Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thoughts of Home

Group 82 closed service this month and come November they will start to trickle back to America, some choosing to stay longer than others. Also my big sister is back in the states and has started her adventure as a teacher finishing up her student teaching. These things have got me thinking about the future a lot and imaging what it will bring for me. Since my plan now is to go back to the states and get my certification like my sister did it’s easy to hear her stories and picture myself in her shoes. This leads to all kinds of inner turmoil. It makes me scared but also incredibly excited. It makes me worry about money and where I’ll live. It also makes me anxious to start my next adventure and a new phase of my life. As my mother would say I am borrowing worries. What are these crazy thoughts doing in head; I still have more than a year of service left? The other effect of this day dreaming is that as I picture myself on the next phase, I am picturing my life back in America. This inevitably leads to me really missing things in America. I picture myself driving to work, and I missing driving. I picture myself on a couch with a beer exhausted after a long day’s work, and I miss couches, and good beer. I think that this is my mind showing signs that it’s ready for a real break; to reconnect with my life by seeing my family and remembering who I am outside of this place. Christmas will be well needed by the time it rolls around. I still love it here and love what I am doing. I am confident, that after a month away, I will be ready to come back and raring to tackle my second year. So for now my goal is to just keep my head in the present as much as possible, and push through till Christmas.

Term Three

The couple of days back after such a break were kind of tough. It’s an adjustment every time you’re gone for a while. You get used to being around other English speakers and friends, you get used to having control over your time and decisions, and you get used to having full days. Every time you come back to the village, you have to re-get used to the slow pace, the empty hours, the isolation, and lack of control. There are great thing about coming back too. I have made some friends in the village, it was nice to see my family, and see the children but the adjustment is always brutal. It takes a couple days to get into the swing of village life and feel part of things again. It really turned around once school started. My days got fuller and I felt I had a purpose again. It is so good to be back teaching. Although I am pretty apprehensive going forward as everyone has warned me about term three. Of the twelve weeks of the term there is actually only six weeks of lessons. The other weeks are for national test prep., giving the test, preparing prize giving, then actually giving out the prizes. There are three weeks set aside for prize giving preparations. To be honest I have no idea what this entails, so I have no idea why, but my understanding is that it is really as straight forward as it sounds. So I have been told that term three can be frustrating with nothing going really going on and exams finished. I am hoping to try and do a project like a play or performance to try and fill the time. I am also hoping that with my one year celebration, Halloween, and Thanksgiving to look forward to I will be able to find enough steam to pull myself through till Christmas.

Devon and I’s Birthday

We had two weeks break after term two and it was perfect timing. Not only were we all running low on energy and patience we had two big birthdays to celebrate. My actual birthday was during the last week of school so I couldn’t really celebrate but on the day I opened a present Devon brought back for me from his recent trip to the states (a super cute clutch, all natural perfume, so replacement red stunna shades, and so beautiful handmade silver earrings. He did good!!!). I also got a bunch of calls and texts. The next day Chris and Rivka invited me to dinner and cooked me a delicious pizza and incredible brownies… such a treat. The next week we were all in town for a training session, so Devon, whose birthday is on the 10th of Sept., and I did a big group dinner at our favorite restaurant. My birthday didn’t end there, I got three amazing packages! Thank you, Mama, Emily, Sabrina, and Adam. The weekend after training me and Devon went to stay at the Tanu beach fales on Savaii. It was incredible picturesque, an open beach hut right on the turquoise water. We could have been on the travel channel. On Devon’s actual birthday we went scuba-diving. We did two dives, one over a beautiful reef drop off were we saw some incredible corral formation, some of the biggest I have ever seen and some sea turtles. I have been dying to see some turtles since they are the unofficial animal of Samoa but this was my first sighting, and man was it an incredible one. We can up over this ledge and one turtle was laying perched on the coral getting her shell cleaned only maybe four feet from me. I could have reached out and touched her. She turned away seemingly embarrassed to be caught in such an intimate moment, she swam slowly away looking back reproachfully at our interruption. She played in our dive instructor’s bubbles, then after one last look back she was off in to the distance. It was incredible. Our second dive was a missionary ship that had been sunk in 1880. It was almost completely covered in coral and had been thrown around a bit by tsunamis and cyclones but it was still very impressive. We saw an electric giant clam and a sea cucumber that was bigger than a five year old. We the treated ourselves to the only pizza place, and one of like five restaurants total on the island, to Sekia pizza which is just a hut with a pizza oven. It was delicious and perfectly rounded out a delicious day. We had a great rest of the break relaxing, visiting with friends, and enjoying each other.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chasing Waterfalls

It is so easy to become complacent here, to get desensitized to your surrounding and forget how lucky we are to be here. I wake up every morning and look across the street at palm trees, bright red hibiscus, and turquois clear clear water. Somewhere along the way you forget how beautiful it is. The best way to combat this I have found is to play tourist sometimes and go see something extraordinary. I have tried to do something like this every couple months, New Years in Falealupo, scuba diving, and the trip to Namua Island. Last weekend I have another adventure. A group of nine of us went to the south western coast of Upolu Island to hike the most famous river in Samoa, Sina’s river. There is a legend about Sina one of the great witch queens who sent her children to a village to ask for food and when they refused she sent a bolder down from sky to block the flow of their river and sent it winding on a different path to a village where the people gave generously of their food. You can actually see the old path of the river down the other side of the mountain. So we hiked up the river, taking turns wading through the shallow water, climbing along its banks, and scaling its slippery embankments. Every mile or so we encountered gorgeous waterfalls that seemed to increase in size as we went along. The first fall was only about fifteen or twenty feet but we were all still a little anxious to climb the steep sides and take the plunge into the water. It was cold and clear, even in the dry season. The guide kept mentioning the famous fifty foot waterfall at the end of the hike and we all looked at each other wearily. We plodded along, craping knees and elbows and grinning all the way. After seeing how into it our group was are guide say “I think one of you girls has a good chance of being the first Peace Corp girl to do the big one.” Rivka replied “that sounds like a challenge” and from there our fate was set. When we finally turned a bend in the river and spotted the monster I think we all had second thoughts. Finally we agreed to climb to the top and check it out. After about fifteen minutes of climbing and hiking we got to the top. It was quite a view let me tell you. The guide gave us a few tips and edged of the ledge finding a perch then taking the plummet. I didn’t waste time second guess, I took the lead lowering myself on the perch first. I looked back and said, “ok this is doable” turned looked down again then said “oh F#*k” then with a squeal just did it. It went so fast but at the same time I can perfectly remember being suspended in the air and watching the water rush up to me. Hitting it stole my breath water smacking every limb. The group at the top watched eagerly to see if I would surface whole. When I did grinning like an idiot and waving two thumbs up they all knew there was no turning back, the precedence and been set. Eventually and after quite a few false starts for some people we all took the plunge. A sheer fifty foot drop, it was incredible! The tour guide dubbed us the “badass seven!” I stood in the pool at the bottom watching each person leap and realized that I was fulfilling my fantasies, I was literally living the dream.

