food Samoa has to offer. The actual fare is not even close to Mexican, but the cheap greasy goodness, the foil packaging, the Jesus on the wall—it doesn’t quite fill the space in my heart left by San Francisco taquerias, but it’s as good as I could hope for.
  • I’ve done no work on acquiring/furnishing a Halloween costume. My plan is to rest up this weekend, and devote every day’s afterschool hours to the cause next week.
  • I had the taro and pumpkin-ginger jam to’ona’i again last weekend. It’s awesome. I realize it’s unconventional, but I would recommend trying it before you knock it.
  • I agree it’s ridiculous that I was assigned a student teacher, but at the same time, I’ve been pretty good at offering feedback. It’s one of those things where I’m not a seasoned professional, but the horror of being a brand new teacher is still fresh in my mind. My feedback isn’t packed with inherent wisdom, but the empathy is there.
  • Happy birthday, Dustin!
That’s all I got for this week, but there will be more next Thursday. I’m glad we’re back in the swing of things. And I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

I took this picture for no reason today.  I just like the color of the grass and the sky and the bushes and the girl's uniform.

Boys sleeping during my 11.1 class today.

A couple of boys had this word come up today in Mavis Beacon.  Quit oppressing us with your godless agenda, Mavis.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Through the Nose

I hate getting sick, everything from throwing up right down to a runny nose, and one way I avoid sickness is by blatant, forced denial. I figure the longer I reject the virus or disease mentally, the harder it is for it to get through the door. In that spirit, let me first declare that I am not sick, that I have no cold, that my nose is not running. Thank goodness for my health because being sick in the Peace Corps can be a loathsome time.

The sickest I’ve been in Samoa was the weekend after Thanksgiving. We’d just returned to the training village, and my arms suddenly got so weak I could barely hold the baby. By nightfall I had a good fever going, and laying in bed in the middle of the night, it was surprising my sheets didn’t catch fire. Eventually I fell asleep, experienced four hours of delirious wakefulness on Sunday, and then slept right on through to Monday.

Viruses and disease can fester in the fertile tropical atmosphere, and this can wreak havoc on a sheltered American immune system. And the Peace Corps lifestyle inevitably lends itself to diarrhea and stomach flu and mosquitos and exotic fevers.

Island life has its pluses though. Samoa is cutoff enough from the rest of the world that Malaria is not prevalent, thankfully. The thick moisture in the air acts like a giant humidifier. The heat makes it difficult to differentiate the fever from normal life. Good times.

My favorite part of being sick in the Peace Corps, which in actuality works more to my detriment, is I have incredibly little self-sympathy. Whereas people in The States would tell me to take a nap or at least not go for a run, here I can just power through it. I’m not especially mean to myself, I just don’t believe in slowing down the pace of things for a runny nose.

I should also note the Peace Corps Medical Officer, Teuila, is top-notch. Last year she ranked number one among medical officers in our region of the world (which includes Latin America. Impressive.). If things really do get bad, we’re in good hands. And as your sickness escalates, your accommodations get upgraded. It means a lot when someone gets put up in the hotel for medical observation.

For the most part though, getting sick in the Peace Corps is like getting sick anywhere else. You blow your nose, you get the Sudafed out of the medical kit, you’re done. And then right back into the classroom.

I hope you haven’t got time for the pain. Pictures will be uploaded later this evening.

Today was a major fasting day.  At noon we were supposed to pray in whatever class we were in.  I only had 4 girls show up in my year 12 class, and they decided that since none of them was fasting, they didn't want to pray.  So they huddled by the door and tried to listen for when other classes were released.

The fast was broken at our school with breadfruit, miki, fa'apapa, and kokosamoa.

When I took the picture of my lunch, Tireza and Tavita (Samoan Barack Obama) insisted I take their picture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Time to Study

Today we had the first computer studies markers meeting where teachers from the Congrega- tionalist school system came together to grade the year 12 and 13 end-of-year exams. The marking needs to be done quickly so students can use the exam to gauge where they need the most work for the upcoming Samoan School Certificate exam (for year 12) and the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate exam (for year 13). And in the middle of all this marking, all I can think about is the LSAT, which I’m taking in December.

