Monday, November 30, 2009

School, No School, and Cale and Sara

When it comes to showing up at school in Samoa, there are times when it’s clear I’m supposed to go to school, and there are days when there’s no school, but it seems like there are a whole lotta days when I’m not completely sure either way. Our staff meetings are held entirely in Samoan, and while my Samoan isn’t great, it’s not terrible, but an hour-long staff meeting is far too long for me to be able to follow very closely. I’m forced to glean information from other staff members, and often that information in contradictory.

I was told we had no school Friday, and admittedly, I didn’t look for someone to corroborate/contradict that information. As it turns out we did have school Friday. Oops. Last night I checked with my neighbor Maengi about whether we had school today. “Oh yes,” she said. So this morning I headed to campus, only to run into Maengi on the way over. “The pule’s not here, so you only to sign your name in the sign-in book, and then you can go home.” Awesome.

It’s a little frustrating keeping the day open because I could probably better structure my day if I knew I’d have hours and hours free, but oh well. I’ll take it. I headed back to my house and read my book. Max texted to invite me to lunch, and I accepted. A bunch of us ate at Mari’s, which has the distinction of offering the only “Mexican” food in the country. The food is mediocre at best, but they have satellite TV and we watched The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer over lunch.

Max came back with me afterwards to help me fix my server. We got it back up in working condition and re-installed Windows on one of the student computers and then cloned that one on the rest of the machines, so now my entire network is brand new.

The day culminated in Sara and Cale’s final dinner in Samoa. Max and I headed over to Italiano’s Pizza, the obligatory site of just every volunteer’s last meal in Samoa. And I gotta say, Cale and Sara can draw a crowd. Poor Max, who’s leaving the 4th of January was bummed because so many people will be gone for his departure. “There’s no way I’m getting this many people at my Goodbye Dinner,” he said. True, Max, because we’ll all be overseas.

I realize Cale and Sara’s departure has been covered in their own blog, so I’ll just say that it’s sad to see them go—we’ve gotten to be pretty good friends over the past year, and the Peace Corps will be lonelier without them—but at the same time, everything about the Peace Corps is so tentative and capricious, you learn to enjoy the time you have and then accept the changing of the seasons.

We had big shoes to fill when Group 77 left, and Group 82 has their work cut out for them now. And next year when we leave, Group 83 will take over for us. Good luck.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Pizza tonight. Benj and Ben eating in the foreground. Cale and Sara in the right of center in the background.

Cale takes advice from Ryan as he bucks the trend of writing on the walls of Italiano and instead signs the post outside, ironically writing, "It's tradition. You have to."

This spider was outside my shower last night. Man, you really freak me out.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I woke up at 7:30 a.m. yesterday to cook mashed potatoes. I had a busy day scheduled, and since I haven’t done dishes in a while, I had to get up pretty early to make sure I could get the potatoes finished and check off everything else on my list. I boiled the entire sack of potatoes, and I also chopped up 4 entire cloves of garlic and sautéed them in butter to give some flavor to the potatoes. Using the spatula handle as a masher (Supy helped using a regular table fork), I had the potatoes ready to go by 9:30. Without a bowl of appropriate size, I put the entire pot in the refrigerator to be reheated and served later yesterday afternoon.

There were errands to be run yesterday. Phil and I both needed to see the travel agent, plus I had business at the bank and I needed a bowl for my mashed potatoes. I got lucky with that last item because Chan Mow is having a big sale on plastic dishware. Awesome. I was able to get this all accomplished by noon, when the country shut down like it does every Saturday.

I transferred the potatoes from the pot to my brand new plastic “basin,” and then showered, shaved, and headed to church for a holiday party.

This is probably the firs time in my life I attended a Christmas party before I celebrated Thanksgiving, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Since I helped out with White Sunday, I was invited to come to the kids’ end-of-the-year/Christmas party, which was conveniently scheduled to end a half-hour before the big Thanksgiving event up the hill at the Charges d’Affaires house was scheduled to begin. Good times all around.

Leaving the party before it was officially over, I received a text from Phil saying taxi arrangements were already underway, and I needed to get home as fast as I could. They could have picked me up on the side of the road, except I needed my mashed potatoes. I power-walked home, grabbed the saran-wrapped dish and got out to the road.

The event was a massive pot luck along with some catered dishes provided by the Embassy. Blakey received my potatoes and put them in the needs-to-be-mircowaved queue. All of my obligations finished, I headed out to socialize on the veranda.

An hour later, Spencer came around to let everyone know dinner was ready to be served. Cale and I got a good spot in line and just as we reached the turkey, I spotted my 4-clove mashed potatoes in their newly purchased plastic basin… sitting behind the counter still covered in saran wrap, cold and sad. Between the catered mashed potatoes and the ones Jim and Briony brought, my potatoes were benched.

