Monday, May 31, 2010

In Like a Lamb

As soon as it was figured out Dustin would be at my house for the first day of Term 2, I quickly realized what a non-issue the whole thing would be. In fact, when they handed out the academic calendar back in January, I immediately found it peculiar we’d start Term 2 the day before Samoan Independence Day. The first day of a term, already a completely underwhelming occasion, sandwiched between a weekend and a two-day holiday? Pshaw.

I must have articulated my prediction for today’s schedule at least 50 times over the last month and a half. It goes like this, “My bet is we will all show up, we’ll practice marching for an hour, an hour-and-a-half, and then we’ll go home.” This is almost exactly what happened, the one exception being we had an assembly where it was announced students wouldn’t have to come back to school until next Monday. The academic intensity of this term doesn’t instill too much apprehension at this point.

Last year Term 2 started the Monday after Independence Day. And from what I hear, last year was the aberration. The problem was Term 2 needs to be 12 weeks long to fit in all of the curriculum required (since Term 3 is supposed to be wall-to-wall review), and if those 12 weeks don’t start until the week after June 1, the last week of the term overlaps with the Teuila Festival, which is lousy. Also, within the Congregationalist school system, the final prizegiving last December was the 11th. This year the last prizegiving will be the 3rd. I’m particularly happy about this since we’ll be last this year. So essentially we’re claiming we have school this week even though there will be no instruction so that we can celebrate the Teuila Festival and get out a week earlier in December. Cool with me.

Not cool with me was arriving on campus early this morning. Even with my half-cynical,-half-realist prediction for today’s schedule, I managed to get to campus this morning at the normal time, only to be greeted by a very slow trickle of students and staff. I showed up before 8:00, and things didn’t actually get going until 8:45 or 9:00.

Later I found out the collective tardiness was due to fautasi races (long boats with ~50 paddlers) in Apia Harbour this morning. I grumbled a little—I would have liked to watch—but the half-assed nature of the day blunted my frustration.

After the short assembly and the marching practice, the teachers had a meeting where it was decided we’d all show up on Thursday and Friday of this week so we could finalize grades for Term 1. I have elected to compile grades for the entire school, so I’m a little nervous about Thursday and Friday. That said, I got a lot of grades turned into me this morning, and they’ve already been entered into the computer. I’m in good shape, and in that sense today was surprisingly productive—so productive, I say we take the next 2 days off.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Marching around the field this morning.

Supy and Dustin on the airport shuttle.

Trent and the Aggie Grey's Samoan Mariachis this evening.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Guest Contributor: Dustin

It comes with great honor and privilege that Matt has asked me to write for the world famous Samoa blog. It’s difficult for me to realize that my two weeks in the country are coming to an end. I arrived here in an emotional whirlwind, very tired from the long flights. We took it easy for my first few days here—Matt felt bad that we hadn’t done or seen anything, but I assured him that it was okay. I had two weeks to take everything in, so no rush.

This was my first true international trip, and in my mind I had imagined everything to be so different. The biggest difference between Samoa and life in the United States, that I noticed, was that there isn’t too much of a difference. Sure, the heat and humidity is a big shock to the senses after growing up in the cool San Francisco Bay Area climate. But in Samoa, English is spoken just about everywhere. The people are generally friendly and helpful – but also very curious. “How long are you here for?” “Where are you staying?” Most of the dining options in Apia are similar to what I’ve tasted at home (I did have a chance to eat more authentic Samoan food when staying at the two different beach fales). And of course, drinking adult beverages after dark is not uncommon.

Matt asked me tonight what my favorite part of my vacation has been, but I couldn’t come up with just one thing. The scenery is absolutely amazing, so I can’t help but think of the different sights. Looking out at the turquoise-colored water on Savai’i is something I’ll never forget. Passing by the numerous villages and watching the people go about their lives will also stay with me. And the view high up on Le Mafa Pass was great simply because the green mountainside and clouds contrasted so much with the rest of the island.

The Peace Corps Volunteers I have had the pleasure of meeting here seem very at peace with themselves in Samoa. And now I can understand why. I know that class has been out, and life is very different when everyone will be once again focused on teaching. But Samoa is an amazing place, and when your escape from the real world is sliding down rocks at Papase’ea or snorkeling at the beach, I would be at peace with myself too.

Pictures below (Editor's Note: During the last 24 hours my camera was stolen and returned.  The thief erased most of the pictures from Dustin's stay.  Thus today's picture section is frustratingly skimpy.  We're hoping the photos can be recovered from the memory card sometime soon.).

