Sunday, January 31, 2010


My dishes are clean. There’s a fresh pitcher of lemonade in the refrigerator, and another couple of liters of water brewing in the filter. The kitchen table has been cleared off, the garbage taken out, the cat’s litter box cleaned, the cat herself fed. I swept the ant hills out of the kitchen and wiped down the stove. I would claim this is all in an attempt to start off the school year with my house in good shape, but I think we all know this wave of cleaning is just an excuse to avoid thinking about school.

Now that the class schedule is finished, it seems inevitable classes will begin tomorrow. Okay, maybe Tuesday. Either way, I feel pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. On one hand, it’s about time! Students showed up every day last week, and we didn’t do a thing. I read 300 pages. It was a little ridiculous. At the same time, I loathe lesson-planning. I’m not exactly looking forward to standing in front of the room lecturing on blah blah blah.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the students. And if I do say so myself, as a teacher, I’m not half bad. I keep a good rapport, I explain things well, I try and keep it fun. But I can’t help feeling a wince of dread.

There are parts of the day I’m looking forward to. I am nervous and excited to see who shows up for my year 12 class. As I explained Friday, the kids have a choice, and I can’t help but feel like the whole thing is a little popularity contest. Or at the very least, a sort of referendum on my teaching of year 11 last year. If no one shows up, it’s probably because they all hate me.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. Given I’ll have to cut students if that class is too big, I’d prefer it wasn’t too well attended. Ideally there will be exactly 24 smiling faces 3rd period tomorrow, but that may be too much to hope for.

Just the same, my knee-jerk reaction to teaching is one of fear. I remember hearing Chris explain the CNET Sales Pitch-Off to Jen back home. He had his undies all in a bunch because he had to give a 10-20 minute sales presentation to a group of his colleagues. Jen was not impressed. She teaches 8th grade and has to get up every day and give hours-long lessons to an arguably more difficult audience.

What if they don’t like me? What if I forget something? What if they laugh at me? It’s funny because as a teacher, I feel like I’m fearing the first day of school for all the same reasons the students are. It’s like when you see a big spider in the shower, and someone says, “He’s probably more afraid of you than you are of him.”

Speaking of the shower, that could use some scrubbing. In fact, I should probably bleach the whole bathroom. And my Peace Corps Medical Kit could use a reorganization.

Anything to avoid the inevitable.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

I'm going to try not to be that guy who lives alone and posts lots of pictures of his cat on the Internet. But last night Scout crawled into my backpack after she finished eating. It was cute.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Schedule

Our after-school staff meeting yesterday was the annual Distribution of Teacher Supplies. Last year the event was a little more exciting because it had the whole surprise factor going for it. This year felt a little anticlimactic in comparison. When The Distribution finished, it felt a little short—that’s it? But I may have perceived the event that way because my nose was buried in the first distributed object: my school purchased a 2010 planner for every teacher. In addition to a series of calendars, metric/imperial conversion tables, and a list of regional and territorial local authorities in New Zealand, it also lists a thought-provoking quotation for every day of the year.

If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.
– Anonymous

Cut to this morning. I awoke at 9:37 when my phone rang. My vice pule yelled into my ear, “Hi Matt. Sorry to wake you!” I nodded groggily. “I forgot to tell you yesterday that we are meeting this morning to make the schedule of classes.” I nodded again. Last year my staff was more on the ball: we’d already created the class schedule before students every showed up. This year we’re over a week behind.

My vice pule continued, “I hear you have a computer program that will create the schedule for us. Can you bring it?”

A good deed, no matter how small, is worth more than the grandest good intention.
– William George Plunkett

After last year’s day-long meeting to put together the class schedule, I had meant to get software that would do the work for us this year. I’m pretty sure we have freeware in the Peace Corps office built to handle this sort of thing. I’ve been putting it off for a year, which sounds ridiculous, but I’m sure you have your own procrastinations you’ve been putting off longer. I know I do.