I was disappointed. But as my grandmother’s Portuguese mantra goes, “Mais fica.” More for me.

I took them home. I’ll enjoy the garlic skin-on mashed potatoes all by myself. All four cloves.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Musical chairs at the church party.

Chris and Blakey in the chairs, Supy in the foreground.


A bunch of us were able to catch a ride with group 82's bus, which dropped us off on the way back to their training village. Proving his Samoa cred 4 weeks before he's due to go home, Max rode on Phil's lap.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Internet and Ice Cream

I took my year 13s to meet the Internet after school Thursday. During our volunteer visits in training, Blakey got to go with now-RPCV Meghan’s year 13 class to meet the Internet, and ever since I’ve wanted to do the same with my own kids. Regular blog readers will remember when I took Filifili to meet the Internet, which served as a pretty good dry run. So when my kids came over to decompress after the PSSC exam 2 weeks back, I promised them a celebratory trip to the Internet this week.

I admit I was kind of loathing the whole thing. Logistically getting a bunch of Year 13s across town and then taking up a sizeable section of the Internet café seemed like a lot of work, and this was in the midst of this past week, which was already proving hellish. But it was something I wanted to do, and the kids started asking me about it. School was canceled Friday, so Wednesday afternoon it was decided that we’d go Thursday.

From my dry run with Filifili, I knew the kids would need to be prepped, particularly in choosing an email address and a password. So when school got out Thursday, I had the kids come up to the computer lab where we had a 15-minute session on what goes into an email address and why they are used and what theirs should potentially be. And then ditto for passwords. And then I gave a crash course in composing and sending an email. They took notes, which was cute since there’d be no test on this. But their notes did prove somewhat helpful when we got to the computer lab.

We took a taxi van. I thought about asking my pule if he’d drive us in the school van, but I was trying to pull the whole thing off without getting too much bureaucracy involved. If my pule drove, I figured the trip would involve a long discourse on the evils of the Internet, and how the kids had better be good Christians when they logged on. In the taxi we just listened to music.

I should clarify that the 6 students who came with me to the Internet weren’t all students from my class. Marie, Sinaumea, and Sione came. They are mine. Filifili, Mira, and Faimalo are not in my class, but were able to get in on the action because I was paying and I could invite who I wanted to invite, and the three of them hang out at the computer lab often enough they may as well be in my class.

We hired 3 computers for an hour. The first 10 minutes were chaotic since I hadn’t really discussed URLs and basic Internet navigation. But I was able to get them all to Gmail, and from there Marie, Sinaumea, and Sione were able to get through the sign-up process.

After that they were allowed to do what they want. I showed them my blog and Facebook. Koa suggested I show them Bebo. Marie signed up for a Bebo account. And then Mira found YouTube. And then they were all on YouTube. And that was where they spent the remainder of their hour, which was fine with me.

Mira and Marie must have watched the same “New Moon” trailer 17 times. I was able to convince Filifili to check out the Silent Library Japanese Gameshow, which he enjoyed.

When the hour ended, we went to get ice cream cones at McDonald’s, but they were out, so we went around the corner to Chan Mow and got ice cream there.

Sinaumea pulled me aside while we were all eating to thank me. “That was my first time on the Internet!” He said.

From Chan Mow, they all left to walk to the Fugalei Market, and I left in the opposite direction to walk home. Overall, the event was a success.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Marie and Mira look up "Chris Brown and Rihanna" on YouTube.

Students on the Internet with McDonalds in the distance.

Ice Cream at Chan Mow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stop Making Sense

Dan, Supy, Phil, and I just returned from a night out on the town, and while I was in the kitchen checking to see if I had any water pressure, Phil suggested we cap off the evening with a parlor game. “Let’s play the one where we each write a sentence of a story, but you only know the sentence that came before.” As it turned out, we were all game. So we played, each of us writing a sentence on our own piece of paper, and passing it around the room twice. The results are a mishmash of nonsensical stories a la Mad Libs. Here they are:

Story #1
Today I was walking down the sea wall listening to my iPod when a Backstreet Boys song came on and I spotted a teine aulelei across the street. I proceeded to chase after her when her sandal came off. Thank God she wasn’t wearing anything too fancy. Her red pulatasi that she wore in honor of the ship’s arrival fluttered in the wind.

He fumbled with his foozball keychain , and then sat down awkwardly in the chair next to her grandmother. She took out her water bottle and decided to throw it at him. His head cracked open and jelly beans and Skittles poured out. And for whatever reason he decided only to eat the red ones.

And the moral of the story is… You gotta fight for your right to party.

