Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Group 82!

The first day is lousy. The only flight from Los Angeles to Samoa gets you in at 5:30 a.m. local time. You’re jet-lagged and bleary-eyed and confused and Peace Corps Samoa is really excited to see you. It’s overwhelming, and more than anything, you want a nap. But no time for napping. Before sleep comes, the day is filled with introductory sessions and informal tours and information overload. After a while, it all sounds like Greek. But it’s not Greek. It’s Samoan.

The Samoan might just be the most torturous part. Before you have time to unpack your toothbrush, you find yourself sitting in front of a large group of strangers for the ’Ava ceremony.

Your first ’Ava ceremony is intense in many different ways. First, the tone of the Orator Chief tends to be gruff and urgent. To the untrained ear, it can sound alarming, and you definitely feel put in your place. Second, the Peace Corps stresses the importance of abiding by cultural customs, which at the ’Ava ceremony translates to sitting cross-legged for the duration of the meeting. When was the last time you sat with your legs bent for an hour? When was the last time you sat on an airplane for 9 hours, soaking in the DVT, only to cut off circulation to your poor feet for another couple hours?

Last, you get a solo. In Samoan. The Peace Corps sends you your line in advance: Lau ‘ava lea le atua. Soifua, but pronunciation is unclear, and memorizing phonetic sounds with absolutely no context is baffling. And there’s the matais glaring at you and your fellow trainees who barely know you and the volunteers who know you even less and your legs are dying and all you want is a nap. And so you say ridiculous things that are not even close to Samoan and you feel like an idiot. And through your tired eyes, it sucks.

But through my well-rested, only-slightly-better comprehension of Samoan, respectful-of-but-not-nearly-as-intimidated by Orator chief perspective, it’s hilarious. Not in a mean-spirited schaudenfreude way, but more in a pitiful I-remember-being-in-your-shoes kind of way.

But today there was a tsunami evacuation, and at that point, it stopped being a benign form of hazing, and we all just felt sorry for the poor kids. But it certainly makes for a good story, and what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?

Meh. They’ll be fine.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

3:15 p.m.
During lunch this afternoon, Apia was evacuated following the 2 earthquakes in Vanuatu. Group 82, who'd been in country all of 8 hours, were whisked up to the Country Director's house.

Rumors are flying right now. Someone told me a miniscule tsunami hit Savai'i. Someone else said there was no tsunami, but the sea level rose. Spencer 80, who lives pretty far out on Savai'i, is actually sitting next to me right now. So I can vouch for his safety.

When I asked what happened, he shrugged and said, "Ehhh... nothing happened."

So it's much ado about nothing, perhaps.

It's all a big campaign to keep 82 on their toes. Welcome, freshmen.

Koa and Sara strategizing photographs.

Rosie as Taupo.

Spencer handing out the 'ava.

Amanda, Casey, and TESL Trainer, Janine.


Anonymous said...

Wow...what a welcome!

Amanda said...

Yay group 82! Samoa is gonna have to stop having natural disasters or I'm gonna have to come get you. Stay safe!!

reenie1love said...

Don't worry just because we are Samoan doesn't mean we can sit for that long any better than any other non polynesian. My cousin once had to sit through an ava ceremony as taupou for what felt like two hours and she could not feel her legs. They lifted her by her arms onto a chair and the old ladies had to massage her legs for a half hour to get the blood circulating and for her to be able walk again.

But that sure is a hectic first day for freshmen. I really do have lots of respect for you all and what you do. We are all praying for EVERYONE on the islands today after the new tsunami warnings.

Barb Carusillo said...

How come Rosie didn't have to wear all the elaborate regalia and head gear that I have seen on the taupou in other ava ceremony pictures? Must be out being dry-cleaned.

Unknown said...

I was at the gym last night and they showed the map of the south pacific and the recent earthquakes. I wondered about you when they showed the Vanuvatu earthquakes. But then it segwayed into "remembering Loma Prieta" that's Bay Area news for you. Welcome to your second year of Peace Corp!

Anonymous said...

Welcome Aboard Group 82!

Faafetai Tele Matt for the update. What a week aye!

Manuia tele le weekend. Be safe and keep up the good work.


Kelly said...

Very funny post. Well...kinda funny. I feel for the new people but your description was pretty hilarious. I hope you are being kind to them as they adjust to life in Samoa! Miss you!