Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Rainy Day at the Beach

The clouds approaching 

My cousin and sister in the water

I had a wonderful day at the village today. It started as business as usual sleep to nine, which is really late by Samoan standards. Get up and eat the breakfast that had been laid out for me and was hence cold. They family are all going about their business and Im the last to stir. I usually have toast and fresh fruit with a cup of tea. Then I wash my face brush my teeth and get ready for my day. Which at times seems redundant, as I may not leave the house depending on how busy my family is. I’m not really allowed to do anything on my own yet so I really only get to explore when my sisters chores are done and she can escort me. Then I come into my room make my bed and tidy up before settling down with my laptop and right my blog for the day. Then I usually come out and socialize or if I’m lucky go for a walk, after that its usually reading till lunchtime. After lunch its malolo time which means either a nap or more reading. Then in the afternoons stuff really gets exciting. Some days I go play volleyball or other days I go for a swim in the ocean, and sometimes I get to go for a evening walk which is always lovely as the sun is going down and is gorgeous. I have been trying to help out more during the day but my tasks are pretty limited they will let me watch then work and sometimes if Im sneaky or really insist they let me do some things. I have so far been about to fold about ten shirts, wash maybe five dishes and take down half a load of laundry. They usually catch me mid task and then insist that I sit down and I take over. I figure if I keep up the pestering they will eventually let me do more. It’s a bit embarrassing for a guest to be seen doing chores so I try not to push too hard or when others are watching. Today was different though we finished lunch and my host uncle told me to go put on my bathing suit, we were driving across the mountain to go to the nice beach. It had been raining heavily and this meant that the mountain streams would be swollen and rushing to meet the sea. The very best place to play on the beach is where the stream merges. We took the gorgeous drive over the mountain crossing several roads that were flooded until we reached one that the water was so deep we couldn’t cross, so it was back over the mountain to go to one of the beaches on our side. It turned out to be a wonderful change of plan. We picked a little peninsula jutting out of the cover a couple towns over from Samatau. It’s a little beach fale area and the beach had a little lava rock sea wall. My host uncle my older sister and my cousin and I were quick to jump in. The water was lovely, not cold and not hot just right. We could see all the way around the side of the island. Before swam for a while then we saw the clouds approaching. You could see the thick blanket of rain hitting the sea from where we were miles away. I though we would leave but looking around it seemed everyone was pretty calm about this huge storm speeding our way. So I laid back and waited for the dark to descend. Oh and it did. It was a torrential down pour with fat raindrops that hit you like pellets. I could only see about ten feet in front me but the water was only three feet deep and no waves get past the reefs surrounding my side of the island so we were pretty safe. This is when my uncle decided it was time I learn how to play rugby. So here I was playing touch rugby with a flip flop in the middle of the ocean with a huge storm raging, it was spectacular. After a couple rounds we collapsed in the water from exhaustion and floated for a wile. Then the most wonderful thing happened. From this new attack of rain somewhere down the coast some river must have gotten a new burst of life because all of a sudden there was a flow of very cold water streaming down right by the beach. It was fantastic; it had little leaves and twigs in it tell the story of it’s journey down the mountain. The freezing fresh water floated on the surface of the sea water, so if you sat just right you could have your body in warm sea water and the cold water streaming over the back of your neck and catching it with your fingers and toes. I could have sat there for hours. I just kept closing my ears and thinking of all the times I have swam in the North Sea in Scotland. The water from the stream felt just like it. In my head I was half way across the world but I was soon called back to reality as my sister had gotten us a coconut and it was time for a snack. It was a wonderful day and I can’t wait for people to come visit me so I can share these little day to day miracles with them.

Christmas Day

It’s really hard to describe how I feel today. It such a mix of emotions, as it is with everything here. I woke up to a text message from my mother and immediately text her back and told her to call me. It was wonderful to hear there voices and I could picture everything perfectly. I knew my sisters would have gotten up early to open their stockings, which would be stuffed with makeup, panties, and jewelry. Then they would run down stairs and look at the tree with all of the prezies underneath before jumping in bed with my parents. My parents do a stocking for each other and they usually open then with us girls in the bed with them, then we reopen our stockings in front of them to share all our joy offer the new goodies. Then it would be up to shower and clean up… no presents until rooms were tidy, breakfast was eaten, and everyone was dressed for the day (with time we have pushed this rule a bit). Then into the living room that would be full of color and good smells. The fire would be burning and the dogs yapping away with all the excitement. There would be glasses of champagne with strawberries and a Christmas cheers. There would be Christmas decorations everywhere strewn with my mother’s signature fairies and goblins. Christmas in my house has always been a playground for the fantastical. Then the mayhem of presents would begin and against all logic it seems that the amount just seems to get bigger every year no matter what age we are. Then we would do fashion shows in the living room and eventually haul our loot upstairs and lay it out in our rooms to admire to days later when my mother would insist we put it away. Some years we go see a movie; some times we just open up the bottles of wine early and curl up at home, usually watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It could tell this year was no different the joy and spirit touched me all the way across the ocean. The best part of Christmas had always been to share it with them so contemplating open the presents they had sent me on my own in my room, was the most horrible prospect. Thankfully I didn’t have to, we stuck to tradition and I got to open my presents with my family thanks to a little technological help. With speakerphone used on both ends I could share my joy with them as I opened beautiful tops, jewelry, and some fun makeup. All I’m told are to be reserved for went I’m in town and are designed to make me feel good and get me in to some trouble. I think I will have no problem. It was a wonderful memory and I’m so glad I got to have a little bit of Christmas here in Samoa. It was very hard, on both sides, to know that they were altogether going through our rituals with out me. We all knew that I was there in spirit and it gave me so much joy to know they were together having so much fun. I can’t wait to do Christmas all together in New Zealand together; the plans are already in motion.