In any case, one of the things on my to-do list for today was to go to the Peace Corps office to pick up that software. I swear. So it seems that my vice pule’s almost-but-not-quite waiting til the last minute—i.e. holding the scheduling meeting today rather than Monday—canceled out my almost-but-not-quite-waiting til the last minute—i.e. going to the Peace Corps office today rather than Monday. Really, the whole thing just goes to show we need to do a better job of coordinating our procrastination.

The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.
– John F. Kennedy

Now the meeting is over, and the schedule is set. I was able to use the fancy Excel Spreadsheet I created last year to expedite the process and to double-check for schedule clashes and redundancies, which was cool. But all of the scheduling was still done by hand.

I still plan to acquire the software and teach someone at my school to use it before I leave in December. I’m worried it will be difficult to motivate anyone to use the program now that it won’t need to be used for another year (let alone to motivate myself), but we’ve got some time. I can make it happen. Maybe in November.

If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.
– Anonymous

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

My Excel file caught a bunch of human errors today. Despite its inability to actually create the schedule, it still proved its worth.

Taleni asked I take his picture standing next to his masterpiece.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Make Good Choices

While Chris was here, we reminisced about our first experience with electives in the first year of middle school. Back then every fifth grader had to choose between playing an instrument in the marching band or attending “pop singing” classes once a week. Chris chose to play trombone. I chose clarinet. “Wait. You didn’t choose pop singing?” asked Blakey. No Blakey, I did not choose pop singing. In sixth grade the frequency of the elective period increased, and the options grew wider. And so on through the rest of middle school and high school. With this conversation fresh in my mind, I sat in on the year 12s choosing their electives this morning.

At my school, there are no elective courses until year 12. I don’t know what the students experienced in primary school, but I figure they didn’t have much choice in their education there either. Here in years 9, 10, and 11, students are all in the same class for each period, and within the weekly schedule is a mix of English, Math(s), Samoan, Science, Social Science, P.E., music, and computers (only for year 11 this year). But once they reach year 12, they have 2 “option” classes.

The meeting took place immediately following this morning’s assembly. All of year 12 gathered in the back of the assembly hall as Bernie, the head of the business studies department introduced the meeting. Before too long, a group of 10 students from year 11 came and sat in the back of the group.

Here in Samoa, it’s not uncommon—in fact, in some places it’s quite common—to go directly from year 10 to year 12. At St. Joseph’s college here in Apia, I’m told they don’t offer year 11. Blakey reports her school has a very small population of year 11s relative to the size of the other years. Here at my school most students take year 11 except for a handful of top performers. And I’m pretty sure that the actual skip happened this morning when they walked from the 11.1 classroom to the assembly hall to sit in on the year 12 elective meeting.

In any case, the meeting agenda went as you might expect: a teacher or the Head of Department from each subject gave a brief presentation on what the class would study over the year. When it was my turn, I was brief. I had all of them in year 11 (or 10) last year, so they had a good handle on what to expect, and I was bored and wanted the meeting over more than the students I think.

That said, there were 3 crowd reactions to what I said:
  • I gave a list of the programs on the year 12 curriculum. I said, “We’ll be doing Microsoft Word, Mircrosoft…” I trailed off, and a couple students yelled, “Excel!” It warmed my heart.
  • When I told them I could only enroll 24 students because of the finite number of computers in the lab, there was a small but palpable collective gasp. I like to think it was a collective sigh of disappointment, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Not that I want to disappoint; I just want to be wanted.
  • Finally, I ended by pointing out the computer lab is air-conditioned. I may have been playing to the lowest common denominator. Sue me.
After the last speaker, the students split into 3 groups: Accounting, Science, and Art/History. In terms of who will actually be in my computer studies class, this meant very little. Both Accounting and Art/History students can take computers, so I won’t know who’s actually interested until Monday.

I can tell you that about half the group chose Art/History, and of the remaining students, more than half chose Accounting.

And after Interval, all the students headed back to the assembly hall for a little pop singing.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Mandatory haircuts for boys whose hair who exceeded regulation this morning.

Students raking the grass with their flip-flops yesterday.

More raking.