The Celebration Begins

It all happened really fast, the next day family started arriving and before the end of day four we had twelve new people staying at the house full time, another five staying every couple nights, and about twelve that came every day to work of the house and help with preparation. It was a full house to say the absolute least. At one point I counted twenty sleeping bodies in my three bedroom, one shower, house. Everything is done very differently here. Huge amounts of money are spent on ceremony and food. The family all pool their money and invest in freezers full of meet and food preparing to feed the masses. Not only are they responsible for feeding all the family that are staying in the house, all the villagers that come to help during the day, but also all the families that come to pay respect during the days before the service. I would say that for about five or six days my family was feeding over two hundred people three meals a day. On the day of the funeral I would say we did dinner and lunch for closer to five hundred. This is just the beginning of the investment. Every family that comes brings cash and fine matts to offer the family to show there respect for Milli, but for every matt and cash offer the family has to give back an even amount of canned beef and fish. The amounts were extraordinary. Millis extended family gave two thousand tala and twenty hand woven matts that are priceless heirlooms. They were given in return fifty boxes of canned fish, twenty boxes of frozen chicken and three thousand tala for traveling from the other island. This was about twelve different exchanges just like this. Every corner of the house that wasn’t being slept in was filled with canned goods and two rented freezes sat in our driveway for the frozen boxes. Families can go into incredible debt for funerals to uphold this ceremony. The day before the funeral were spent working on the house, cooking food, and hosting families who were coming to present their gifts. The morning of the funeral the family rented buses to Apia and went to the funeral home to do what I would call a wake. It was an open casket and family and friends not only took pictures with Milli but many kissed her cheek of caressed her face. She was wearing a beautiful wedding dress and all her best jewelry. After the pastor said a couple of words the casket was put into a car and we started the journey back to the village. There she was laid in an open fale and more families came to present their offerings and finally to say good bye before they covered the casket. It is also traditional to drape fine lace over the casket and bring large fake flower arrangements. After the final goodbyes we went to the church were the pastor gave a beautiful sermon about going home to god. Then the floor was opened up for anybody to speak. Many of her peers spoke as well as one of her grandchildren, sisters, and sons. Last me and Seleta my 25 year old sister got up and sang a song. Im not much of singer and this is not something that I would usually do but went I was asked it seemed like a fitting gesture. Then the whole precession went back to the house where a above ground grave had been prepared on our front porch next to her husband. A final prayer and song were given then and as she was lowered everyone threw flowers into the grave. They then put the cement blocks over the top of the grave and began cementing it shut. From that point on, things slowly but steadily started getting back to normal. In the next couple week’s overseas family trickled back to New Zealand and Australia and the family from around Samoa started heading back to their homes. It’s now been two weeks and the last family left two day. I am back at work, my room is no longer being used as storage, and I don’t have to use ear plugs at night because of the cacophony of snoring. It was a wild and crazy ride but I am so thankful for it. Being part of everything and getting to know all my extended host family was wonderful. I learnt so much not only about my family but Samoa culture in general. Some of the time I was thankful for the way we treat death in America, the traditions blowing my mind seeming crazy. Some of the time it was beautiful and I wished we treated death similarly. It was just so incredible and I know it will be something from my time here in Samoa that I will never forget.

Miriama

It has taken me a while to sit down and write this blog. Somehow I just know no matter how I right it I won’t do it justice. It’s tempting no to write it at all and just pretend that it didn’t happen but my host mother’s death and the celebration of her have been huge turning point in my time here. About a month ago my host mother started complaining of stomach pains. I say complaining lightly I really only started noticing her appetite was slowly diminishing and it seemed like her diet was getting more and more restricted. She had been diagnosed with a severe case of diabetes and hypertension about seven years but had gotten it under control by losing weight and a careful diet. This in itself is a testament to the kind of women she is, in a country were a huge percent of the population suffer from these diseases but never make any lifestyle changes to combat it. She started getting tests done and going into the hospital every couple days. After about two weeks she stopped going to the hospital and was spending more of the day in bed. When I asked what was wrong the family told me she had a stomach ace but finally my sister told me she had a cancerous tumor on her liver. She slowly go worse and the day after her 65th birthday she was complain of severe pain so the family took to the hospital where she passed away in her sleep. She passed quickly and was suffering for only a short time.

Miriama and her husband had eight biological children and five adopted children. Six if you count me as they did in obituary. All but three of her children have moved out and started their own families. These are the three sisters that I live with, Ao her eldest daughter and her two youngest adopted girls, Silia 22 and Seletas 25. Not only did she love and care for all of her children but and adopted but she had a very loving and strong relationship with her husband. They were known as an upright and godly family in the community and he held a very prestigious Matai tittle. Fomai, her husband had a debilitating stroke and Milli took care of him for five years until he passed away. This is all quite telling of her personality but the thing that Milli did that embroidered her name on my her was open her home to a stranger and not only feed, clothe and shelter that person but give them a home and a family. She made my comfort and happiness her first priority. She was constantly fussing over my food making sure I had food I liked. She would make cupcakes especially for me and she even personal sowed all my clothes when I lost some weight. The real gift she gave me though was a home to feel safe and comfortable in when I was so far from everything I knew. She was incredible women.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Community Justice

One of the most interesting, admirable and crazy things about Samoa, is the village justice. There are police here but almost everything is handled at the village level by the council of Matai, which are chiefs. Also nothing is handled concerning individuals. If you rob a store your whole family is punished not you individually. Punishments usually consist of a fine anyway from a hundred tala to the entire family’s possessions. In very severe cases there is village banishment as well. Recently I had one of my year seven boys come into libarary when I was alone and say some very inappropriate things to me then even go so far as to try to touch me. I was caught completely off guard, a student would never do this to a Samoan teacher and in a culture were elder’s authority is so absolute this students actions are unthinkable. I told my teachers and they immediately dismissed the other student and called the village elders. Within fifteen minutes the elders were at the school as well as the student’s mother. There was a lot of apologizing and speeches. The matai apologized to me on behalf of the child as well as the village. Then the mother got on her knees and gave a very teary apology. Keep in mind I am pretty much steadily leaking through this myself. There was a lot of talk about the severity of what had happened and the disrespect that had been shown to me. They feared that I would report the incident and the school would have to be closed. I assured them that I would not and that I accept their apology as well as that of the mother. I told them that it is one incident by one very young misguided boy and it didn’t change my love for the village and the children. This was all repeated several time with a lot of prayer in between. Then when everyone’s tears were dried, including my principal because she felt she was at fault for not protecting me better, we were served ice-cream.  I thought this is where it would end but boy was I mistaken. They then went and had a whole big matai meeting to decide a punishment for the family. I then was called to the pastor’s house so they could apologize and we could pray about it. The next day all the children looked at me with such pity in their eyes and asked over and over if I was ok. It has also now been the topic of three assemblies, one to discuss respect, one to tell the children to stop talking about it, and the third to discuss the new rules surround me, such as no one is allowed in the library. Also I have had seven texts and one stranger on a bus expressing concern and apology. At the end of the day all is well. I am trying to reassure everyone with words and smiles that I really am fine and the family has received their punishment. Hopefully the drama will die down soon and another event will occupy this small village

Mid-year Exams

Yay exams are over!! Well at least the mid-year ones are. I made the exams a little harder to try and compromise between what I think is reasonable and the Samoan norm. In Samoa exams are basically written to be failed. These exams are so far above the actual level of the children it is laughable. This is then compromised for by making anything over a 25% passing. My scores from my first exam that averaged around 60% were incredibly high by this standard. Even with the harder exam I was pretty happy with me scores, I had a similar average but I had way less 100% and 0%. In a system where levels are based solely on age not on ability, the disparity between students in the same class is the equivalent of a second grader and a fifth grader. My goal here has become no to get a certain number of kids in to the best college’s but just to try and pull the gap between the top of the class and the bottom just a little bit closer. I realize it’s going to be much harder and probably won’t get me as much recognition but I can make myself just forget the lower kids. A lot of them will be farmers and will never need what I am offering but I want at least some of what I teach to be accessible to them. Even if it’s just throwing in a couple four letter words on the spelling test so they have a chance of getting some right, education shouldn’t seem impossible for anyone.