Samoan Weddings and Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve program


The cake

This guys was at the wedding and I almost cried again

the wedding presents

My sister

Yesterday I got to go to my first Samoan Wedding and got a really cool perspective of it the couple getting married are in my young adults bible study at church and my sister and the other girls from the group were the bridesmaids. I have only been with the group a couple times but they are the closest things I have to friends my own age here in Samatau. I woke up to find seven girls in my living room getting their hair and make up done. I promptly wheeled out the little supplies I had and pitched in. It was so fun to see these girls who never put on make up and rarely do more then put their hair in bun, get all gussied up. My new host mother is a seamstress and had made all the bridesmaids gowns, they were maroon with cream sashes. As my sister was busy my usual excort was booked and my little sister was just as uncomfortable and unsure as I was. We headed for the church, which was decked out to the nines, flowers, silk drapes, and lots of traditional Samoan fine mats. The place was packed, probably close to three hundred people were there. I lost my sister and ended up floating with no idea where to sit. I made my was to the front were the choir sits, some of the few people I know. I hadn’t been formally introduced to the village so most people thought I was either some weird visitor or some ones lost family member. I eventually sat in the seats behind the choir but not before sitting down where the groom’s family sits and them being asked to move. It is these moments when I realize, no wonder I’m treated like a child I cant go five minutes on my own with out making a mistake. The ceremony soon got started and my embarrassment was washed away, it happens so often you start to recover quickly. It was a wonderful ceremony and actually very western. The only big difference was that the bridesmaids, grooms men and the actually couple had chairs to sit on during parts of the service. The couple even did the “you may kiss the bride” which is the first time I have ever seen a Samoan couple kiss, ever. P.D.A. is strictly taboo, even holding hands is a no-no, and you usually avoid eye contact with the opposite sex as it can be seen as an invitation. This part did seem to come into play as neither the bride or groom really looked at each other. It was almost as if two strangers were getting married, but I knew from others they had been dating for years and were the villages golden couple. After the wedding my little sister found me and we walked to the reception in the field in front of the school a couple of houses over. There were three huge tents and a gorgeous heart shaped contraption that held maybe ten tiers of wedding cake. The tables had peanuts, chips, apples, oranges, and soda waiting for the guests. These things are not commonplace here and it was a treat to have. There was a lot of speeches and some dancing by the bride and groom but not as a couple, the guests just kind of watched as they hopped around individually and then the older ladies would take turns dancing too and kissing the couple. Then they started taking the tiers of the cake and handing them out to the Matai and important men and some women of the village. I was tucked in the back table with my sister on our own feeling a little vulnerable already as it was Christmas eve, my father’s birthday, and I was in a very awkward situation. Then totally out of the blue the man calls out that a tier of the cake will go to the Peace Corp. I started tearing up immediately. I was being acknowledged and honored in front of the whole village. It was a wonderful moment and I know it went along way to establish my place here. Then to put a cherry on top I wasn’t served a regular meal like everyone else I got the special platter that they give to the chiefs as well. Lets just say there were some more tears hastily swiped away. No one really ate their meal at the wedding it was all packaged up and carried home. So then it was time for a nap before the evening service. The service was great and with my acknowledgement from the wedding I had a lot of smiling faces and hellos. My neighbor girls and I sat in the front and watched the spectacular talents of the Samatau Christian Community Church. They had been practicing all week and had pulled two all-nighters trying to get everything together. There were dances, singing, and skits. It was very entertaining even though I couldn’t understand any of what was being said, and fyi American Best Dance Crew is very popular here and it showed in the young boys dances. It was a wonderful evening and when the show was over instead of heading straight out as I usually did I went on to the stage to with the performers well as many other were. I knew a lot of them from the bible and then some form the wedding. It was the first time that I had people to seek out and others were seeking me out. There was Merry Christmases and kisses exchanged all round. It seemed that anyone who walked by me wanted to kiss me and tell me welcome. I know I will look back and think that was the day I started to be accepted, it was very cool and I think with time I will see it was the best Christmas present I could have gotten.