The entire student body raking.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 40

It’s been rainy this week, which has worked out conveniently because my fan stopped working. It’s also been quite inconvenient because there’s been no running water in my house since Sunday. And now that the rain has let up, it’s hot in my house and there’s still no running water. There were times in college (and after) when there were dirty dishes in the sink for a month, but in college there was also a host of fast food to aid in the kitchen neglect. In Samoa, I live out of my kitchen for nearly every meal, and this no tap water thing is not cool. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Pop quiz: You have a pitcher of lemonade in the refrigerator, but all your cups and glasses are in the sink waiting to be washed. What do you do?
  • On the plus side: commenter John Brown linked to me from his blog yesterday. Probably because I used the phrase "public diplomacy".
    On the minus side: He had to “sic” my spelling of “Chargé D’Affaires”. Twice.
    On the plus side: He only actually needed to “sic” me once. “d’Affaires” was spelled correctly (Chargé has been updated.).
    On the minus side: He stuck John William Waterhouse’s “Echo and Narcissus” (pictured at right) in the middle of my quotation.
    On the plus side: I’m a twentysomething. It’s my job to be narcissistic.
  • Pluses win.
  • There’s was a student in 10.1 last year, Hiromi. I like to think that if she was a “Hello Kitty” character, her name would be Hirohirohiromi.
  • Given I’m the only computer teacher at my school, I’ve talked to The Powers That Be, and we won’t be offering Computer Studies to the year 9s and 10s. It’s too much for me. You can rest easy, Sara.
  • Scout has yet to kill a lizard. I did catch her batting one around the kitchen floor a few months back, but when I pulled her away, it eventually scampered behind the bathroom sink.
  • Based on the recommendation of my favorite “Fresh Air” book critic Maureen Corrigan, I sent my mom Stiegg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” for her birthday last year. After she read it, she sent it to me. In an almost O.Henry-esque gesture, she and I unknowingly sent each other the sequel, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” for Christmas. By then, I’d given Phil “Dragon Tattoo.” While he was in New Zealand, he exchanged it for “Played with Fire.” So now we’re all in the same place, ready to move on to the final book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” except it’s not yet available in America. This is especially aggravating for Phil and me because we saw it for sale in New Zealand and Australia, respectively.
  • “Hornet’s Nest” and Slate Bourbon. Australia’s got all the cool stuff. Oh, and kangaroos.
  • The water just came on briefly (I can hear it when the toilet tank starts to refill), so I rushed to the kitchen to fill the water filter. While I was standing there, the cat crawled into the shelves beneath my sink and pulled out a set of my spare keys and started trying to eat them. And then I thought to myself, “Oh right. This is why people put doors on their cupboards.”
  • A bunch of us were sitting around Zodiac last Friday, and I said something about how I looking forwar to the school year, but I’m a little worried because my year 13s were the most fun, and now they’ll be gone. Blakey replied by saying she’d made a similar comment to a teacher at her school and the teacher told her, “Don’t worry. They don’t get personalities until year 13.” So apparently last year’s moderately enjoyable year 12s are going to bloom soon.
  • Answer to pop quiz: You pick the lone ant out of the top glass, fill it with lemonade, and then try not to think about what you’re doing as you sip from the glass.
That’s all I got for today. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

I went to the fish market at 5:45 a.m. last Sunday with 82ers Rachel and Lili. This is pre-dawn Apia.

The fish market. It's the only picture I took, it's blurry. The lady here gave me a very dirty look once she figured out where the flash had come from.

The cross-section of tuna I bought.

The cross-section of tuna carved into steaks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Last Summer, the plan was to figure out the rest of my life. Or at least life after the Peace Corps. After all the discernment and deep thinking, the brilliant plan was to table the decision until after at least one standardized test was taken (either the GRE or the LSAT), and then to most likely take the other standardized test, and then to reexamine my options. Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

I met with Chargé d’Affaires Robin at the U.S. embassy this afternoon to do a sort of informal informational interview to discuss what it's like working for the State Department. Robin is clearly passionate about the Foreign Service, and nearly as soon as I sat down she dove into the nuts and bolts. It was fascinating, and I enjoyed our meeting and the Foreign Service sounds great. But I still don’t know if I’m ready to declare my major.