Pawn shop!

Behind the camera at the TV3 studio. Rotaract scrutineers in the background.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Lemon

Peace Corps Volunteers can’t drive. For whatever reason—maybe a bunch of volunteers in the past wrecked it for everyone else, maybe because we don’t fall under the State department and thus don’t have diplomatic immunity, maybe because we’re seen as a bunch of kids who shouldn’t be trusted to operate heavy machinery—it’s officially in our contracts we cannot drive. We can walk, we can bike, we can take taxis wherever we want, but under no circumstances are we allowed to climb behind the wheel. And so for many of us this inevitably leads to a deep yearning desire to drive a car.

Through much of my time at university in Los Angeles I didn’t have a car, and that was hell. Not having a car in LA is like being a shut-in. Cars and traffic and smog are the lifeblood of the city, and abstaining from all that you feel cut-off, imprisoned. I feel like that’s also true in Samoa to a certain extent. Los Angeles is a sprawling city where landmarks and museums and places of interest are so distant from one another, taking public transportation would literally take hours. Samoa doesn’t have the same history of corporate and governmental greed, but its nice spots are still far between. In Apia the grocery store, the open-air market, and the department store may all be conveniently across the street from one another, but taking a bus out to the beaches on the south side of the island almost always means spending the night out there. It’s a hike.

For whatever reason, the Peace Corps does allow volunteers to rent and drive cars provided they take a vacation day. So I pulled some strings yesterday morning and got my paperwork streamlined in order to drive the rental car yesterday afternoon. And then Dustin and I, along with Koa and his brother, toured the island today.

It was an eye-opening experience.

On one hand, having a car was great. I love to drive. Love it. The thrill of the open road, the meandering esses climbing mountains, the satisfying hum of the downshift—it’s fantastic. And it’s so liberating to go across town on a whim, to skip the taxi, to not lather up in sunscreen or worry about sweat stains. In all of these matters, having a car was fantastic.

On the other hand, we got a lemon.

The lady at SouthPac Rentals had promised a Hyundai Getz with a manual transmission. When we showed up it turned out the Getz was already booked, but she upgraded us to a Toyota RAV4, free of charge.

Looking back now, I’m guessing the RAV4 was the owner’s own car, scarred by many years of wear and tear. The odometer showed 200,000 miles, and that was no surprise to me.

I watched the mechanic dump a pint of water into the radiator before we left. It was a sign of problems to come. By the time we’d climbed the cross-island road, the motor was emitting steam and the temperature gauge began to climb. It dropped a little going down the mountain, but on the relatively flat roads along the south island, the temperature kept climbing into the red. We pulled over.

At Faofao this morning we put over a gallon of water into the thirsty radiator, and headed out on our way. The car was happier for the water, and we got through most of the day unscathed. We stopped off to tour some of the resorts on the south side of the island. It was nice, and Phil’s host sister from Fausaga gave us a couple of free bottles of soda. When we got back to the car, it wouldn’t start. No power in the battery.

We got a jump from some tourists at the hotel. After that we opted to cut our trip short and make a B-line for Apia. The clutch was old and worn, and I had a difficult time telling when it was and was not in neutral, and so a half-hour after we’d got the jump (the battery having ample time to re-charge), I accidentally killed the engine when we dropped off Koa and his brother. But had the battery charged? Nope.

We were back in Apia by then, and the rental agency agreed to come pick up the car. What a mess.

I do indeed miss having a car, and I think it would make life here a lot easier. But dealing with the maintenance and agitation involved, maybe it’s preferable to simply call a taxi.

