Tuesday, August 31, 2010


There’s a part in the “Numbers” episode of Radiolab where they talk about how counting by ones is a relatively new thing for humans. Originally, humans counted exponentially; i.e. I have one, I have a few, I have several, I have lots. There are still a few tribes in South America, I think, that don’t have words for any number greater than 5—once you have more than that, there’s no need to quantify. I think there are still some vestiges of this phenomenon in Samoa. Strictly for quantifying objects, there’s a lot to be said for tele, but I think this practice is even more prominent in the word toeitiiti.

Directly, toeitiiti translates to “almost” or “soon”, depending on the usage, and I suppose to a certain extent, both “almost” and “soon” have their own inherent relativism in English. If I say, “The taxi will be here soon,” the time involved is probably much shorter than when I say, “Experts predict a big earthquake will hit California sometime soon.” Geological events and yellow cabs work on different scales of time; thus the problem with “soon”.

But in Samoa, toeitiiti can mean significantly different quantities of time, or other units, on the same scale. For example, the first time I went to the river fales in Falese’ela, we walked to the local fale’oloa to wait for a bus home. When we asked the owner when the next bus was coming, he smiled and shrugged. “Toeitiiti,” he said.

There was some knowing humor in that smile: it’s possible he meant the bus would arrive in 5 minutes. Or 2 hours. Both would fall under the toeitiiti threshhold.

In fact, I’d posit it’s difficult to pinpoint the limits of toeitiiti, somewhat similar to soon, I guess. If the bus is coming in 3 hours, is that not soon? What about 4? 5?

I bring this up because it was mildly entertaining to see toeitiiti frustrate the hell out of my Samoan staff today. Twice.

The first was around noon when we had finished preparing lunch for the Tahitians, but the team was out at an HIV/AIDS rally. We were in constant contact with one of the team’s Samoan chaperones, who had informed us of the team’s expected time of arrival: toeitiiti. Suasami had me peel the Saran Wrap off the deep-fried fish at 12:05 p.m., after which I was to fan the dish with a breadfruit branch.

A half hour later, I was still waving that breadfruit leaf back and forth. The team was nowhere in sight.

Then later this evening, there was some worry over the dearth of rice that had been cooked. I was overseeing the rice cookers, which Cascade and Panasonic have both designed to be timer-less. So once again, Suasami was checking in with me every other minute to see how much longer the next batch of rice would be. But with no quantifiable time, I could only shrug and answer, “Toeitiiti.”


I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Deep-fried fish heads for lunch!

Chrispune and Eletise fanned food for ~40 minutes while we waited for the team to show.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I Have a Dream

For whatever reason, I’ve been having strange dreams lately. Dreams are always strange, I suppose, so I guess when I say that these are particularly strange, it’s only because they fall outside the parameters of my normal dreams. The people who show up in my dreams are typically people I know personally: family, friends, people from college, etc. Here are 2 I’ve had recently that fell a little outside the norm, feel free to get Jungian:
    In the first, I’m in the car with my family dropping off a friend of my sisters’. My sister and her friend get out to say goodbye. They walk to the door, and my sister comes back with a guy who I immediately recognize him as the lead singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, but I don’t say anything. My dad finds the guy sketch, and politely tries to drop him off on the side of the road. But then, with the car pulled over and all, I say, “Hey Billie Joe Armstrong, is there a better place we can drop you?” So Armstrong kinda smiled, my dad rolled his eyes, and things get hazy after that. 
    In the second, I find myself with an older lady and a girl I assume is her granddaughter. The old lady tells me she’s having some trouble with a cargo container she keeps in one of the rooms in her house: she thinks it has a demon inside. I’m not sure why I’ve been called in on this matter, and as I’m scratching my head, the Ghostbusters arrive (Only Egon, Peter, and Ray. No Willis. Take that for what you will.). There is goofiness and witty banter. After Bill Murray is briefly dazed by the ghost or one of the ghostbusting streams, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis briefly fall out of character, genuinely entertained by Murray. As they aim their attention back to the ghost, who is in his final throes, they turn to me and tell me they’re very proud of me. Thanks, guys. Then they take out the ghost and leave. It was thrilling.
I know this post is an aberration from normal blog fodder, but I feel like I would like to tell the world the Ghostbusters visited me in a dream and told me they’re proud of me. What else could a child of the 80’s want from life?

