Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Tail with No End

There’s a gecko that hides out behind the Obama placard on my wall. He’s relatively big, and when he runs out from under the placard, the rhythm of his feet on the hollow drywall sounds like thunder. Right now, it’s a cozy Sunday evening, and I may be anthropomorphizing a little, but it looks like he’s got a lady over. In fact, his mojo just set off a fascinating chain of events. The whole thing started when he let out a mating call, and then chased his uo teine under his Obamaroof.

Gecko thunder drives the cat wild. In this case, she comes running out from under one of the chairs, and then perches at the corner end of the wall, trying to find the source.

“Up, Scout. Up,” I say from the couch, pointing to the placard. The cat turns and looks at me. “Up! Up!” She walks around the corner, leaving my sight.

“Fine. Dummy,” I mutter. I go back to what I’m doing, amused by my housemates.

A bigger clatter in the dining room. First the sound of gecko thunder, and then empty thud of the cat slamming into the drywall under her own unchecked momentum. From my spot on the couch, it only takes a slight lean to get a direct line of sight on the cat. She’s clearly in predator mode. I squint. “Did you catch one?!” I ask.

Cats are big into leaving dead animals in prominent places as a means of showing off their work and, in their minds, making the owner proud. Sometimes to amuse myself, I tell the cat I think she’s great, but what I really want is a dead lizard on my chest when I wake up in the morning. Yes. I live alone, and I talk to my cat. Hooray for the Peace Corps lifestyle.

In any case, the geckos in my house are wily, and the poor cat seldom sees action. But from across the room I make out four reptilian claws hanging from her mouth.

Scout’s still technically a kitten, and she seems unsure what to do next. She shakes the gecko a little, but not violently. Finally, she drops him on the floor.

The lizard, thanking his lucky stars, takes off, darting toward the floorboards near the bathroom. The cat, who I admit could use more practice chasing the laser dot, takes off after him.

At this point, they run out of my sight. I grab the camera and run out to the kitchen. At first I’m confused by what I find. Scout definitely has something wriggling in her mouth, but it’s far too small to be the gecko. Whatever it is, she spits it on the floor, where it continues to writhe and squirm.

“What is that?” I ask her. She too is baffled, staring intently at it, cocking her head to the side.

And then I realize what it is: the gecko’s tail. When a gecko’s in a bind, it can detach its tail without being harmed. Sure enough, I spot Scout’s prey motionless on the floor, 6 inches from her.

He isn’t in much danger though because the oblivious cat is transfixed by the wriggling tail. I have to hand it to the gecko—the mere ditching his tail is certainly an evolutionary innovation, but it would have all been for naught without the wriggle. The wriggle mesmerizes the cat.

When the time is right, the gecko takes off across the bathroom floor. Scout loses again.

Now I’m back on the couch, and I can still hear strange noises coming from under the Obama placard.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

When I arrived on Friday afternoon, I sat down to a tea party with Akanese and Keleme.

Akanese is starting to read. She's taken over my responsibility as reader of the bible during evening prayer. It's amazing how good she is, but I guess it's amazing how much easier it is to read a phonetic language. Stupid English.

Me with Naku and her daughter.

Naku has quite the sense of humor, and posed for the camera with a rock on her head.

Asolima after the All Clear.

Cat Picture Sunday: Whenever I wash dishes, Scout comes and sits on the shelf underneath the sink, periodically poking her head out.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rude Awakening

“Mati! Mati! MATI!” Asolima charged into the room where I was sleeping, throwing on clothes over the ones she slept in. A commotion of dog barking and men’s voices shouting outside. I checked my phone. 2:11 a.m. It was safe to assume my family had just received the same news the Peace Corps texted me about a half-hour before: There had been a large earthquake in Chile, and there was a chance a tsunami would hit Samoa. Again.

I sat up lazily and put on my t-shirt, “This about the tsunami?” I asked Asolima.

Since I already knew, and since I was pretty composed, Asolima was intrigued. “What do you know?”

“It’s not supposed to hit until tomorrow morning. Probably not for another six hours.”

After last September’s earthquake and tsunami, the entire country seems to be on edge about facing another one. On one hand, this is a good thing—there should be urgency in a situation like this. On the other hand, peoples’ lack of understanding about how tsunamis work can lead to unchecked fear and panic, and that’s no good.

My words sunk in, and Asolima seemed reassured by my calm. She took a deep breath.