Saying Goodbye to Sarah

Last week a wonder friend and an incredible woman decided to chase her happiness. Sarah and I had been friends from day one. She was my roommate in training, lived with me in the training village and was my go to gal for heart to hearts about life. Sarah is one of the women you meet and exude intelligence and depth. Just being around her you knew she was the kind of gal that just knew how the world worked. From living with her I also came to know she struggled with her introversion…. but not for long. I honestly don’t think I have seen a person blossom and change so greatly in so short a time as I saw in Sarah. She was soon a fixture for all of our nights out and famous across Samoa for her retro go-go style dancing. A girl who gets nervous in front of new people and she was able to get up every day and teach a classroom full of  hostile  teenagers with who she didn’t even share a language. Her victories both personal and professional were incredible. Here I am going to switch gears and say that one criticism about the Peace Corp process of assigning people is that they really just match up resume, departure window, and need. This is an efficient and streamline way to go about getting people out there, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work. Teaching ESL on a primary level is no cake walk and definitely not for everybody. In our group alone there are several volunteers who would never have chosen this job for themselves. Some people struggle because they miss home, or they have trouble adapting to the culture. These are thing you can work on and can change, but what if you just don’t like teaching? This is the situations that Sarah the fabulous found herself in. So Sarah is off home to start a fantastic job she is not only perfect for but that she knows she has a passion for. Thank you for all the wisdom, laughs, and love you shared. Good luck babe I know you’re going to love it!!!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Funny Things that Have Crossed the Ocean

Jeggings- Jean Leggings… Since these things really shouldn’t exist in America, who would have thought they would make it to this secluded island but they’re everywhere.

Girls Rule the World- This Beyonce song is epic and has become huge here! After it was shown on American Idol, which is a huge deal in Samoa, this turned into a country wide obsession. Also the Bruno Marz song “I just don’t feel like doing anything.”

Energy Drinks- This is crazy to me. A country that only has one bottling company is now selling energy drinks. One of the major pillars of Samoan society is just chilling, everything takes time, nobody is in a rush, and major energy is never really exerted. I have no idea how or why but there it is, Samoan Bottling Company is now selling energy drinks, and people are buying them!

Salad in Samoa! It’s Contagious

The most incredible thing has happened… My family is eating salad. This sound absolutely ridiculous I know. In Samoa vegetable are very rare and the once that do appear are always totally boiled to death in soaps. There are definitely no native Samoan dishes that include raw vegetables. I have now been in Samoa for nine months and have slowly been bringing new foods and different ways to prepare foods into my house. The salad has been a bit of a slow process but recently it has been appearing at least three times a week. I don’t have a lot of control over my meals as they are prepared by my host sister, but I do a little shopping once a week and bring back things that I like to eat mostly fruit and vegetables. In the beginning this just translated into a lot of cucumber, cabbage, and carrots in my chicken soap, but after a lot of dropped hints things are turning around. Salad! The coolest part is once I talked about how healthy vegetable are my host family started eating it too. I am super grateful for all that my family does for me especially that they feed me and take the time to prepare food for me. I know they make an effort to cook things for me that I will like and want me to be as comfortable and happy as possible. I can’t imagine my experience here without them and if exposing them to vegetable or listening to me talk about healthy foods mean they will be around a little long I couldn’t be happier.

Fourth of July

What a weekend! Four days of good old American fun or at least as close as we can get from this side of the Pacific. The marathon weekend began on Friday afternoon. Since we only get together about once a month we group our birthdays, and since we were all going to be in town for Fourth of July, we decided to celebrate all the July Birthdays while we were at it. Friday was a group party for Lindsay, Sarah, Katie, and Natalie. We treated ourselves to a fancy Italian dinner then headed to this really cool converted house up in the hills called Apeula Heights. It was gorgeous and had a wonderful huge balcony that showed the whole eastern side of the island. The view of the stars was epic. A great night of good company, awesome DJing on the part of Jenny, and even a little musical-chairs ensued. Saturday we headed to the new American residency (the small version of an embassy). It’s this crazy modern contraption of lots of curvy steel and glass. Very cool looking but definitely out of place here in Samoa, but hey different strokes for different folks. We had a potluck chill session out on the porch with all the Americans living here in Samoa. Tasty food and good company again, always a recipe of fun. Then Saturday night we had a chill dinner at the Yacht club (actually nowhere near as fancy as it sounds, but still my favorite restaurant in Apia) and then to see the third Pirates of the Caribbean. Sunday was spent laying by the pool at a resort and taking advantage of a drinks-special that means we can actually drink a beer other than Vaillima… SOL! Can you believe it! Then the big day rolled around, Monday the formal celebration of Fourth of July. It was held at the new American Residency again and was quite an affair. Lots of Samoans with high government positions were there and even the head of state. The Apia orchestra, assisted by some of the Peace Corps, performed two thirty minute sets, some volunteers performed songs, and I myself performed in a skit to promote the Health Challenge. Who would have thought my drama background would have come in handy in Samoa. There were delicious appetizers and even an American Flag Peace Corp cake! Three times during the evening tears came to my eyes. Once when we sang the national anthem, once when the MC asked anyone whose lives had been effected by a Peace Corp to stand, and then when we light sparklers! It was a great weekend and well needed. It seems like somehow there is one of these big events every three months or so right when everyone is wearing thin. Now back to the village for mid-year exams and the rest of term three. The next celebration… the joint August and September birthdays!! Guess who will be turning 23!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pearl Nail Polish

My Grandmother on the Oklahoma side always wore this shade of pearl nail polish. She went once a week to get her hair and nails done. She was extremely beautiful and the definition of a lady. I will never forget holding her hand so thin and fragile. The skin translucent and look so beautiful to me with that pearl nail polish. I looked down the other day and realized the color I have been wearing on my hand for the last eight months or so is the same shade. My sister only sent me two colors and the other is red, a little crazy for the village, so I only pull it out for special occasions. So pretty much my whole time here I have been wearing my grandmothers signature shade of nail polish. Life’s a crazy thing.