I hope you’re well.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mālō Mātou (Part 2)

The sun was a factor. On the car ride over the mountain, I looked out the window and, though it was still before dawn, the sky was growing lighter. I turned to AJ, “That doesn’t bode well.” He shook his head wearily. During last year’s race, cloud cover was a welcome state of affairs for most of the day. It wasn’t until we got to the village of Falefa on the north side of Upolu that the sun became a factor, but this year, from the beginning, there was no cloud cover.

There was a clause in the race rules this year that essentially said if you finish the race too early, you’ll be disqualified. This was an effort to keep teams from inflating their estimated finish time in order to get an earlier start time. Earlier start times allow for more running in darkness, which is much much easier.

AJ started the race about 20 minutes after dawn, which meant my first leg came somewhere around 8:30 a.m., and anyone who’s been to Samoa knows a sunny day here gets hot well before 8:30. Sunscreen-laden sweat rolled down my face into my eyes moments into my first run, my shirt and pants immediately soaked.

We had Joey’s fiancée buy us matching dry-fit shirts in The States before her recent visit and used fabric paint to add a mock-Peace-Corps logo and our official team name, “Toa Pisikoa”. The fabric paint held up surprisingly well, though there was still a faint trace of red and blue bleeding into the rest of the shirt. I joked with Dan about the post-9/11 Bush ‘These Colors Don’t Run’ mantra. “These colors...” I trailed off.

“...occasionally run,” said Dan.

“It’s a race, man. These colors run fast.”

During one of my legs I ran through patches of small bugs, only to realize it was light rainfall. I was still in direct sunlight, and the raindrops weren’t nearly substantial enough to feel good. It just felt like more sweat.

We used the Peace Corps name to get us into the bathrooms at Faofao Beach Fales in Saleapaga. And when we remembered PCV Paul and his mom were staying at Tafua Beach Fales in Lalomanu, we drove past shouting, “Paul! Paul! Paul! Paul! Fa Paul! Fa Paul!” We spotted him eating breakfast, and it seemed like he was pretending not to know us, but he told us later he simply hadn’t heard us. Sure, Paul. Whatev.

Though none of our runners ever got near that of our rival team, our leap-frogging van caught up to their truck sometime around leg 11 up nearing the Mafa Pass. Whereas the morning had been a leisurely affair, getting within sight of them brought a new urgency to the race. We dug our heels in and pushed ourselves harder.

This newfound motivation came just in time: the distances of the legs increased toward the end. Everyone’s last leg was 5 kilometers, a longer distance than all but 2 legs had run contiguously, and by that point it was 12:30 in the afternoon and the day was reaching peak temperatures.

AJ looked dazed after his final leg. Dan bottomed out on blood sugar after his and took copious amounts of Gatorade before he became coherent again. Kyle said it may have been the most painful thing he’d ever done in his life. I don’t want to make us out to be a bunch of whiners; I’m just trying to paint a picture.

Since I had the last leg, I sat and listened to all this in a state of nervous denial. As I stretched before my final leg, I tried to get real with my body, “Do you realize what we’re about do to?” I asked my dawdling legs. “You know that everyone is talking about how awful this last leg has been? Are you ready for this?” Ben came tearing around his final bend in a dead sprint. The kid looked good. He passed me the baton, and I was off.

My final leg was nearly identical to the course of the Independence Day 10k a bunch of us ran in June. I started in Fagalii-Tai and worked my way toward town.

Oh! Before I get to my leg, I should tell you: for whatever reason, our team had its own police escort for the entire race. This meant one guy on a motor-scooter behind the runner, and one in front of the runner for the entire event. Have you even run 18 km with a guy following you on a motorbike? It’s weird.

They were nice though. They’d occasionally shout words of encouragement, “Faamalosi! Faamalosi!”, and once one of them offered me water mid-leg.

In any case, as I entered the village of Moata’a on the outskirts of Apia, they seemed to both shout, “Only two more villages!” It was fun.

Back to the sun’s death knell: It was fiery and there was little-to-no shade. The pavement reflected the heat, creating a sort of broiler. And with the smog and dust and pollution of urban Apia, things could only get worse. Traffic picked up, exhaust fumes blanketed the course, the foliage-lined highway gave way to dingy, crumbling sidewalks. It was a briar patch of pavement and asphyxiation.