Story #2
I sat on the bus waiting for the light to change. It did. A motorcycle came by and a woman flew off it into a ditch. But a soli making coconut cream caught her, mid-air, and saved her from a massive overload of cheap internet and unsalted potato chips.

I checked my collar in the mirror and decided my breath was passable, even though I hadn’t brushed my teeth. Knowing that my teeth were full of plums, I decided to smile at the girl. I knew the dried fruits would only seduce the teine: plums, prunes, dried apricots, and other delicacies found in your average gift basket.

But she didn’t want the gift basket. She wanted him.

And the moral of the story is… Put your toalua before any mealofa.

Story #3
Have you ever fallen asleep while you were brushing your teeth? I heard it’s happened, but only with proper practice. The cat can do it, but only in the left corner of the room.

The cat’s been angry lately, and I knew the only remedy was Wattie’s brand Kitten Formula cat food. Kitty clawed at it because it was just so gross. With enough effort she broke it off, and the man was very sad that yesterday his favorite raincoat was stolen by a kid with eleven fingers.

“Why do I even need a raincoat?” He asked. “This is Samoa, by golly.” And the clouds burst out crying.

And the moral of the story is… Sheep are destined to flock together.

Story #4
Farmer Joe overcharged the lady for her cheddar cheese, and as retaliation, she pinched the check-out girl’s nose.

“Ouch!” screamed the check-out girl, Backstreet Boys playing over the loud speaker. She knew what she had to do. She got the hose and drenched the lady. Never had a customer been so caught off guard.

The surprise was that of a pig who’d been cooked to perfection in a warm and properly prepared umu. The pig closed his eyes and listened to the music blaring from his neighbors’ over-sized speakers. Acknowledging the noise was far too loud, he picked dup a cinderblock and threw it over the fence.

Sadly, he killed Dennis the Menace.

And the moral of the story is… cat food at a discount doesn’t attract the ladies.

Whatever that means. I hope you're well. Pictures below.

At dinner tonight with Red Cross photographer Robert, who travels all over the South Pacific collecting photos.

At dinner last night with Japaense [JICA] volunteer Aikio who cooked up some delicious Japanese cuisine.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 35

Last Friday I was walking up to my front door after school and my co-duplexor Maengi looked at me from her front door and said, “Long week, huh?” I agreed. And she said, “Well at least next week will be easier. Nothing to do next week.” Maengi’s great and all, but that’s turned out to be wrong across the board. In some ways I’d prefer The Week of Grading Hell over this week because at least last week I knew what I was dealing with. This week it’s been bizarre requests from my vice pule to have long documents typed up immediately and my secretary’s computer breaking down at the worst possible time. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Today during interval a teacher asked me, “Matt, what’s happened?” I didn’t know about anything that had happened. “I don’t know,” I said, looking around and outside trying to figure out what had happened. He said again, “What’s happened with you?” And I realized he meant to say “What’s happening?” like a casual greeting. A for effort.
  • I watched “Almost Famous” on Tuesday, and it convinced me to buy Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends” album on iTunes when I was on hi-speed internet later that afternoon. A solid purchase all around.
  • I walked past my pule’s house the other day, and someone was blaring Oasis.
  • There were no comments about Apia on Google Maps. And Luisa seemed underwhelmed on the phone. Whatever, readers, I’m still excited.
  • ”Up” was great. I liked it better than “Wall-E, ” but Nemo is still the reigning champion. I want to see “Monsters, Inc.” again. People forget how good that one was.
  • But really the movie that’s left the most lasting impression on me lately is “In Bruges.” I read some critique that called it an allegorical fable. My mind’s been reveling in that one.
  • We’re celebrating Thanksgiving at Charges d’Affaires Robin’s house on Saturday, much the same as last year. I signed up to make mashed potatoes. I’m thinking about leaving the skins on, just to change it up a little.
  • My neighbor’s daughter just came to the door and gave me two cans of canned mackerel. Jealous?
  • Supy Reports: Today we left an hour and half late, and dan and I didn’t think anything of it, but as we were leaving another boat came in. And then another boat. Rarely is a third boat used, but today they were all in a quarter-mile of one another, all in action, all in use, is that odd?
  • More from Supy: We got another Peace Corps consolidation briefing today—a year after we moved into our sites. We’ve already been to consolidation points twice so it as silly to be told where they were after we’ve already used them.
  • More from Supy: Happy Thanksgiving, Lauren!
  • Back to Matt: Happy Thanksgiving Lauren!
    Part of the Amazing Race was we were supposed to order a coffee drink at Sydney Side Café, where I’ve always felt self-conscious about eating… but damn. That was an excellent cappuccino. More power to you.
  • I’m breaking out the Christmas music tomorrow. Back sometime around March I found the entire Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack hiding in some obscure sub-directory. Pretty exciting.
More Odds and Ends to be posted later this evening. Happy Thanksgiving again. Pictures below.
It rained today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lining Up the Ducks

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m not great at packing. I have a tendency to wait until the very last minute. There are horror stories from group 81 that make me think I’m not the worst—one volunteer claimed to have started packing up their apartment until the morning of staging. But I’m pretty bad. For vacations and short weekend trips, I don’t feel a sense of urgency until a couple minutes before departure time, at which point I go on a rampage, tearing through the house haphazardly throwing things into a backpack.

