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.
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!