But just like Brer Rabbit, I was at home. The up-and-down driveways, the drivers that can’t find it in themselves to give a runner (with police escort!) right-of-way, the uneven curbs, the curve of the seawall, the giddiness of other pedestrians, the kids walking along the walls of the bridge, the beauty of the harbor, the majesty of the trees on the waterfront, the music of the car horns. As Shaquille O’Neal would say, “This is my house.”

We finished 7 minutes behind the next closest team; the same team that started 16 minutes before us. We won the race by 9 minutes. Our total time was 8 hours, 5 minutes. Not too shabby.

I drank a niu.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Kyle making a much better "My house!" Shaq face.


Crossing the finish line. Dan was low at the time, but the other 4 guys crossed it with me.

Dan and me after the race.

The girls crossing the finish line. The girls took first place in the Open Womens' Division.

Group photo.
Guys left to right: Kyle, Dan, AJ, Joey, Me, Ben.
Girls left to right: Rachel, Dana, Lily, Kaelin, Corinna, Erin.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mālō Mātou (Part 1)

Yesterday was the 2nd annual Perimeter Relay Race, which started at Sinalei Resort on the south side of Upolu and wraps around the rolling terrain of the island’s east coast, over the mountains of the Mafa Pass, in and out of the inlets in the northeast, and finishes 64.1 miles (104.7 km) later in downtown Apia. The distance is separated into 24 legs, run in a 6-person rotation, with varying lengths depending on elevation change; i.e. the more the climb, the shorter the leg.

The Peace Corps fielded 2 teams this year, for whatever reason separated by sex. The boys’ team consisted of Ben from 80; Joey, Dan, AJ, and me from 81; and Kyle from 82. The girls’ team was Erin from 81; and Corinna, Dana, Kaelin, Lily, and Rachel from 82. Because of the nature of the race, we didn’t see the girls’ team for most of the day, but there was a shared camaraderie.

In any case, the boys’ team gathered at Chris 81’s house Friday night to carbo-load, strategize, and sleep. There was already a rotation at that point: a couple guys standing in the kitchen keeping an eye on the pasta, someone showering, someone reading over the list of race legs, and 3 other guys sitting in the living room passing the time.

We weighed in with our leg preferences, but in the end, team Captain Joey 81 came up with the following order:
  1. AJ 81;
  2. Dan 81;
  3. Joey 81;
  4. Kyle 82;
  5. Ben 80; and
  6. Matt 81.
Rinse. Repeat.

When we registered for the race we had to estimate our finish time because the race’s organizing committee, the US Veteran’s of Samoa, staggers the starting times of each team with the idea that everyone will finish together. Based on these predictions, we were the top seed.

I admit I was a little disappointed by this. Last year we were seeded second, and the team that won beat us by an hour. There was no chance of our being able to win, which meant we could relax in our second-place glory and have a good time with the day. This whole first-ranked business brought a competitive edge to the day.

Being top seed has another implication: we had to start last. In order to get everyone to finish together, the teams expected to have the longest finish time start earlier (In this case, one team started at 10:30 p.m. Friday so they would finish at 3:30 p.m. Friday) and the teams expected to have the shortest finish time start later.

We headed over the mountain this morning, bleary-eyed and tense, watching the sky slowly brighten. We rolled into Sinalei early enough to see the second-seeded team start the race. We were allowed to start up to 30 minutes before our allotted time. So 16 minutes after our nearest competitor left—we used the bathrooms, signed waiver forms, pinned on our bibs, did some awkward stretching—AJ sauntered up to the starting line, and we were off.

Part 2 tomorrow. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Dan and AJ standing over the stove making pasta. That's also Dan receiving the baton from AJ above the fold.

Kyle and Ben sitting in the back of the van in the Sinalei parking lot.

Dan proudly rocked his short shorts.

Me in the foreground getting ready to receiving the baton from Ben. That's Joey on the side of road watching. You can also see the police escort, which stayed with our team's runner the entire day.

Joey, Chris, and AJ at the exchange point in Saleapaga.

