Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

I’ve done it once before. Between college and Samoa I cut my own hair, and on one occasion in early 2007 the guard on the clippers came off while I was trimming the hair on the back of my head, and I had no other choice. But yesterday’s session was a conscious decision from start to finish. I recruited Dan to help me in the matter, set out the objectives beforehand, and then stood on the steps behind myself while Dan went to work.

People have since asked when and how I came up with the idea, and to be honest, I don’t have a straight answer. Halloween snuck up on me, as it always does, and I’d been talking to a bunch of volunteers about costume ideas, and when someone suggested monk Friday afternoon, I immediately rejected it. But somehow it crept back into my deliberations yesterday morning.

On second thought, the idea had merit. The clothing wouldn’t be difficult; though I don’t have a brown robe, a brown ’ie faitaga would work perfectly. Additionally, what with the Giants doing so well in the World Series, being a Franciscan monk would fall right in line with San Francisco. In fact, Saint Francis would be a great tribute costume on a number of different levels.

But the part that really pushed the idea over the edge—the thing that would bring the costume from mediocre to memorable, the way the costume could really outdo years past—required a certain amount of sacrifice.

For whatever reason, in my experience Peace Corps Volunteers take Halloween far more seriously than most people I knew in The States. Perhaps the qualities that make for a good PCV fall in line with those that make for a good Halloween costume maker/wearer. Or maybe life overseas means we have a lot of pent-up Americanism and Halloween simply provides an outlet. Whatever the reason, past years have set the bar high.

And, if I do say so myself, I’ve had a pretty good track record. In 2008, my mosquito costume was certainly a failure, but it was a memorable failure. Though it became unwieldy almost immediately and it was unrecognizable to most people that night, people still talk about how awesomely bad it was. Last year my Halloween homage to Country Director Dale was a big hit. At Group 83’s Welcome Fiafia earlier this month, Dale even introduced himself as Matt. So I like to think I’ve built a bit of a reputation for coming up with a costume that generates some sort of buzz, which is all to say that expectations for this year were high.

So I shaved my head. It was the added quirk that brought the entire costume to a new level. When I told Dan my idea, we discussed whether it should just be clipped short or whether a safety razor and shaving cream would be necessary. We decided on the latter. Dan used a longer setting on the clippers first to get the general shape and then went over it again once we were both satisfied. I did much of the work with the safety razor, although Dan helped with the back.

The monk’s hood provided a good method of reveal that let people soak in the costume initially, and with its removal, the tada! moment. Many people at the party thought I was wearing some sort of bald cap, and I was asked several times during the night where I found such a thing in Apia. Everyone’s next question of course was, “What are you going to do tomorrow?”

My answer: shave the rest.

And so as I type this now, my head is completely bald. It will be difficult to explain this to school staff tomorrow, but I figure once people get over the initial shock, things will be business as usual. Students won’t be around this week on account of testing, and there should be a fair amount of stubble by the time they get back next Monday.

In any case, I feel like I rose to the Peace Corps Halloween standard. Don’t expect this next year.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Erin showed up as a Native American. Me as Monk.

Koa and Summer as John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The costumes. 4 volunteers showed up dressed as other volunteers. Left to Right: Kyle as Jenny S. 82, Jim as Trent, Blakey as me, Elisa as Tifa.

The real people. Left to Right: Jenny S. 82, Trent, Me, Tifa.

Phil and Supy, in a sequel to 2008's Big Spoon / Little Spoon, came as Masima and Masima Saina (Salt and Chinese Salt... even though Supy is Thai.). Joey 81 was a baseball player.

Emily showed up in full Dia de los Muertos garb.

K8 showed up as Miss Mortein, a superhero of her own creation.

Group 81 showed up in its entirety as we do on occasion. No other group has ever achieved this outside of training in all my time here. Yes, we love patting ourselves on the back.