A Little Bit of Drama

One of the main challenges since I have been in Samoan has been dealing with establish appropriate relationships. I have been tentative to write about it but as it seems it is going to be a persisting issue I thought I would go ahead. I have mentioned before difficulty creating professional relationships because of my smiley easy to laugh nature, well it has also had other consequences. I have made a very big effort to avoid contact with any Samoan men in any social way as it for one is not appropriate for men and women to socialize, but I also don’t want it to effect my image in the village. In my training village this was difficult as I had a twenty two year old brother and he had a group of friends that would hang out at the house. I was very careful never to make conversation or “hang out” with the boys. I would just smile and say hello as I walked by never stopping to talk or responding to their questions. This was a miscalculation for me. In America or most places I have traveled this would seem polite but not overly friendly. In Samoa it seems this is like an open invitation. I proceeded to have lots problems with young men in the village getting my number from my brother or just stealing my phone if it was left on the table and just taking it. There was a great deal of love texts sent and none I responded to. This didn’t seem to be a deterrent either. It wasn’t until I was blatantly rude did it at least lessen. This came to a head in my training village when one of my peers on the staff at school got my number from somewhere and started pursuing me. The texts were much more elaborate as his English as practically fluent and he took to calling me at all hours of the night. Again I never answer or responded, until final I text him and said I was not interested and please don’t contact me again. This didn’t seem to have any effect. It wasn’t until he started coming around my house and coming to the volleyball game I played in and trying to confront me that, this went from an annoyance to a problem.  I couldn’t joke this of anymore, this man was making me even more uncomfortable and out of control then I already was. I had a talk and small break down with my instructor. I just kept telling her that I didn’t understand, “what am I doing to encourage this,” “why aren’t the other girls getting this” “I have been so careful.” The other girl volunteers were able to talk to and even socialize with boys and weren’t having this problem. She calmed me down and just told me to be patient and they would eventually get bored and leave me alone. She was right of course and after a couple of weeks the teacher stopped calling. I just realized that something about me made me approachable no matter how removed I made myself from the opposite sex. I hoped that my new village would be different. This is when the drama came into play. One the second night I was awoken in the middle of the night by some one at my window calling my name. My bed is right next to the window all that was separating me from the voice was the mosquito screen and some chicken wire. The voice was whispering my name and telling me to out side because he wanted to see me. It was speaking perfect English and calling me by my English name. At first I was to scared to speak at first but I had gasped when I woke up so he new I was awake. Eventually I got up the courage to tell him to leave. He wouldn’t and then he got very sad saying he thought I would remember him. I said I didn’t and he needed to leave or I was waking up my family, he didn’t. Eventually I went into my sister’s room and woke her up. The man ran away when she turned on our outside lights but when she went to wake my other family members he came back and started calling my name again. When my sister and brother in law came from next door he ran off again. This is a major infraction in Samoan and a huge crossing of lines. My host brother in law wanted to take it to the council of chiefs but couldn’t with out a name and I didn’t now who it was. All I knew was that it must have been someone I met on my visit to Samatau a couple of weeks before as he expected me to remember him and it was someone who spoke very good English. I’m sure there was no intent for harm and it was just a misguided romantic gesture, but I know sleep with the outside light on. There have been no repeat incidences and now the whole village is looking out for me. I feel perfectly safe and there was a report filled with Peace Corp. Hopefully with time here in the village the novelty of the palagi girl with fade and this wont be a problem. It’s not uncommon for things like this to happen to Peace Corp girls here but it never really escalates as I said before I sure some very misguided man though he was being romantic. I just hope that future romantic gestures are aimed at someone else. So as I stated in my earlier blog, I am going to reserve the smiles and now am going to avoid even making eye contact with the opposite sex.

My New Home

My room

I am writing this blog from my new home in Samatau. Moving out was a crazy and difficult day. The volunteers that are going to be working on Savaii had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the Ferry and we didn’t even really get to say goodbye. The Upolu group was a slow trickle as families were coming anytime before one-ish to pick us up. One by one we all packed up, helped move each other’s stuff, then hugged goodbye. It would be another two weeks before we all saw each other again. In home time two weeks doesn’t seem like much I know but imagine what it feels like here. To be honest, it felt a lot like loosing my safety net and jumping anyway. It was an emotional day and when my family came it was hard to say goodbye to everyone. Then it was into my new host uncle’s car for the long ride out to Samatau. This of course greatly worsened by the epic headache I had as payment for to much post swearing in celebrating.  By the time we got there it was mid-afternoon and traditional naptime, or malolo. I was hugely grateful I needed time to regroup before facing anyone. I have learnt in my years of traveling that the best way to feel settled somewhere is get your things out, organized, and put in there new places. It may not really make your room homey but it makes it yours. So instead of napping, as I probably should have done, I went about claiming my room; bags unpacked, clothes and things organized, stocking and reindeer antlers displayed, and everything in its new place. Seeing as I don’t really have much and I didn’t buy anything for my new place it didn’t take long or make much of a difference in the appearance of the room, but now I could imagine my self here, using my things, getting into a routine. It was a start. Then I did take a quick cat nap before facing the rest of my family. I live in a house with three other women. My mother is 68 named Millie and is a seamstress. She has had and raised eight kids and is now raising two more, which she adopted. In Samoa it is very common for family members to adopt other family members. In this case it a niece and a granddaughter who she now calls her daughters. The eldest of the two is Seleta and she is the librarian at my new school. She is twenty-five and had been instrumental in helping to find my place here as a young adult instead of the child I would have been categorized as if it was merely my age as an indicator. The younger daughter is Sicilia and she is twenty-one, she is closer to my age and you might think would be a better behavioral model. This is definitely not true as she is very much in the child category. She has no job and stays at the house doing household choirs. There is a very interesting age phenomenon here where many girls look much older then they are, but very little maturing happens between the ages of fifteen and early twenties as their role in society stays the exact same. The change comes when the girl is either married or gets a job outside of the house. My host sister from Lotofaga performed the same household tasks as Sicilia and acted much the same, but was eight years here junior. This is purely based on my experiences and observations and I am fully aware is a generalization and could be completely incorrect. I also have an older sister in her late forties that lives with her husband in the house right next to ours. They eat meals with us and basically live here in every sense except for actually sleeping. I have a wonderful big room and my house is nice clean, and pretty big for Samoan standards; three bedrooms to baths (indoor WOW), kitchen (the indoor western kind WOWx2), dinning area, and living room. They have conveniences that are definitely not average here in Samoa including the first microwave I have seen in a home. There are mosquito screens on all the windows so I don’t even have to sleep under a net and I have only seen one cockroach the whole time I have been here. I was really worried about not being about to cook for myself but my family actually makes me really good food and I even get some fruit and veggies, so thing are definitely looking up. I have also decided that two years of learning not to be so obsessed with food is probably a good thing. As my mother says you must eat to live, not live to eat. So I’m going to beat my cravings for pesto, peppered salami, kalamata olives, and delicious cheeses, into submission. My first impressions of my new home are that it is definitely more Western and possibly has a hirer income level then my training village. There is a lot more English spoken and many of the residence have jobs in town that they commute to. The five major churches in town are nicer then most back in the states. The one I go to is community church and has; two sound systems, two laptops, a projector, a sound board, wireless microphones, and the sermons are televised. It’s in a huge band new building complete with stain glass, vaulted ceiling, and beautiful inlays and decorations. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as most Samoans devote an incredible amount of time and exorbitant amounts of money, where they can afford it or not, into their churches. There are still definitely lower income families in my village and as you get to the out skirts of the village you can see a difference in the standard of living, but over all I am living the high life, nice clean safe house and not really any physical hardships. I just keep asking myself what can I offer this village that has microwaves and wireless microphones. I guess I will start with English and see what happens.