Our team's van, sponsored by Country Director Dale, at the exchange point at the rock quarry outside Lalomanu.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Daylight Savings

“It will be so much nicer after Daylight Savings and we’re only 6 hours off the east coast,” Chris said to no one in particular while sitting in the Peace Corps office resource room recently. Since our group arrived nearly 2 years ago, Samoa has wavered between being 6 and 7 hours off Eastern Time, depending on whether the east coast is in Daylight or Standard time, and thus 3 or 4 hours off my old haunts in California on Pacific time. But this year, there’s a twist.

“Samoa’s observing Daylight Savings this year,” I told her. “So it’s probably not going to be the same 7-hour/6-hour shift.”

Chris was none too excited to hear this, which wasn’t surprising. I certainly have less people with whom I communicate regularly living on the east coast, but I can imagine how a 6-hour time difference could far more convenient than a 7-hour one; goodness knows I have enough trouble with 3 hours and 4 hours.

But then I thought of something. “I wonder if we’re springing forward or falling backward.” Samoa’s in the southern hemisphere so seasons are backwards from those in America. School lets out of the summer in late November/early December, Christmas is spent at the beach, and September 21 (or 22) will be our spring equinox.

One quick Google search confirmed my suspicions: we are indeed springing forward. On Sunday, September 26, Samoa will move its clocks forward an hour. This has bizarre implications when one considers America, what with its northern-hemisphere-status, will move its clocks backwards on Sunday, October 31.

This means Samoa will be:
  • 5 hours behind the east coast;
  • 2 hours behind California; and
  • 1 hour ahead of Hawai’i.
This last one is particularly strange since Samoa is considerably farther west than Hawai’i. So let’s put this into perspective. At 5:00 p.m. here in Samoa, it will be 7:00 p.m. on the west coast of the United States, 10:00 p.m. on the east coast, and still only 4:00 p.m. in Hawai’i. That’s weird. Incidentally, Luisa, who has been in Chile (and thus in the southern hemisphere as well) since late May, will still be 7 hours off Samoa because she’s be springing forward too. What is my point with all this? I’m not sure I have one beyond that:
  1. Time is weird; and
  2. This year it will be weirder.
But, if nothing else, Chris will be happy.

I hope you’re well.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 66

I was laid off 5 months before I joined the Peace Corps, and I spent that time desperately searching for a job, watching The Wire, and running on the treadmill. RPCV Cale once observed that every time I tell stories about this time period, the muscles in my face form a subconscious grin. As terrible as it is to be out of work, there’s a satisfaction that comes from having time off while everybody else is working. And that’s what I’ve been feeling all week. My school breaked a week early on account of the visiting Tahitians, which means Apia’s been relatively free of Peace Corps, and I’ve had some time to relax by myself without many social obligations. It’s been nice. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • I’ve been watching “Deadwood”. It’s brilliant. But I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint of heart. Dakotan prospectors in the late 1870s had foul mouths and wretched lives. But that’s a good show. I hear I’m going to be disappointed by its non-ending.
  • I think the teacher at my school who wanted to throw cornflour in with the pasta wanted to do so because that would be similar to how curry is prepared in Samoa. I admit I’m not sure. I tried cooking curry once and failed miserably.
  • The Samoan teachers at my school as well as the Indian missionaries were baffled I took the boat to Savai’i on Saturday and returned less than a day later. “If I’m going to take the boat,” my vice pule told me, “I’m going to stay there for 2 weeks. I hate the boat.”
  • My friend Chris emailed me with a link to Rolling Stone’s recently released rankings for the top 10 Beatles songs. I have yet to come up with my own list, but I can tell you mine would include “I Should Have Known Better” from A Hard Day’s Night, and a bending of the rules to allow for the entire B-side of Abbey Road to fit within a single list item. I’m a rule-bender.
  • Okay, okay. So I’m writing these Odds and Ends 3 days late on the Sunday, August 29 (Though I’m only including odds and ends from the August 20 – 26 time period, for those who are keeping track at home), and I just realized I’m 3 days late in posting the answer to Monday’s semicircle problem. The answer is 20°. Sorry for the delay.
  • That picture of Dylan I posted Tuesday cracks me up.
  • When I took over molding rice on Wednesday, the girl who preceded me had shaken the rice out with a small up-and-down motion. When I took over, I introduced the practice of slamming the container on the serving plate once, which used inertia to get the rice out of the container one the first try nearly every time. But the other students and staff preparing dinner seemed a little shocked with my use of force; as though this was too violent a way to treat rice. I found this strange because many common practices in Samoa—husking coconuts, cutting grass with a machete, slaughtering pigs—is reliant on use of strength and force. But I guess once stoneware gets involved, people get weary.
That’s all I got from this week. I swear these will be up on time next week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

My 10.4 classroom turned into a bunkhouse.