Me tonight. Bald.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 72

It’s been quite a day. An hour after assigning my English class a rather lengthy report to have ready for class tomorrow, I was informed tomorrow will be a cleaning day and there will be no classes. Essentially, today was my last day of teaching in Samoa. There was little time to process this though, because I taxied across town as soon as school got out to watch the Giants deliver a wallop to a stunned Texas Rangers. 9-0?! I mean, c’mon! Did that really happen? And then 8 hours later I finally watched the last episode of Lost. It’s a lot to take in. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Okay, okay. For the sake of everyone else, let’s continue to refrain from leaving comments about Lost, but if you want to at this point, you can email me if you want to talk about it. I think I may be the only person in Samoa who has seen the whole thing—certainly no other Peace Corps Volunteers have seen it, probably some of the trainees—so goodness knows I could use someone to talk to.
  • It has been insanely rainy these past couple days. The wet season is here.
  • Blakey and I have been puzzled by all the baseball players on both teams wearing kitschy necklaces color-coordinated to their uniforms. RPCV Dylan says the neckwear is supposedly magnetic or power-channeling or some other sort of snake oil. Cool.
  • The magazine is really finished because the final product has been delivered. At Interval on Tuesday copies were distributed to all the form teachers so students could see an advance copy. Everyone seems pretty happy. I have not received a copy yet, but I’m thrilled there will be no more revisions.
  • You know Suasami? The teacher I sit next to every day at Interval? I somehow left her name off the list of people in her form class’s picture. Every single other teacher is listed with their class and has his/her name underlined. Oops.
  • Liam turned me on to this band The Morning Benders. They’re great.
  • I’m so happy Year 13 Camp is over. It’s fun at first, and then it just feels like the school day never ends. Even the hormonal students seemed relieved to not be here anymore.
  • Have you heard about this new casino they’re building in downtown Apia? I heard a rumor today that only foreign-passport-holders will be allowed to gamble. How are they going to enforce that?
  • Man. Lost isn’t The Wire or Arrested Development, but it’s damn good.
  • I desperately need to submit law school applications. I think this may happen Sunday.
  • I need a Halloween costume!
That’s all I got for today—sorry it’s a little short. I hope you’re well.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

2 Down, 2 to Go

Daaaang. Texas Rangers got beat down tonight. At one point, one of the announcers on the American Forces Network, before praising Edgar Renteria, tried to affirm his objectivity by saying he didn’t favor either side, and that all he was rooting for was a 7-game series in which each game was decided by 1 run. After which I said to Blakey, “I’m rooting for a 4-game series in which each game is a blowout.” The series has yet to be decided, but at least the latter part of my wish came true in game 2. Ouch! But really, the thrill of the last 2 days has simply been watching baseball.

Through Facebook and talking to friends from back home, I know a fair amount of people who attended one or both games, and it’s weird because I don’t feel jealous at all. After living in Samoa for 2 years, I am disconnected from America enough that the thought of attending a World Series game seems surreal. It would be sensory overload; more stressful than fun. Like getting in a car and jumping from 10 mph to 100. It honestly doesn’t sound appealing.

But I miss baseball. I wrote about this nearly a year and a half ago after watching Field of Dreams, and as much as I’ve spent the time since then adjusting to a life without it, I still quietly miss it a lot. So part of the thrill in having the Giants go to the World Series is having an excuse to seek out a TV in Apia showing a baseball game.

Shortly after I posted Sunday, I emailed the Charges d’Affaires to ask about possibly watching a few World Series games at the American embassy, and she was cool with that. So I wore my Tim Lincecum T-shirt to sixth period yesterday, and as soon as the bell rang I made a beeline for the embassy.

I felt a little ridiculous emailing the Charges to ask if I could come watch TV, and I was completely prepared to sit in a corner at the embassy to quietly watch by myself. But it was the Charges who suggested the event might be more fun if I brought some other people. So Blakey came along yesterday and had a good enough time she came back for Game 2 this afternoon.

There was a brief moment of panic when I first arrived yesterday and we couldn’t find any channel showing the game on the handful of stations that come in through the embassy’s satellite dish. But then some embassy TV expert came in and changed the input, and the American Forces Network came through like a champ. This means that we get military commercials between half-innings and during pitcher changes. Although I’m still apt to recite, “And when it’s time for a change, think Speedy Oil Change...”

So just for a second, I’m going to use my soap box here to talk some trash...
Is walking in a run not one of the most embarrassing things one can do in professional sports? I’d say it’s worse than shooting an airball from the free-throw line or getting tackled in your own endzone. It’s the kind of thing where the opposing team winces in embarrassment for you. The kind of thing where even the scoreboard shakes its head, shrugs, and then chalks one up for the other team. The kind of thing Germans invented the word “Schaudenfraude” to articulate. In English, I’d just have to call it pitiful.

Bring it on in Arlington.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Note: Odds and Ends Thursday will run tomorrow.

Me in my Lincecum T-shirt and my gray 'ie faitaga.