Health Challenge Gets Going

Well since my initial attempt at registering people for the health challenge things have really picked up. I have now registered thirty five people, including myself. One of my teams still never really made a showing but the team formed by the church my family goes to has really pulled through. I think after my morning registration kind of flopped word got out in the village because all of a sudden people started coming up to me asking register because they wanted to support me and the program. It was such a boost. I mean it would be better if the registered because they really wanted to lose weight but hey beggars can’t be choosers. Monday was my first day of walking for the challenge and I saw ten participants out walking. I couldn’t have been prouder. These are women that exercise never been part of their lives but here they were out walking the plantation road like I had been for the last couple months. Yesterday it was kind of raining and I thought we were doomed; rain is pretty much an excuse out of anything here in Samoa. If it rains you can skip out on school, work, and all chores….definitely exercise. Excuses in general are pretty abundant here but rain has got to be the number one. I poked my head out at four thirty the set time for the meet and it looked like it had stopped. My sister who is doing the challenge said I should go walk and that no one would come. It had been a long day at school and need to get out anyway so I decided to go anyway. Low and behold there were four women walking. It was such a nice surprise. It is becoming clear that I have at least four or five women who are really devoted to the exercise and a couple more who are at least half way there. They even asked if I could get zumba or jazz tapes so we could have exercise class. My mom the aerobics and yoga instructor would be so proud. Things are looking up and so now I just have to keep up the motivation as the challenge continues. Wish me luck!!

Selling the House

My parents have sold my house back in America. It has been on the market for a couple months and they have been doing everything possible to get it to sell. It had been a while and there hadn’t really been any serious interest so I hadn’t really thought about it. Then a couple days ago my sister just says “oh hey we sold the house today.” I know I probably been more prepared for this exact message but I have to say it took me completely by surprise. As I have written before my family has moved around a lot and home has always been more about the five of us then any physical house. But… we had owned this house for almost eight years. That is almost triple any other home my family has ever owned. I lived there for four years of high school and then come home to it all through college. If there was any house I had ever thought of as home it was this one. My parents had cleaned out and packed up my room a while ago so it wasn’t my bedroom I was sad to loose. It was definitely the family spaces; eating dinner together at the table, chatting and snacking in the kitchen, watching TV together in the living room, talking about life in the hot tub, chilling on the big love sac with my friends, Sunday lunch out on the patio. We have some incredible memories in that house. This is the right move for my family and my parents are building their dream house in Texas, so I will have a base to come back to when my service is over.  It’s just quite something to wrap my head around that when I come “home” it’s going to be to a completely different house, and that I will never again sit on that couch with the dogs or unwrap Christmas presents next to that fire. Thanks house, for all the memories. Now, on to a new house and new memories to be made.

The Health Challenge

Peace Corp Samoa has joined forces with the Ministry of Health to head up a program called Samoa Health Challenge. This is the third year they have done the health challenge and they have switched up the format a little in hopes to reach more Samoans. This year the volunteers are supposed to organize teams in the village. The challenge last four weeks and it is basically a competition between the villages to lose weight, but the emphasis is on healthy living this year and not as competition centered. Each participant is encouraged to eat healthy and walk every day making small sustainable changes toward a healthier lifestyle. We have all been a little nervous about this challenge as the volunteers before us faced a lot of challenges and reluctance last year. Also most of us have no health background and aren’t necessarily living the healthiest lives ourselves. Being obese is just so common place in Samoa and there is no preexisting emphasis in the culture on diet or exercise, it’s just not part of the Samoan mind set. I am not saying everyone here is happy with their bodies, they are definitely not. Trying to get Samoans living in the rural villages to eat less and walk ones a day many not seem like much of a challenge but it has turned out to be just that. I started the process of making teams and setting up for the challenge about three weeks ago. I found one team leader at the church my family goes to and one of my teachers. Both seemed very enthusiastic and even asked for an additional twenty packets for their teams. This morning was registration. I showed up at the designated time and place and registered nine people in two and a half hours. One team leader didn’t even show up. I know this is just part of working in Samoa but I can say I wasn’t a little disappointed. I sure that more people really did show interest but it’s just the way things go here. Everyone says yes to your face but the truth is a whole different thing. Some people were probably too scared, some had something come up at home, and some were probably just too lazy to leave the house on a Saturday. There is so much talk but not very much action. It’s the same at school with two meetings a week, during what should be class time, meant to help improve our school but it barely ever makes it in to the classroom. So new game plan: one- lower my expectations a little and remember I can’t look at this though my American eyes, two- be persistent. I am going to keep registration open two more days and carry the scale around with me so anybody that asks I can just whip it out and register them on the spot. Wish me luck!!

Namua



After Early Service Conference I took a couple days of village life and went to the gorgeous little uninhabited Island called Namua. There was a couple little beach huts, a bathroom hut, and a little kitchen that some staff took a boat in to cook breakfast and dinner for us. It was incredibly beautiful and the most peaceful place. We did nothing but lay on the beach, swim in the ocean, talk and read for two days. On the second morning the tide was out so we decided to climb around the island on a small strip of beach and rock that is accessible when the water is out. It was quite an adventure. Five volunteers set out with no shoes and just there swim suites and found themselves in quit a pickle. It was incredible. There was a lot more rock climbing and wading then beach but it was something else. The waves crashed over the rocks and there were sections where we were backed up against the bottom of a cliff face. We found loads of little beaches around the island that are completely inaccessible ninety percent of the time. We got about two thirds of the way when we realized we may have miscalculated the time it would take for us to get around the island and how long it would take the tide to come in. At this point we are covered in scrapes and scratches and our feet were incredibly sore from walking over so much coral. We reached a point where it was turn or swim. We chose swim. We doggy paddled our way around the last section of the island trying to avoid huge rocks and sharp coral. We definitely added to a scrape count but we made it! What an adventure.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Term 2

Well where to start? I have been offline for about two months now and it honestly just feels so good to be typing on my own laptop again… maybe not the same one but hey its mine and it’s pretty. Today I got the package of a life time. A massive box from my sister with not only my life saving laptop but a million snacks and treats! I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am for her. It’s almost impossible to get anything done here, especially if it’s something back home, for example say purchasing and shipping a laptop a couple thousand miles. I am completely reliant on my sister back home for everything from filing taxes to getting stick deodorant. So thank you sister and family who make this happen for me while I’m here.

A lot has happened since I last wrote, most notable term 1 ended, I went to Early Service Conference, and term 2 has begun. Toward the end of term 1 it was becoming more and more apparent that school was really not going how I wish it would. My classes were constantly being canceled and I was always being asked to step out to do some typing or cover for an absent teacher. I had made my schedule flexible and been super relaxed about school because I didn’t want to cause too many waves right off the bat. On one hand it did smooth over lots of relationships and racked me up some good credit but it meant I wasn’t getting to do very much teaching. I was starting to miss home a lot and just the freedoms and choices of living in America. I started doubting my effectiveness and my purpose for service. My negative experience at school was starting to give me a negative outlook on my service in general. Did I come all the way to Samoa to read in my room and do the occasional typing job? This has completely changed in the first two weeks of term two. I am teaching my own classes, I have made a concrete schedule and am sticking to it every day, even if it means I have to say no to other teachers… something that is not very Samoan. I have thrown the Samoan scheme from the early eighties out the window and am using the ESL materials that Peace Corp has given me to and creating my own curriculum. The difference is astounding. Not only am I a million times happier and more fulfilled, I am being more effective. My time with the students has doubled and the new lessons are a huge success. At the end of the day I realized that being a good volunteer is not about making everybody happy and like you. It’s about doing what you need to do. Now is it easier to get things done when you are liked? Yes, so I don’t regret my term one choices, but I have paid my dues and done my time. Term 2 is about me finding a way to do what I need to do. I can already see it is not only going to be good for my students but good for my mental health.