Teachers and students having fun with sausage.

Another crevasse getting off the little boat Saturday afternoon.

A rare teaching moment of mine caught with the camera. I'm talking to last year's year 13 Marie.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


They asked me about pasta. I was minding my own business, making rice moldings from some sugar holder someone thought was the right size for a serving of rice. When one of the girls was called away, I took over at molding rice, and I discovered I had natural talent at forming neat mounds of rice, syran-wrapping the completed tray, and sending the product out to the buffet table. But then, as I said, they asked me about pasta.

I briefly appeared at the snack bar window looking for my towel-turned-pot-holder when Maengi called me out.

“Matt!” She said loudly, so the small group of staff sitting with her turned to look at me. “How do you make pasta?” I’m pretty sure the emphasis there was implied by my own mind. Boiling and straining pasta is such a simple process, I could only assume she was asking for some American cultural nuance or some palagi cooking wisdom.

My response was to the point, and somewhat ridiculous. “On my stove.” I honestly meant nothing rude or snarky with this answer. I think I had rice on the mind. Cooking rice is a delicate art with many different styles. On a basic level, I cook rice on the stove rather than the rice-cooker. My impression is my staff are all of the rice-cooker persuasion, and cooking starch on the stovetop is a mystery.

The only pasta I’ve seen Samoans cook is canned spaghetti, which is used as sandwich filling. Spaghetti sandwiches were big in the host village, and they’re served in the staff room during Interval fairly often. So when the Tahitians asked for a pasta meal before their game tomorrow, some teachers began to worry.

Once it came out I know how to cook pasta, the questions were rapid fire: “At what point do you add cornflour?” “Can we just stir some tuna in?” “Maybe we should just throw some flour on top?” “How about green beans? I think we could make some green beans and stir them in with the spaghetti.”

It was weird. Cooking pasta seems second nature.

I realize cooking pasta is also an art; getting the al dente just right takes some skill. PCV Dan, who asserted his pasta authority early in our Peace Corps experience, claims the best way to tell if spaghetti is ready is by throwing it at the wall. “If it sticks, you’re good to go,” he says.

I didn’t offer my staff any clever tricks. I told them to keep it simple. Throw some spaghetti sauce on top, and put the chicken or green beans next to it.

They were still curious as to why they shouldn’t add corn flour. Oh well.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

Student prefects from group 2.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Lost Symbol

Marie, with a slight look of panic and confusion in her eye, took out her pen with purpose and drew a pair of small circles. And then she looked at me helplessly. Her manner was so profound it made the little symbol she drew all the more menacing. The moment was straight out of a crappy Dan Brown thriller: I was baffled by what she’d drawn, and she was driven by urgency and deadline. The symbol sat there staring back at the two of us like two looming eyes.

Half of my year 13 class from last year (i.e. 3 students total) showed up this morning for help with their university computer homework. Sinaumea and Tui’s assignment is the same Microsoft Word project I’ve helped a bunch of other students complete in the past, but Marie is planning on majoring in computer studies, so her work tends to be more involved. She was working on creating her own relational database in Microsoft Access, something about which I know very little.

Access is a clumsy program, too simple for professionals, too involved for casual users. In my opinion, there are very few database issues that either:
  • Necessitate the use of a “real” database program (e.g. MySQL, etc.); or
  • Can’t be dealt with in Microsoft Excel, which is much more user-friendly.
In fact, even after teaching it for 2 years, Access is still a big mystery.

But Marie and I were elbows-deep in it this morning when she drew the peculiar pictogram. My first instinct was to scour Access’s various toolbars looking for an 8. Or a colon. Or some sort of digital Rosetta Stone. It’s amazing how quickly and easily computer icons can go from useful tools to nonsensical Egyptian hieroglyphs.

When I worked at eCivis, the company built new proprietary software, and there was a small contest to design icons for the graphic user interface. I remember readying my entry, and to a point I can sympathize with whoever designed those for Access.