Blakey and I have been watching in the embassy's staff dining room.

Me and Blakey.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lock Down

Last Tuesday my year 13s begged me to open the computer lab during the open-study period from 9:30 p.m. until bed time at 11:00. While I was more opening the lab to the masses at the beginning of camp, I’ve lately been a little over camp, and sitting in the corner with a classroom full of year 13s looking at pictures on their flash drives and listening to the latest from J Boog isn’t my idea of a restful weekday evening. But I agreed to open the lab anyway. And none of them showed.

That’s right: I was stood up by my students. A few of the year 12 boys who live on campus came into the room around 10:40, and I let them use the computers for the final 20 minutes. As you can expect, I was cranky about the situation.

But then Amanda apologized the next morning, “Sorry about last night, Mista,” she said. “But they wouldn’t let us out of the classroom.” The idea that some overzealous teacher put the kibosh on the computer lab made more sense. Amanda went on, “I was so angry they wouldn’t let us out of study hall, I just didn’t study. They wouldn’t let me out. So I just sat there.” And then I was completely won over.

It’s totally something I would do. I’m all about irrational, pseudo-subversive responses to arbitrary rules. Would it have benefited Amanda to have spent that time studying rather than trying to make some pointless statement about the tyranny of the supervising teacher? Sure. But it’s much better to sacrifice studying in the name of a principle; it’s always a thrill to be the martyr.

Fast forward to tonight. The supervision rotation found all the players in the same spot for the first time since last week’s episode. And the year 13s were at it again begging me to open the lab.

“We’ll come this time, but you have to pick us up,” they told me. “[That teacher] is mean.” Speaking the name of the teacher in question, of course. Until this afternoon I hadn’t realize which teacher had been holding them in. The news was slightly surprising because I was under the impression it had been someone else, and yet not surprising at all because the story made much more sense now.

See, the students in question are all trustworthy. Most of them are student prefects. They don’t fit the profile of the cigarette-smoking rebels looking to sneak out and raise hell. To deny them passage to the computer lab seems a little extreme. But then again, what is the entire Hall Pass system, but a way of asserting one’s power? A hall pass is completely function-less except that it reminds students about the Rule of Law.

The entire situation became more ridiculous when I actually went to pick up my kids from The Big Bad Wolf tonight. The teacher coarsely acknowledged me as I approached, and then I said in a quiet tone, “Can I have the computer studies students?” The teacher, looking to hang on to the asserted power, barked at the students a bit before allowing them to go. But I didn’t stick around to listen.

I figure getting between Amanda the Martyr and The Great Authoritarian is no way to spend a Monday night.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

Did I already post this picture? If I did, it's worth posting again. It's from a few months back when a student borrowed my camera for an event. I think the girl on the right is her little sister. They're darling.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Off to the Village

They left a week late. The training schedule usually dictates the incoming group stays in Apia for approximate- ly 10 days, and then on their second Saturday in country, the newbies leave for the training village. In the past the Welcome Fiafia has been held the night before, so the trainees get one last hurrah before heading out into the cold. But for whatever reason this year, the trainees stayed in town an extra week. And then yesterday afternoon, they headed out.

There’s one other difference with group 83: they have 4 different training villages. While group 81 took the village of Fausaga by storm back in October 2008 with all 13 of us living with host families in the village, and group 82 doing the same last year with the village of Manunu, the 83s have been split into 4 sub-groups. I’m pretty sure the 4 villages are somewhat close to one another—I heard it’s approximately 5 miles from one end to the other—but the 4 villages don’t necessarily border each other.

When the volunteers heard about this strategy, there were mixed feelings. On the one hand, we liked our experience of the group unity that is forged in having a common village experience. After two and a half weeks in a Apia, group 83 knows one another pretty well, and it’s lousy to have to split up. On the other hand group unity is more difficult to achieve with 20 trainees, so it might be less overwhelming for the volunteers and the people in the village to split the large group into more manageable pieces.

Given my residence in Apia and group 83’s outgoing nature, I’ve been able to interact with them quite a bit since they arrived, and I’ve been in limited contact with a few via text message since yesterday. It’s been entertaining reading about their reactions.

I recall in the day or two leading up to my groups first trip to the host village, the Training Director warned us, “Just remember: you signed up for the Peace Corps.” Those first 10 days were spent at an air-conditioned hotel in downtown Apia. Going from there to the training village is a mix of The-Honeymoon’s-over and you’re-getting-pushed-into-the-deep-end. It can be overwhelming at first.