I hope you’re well.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 53

Dustin’s been a trooper this week. Sure, there’s been the moments where he’s done something difficultly out of the ordinary: abiding with strange bites on his feet, putting up with the heat and humidity, dutifully swallowing palusami with blind trust. I feel like his bigger feat is keeping high spirits through the monotony of Peace Corps life. There’s been days when we’ve seen a lot, but there’s also been days when we’ve seen obnoxiously little. And Dustin’s been a sport throughout. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Did anyone notice the sidebar disappeared for about a week? The snafu happened as a result of an open “div” tag. Blogger’s new system of uploading digital photos has me using “div” tags to delineate captions. The problem is not closing a “div” tag makes the sidebar disappear to the bottom of the page. The bigger problem is how does one find 1 open “div” tag in 512 posts? My superfluous search for the rogue tag began with the “Odds and Ends” post for Hawai’i. And wouldn’t you know, the very first “div” tag of the very first post I checked was erroneously open. I alleviated the problem, and boom: sidebar. It was an exhilarating moment for an html novice.
  • Supy visited the host village this week, but due to medical issues he was resigned to his host family’s home, rendered immobile. He was given quite a few Samoan massages, which entailed the leaves and flowers of the nonu (noni?) tree. The leaves were used with the oils (the fanu’u) to massage the swollen area. The flower was used to poke at the wound.
  • The pasiovaa coming back from the Mulifanua wharf on Wednesday was shockingly smooth. Dustin and I had cushioned seats and leg room and not too many people pulling the cord to get off before we reached Apia.
  • Tonight Supy and I ran into a teacher from my school, Morgan, who is also a fa’afafine. Dustin, Supy, and I collectively pondered the fact that “Morgan” can be the name of a male or a female.
  • The new wall at Phil’s school is a little preposterous. It’s high enough to be annoying, but the mason left a 3-inch gap between each brick, making an easy foothold for any climber looking to overcome the wall. As a barrier, it looks slightly foreboding, but mostly it looks like a somewhat easy challenge.
  • Taking the taxi to the Sliding Rocks in Papase’ea last Sunday, Rachel noticed the taxi’s seats were covered in plastic. Dustin noted the similarity between the seats and his grandparents’ couch.
  • I asked Supy when he’s getting his Samoan tattoo. His response, “I’m weighing my options.”
  • The movie they showed on the boat on our way back from Savai’i, “Half Past Dead, ” shouldn’t be shown in public. Hell, it shouldn’t be shown in private. Really, it shouldn’t be shown. What a dud.
  • On the way to Savai’i they showed “The Blind Side”. I was falling asleep when we first got on the boat, but once the movie started I was captivated enough. It was a little cheesy, but overall I approved. We reached Savai'i before we could see the end.
  • Rachel 82 and Lili 82 watched the cat while Dustin and I were on Savai’i. Thanks, ladies.
  • Dustin and I crashed 82’s nightly collective dinner party last night. They made burritos with black beans, red peppers, and extremely finely grated cheese. It was a great meal; totally worth the $6 plate.
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Some sort of life-jacket drill was going on in Apia Harbour on Monday morning.

There was an orderly queue to purchase ferry tickets for the 2 o'clock boat Monday. This never happens.

Dustin and I have played quite a bit of "Uno" during his stay.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Late Night Up the Hill

Every once in a while it’s 9:00 p.m. and you realize you need something urgently. Where do you go? When I was in middle school they put in a Wal*Mart in my hometown—the first in Northern California—and while my family never shopped there regularly, occasionally there’d be a need for binder paper or markers or toothpaste or a fishing pole or whatever, and we’d go shopping there in the middle of the night.

Here in Samoa, only a few businesses are open all night, so I got a little nervous tonight when I realized I was out of cat food. Dustin and I were walking home from the Peace Corps office when I remembered. It was 8:30 p.m. “I have to go to Lynn’s,” I said.

Lynn’s Supermarket in Motootua isn’t Wal*Mart, but it’s got a bigger selection of groceries than the average faleoloa, and it’s open later than the bigger grocery stores in downtown Apia. Also it’s not too far up the hill from my house. Dustin was tired tonight, so he opted to stay at my house while I ran up the hill.

There’s nothing scary about walking up the hill at night aside from the lack of paved sidewalk and the dogs. There are usually a few people strewn about the sides of the road, enjoying the cool of the night, and on nights like tonight the moon is so bright there’s hardly a need for a flashlight. Don’t worry, Dad, I use the flashlight anyway.

Even just before closing, Lynn’s is a pretty happening place. I’ve never been there when there wasn’t all kinds of bustle: one guy parking, one guy coming out; 4 customers in line, 2 registers open; soles in the back of the store smirking at each other; a bodiless hand stocking the refrigerator shelves from the darkness through the freezer glass.

For whatever reason I see a trip to Lynn’s as an opportunity to buy myself a treat. Shopping at Farmer Joe and Lucky Foodtown, I am a disciplined shopper stretching pennies to their breaking point, but at Lynn’s I treat myself. Often it’s a drink—times were really good when they had a large amount of pineapple juice go past the expiration date and everything got marked down—or something from the baked goods section. Tonight nothing caught my fancy, so I settled for a packet of Mango Sprim.

And any trip to Lynn’s inevitably involves running into a student. Often someone will recognize me while I’m walking up or down the hills, and call to me from the shadows, “Fa Matthew!” Tonight it was the smirking soles in the back of the store. “You’re Matthew the computer teacher, right?” One boy asked.

