Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Which Boat?

For whatever reason, heaps of people in Apia and its surrounding areas have family in Savai’i. Or were born there or grew up there or still stay there on weekends. Thus Friday boats are more crowded than those during the week, and like most airports in The States around Thanksgiving, the boats get insanely crowded during the holidays in December and in the lead up to Aso Maliu, Good Friday. In fact, most schools in the country have Thursday off so students can get home.

I have decided to spend the weekend in Savai’i this year, and sometime late last week I started weighing my options to decide when to leave and which boat to take. Monday’s going to be hellish, there’s no way around that, but being smart about things should yield a comfortable trip going out, at least.

In the past there would have been two options: leaving Wednesday afternoon or leaving Thursday morning. But right now, there is a third option in the mix. The Samoa Port Authority recently received a third ferry from the Japanese. This ferry, in a stroke of genius, leaves from Apia Harbour, not from the wharf an hour’s drive outside of Apia.

Oh, and one more complication: Scout’s coming. I’m bringing the cat along with me, which means lugging around a bulky box and having other passengers stare at me.

Here is how things break out:

Wednesday Afternoon Boat
Pros: Time-wise, farthest away from Friday rush. Also allows for most time away from home.
Cons: The 4 o’clock boat is always a bit of a zoo. Also, since today is the last day of school for most students, they’re all out, and it’s conceivable many headed straight to the boat. Oh yeah, and I’d have to pay the $3.20 bus fare to get to the wharf.
Bottom line: Too much of a rush. Also, I’m writing this post on Wednesday afternoon. A little late.

Thursday Boat: Wharf
Pros: Likely to be least crowded option, particularly if I was to leave in the morning. Every boat tomorrow will still be pretty crowded though.
Cons: I’d have to leave at 6:00 a.m. to make the big boat at 8:00. Also, bus fare.
Bottom line: A good fallback.

Thursday Boat: Apia
Pros: No bus fare. I can walk to the dock from my house. Also, did I mention the new ferry has a much larger seating capacity than the other 2 ferries? Also, I haven’t taken this brand new ferry yet, and it sound pretty exciting.
Cons: This one also leaves at 8:00 a.m., which means I’ll have to get there pretty early. Since it’s the last boat from Apia before the weekend (Port Authority’s closed for Good Friday and Easter), it will also be crowded.
Bottom Line: It makes the most sense, so long as I can get a seat.

So it looks like I’m going from Apia tomorrow morning. The final complication: though students aren’t coming tomorrow, it’s considered a staff work day. My pule said it’s cool if I miss since I’m heading to Savai’i, but my staff has opted to meet up at the seawall at 6:00 a.m. to do a 2-mile walk. Anyone who doesn’t show up by 6 will have to buy lunch for everyone else on Tuesday. Since it’s early enough that I can make it, I think I’m obligated to show up.

So here’s the plan. They’re meeting up at Seafood Gourmet, which is pretty close to the dock. I’ll show up, show my face, and they’ll take off one way, and I’ll go the other way.

Also, I’ll be carrying my cat. In a box.

Wish you were here! Pictures will be uploaded later.

The parade for the Manu Samoa, fresh off their victory at the Hong Kong 7s Tournament, was this afternoon.


More parade.

Kids from the junior league.

They never shut down the other side of the street. We had oncoming traffic the whole time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It’s no secret I haven’t had the greatest luck with cameras in this country. In fact, the bad luck starts before I arrived. My sister bought me a Sony Cybershot before I left San Francisco, but only the battery pack and the charger made it to Los Angeles; I had to stop at a Target to get one before I left, and the original had to be mailed to Samoa. This actually worked out well because halfway through training I had my Sony Cybershot in the pocket of my ’ie when I sat on it or laid on it or something else happened and the viewfinder cracked. Since then I’ve had a camera stolen, another left in a taxi, another float away in an ocean current, another get kicked off the dock at Lusia’s (I got the first two back.).

All of this ran through my head this morning when one of my students, my top year 13 Amanda, sat down at my desk and said in an overly respectful tone, “Mister, I’ve got something to ask you.” I waited. “My mom graduates tomorrow, and she wanted to know if we could borrow your camera to take pictures.”

Amanda’s mom used to be on the faculty at my school, but she left to get an advanced degree at just about the same time I arrived. She came in as a long-term sub for a while last year, and I’ve run into her at meetings and functions since. Whenever I see her, we have the same conversation where she asks how Amanda’s doing in class, and I give the same glowing progress report. But I don’t mind it. Amanda’s great.

I wouldn’t say that it was difficult for me to entrust Amanda with the camera in spite of this; I would say the only reason I even considered lending out my camera is because of Amanda’s track record and because I know her mom. If almost any other student approached me to ask about the camera, I’d have turn him/her down flat out.

In the past I’ve found that only a slight amount of resistance on my part usually deters a person from asking to borrow the camera. A long stare and a long “Hmmmmmmmmm” usually do the trick.

I lent the camera out once before. I let a staff member borrow it for a couple hours on Friday afternoon. She returned it on Sunday. I was perturbed.