Perhaps the problem was we were working in Office 2003. Now that Office 2007 has done away with drop-down menus, I assume the Access interface is more self-explanatory.

Now that I think about 2007’s laconic interface, there is something primal about the little pictures; as though humans have gone from drawing buffalo hunts on cave walls to a small tipped paint can icon in the “Paragraph” section of Microsoft Word. Such evolution.

Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed by now, Marie had drawn the symbol for “infinity”. Errr... ∞ . There was a big Robert Langdon moment when I rotated the paper 90° and the 8 she’d drawn was transformed.

It still took a while to figure out how to change a “one-to-one” relationship to “one-to-many”, but lo and behold, when we finally got it, the ∞ showed up, all bold and shiny.

Now we’re ready to take on the search for the Holy Grail.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

Dylan 77 has been back in Samoa the last couple weeks. Today at Italiano Pizza, he drank his Vailima through a straw.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Horizon

“Did you know the horizon is the straightest line in the world,” my friend Ruane said once on our way to Lalomanu during the aftermath of the tsunami. “And the funny thing is, it’s not even straight.” I’m not sure why those words have stuck with me, but I remembered them yesterday morning when Paul and I rode the upper deck of the new boat back across the channel from Savai’i to Upolu. With the listing of the boat, the horizon bobbed in the distance.

In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the survivor manual Pi finds on board tells him that from a sitting position on his tiny lifeboat, it’s estimated he has a 2.5-mile radius of sight, and I often think about that too. From 30 metres up in the air, how does my radius of sight improve?

When we were slightly more than halfway across the channel, Paul pointed to one of the hills on Savai’i behind us. “My house is right at the bottom of the other side of that hill,” he said. “I always think about that when I’m on the boat—about how it’s kind of cool that I know exactly where my house is.” All I wanted to do was quantify.

“How far do you think that hill is?” I asked. “Like, as the crow flies, what is that distance? 30 miles?” Paul shrugged.

Distance over the ocean is always difficult to gauge. When I did the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco, I remember I could see the finish line a mile-and-a-half away, and it seemed so close. 40 minutes later, it was hard to tell if I’d made any progress at all; the ocean always seems to look the same.

Here in the South Pacific, the absence of much light pollution makes for amazing night skies. On many occasions I’ve seen a burst of lightning with no accompanying thunder because, despite the bright flash across the sky, the actual bolt of lightning was so far away the sound of thunder is nearly inaudible.

But my fixation with the horizon yesterday morning seemed to flow from a more figurative perspective. The horizon is at once such a tangible border between the sky and the water, and yet so ethereal and elusive. It’s always there in the distance, just out of grasp. There’s that scene at the end of “The Truman Show” where Jim Carey’s sailboat bumps into a wall posing as the horizon; an image surreally satisfying.

But really, the horizon is always at a distance. You can only be where you are.

There’s all this talk about the future—what things will be like back in The States, who’s leaving on what date, grad school applications—but the fact is my group is still here for another 3.5 months.

With the new Lady Samoa III, the boat ride from Savai’i to Upolu is fairly short; it’s a shame to spend the whole time staring at the teetering horizon.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Me making a strange face on the little boat on the way to Savai'i earlier in the weekend.

Paul snoozing.

More GMAT Maths! This one had me stumped for a good hour tonight, and then the solution turned out to be absurdly straightforward.

O is at the center of the semicircle. B, C, and D are points on the semicircle. The length of segment AB is equal to that of segment OC. Given the measure of angle COD is 60°, what is the measure of angle BAO?

Answer Thursday.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


“They eat with forks,” Thanpuii reminded the student who was laying out the silverware. This is just one example of many cultural nuances that surfaced in preparing dinner for the Tahitians. Between the Indian missionaries, the Samoan natives, the Tahitian rugby players, and my American self, the entire afternoon was a master’s class in culture and cross-cultural relations. It was chaotic and fascinating. And the food was all right.

My school’s staff and student prefects have been divided into 3 groups, which change duty each day. That is, group 1 prepared food yesterday, group 2 was on duty today, group 3 will come in tomorrow, group 1 the day after. As a member of group 2, I spent the late afternoon and most of the evening preparing dinner with teachers and a bunch of year 12s and 13s. While I’m not too keen on teaching, it’s extra-curricular activities like this where the setting is less formal that I relish the job.