I’m going on 2 overseas trips in December, one to American Samoa and one to Australia, and they both require more preparation than I’m used to. Between the Peace Corps paperwork, the passport issues, the travel agency, the required visa, and all kinds of other tiny requirements, it seems more difficult to get out Samoa than it was to get in.

My trip to American Samoa is approaching rapidly, and I have no plane ticket yet. I trudged over to Jane’s Travel Agency this afternoon to see what could be done about that. Koa and I went a month ago, and they told us to come back closer to the date when fares might be cheaper. That method seems to have paid off since the woman and Jane’s said I would probably qualify for a $60WST discount. This is exciting except for the word “probably” and for the fact that I didn’t leave with a plane ticket. Apparently the airline is small enough that their system of ticket sales isn’t computerized. So Jane’s is going to call me when they’ve got my ticket ready.

Americans need a visa to visit Australia, and I have yet to start work on that one since my trip isn’t for another month. Evidently that process is very easy since I live 3 blocks from the Australian High Commission. PCV Trent says all I need to do is drop off a form and I’ll have my visa within 5 days—for free. “Free” is very exciting as I’m told it costs $20US to complete the visa online. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m going to Pago to take the LSAT, and the Peace Corps allows for a couple days time off to take tests for academic purposes. I submitted my paperwork for that, and I was approved for 2 nights that won’t count against my acquired vacation time: Friday to Sunday. But I’m hesitant to fly back Sunday since Samoa is mostly shut down on Sunday and American Samoa can’t be much different (or maybe it is?). So I’ve been mulling over how long I want to stay—whether I want to come back Sunday and keep whatever vacation time I have on the off chance I want to visit Fiji or somewhere else next year, or if I want to bum around Pago for a while and take in America.

Whatever. One day’s not going to make that big of a difference. And mostly I want to be done with all this stuff.

Is it time to pack yet?

Happy Thanksgiving. The Peace Corps is celebrating Saturday. We’ll talk more about it then. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Boys carrying around the ladder to climb up to the roof again.

They saw me with my camera out and asked I take their picture. That's my year 13, Sinaumea, making the young ladies swoon.

Too many staff meetings this week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Spring Cleaning

Back home there was a guy Art who lived across the street from us who had a supervising role managing the custodians at my high school. My friend Liam also worked at Logan for a couple summers doing janitorial work. Between Art’s stories about pulling all-nighters on the eve of the first day of school, and Liam’s stories about all the things he and the other janitors would do while school was out, I understand that for most schools, summer is a good time to air out the place and some good housekeeping is in order.

At my school here in Samoa, the academic year is bookended with a week of cleaning at the beginning and end of the year. The big difference, of course, that instead of professional cleaning crews, students do all the work. I remember thinking this was a little absurd the first time I saw it in action back in January. It was as foreign as foreign gets to see droves of students weeding and clearing brush outside, and sweeping and mopping classrooms.

Maybe I’ve just had time to get used to the idea or maybe I’ve just been in Samoa long enough to accept some of the customs I’m not used to, but the idea of students cleaning is beginning to make sense.

In fact, I think it’s a good thing on a couple of different levels. In the abstract, it works as a method for making the students take ownership of the school, and in a more concrete way, it works on a very basic how-to level.

I did my fair share of vacuuming growing up, but I feel like if I had been obligated to do manual cleaning at Logan, I’d be so much more practiced today, such a better sweeper. It’s sounds goofy, but I’m somewhat serious.

And fellow Logan alumni can attest the school had very little school spirit. But I think cleaning, landscaping, power-washing gives a person a sense of pride. It seems like the kids here have it. Working at the pool back in the day, I remember Robert the pool attendant who used to wash the pool deck every Friday and how it kinda made them feel like it was his pool.

At the same time, I think the kinda hate it. My principal called me aside this morning and told me I needed to have some students clean the computer lab today, so I walked around to see who was doing what so I could, perhaps, rescue some students from some nasty job. But there were so many toiling in the sun.

So I guess the system has its ups and downs.

And I guess the biggest down would be that all this cleaning time would be better spent in the classroom, you know, learning. There are probably better things in life than being a sweeper.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Girls sweeping the computer lab.

Boys standing on tables sweeping the walls of the Great Hall.