I know there will be more dips and low points in my journey but I am happy to have found the solution to my latest one. I think or should I say hope that things will just keep getting better at school. In turn my purpose will become clearer and my contentment which is a constant balancing act will be fortified.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ill Be Back Soon!

First I would like to apologies for not updating in so long. Things got hard when my laptop broke but then got pretty much impossible when I wasn't able to use the computers at school. I am happy to admit that my parents are sending me a new laptop as we speak and I should be online again soon! and can skyp with friends and fam!! This is doing a lot for my mental sanity aha. Right now I am in Apia and can steal a couple minutes on line on a friends computer so I wanted to explain my absence and say that I promise I will be back. Thank you for your patience!! In the mean time, all is well. Im enjoying a week of luxury with friends and getting pumped up in training to tackle term two with my kids at school! Many posts and pics to come!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Scuba Diving and Silly Thoughts


This last week I got a last minute text from a fellow volunteer about a great deal to go diving at Aggie Grays resort quite close to my village. I new that Samoa had great diving but hadn't really gotten my mind around to it with all the other things going on. But this just seemed to great to pass up, so I jumped on it. It was perfect, spending my six month anniversary under the water in awe of the beauty my new country has to offer. I have been certified since I was twelve and haven't actually gotten a new card so I am technically still a junior diver. So I strutted up to the desk and handed over my dive card complete with picture pre-braces. The instructor looked at me and said “your older now right.” I guess she didn't read the date issued 2001. But after the technicalities were sorted and all the gear was fitted it was time to rock and roll. It had been three years since I last dove and there is always that fear that you have forgotten how to do it. A couple minutes in the boat and that fear was squashed it was just like riding a bike. The smell of the wet suites and all that rubber brought me back to all the great dives I have done with my family and by the time I hit the water I was in total dive mode. The water was beautiful. It was warm enough to only wear a swim suite but cool enough not to feel like bath water. The coral was a clash of a million different colors, some I swear I have never seen before.... neon orange coral, I swear. The formations were incredible we did several swim-throughs and the were valleys, canyons, and mountains of coral everywhere you looked. I saw I first bat fish, which was enormous and even a giant clam the size of my dog back home. It was all the way open and we could see its beautiful skirt swaying in the tied. It was all over to quickly as it always seems to be. So back on dry land time to grab a quick beer at the resort then off back to village life. It was a wonderful way to celebrate six months and a great day.

Some things you would never see in America

Kids carrying knives... big ones-
All the kids at school carry little razor blades or switch blades at are super sharp because this is what they sharpen their pencils with. They always cut the grass with machetes so there are always plenty of those around. This is not age restrictive I have seen year one and twos, the equivalent of first graders with machetes.

Kids carrying beating sticks-
When teachers are busy or just not at school which is very common. The leaders of the class, usually the more advanced students take over the role of enforcer. This comes with all the perks of a teacher meaning they get to beat their friends. Last Thursday four of our teachers were absent and so the majority of our classes were being taught by either the advanced kids with in the class or a student from a high year that had been sent to control the younger children. At lunch time I counted eight children carrying beating sticks administering punishments. Its quite shocking enough when teachers do it, but imagine institutionalized bullying.

Contagious Kids-
When a kids even gets the sniffles in America they are quarantined and everything is disinfected. I have seen rampant cases of lice, pink eye, and a million different skin infections of funguses. Schools here are a breading ground for any and all infectious diseases. Attendance is spotty for kids as is and usually if a kid is feeling ill the parents just keep them home as coming to school isn't really that big of a priority but things like pink eye and lice are so common that they don't even register. Gaping, seeping infected wounds... no big Dady has one that worse.

Teachers eating kids food or taking kids money-
Everything in Samoa is about the respect food chain and listening to your elders. There is a clear higher archy even with in a classroom as all the students are ranked. So when you teacher asks you for you snack or takes your snack money, this is totally acceptable. They are not only your elder but an authority figure so its a no brainer. For example I have been giving out silly bands to my kids who come for my walks with me and practice English vocab. They never have the bracelets the next day and I was beginning to wander where they were going. Then I started noticing that the older kids at church all had my bracelets and even some parents had then. This is the food chain at work... you are welcome to anything that belongs to those lower then you on the chain. The flip side of this is you are also responsible in every way for anyone below you on the food chain. There are seven and eight year old that are literally the care givers to their one or two year old siblings.

No teachers in the classroom-
If the teacher doesn't come to school today... no worries the kids take care of themselves you just let them be. If you have taught your lesson and the kids are doing an activity no need to supervise go have a coffee. The incredible part about this is that it works the kids are so trained to be self sufficient a classroom with out a teach... not actually a huge problem. Could you imagine what would happen in America?

There is a million things I could list but these are just some that strike me all the time as illustrating how different the kids are here. In some ways this system seems so alien and backward and at times it just seems to make perfect sense. If you put American kids in any of these situations the out come would be so incredibly different!

Cosmo in the Classroom

So I made a great sacrifice this week, I cut up my cosmo. Two of my best friends sent me a particularly juicy cosmo a couple months ago, which I have read over and over. It was a fun way to pretend that I  was back home and get lost in the stupid frivolousness and materialism of it all. The pages of cosmo couldn't be more foreign to be life here, but still it was a guilty pleasure. I could look at it and lust over the fashion and beauty products of my past. After weeks of guiltily stashing it and trying not to think about all the visual aides lurking on its pages, I gave in. I went through and cut out a million pictures, trying to avoid all the inappropriate articles and pictures. In the end I had a nice big stack of pictures, which yesterday my advance class used create word collages. They had to stick down the images I gave them and write any relevant vocab words next to them. It was a huge success. Everything is so geared toward copying and repeating, the kids never get to do anything artsy or let alone come up with their own words, so it was completely new and exciting. The posters turned out great and  you could just see the pride on their faces. Not all the words were correct and it wasn't the highest level of language but it was theirs and you could tell they loved it. So bye bye the ten best tricks to smooth legs and hello  “girl and naked leg.”  

Getting to Actually Teach!