By then, the whole family was awake. Mele grabbed mattresses and mosquito nets. Fialupe had turned on the radio while she packed dishes and food. The baby walked around with her diaper half off, offering every one Cheetos.

The Peace Corps Security Officer called me to make sure I’d received his text messages and was acting on them accordingly.

There was a lot more hustle and bustle, and I tried to help where I could, and stay out of the way when I couldn’t. Eventually, satisfied with everything packed in the car, my family sat in a circle in the living room. The conversation: where to go. The family’s plantation is a couple miles back from shore and well above sea level. It’s the spot the Peace Corps recommended while we were living in the village, and even the spot where the village was supposed to evacuate during the national tsunami drilll—a drill in which no one from the village participated.

“The maumaga is fine,” I told them.

“But what if the wave is REALLY big?” Asolima asked.

I shook my head. ““The maumaga is fine.”

Finally, at 3:00 a.m. we were on the move. With all the mattresses and blankets and pots and pans and mats and bags—and more importantly, with others in the village who might need a ride—it was decided Fialupe and I would walk to the maumaga and rendezvous with the van there.

I admit I enjoy emergency situations like this one—not in a creepy, morbid kind of way, but more in a Jack Johnson “Breakdown” sort of way. I’ve certainly never walked through the village at 3 a.m. and there was a full moon and there were lots of people in the streets getting ready to mobilize.

When we passed Phil’s house, his family was pouring out. Phil’s sister Fipe and another guy, Tasesa, joined Fialupe and me on the walk.

Fipe is a goofball. She cracked jokes as we dodged cow pies and cowered when she thought a lady coming down the mountain was a ghost.

When we finally arrived at my family’s maumaga, there were a troupe of elderly people waiting for us in the faleo’o. We sat around for a while, shooting the breeze and listening to the radio, which blared Celine Deon.

By then cooler heads had prevailed, and while there was a slight air of nervous tension, conversation was light and people laughed.

Eventually someone told me to go to sleep, and I was more than willing to comply.

When I woke up around 8:30, there was tea boiling and panekeke on the grill.

After breakfast I went on a hike to get water from the river with a couple other people in our party, and on our walk back I got a text message from the Peace Corps giving the All Clear.

Up until now, I’ve heard nothing about any tsunami hitting, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a couple small waves like the ones that hit Hawai’i.

I rode in the van back down the mountain, and a bus drove through the village just as Asolima and I turned on to the main road. And now I’m back in Apia, and everything seems mostly back to normal.

Maengi told me she was still awake watching a movie when the alarm bells rang. She’d been counting on sleeping well into the morning. “That plan was wrecked,” she told me. “But maybe we’ll cancel school on Monday to make up for lost sleep on Friday,” she laughed. Maybe.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The baby in the loaded van.

Me and Phil's host sister Fipe.

Akanese and Keleme in the faleo'o.

Breakfast in the faleo'o.

Getting water. This wasn't a particularly important part of the story, but I just like the picture so much.

The ride back to the village. Joad style.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Groundhog Day

Repetition can be fun. Junior year of high school I was the Rat King in a stage production of The Nutcracker—a play, not a ballet—two days of which we performed for elementary school students from local districts. On the field trip days, we performed the entire play 3 times. As the Rat King, I’d terrorize the toys, body slam the Nutcracker, get stabbed by him, die a laughing death ala Fezig from “The Princess Bride,” and bow during the curtain call. And then we’d do it again. And again.

Up until then, I’d never reveled in the boring drudgery of repetitive work inherent in cubicle life. Back then it was fun to be a cog in the machine; it seemed like a feat to hit an imaginary reset button and say the same lines and do the same actions and tell the same story three times in one day. And I guess I still feel a little impressed with my robotic repetition now as I give the same lesson to 4 different Year 11 classes.

Teaching is a strange beast because the idea is to give all the classes the same lesson, and yet to tailor the lesson to the needs and learning styles of each particular class. The goal is to differently teach the same thing. I realize teachers all over the world face this same situation, but I still feel like going through the same motions here is unique.

For starters, students stay in their own classroom. I occasionally bring them up to the computer lab, but when I’m teaching in the classroom, I go to their classroom. I’m a teaching nomad, a traveling salesman with no home office, a birthday party clown improvising a place to perform my bag of tricks.