Ioe,” said I. Yes.

“I go to your school, but I don’t take computers,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“Shopping,” I said. “What about you?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m shopping too.”

“Great. I’ll see you Monday!”

There’s good prices and great conversation late night at Lynn’s.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Coral behind Phil's house.

Coral behind Phil's house.

Coral behind Phil's house.

Franken 2008 t-shirt.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Do We Say Always Comes First?

Breakfast this morning was a little awkward. Dustin and I sat across from a German couple who spoke almost no English, so we wound up talking to the English speakers to our left while the Germans spoke to the Turkish couple to their left. As strange as it was, it felt a little like a literal International House of Panekeke. And though the meals aren’t served “family style,” eating at a long table with a bunch of people—even though most of those people are strangers—makes everyone feel like family.

During my family’s visit to Hawai’i earlier this month, we hit up Germaine’s Luau, where they set “family” as a focal point—not in the sense of “good, wholesome entertainment” but more like “we are all on this bus together and therefore we’re family”. It’s certainly fun. The bus leader referred to himself as “Cousin” and I swear the guy used the actual word “family” 400+ times during our 40 minute bus ride. It was nice, but not completely authentic. Tanu Beach Fales, on the other hand, is the kind of place that makes you feel guilty for not calling enough.

Tanu Beach Fales in the village of Manase on Savai’i is slightly less overt. They highlight the fact they’re a family-run business during the after-dinner Samoan Culture Show, but by then you’ve already been immersed in the Tanu family.

Samoan children litter the compound, playing games or running feaus or napping out in the open. Adults sit in family’s open fale talking, eating, cooking, barking orders at children, etc. There’s a palagi who works the reception desk; I’m not clear how he’s specifically related, but I’m sure he is somehow. How could he not be?

The after-dinner show showcases children, adults, and seniors alike. Suddenly the girl who brought an extra mattress to our fale and poured our tea at breakfast performs a siva Samoa in full traditional regalia. This morning the kid who did the siva afi, the fire dance, last night was walking around with a circle saw helping his cousins (brothers?) construct the floor of a new fale.

It inevitably makes you wonder what it would be like if your family ran a beach fale resort by day and performed a show at night. It would be like the Swiss Family Robinson and the Partridge Family merged and ran a hotel.

In any case, this atmosphere makes you feel like less of a “customer” and more of a “guest”. This morning Dustin and I walked to the front desk to ask when the bus for Salelologa would come. The guy behind the desk, not the palagi, was the emcee for last night’s show, with whom I’ve never spoken.

“Hey Matthew,” he called out as I approached. “You know anyone here named Niko?” I have no idea how he knew my name, but his tone was so casual I might as well have been a Tanu myself.

And I must say being a Tanu looks like it would be pretty fun. As long as I don’t have to do the fire dance.

I hope you’re well.  Picture below.

Dustin at dinner at Tanu Beach Fales.

Fire Dance during the culture show.

Dustin swimming.

These 2 dust devils showed up just off the coast about an hour before we headed out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ferry Bad Day

Dustin and I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to catch the 8:00 ferry that leaves from Apia. The new boat, Lady Samoa III, has been leaving Apia because the Mulifanua wharf on the western side of the island (where ferries normally berth) isn’t deep enough to accommodate the new boat. Blakey and I have been hoping dredging efforts are slow because the convenience of having a ferry directly from Apia is awesome. It’s walking distance from my house.

This morning we were actually walking that distance when we ran into PCV Dan who had gone for a morning jog down to the Apia wharf to check out the situation there. “There’s no 8 o’clock boat,” he said. I looked at him quizzically. “They said the boat leaves at 12.”

I rolled my eyes. There’s a disclaimer on the Samoa Shipping Corporation’s website that says, “Please note schedule subject to change without notice.” Understatement of the year.

With nothing to do and 4 hours to kill, Dustin and I posted ourselves in the Peace Corps resource room which provided air conditioning and couches to sleep on. I tinkered about on the Internet for a while, and we both took naps.

After a while Supy showed up. “Which boat are you taking?” he asked.

Me: The noon boat from here.
Supy: There are no boats from here anymore. They finished dredging the wharf.
Me: Whaaa?! When?
Supy: 2 or 3 weeks ago.

Dan was long gone having taken the pasiovaa from Fugalei to take the next possible boat. So I called Samoa Shipping Corporation and Supy was right. No boats from Apia today. Lady Samoa leaves Mulifanua at 4:00 this afternoon.