Here are some text messages I’ve received:
  • Lots of freakin roosters around me
  • Survived my first day. Lots of awkward moments but its expected.
  • I can’t remember anyones names! :-(
  • All the teen girls boss me around
  • How long does it take to get used to cold showers...cause that was pretty awful
  • [All the 83s] i have talked to are fine...still uncomfortable but fine...and actually looking forward to class tomorrow

Reading these feels like listening to one of my cousins talk about high school: I’m not jealous of their situation at all, but it’s mildly entertaining to watch someone else have to go through the same growing pains, and I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic. Being stuck in the training village was lousy. And I miss it a little.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Samantha and Olivia from group 83.

The tall palagi guy who manages Farmer Joe shopping at K.K. Mart.

This was posted on the chalkboard when I walked into my 9.2 class one day last week. Apparently in reviewing for the upcoming Visual Arts exam, the art teacher gave the sample question, "What is Art?" And the correct answer, "Art is life." I found this hilarious.

The next question: "What is the key of art?" So, by extension, what is the key to life?
The answer: "Drawing."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yes! Giants!

My dad texted me at 8:46 p.m. PDT with, “Giants win 3-2”. And just like that, my boys are going to the World Series for the first time in 8 years. This is glorious news, except for the fact I’m completely isolated from baseball. I’ve been wearing my Giants t-shirt to class and my Giants baseball cap around town, but the thrill of baseball isn’t about the jersey or the hometown pride; it’s about watching the game. And though it’s going to be decidedly difficult to do that, I’m going to try my damnedest.

Looking at the game schedule, games 1 and 2 are this Wednesday and Thursday at approximately 2 p.m. Samoa Time. Then games 3 through 5 are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and then, should games 6 and/or 7 be necessary, next Wednesday and Thursday.

Here is a list of viewing possibilities I’ve come up with:
  • Sports Bar. There are 2 prominent sports bars in Apia: Henny’s and Wildfire. Each of these has ESPN Australia. Fox has domestic TV rights, but I suppose there’s a chance ESPN is telecasting the games internationally (or at least to Australia). Assuming that, and that they are open at 2 p.m., these places become viable options.
  • Charges d’Affaires. The Charges gets the American Forces Network at her house, and I would definitely assume it will be showing there. Going to her house is probably not an option during the middle of the week, but it’s possible she’d allow a TV-less PCV to come watch the World Series next Saturday or Sunday.
  • The American Embassy. They have cable that can be shown in the lobby. It’s unclear whether they get any channels that will be showing the World Series, but it’s certainly possible. They tend to be tight on security there, but I don’t think watching a game there would be out of the question. It’s definitely worth a try.
  • GameDay Webcast. If worse comes to worst, I should be able to (ideally) watch or (more realistically) listen to the games over the Internet. When I lived in Pasadena I subscribed to so I could listen to Giants games, and their web capabilities have only improved since. Watching a 3-hour game on LavaSpot would be expensive, and it’s unclear the LavaSpot would have the bandwidth to handle streaming video. These factors make this option a last resort.
I wonder if I know anyone else who has good cable. Jordan and Blakey housesat for a couple up the hill who have pretty good international cable. Jordan invited me over earlier this season to watch baseball. The second-to-last resort:
    Do you live in the Apia area? Do you have a satellite dish or otherwise International TV capabilities? Can I come to your house to watch a baseball game at one of the following times?
    • 27 October, 1:57 p.m.
    • 28 October, 1:57 p.m.
    • 30 October, 12:57 p.m.
    • 31 October, 3:20 p.m.
    • 1 November, 2:57 p.m.
    • 3 November, 2:57 p.m.
    • 4 November, 2:57 p.m.
    I would be willing to bring chips and soda and explain the finer points of Major League Baseball to anyone interested. Please email me here.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

While watching Lost yesterday, I noticed Hurley put a Teuila blossom on Libby's grave. The Teuila is, of course, the national flower of Samoa.

Note: Please refrain from leaving comments about Lost. Thank you.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Finite Weekend

In the office where my mom used to work, there was a sign posted next to the large office calendar that read, “Dates in the calendar may be closer than they appear.” Most members of group 81 are fully aware of how many days they have left in Samoa off the top of their heads. I had a media-related issue last night that I called Koa about, and his solution was, “We’ll be back in America in 53 days...” Koa’s leaving a week after me, so my countdown is even farther along. But I find the countdown only creates stress, so I try and avoid thinking about it.