Structurally, the schedule of events was Samoan: we cooked the food, watched the Tahitian guests eat, then the teachers ate, and then the students. I spent most of the day hovering in the background trying to help when I could, but mostly leaving the main thrust of the meal preparation to others. Too many cooks spoil the soup (or in this case, the curry), and I didn’t want to mettle with what seemed like a pretty organized system. So I laid back.

Tahiti was colonized by France, and the Tahitian rugby teams consequently speaks French. No English. Since our non-French-speaking staff has been charged with organizing the team’s logistics, language is a key issue. I’ve been on Savai’i since the team arrived, and hopes were high I would be able to communicate with the Tahitians. Sorry, everybody. I took four and a half years of Spanish, which is of no use in this situation. Everyone’s been getting by with pantomime and pictures though, which works well enough.

Communication has been a bigger problem with the Oceania Rugby Union giving our staff certain directives that haven’t gone over well in practice. For example, the union told us that the team should eat lots of fruits and vegetables. At last night’s dinner, the team barely touched the fruits and vegetables, instead opting for meat. I think some students and staff were miffed about this, but I think these sort of kinks will get worked out over the next 2 weeks.

It was hilarious watching students interact. My year 13 Amanda was a Chatty Cathy going on and on about how the Tahitians don’t like the food and only ate scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast and how the girls from group 1 got in trouble last night for being too cheeky with the players and how it’s strange that they drink so much juice and blah blah blah.

Dinner was served buffet-style, but the girls, who changed into pulatasis just before dinner was served, tripped over one another for the opportunity to go around to offer the players extra food or to fill up their drinks. Romance can be taboo in Samoa, and having a slew of athletic, exotic young men is a rare treat for a female adolescent.

Overall, I had a good time tonight, which is good because we’re doing the whole thing again on Wednesday when it’s group 2’s turn again.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Girls serving the team.

Students flank Suasami, who is also in group 2.

Year 12 Gasologa.

Goof balls.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 65

Tomorrow I will proctor the Pacific Secondary Senior Certificate Common Assessment Task for my year 13 students. I also need to mark the final School Certificate Common Assessment Tasks for my year 12 students. Beyond that, term 2 is finished. From here, I’ve got 3.5 weeks of break, and then I’ll start my final term of teaching here in Samoa. It’s a little surreal. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Two weeks ago, I received an email inviting me to attend a circuit-training class at a local gym here in Apia. It was only after I agreed the class was revealed to be ADF: Aerobic Dance Fitness. I was put off by the ideas of aerobics and dance, picturing some sort of cross between Sweatin’ to the Oldies and Jazzercise, but already having committed myself, I attended. All I can say is it was quite the workout. In addition to the ridiculous Fame-style moments, there’s a whole lot of weight endurance. For days after I didn’t have full use of my left tricep on account of soreness. Since then, I’ve attended twice more, and I have to admit I enjoy it. It’s me and a bunch of women, but I’m not complaining.
  • No really. I can’t get enough “Waka Waka”. A month since the World Cup has ended, and the song is still all the rage in Samoa.
  • When I assigned the my hand-picked reporters to come up with articles for the school magazine, I gave them until yesterday to give me a final draft. A day after deadline, I’ve received 5 of 9 articles. Then again, yesterday’s blogpost went up a day late. I guess people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
  • Monday’s Above The Fold photo was the senior Netball team with Coach Bernie.
  • Group 83 is beginning to come out of the woodwork. I’ve heard from 2 newbies already. Anyone else out there showing up for staging October 5?
  • Last week a student asked me to type 2 separate documents, which I did in exchange for 2 separate niu. She followed through on her end of the bargain (as did I). All I can say is I should have implemented this policy a year and a half ago.
  • Correction: Someone pointed out my ’ie is a little short in this picture. True. The ’ie should cover the knee. My apologies to everyone offended by the sight of my partially exposed knees. Matt’s Samoa Blog regrets the error.
  • Answers to Tuesday’s maths workout:

    1. B.
    2. D.
    3. B.
    4. B.
    5. D.
    Good job, Mom.
That’s all I got for today. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

One of my 10.4 students Andrea sharpening her pencil with a boxcutter. Hardcore.