I gave Amanda the stare and the “Hmmmmmmmmm”. It rolled right off her. Really, I should have just said no outright, and it would have all been over. It was too late. I was mulling it over.

Frequent readers will remember I have a soft spot for family photos, and the debate in my head was pretty short. Sure, there’s a risk I’ll never see the camera again, but on the plus side, what a great role model this mom is to her daughter, and why should there not be pictures? That stuff about it being the mom’s idea to borrow the camera was a bald-face lie. Amanda had come up with the idea most definitely. She wanted to take pictures of her mom. Who wouldn’t?

I lent her the camera. I cleared my pictures off and charged the battery and showed her how to keep it on “auto”. The one condition was she needs to return it to me by tomorrow afternoon.

I’ll probably get it back next Tuesday.

I hope you’re well.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Week

We diagrammed the heart in Science today, aorta and ventricles and all. I’m a little worried about my science class because we’ve still got 3 units of material to cover and not very much time until the common exams in late April. And school-wise, this week is a joke. “Tomorrow is Sports Day,” I announced, “So we’ll finish up the circulatory system on Wednesday since I probably won’t see you tomorrow.” The class let out a collective “YESSSSSS!”, which I like to think they did because they don’t have class rather than they specifically don’t have my class.

If there’s a term for Holy Week in Samoan, I don’t know it. In fact, the term “Easter” doesn’t get much play either. The focus of this week is Aso Maliu, the day of death, Good Friday. And we’re to the point now when it feels like just about everything we do is in some way preparation for Friday.

To’o, a science and religious knowledge teacher, stopped in during my English class this morning to collect two students, a boy and a girl, to go rehearse for Wednesday’s passion play assembly. “Who are your best actors?” he asked. I shrugged and turned to look at the prospects. To’o picked out a boy from the front row and one of the school’s more well known female vocalists from the back. Fine by me.

Rehearsal went on all day in the Great Hall. I know because my computer lab overlooks the Great Hall and I got to hear the assembly’s soundtrack over and over and over. The play is being directed by 4 teachers, who have given up all of their classes today, and probably tomorrow and Wednesday, to coordinate Wednesday’s assembly.

I don’t mind all this. If nothing, I’m reveling in the downtime. I’m exhausted, and I welcome the break in activity. I just think it’s a bit of a farce to hold classes this week. Classes were shortened today because of the morning assembly. We’ll have a half-day tomorrow for sports. I’m guessing we’ll have a morning assembly on Wednesday and then another one in the afternoon. No classes Thursday, Friday, or Monday.

As I said, I welcome the break, but when am I going to finish teaching my kids about the circulatory system?

There again, no one else seems to worried, so I’m not going to get myself all worked up. If the kids don’t learn it before the mid-term, I’m sure we’ll find time to teach it to them before the end of the year. Unless sports and assemblies get in the way.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The new art room has been too hot lately, so in addition to passion play rehearsal (up top), art classes have also been meeting in the hall, easels and all.

The cat jumped into a plastic bag this morning while I was getting ready for school, and then got stuck. It was pitiful and hilarious.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ol' Switcheroo

My phone rang during mass this morning. The screen was blue, which means I hadn’t put it on vibrate, so I was very lucky it rang during the closing song when the obnoxious ring was overpowered by the choir. But when I immediately put it on vibrate, the screen was still blue. It confused me, but I didn’t think much of it. I also paid little attention when it rang again during to’ona’i this morning and it had a musical ringtone. I don’t have any ringtones. Once again, I was confused but mostly indifferent.

I finally got around to investigate the situation while riding in the car this afternoon. I put it on the “discreet” setting. It stayed blue. Something else was amiss, but it took me a minute to figure out: this was phone was in good condition. Frequent readers will remember I threw my phone at a dog just before Christmas, and has been cracked and scratched ever since. “Oh no,” I said out loud, accessing the list of saved phone numbers. “This is not my phone.”

Cell phone service is still relatively new in Samoa, and while there is some variation in phone models, this country doesn’t have the variety of phones one would find in a place where cell phones have been around longer. There are also only 2 cell phone carriers in Samoa: Digicel and GoMobile. This also cuts down on the variety of phones. The third factor is price. Most people here don’t need the functionality of a Blackberry or an iPhone, so most of us buy the cheapest bare-bones model, in my case a Nokia from the Clinton era.

Given the lack of variety and my tendency to socialize with others who have an income level similar to mine, phone snafus like the one this morning happen more often than they might other places.

I was at a social gathering last night, at one point during which I laid down on a couch. When I got up from the couch, it turned out I’d been laying on top of 3 identical Nokia phones. I took mine and left. But of course, I didn’t take mine. Oops.

I called the number of the person who’d called during mass and to’ona’i.

Malo.” A woman’s voice.

Malo,” I said. “Ummm... Who’s phone is this?”

“This is my phone. You just called me.” Right.

“Who’s phone am I calling from?”

“Patrick?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “This is Matthew. Is this Patrick’s phone?”

It was Patrick’s phone. I don’t know Patrick, but I guess he was there last night. I had his mom on the other end of the line. She was worried about him. I explained the mix-up, and told her I’d tell Patrick to call her when I got a hold of him.