On the other hand, I am acutely aware of how many weekends I have left (seven including this one), and since weekends are the only time of week when I can really do much in-country travel, I’m trying to mete out weekend time a little more wisely. Since everything shuts down Sundays, I mostly treat weekends as a Friday-Saturday affair.

First the constraints. We’ll be celebrating Halloween next Saturday and Thanksgiving on my penultimate Saturday in Samoa. This leaves 5 remaining Saturdays (including tomorrow) before I leave. Money is also more of a factor than I’d thought it would be. Whereas prior to May of this year, I was putting a little away every month, I’ve since been squandering my cash on who-knows-what. I don’t think this should be too much of a factor, but it’s still good to keep in mind when considering the next part of the finite weekend equation: the list of things I want to do.

Creating a list of stuff to do before we leave was part of the Close of Service Conference. I wrote out a long list that I have since misplaced. Oh well. Here is a list I’ve brainstormed off the top of my head:
  • Go to Namu’a Island;
  • Go to Manono;
  • Do the River Fales Hike (again) in Falese’ela;
  • Rent a car to:
    • Return my large beer and soda bottles to Apia Bottling Co. for $0.40 per bottle; and
    • Take one last joy ride along Upolu’s south coast;
  • Visit the training village at least 2 more times; and
  • Visit Savai’i at least 1 more time.
This list actually seems a little modest. It seems like there should be more, although nothing else comes to mind at this point. One thing that can be safely said is that if I’m going to do all of these things—or even most of these things—my weekend schedule is going to be crowded for the rest of my stay in Samoa.

There’s the consolatory idea that I whatever I don’t do in the next 6 weeks can be done on some subsequent return to Samoa. And while I’m not at all opposed to coming back to visit, even returning for 2 weeks doesn’t seem like enough time to accomplish much at all. RPCV Max has been visiting these past 2 weeks, but he’s spent most of the time catching up with his host family and living the typical PCV lifestyle; that is, saving all the fun stuff until it’s too late.

I hope you’re well. Happy Birthday Dustin! Picture below.

Girls after year 13 camp last night. Left to right: Amanda's sister (sorry, I don't know her name), Tafale, Amanda.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Odds and Ends Thursday 71

I was up until 3 a.m. Monday night/ Tuesday morning grading exams. I managed to finish all my year 13s and then fought off sleep grading my year 12s’ multiple choice. It was the kind of deal where I was falling asleep in the middle of moving my pen back and forth across the page. But by 4th period Tuesday they were ready to be handed back, and just like that, the second to last big hump of my Peace Corps experience was over. Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Okay, maybe it’s a little too hopeful to think that there’s only one big ungodly effort left before December, but I think I’m just happy to be done with the slideshow and the exam-marking and the school magazine (knock on wood).
  • Happy birthday, Jen!
  • Why the knocking on wood? Well after the printing company delivered the proofs last Friday, my pule decided he had a slew of content changes he wanted to make. Proofs are only for checking color and margin size! The magazine was finished already! Let sleeping dogs lie!
  • I made his changes. We re-submitted the magazine Wednesday. We should have new proofs early next week.
  • It’s getting to be that time of year again where I lament the fact I didn’t start planning my Halloween costume a week or two earlier. Oh well. I found this one on the Mental Floss website. I really like it, but I’m not sure I could find orange tights or a cottontail in Samoa.
  • I’ve started listening to The Beatles’ Let It Be re-release, “Let It Be... Naked” a lot recently. I never found the original very approachable, but this new version has grown on me. Kinda funny because I got the “Naked” album as a Secret Santa gift for Christmas 2003, and it’s taken these 7 years for me to really get into it.
  • Most annoying development in months: somehow the device driver software for my touchpad disappeared. My computer won’t acknowledge the factory touchpad. Now, if the touchpad simply stopped working I could get an external mouse, and the problem would be solved. But instead the touchpad does work, but now I can’t disable one-touch clicking. So now I keep inadvertently bumping it while I’m typing, and I end up clicking somewhere else on the screen. And since the software is gone, there’s nothing I can do to disable that. It’s effing obnoxious.
  • The sāsā we performed at the 83 Welcome Fiafia was the worst sāsā I’ve been a part of in my 2 years. This is sad because it’s most likely the last time I will sāsā. Oh well.
  • So how about my San Francisco Giants? Sure, they lost tonight, but who’d have thought they’d get this far in the post-season? I’m just sad I can’t watch. If they make it to the World Series, so help me God, I’ll find a way. It will be difficult, but not impossible, I think.
  • Here are the best answers from my Year 12 and 13 final exams:
    • What does ASCII stand for?
      American Standard Code for Interchuch Information

    • What does WYSIWYG stand for?
      Word Software Input War (sounds menacing, ay?)