Also, and I take full responsibility for this one, I’m too lazy to write out the lesson on paper before I take it to the masses. Since each lesson follows a pretty basic formula, it’s not difficult to mentally commit the outline and then extrapolate as necessary in front of the class. I like to think teaching from memory brings a certain flavor of spontaneity and is more likely to yield a tailored lesson. On the other hand, carefully worded definitions may not be taught uniformly to each class.

But that spontaneity is so important. By the fourth time through the Microsoft Word Standard Toolbar, my eyes start to roll back in my head. There’s no reason anyone needs to be that familiar with new, open, save, print, cut, copy, paste, and spellcheck.

From a scientific standpoint, it’s interesting to give the same lesson over and over and over because watching how students respond to the same material speaks to the collective personality of the class. 11.1 is smug and occasionally overconfident. 11.2 is moody and bi-polar. 11.3 is earnest and seems to try hardest. 11.4 is contemplating whether to continue attending school.

In any case, I jumped through my last hoop for this week with 11.4 earlier today. We’ll start the new cycle with 11.1 on Monday.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Identical chalkboards in 11.1, 11.2, and 11.4.

These girls were sitting in the back of my 11.1 class inexplicably cutting up magazines. I told them to stop.

I didn't realize they paint the grass at our field by hand—with actual paint.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 44

They say the second year of the Peace Corps goes by in a flash, and I guess it’s because it’s made of weeks like this past one. I wouldn’t say I’m at the top of my Peace Corps game, but I guess I’ve adapted to the point things can work like clockwork without too much effort on my part. Classes seem to take care of themselves, I’m on track to come in on budget for February, and I went running twice this week. It wasn’t a particularly great week, but it flew by just the same. Here are some other odds and ends:
  • Only volunteers who didn’t live in Apia are foolish enough to think Apia’s water is reliable, or that life here is the bee’s knees. We may have shiny grocery stores and shorter bus rides, but life in town has its own set of problems. In fact, Briony and Blakey, volunteers with one of the worst water situations in the country, live in Apia. So back off, Anonymous.
  • While in Sydney I bought a small box of Lipton Green Tea with Jasmine. I finally opened it this week, and the taste reminds me of the smell of taking a bath at my grandma’s house when I was little. Isn’t it strange how smells and tastes can be so specific?
  • My sister sent me the entire Ally McBeal series on DVD, and I just finished the first season. I still think Calista Flockhart is a doll—albeit a skinny one—but until now I never realized how her roommate on the show Renee, played by Lisa Nicole Carson, is way hot.
  • My Year 10s are starting to get a good handle on “Early in the Morning.” We’re going to have the singing test next week, and then it will be time for a new song. Any suggestions? I was thinking Herman’s Hermits’ “Henry VIII”. I’d have to teach them to pronounce it “En-er-y,” which might be confusing.
  • We sang Maná’s “Como Te Deseo” in Señor Martín’s class, and he’d make us sing the “Oh yeah!” that the singer occasionally yells in the background. I was trying to think of English songs where I could have my kids yell things. Maybe the “Good times! Good times! Good times!” in “Sweet Caroline”? Or the “Keep it up! Keep it up!” in Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecelia”? Actually, the verse in “Cecelia” probably isn’t appropriate.
  • One thing I’m trying to improve on from last year is turning in my lesson book. I kind of ignored the practice last year. This past Monday, my pule listed the names of all the teachers who didn’t turn in their lesson book for approval, but I had. I’m awesome.
  • The new fun thing for my staff is to call me out and make me say Grace over the tea at Interval. Prayer duty rotates around the staff room, and it’s clearly a duty people hold in high regard, so I’m honored when they ask me to do it. But I’ve been called out a little too frequently the last couple weeks, and I can usually count on a couple giggles in the room when I’m done. I’m starting to feel like a form of cheap entertainment.
  • I used the paper cutter in the Peace Corps office to cut my flashcards into smaller flashcards so I can study lots and lots of vocabulary words for the GRE. But I haven’t worked up the effort to actually write anything on the flashcards. I haven’t started to study yet.
  • Phil accidentally brought a bottle of soy sauce to my house last time he visited. But we cooked up some taro and tried it as a topping. As it turns out, taro is delicious with a little soy sauce.
  • Between rugby practice and occasional jogging, I’m a little worried about wearing too many clothes and having the laundry pile up, or wearing the same clothes and smelling awful. The turnaround necessary is a little too quick to rely on laundry drying in the sun.
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures and slides from my Year 13s’ Presenting the World project.