Swearing Inn and the End of Pledge-ship

My Matching dress

My Family

My teacher and training

Swearing in, what we all worked toward since Oct. 5th. The day came with as much apprehension as it did joy, we all knew that swearing in meant that we were separating and moving out to our sites the next day. The girls all dresses made and looked like a bunch of gorgeous green apple lollypops. It was held at the Change de Fairs house, the place we had Thanksgiving. Two members of our host families from the training villages were invited to come. My host mother and sister came to watch me “graduate” as that is the closest Samoan equivalent. We did two oaths, one inside where we swore allegiance to America and another outside in front of the audience and press (yes it was televised, this is a small island). In this second oath we swore to integrate, respect and to the best of our ability create positive change. It was great fun and all of our host families seemed very proud to have been part of it, which is only fair since most everything I learned about Samoan culture was from staying with them for six weeks. They covered us with candy and flower lays in celebration our achievement and we all sat down to some tasty food. It was quite serial and over quite quickly. We got in the bus to head back to the hotel and all kind of turned to each other and said “Did that just happen? Did we just become volunteers?” I was in sorority in College, which I loved and through it met my two best friends, but let me just say going through what was an oddly similar second pledge-ship was not always a picnic. Now we are full blown volunteers. We get to go into the office, use the library, the resources, and best of all we get to go into the resource room (which is just a fancy way to say volunteer club house). Now when I come into town I get to use my cool new secret code to get into the office, use the computers, check out books…. and lets not forget the crème de le crème, the hard drive. There is a communal hard-drive in the clubhouse that has more movies and TV series then you could imagine YAY! Just to be fair it is also full of educational resources but those aren’t as exciting as Glee and True Blood. So lets just say it’s nice to be one the other side. It was a great time and it was fun to share it with my group members and now it’s off to my new village. Ready or not, here I come. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Goals in Samoa

As I am a believer in accountability I thought it might be good for me to list some of my goals while here in Samoa and hopefully in two years I will be able to look back and say I have accomplished them all.
  1. Read books to grow not just for pleasure
  2. Read the Bible
  3. Keep up my basic Spanish and French as well as Samoan
  4. See New Zealand and Australia (this could be after service too)
  5. Keep active and healthy
  6. Bungee jump
  7. Get a Samoan traditional tattoo
  8. Absorb and see all that Samoa has to offer
  9. Be inspired and inspire
  10. Celebrate small victories (my number one strategy for staying sane along with patience) 

The Wedding

Our time in Apia was filled with lots of fun and good memories, hanging by the pool, going out to tasty meals, hitting up the night-life, and best of all we had a very special occastion to celebrate, and I don’t mean Swearing in. A few weeks into training one of our married men, Chris, was playing rudgy in the ocean and lost his wedding ring. It was a terrible thing especially and the couple had to be separated all during training and we were all ready under so much stress, you can image how devastating it was at the time. It was just a couple of days later, when Rivka his wife was swimming in the ocean, probable still a little miffed that her hubby had lost his ring when hers went missing too. Again it was a hard blow. It may seem odd that loosing a ring would hit so hard but try to remember that we have very constants here and absolutely no control of our lives. It was a tough time for the Chris and Rivka as they were separated and going through a lot of stress finding out about there future site. But being the incredible people they are this didn’t last long. They decided they were going to go in to town and buy a new set of ring and re-exchange their vows. Of course us girls decided that this seemed like an opportunity for some fun, so before you know it we were planning a full on wedding and bachelorette party. So when Monday rolled around the stage was set and the party started. For the barchelorette we went to a taste Indian restaurant, then came back to the hotel for some fun and games. I wish I could tell you what when on in that room but…. I’m sworn to secrecy. Just know we had a total blast, got several noise complaints, drank a lot and did some serious bonding. Then at five o’clock the next day as the sun was setting of the gorgeous pool at Pacifica with the ocean and the mountains in the back, the ceremony began. Rivka wore a lovely white summer dress with a flower in her hair. Chris looked dashing in his whit shirt, black tie, and black Samoan (for lack of a better word) skirt. We all got dressed up gave out the roles of best man, maid of honor, priest, and even father of the bride to walk her down the aisle. We were a bit of a motley bunch with our best man being a girl, our priest topless with a Mohawk, and the father of the bride as two twenty-something boys giggling as the they approached. We had some great laughs but in the end the vows were beautiful and sincery. It was wonderful to see and as the groom later said, it was a testament to not only them but to us as a group that we could take something so sad and make it into something so beautiful. The night ending with; beer, pizza, cake, and every one jumping into the pool in our nice clothes. It was a great night and it made me realize how lucky I am to be here with these amazing people, and I know there will be many more nights like it.