Its been a great week so far. I'm getting to spend a lot more time in the classroom and I feel like Im actually teaching the kids something. I have started my advanced class and its a raving success. Last week we wrote letters to some children in Australia and made pretend phone calls to America to ask questions. My music is also still a big hit with the kids. The older children have learned, “Aint No Mountain,” “Let it be” and the more recent “Just the Way you Are” by Bruno Marz. The younger kids have learned “I'm a little Teapot” “Marry Has a Little Lamb,”and the Barney song which in inorperated sign language. Next week we are doing “Ill be there for You” from friends and “Three little Monkeys.” I have high hopes for both. I have pushed my way into year seven and am actually getting to plan and execute some lessons. I have memorized about seventy five percent of the kids names and it is helping tremendously. The ducklings that tail me on my walk are quickly picking up the vocab I drill them on as we walk and also becoming more confident in the classroom. I seem to have more company everyday and yesterday had my record with nine kids following me. I stopped them and four flowers though as I feel I just don't have enough hair to pull off nine, and that is saying a lot as I have a lot of hair. The kids are starting to respond to me and because I am making relationships my “disapproving looks” are becoming more effective as classroom management. I have discovered a look can be just as halting to a kid as a smack if the kids cares about what you think of them. I am starting to take on more in school and really tackling lessons when I get stuck subbing instead of playing games. I was so nervous and unsure in the beginning but I am beginning to see that I do have something to offer the kids here. Even if I teach the exact same lesson that the regular teacher would teach, as a native speaker I can offer something new. Then add a little exuberance and some funny faces into the mix and the kids are sold. I hope that this progress continues and maybe by term three I will start to actually feel like I know what I'm doing.

Mama's Always right!

This week I have been thinking a lot about the things we are told as kids that we never listen to but as we get older ring true over and over again. Here are somethings that my mother has always said to me that I have found to be so true in my life here. Water really is a cure for pretty much anything. Exercising really does make your day a million times better. Getting out in nature is essential to happiness. Sometimes its really is better not to say anything (these last two are more my dad). Eating well is also a key to happiness. Veggies can taste good. These realizations came about when I was thinking about all the drastic mood swings we go through here. Its the nature of our work here and our situation that we are constantly on an emotional edge. One minute our ecstatic and the next your depressed. Looking at my days I realized that the days I don't go for a walk are the days that I feel most sluggish and low. The days I eat the greasy and starchy traditional Samoan food are the days I want to curl up and ignore the world. The times I try to explain too much or control things I get frustrated and angry. My best days are those I go with the flow, get outside for a nice walk, and eat fresh veg or fruit. Most of all the days that I drink lots of water, which seems to keep the constant headache at bay. No one can be happy with a head ache! Who would have thought that are parents actually new what they were talking about.

Other cool thoughts of the week:
1.   This is my life now! WOW
2.   The craziness here has stopped surprising me. This is now my normal!
3.   People are people no matter where they are in the world.
4.   True happiness is a choice with in yourself so you can find it anywhere.

Thanks for reading! And don't forget if there is anything you want me to write about shoot me an email or make a comment.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Monuments of the Past

Our bodies carry the scares and marks of your lives. They are a walking history of our lives. We decorate and accessories them to express ourselves and to hide ourselves. I have recently decided that it is time to say goodbye to some of my own accessories. I had thought about removing my piercings before I left the states but in the end decided to try and get away with them here in Samoa. Like many things that I thought I would have to change, I held on to these things as they were relics of my past life and gave me a certain comfort. I still paint my nails and wear make up sometimes for the comfort it gives me, even though it is not only unnecessary socially here but also an oddity. I still shave my legs and armpits for the same reason. Maybe at some point in my journey I will come to believe these comforts are unnecessary as well, maybe not. The moment came while I getting ready to shower and realized that one of my piercings was irritated. I thought for a minute and looked at myself hard in the mirror. Yes its time. I need to take them out. Both of my piercings were presents from my older sister, one for my sixteenth birthday and one for my twenty first. I have loved both of them and they will always be good memories attached to them. In the end I realized I didn't need them anymore. Those versions of past selves are with in me and part of me. I don't need monuments to mark them. On this ride you discover many comforts and crutches you must shed. Some people its negativity, self deprecation, sarcasm, a computer, alcohol, cheese, for me this is just another little thing I feel I can do with out. I am ready to face this new adventure bare of marks and accessories. We are bare in so many ways here so it only seems right.

Happy Birthday Jenny

the trifecta

some teachers apples I get a bouquet

me and my cousins before school

This last weekend we all met in town to celebrate the Birthday of one of my best friends here Jenny. This gorgeous and brilliant lady turned twenty three and she is so loved we all came together to celebrate with her. We went to a delicious Indian meal and then out dancing and had a great time. The next day was spent sunning by the pool then, going to a real movie, then out to a delicious Italian meal complete with chocolate cake for dessert. It was really great to see the other volunteers as usual and I am constantly reminded how amazing these people are and how blessed I am to have them here. It was hard to say good bye this time as we probably wont see each other again for till easter. Its hard to explain what its like as your not just saying bye to friends but also the self you get to be around them. We all head back to village life and the back to the people we are there. I was really down at first as it was just such a great weekend and I didn't want it to end, but then a couple of hours later I was back in my room having a laugh with my family and I realized this is good too. Its hard when two things are so different to leave on for the other because you automatically feel your leaving the good one and going to the bad. The truth is though its just so different. I am happy in my village, its a very different happy, more of a content feeling. I am also very happy socializing with my fellow volunteers and partaking in the luxuries of town, but its a more temporary crazy fun. The trick is to realize that one is not less then the other but that they are just different and they both need to exist. With out one the other wouldn't be of value or really even possible. I need my night in town a month and I also need my village time, its all part of this crazy dance called Peace Corp.

Me and My little Ducklings

So I have written before about the walks I take in the afternoons but there has been an interesting new development in my evening stroles. Last week I was strutting along, plugged into my ipod, on the plantation road and I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and there was a flash of color then the shadow was gone. I smiled and kept going a while before turning around and catching on of my student tailing me a couple of feet behind me. I smiled at him and then kept going. Now that I had made contact he sped up a bit and walked next to me. By the end of my walk I had three new shadows. The next day I had four and half way through my walk I took out my music and started quizzing them on some English vocab. I rewarded the kids at the end of the walk with one of the silly band bracelets I brought from America. It had now become a routing that every time I go for a walk I have a little line of ducklings tailing me. It seems to be mostly year four and five boys (3rd or 4th graders) who like to race when ever I am up to it. Yesterday me and my ducklings were the talk of the town because the boys decided, that as I was excersising and obviously looking my best I needed flowers in my hair. It is super common for women to wear flowers in their hair here but it is usually for church or when you are trying to look nice. Anyway each one of my six boys picked me a flower that I wore with pride four in my bun and one behind each ear. As we walked through town there was plenty of laughs and smiles and a couple of the boys even got the nerve up to hold my hand. I returned home and told my sisters I had the most boyfriends in all the village.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Un-measuable Impact Plus Village Pics

My School

My sister walking up to my house


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My families kitchen, my room is off the hall on the right