Tafale presenting Japan.

The title slide from Maria's presentation, "Easy as Argentina".

Lise presents Jamaican culture.

The culture slide from Amanda's presentation on India.

Luanna presents Israel.

A slide from Chrispune's presentation about Thailand.

Ruta presenting Egypt's location and climate.

The concluding slide in Pene's presentation about South Africa. Hilarious.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


My dad coached a bunch of my soccer teams growing up, and at the end of most practices he would give the team a little pep talk. And after he’d said what he wanted, he’d look at the assistant coach, my friend’s dad Al, and ask if he had anything to say. Now, Al was a great guy, very nice and smart as a whip, and I remember his pep talks well. He would grumble, “We need to work on our fundamentals.” And he’d leave it at that.

Al was in my mind after today’s rugby practice when after a long lively speech in Samoan, Taleni gave me the floor. “Anything to say, Matt?”

I am excited and baffled about being the assistant coach for one of my school’s rugby teams. Last year I was a bit of an afterthought, so I feel a little honored to be asked to coach this year. But, I am baffled by rugby. It’s the most popular sport in Samoa, and it’s on TV a fair amount. I watch on occasion, but I’m still unclear on the rules. It’s similar to American football, but more fast-paced. Beyond that, I’m bewildered. And bewildered doesn’t instill confidence in players.

Fortunately, I’ve been assigned to the “sixth grade” team. Blakey explained this to me this afternoon. There are three levels: Under 19, Under 17, and Under 15. The top team in those levels respectively are first grade, third grade, and fifth grade. Each level has a second level—a “B” team or “Minor” league, if you will—which are respectively second grade, fourth grade, and sixth grade. So I’m the assistant coach for the Under 15 B team. Sounds about right.

Today was our first practice, and I purposely showed up late to avoid awkwardly standing around waiting to get started. I showed up in the middle of warm-ups. The boys circled around Taleni as he led the exercise count. “Tasi! Lua! Tolu!” he’d call. The boys responded in unison, “Tasi!”

One! Two! Three! One!
One! Two! Three! Two!

We stretched. And we stretched. And we stretched. We went for a warm-up jog. And then we stretched and we stretched and we stretched some more. And then we went for another jog.

All of this is going on in the sweltering heat of early Samoan afternoon, and performing simple stretches is quite strenuous. At one point we got down on the ground to do push-ups, and the heat emanating from the grass was nearly unbearable. We turned over and did some leg-lifters, and I was immediately drenched in sweat to the point my fingers were pruning. No joke.

And then practice was over. I guess today was a cardio/isometrics work-out. Heck, one of the other teams took our ball halfway through our stretching. I guess that should have been a sign.

When we were done, Taleni called the team in for a pep talk, gave his speech, and then made a big deal about thanking me for coming and stretching with them. And then he tossed it to me, “Anything you’d like to say?” He asked.

I heard Al grumbling in my head. And then I said, “Yeah. It’s nice to be here.” The boys nodded.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Other teams stretching.

Saw this mudflap today. "Don't Fear REAPET." Oops.

Is this why the tea tab is attached to the enclosing packet? On Sunday night and Monday night I poured the water over the teabag only to have the bag pull the tab in. But last night I had this genius idea. But has this always been the point, and it just hadn't occurred to me?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Our Gang

We had a young boy who lived in our dormitory my senior year of college. A professor lived in the building, and her 3-year-old son was a regular at mess hall meals and various building functions and events. One day he’d be palling around with Lee from the 4th floor, another he’d be going on RA rounds with Anita. It seemed like a unique place to grow up. The student turnaround would be great and jarring; so many people to hang around with, but they’d be constantly coming and going.

Similar thoughts ran through my head as Paul and I walked on to my school compound. “This would be a cool place to grow up, I think,” I told Paul. He thought about it and nodded. It’s certainly not the same as USC—only a handful of students live on campus, and meals are not communal. But it still seems like a great atmosphere for a kid.

Yes, last month I got pissy about the Bye-Bye Kids, and I maintain that sing-songy “Bye-bye” is one of the most irritating sounds in the English language. That said, it’s been fun having another family on campus. My pule’s youngest daughters, twins Faith and Grace, are almost four years old, and with a slew of new playmates, afternoons are much louder on campus with the kids playing out on the expansive lawn.