As I write this it’s 11:30 a.m., and we’re contemplating what to do with the next 2.5 hours we have to kill until the bus leaves to take us to the wharf. Tide is too low to check out Palolo Deep, and 2.5 hours isn’t really enough time to hike Mt. Vaea. It feels like a waste of a day.

At this point I shouldn’t feel too surprised to be caught off-guard. It happens frequently enough the feeling is pretty familiar. But I still get annoyed when my cheese gets moved. I’m not sure if I should be annoyed with the Samoan Shipping Corporation for being so unpredictable or at other volunteers for not disseminating information or at myself for being so out of the loop.

I guess I’m just cranky because I woke up so early. We got up at 6:00 a.m. to catch a boat that leaves 10 hours later. What a joke.

I hope you’re well. Happy birthday, Monika! Pictures below.

Dustin sliding down the rock face at Papase'ea Sliding Rocks.

Group pic at Sliding Rocks. Left to right: Lili 82, Rachel's friend Gwen, Rachel 82, Me, Dustin.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dance Dance Revolution

“Okay, real quick. It goes up, down, up, down, right, front, slap, slap, slap, slap, slap, slap, slap, slap, pat, pat, ‘Talofa!’” A bunch of half naked, slightly buzzed palagis stand in a gravel parking lot taking traditional dance moves out of moth balls. “Climb, climb, climb, climb, wave to the right, wave to the left, climb down, climb down, climb down, climb down, pat, pat, clap.” Sure, we could have rehearsed all this the day before, but what kind of fun would that be?

Avenoa Tutusa, Peace Corps Samoa’s non-profit cousin, current President Joey 81, held a fundraiser at Maliu Mai last night, and volunteers showed up in droves to help out with logistics and to provide entertainment in the form of traditional Samoan dances. A $5 admission was charged, and Fono and his band performed.

Sometime around 7:30, Blakey came around and told volunteers to prepare for the dances. I think there was a short rehearsal yesterday afternoon, but I missed it, so Blakey’s warning was a cue to re-learn the dance I’d be performing in about 10 minutes. We also had to regale ourselves in lavalavas and pulatasis.

Our self-sufficiency at preparing for events like this is a testament to how far we’ve come. During training my host mother would correct the way my lavalava was tied. Often putting her arms around me the way a parent might adjust the diaper on a 2-year-old. I’m proud to say I can do it all by myself now.

I also brought a beaded necklace to wear during the dance. “Where’d you get the bling, Matt?” Erin asked.

Re-learning the dances is fairly easy because the dances themselves are rather basic. For example, each 8-count in the boys’ slap dance begins with the same movement; only the last 2 beats vary, and even those variable moves repeat. It’s simple enough for white boys like me to retain.

The sāsā is slightly more complicated, but it’s choreographed to tell a story, so the progression is pretty easy to remember. It’s essentially a rhythmic demonstration of the process of making pe’epe’e, salted coconut cream. After the “Talofa!” part, the dance simulated climbing a coconut tree; husking, chopping, and scraping the coconut; and then gathering, squeezing, and salting the flesh. Easy enough, right?

The other saving grace is that in both dances, the entire things is performed twice: once at regular speed and once fast. This means if you screw up the first time, you get to redeem yourself during the second go-around.

There was much screwing up last night, but I like to think the flaws are what gave it that cute palagi charm. Right?

The event was a success, bringing in ~$850 for Avenoa Tutusa. And Dustin got to see some authentic imitated Samoan culture.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Slap dance. Left to right: Casey 80, Jordan 81, Joey 81, Benj 78, Paul 81, AJ 81.  Sorry Matt, you got cropped.

Teine. Left to right: Jenny, Tifa, Ally, Rachel.  All from 82.

Elisa 82 was the taupo.

Dan and Medical Officer Teuila out on the dance floor.

Former Training Director HP dancing with the ladies.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

History Quiz

Who was the first Prime Minister of independent Samoa? What flag was lowered during the ceremony when Samoa gained its independ- ence? Who were the leaders of the Mau movement? What is meant by the phrase “The Pacific Way”? Poor Dustin hasn’t left Apia since he arrived Wednesday morning, but he got a long Samoan history lesson sitting in the studio audience of the Independence Day Inter-School Quiz this morning.

Apia Rotaract was asked to coordinate the televised contest a few weeks ago, and those efforts culminated in today’s taping at the TV3 studio. I admit I’ve been on the sidelines for most of this work, though I made a few phone calls to ensure contestants would have buzzers. I wasn’t even sure I’d show up for the taping until last night when I ran into one of the main coordinators. So at 8:00 this morning Dustin and I drowsily walked across town to the TV studio to help with taping.