I did relatively well on the LSAT—not as great as I would have liked, but we won’t get into that. In any case, Smadge’s whole idea behind me taking the LSAT was, since I’m not interested in being an attorney, I should only go to law school if I could get into a top-tier school where I could get my law degree and do something un-lawyerly with it. Like politics… or McDonald’s.

So now I’m thinking maybe I’ll just apply to some “reach” schools, and if I get into any of them, I’ll go. Or at least I’ll consider going.

Near the end of our chat today, I asked Robin what sort of graduate program I should attend. I believe my exact words were, “So what should I go back to school for?” She gave me a pity consolation laugh and then threw out some suggestions. It depends on what sort of role I’d like to play in the Foreign Service and how different degrees apply to different jobs.

Depending on what I was interested in, I should look into politics or international affairs or journalism or psychology or public diplomacy.

In short, the interview was fascinating and inspiring and pretty darn unhelpful in narrowing my plans for graduate school. At one point during the interview, speaking more along the lines of the constant re-locating inherent in a career with the Foreign Service, she joked the State Department was a great place for people uncomfortable with commitment. I’m undeclared.

In any case, I’ve been putting off studying for the GRE, but the plan is to start ramping up tomorrow. Whichever graduate program I decide on will almost surely require the test, so it’s just as well, right?

Or maybe I’ll go to law school.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Cleaning the school yesterday morning. Clearing the chain-link fence.

Cutting the grass.

Looking bad-ass while holding esi (papayas).

Taking a break to eat the esi.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

House Call

According to the Peace Corps, my job assignment in Samoa is teaching computers to high school students. According to Samoa, my job assignment is computer genius. As flattered as I am to take on this title, it can lead to a lot of disappointment on the part of Samoa. But not for a lack of trying. Every once in a while, I’ll dust off my little kit and get in someone’s car and make a house call. “Now, what seems to be the problem?”

One of the Indian missionaries, Apong, approached me this morning with a streak of urgency in his voice. “Matt, are you available this afternoon? The reverend at our church is having a difficult time with his computer.” At that point, my plans for the afternoon were lounging on my couch in my boxers, reading. So I agreed to look at the computer.

Apong and I started at my school at the same time last year, and it’s been interesting contrasting our experiences. On the whole, being a Peace Corps and being a missionary are quite similar. At the same time, there are key differences—you know, like Jesus. And the ability to drive. Apong kicked off the new school year by purchasing a used Hyundai. So after school—i.e. at 10:00 this morning—we piled into Apong’s car and headed up the hill to pick up his wife, Zorin.

When we arrived at his house, she greeted us with a breakfast snack. While she prepared the finishing touches, Apong gave me a tour of their small house, pointing out all of the furniture he built during the school break in December. As it turns out, Apong is an amazing carpenter.

After snacks, we headed down the hill to the reverend’s house. Apong knocked on the door. “Hey, we should have called. Oops,” Zorin said. Initially it seemed this house call would have to wait, but then the reverend’s wife Mata showed up at the door.

She was happy to see us, and she ushered us into the computer room. We switched on the machine. It booted up slowly.

Zorin and Mata got to talking about the problems at Zorin’s school. Though Mata is retired, she’s chair of the local Women’s Committee, and she still has quite a bit of sway in the community.

Apong and I scratched our heads as the computer froze halfway through the cold boot. I re-booted in Safe Mode and started a defrag.

The four of us sat and gossiped about teachers and pules and students and staff. Mata boiled up some tea. The defrag took over an hour, and eventually Zorin and Mata left the room. Apong picked up the guitar laying on the shelf nearby. As it turns out, Apong is an amazing guitarist. Self-taught too. He’s the kind of guy who picks and plays amazingly well, but if you ask him how to play a C chord, he stares at you blankly.

After the defrag, we ran an antivirus scan, which yielded nothing. We restarted the computer. It froze again.

Mata brought out lunch—rice, pisupo, and fish.

4 hours later, we left the house with full stomachs and no idea what was wrong with the computer. I chalked it up to a dearth of RAM (256 MB), a virus the scanner wasn’t picking up, or heat and humidity.