Faith and Grace are darling, and though I’ve never interacted with them except in passing, we’ve slowly built up a rapport. Initially, I’d walk by and smile and give them a “Mālō,” which at first was met with shyness and nervous stares. After a while they started to smile back, and eventually they started to wave. The wave is hilarious because it’s so short and slightly awkward. I’ll walk by and say hello, and they’ll stare for a few seconds, completely still, and then the wave will come in a burst. It’s a very simple raised open hand, very quick, and then right back down.

Only when the “Bye-bye” kids showed up did they start speaking. I worried briefly when the new boys exposed Faith and Hope to the ear-wrenching “Bye-bye, ” but then there was a point-blank interaction in which I gave my “” firmly, and since then they’ve mostly dropped the “Bye-bye.” So now in addition to the quick-fire wave, Faith and/or Grace will also mutter an extremely quick and slightly awkward “.” It’s darling.

And the new boys are a couple of goof balls, which is entertaining. When I passed their house on the walk to school this morning, they were peering out the screen door, getting their hair combed from behind. They were giggly, and one shouted “Mālō!” I gave them a “Manuia le aso!”, which made them giggle more. And then, “Yea, manuia!” I admit I like playing the role of the exotic-but-friendly palagi.

In any case, I like having the little kids on campus.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Topless biking by the 11.2 classroom.

Boys chasing each other, waving at the camera.

Dusk over the rugby game.

Monday, February 22, 2010

High and Dry

I just spent 45 minutes in the shower. The water was cold, and for most the time, it wasn’t on. For the first 5 minutes, I had a solid stream, and the next 40 minutes was long periods of waiting and then obnoxiously short spurts of water. There are many aggravating aspects of my life here in Samoa, but none of them comes close to making me as angry as the stupid water does. I mean, really. Come on.

I’ve heard my next-door neighbor Maengi complain about it too, and her theory is the same as mine. In fact, she stated things so matter-of-factly I assume they’re true. The water pipe that runs from house to house on our school’s compound slants for some reason. According to Maengi, who’s lived her for 8 years, it wasn’t always like this but sometime in the not-too-distant past, the people at the other end moved the pipe to the ground which caused a slant. I’ve never seen the actual pipe in question, but stay with me. The pipe is lower to the ground on their side and the water main connects mid-slant. I’m at the very end of the high side, which means if anyone else in the whole compound turns on their water, mine turns off. Click here or on the picture up top to see the diagram up close.

I’ve talked about water problems before, and it’s absolutely worth point out that Blakey and Briony and Jenny 80 are all almost completely without water at all times. That is a lousy situation, and I am grateful for my running water. But at least they have reason to adapt.

The thing that’s so irritating about my situation is when I stepped into the shower, there was a steady stream. If there was no water, I’d make arrangements to shower somewhere else. But instead I end up standing in my stupid shower for 40 minutes like a fool.

I’m not sure the aggravation of an extremely intermittent shower is something you can relate to unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. Try it next time you’re in the shower. Once you’ve got the shampoo lathered in your hair—maybe even mid-rinse—turn off the water. And then wait.

There’s nothing to do during shower waiting. You can’t bring a book or a crossword. You can’t play games on your cell phone. Sure, you can think about what to make for dinner or go over mental notes on what you’re going to teach tomorrow. But you know, all of those things are great to think about WHILE THE WATER IS ON.

I think that’s why it’s so aggravating: if I’m going to have leisure thinking time, I’d prefer not to be naked and sopping and lathered. I'd rather not wipe the soap out of my eyes with soapy hands.  I'd rather not contemplate the shower curtain hooks for lack of anything better to do.  I’d rather not have the mental debate about whether or not to lean on the mildew-laden walls of my shower.

The biggest mental debate of all is when to give up. On most nights, all the water on the compound is shut off. What are the chances the water in the shower will come back on before then? What if all the water on the compound is shut off? Is it time to give up after 10 minutes? 20? What about the fact that I'm covered in soap?  What is there to do about that?

I reached my capacity for this nonsense at 40 minutes. I had conditioner in my hair, and for some absurd reason, my bathroom sink worked. So I rinsed my hair as best I could in my tiny tiny sink.

And I swear this is true: As soon as I turned off the bathroom sink, the water in the shower came back on. I’d left the nozzle open, and the splatter of the water echoed off the shower walls.


I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Kids playing in Apia Harbour this evening.