We found a place to sit at the back of the studio and tried to stay out of the way while other people worked their specific assignments. We finally got work when Savave showed up with banners that needed to be screwed into the wall. This worked well because Dustin’s tallness was useful and my novice power drill skills were just enough to get the job done. I’m not handy by any means, but I do get a thrill out of using power tools.

I’ve only been to the TV3 studio once before for the Spelling Bee a few weeks ago. That was literally a taping, the footage of which was edited and played on TV later that evening. Today’s event was broadcast live, which I didn’t realize until we were on air. This was good because we were drilling holes in the wall 5 minutes before taping, and things would have been a lot more stressful had we known how urgently we needed to finish.

For the most part, things went incredibly smooth. Rotaractor Mandria played host, and the students from 7 Apia schools showed off their knowledge well. They did very well although some of their answers were a little odd. When asked about the first missionaries in Samoa, one girl used the words “polygamy” and “cannibalism” in her answer, I’m unclear why. There were a barrel of laughs from the control room when one boy was asked to identify a notable Samoan business leader who recently died and he said, “Viliamu Ah Liki,” which I think would be the American equivalent of guessing, “Joe Costco”.

Dustin and I were both impressed with the students’ use of Samoan and English. Each question was asked in both languages, and contestants were allowed to answer with either. Often they’d employ both languages to answer a question—sometimes switching back and forth in the same sentence. I think some concepts must be easier to explain in Samoan, and others must be easier in English—even to non-native English speakers.

The whole event was a good time, and Dustin seemed pretty impressed. For me, I love being involved in TV. I really need to figure out how I can get into TV when I get back to The States.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Dustin behind the host's podium at last night's setup.

The student contestants.

Me and Dustin at the back of the studio.

I noticed this girl was wearing 2 pairs of sandals: hers and her partners. This was so they would be closer in height for the camera. I think?

The crowd watching the London rugby tournament on TV at the bar last night.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Straight and Narrow

I’m narrow. Even during my more husky days, my torso is relatively narrow compared to other guys. So when I’m shopping for dress shirts, I have to look for the special “fitted” shirts that have been taken in on the sides. Otherwise I wind up having awkward flaps of shirt hanging off either side of me. One of my friends from high school has the same problem, and I hear he takes all of his shirts to get tailored. Who’s got the money for that? I never did until now.

In Samoa, formalwear for women is the traditional pulatasi, a long dress made from bright, vibrantly colored material. For men it’s an ’ie faitaga and an ofutino, which in America would be referred to as a Hawaiian shirt (except, of course ofutinos tend to have distinctly Samoan prints, of course). Both of these are often homemade; it’s more common to buy the material for your clothes and then sew them yourself rather than buying a ready-made garment off the rack.

I accidentally left my sewing machine back in The States, so I’ve had to rely on others to make my clothes. My host mother Mele made me a shirt during training, one of the teachers from my school Afoa made me a shirt for Culture Day last year, and now I’ve been to the tailor shop in town twice to have shirts made.

On one hand, this is exciting. I never had anything custom-sewn for me growing up except for the Otter Pop costume my mom made for the Union City 40th Anniversary parade. I never really wanted custom-made clothes, but given my narrowness, it’s cool to have a one-of-a-kind.

On the other hand, no one has noticed my narrowness and it’s not something I know how to articulate very well. “I’m narrow. Can you make the shirt ‘fitted’?” It’s not something I’d know how to say in English, let alone Samoan.

This problem was the first thing I thought of when Thanpuii knocked on my door and gave me the material for this year’s Independence Day uniform. Incidentally, this year’s fabric is even flashier than last year’s—the print uses shiny gold paint.

In any case, I dragged Dustin with me to the tailor shop yesterday to drop off the material to get the shirt made, resigned to spending $35 to get a shirt made that won’t fit all that well. There was one other problem with last year’s shirt that I was able to communicate though.

“Can you put the top button here?” I asked, pointing to two inches above the top button on the model. The top button on my shirt from last year is so low have my chest is exposed, which would have been cool in 1974, but chest hair’s not so chic these days.

“Yes, we can do that,” the lady said looking at me quizzically. “But why would you want that? Has the style changed?” I shrugged.

“Is there anything else you want? Do you want it taken in in the sides?” She asked.

Yes! Taken in! In the sides! Fitted!

So I left the shirt with her. I pick it up on Tuesday. We’ll see if it fits.