My Bathroom

One of the craziest things about being here is how different it is then not only any job in America but also so different than one expects coming into the Peace Corp. When you sign up images of building schools, digging wells, or inoculating children come to mind, not really teaching English. Then on top of that unlike any teaching or for that matter, any job in America, there is really no goals or expectations set for us as volunteers except, make it. The main thing we are all aiming for is just to make it, to survive for two years. Obliviously we all come here to do good but that is such an abstract goal that mentally it doesn't really factor in. In America everything is about working toward a tangible goal, something that will create, an end product, something that can be measured and put into some cost benefit analysis. The very nature of the job here goes completely against this way of thinking. I am here and seventy five percent of the “good” I'm doing is through just being here. Through exposure the children are not only learning English, but about the world and more importantly that learning can be fun. I'm so used to the idea of work being work. This feels easy and fun not at all like work and to add to that I'm not producing anything tangible. You can see how it’s hard to justify this as work when it misses two of the basic definitions of work in America. This does interesting things to your head and makes you ask you’re self what you are really doing. Then something wonderful happens and you remember. For me this was a moment at Church when the pastor encouraged everyone to get up and hug each other. I was sitting with the young adults so it was a recipe for extreme awkwardness. After a couple minutes of just standing there a couple of the teens shook my hand. It seemed this was going on forever and I was counting the seconds till I got to sit down again. Then from across the church one of my students caught my eye and took a couple of steps toward me before stopping herself. It would be both inappropriate and awkward for a Samoan student to hug a Samoan teacher as they are such disciplinarians and dictators in the classroom. I motioned her forward and she ran across the church and gave me a big hug. Some of my other students saw her and ran over as well. There ended up being a line of twenty kids all waiting to give me a hug and thank me for teaching them. I cried like a baby of course. It’s hard to measure smiles but that is what I'm producing here and I am learning that it is far more important then building some shiny new building.

Remembering Joy

I have gotten into a bit of a rut recently. I wasn't getting really excited about my work at the school and was just generally feeling blah. Yesterday I was riding on the bus thinking about this apathy and why it had seemed to settle in. Then it occurred to me, I had forgotten to take joy. The simplest thing in the world is to leave yourself open to the joys of the world around you, but it can be so easily forgotten. My key to this is to try and see the world through the eyes of a child, every beautiful sunset is new, and every smile shared is new. Just realizing that I had become blind to the world around me was enough to open them again. I looked out the bus window with fresh eyes and couldn't help smiling. I am in a beautiful place, surrounded by wonderful people, doing something I believe in. Of course as soon as I opened my eyes again joys started flooding in. I caught the eye of a beautiful little girl on the side of the road; she gave me a sparkling big smile then pulled on her mothers sleeve and pointed to me. The pair stood arm in arm grinning at me. How wonderful to share smiles with strangers and just add a little love to each others days. Then the man next to me on the bus, who up till now I had been ignoring, brought me a soda. I don't care how many times it happens, it is still just as surprising and wonderful each time and I hope it always is. Then I came home and my new English Samoan bible was delivered! How cool this is something I will have for life and can show my kids one day. Then at bible study the pastor made sure to add in some English so I wouldn't be totally lost and after the service his wife gave me chocolate covered peanuts! All these little things if they had happened yesterday may not have even been on my radar and I would have missed out on the joy they brought me. What a difference to see things with fresh eyes and take the joy that the world is offering. I'm sure I will forget and rediscover this a million times and hope it is just as much as a revelation each time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meghan Turns 21

So today is my sister's twenty first birthday. Its crazy how little you consider the things you will miss in other peoples lives when you sign up for Peace Corp. Although it is an organization to help others because it is you going out there on your own, in a way it is intrinsically self-centered. In the months preparing to come, you think about all the restaurants you will miss, all the friends and family you, all the comforts and routines, but you don’t really think about missing out on witnessing things. I will miss watching my sister drink her first legal beer. I will probably miss watching her be incredibly hung over the next day. My sister and I went to the same college so I have been present at her last two birthday bashes, both epic and of course both busted by the cops. This year they are throwing a party at the same place with the same crew but of course it’s the big one, twenty one. There are lots of things I miss about home but one of them I never anticipated and one that is sometimes the hardest is that I am not a witness to my friends and families lives anymore. I will have to settle for looking and pictures and for fuzzy phone calls from across the world. I know this is all part of being here and the sacrifice we all make, but like a say some days are harder then others. I am still happy and loving it here but today my thoughts and heart are not in Samoa but with a beautiful girl who is drinking her way into adulthood.

The Big Island

So after a swift recovery it ended up being a great weekend. I headed back to my village on Thursday evening and after a discussion with my family it was decided that I wouldn't go to school on Friday and just rest before leaving for the big island, Savaii. So at around two o’clock after much resting I hoped on the bus and then eventually on the ferry. It was a short ride and I actually only spent about two hours traveling, which is actually only thirty minutes more then it takes me to get to Apia. So around five we pulled up in front of Lucia’s. It’s this really casual resort that is really popular with the volunteers on Savaii. It is situated on the gorgeous lagoon and we claimed a dock jetting out of the water. All the crew was there and we were celebrating four different joint Birthdays. I couldn't celebrate in true fashion as I was on antibiotics but it was great to see everyone and soak up some sun. We had a great laugh and ending the night dancing and this little hole in the wall place down the street. The rooms were wonderful and we even got hot showers and beds with real mattresses. The next day we took a taxi to a near by waterfall. It was gorgeous and the water was cool and fresh right from the mountains. We took turns jumping of the rocks of the ravine walls into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall and even swimming up and climbing behind it. It was beautiful. Then it was back to Lucia’s for a nap before a tasty dinner and another night chilling on the dock, chatting and playing games. The next morning it we soaked up some last minute rays then it was back to our villages and real life. It seems kind of like I just got back from vacation, but it was a much needed get away. I have realized that I really owe my sanity to these little moments where I get together with the other volunteers, speak English, and have fun. It makes me just remember who I am outside of this crazy situation. That I am a fun confident and well adjust person underneath the stressed, emotional and bumbling person you become in your village. There is another round of Birthdays in about a month so I have that to look forward to again, but for now its back to village life. I feel rejuvenated and ready to get stuck in. I’m hoping to get more time teaching this week and possibly even do some professional development with the teachers. Well wish me luck I'm off to go teach "I’m a Little Teapot" to years 1 2 3 and 4.
Us on the dock

Linds and two of the birthday boys

Me and the birthday boys

Jumping into the water

Using my camera in water!!

Me and Jenny

Me and danny behind the waterfall

Me underneith the waterfall

Me and Jenny catcing last minute raise

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Strep or What Ever

Well some how I have done it again, I have gotten strep, or at least some kind of bacterial upper respiratory infection. I always test negative for strep but show all the symptoms even the white spots on my throat. Of course then my blood work comes back and shows, wow this girl is not a liar and really is sick. I have gotten this or at least a very similar upper respiratory bacterial infection four times since June, twice in the states and now twice in Samoa. Don’t ask me why, because honestly I have no clue. Well after trying to battle what I was hopping was just a sore throat for two days in my village, the dreaded white spots appeared and I took a quite turn for the worst. My family brought me into town and I got into the doctor quick as possible and before I new it I had a nice big bag of horse tranquilizer size antibiotics. I spent the night in Apia and my friend Blakey came and visited me and made the best of my icky feelings with pizza and a movie. She also bought me some treats from America, two fitted v-necks (which are like gold here), a nice cotton black skirt which is fitted enough to pass for going out attire but long enough to be appropriate, and some tasty treats. All in all my sick night ended up being just what the doctor ordered, a night in a real bed, a hot shower, plenty of rest and some company to cheer me up. I’m headed back to my village today and am hoping I will be well enough tomorrow to still make it to the volunteer get together. Wish me well!