Proof to RPCV John 6 (and Jim 80) I gave the last piece of pizza to the cat.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rolling Out the Red Carpet

I slept through most of first period, as I am wont to do most Wednesdays. I don’t have a first period class on Wednesday, and since I literally live a stone’s throw from school, I can afford to wake up 20 minutes before second period and still get to work on time. When I opened my eyes, the cat’s eyes looked directly back at mine from not more than 4 inches away. The cat, as she is wont to do, wakes up most mornings around 6 a.m. and waits (im)patiently for me to feed her. But this particular morning, something was different: there was noise.

On Mondays, I listen for singing. When I wake up to the sound of one cohesive song, it means all of the students are gathered in the assembly hall, and I can take an extra snooze on account of first period starting a half-hour late. Most other mornings I awake to the quiet murmur of students in the schoolyard awaiting the first bell.

But today, there was more than a murmur. It was more than a stir. The sound was that of students jovially enjoying the morning, excited about a long day free of school. And that’s exactly what they were in store for.

Term 2 is finished. Tahiti’s Oceania Games Rugby Team arrives this Saturday at 4:00 a.m., and the rest of this week is officially devoted to rolling out the red carpet. Walking across campus this morning, I saw students bleaching walls and floors, sweeping, mopping, painting, carting desks, weeding, burning trash, raking grass clippings, et cetera. The art students were hard at work, half of them finishing assembly hall murals, while the rest worked on a welcome banner for the Tahiti team.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve seen my school put in a pretty good effort on so-called cleaning days, but nothing has compared to today. Later in the morning locksmiths came in to replace the doorknobs on several of the classroom doors—including the computer lab. As you may recall, the computer lab has been without a working doorknob ever since my year 13s and I were trapped inside last year. I’ve been lobbying for a new doorknob ever since to no avail, but one lousy rugby team comes out of the woodwork, and I get a new doorknob, no questions asked.

With all of this shipshape intensity, I find it difficult to find a good place to apply myself, so I’ve decided to work on my own small projects. There’s been a small backlog of student IDs I’ve been meaning to print, so I used some time this morning to get those in order. I was also able to print sample photos of each form class, which I passed out to teachers so they can give me a detailed list of which student is in which row.

On the whole, it was a rather productive day. And no more teaching for three and a half weeks. Sweet.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Bananas hang outside the classrooms that will host the team.

Students scrubbing.

Students weeding.

Students taking a break from cleaning and banana-hanging to lean over the 2nd-floor balcony.

The year 12/year 11 building with students all over the place.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

GMAT Maths

I spent the evening at Jordan’s house watching him study for the GMAT. I’m not sure I was much help in terms of mechanics and solving strategies, but I provided moral support where I could. Studying for a big test is like anything else: it’s easier when you have a spotter. And it breaks up the monotony when you have someone with whom you can talk through a problem or simply revel in the difficulty. And in that spirit, I figure tonight’s post will be interactive. You too can participate in the fun of GMAT math. Below are a few highlights for you to try at home. Answers will be post on Thursday with Odds and Ends 65.

1. Point O is the center of a circle on which P and Q are points. If the coordinates for P are (-√3, 1), and the coordinates for Q are (s, t), what is the value of s?

  1. 1
  2. √2
  3. √3
  4. 2
2. Scout buys a new car with a fuel efficiency of 25 miles per gallon in the city and 40 miles per gallon on the freeway. On Tuesday, she drives 10 miles in the city and 50 miles on the freeway, what is her total average fuel efficiency for Tuesday?
  1. 26
  2. 28
  3. 34
  4. 36
  5. 38
3. Thanpuii has 5 pieces of wood of varying lengths. The average (arithmetic mean) of the 5 pieces of wood is 124 cm. If the median length is 140 cm, what is the maximum length of the shortest piece of wood?
  1. 90
  2. 100
  3. 110
  4. 130
  5. 140
4. Triangles ABC and BCD are shown in the diagram at right. If line segment AD = 6, what is the length of BC?
  1. 3
  2. 6
  3. 6√2
  4. 6√3
  5. 12
5. Solve for x.
  1. 11
  2. 12
  3. 13
  4. 15
  5. 19
Back to Samoa tomorrow. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

We took more portraits this afternoon. I really like everything that's going on in this candid photo.

I was called out of my science class sixth period to come take this photo of my pule in situ.

Rugby coaches. Notice that Tone on the far right couldn't be bothered to take off his headphones.