Mata was grateful just the same. Another successful house call. “Take two of these and call me in the morning.”

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

At the kitchen table with Mata, Reverend Keri, Zorin, and Apong.

Apong and his 10-month-old son.

Apong built a high chair. "I've never actually seen one, but this is how I assume one would work," he said.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Second First Day of School

Nervousness and self- conscious- ness abounded on the first day of school last year. I was a rookie, and there was so much new stuff. There are a ton of parents registering students, the Welcome Back assembly, the staff room politics, the falas and salus. Living on the school compound with virtually no one around, the first day of school took my social and professional life from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds.

Cut to this year. The nervousness has all but disappeared. My only sense of dread was waking up at 7:00 a.m., and if anything, I looked forward to coming back and seeing students and staff for the first time in 2 months. Given we’ve had no meetings to discuss the schedule of classes, I anticipated long stretches of down time, and I made sure to bring my book. I put on my new watch, fed the cat, and marched out the door.

The other big story of the day that preempted (or exacerbated?) the first day of school was the weather. It rained most of the day yesterday, and the storm only became stronger overnight. Aside from discouraging a lot of students from showing up on the first day of school, a lot of other complications grow out of rain.

For one, the first week of school is traditionally a clean-up week. Though some classrooms are cleaned, most of the work happens outside: planters are weeded, the lawn mowed and raked, older boys come around the teacher houses with machetes to clear foliage. None of this could happen in torrential rain.

An even bigger complication is tap water. When it rains hard enough, the reservoirs overflow and mud gets into the tap water, and the water department shuts off the tap. Thankfully, school policy dictates we send students home when there’s no running water.

As the morning wore on, the rain continued its off-and-on pounding, and it became increasingly clear that very little student activity would go on today. The teachers met briefly, the bell was rung, we had a slightly-longer-than-usual assembly. The rain continued.

We met back in the teacher’s lounge, and it was decided we’d have departmental meetings and students would do clean-up work tomorrow. I asked my vice pule who else was teaching computers this year.

“You’re the only one,” she said. Apparently the guy lined up to be my successor, Loto, transferred to another school in the Congregationalist system.

So at my departmental meeting, attendance 1, we decided to read “The Girl who Played with Fire.” It was quite a productive day.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Showing up to school in the rain.

Rain during the assembly.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


On October 7 of last year—the same day Group 82 arrived in Samoa—just after their ’Ava ceremony, I was hanging out in the Resource Room in the Peace Corps office when Rosie 79 asked if I wanted a kitten. As it turned out, Hannah 79 (who is a veterinarian) acquired a kitten that had been rejected by its mother. It was less than 2 weeks old and would need to be bottle fed every 3 hours until it could eat on its own. So took in a kitten. She was only supposed to be here for the 3 to 5 weeks of bottle-feeding, and once she was eating on her own she would be adopted by a more permanent owner.

As the first order of business, I gave her a name. I’m a big fan of literature-inspired names, and so I decided on “Scout” as in Finch. Now, I tend to prefer dogs as pets, but as Scout slowly grew into her name and her personality, it became increasingly clear that she was here to stay.

She was an immediate hit among the slow-but-steady stream of guests that come through my house. Cute, cuddly, and cautiously friendly, kittens have a fairly easy time winning over hearts and minds. Except for the whole potty-training thing. For a while there she was using the corner of the living room as an impromptu litter box, but she’s gotten better about that.

It’s nice to have companion. She usually greets me at the door when I come home, and I feel slightly less crazy talking to her than I did talking to myself. She has a feisty, slightly abusive streak and enjoys wrestling my hand, and she’s got a terrible habit of attacking the back of your leg when you walk through the house. She plays with damn near everything. Once she started playing with power cords and wires too much, I asked my family in The States to send some actual cat toys. Among other things, they sent a laser pointer, which provides hours of entertainment for both me and the cat.

I’m not used to having a dependent. I try and get out to the host village once a month, and I’ve been trying to get out to Savai’i more often. Briony 80 has fed the cat on a number of occasions, but twice the cat has made the ferry ride and bus trip out to Phil’s house. Samoans look at me like I’m crazy carrying a cardboard box with crudely cut air holes. Whatev.