Boys (the same ones as above the fold) standing on the roof washing the windows. I found this strange because all of the windows are openable, and therefore could have been washed from inside the classroom. But I think they were washing other stuff up on the roof as well, so I guess it made sense.

Year 10 girls weeding.

Samoa is on Google Maps! You heard it here first!
See the larger map here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tighten Up

Before my parents came to visit, I warned them there was little in the way of healthy eating out in Apia. There are a couple Chinese restaurants that serve a seasonal vegetable plate and there’s The Curry House up the hill, which specializes in seemingly healthy Indian cuisine, but beyond that it’s difficult to go out for a healthy meal. It’s difficult to find a salad in this town—nearly impossible—and on the off chance you do, there’s a good chance it’s been doused in mayo-heavy dressing. More than anything else there’s a helluva lot of fish and chips available on the island, much to the dismay of arteries everywhere.

The last couple months have been busy, and with volunteers coming and going, I’ve been eating out pretty often. Inevitably, this has mostly meant a lot of pizza with a burger here and a fish and chips plate there. And I think I’m starting to feel it.

In the 10 or so months leading up to my Peace Corps departure, I lost a fair amount of weight. I was talking to some friends at church this past Sunday, and we got on the subject of driver’s licenses, and everyone in the group passed theirs around. I always carry mine in my wallet, but I haven’t taken it out and looked at it in a while, and I was as surprised as everyone else was. Back in early 2006 when the picture was taken, I was a big boy.

“You weren’t fat so much as overweight,” Trent told me last night. When I suggested the word ‘puffy,’ he nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Puffy.”

So for whatever reason—maybe a New Year’s resolution?—I started working off the pounds in early 2008. I started eating more sensibly an attending the gym more frequently, and the difference was pretty significant. And as fun as it was to have people at work notice that I was looking more slim, the best part was I just felt better.

So… In joining the Peace Corps, volunteers were pretty blunt about the fact that girls tend to gain weight in Samoa while boys tend to lose it. And while I’ve seen no evidence to the first part of that statement, I dropped ~15 pounds during training, but since I moved to my permanent site I gained 5 pounds back, and I’ve been pretty steady ever since.

But lately I haven’t been feeling a little blah. My weight is still at a good place, but I can feel the pizza and the French fries and the deep-fried fish taking their toll. And the alcohol. So I think I’m going to start running more often. I was running a lot in the lead-up to our big relay race at the end of August, but the regimen has dwindled since then.

But just so you know, the fish and chips at the Fish Market are excellent. I highly recommend them. Get there early so you can get yourself a niu.

I hope you’re feeling healthy. Pictures below.

Trent and I watched "Up" last night.

Uncle Bill's Takeaway outside Farmer Joe has Christmas decorations up. I haven't tried their fish and chips.

Today we had a 2-hour impromptu staff meeting in sweltering heat. Look how happy everyone was to be there.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Gap

I rented a video today. Okay, technically a friend of mine rented 3 videos which allowed her to get a fourth for the same price and she allowed me to choose it and take home. So I rented “Up,” the most recent Pixar movie. The movie was fantastic and enchanting and actually lived up to all the hype I heard when it came out 6 months ago. But I can’t help feeling a twinge of guilt for renting a movie. As Ryan tole me when he heard my assignment was teaching computers in Samoa, “This is not the Peace Corps JFK imagined.”

I realize it’s a little absurd for me to confess my guilt bout exploiting the more developed facets of Apia by signing on to the Internet from my house and blogging about it, but I maintain my life here is still pretty sparse. True, we’ve got laptops and iPods and cell phones and other modern amenitities, but we also live among geckos and strange bugs and unreliable and intermittent plumbing and trash burning and cold showers and dirty feet that cannot be cleaned no matter how hard we scrub.

Other volunteers piss and moan about how those of us living in Apia live the easy life. I can make arguments about how that’s a gross generalization and how we all face different problems, but the cold hard truth is that life in Apia is easier than life in the more rural kua of Upolu and most of rural Savai’i. The discrepancy in the lifestyles of city volunteers and country volunteers seems to be one small facet in a much bigger overarching struggle in Samoa between urbanization and westernization versus tradition and preserving the ways of the past.

I had originally planned to trek out to the training village this weekend to visit the family, but when the Rotoract Amazing Race was canceled, I changed my plans. The contrast between these two places is stark—the south side and the north side, the modest and the affluent, those who spend Saturday collecting taro at the plantation and those who can afford more leisure pastimes.

Although it’s not just an Apia-versus-everyone-else kind of deal. This problem seems to exist in the village at a micro level. Volunteers who teach computers in rural villages struggle to find a balance between helping their village secure a foothold in technology and not alienating the ways of the past. Hell, even at my school I feel like my classroom’s air conditioning is controversial. I sometimes feel a little too comfortable in my cool glass tower while other teachers toil in the heat.