    • Why is it good to use a spreadsheet program rather than pencil and paper?
      You dont have to waste your time by doing on paper and it good because the computer knows everything

    • Question unknown.
      Microsoft Bublisher.
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

This afternoon I was on a panel to discuss teaching in Samoa as part of group 83's training. This picture, along with the next 2, is group 83 from my vantage point. Left to right: APCD Kellye, Interim Peace Corps Trainer Jamie, Sarah, Samantha, Olivia, Jenny, Lindsay.

Left to right: Katie, Rivka, OtherMike, Danny, Pat, Natalie, Chris.

Left to right: Chelsea, Rob, Mike, Devon, Rachael, Dave, Karen.  Nancy was sitting right next to Chelsea out of the camera's frame.  Sorry, Nancy.

This was the sky off the balcony of the Pasefika Inn this afternoon. Samoan skies are breathtaking. 2 years later, I can't help taking pictures of blue sky and clouds. I think the rusty corrugated roofs also caught my eye.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Slideshow: Year 2

Yes, I admit these last Cultural Explorations were sporadically posted over a much longer time period than usual. For a moment on Sunday, I actually planned to write and publish 5 blog posts. But then I literally fell over on the couch and fell asleep. Much like last year, last week’s lead-up to the Welcome Fiafia was a mostly sleepless affair. With everyone in town last weekend, there was little time to catch up, and the re-introduction of Year 13 Camp this week has left me surviving on caffeine and mid-afternoon catnaps. So sorry if things have been uneven; it’s an accurate portrayal of life.

The slideshow turned out pretty good. Since the Fiafia came up way faster than I was expecting, I didn’t have much time to throw the slideshow together, so I mostly relied on the same clever tricks I concocted last year. Thus the crowd was less awed than last year, but still satisfied, I think.

I included factoids about each volunteer, and since I have twice the familiarity with group 81 this year, I was able to sprinkle the show with in-jokes and euphemisms. In fact, use of the word “factoid” itself is a quiet shout-out to the 81s.

There were the typical hang-ups. One volunteer felt all of her pictures were lousy, another shouted out during the slideshow presentation that the village I’d listed as her home was incorrect. Whatever. As a pre-emptive buffer to such criticism, I made sure to a make a show of being self-deprecating during the part about me. So there.

Supy put up a big stink because the Fiafia was held on his birthday, trying to get all of us to attend his alternative party. To lull him into coming, I included a special Happy Birthday Supy segment, which included, among other things, a sing-along-with-the-bouncing-ball portion; not an easy feat in PowerPoint.

I was worried people wouldn’t get it or would be weirded out, but much to my relief, the crowd actually sang along to the bouncing ball! Too bad Supy didn’t show up. That’s right. He didn’t come. Not that I’m bitter.

Until 4 hours before the Fiafia was scheduled to begin, I still had no introduction. I was chatting online listening to my iTunes on random play when Ira Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” came on. I thought of the beginning of the movie “Manhattan”. And thus the introduction was born. I found as many dramatic pictures of Apia buildings as I could find, changed them to black and white, and edited my Gershwin mp3 down to a manageable length.

The result is ridiculous. Woody Allen filmed iconic images like the Empire State Building at dawn, cars crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, and crowds moving through Time Square. I used shots of a breakfast banner over McDonald’s, a Birthday sale at Chan Mow, and two ladies walking in front of K.K. Mart. Iconic to Peace Corps Volunteers? Certainly. Majestic? Not so much. Entertaining to (movie nerds) me and Koa and no one else? Most definitely.

Oh well. I liked it.

I hope you're well. The finished product was 215 MB, so I’m not going to post it here. But there are some screenshots below to help you visualize.

Dramatic photos of Apia from the slideshow intro.

More dramatic photos of Apia from the slideshow intro.

Okay. So the basic gimmick I kinda invented last year and then shamelessy used again this year works like this: Dan's pictures fly in. The disappear one after another to reveal different information about Dan—his village, project assignment, and factoids. Different pictures replace the old ones. Then Dan's name and all of the pictures except one fly. In this case, the large picture on the left stays.