The tentative plan is Scout will return to The States with me at the end of my Peace Corps service. I’m still not exactly sure on how this will work and what company I need to go through. From what I hear, it’s pretty easy getting an animal out of Samoa because there are actually fewer diseases here than in The States because of the isolation inherent in an island. There’s no rabies here.

But I haven’t started worrying about that yet. And for the cat, the big concern right now is chasing that damn red dot.

There. That’s my big secret. The cat’s out of the bag.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Scout just after she moved in.

For a brief time there, Scout had a love affair with the warmth of my laptop's power brick.

Grading papers with Cale.

Napping on Paul's lap in the Savai'i office.

Cat and mouse.

Scout when she first moved in resting in my flipflop.

Scout tonight sitting next to same flipflops.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In-N-Out with Koa

As Phil and I observed during our December trip to Fausaga, it seems like when we go back to visit, someone is assigned to keep us entertained. I’m not sure if there’s a concern we’ll fine village life dull or too slow, but for whatever reason, it will be the job of a sibling or cousin to pal around with me and suggest ways to occupy my time. It’s thoughtful, but it can get tedious after a couple days. So occasionally it’s nice to pop in and pop out before the freshness of the visit dissipates.

Upon arriving back in Samoa, Koa heard news his host-mother had a baby boy and had named the newborn “Koa”. With all this Peace Corps hoopla this week and school starting next week, there was little time for Koa to visit his namesake. But as it turns out, Koa’s host-father is a taxi driver, and he offered to take Koa down to the south side of the island to Fausaga for a short visit this afternoon. Koa invited me to tag along, so I did.

On the way over the mountain, we stopped at Myna’s Faleoloa to pick up a few loaves of baked bread. Sodas and banana chips were purchased for the ride, and we set off. It’s amazing how much shorter that drive is in a car rather than a bus. We rolled into Fausaga 45 minutes after I’d left my house, which is pretty short considering a bus ride averages between 2 and 3 hours.

Akanese ran out of the house to greet me when I walked up. When I first met her last year, she spoke with the garbled fluency of a 5-year-old, which made it difficult to communicate—particularly since I spoke with the garbled fluency of a non-speaker. But my Samoan has improved and hers has too, and it’s fun to actually talk to her now.

Popping in unexpectedly—I texted Asolima to tell her I was coming about 30 minutes before we got there—gives a pretty good snapshot of village life on a lazy Saturday afternoon. My house was the usual social hub. Phil’s host-father was at the kitchen table chatting with Asolima. Dan’s grandmother was watching “The Lion King” in the living room with my host-mother Mele. Akanese kept begging to go swimming in the village pool, and the baby’s nose was runny (as always).

Fialupe was there! Early blog-readers will recall the controversial Fialupe who Asolima introduced to me one morning with the gruff, “I hate that girl.” Back then, she was a miserable 19-year-old used to “fast lane” in American Samoa who’d been forced by family obligations to move here. A year later she’s adjusted like the rest of us, and she seems happier. I think she appreciated that I remembered her name.

Akanese showed me how she’s learned to ride a bike. Asolima fried up some chicken. I played informal volleyball with a couple kids who live nearby. And then it was time to go. I was sent home with taro and esi, and I assured my family I’d return soon. As long as they promised to keep me entertained.

I hope you’re well. I accidentally left my camera in the car while we were in the village (Don’t worry. I got it back when we left.) , so I was unable to take pictures this afternoon. Below are some old pictures from past visits.

Akanese and the gang at Catholic Bingo.

I think this picture is so dorky of both of us. And therefore awesome. I wish it was in focus.

Phil's sister Tafale and her friend Tone.

Volleyball action shot.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Without airing too much dirty laundry, let’s just say morale among Peace Corps Samoa is a little low. It’s been called a “funk” or a “slump”. Whatever it is, it’s palpable. Living in Apia, I get a fair amount of volunteers sleeping in my living room, and The Funk permeates conversations. The problem has expounded to the point management has noticed, and it became the focal point of yesterday’s Peace Corps Samoa All Volunteer Conference.