Luckiest Girl in the World

Coming back to Apia was a strange but exciting thing. This meant that training was almost over but also that we had to say goodbye to our host families. It meant air conditioning and soft beds, but it also meant that swearing in was soon and our two years of service would begin. It meant spending a week with all the other volunteers, but also that we would be moving into our new homes soon. It was like this weird twilight week of celebrating endings, while also preparing for new beginnings. To say the least that week was a roller coaster. On Saturday morning we left our training villages after very teary goodbyes and loaded down with even more gifts. Then in was off in the van to the office and the Pacifica hotel. It was such an odd mix of emotions sad to say good-bye, guilt for all the presents, and incredible relief and excitement that training was finally over. Then we arrived at the hotel and piled all of our bags into our rooms. Lots of my peers headed right into town to do errands but I took one look at the bags piled on my bed and decided I needed to take stock and come up with a strategy. On my bed was my suit case that I lived out of for training, bags of cloths that were gifts from my family (some that definitely needed to be donated… why one needs a knitted sweater set in Samoa, I don’t know), the big bag that I had stored in the hotel and hadn’t really looked in since I left Houston, and last but not least three, let me repeat, three boxes I got in the mail. It was over whelming and exciting all at once. I really had no clue what I had and didn’t. So the excavation began. I first unpacked everything, including my stored bag and my packages. My first major discoveries were tucked at the bottom of my December bag wrapped in shiny Christmas paper and tempting me to open them. My amazing mother, who has had to prepare many a Christmas over seas, had left me presents hidden under all the extra knickers and sunscreen. Don’t worry Mama I still waiting for Christmas to open them. The next major discovery was of course my packages. Now, these I couldn’t handle the temptation, they wanted opening….now. I was incredibly touched but al the love put into these packages. There were new undies, my favorite sweets, little Christmas treats, peanut butter, MARMITE!, and tons of fun stuff that I know I can pull out on one of my hard days and they will make me feel a million times better. My sister even sent me a hard drive full of fun entertainment! So thank you so much Megan Leheny, Heather and Mama for making sure I have a real Christmas. I honestly felt like the absolute luckiest girl in the world. With my treasures horded away and my bags repacked, I was ready for to relax, have a good time, and enjoy my couple days in Apia before swearing in.

Thanksgiving and Strep Throat

Surprisingly enough Thanksgiving was something I greatly looked forward to when I got to Samoa. It was a bitter sweet holiday as it was our first away from our family but it marked the half way point in our training and we had a big party at the Change de Faire (sp?) house to celebrate. This is the woman that runs the embassy here in Samoa but is not quite an ambassador, she reports to a man who is the ambassador for several Pacific Islands. During training we weren’t given very much freedom and were pretty much restricted to our villages with a couple of “center days” where we came into Apia and had lessons at the office, then were taken right to the bus stop to go back. Some times if we had time we would squeeze in a pizza and maybe even a beverage but mostly we followed the rules. This made thanksgiving even more of an event. We were going to a real party, with American food, Americans, in an American house and best of all football. I even got to catch the highlights of the OU game. It was a wonderful time and it was really nice to play with all the current volunteers, plus the turkey and mashed potatoes were insane! The next day I came down with a really bad case of strep and had to be whisked into town to start some intense wide spectrum antibiotics as testing takes so long here they just give it their best guess and start treatment. Lucky for me it worked! After two days in of rest in town, a lot of Ramen noodles, and drugs I was good as new. Sitting alone in my hotel room I though I would get into the spirit of things and think about what I am thankful for.
  1. Above all else I am thankful for my family. A father who inspires me with his strength, bravery, and incredible imagination, a mother who blankets me in love, support, and her own special light, a younger sister who verve for live and vibrancy is unmatched, and an older sister whose love and passion have infinite depth. These are just a few words about my family because to be honest I could never express how thankful I am for them.
  2. My opportunities. I have had so many opportunities in life am thankful for them everyday. The opportunity to travel, to go to college, to explore my dreams with out debt. These things have all lead me to where I am today and I ponder how lucky I am often.
  3. My friends. As I have mentioned before this is the first time I have been able to leave a place and know that I will always have the friends that I left behind. For the first time when I left a country, it wasn’t good byes I said, it was merely see you laters. I am so thankful to have found people that I love and cherish and that feel the same way about me. Let alone have a heck of a good time with ah ah.
  4. This place. I look out the window and I can’t believe I am actually here. I keep telling myself, “Rachael you were supposed to be in so hell whole in Kyrgslivakiaville freezing you butt off in six feet of snow.” But instead I’m in paradise. I get to drink out of coconuts, eat fresh mangos, and swim in the Pacific. Don’t get me wrong I know there will be lots of hard times and its not always a walk in the park in Samoa, but I cant help but look out my window and know I have been given a gift. 
  5. These people. I am so thankful for my group here. I have really bonded with all the members of my group and already feel so much of my success here will be because of the support we give each other. I am surrounded by nineteen incredible people; who have opened their hearts to each other and are sharing this experience with all its’ ups and downs. 