That large picture on the left then pans within its frame to reveal a different member of group 81. In this case, A.J. (Red arrows added for demonstration purposes.).

Once the pan finishes, pictures of A.J. fly in to fill the slide. The process repeats itself. A.J. links to Phil, Phil to K8, K8 to Blakey, etc. We're all connected.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cultural Exploration 56: Fa'amavae

I admit when I left for the Peace Corps, my goal was to essentially sneak out of the country under cover of darkness. When my roommates and my family asked about throwing me going-away parties I asked they be small in order to minimize the number of goodbyes. When you leave for the Peace Corps, there’s a tendency for people to treat you like you’re dying, and I wanted to avoid that. So I didn’t tell most of my friends I was leaving for Samoa until I was at LAX getting ready to board my flight. I have a feeling leaving Samoa won’t be so easy.

Fa’amavae, or going-away parties, are a big deal in Samoa. My group’s first Samoan fa’amavae came near the end of training when we left the training village. We spent a good 5 or 6 weeks preparing for the event, including rehearsing a song, a play, and several Samoan dances. The party took on a fiafia structure, starting with a big dinner and eventually evolving into an exchange of talents and musical numbers. Most volunteers went home after the public event for private celebrations with their host families, which probably included an exchange of gifts and even more food.

Now that group 81 is getting ready to leave our permanent sites where we’ve lived for considerably longer, the stakes are a lot higher, and some of us are starting to get nervous. Much of Samoan culture is considerably more formal than American culture, and I personally feel like I’m constantly walking on eggshells, hoping not to say the wrong thing or inadvertently slight anyone—and that’s just normal life. Just like in America, special events in Samoa—weddings, funerals, Christmas, going away parties—bring on heightened stress.

Most Samoan speeches begin with an apology. “I’m deeply sorry if any of my past actions have in any way offended you...” Et cetera. I guess I can handle that. Maybe throw in some biblical allusions for good measure. Round it off with a long list of thank yous. I guess I can do that.

Maybe I’m more worried about the exchange of gifts. It’s somewhat common for a school to give a departing Peace Corps Volunteer money, which is nice, but it definitely puts the pressure on the volunteer to reciprocate, and it’s difficult to know what’s appropriate. Giving money back? Not appropriate.

For host families, several Peace Corps staff have suggested framed pictures, or some sort of photo album. I feel like the magazine I created for my school might be enough of a gift, but I don’t know how fresh that will be 2 months down the line.

In any case, volunteers often throw our own fa’amavaes where we get together for one last hurrah. Group 81’s shouldn’t disappoint. And then, of course, there’s the typical congregating at Aggie Grey’s—from where the airport shuttle departs—for hugs and a final Vailima. I’m dreading / looking forward to that.

Back to regular blog programming tomorrow.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Me dancing at our host village fa'amavae.

The Battle of the Minds finals I scrutineered on Saturday morning.

The Battle of the Minds studio audience during a brief break when Digicel did a promotion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cultural Exploration 55: Recycling

There’s something post-apocalyptic about it. It reminds me of “Mad Max” or “Waterworld” or even “Wall-E” in which people (or robots) trying to survive after the world has ended re-commission everyday items for new purposes—think of Kevin Costner filtering his waste with a modified Mr. Coffee or Wall-E with his cache of treasures he’s found in the dump. The practice in Samoa isn’t quite so dramatic, but it’s still a little off-putting the first time you think about it.

This trend is noticeable on the trip into town from the airport: even from the road it’s easy to see the Samoan thatched fales securing the roof with old tires. Some houses use the left-over scraps of the rubber sheets used to cut out the soles of Jandals. The foot-shaped holes form a sort of rubber net that holds a small sheet of corrugated aluminum that keeps the fale waterproof.

Culture Day in the village provided some more examples. Rather than using a vegetable peeler or a knife to peel taro and breadfruit, it’s common in Samoa to cut a tin can about an inch from one of the bases and to use the jagged edges as a peeler. In addition to using banana leaves and breadfruit leaves to cover the umu, the above ground fire used to cook whole pigs among other things, I’ve seen people use old refrigerator boxes.