“Are you a palagi?” she asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Take care of yourself.”

After I bought more phone credit and loaded it in, I found a number for Julie saved in the phone’s contacts. It was Julie’s house where the accidental phone swap had occurred, and I figured she could remedy the situation.

She was happy to drive to my house to switch the phones, except my phone was still yet to be found.

When I got home from to’ona’i, my phone was laying right next to my computer. As it turned out, there was no swap. When I got up from the couch and saw three phones identical to mine laying there, it turns out none of the phones were mine. Mine had been in my pocket the whole time. Oops.

I’m spray-painting mine bright orange.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Samoa played in the finals of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens Tournament last night. We watched at my friend Ainsof's house.

Samoa won.

Last time Samoa won the Hong Kong Sevens was 2007. The put the team on the $10 bill. What will they do this time?

Patrick was at the party last night. Incidentally, it was not his phone I took; there are two Patricks. In an case, this Patrick is an Australian volunteer. He teaches computers at the National University of Samoa, and his mum reads the blog.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

“Mati!” Akanese called from nowhere. I was napping on the living room floor. The rest of the family gathered around the TV at 11 this morning to watch “The Chronicles of Riddick,” which one of the two national TV channels was showing without commercials. Though I am a huge Vin Diesel fan, I decided to have a little snooze. I dozed off for about an hour when Akanese ran in shouting long strings of 5-year-old Samoan. I caught the phrase sau le pasi, the bus is coming, and I sprang to my feet. It was 12:19.

I packed in a rush, haphazardly throwing things into my bag. The promise of an early bus ride is worth the disorganization. I kissed Mele on the cheek, said goodbye, and headed out the door. I patted down my pockets, and realized my camera was missing. Akanese shouted (in Samoan), “It’s in your bag!” How did she know that?

Anyway, Asolima was sitting on the porch of the house next door, so I went to sit with her. “The bus is coming, Mati,” she said. “It’s better to take this one and take Tiavi [the more direct route to Apia] , than to catch the one at 2:00.” I agreed.

“Do you want some tea?” the neighbors asked. I declined the offer. After all, I had a bus to catch.

Oge came out with a bag of taro and papaya for me to take with me. I then realized I hadn’t given Asolima the can of corned beef I’d brought. She appreciated the gift, but scolded me for not giving it to her last night. “Then you could have had some,” she said. Exactly, thought I.

After a while Fialupe, a cousin of my family, came walking out of our house. Asolima told her to wait with me in the falekomiti, the open fale where the women’s committee holds their meetings. We went over, and Fialupe, Akanese, and I passed the time quizzing each other on verbal spelling. “Saw—ee—pee—ooh—nu—ee,” I called out. “Sipuni!” Akanese sang back. We played this game for some time, all the while watching for the bus.

Asolima came over and asked for my phone to call the bus driver, who didn’t pick up. She proceeded to play a lengthy game of Nature Park while the spelling continued. “Faw—ah—law—ay—saw—ah,” Fialupe threw out to the group. “Faleese!” shouted Akanese. This was funny because Fialupe had spelled falesā, which means “church,” but Akanese guessed faleese, which means “toilet”.

Still no bus.

The rain let up after a while (it had been raining), and we headed across the street to the church. I think this is my family’s week to sweep and dust the church and decorate the altar. Together Fialupe and Asolima swept out the entire church while we waited. It was 1:39. Something had gone wrong.

Asolima called the driver again. “He’s in Lefaga.” The next district over.

I tsked. “Mamao.” Far.

Asolima sat down with the kids and Fialupe finished the sweeping and I opened my book and read for a while. When I looked up, Asolima and the baby had disappeared.

The bus came. We yelled. It didn’t stop.

“It’s turning around,” Fialupe explained.

She was right. It came back and stopped promptly in front of the church, headed in the direction away from the more direct route to Apia. It was 2:05.

Right on time.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Keleme. Photogenic as usual.

Me. Excitement just oozing out.

Akenese. The most darling child to ever eat sugar cane.

Fialupe. You can almost see her face in this picture! A triumph in photography.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Role Reversal

It’s a rare day when the student becomes the master. I mean, sure people graduate and get teaching credentials, and then they teach, but I’m talking about when you jump directly from being taught by someone to teaching that person. I’m hard-pressed to come up with any good examples from my own life. My algebra 2 teacher assigned a problem once that he didn’t know how to do, and I was able to explain how to get the answer, but that’s not quite what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the student having a mastery of a particular subject and the teacher employing the student’s assistance because of his/her own lack of knowledge.

As you know, I’m a professional typist for the teachers at my school, and today was no exception. Ms. Suasami approached me this morning with three handwritten pages of Samoan and asked me to type it for her. As is always the case, she needed it finished by this afternoon. The problem was, the year 9s were going to march in some parade this morning to raise awareness for victim’s rights (so so random), and she was going with them. This meant she wouldn’t be able to correct any of my drafts.

My Samoan is okay, but this was some formal report she needed to submit to the church, and it was full of formal (read arcane) Samoan terms in which I’m not conversant. So I typed up the pages as best I could, and then I projected it out to my year 13s and had them do the proofreading. It’s not the most confidential way to get through the process, but for all of its lack of security, I find it to be most effective.