Here’s a list of things that don’t hold much importance in Samoa (especially the villages);
  1. Facial moles
  2. Facial hair on women
  3. bushy or even uni-brows
  4. weight in general
  5. scarring, especially wide spread pock scars on legs
  6. Toe nail fungus
  7. visible cavities, and rotting or missing teeth
These things are just very common and really not of much importance. Its very interesting that things that in America would hold a great social stigma are really just so unimportant here.



Valentines Day

Well its Valentines day here in the Pacific but to be honest its really just another day in the life. This past weekend we had a little secret Valentine gift exchange with other volunteers and one of the Peace Corp employees held a little spa slash movie get together. I wasn't able to make it as I was on a mad hunt for a new mattress (which is really just a foam pad). I have been fighting a loosing battle with bed bugs for the last two months and final decided that I was going to talk to family about getting a new mattress. It should be arriving any day now so here hoping that my nights and itching and scratching are over. I have to tell you there is nothing quite like lying down at night picturing the creepy crawlies that use you as a play ground at night. Beyond the incest bites I have been in pretty good health by Peace Corp standards. Pretty much every cut I get ends up getting infected and I have a fungus on my left ankle, but lets just say that I don't think there is a single volunteer who isn't battle some infection or fungus. At any given time there are probably five people from my group on some kind of intense antibiotics. School is starting to gear up a little. I had to substitute a little last week which was a real mixed bag. Subbing year five was horrible; imagine trying to keep twenty five eight year olds entertained all day when you don't speak the same language. The first half of the day was okay, but after three hours of English it all just started to go down hill. First of all that’s just way to much, if some one tried to teach me Samoan for three hours straight and I was eight years old I would probably go crazy too. Second I don't use corporal punishment and haven't had time to really implement any kind of classroom management so there was really no order. I learned several things from this experience. They tell us not to substitute for a good reason, it doesn't work. Also I need to establish a system and give the kids time to adjust to it. They are not going to just understand “don't do that,” when usually it’s followed by a slap. I'm still really happy with my living situation. I'm getting more and more comfortable with my family and it s really starting to feel like home away from home here. I am also getting more comfortable with my teachers and join in with there jokes and banter during lunch. I super excited to go to Savaii this weekend and promise to right a nice long post about it.

Since its love day here are some things I love right now;
1. Cow pigs, these are pigs that are white with black spots and look exactly like the cows in Britain
2. Going into town and having a bag of cheetos as a treat
3. Getting surprise packages, letters, and fb messages from peeps back home
4. New school uniforms, even though I look like a huge frumpy sailor
5. Papaya and pineapple
6. Getting silly texts from my fellow volunteers
7. When strangers buy me snacks on the bus...just because
8. That my family noticed I had a lot of book and had a beautiful new desk made for me.
9. When I go for rides with my much older host brother and my sisters we usually stop and get a treat like ice cream or these little coconut cakes
10. That the kids and my school seem to really like me and when I go into a classroom they all cheer.
11. Its rainy season and when the wind is blowing and I feel a particularly cold breeze I can smell Scotland.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Second Week of School

My second week of school has been much better on all fronts. I have had the opportunity to watch some great teaching, help out with some classes, and even give some reading tutorials. I have also had a lot of down time and witnessed a lot of non-teaching, but over all it has been wonderful to actually start what I'm here for. I will observe for another week then slowly start to integrate into the English lessons. With in the next month I hope to fully take over year seven English and be co-teaching with years 4, 5, 6, and 8. I also will start a reading group for children behind in reading and an advanced group for the kids who need more challenges then their classes can offer. I will also start giving presentations to the teachers on tactics and methods of teaching ESL. These are all skills I have learned though my training with the Peace Corp and am a little nervous to not only implement them but even instruct others how to do so. It’s exciting though that even after a couple of days I can see the teachers picking up some the things I do with the children. It gives me some hope that my work here will last beyond my time in country. I'm also ever more thankful of my situation here. I am generally happy; though everyday comes with new frustrations and challenges. Being unsure and embarrassment are still ever present emotions but it’s getting easer to laugh off situations and not take them too personally. My mantra has become patience, strength, clarity, and grace. Patience is so that I make it though the hours of waiting and not understanding. Strength is so I keep going when it feels impossible. Clarity so I can always be aware of my blessings but also the realities of my situation. Grace so that I may be gracious for those gifts and try to handle myself with maturity as to not embarrass myself more then is inevitable. I feel if I can just keep these things in mind I will not only be successful here but incredibly happy. I have had the loveliest surprise, an unexpected package! Two of my friends back home whom I haven’t able to talk with much since I got here, took it upon them selves to make me a little package of home. I got a singing monster… it was love at first sight, my friends now me too well, a cute owl piggy bank, a lovely candle, and of course the mandatory cosmo. The teachers ended school three hours early today to come into town to pick up their paychecks and I decided to pop into the office and there waiting for me was this wonderful bundle of joy. Thank you friends!!! I feel so loved!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pics

First day of school

Little sister cooking

My new baby
The one chore they let me do, feed the chickens

The library slash my office, thats my desk in the corner

Somaon breakfast for the teachers meeting, eggs, cake, pie, tuna sandwiches, and hotdogs. Look mama all the food is the same color ahah

The First Week of School

It’s almost to the end of my first week of school and things are really starting to look up. Very few kids are in attendance but at least the teachers are holding some kind of classes. Mostly they are just having the kids copy down sentences and look at books, but at least is some kind of learning. They have told me that real classes will start next week and the children will start to come regularly. I don't if it’s just that my expectations have been lowered or if I am actually adapting a little to Fa'aSamoa but the pace of things isn't bothering me as much as it was before. I have a lot to be thankful for. I have my own desk in the library, which is lovely so I can escape from the kids between classes and plan or just open a book and relax for a minute. There is also an ancient laptop in the library that is as slow and infected as possible but I have been able to use it to type these posts when classes are running slow and I don't have anything to observe. I seem to be a school which doesn't have too much of a problem with teacher attendance so at least I won’t have to substitute all the time. My schedule is looking like I will be teaching English for year seven everyday then alternating English for years four five six and eight. I will even have a period in the afternoons when I can help with the youngins in years one two and three.  I am still a very discrete presence and am taking my time to really ease into things. That way I can get a good feel for how things are working and slowly start working myself in without creating too much immediate change that could cause problems. Like I said before I keep telling myself slow and steady wins the race, I mean I do have two years. I also feel that if the changes here come naturally over my course of time here then they may be more likely to sustain after I leave. I had a wonderful walk yesterday with two girls my age that I met at the young adult youth group at church. They speak pretty good English so I could enjoy the walk without stressing too much about being understood or understanding.  I hoping this will become a daily thing and maybe even the foundation for an excursive project in the community in the future. It seems when ever this adventure throws me a curve ball and I get frustrated and down, the next day it comes back with something wonderful. I guess that’s why they call it a roller coaster. I'm also starting to get to know the kids and everyday more and more people great me as I walk by. It also helps that they say my name not white girl. Over all things are looking up and I'm starting to feel hopeful again about school, although I am already counting the days till the next volunteer get together. I can honestly say I couldn't do this without my comrades. On average I'm sending over thirty texts a day reaching out to them. It makes everything better when there is someone to celebrate your successes, share your frustrations, and laugh at the absurdities.