Re-usable food containers are all over the place. Tip-Top Ice Cream—perhaps the most popular in Samoa—comes in a plastic blue box. My family used these tubs as jewelry boxes, containers for storing important papers, and as cheap substitute for Tuperware. Other popular reusable food cartons include SkyFlakes cracker tins and large plastic Best Food mayonnaise jars.

Sometime about halfway through training I tried not to notice as different members of my host family took large swigs from a plastic bottle of well vodka. It was only when they gave some to the baby I realized they were using the vodka bottle to store water.

I’ve actually adopted this technique, although it’s not something I picked up from my host family. It was Cale and Sara who pointed out water tastes better from a glass bottle than that from a plastic bottle. So pretty early on I acquired a finished bottle of Absolut, and I’ve used that as a water jug for nearly as long as I’ve lived in my house.

My own re-commissioning of everyday items doesn’t end there. When I couldn’t find a cooling platform for my laptop, I bought a cheap plastic basket at Big Bear. I lowered my shower curtain using the wooden pegs the biology kids used on their field trip to Mt. Vaea. Scout eats from old Skippy’s peanut butter lids.

And sometimes when I’m watching her eat, I feel a little like Mad Max.

Tomorrow's Cultural Exploration (the last Cultural Exploration): Fa'amavae

I hope you're well. Pictures below.

I noticed this while watching Lost last night. See that oxygen tank hanging in the background? That's a makeshift bell. Those are used everywhere in Samoa. I think it's safe to assume every village has at least one of those. I can hear them ringing outside my house from time to time. Hats off to Lost for its eye for detail.

Note: Kindly refrain from leaving comments about Lost. Thank you.

Phil and me, mustachioed, peeling taro with tin cans.

Scout and her food dishes. The dark blue (i.e. the chunky) is for food. The light blue (i.e. creamy) is for water.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cultural Exploration 54: The Big Laugh

There’s a scene in “Annie Hall” where Albie goes to visit his friend Max, who produces a sitcom in Los Angeles. In the scene, Max is supervising an audio technician who is adding a laugh track to the sitcom. “Now, Charlie,” he says. “Give me a big laugh here... And a medium-size chuckle here.” The scene demonstrates America’s nuanced spectrum of socially acceptable laughing. If something is a little funny, there’s a quiet laugh. If something is hilarious, laughter is more uproarious. In my experience in Samoa though, laughter is rarely quiet or nuanced.

It doesn’t take much to get a classroom full of kids to laugh—a witty remark, a wardrobe malfunction, a clumsy misstep—and when my kids laugh, they laugh hard. When some of my fellow volunteers get together, we often trade stories of good and bad moments we’ve had at school, and many of these stories involve students laughing for one reason or another. When recounting these stories, volunteers sometimes use a laugh similar to that of the miserly Muppets characters Statler and Waldorf; that is, a huge belly laugh with a “BWAAA!” sound and an accompanying rolling back of the head. It captures the zero-to-sixty nature of students’ laughter.

During a free period in the middle of the day, I’ll sometimes come back to my house, and I can often hear the sounds of classrooms full of students bellowing with unbridled laughter. The sound is loud and it carries.

The Big Laugh certainly isn’t limited to students. While there might be less screaming and whooping, the laughing that goes on during staff meetings is often just as big and hearty. The laughing doesn’t seem limited by geography; we noticed the big laugh during training on the south side of Upolu, and volunteers from around the country have attested to The Big Lausgh at their sites. I remember sitting outside Tanu Beach Fales on Savai’i waiting for a bus and overhearing the family church services going on in the open fale nearby. About once a minute there was a great big, “BAHAHAHA!”

It’s conceivable that things here are simply funnier; the slapstick more over-the-top, the irony more brutal, the comedic timing more crisp. Perhaps. But in my experience, the same tired “O fea lou teine?” jokes never fail to garner The Big Laugh.

As far as I can tell, The Big Laugh seems like a great thing: most medical research on laughing seems to point to the bigger and more frequent the laugh, the better. So more power to you, Samoa. My only qualm is this: with The Big Laugh, I feel like I have a stacked audience. I crack one small joke in my science class, and immediately my kids are in stitches. It makes me think I’m funnier than I am. But I guess I can live with that.

Tomorrow’s Cultural Exploration: TBD

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Mike 83 and other trainees en route to the beach last Saturday.

Danny 83 and Samoan boy blowing bubbles in the ocean.

Jenny 83, Chris 81, Rachael 83, and OtherMike 83

Dan 81 opening a can with a large knife in the Peace Corps office. Nothing new for AJ.