And from what I can tell, my year 13s love it. They bask in the role reversal. After I posted the document on their monitors, I looked out at the group, and one of my kids, Lise, turned to me and laughed, completely amused by the entire situation. I’m completely unashamed of asking for their help, and they’re happy to assist, and a little entertained.

The mistakes tend to be small; the wrong vowel here, a space missing there, t’s instead of f’s and f’s instead of t’s. Occasionally there are some communication hiccups where I can’t understand where the problem is, and then someone has to take over the mouse and keyboard and fix the error herself. Fine with me. But on the whole, the kids are patient and accomodating.

I tried it with my year 12s once, and they didn’t get it. I got lots of miffed looks, as if to say, “Why are you wasting our time in the computer lab making us search for your amateur mistakes?” Whatever, year 12.

It’s difficult to articulate how this juxtaposition affects the student-teacher relationship. I don’t feel like they get much leverage out of it, and I don’t feel like any of my authority in the classroom is lost because of it. I’m still the teacher, they are still the students. But I think they appreciate my willingness to accept their help. It’s fun to be the expert, and it’s nice to have that expertise recognized by an adult.

I’ll use them again next time. Even Lise.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

An over-the-top-of-my-monitor view of Luana and Motu, who are reading the same thing as I am, calling out changes. (Up top are Chrispune and Maria.)

Yesterday my 6th grade rugby team shut out Samoa College, 24-0. After 3 games, we remain undefeated. I think it's my expert coaching that has us in this position. Next Tuesday, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 48

It’s widely agreed that the New York City heat is a character in itself in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” Sure, it serves as a metaphor for racial tension, but it’s such a driving source and a constant battle for the characters, it’s no wonder things get out of hand. I’m not saying racial tension is running high in Samoa, but with this unrelenting heat, I’m barely hanging on to my sanity. This morning as I brushed my teeth, I had to stop to wipe the sweat off my forehead. I’m not talking about a little glisten; I’m talking about beads of sweat, some of them rolling down my temples. It’s maddening, and it sets the tone for everything else. It’s hard to move, hard to teach, hard to get through the day. Next week is the unofficial start of the dryer, cooler season. I hope it comes through. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • The cat’s been a finicky eater lately. She’ll take a couple bites and then lose interest, as though she has some sort of dietary ADHD. I’ve been buying the cheap cat food from Farmer Joe, and so on a hunch I splurged for the higher shelf stuff. And now she finishes the whole thing. What a princess.
  • Samoa did indeed win the rugby sevens tournament in Adelaide this past week! They beat America in the final, and yes, Ken, it is amazing the USA did so well. As far as drawing a line from my rag-tag team to the players standing in the winner’s circle in Australia, my kids have a lot of heart and they mean business. It’s that whole “What doesn’t kill you” mentality. It shows up in other sports too: baseball players from the Dominican Republic, football players from some of Los Angeles’ rougher neighborhoods, soccer players from Brazil. Go watch the scene in the movie “The Sandlot” where the scruffy sandlot kids take on the polished little leaguers. It’s right on.
  • I finished “The Odyssey”! I don’t get what all the fuss is about. How has this story made it so long?
  • I thought about teaching my kids “Yellow Submarine”. Maybe next term.
  • One of the science teachers at my school is writing the Year 11 Term 1 common exam for all the Congregational schools, and she asked me to type up the exam today. It covers some chemistry, some photosynthesis, and human reproduction. I found this interesting since I didn’t know reproduction was taught in schools here since romance is so taboo. Although it seems a little telling that the teacher gave me special instructions to title the test “Environmental Sciences”.
  • I walked into the computer lab after school yesterday. The new computer teacher was playing TuxTyper, another teacher had lined up a row of chairs and was asleep, and a third was thumbing through the notebook of one of my English students. This is what it will be like when I’m not here anymore, I thought.
  • I was at a birthday party of a distant acquaintance on Saturday night, and there was a guy there who had also worked in Internet advertising. I told him about how I offer my friends back home monthly sponsorships for $200. “That’s a pretty high CPM,” he said. It was weird to feel nostalgia over a corporate acronym.
  • I’ve been listening to “Abbey Road” a lot. I found it unapproachable when I was younger, but now it’s easily my favorite Beatles album.
  • My server is full of viruses. I can’t open the task manager now. This is frustrating. So I find myself deleting my kids’ mp3s to console myself. It doesn’t solve anything, and it only makes them use their contraband flashdrives to replace what I’ve deleted. But it’s still a little satisfying.
  • I apologize for yesterday’s post, particularly drafts that were posted earlier in the day. I got home late last night, and I should have just chalked the day up for a loss. As the adage goes, nothing good ever happens after midnight, and yesterday's post was no exception.
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Despite the heat, the good clouds are still showing up as they did last March/April. I noticed this in the middle of fifth period, so I walked outside and took a picture. "That's good clouding."

Me and Apong keeping time and scoring the rugby game. Don't we almost look like we know what's going on?