Teaching Practicum

During my time in Lotofaga I had the wonderful experience of working in the local primary school. We had two weeks of teaching practicum, which we spent first observing, then co-teaching, then flying solo. It was an incredibly eye opening experience. Some lessons I learned; I love teaching. The language of “human” will over come any language barrier. In Samoa I may be called on to teach anything at any time regardless of age group or experience…. Yay for teaching science to year one. Teachers may or may not show up to school. The range in language level within a classroom can be from fluent to nonexistent, and you have to find a way to teach to both. Corporal punishment and just plain old hitting happens a lot and I have to make myself swallow it. Lunch time, tea time, and smoke breaks take precedence over class time...oh yeah and on pay day class will probably end two or three hours yearly so the teachers can get to the bank before it closes. All teachers are taught to teach incredibly traditionally, strictly listen repeat. All classes are structured to get the students to pass a standardized government test that determines which schools they will get at age 12. Oh yeah and did I mention the exam is in English. So imagine taking the SAT in a foreign language at age 12 to get into college. I have also learnt that Samoan kids are amazing, resilient, and no matter what, quick to smile. The greatest lesson that I have learned is that even in this kind of crazy school environment, I can make learning a lot of fun for them. I can get them to love learning English. I can’t wait to get started and show through example both to teachers and students that the best teacher tool is fun.

Best teaching practicum memory; using the Justin Beiber song “Eenie Meenie Miney Mo Lover” in the classroom with year eight. I first taught the rhyme, then the song, and then they wrote a dialogue based on it. Last but not least they acted out their scenes and performed the song for all the other teachers. The pride on their faces was priceless; they learned a lot of vocabulary, gained confidence speaking, and composed dialogue. It was my favorite classroom moment yet. In the hour I watched them go from spiritless drones repeating everything with no clue what was being said, to a bunch a vivacious teenagers having a blast and baring realizing they were learning. 

Lotofaga family

I have learned recently that I’m not very good at making generalizations… I make them a lot. I blame many years of traveling and my cultural studies at Universities. You just can’t help making them while you are trying to understand a culture. I realize there are always exceptions and that my generalizations are usually flawed, and hence and trying to make them as little as possible. With this said I am about to make a huge one about Samoans. Samoans are by far some of the most generous and loving people I have ever met. I just finished spending Almost two months with a host family in the village of Lotofaga. This was a training period and I spent my time studying the culture, language and teaching techniques to implement when I started my service. This family not only opened their home to me they gave more then I could have ever expected and to be honest more then they could probably afford. I was fed like a king (by Samoan standards). I was housed in the biggest nicest room in the Fale. I was showered with gifts and always given a place of honor at all events. They also took great care of me. I was never alone, I was always accompanied and entertained, where I wished to be or not. I quickly come to realize that “alone time” is neither desirable nor even understood by Samoans. Although this was a challenge at times I came to realize that my host sister wanting to sleep in my bed was not for her own reasons but because she didn’t want me to have to sleep alone. This concept seemed to apply in almost all scenarios; another volunteer couldn’t even shower alone. It was a hard adjustment to make and eventually I had to draw lines just to keep my sanity but the love behind it left in indelible impression. I have never been thrust so fully into a family not only accepted but borderline smothered with love and generosity. If I had any doubts about their sincerity it was immediately wiped away when it came time for me to leave and go back to Apia for swearing in. I saw my mothers eyes glisten as she tried to hold back tears and I had to peal my little siblings off of me as I got into the car. As an American it’s really hard to accept both gifts and emotions. We seem to automatically question motives and sincerity (there goes another generalization). It has been difficult to break this habit but I know I will always be thankful for all my training village host family gave to me but mostly for strengthening my faith in people.

Woman not a Girl

I have come to realize that one of my biggest challenges will be my age here in Samoa. The fact that I am twenty-two, very smiley, very giggly and love to play with kids can some times equate to the perception that I am a child. This is greatly compounded by the fact that for all intensive purposes in Samoa I am a child. I need help with everything. I don’t know or understand anything. As you can image this means that for my first couple of months here in Samoa I was put into the kiddy category. Even though we are honored guests and receive a lot of special treatment it seems that doesn’t automatically equate to adult. Knowing that this status would greatly hinder me as a teacher and as a volunteer I was determined to learn some tricks to stop this from continuing in my permanent site. Some tips I have learned; don’t participate in youth groups, it’s a great way to integrate but you are automatically categorized as youth. Don’t play with children too much, otherwise you will be perceived as a child caregiver, a role in Samoa mostly reserved for teenage girls. Reserve the chatter and giggles for when you get to know some one, a more formal first impression leads to a more professional over all image. Don’t offer to serve food or help clean up after meals; this again is pretty much reserved for teenage girls. These are just some things that I have learnt and hope to apple in my new village to try and avoid what I call “year eight girl” syndrome. Year eight is the last year of primary school and the year eight girls are given jobs around the school that cant be given to the younger children, like preparing food, serving, and even looking after the young kids if teachers are gone. Most of my fellow volunteers haven’t struggled with this syndrome and could probably do all of these things with out much trouble but it seems I may have a natural predisposition. This has been an interesting lesson for me to learn as I have always chosen to seen the world with child like optimism and joviality, but usually people quickly realize that this is a conscious choose instead of naivety or ignorance. These nuances don’t seem to cross all cultural and language barrier. So although I hope to never loose my smiling and giggling I know that to be perceived as a professional and as an adult I will have to alter my behavior, especially in the beginning.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Six Weeks in Pictures

All the girls 

My bedroom in training

I call this bus chique

Me at church with my training host mom

Me and the kids of my family

Our kitchen and dinning room with the family

Beautiful ladies all together back in Apia

Going out with some current volunteers

All the eighty threes out celebrating the end of training

The delicious hamburgers I made for my host family to say goodbye!