When volunteers come together in Samoa, they often treat it as a vacation or a holiday from their village, and so they tend to use the opportunity to let off steam. There’s a tendency to air frustrations about particular project aspects, and for whatever reason, people often respond with a “yeah, that’s lousy” response rather than a more constructive “what can we do to fix this” response. All of this has compounded, and the funk has been quantified on the annual site survey.

Now given the nature of the Peace Corps—high turnaround is built into staff and volunteer positions—the annual survey gives a snapshot of a particular moment, and by the time the picture has developed, things have inevitably changed quite a bit. We took the survey back around July 2009 before group 82 arrived, so there have already been changes, and a lot of volunteer concerns about job assignment and the need for their particular position may have already been remedied.

But there’s still the funk.

So yesterday became a sort of verbal Peace Corps lovefest. At one point in the day we broke into small groups to discuss ways to increase the feeling of effectiveness about our jobs, which in essence was, how can we get out of this funk?

Approximately half the attendees were members of group 82, who have barely started their jobs, and were caught a little off guard by the whole conversation. Yet they were able to offer some slightly more object observations of how they saw things coming in and how their initial experience could be improved.

Volunteers from 80 and 81 chimed in with a lot of ideas too. Some were basic—putting more effort into learning the language, investing time in Samoan history—and some were logistical—pairing each trainee with a specific “big sibling” volunteer who would be the trainee’s go-to for questions and support. But more than the actual ideas themselves, it was the tone of the conversation that felt different. It’s funny how brainstorming ways to feel happier actually makes you happier in itself.

After the small groups of volunteers finished presenting, staff members got up to present their ideas. The Peace Corps staff is mostly comprised of native Samoans, and many of them had Peace Corps or new a volunteer growing up. They rarely talk about those experiences, and it felt good to hear their support.

The day ended with Casey 80’s slideshow of pictures from the year. The last was a video of Country Director Dale reading the lyrics to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” into the camera. It was absurd and fitting at the same time.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

PCVs Matt 82 and Casey 80.

Photos from Garden Grove High School football displayed on the wall at Mari's Restaurant in Apia. Mostly I was happy to see the regalia of the man on the far right.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 39

This week has been a series of changing gears as Chris left Monday, I went to mid-service training on Tuesday, we came back to Apia on Wednesday, today is the All Volunteer Conference, and tomorrow is the Congregationalist Teacher Conference. It’s a series of changing hats, but I think I’ve been able to keep the multiple personalities in line okay. I do feel a certain amount of dread for school starting next week, if only because I’ll have to start waking up at 7:00 a.m. again. Here are some other odds and ends from the last month:
  • It’s obscenely hot in Samoa right now doing little in the way of movement, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I can feel a steady stream of sweat running down my back. It’s gross.
  • I wrote the “Bye-Bye” post poorly. My short essay didn’t capture how annoying it is to have countless children calling at you from afar with the same nonsensical sing-song syllables over and over. I couldn’t articulate the grating sound or the aggravatingly pointless interaction initiated by having children yell “Bye-bye” at you from 20 meters away. At first it’s cute, and the little darlings make your heart melt. But after the 4 millionth time, it’s simply obnoxious. These kids aren’t babies. They’re in school. I would prefer they greet me in Samoan, or with a more meaningful English phrase that is not sung.
  • Results are in for my year 12s’ SchoolC exam. They receive a grade from 1 (the best) to 9 (the not best). My top three students got 3s. This is less than ideal, but my pule seemed quite pleased with these results. Cool.
  • Let me explain the caption to this picture from last Sunday. I only noted Jordan didn’t jump from the top of the waterfall because look how high that water fall is! The jump is dangerous and ridiculous, and I didn’t want the world thinking we were a bunch of lunatics with a death wish. So I clarified Jordan jumped from halfway up to highlight the guy’s sanity.
  • The kangaroo pizza was a lot better than the crocodile. The crocodile tasted a bit like old chewy fish. I also felt like the crocodile’s co-toppings didn’t go very well together.
  • The best meal we ate in Australia was at a place called Solitary up in the Blue Mountains area. I had a chicken sandwich with pesto and balsamic onions. Luisa had a roast beef sandwich with avocado and homemade tomato relish. Neither was particularly exotic, but each was tasty and fresh.
  • I’ve been getting more and more interested in bourbon during my time in the Peace Corps, and at one bar in The Rocks, there were a whole bunch of ads for a bourbon called “Slate.” Giving into advertising, I ordered a shot of it. I had a sip, and it was delicious. Luisa tried it and said, “Wow. That’s dangerous [because it is delicious and smooth and easy to drink].” Going through duty-free, Luisa wondered if she should buy a bottle, but I talked her out of it since it would be a hassle to lug home. But it turns out they don’t sell Slate in The States. See, Australia is the world’s largest bourbon consumer (bet you didn’t know that), and D’Agio is test-marketing Slate. Thus all the ads. But if Slate is a go in Oz, maybe they’ll eventually sell it in America.
  • Posts to Matt's Samoa Blog now automatically post to Facebook. Hello, Facebook readers. You should check out the actual blog here.
  • Finally, while playing euchre at the river fales, Blakey made a joke while explaining to Chris why she was so tired lately: “I’ve been running a sleep deficit—so I’m thinking I might just cut education. (beat) (beat) That’s what you’d do in California, right?” ZING!
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The new Farmer Joe in Vaitele.