This diagram is in the Year 9 text book, and it taught me a valuable lesson about the merits of not blindly following the text book. In fact, I think this might only be in the text book as a sort of dare. We, the text book authors, dare you to show this diagram to your class. Yeah. It's a "valve". Sure.

So like an idiot, I blithely draw the diagram on the board. And my poor adolescent year 9s, trying so hard to be respectful, cannot contain themselves. Only then did I realize how incredibly dirty and suggestive this diagram is. And it's so dirty and so suggestive on so many levels. In the end, all I could do was laugh with them. Oops. Never trust the text book.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Feet Hurt

Very shortly after arriving in Samoa—less than a week, in fact—I wrote a post about how more than any other part of me, my feet pay the price of being here. Since then, my feet have risen to the occasion and fallen in line, bearing the brunt of the dirt and filth every day, weathering the elements as well as could hope. Things have gone swimmingly until about a week ago when, for whatever reason, things began to fall apart.

Just like breaking in a new pair of shoes, it’s not unusual for my feet to get some blisters after starting on a new pair of flip-flops. But things have been extra trying with my most recent Havaianas. My feet didn’t go from good to bad over night though; as with most things, it started with something small that has snowballed into something much worse. In this case it was a small blister on the top of my left foot, where the strap of my flip-flop rubbed too much against the skin. It’s a common problem, and I think the skin around that part of my foot has become thicker.

But for whatever reason, it’s taken a long time to heal. And then another blister developed on the bottom side of my second toe. The little peg that connects the strap to the sole rubbed off a patch of skin. I slapped a band-aid on it, and didn’t give it too much thought.

Do you ever marvel at how even the more distal parts of one side of your body end up doing the same thing as their counterparts on the opposite side? I think the first time I experienced it was in marathon training where if I felt a crick in my left knee, inevitably the pain would jump to my right knee as though it was a disease contagious among knees. In any case, the blister on my left foot inexplicably reproduced itself on my right foot in the exact same place.

Something seems wrong. Perhaps the unseasonable weather is causing things to be less humid than usual? Or perhaps because of the heat, I’ve spent too much time in front of the electric fan. Whatever the reason, dryness and subsequent friction are taking their toll on my feet.

In an attempt to give my toes a break, I wore a pair of reef-walking shoes on my walk into town yesterday. But, of course, the heels on those gave me blisters on the backs of my ankles. By the time I got into town, it felt like my poor ankles were on fire. I ended up folding down the backs and wearing the shoes like clogs for the walk home.

This afternoon I employed a different tack: I brought out the moisturizing lotion and cloaked my both my feet in a thick coat. I figured alleviating the dryness might eliminate the friction, and the strategy seems to have worked.

But still, my feet hurt.

I hope you’re well. Pictures will be posted tomorrow.

Several representations of capillaries in science today.

This is how sweaty I was after science this afternoon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hey Jude

It was similar to a mistake I made my sophomore year of college. I had a crush on a girl, and in talking the two of us realized we’d never seen each other’s favorite movies. We watched hers first: “The Sound of Music” (That’s right. I grew up in Marlis’s house, and I never saw “The Sound of Music” in its entirety until college.). Then it came time to watch my favorite: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. The girl, my crush, fell asleep. It was like punching my soul in the face. I’d gone too far out on a limb with one of my great loves, and I got burned.

In my English class today, I introduced the new song: “Hey Jude”. Yes, Koa taught his class “Let It Be,” but I’ve never been a big fan of that song. And yes, “Hey Jude” is pretty epic and probably a large pill for my kids to swallow, but I figure go big or go home, right?

I’d rank it in my top 5 favorite Beatle songs, which puts it pretty high in the running for one of my favorite songs of all time. And it doesn’t have much to do with taboo subjects like love and romance and heartbreak, or at least not overtly. We have about 6 weeks left in the term, which seems about enough time to make it to the na-na-na-nanana-na’s. So at the beginning of class today, I walked to the chalkboard and wrote out the lyrics to the first verse.

At first, my class was quiet and diligent enough. They copied down the words, some of them elaborately stylized the song’s title in their notebook. They kept it together for a little bit of the melody too. By this point we’ve worked out a system of call and respond, and they were willing participants today.

But soon things descended into giggles and goofiness. Perhaps the “Henry!” and “No Sam!” shouts in “Henry VIII” cast an air of silliness for any future singing we do in class. Or maybe the kids just don’t take me seriously. When volunteers get together, it’s a common complaint that since our methods of discipline aren’t as harsh as the other teachers’, and since our Samoan fluency is behind the students’, the classes we teach are seen as lax and are not taken seriously.

Now, yes, I like “Hey Jude,” and it annoyed me when the kids started to goof off, but perhaps I’ve framed this post poorly because I didn’t care so much about the “Hey Jude” aspect as much as the fact that I myself felt disrespected.

Things continued raucously, but stopped suddenly when I became visibly annoyed.

By that point in the lesson, we were going over what the words to the song meant, and I was just about to explain the line, ‘You were made to go out and get her.’ And so when I finally had the class’s attention, I asked who the word “her” was referring to. “Is this song about a girl? Is he trying to maua se teine?” I asked.