My training group in Lotofaga

Im the luckiest girl in the world! Three care packages thank you Heather and Megan Legheny

Two of my baby brothers slash future husbands if you ask my host mom

Common local wild life...pigs

Our last day of teaching practicum in Lotofaga

My walk to training everyday

Teacher chique

Me with year four and five

My new bedroom where I will live for two years

Me with year eight after teaching then Justin Beiber

I promise there will be posts to catch up... but for now this is what I have been up to!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Freaking Out!

Im going to my village tomorrow and I am wicked pumped but also totally freaked. We just got our temp assignments and I am going to Lotofaga on the beach and I have a great little group so it is going to be great!! But wow now the adventure really begins!! bye bye air conditioning. Bye Bye hot showers. Here I come sleeping mats and centipedes! No more money to write a real post but next time I talk to you guys it will be almost Christmas and I will be headed to my permanent site! Wish me luck everyone!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pupil of My Eye

view form my balcony

view from my classroom

Today we had a great lesson on the community structure in the villages and the roles the different groups serve. There was one group that really peeked my interest and that was the women’s group. This is composed of all girls that have finished their schooling and are hence considered women. The reason I was so interested by this group goes back to the gender roles I discussed earlier. Women studies was one emphasizes in college and I have always been really interested in women’s roles in different societies. Here in Samoa they describe women as the pupil of their brother’s eye. You must also know that most men and women refer to each other as brother and sister, and have a lot of the same feelings toward the opposite sex in their village. That is of course if they are not pursuing them romantically. The pupil of your brother’s eye seems like kind of a odd way to describe the women but once it is further explained and elaborated on, it is kind of beautiful. Samoa culture seems to be defined more by family relationships then by what I would consider romantic ones. People are labeled, brother, sister, mother, father, and then on to the extended family. Hence the roles of women are not as wife or lover, but as mother and sister. They say that it is the role of the men to protect and provide for the women. This even includes cooking, a role that is considered very feminine in American culture. In a way they are treated like queens, always sheltered, protected, and provided for. But unlike queens who have only symbolic power, women, and especially women’s groups here have real power. It isn’t labeled or recognized as much as male authority and power, but it is a common expression that if you want something done you don’t go to the village council you go to the women’s council. The Samoan expression states that the father is the head of the family but the women is the neck, controlling the movement. In some ways I rebel against this idea, as I like to think of myself as a budding feminist and want to be treated as an equal. In other ways I do believe women should be cherished and maybe even at times protected. This Samoan way of life both appeals to my idealization of women, and the chivalrous expectations of men I have adopted after seven years in the South. I want to yell “heck yeah you should cherish you sister”, because women are badass! Then I hear the voice of feminist past and proclaim, “No I am not to be sheltered, not to be protected. I am a force to be reckoned with.” I have definitely come to accept the gender roles a lot more since I first arrived, although I still struggle with the limitations that the roles put on women. The great part is that there is a blooming call for equality here in Samoa. It is just a small movement and there is a lot of progress to be made, but it is very cool that for the first time in Samoan history women can be chiefs. Though I hope that even with equality Samoans will always keep their sisters in the pupil of their eye.

Random thoughts:
-I am missing silence a lot, it seems with twenty of us living in hall way together you don’t have much alone time. I have found some moments to just sit and zen out for a while an it is really helping.
-We have been together for a three weeks now and we are under a lot of stress, I am predicting possible drama on the horizon…. Lets wait and see who snaps first! Haha
- Finding it very hard to keep up with friends back home and feeling bad that I cant be there for them like I should but also realizing that my relationships are going to change and evolve and that is ok.
- Really nervous about going to the village on Saturday and possible not having internet for three months…. Definitely adds to the intimidation of going to the villages
- really excited to meet my host family, kind of sad we will all be breaking up into groups and I feel like I will miss the other volunteers not in my village. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Address and Mail!

My address here is:
Rachael Camp, PCV
Peace Corps
Private Mail Bag
Apia, Western Samoa

It is also best to do one of those pre made boxes with no weight limit and if you are sending a package write "go with god" or "god is watching" this helps the chances of it getting there on time! Also don't let them talk you into sending it to American Samoa. There should be no zip code. xooxox

Monday, October 18, 2010

Welcome Fia Fia

This Friday was the long awaited welcome Fia Fia. All the current volunteers made their way in to Apia to welcome group 83. A couple of volunteers came in early on Thursday and we all made a big group dinner and had a couple glasses of wine while wring the volunteers for all the information we could. The next day we had our usual classes then at 4:30 preparation for the Fia Fia began. 83 was banished to our rooms while the large conference room was taken over for the ceremony. We got all dressed up (which means applying the small amount of make-up and putting on a clean skirt) and listened to lour music getting all pumped up for the ceremony. It finally hit 6:30 and we made our way into the main room. All the volunteers looked so beautiful in their pulatasis  (formal Samoan blouses and skirts). The first did the traditional slap dance, then the girls did a slower very demure conservative dance, then the men got to dance around doing a very aggressive kind of yelling dance. You may be able to tell I was kind of jealous that the boys got the do the fun one. The girl’s dance was incredibly beautiful, so I guess I can let the boys have this one. There was a cool slide show featuring all the current volunteers then we headed down stairs to the pool to watch the fire dancers. It was crazy, like something out of a movie. The light two batons on fire and tossed them high into the air of spun then incredible fast, at times between their legs. It was very impressive to say the least. Then they brought group 81 up to the front of the pool as its there last year. It was really weird thinking before I know it, that will be me. I will be the one up there in front of the newbies, holding my current volunteers hands trying to hold back tears. Well lets be honest its me so there would be no holding back, I would be blubbering like a baby. Then it was up stairs for food and socializing. After the official Fia Fia was over we all met up at the bar and had a great night out, enjoying everyone’s company and making the best of one of our only night all together. This weekend we leave for our training village and will be split up into four groups of five. Then in December we will move out to our permanent sites on our own. I know there is a lot of time and a lot of steps between now and then but it still seems like such a foreign concept. Here I am living in comfort in a hotel in a bustling little town and soon enough I will be out in the Samoan boonies all on my own. It just seems so surreal especial when the only Samoan I really know is how to say hi and count to ten. I’m sure when the day comes I will feel much more prepared but it’s a little hard to see from this side of the looking glass. I am feeling a little nervous about moving in my host families house this weekend but I know it will do wonders for my language and really mark the beginning of my adventure into the culture. Here is hoping I have a family with a baby, if not I will just have to love on a neighbor’s because these Samoan babies are hard to keep you hands off of. I will report back soon on my move into the village, my temporary family, and the babies status in my host village! Thanks for reading everyone! 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Water safety… oh wait… Snorkeling?