I made Chris try Pinati's on his last day in Samoa. What a mean friend I am.

Out with the 82s. Left to right: Jenny, Jenny, Kaelin, Trent, Me, and Leah.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mid-Service Conference

At the airport with Chris, I ran into the latest member of Group 82 to leave. The trainee-turned-volunteer expressed feelings of futility and guilt, neither of which I could blame him for. Looking down the long end of two years feels daunting, and there are a host of emotions that go along with that feeling. But since I left for Group 81’s Mid-Service Conference directly from the airport, the interaction only accented the contrast between the new group, which has lost a total of 5 so far, and our group, which still boasts all 13 members.

It sounds cheesy, but at this point, it really does feel like we’re a big family with all the love and dysfunction that entails. As much as the event had the feeling of a corporate retreat with sessions like “Obstacles and Strategies to Circumvent Them” and “Challenges and Rewards,” it also felt a lot like a family reunion.

Samoa isn’t such a big place that I don’t see most of these people fairly often, but it’s rare that we are all gathered in one place at one time. And the ethos of the group has evolved as we’ve become more familiar with Samoa and with each other. Shyness and awkward conversation has given way to coziness and goofy banter.

Then again, we all fall back into the archetype we’ve each carved out for ourselves. Dan is loud and walks the thin line between obnoxiousness and brilliance. Blakey blithely and assertively sets the group’s agenda. Supy tromps around with his shirt off spreading cheekiness and ka’a wherever he goes.

But as I said in yesterday’s post, there’s a lot to do. Just as it’s daunting to look down the long end of two years, it’s nearly as daunting looking down the long end of one. We all expressed frustration over how to bring about any lasting change at our schools. And as much as we’re psyched about the new year, there’s a whole lot of cynicism left over from last year.

This cynicism was all too well symbolized in the tsunami destruction surrounding the hotel. Manenoa Beach Surf is nestled between Coconuts Resort and Sinalei Resort, both of which were hit very hard by September’s tsunami. Many of us knew people from Fausaga who worked at these resorts (none of whom were harmed or killed), and we had made trips out to see Samoa’s high-end accommodations. There is a devastating quality to the sticks and building skeletons, and it was difficult to not feel a wave of discouragement wash over as I walked through a bit of the rubble.

Yet in that same vein, the infernal sounds of construction emanated through our conference meetings. Workers showed up early in the morning, already hard at work on getting the hotels back up and running. So I guess the conference was all about persevering through the shortcomings of last year and building the future on a more solid foundation.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Coconuts Resort.

Phil's host-sister Tafale works at Lupe's next to Manenoa Beach Surf.

Artistic footprints picture.

As you can tell by mine and Jordan's expressions, there were a few intense games of Sorry! last night.