I don’t bring this up to point fingers or assign blame, and I have absolutely no solutions or suggestions for alleviating the discrepancy. It’s an ongoing struggle and it’s not going to be solved any time soon. But we deal with it every day on a micro and macro basis, and it inevitably affects everyone’s Peace Corps experience in Samoa. And mostly I think we all walk that balanced line pretty well.

But I still feel a twinge of guilt when I rent a movie.

I hope you’re well. No pictures today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Amazing Race

Sometime around April 1998, I attended Nik’s photo scavenger hunt birthday party. Teams were given a list of around 18 inane scenarios (group member inside a dryer at the Laundromat, entire group wearing Burger King crowns while sitting inside a McDonalds, etc.), 10 of which had to be photographed with the team’s Polaroid camera. I had so much fun, I decided I needed to replicate the event for my own birthday party. Which I did, 3 times over. I still have all the Polaroids from those parties, and one day I’d like to get them all scanned and uploaded. In any case, I participated in Rotoract Apia’s Amazing Race Challenge event today, which was very similar to the photo scavenger hunts of old.

The race was more like the TV show in the sense that teams had to complete challenges in order to receive points, and once a challenge was completed instructions from the next challenge were given.

The day started with a obstacle course. Teams of 4 had to finish 5 hotdogs (bun and all), assemble and fly 2 kites, collect pieces of a puzzle, and then assemble said puzzle. Blakey’s team, Team Pink, came in first. My team, Where in The world is Fiona? (Team WTF), came in second. Whatever. Team Pink got a 2 minute head start, and they got stuck in traffic.

The challenges were pretty good because the coordinators were able to get shopkeepers and businesses to participate. The first challenge was to dress a model in the storefront at a local Apia retailer. When we finished the woman behind the counter handed us an envelope pointing us to the Apia Sports Complex where we had to play a bunch of youth soccer kids (who were very very good).

From there we had to go to figure out a particular book’s ISBN number and then pick up a copy at the local bookstore, push a balloon across the pool at the Aquatic Center, eat a quiet lunch at a participating restaurant, compete against another team at blanket volleyball at a gym, and then take photos at specific landmarks around town.

Interspersed through all this were bonus pictures (group with former Miss Samoa, group climbing a tree, group with a police officer, etc.) and a couple bonus challenges. At one point we trekked up the mountain to a preschool in Vailima where we sang “Hush Little Baby” to a bunch of 4-year-olds.

All in all, the event was well organized and really fun. I didn’t really know anyone on my team before today, so it was a bonding experience. Our driver, Phaedra, brought her daughter 3-year-old daughter Olivia along, who I ended up sitting next to for the day. The backseat was pretty crowded with Olivia in her car seat, me in the middle, and the other guy on our team, Situfu, squeezed in on my right. We all worked well together though, and our team finished the race first, earning us 100 bonus points.

Results have yet to be announced, but I think we have a fighting chance. And if nothing else, it was a fun way to spend a Saturday. Blakey and I talked about how it would be fun to organize it for the Peace Corps volunteers, but it would be difficult to pull off since none of us can drive.

Blakey suggested we do it on bikes. And I agreed. We could all meet at the clubhouse afterward.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Me and Livia. She wanted nothing to do with me the entire day, but she did wave goodbye to me when I left.

"At least 3 members of group climbing a tree." This looks like the cover of our World Music album.

"Group with policeman or policewoman or half a police..." I think I had a similar item back in my photo scavenger hunt days.

"Group member pumping someone else's gas." I definitely had this on one of my lists back in the day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flu Shot

I had my mid-service Peace Corps medical interview today. It feels weird to attend a doctor’s appointment that had been tentatively setup a year ago. Group 82 is in town right now, and all of them were huddled in and around the Medical Officer’s office waiting to get their second rounds of shots for Hepatitis-A or B or flu or whatever. I sat in the waiting room and awkwardly idly chatted until it was my turn. Is it just me, or is all waiting-room conversation inherently awkward? Maybe not as much as chatting at the urinals, but nearly.

In any case, Teuila started off my verbal check-up by pointing out she’s barely seen me since training. I told her that I wasn’t allowed to get sick growing up, a statement that usually gets a little laugh but which my sister and I take somewhat seriously. Just about all the stuff in my thin medical record had to do with eye infections from my stupid contacts. Teuila was happy to hear I was wearing them less.

I will save you the details of much of my medical visit, but I will say that the state of my water filter came up. Apparently another volunteer found the grime in my water filter horrible enough that the subject needed to be reported to the PCMO. I think Teuila mostly thought this was funny, although she did make a point to check it out for herself when she came for a site visit. She brought it up again today, and I assured her it was fine. And besides, I’m due to get a brand new filter in 2 or 3 weeks.