notice the people dragging behind the boat!

On Monday we went on our  water safety training and had a great day! It was a national holiday in Samoa. They say its because all the children eat too much after White Sunday and are unable to go to school, and I’m sure all the celebrating that the parents do has absolutely nothing to do with it. So after a bit of a sleep in we headed down stairs to our bus and headed off to water safety. It was about an hour drive, mostly spent with all the 83ers singing 90’s pop at the top of our lungs. We finally arrived at what looked like a resort complete with golf course, then we disembark the bus and see a huge thirty-foot catamaran, this was my first impression that I may enjoy water safety. We sat through a safety talk of about; um fifteen minutes. Then it was off to the boat to put our new learned safety knowledge to the test. It was wonders ride out to the reef and we all got to sit on the deck with our toesies hanging over the edge getting splashed. The views were gorgeous and we could see all four major Samoan islands. Then it was test time. We donned our snorkeling gear and off we went. It was the most amazing snorkeling I have ever done. Usually I feel bad for snorkelers because, as a diver, I feel they miss out on a lot being restricted to the surface. In Samoa this is not the case, the reef is sooooo incredibly close to the surface it would have been a detriment to have a tank. Yes, this did mean that the fish were smaller and that there wasn’t quite as much large wildlife, but it was incredible. With the amount of light filtering down, the reef was so colorful and vibrant. There were schools and teams of little fishes all over the place. I saw three schools of fish, a huge purple starfish, two crowns of thorn, and a SCHOOL OF SQUID! I had never before seen a school of squid! Who knew squid even traveled in schools? At first glance they just look like a school of black fish then you realize their fins are not going up and down but in a wave pattern up their bodies. Even then I didn’t realize they were squid. It wasn’t until the school formed a line facing into the current and spread their tentacles did I realize… hey those weird black fish are squid. I was enthralled; they just starred me down from their line as if we were having a no-blinking contest. I shot to surface and yelled for everyone to check out this coolest thing ever! I have to say, I have snorkeled and scuba dived a lot and it’s so wonderful to still have first sightings. After a while we got back on the boat and had sandwiches. After the appropriate time of thirty minutes we learn in water safety, we all jumped of the high deck and did back dives and flips… safely. Then we jumped in and took turns being towed behind the boat on the tow rope….safely. I mean we were obliviously practicing swimming against a current. Which if anyone is interested you should do diagonally. We then very begrudgingly got off the boat and got back on the bus for some more singing. Go Britney and Backstreet Boys! Nsync can go to poop as far as I care, but I did join in when they came up in our repertoire. I mean, I need to be considerate of my other group member’s needs and tastes. Basically it was a spectacular day and we all learn a lot about how gorgeous Samoan reefs are, and of course water safety. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

White Sunday

Today was white Sunday in Samoa; this is Children’s day. This means that the children get to hold the church services and eat all their favorite foods all day, and best of all the parents have to service them. All the little boys wear all white new little Pula Tasis, which are long, skirts and blouses and the boys wear dress Lava Lavas (basically skirts) and dress shirts. This morning we all put on our best Samoa clothes, long skirts and dress blouses. We dawned our little and modest jewelry and makeup, then slicked back our hair into buns in the Samoan fashion (an unexpected perk, easy hair). We then headed off to the church of one our trainers, The All Saints Church, which is Anglican. It was a modest but very beautiful church about half way up the mountain that backed up to a beautiful ravine. We went inside and waited for the children to begin the service. The congretation was about fifty or sixty and was very diverse, with people from India, New Zealand, and of course the visitors from America. Then we heard the clapping and singing begin. It was like magic. All the little voices raised in song and all the little feet as the head toward the door. Then the doors were opened and the children began their entrance. There were all ages toddlers to teenagers, and they were all so beautiful. The came in and began there program. This consisted of some lovely singing, what I would call gesture dancing, and some skits. Some of the older kids got with there little sibling and preformed acts as a family and usually dedicated them to either their parents or a member of their family that had recently passed away. I have to admit that there were definitely some tears shed on my part. It made me think so much about my parents and how thankful I am for all they have done for me. After much cheering and clapping the cogregation went into the neighboring hall for tea, snacks, and as it was children’s day ofcourse icecream. It was wonderful because we actually got to see Samoans with their families and what their relationships are like. It was really our first view into what to expect when we start to really integrate into Samoan life. Everyone was so friendly and if you just initiated conversation they would chat to you all day. It was a wonderful day and I know I wont forget how beautiful it was to see those children sing about their love of each other and their faith.