After some back and forth with the Law School Admission Council as to whether I could or could not take the test in Samoa—there’s no official testing site in country—they found me a spot to take the test in American Samoa. So in 7 weeks, just days after Prize-giving (which we’d refer to as graduation or commencement in The States), I’ll be crossing the channel to fill in bubbles with two other poor souls who live within a 100-mile radius of Pago Pago.

On one hand, I’m pumped about this. Liam and I used to smirk about the strange satisfaction inherent in taking a standardized test. I like to pretend it’s a less flashy version of Jeopardy!, in which questions are hurled at me rapid-fire. I admit I come at it from the angle of showing off, which breeds pomposity, but also builds confidence.

On the other hand, math has always been my inexplicable strong suit. The LSAT has no math, and this is troubling. The closest thing it has is “Logic Games,” which Smadge assures me are not mathematical in nature, but I feel require problem-solving skills analogous to those required for math problems. PCV Max assures me “Logic Games” will be the most difficult part of the test. I’ve got my money on Logical Reasoning and/or Reading Comprehension, Max, but I guess we’ll see how things shake down after 7 weeks.

Hopefully I can harness this strange combination of stupid confidence and sustained apprehension into 7 weeks of productive study time. I’ve got my Princeton Review “Cracking the LSAT” guide, and Max gave me a slew of past LSAT exams in PDF format.

Additionally, I’m planning on giving my classes a crash course in test-taking skills before the year 9s, 10s, and 11s take their common exams and the year 12s and 13s. After all, they say the best way to learn something is to teach it.

I feel like I’ve climbed into the same boat with my students, and we’ve all got to make it across the river together. And yes, my curriculum will consist of more than simply imparting “stupid confidence.”

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Blakey, Briony, and I had an 80s Power Dinner at Italiano Pizza tonight.


Monday, October 19, 2009

On Edge

On the chalkboard at our staff meeting this morning, my pule wrote “Schedule for the Week (FAST WEEK)”. I hadn’t been informed of any days off school this week, so I assumed this had to do with cramming for upcoming exams. Perhaps this was some sort of “lightning round” method of test prep? As it turned out, this week has been set aside for ritual fast. Sitting next to the vice pule at Interval, I asked why people were fasting and she answered, “To avoid another tsunami.”

Oh. Right.

With the earthquake and tsunami about 3 weeks behind us, it was nice to come together with volunteers this weekend to hash things out and debrief in a less urgent setting. More than one volunteer reported being encouraged to pray very hard in order to avoid a tsunami today, 19 October. There are still 4 hours left in the day, but it seems like Samoa’s going to make it through the day unscathed.

Most unscathed, I guess. There was a 6.2-magnitude quake this morning around 11:45. It was extremely short; perhaps it lasted 2 seconds. Despite its brevity, half of my 11.1 class sprinted out the door to evacuate within 5 seconds. More than anything it was disruptive. I had to usher my kids back into the classroom and hop right back into Microsoft Excel review.

The Peace Corps sent out a text message shortly thereafter saying no tsunami advisory was in effect.

I have no problem with this national mood, and I think it’s probably for the best that people show more concern about tsunami preparedness. There was a national tsunami drill last November. Group 81 was in training at the time, and our participation consisted of walking up the road to the maumaga. Short and sweet. There was little participation among the host village. The explanation from someone’s host family, “God will save us.”

Even the morning of The Big One, students acted as if nothing happened. So it’s good that there’s a stronger cause-and-effect relationship between earthquakes and tsunamis now. That said, it’s a little discomforting that the focus is more on pray-and-fast than duck-and-cover.

Before I jumped back into Excel, I talked to my 11.1 class about how rather than clamoring out the door, it probably would have been better for them to simply climb under their desks. A couple of them nodded sheepishly.

I figure I’m in no place to make judgments about fasting and prayer (incidentally, we supposed to really focus our fasting on Wednesday and Friday between midnight and noon), but I understand the physics of falling debris. God works in mysterious ways, and I like to think one of those is the structural integrity of school desks.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

During a trip to Lalomanu last week with school staff, we saw a lot of families living in tent structures like this one.

Teachers from my school outside the house in Lalomanu.  We went to deliver students' donations to students' families who were affected.

Out with the trainees for pizza last Thursday.  Left to right: Jordan 81, Jenny 82, Blakey 81, Kyle 82, Emily 82.