I sat directly behind the speaker at this morning's assembly.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stir Crazy

There’s a part in “L.A. Story” where Steve Martin’s character is sitting in his house—I think he has a cat too—not really mopey, but certainly doing nothing. Finally, he gets up and walks to the window and in Magic Marker writes, “Bored beyond belief.” I’m certainly not at that point yet, but aside from last night’s debacle to get back into my house, I’ve spent far too much time in my house this weekend, and the cabin fever is starting to sink in.

In fact, for the entire month of February I’ve spent a lot more time here than usual. There were a bunch of factors that have made the month particularly expensive—a new electrical fan, a plane ticket for May—and fiscal responsibility for the Internet has moved from American Matt to Samoan Matt. So I’ve tried my best to lay low for the past month or so, circling the wagons around my besieged wallet.

I should clarify that I’m not in financial trouble. I have money in the bank, and I’m not rationing food or anything like that. Volunteers receive a modest stipend from the Peace Corps each month, which provides ample funds for eating and drinking and leisure fun. Like everyone else I know, I didn’t join the Peace Corps for the money, but at the same time I’m doing just fine financially. I’m only hunkered down because I’m trying to adhere to my own personal budget.

On one hand it’s been relaxing to hang around the house. There’s been work to do with the school year getting started. Also, after a raucous December and January, the solitary Peace Corps lifestyle is a welcome change.

But as I’ve said so many times before, the Peace Corps lifestyle is one of extremes. January was very social, February has been relatively isolated. Yes, we got together for the Super Bowl and a bunch of people have been in town for meetings at the Ministry of Education, but those are quick events, and the space between is quiet.

Not that there’s a lack of stuff to do at my house. The PCVs who went back to America returned with new movies and TV shows. I’m still trying to fight my way through “The Odyssey.” I need to start making flashcards for the GRE. The cat is good for fleeting moments of amusement. And, of course, there’s days and days of housework and schoolwork to keep me busy.

But more than anything, I want to get out of my house for a while. I had tentative plans to head out to the village this past Friday, but they fell through. I’d also intended to go last weekend, but that’s when the pseudo-hurricane struck.

Maybe I’ll go next weekend. Until then, I’ll be sitting here with the cat, listening to old Fresh Air interviews, playing Spider Solitaire.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.


Friday night at Zodiac. See that TV in the distance? That is the only Winter Olympics coverage most of us have seen.

Cat Picture Sunday! Scout harassing Paul's guitar playing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

O Brother Where Art Thou?

The mental leap is similar to the one at the beginning of the video game. I step outside my house to go for a run, but turn around to go back inside to leave my glasses behind, when I realize my key doesn’t work in the door. I’ve taken the key to my bathroom, not the key to my front door. I'm locked out.

And the game begins. I am outside my house 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Nothing in my pockets. How do I get back in?

Character strengths: Comfortable clothing, running shoes.
Character weaknesses: No wallet. No cell phone. No keys.

Level 1-1
It’s a hop, skip, and a jump from my house to the hotel that’s become the frequent Peace Corps hang-out. I’m pretty sure PCV Briony, who often watches the cat when I leave to go to the village, still has the key to my house. All I need to do is find a Peace Corps Volunteer and use his/her phone to locate Briony. Dodging Apia’s many pot holes and various other gaps in pavement, I climb the steps to the hotel. They’re lowering the flag down the flagpole just as I go inside.

Level 1-2
It’s shady and coolly humid on the hotel’s back patio, and the brick masonry is impressive. Chris 81 and Hanna 79 are sitting in wicker chairs. I’m saved! “Have you seen Briony?” I ask. “I’m sorry,” they say. “Your Briony is in another castle.” But then Chris hands me her phone and I call Briony.

The phone has trouble connecting when I call Briony's phone AND when I call Blakey's phone (Blakey and Briony live together.). Since they get terrible service at their house, there's a strong possibility they're home. But I decide to warp to the Peace Corps office. Just in case.

Level 4-1
Back outside the hotel, the sun is getting low in the sky and the reflection off the clouds makes it look like they’re on fire. The green hills of Upolu provide a scenic background as I hurry across the bridge down to the Peace Corps Office. Walking up the steps to the office, a worker is lowering the flag down the flagpole just as I go inside.

Level 4-2
My time in the office is quick. It’s dark and a little musty, as always, as I walk down the narrow corridor to the resource room in the back. Joey 81 is there. “You seen Briony?” I ask. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Your Briony is in another castle.” I head off, but I stop because I hear the incessant sound of the toilet running.