We agreed that I was healthy, but that I should exercise more.

And then the subjects of shots came up. Teuila noticed that I still needed my second round of the Hepatitis-A, and while we were at it, she wanted to give me my flu shot.

I’m not a scientologist, but my plan is to respectfully decline flu shots until I’m in my 40s. Until then, I figure my immune system should do the job it has evolved to do. So I told Teuila I as a conscientious objector.

“It’s required now,” she said.

“Well I don’t want it,” said I.

“It’s required now,” she said.

“I don’t need it. Like you said, I’m very healthy.”

“It’s required now,” she said.

So after the interview concluded, we headed over to the lab side of her office where she broke out the needles and lined up the two shots. When the Hep-A shot was finished, she said, “See? That wasn’t so bad.” But I have no problem with shots! Back in The States, I gave blood constantly. The Red Cross has been hounding my parents about my whereabouts since I left. I can handle a needle. My issue with the flu shot is wholly a matter of principle.

By the time I was finished with my diatribe, Teuila had finished administering my flu shot. I was free to go.

And with this strengthened immune system, I feel like I can go wherever I want. Try and stop me, germs.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

I had to set up my computer in the secretary's office because the only outlet in the teachers' lounge was being used. Faalau, the secretary, demanded I take her picture.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Odds and Ends Thursday 34

The hell of this week is over. All 468 Computer Studies exams have been marked, tallied, and put into the computer. It was a harrowing process, and it feels good to be done. I was under the impression that this would be an easy week, which hasn’t really come true. But Maengi and I agreed that next week will be a lot easier. Then again, that’s what I thought last week. So we’ll see. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Students’ exam answers: What kind of people use computers? People that are rich and people that have many families overseas.
  • My spreadsheet seems to be popular among staff. Some have been antsy about getting the raw marks, but most seem content to wait until to get their entire gradebook printed out. It’s a pretty sweet deal, if I do say so myself. Teachers have been asking what they can do for me. I’ve clearly gained some social capital.
  • There have been bugs though. Apong noticed that it was translating scores into grades incorrectly; it was the equivalent of calling a 78 a B rather than a C.
  • I just saw the “Night Court” episode of 30 Rock. That show is great.
  • Still no word on what the huge shipping container on my front lawn contains. Yesterday there was a backhoe parked next to it. What does this all mean?
  • I told my year 12s they could come knock on my door if they had questions. So two students approached me after class to ask if they could get my cell phone number so they could call and ask me questions. I hesitated, but I gave it to them anyway. And now one of them texts me all the time. Or he’ll call and hang up before I can pick up so his phone isn’t charged for credit. The test was last week! Stop calling me, dude.
  • Last Saturday’s post showed the left side of my face duplicated. The non-dimple side.
  • The most difficult part of grading tests is when the student answers a question with a total non sequitur. There was a question on the year 11 test, “Name 3 places to find the copy and paste tools.” And in a desperate attempt to demonstrate some sort of computer knowledge, a student might write something like, “RAM holds the data that the processor is currently working on.” This would throw my brain for a loop each time. I could get a good rhythm going, and then an answer like that would pop up, and I’d have to stop and ponder and figure out what in the hell was going on. It slowed me down.
  • The vacation request forms list a bunch of phone numbers for US Embassies and Peace Corps offices in other countries. It turns out there’s a Peace Corps office in Cambodia, and now I totally want to go.
  • The Nokia T9 Word Predictor knows “Pol Pot” and “Khmer Rouge”. “Khmer” in particular annoys Blakey because the phone throws that out as an option before “Limes”. It seems like “Limes” would get used more often than “Khmer,” but I could be wrong.
  • The mosquitoes have been out in full force lately. Around the clock, no matter where I am, those guys are everywhere. Very obnoxious.
  • Holiday music is in full swing now. All week my school secretary’s been playing Christmas music in the teacher’s lounge while we all sit around and grade. Almost everyone gets really into it when “O Holy Night” comes on. “Little Drummer Boy” also seems to be extremely popular.
  • Students’ exam answers: What does ROM stand for? Romantic Occupation Memories
  • Students’ exam answers: What does RAM stand for? Romantic Assistance Memories.
That’s all I got for now. Hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The year 13s have been playing volleyball after school before dinner.

Mira and Marie during yesterday's chocolate session.

Me during yesterday's chocolate session.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


When they knocked on the door, I was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts, which was awkward to say the least. But I jumped into a pair of cargo shorts, threw on a t-shirt and flung open the door. My year 13s, fresh off finishing the Pacific Secondary Senior Certificate (PSSC) Exam for Computer Studies, were patiently waiting for the chocolate I’d promised. I told them to stop by my house after so we could debrief the test.