“Yes!” the class responded.

“No!” I came back. And then I went into this longwinded speech about how “her” is your life goals, your dreams, your ambitions. And how the song is all about reaching for those, even when times are lousy. And I referred them back to the journal entries they’d written about what they want to be when they grow up, and I went on about how the song is about keeping your eyes on the prize, about how being in 10.4 probably feels lousy compared to being in 10.3 and how it’s a wake-up call to remind them to keep their head in the game, and how it’s on them to take a sad song and make it better. Cheesy? Certainly. Relevant? I like to think so.

The class shut up after that—not because they’d been moved, but I think more because they realized they’d hit a nerve in me. And even though I don’t think it’s very effective to make such speeches, it felt kinda good and I was surprised by some of my own insights. Whatever. They were on task for the rest of the period.

I’m still pretty annoyed though. They’re going to do a lot of writing tomorrow. The English class equivalent of wind-sprints; you know, make them write until they throw up.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Things have been extra dusty along Beach Road lately where they've been digging up large chunks of the uta side of the street, the side away from the water, to lay purple pipe.

First the guy with the concrete-cutting saw moves through cutting along the dotted lines.

Then the big machine moves through that punches holes in the cement and then these guys come and stand inside the trench.

And these guys sit with the purple pipe.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's the Shoes

I’ll be the first to say that as assistant coach of the sixth grade rugby team, I am totally useless. I only have a vague under- standing of the sport, and I’ve never taken much initiative in terms of conditioning. I could probably lead the team in aerobic exercises or running drills or call out the 1 – 2 – 3s for cherry-pickers, but this role is taken by the head coach or delegated to one of the team captains. So most days I sit on the sidelines watching the dandelions grow. Until today.

When I showed up at practice after school today, the team was just about to start scrimmaging. I’m used to a structure of practice in which you start off with warm-ups and then some drills, and then, if there’s time, a scrimmage. But today was backwards day, and the boys started off with a scrimmage and then did wind sprints and stretches. In any case, as I walked out on to the field, one of the boys called out, “Hey Matthew!” I looked at him. “Can you watch my shoes?” He tossed his standard issue Jandals on the sideline.

I had a job.

Part of why I’ve never taken on even nominal responsibilities is no one’s ever asked. Apong found his niche keeping the water bottles filled on game day. Beyond that, I look for ways to pitch in, but the whole program is pretty sparse and basic. Thus the sitting and watching. But today some kid asked me to watch his shoes.

So I went and picked up his shoes and moved them to where I was standing on the sideline at the half. I stood over them, watchful and vigilant. This was my big break, and I made it my goal to make these the safest shoes on the field.

I watched the game, scanning our team, occasionally watching the other teams do laps around the field. The girls were busy with netball practice, and I watched them for a bit, always mindful of the shoes. And then I saw someone sitting on the steps in front of the computer lab.

One of my students from last year called last night to ask if she could stop by at 11 this morning to type up an assignment, but she never showed. Was that her? Another student has been showing up weekly—usually on Mondays—for computer tutoring. Was that her?

I was far away, so I walked forward to get a better look. I had to move in quite a ways before I realized it was a boy sitting on the steps—a boy I didn’t know. Clearly he was not waiting for me.

By now, you’ve probably guessed what happened. Indeed, when I returned to my spot, the shoes were gone. I failed at the most basic of assistant coach assignments.

I thought maybe the kid had picked them up. Or maybe I was just confused about where I’d been standing before. I searched around a bit, and then gloomily turned back to sit and watch practice.

And of course, when it was time to go home, the boy came to me, “Matthew. My shoes?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know what happened to them. They’re not there anymore.”

So he and I went to look for his shoes. The search seemed pointless to me. Every single student at my school, boys, and girls, wears white-soled Jandals with a red strap. There were probably 15 pairs strewn about the field, and countless more on the feet of many of the players.

But I was wrong. Like monogamous penguins finding their mate in a sea of doppelgangers, it took less than 10 seconds for this kid to identify his shoes on the feet of one of the older boys. He went and confronted the boy who laughed and gave the shoes back. It was unclear if they knew each other, or the whole thing was a joke, or what. The boy sprinted off to change out of his clothes before I could get the full story.

In any case, I’m worried my reputation as a lackluster assistant coach was only reinforced this afternoon. Oh well.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

An example of the red-strapped Jandal ubiquitous across my campus.

The boys doing an ab exercise.

This kid wore a "Joy Ride" shirt to practice. "Joy Ride" was the hit film starring Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, and Leelee Sobieski about 3 teenagers who bait a truckdriver and then spend the rest of the movie trying to get away from him. Cool shirt.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ain't Nobody Dope as Me

There were a bunch of us in the car driving around Los Angeles in the early 2000s, and Outkast’s new hit at the time, “So Fresh So Clean,” came on the radio. From the backseat, one of my friends said to no one in particular, “This song makes me want to take a shower. I just want that feeling.” I admit, I could not relate. I enjoy feeling clean as much as everyone else, but in The States, I was never a passionate showerer. I didn’t crave that feeling, and I wouldn’t get my undies in a bunch if I had to go a day or 2 without showering.