It does this a lot, and it annoys me. I pause my search for Briony to fix the toilet. It only takes a couple seconds to get the seal to block the water from getting out of the reservoir. I'm an excellent plumber.

Level 8-1
It’s dark outside as I start to climb the hill. I have to back track past my school where one of my Year 11 students, Taleni, is starting his own walk up the hill after rugby practice. His orange cleats hang from his backpack by their laces. “Where are you going?” He asks. “Up,” I say.

Level 8-2
I leave Taleni at his house and continue the climb on my own. Walking past Giordano’s Pizza, I can smell the savory aroma of marinating mushrooms. I could really go for a mushroom.

Level 8-3
Outside the walls of Briony and Blakey’s compound there are still kids on the street, walking to the faleoloa, walking home. They sling their ska kupes at me like hammers, and though I sometimes feel the urge to bop them on head, I resist and simply outmaneuver them to get away. Finally as I reach the gates of the compound, the boys are lowering the flag down the flagpole.

Level 8-4
Blakey and Briony’s campus is sprawling and the path to their house is tricky. There’s one road that leads up and one that leads down, and I can never remember which way to go. Eventually I make it through to residential area. I recognize the path to their house, and right in the middle of that path is a huge dog. His bark is loud, and I’m slightly frightened. I’m not sure how I do it, but I make it past the dog. Briony is waiting just on the other side with the key to my house.

I walk home.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Phil woke up early and took pictures of Paul and me while we were still sleeping. In this one, Paul (floor) and I (couch) are doing tandem fetal positions.

And in this one we're doing the tandem sprawl.

Supy's Irish friend Claire with Paul.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun with Freeware

When I was in elementary school, we would trek out to the computer lab once or twice a week to play a host of semi-educational games like “Oregon Trail” and “Number Munchers.” I feel a little like I’m betraying my generation when I say this, but I hated Oregon Trail. The game was always too long to finish in one class period, and as much as it simulated being a Conestoga wagon, I always felt like the “Jennifer has malaria” and “Jennifer has died” updates were morbid and arbitrary.

Back then, all those games were published by one company, the Minnesota Educational Computer Company (MECC). Today in my computer lab, each workstation has a similar collection of programs, but just about all of mine are freeware. For those unfamiliar with the term, Freeware is just what it sounds like: free software. For whatever reason, the people or companies that publish the program make it free to be traded and downloaded over the Internet. Since most of our schools don’t have the funds to pay for licensing, and since software piracy is wrong, the Peace Corps has accumulated a pretty big collection of freeware.

There are a bunch of Linux programs (that I run in Windows) like TuxPaint, TuxMath, and TuxTyping (the TuxSuite, if you will). There’s a Tangrams program. There’s a mouse-training program. There’s the whole OpenOffice Suite (open source programs that mimic Microsoft Office).

And just like at my elementary school growing up, I have a hard time finding the right way to integrate these programs into the curriculum. I teach computers, not English or Math, so there’s no natural place in the annual plan to stop and play math games. So last year they almost never came up. The programs were just names on the Start Menu that made it harder for the kids to find Microsoft Office.

But this year, I figure I’ll try to use them a little more often. I have four year 11 classes, and this year it seems more difficult than last to keep them all on the same page. I’ve seen my 11.1 and 11.4 classes somewhere around 8 times so far. I’ve seen 11.2 once.

Third period this morning I was faced with seeing 11.4. Again. And then a light bulb went off in my head: Freeware. I had them play a program called “Sebran,” which Max swore by. The program is pretty basic, but the coolest thing about it is someone took the time to translate the whole thing into Samoan.

Sebran is actually a collection of simple games—Hang Man, Memory, Typing, Spelling, Mental Math—and Max was right: the kids love it. Honestly, the program is probably intended for fourth graders, but no one seems phased by that.

I’d argue there may have been actual learning going on. As much as the girls spent half the period giggling at Hang Man, they were typing and using the mice and making connections. And I imagine it would be nice to have a simple program in Samoan after dealing with the convoluted English words in Microsoft Office for a year.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Nofoagafou and Junior playing TuxType.

Emma and Maria playing Hang Man.

Today was the Rugby Sevens tournament at Apia Park (I had to stay back at school at hold down the fort.). The boys had a big huddle on the field this morning.