I hope you’re well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 52

I was carded twice while I was in Hawai’i, and both times the cashier saw the photo on my driver license and looked me over and said, “You’ve lost weight.” It’s true. When my license photo was taken in early 2006, I was roughly 30 pounds heavier than I am today. But with having guests here in Samoa and spending a week in Hawai’i with my family, I’ve added a couple pounds. I talked to the medical officer about something else today, and out of nowhere she asked, “Is your face puffy?” Nope. That’s just me. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • That sunset picture up top is easily my favorite one yet. Annoying that those ladies walked into the frame and obstructed the silhouette of the kid in front, but overall I really like the photo.
  • I think I have heat rash. My skin’s been just fine for 19 months, but it just noticed the hot weather. Heat rash. Break out the talcum powder.
  • Cat foods in order from least disgusting flavor to most disgusting:

    1. Chicken;
    2. Beef;
    3. Albacore with scales;
    4. Jellymeat
    5. Beef and lamb stew.
  • In the past couple weeks I’ve taught my mom, my sister, Victor, Bree (sp?), and Dustin to play Euchre. I fear I can sometimes be an impatient teacher, and for that I apologize.
  • Sitting with a bunch of Peace Corps guys and Dustin at the Smoke Free Rugby Tournament yesterday, it was pretty funny how we were all completely clueless as to many of the rules of rugby. I explained to Dustin that after a try they always kick it from the 22-meter line, but then later in the game they kicked it from farther out. And then from further in. So I turned to Dan and asked him. He shrugged and said, “Yeah. They kick it from there,” gesturing out toward wherever the kicker was kicking. Clearly.
  • Dustin’s hat and sunglasses disappeared from the Peace Corps office this afternoon. I’m convinced it was a Group 82. Those kids have sticky fingers.
  • I’d rather go with $20 worth of taro than a 20-pound bag of rice because Taro has a lot more nutrients than rice. In fact, the Ministry of Health is in the middle of a campaign now to get people to eat more taro.
  • Did anyone notice the post that disappeared earlier in the week? I’m starting to send the blog out to various academic institutions in preparation for grad school applications, and that post was decidedly un-academic. So I took it down. Apologies to anyone who missed it.
  • Dustin’s learned the hard way to not order mixed drinks in Samoa. $5 for a bottle of Vailima, $9 for a screwdriver, and a weak screwdriver at that. Ouch.
  • I’ve been seeing my students all over town since I got back from Hawai’i. They wave shyly, and I throw out an “Ua?” when I can. It’s fun.
  • In this picture, doesn’t Victor look gigantic compared to my mom? It’s because of the angle. I’m sitting directly across from Victor, and my mom is a ways down the table. It’s hard to tell from the picture. An optical illusion, I guess.
  • Finally, I ran into blog reader Gracie while walking by Cappuccino Vineyard in town this afternoon. Gracie accesses the blog from Las Vegas though she’s spending 2 months in Saleimoa right now. Cheers to you, Gracie.
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Me, Dan, AJ, and Supy at the rugby tournament yesterday.

Watching Supy's school versus Koa's school.

Scout discovers niu.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taro-Peeling Day

A couple months back I met an Australian ex-pat who’s volunteering with the Palms organization. He and his wife and two children moved to Samoa in late January, and they’re living on the Western side of the island. We got to talking about stipends, and it turns out his is dreadfully low—especially given the fact he’s got 2 kids to support. The organization’s theory is the guy should be subsidizing his income by working his own plantation. As it turns out, he doesn’t have a taro plantation, so he, like the rest of us, must buy his taro in bulk from the open market.

Most fruits are sold individually; you can buy one papaya or one pumpkin or one mango. But taro is sold in bulk: $20 buys approximately 15 or 16 pieces of taro. I admit I dislike shopping at the open market. The vendors are either overly eager or overly snotty, each creating an air of distrust. My host family from the village occasionally shows up in Apia to hock taro, but mostly I’m forced to buy from strangers. I ran out of taro just before I left for Hawai’i, so yesterday morning after Blakey’s Rotaract event, I headed to the open market, made a snap decision, and bought $20 worth of taro.

When you buy taro, the vendor puts it in a plastic grocery bag. The taro has come straight out of the ground, and each piece is still covered in a thick layer of mud. There are still lots of living organisms within this mud, and the taro will surely go rotten if you leave it in the grocery bag for any extended amount of time.

With 16 pieces of muddy taro that will be rotten by tomorrow, what is one to do?