Here, things are different. My day-to-day life is significantly dirtier than it was in The States. There’s dust and grime in the air, and the unseasonably hot weather has me drenched in sweat by 8:00 a.m. Peace Corps Volunteers also refer to a condition, “Apia feet,” when you’ve been walking around town all day and your feet are just filthy after a while. When I saw K8 on Friday, she made a comment about how tan I am, and I replied only half-jokingly that it was probably just dirt, and my complexion would be lighter if someone hosed me down.

For whatever reason, I was feeling particularly filthy today; so much so, I decided to bring things to the next level: I went to the Peace Corps office to shower in the hot water.

Now, I live about 12 minutes’ walking distance from the Peace Corps office, and if I wanted to, I could shower there all the time. But I don’t want to be that guy. For the most part, I’m perfectly happy using my own shower despite its lack of hot water, and the Peace Corps office shower isn’t there for my personal use. Volunteers use it when they’re in town, and it’s not really an amenity I ever need to use.

That said, from time to time, for special occasions or when I really feel the urge, I’ll throw my soap and shampoo in a plastic bag and saunter on down to the office to experience the warmth and pressure of the water there. In the 15 months I’ve lived in my house, I’ve showered at the Peace Corps office 4 times, I think. Like I said, it’s a special occasion kind of thing.

Anyway, I went this afternoon, and coming out of there, I could hear Outkast in my head. So fresh and so clean clean. I felt like I’d lost a pound or two getting rid of all that soot. My shower at home keeps me clean and gets the job done, but that hot shower at the office is a whole different level.

I felt shiny. I wondered if people walking down the street noticed my new cleanliness. It was the story of rejuvenation one feels after getting a good haircut or a teeth-cleaning.

I had to walk home carefully, trying to trod softly over gravel and dirt, clinging to my newfound cleanliness for as long as I could.

But let’s be honest, by 8:00 tomorrow morning, I’ll be right back to Stinky Matt. Oh well.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

Cat loves the box.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Tropicana

Nate and I were looking at the prices of beer at a local bar recently. Nate’s in Samoa for 3 months working for Kiva, a microfinance organization. He was asking about how things have changed since Group 81 arrived almost a year and a half ago. Samoa is rife with development. Cell phones are ubiquitous, foreign beer is showing up on more menus, and according to rumor, hi-speed Internet is supposed to get a lot cheaper in the next month or two. Hell, I can maintain a near daily blog. Samoa is bounding toward the future, full speed ahead. That being the case, experiences like the one we had at the Tropicana last night offer a window to what things may have been like before the developers showed up.

Fono, the Peace Corps’ Safety and Security Officer, moonlights as a lounge singer at a nightclub in Apia, the Tropicana. The club itself is a little off the figurative beaten path—in actuality, the path to get there is beaten, but not paved. It took a skillful taxi driver going at low speeds to get us there. Fono had taken some time off from his gig for personal reasons, and only recently has the show been back on. So K8, Briony, Phil, Koa, and I made the trek to catch the show last night. Fono and his band played from 8 to 10, a DJ was set to follow. We showed up right at 8, before the band started, and before most of the crowd showed up.

Much like RSA, the Tropicana is out of the way, and caters almost exclusively to locals. Rather than strobe lights or even a disco ball, the dance floor is strung with artfully (or inartfully?) placed Christmas lights. Patrons sat on austere metal folding chairs at sparse wooden folding tables. The walls were brightly painted, occasionally mix-matched, which made the whole building feel improvised and makeshift. All of these things combined to give the place an ambiance of authenticity and warmth. With the live band performing old favorites, the place seemed almost untouched by the passing of time.

The band put on a good show, and I’d had enough to drink to loosen up my dancing inhibitions. In fact, all five of us were on the dance floor for most of the two hours. Koa put in requests for Lionel Richie’s “Stuck on You” and the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rodgers duet, “Islands in the Stream,” both of which filled the dance floor.

There was a group of 3 older Samoan women who Koa and I ended up dancing with quite a bit during the course of the evening. We rotated through the group, sharing the love, giving the ladies a little thrill.

It’s not the kind of thing I could do every weekend, but as far as impromptu plans on a Friday night go, last night was great. I definitely want to make it back there before I leave.

I hope you’re enjoying your weekend. Pictures below.

Phil and Briony on the dance floor.

Fono at the mic.

Koa, me, and the ladies.

The 5 of us with Fono. Like a Burl Ives album cover.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lame Duck

Teaching is a peculiar profession. Teachers spend their work day separated from their peers and they spend hours after work preparing for hours during work the next day and they’re a little repressed since they’re constantly on their best behavior. Even in Samoa, teacher parties are a little crazy because it’s people who never let their hair down letting their hair down. In any case, one unexplored area of teacher weirdness is the way in which, more than other profession I’d say, they operate on a yearly scale, which makes things feel almost geological at times.

Sure, working in the corporate world there are annual reports and analysts continually compare the current year’s data with data from years past. But with teaching, with each year there’s a new class of students each year with unique personalities, both individually and collectively.