They’ve been taking PSSC exams for the last week and a half, and for a bunch of them, today’s was the last. The thrill and relief in the room was palpable. It’s funny how when they came into my classroom at the beginning of the year they were all quiet and reserved and nervous, and in my living room this afternoon, they had no problem settling in and laughing loudly and making themselves at home while I went to the freezer to find the chocolate.

They had questions for me about stuff they’d seen on the exam. “What’s a BubbleJet printer?” Marie asked. I was never up on the inkjets and DeskJets and BubbleJets, but the impression I get is they all just spray ink as the paper goes through the printer. “It’s an inkjet printer,” I told her. I talked to Cale tonight, and he thinks BubbleJet is a Canon trademark. It seems like a superfluous detail for a particularly important test to call out. But whatev.

“What about Firewire?” Asked Tui. There was Firewire on there? What a useless test. Perhaps they should have also asked about mini-discs and Zip drives. Technology has left you behind, Firewire.

Mira—who is not in my class, but showed up for chocolate anyway—asked if she could use my laptop to show a video she’d made. She must have a pretty good computer at home; she occasionally asks me to convert her Office 2007 files to Office 2003 so she can edit them on the computers in the lab. In any case, she put together a slideshow using Microsoft Movie Maker, which I didn’t know existed. It’s funny because it’s probably the exact program that I should have used to make the slideshow for group 82’s fiafia. Whatever. My slideshow kicked ass.

Anyway, it turned out Mira built the slideshow, but didn’t realize she had to export it to make it a playable video. So I went to work on setting up the export process while the 4 of them played with my digital camera.

At one point I tried to explain what I was doing and how the computer was extrapolating the data and rendering the sequence and how this sort of relates to the question they’d asked me before the test about lossy compression versus lossless compression.

And believe it or not, they weren’t interested. Tui responded with an, “Oh.” Marie politely nodded her head. But mostly they wanted me to shut up and play the video.

They left soon after it ended, thanking me for the chocolate on their way out the door.

I’m still unclear on how the test went, but they seemed happy enough. It couldn’t have been that bad.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Mira and Tui.

Marie posing with the laptop when I left the room.


Marie and Sinaumea.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Yeah. I didn’t post yesterday. I gave myself the day off. I swear I’m not trying to be a martyr about this whole grading thing, but it is without a doubt melting my brain. My ambitions of getting the whole thing done over the weekend were a fool’s errand that only served to exhaust my ability to function as a human. And by the end of the night last night, my cognitive powers barely allowed for speech, let alone a 500-word treatise on the goofy aspects of Peace Corps life. And hell if I was ready to come up with something blog-worthy when I woke up this morning.

First, let me say that I fully realize I brought this on myself. If there’s anything that annoys me more than anything else, it’s someone who digs themselves a grave and then pisses and moans when they have to lie in it. I take full responsibility for teaching too many classes and not standing up and forcing my school to hire another teacher to bear some of the load. But I’d liken the current situation to “biting off more than I can chew”; I didn’t realize it would be like this.

Cale and Sara came to help last night, thank God. They corrected the multiple choice portions of the year 9 and year 11 exams. With the two of them working diligently, the process still took 3 or 4 hours. I am so so grateful for that because the idea of me spending 6 to 8 hours doing it myself is unbearable.

It’s not that I’m especially frustrated with correcting or that I’m angry or bored or depressed. My reaction seems more guttural. Like a muscle strain or the stomach’s reaction to food poisoning, the body has mechanisms built in to reject harmful substances, and I honestly feel like my brain is putting the lock down.

Thinking back to Friday night when I marked all the year 11 free response in one felled swoop, it now seems obvious that pace was unsustainable. I feel like the marathoner that sprinted the first leg of the course far too hard and doesn’t have the strength to stand by mile 20.

Even as Cale and Sara were sitting in my living room last night marking, I felt guilty because my brain seemed physically incapable of matching their diligence. I sat there staring at the same sentence for 10 minutes at a time, baffled by whether the student was incoherent or I was or both.

I’ve been working until late in the evening when sleep becomes the only solace, and even then I mostly lay around dreading the minute I have to wake up and walk over to the teachers’ lounge to sit around and mark some more.

I’ve made good progress. Years 9 and 11 are completely finished and input into the system. The 10.1s are ready to be alphabetized and entered. The 10.2s need to be tallied. The 10.3s and 10.4s only need one last section corrected before they can be tallied. I feel like I’m rounding the corner into the home stretch.

I really want to be finished, but I really can’t stand the thought of correcting 80 more tests.

I’ll probably just fall asleep.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Cale taking a new approach to marking.

Sara taking the traditional approach.

This shipping container showed up outside my house this afternoon. I have no idea what's inside.