I find it best to freeze it. I wash each piece and peel it and stick it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it. This process looks good on paper, but takes forever in practice. I spent about 3 hours last night washing and peeling taro.

First the washing. The layer of mud is thick. It gets trapped in the small sub-roots (root hairs?), and those need to be peeled off as well. Even with a thorough wash, the taro is never “clean” the only effective way to get the mud off is by peeling.

Peeling raw taro is a difficult task that calls for strong tools. Among Samoans, the popular method involves slicing a tin can with a machete and using the sharp edge of the cross section to scrape off the taro’s skin. I, myself, prefer a vegetable peeler.

Even then, the skin is thick and difficult. I find it best to loosen the skin by boiling each piece of taro for a couple minutes.

So the process goes like this:
  1. Wash taro thoroughly.
  2. Boil taro for ~5 minutes.
  3. Peel taro.
  4. Bag taro and place in freezer.
Repeat 16 times.

The whole thing ends up being a lot of work. But when you’re finished, you have a freezer full of taro, and you won’t need to go through any of the process again until the next time you buy taro in bulk.


I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The taro vendors at the open market.

Muddy taro in a plastic bag.

Peeled taro waiting for the freezer.

Dustin is here!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Busy Break

Whoa. I just got Mr Bob’s comment on the previous post. I’m up. I’m up.

I apologize for this sudden lack of posts. As far as I can tell its reasons are twofold. For one, things have been busy. Surprisingly busy, in fact. I’ve been anticipating this break for 15 weeks of school, looking forward to a payoff of 3 weeks of nothingness. But I feel like it’s been a mad dash since I came back from Hawai’i.

Jordan administered the common assessment test to my year 12s the day after I left, and so I’ve had to deal with grading those and filling out the obnoxious stack of paperwork that goes along with them. Grading practicals for the file management unit is particularly tedious because of all the clicking through files and folders; it’s not something that can be skimmed like a multiple choice test or done piecemeal like a series of free response answers.

Then there’s been a host of Rotaract activity lately. Those kids generate so much email per day, it’s almost like being back in The States. This morning Blakey’s “Job Shadow” program kicked off as year 12 students from Apia schools were paired up with young professionals from the area. There were representatives from Polynesian Radio and TV3 and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme and many more. The kick-off event was a success. Blakey was center stage. I oversaw the refreshments and stacked chairs.

I’ve been reading “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,” the final installment of Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. The book, which I finished last night, is action-packed and 743 pages long (Editor’s Note: The series, which I cautiously recommend, is something along the line of “Law and Order: SVU”, is not for everyone. Parental discretion advised.). Though I got through the book relatively fast for myself—I’m a slow reader—it was 743 pages long. I finished at 1:49 a.m. today.

Briony left. Briony have become pretty good friends since she moved to Apia. She and me and Nate the Kiva volunteer have had a standing date for drinks every Wednesday for the past couple months. He returned to America while I was in Hawai’i, she went back last night. So a bunch of us have been going out to dinner to celebrate Briony’s fa’amavae. It was sad to see her go, but I think the weekend was a proper send-off.

There’s also a VAC meeting coming up, and I’m on the VAC committee and there’s ish to be done. My friend Dustin flies in tomorrow morning, so I’ve had to get ready for his arrival. I’m in charge of compiling grades for my whole school. I’ve been trying to track down a guy at the Electric Power Company regarding the “Independence Day Quiz” that will be televised on TV1 that Rotaract is organizing. So all in all, it’s been a whole lotta busy.

Here’s the second, far more ominous reason: The blog is getting harder to write. I never wrote a blog while I was in The States because it was difficult to pick out noteworthy pieces of life to share with the world. When I moved to Samoa, everything was so insanely different from my old life, it was easy to write 500 words out of thin air. But now that I’ve acclimated to life here (see post below), Samoa’s eccentricities are a little more subtle. I have to reach a little farther.

But I'll try.

I hope you're well. Pictures below.

Rotaractor Frysna at today's Job Shadow kick-off. Blakey and Setufu up top.

Oh! And the Smoke Free Rugby tournament is going on this week. See. I'm telling you. There's so much going on right now.


At USC football games, we used to do a chant that went like this:
"Beat the (opposing team's mascot),
Beat the (opposing team's mascot),
Beat the (opposing team's mascot),
They will lose."

It was already a funny chant because of its stupidly simple lyrics. But then one time an RA in one of the dorms made a series of banners with the lyrics, and the last one he wrote "loose" instead of "lose", making the stupid words even worse. I was reminded of that reading the Smoke Free Rugby Tournament schedule above.