Growing up, we noticed this, and Liam and I still have conversations about the 2000 kids versus the 99ers. My senior English teacher, who I still talk to occasionally refers to us as “The lazy kids who were too smart for your own good”. Maengi does this same thing with different classes at my school here in Samoa. “2007 was a good year,” she’ll say. “But, oooh, 2006. They were so hard to manage.”

This also shows up in lesson planning and polishing. I’m teaching my new year 13s databases right now, and I have notes that I wrote to myself last year about what worked and what didn’t work, and it’s weird because I vaguely remember, but a year is such a long time to connect from one point to the next. It’s like drawing a picture by connecting the dots where every 2 dots are separated by an entire piece of paper.

It’s such a slow progression, it really feels like the formation of a mountain range or the slow movement of a glacier.

And now I’m constantly being singled out by other teachers because I this is my last year. On two separate occasions today, I was confronted about this being my last year and what is the school going to do next year? It seems like the kind of questions and sentiments that would spring up toward the end of the year, but because education takes such a macro view of the year, I’m already at my endpoint, even though I’ve got another 8.5 months.

Really, it’s a good thing. I’m glad teachers are thinking about the future and making plans for when I’m gone. I know I’m making plans for what I’ll do after, and I guess it’s good we’re all thinking about the future.

On one hand, it feels like senior year of college. I remember talking to some freshmen on my floor rather callously about how I’d be gone the following year. They were slightly offended, and I had to explain that the idea of leaving was something I was constantly aware of, every minute of every day.

On the other hand, it feels like I’m resigning my position, and I’ve given an amazingly long amount of notice, and now I’m in that period where I’m still expected to be working, but everyone knows I’m leaving. And I’ll simply be in this weird nether-state for another 8 months. Hooray.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

My students asked where Greece is, so I drew a clumsy world map on the board. When I asked me kids to identify "Africa," they called it "East America." So then I got cranky and labeled the continents and told them to copy it. So then I saw the way this kid had copied it down, and I think the whole thing may have done more harm than good.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 47

They say that after the slow lifestyle of the Peace Corps it’s difficult to acclimate to the fast-paced lifestyle back in the United States. I feel like after the slow lifestyle of the third term of school, I’m having a difficult time with the down-to-business attitude of first term. I’m exhausted. During the first two rugby games this afternoon, I found a chair and slept on the sidelines. No one seemed to mind. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • I knew about the American Samoa trip for a couple weeks, but I didn’t want to telegraph my departure. I wanted to do more exciting things than re-discover the Carl’s Jr., but BusyCorner never emailed me. Whatever, I had a good time.
  • No cavities.
  • I’m sorry I never posted pictures for last Friday’s post. How about an emoticon to assuage everyone’s qualms? :)
  • For some reason, Blogger is not showing that Phil updated his blog recently with the story of the bus accident he was recently involved in. Everyone should read it. It’s a firsthand account of a Sports Day bus accident where two kids get their arms broken and a man on the other bus loses his arm all together. Check it out.
  • The fluorescent light in my dining room is burning out to the point it flashes on and off when I turn the switch on. It’s eerie to say the least.
  • Airport security at Fagalii is pretty basic. Since they have no x-ray machine, they just open up your bag and rifle through all your stuff. Let’s hope TSA never figures out this system.
  • Roosters are the most obnoxious bird on the face of the planet. I’m just going to throw that out there.
  • For some reason the Mexican beer Sol is now being sold for the same price as Vailima in many bars around town. Globalization is hard at work.
  • There seems to be no pattern to the music that penetrates my kids’ world. They love anything with auto-tune, but then they were all about the original “We Are the World” last year. And then yesterday in my year 12 class, out of nowhere Fiapa’ipa’i sings, “She’s just a small-town girl...” Journey? Really?
  • Yesterday marked the midpoint for Term 1. There are only 7 weeks left after this weekend. I don’t want to sound like I’m counting down the days, but I am.
  • It’s still absurdly hot. Although I’m also beginning to think that certain factors give different places around campus abnormally hot micro-climates. There’s something about the way the 10.4 classroom is angled that it doesn’t get any breeze. Luckily I’m only in there once a day. I feel sorry for those poor kids who have to sit in that heat all day long.
  • In my English class we’ve been mapping stories to find the setting, the plot, the climax, and the outcome, but I’m finding it difficult to think of stories that everyone knows. I’ve solicited suggestions from the kids, and so far we’ve mapped the following stories: Noah’s Ark, The Transformers Movie, and Mamma Mia!
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Driving along the main highway in American Samoa.

Outside, the buses in AmSam have a different shape to them than the buses in Samoa, but from the inside, you'd never know the difference.

Harbor in American Samoa.

The power went out while I was at Carl's Jr. It felt good to know our American counterparts face some of the same struggles we do here.

On my walk from Carl's Jr. to the airport I passed the Tafuna Corrections Facility. No wonder I couldn't find a cab.

This guy at the airport was wearing an "Uma le Case" lavalava. Uma le Case is Samoan slang that sort of means "Case closed." My kids say it all the time.

The picturesque airway at the Pago Pago Airport.