Thursday, December 16, 2010


Darwin had a theory. Only those who can adapt to their surroundings survive. With my new life in Samoa I couldn’t find this theory to be truer. The part I didn’t realize was how much adapting I am and continually doing. One of the first things and biggest aspects is the environment. For example, the weather here in Samoa. Hot all the time and no air conditioning. Luckily, my body is taking care of this one so I don’t have to consciously think of it. Then of course there are the apparent aspects that I’m adjusting to like: food, people and culture. These take longer than most and require both a conscious and unconscious effort. However, there is a type of adaptation that I have not really come across until coming here. This is adapting to things that you yourself have already said you would never be able to do. First thing that comes to mind…bugs! I have bedded with cockroaches, showered with spiders the size of fists, and allowed lizards control of my room. All of which would have sent chills down my back before, now just seem like second nature. In the beginning I wanted every one of those creatures killed, and killed by anyone else but me. Now two months later. I’ll either leave them be, or kill them myself. Then there are things like your skin. My skin back home was properly taken care of. Pampered with expensive soaps, clean H2O, and lathered with lotions and medicated with moisturizers. Here my skin has taken an unfamiliar hit for the worst. I have not used any of which I did before, including the clean water. My skin has developed painful unusual bumps, rashes, and a new state which includes a high level of sweat, dirt and unsanitary water. And even though I find it annoying, its not debilitating. Talking to other PCV’s who have been here longer confirm this by telling and showing their run-ins with skin infections, and boils. But as one volunteer stated, “you get used to it.” In other words you adapt. In order to survive in a new environment you must adapt quickly. It’s no coincidence that volunteers who leave usually leave within the first 3 months of their service. Because whatever the case, adaptation was not successful in areas that were mental, physical, or environmental. Obviously there are certain things that are easier to adapt to then others. The areas I find the most difficult is not the food, my new house, the bugs or new illnesses. For me, its letting go of my old life, and habits to realize and embrace my new life to form new habits. Breaking old habits takes a conscious effort. This is obviously difficult to do. However, with each day I find myself working a little less hard, and consciously thinking a little less. Lesson I’m learning… it’s amazing what one can adapt to.

A person’s lap is an official seat for another

Most common form of transportation…buses. However like many other things, Samoan buses are unlike anything I have ever experienced. Imagine a city bus where you live. Okay now take that bus and minimize it by ¼. Turn the bus into wood including the seats. Now put a person in every seat. Then take that same amount of people and add it again to the bus. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “well where are thos people going to go?” Well on the laps of the people sitting in the seats of course! Literally strangers are sitting on one another’s laps. Then add about another 20 people who stand in the aisle. And of course the bus can’t be complete without blaring, and I do mean blaring hip hop remixed with Samoan twist music. There you have it ladies and gentleman, a typical Samoan bus ride. Where the max person capacity is 32 people and you have managed to squeeze in over 70. However I will say that this madness comes with a certain unwritten system of cultural do’s and don’ts So much so that the Peace Corps dedicated a whole session on how to ride the bus properly, without doing anything taboo. For example, men sit in the back of the bus, women up front. (That’s a major one) Try not to keep your bags in your lap because essentially that’s a seat. Men sit on men’s laps, while women sit on other women’s laps. (I usually try to get a kid to sit on me because its much more comfortable then having a full grown person sitting on you. If a women who is older than you gets on the bus, you give up your seat. Seats in the very front are offered for elderly and or men who are chiefs in their villages. Its taboo for a woman to sit on a mans lap, and vise versa. However, I have seen it on more than one occasion. Which leads me to believe you only sit with the opposite sex if there really is no other room. Also another thing I should mention is there is no bus schedule and there are no real bus stops. Which, just makes things more chaotic for a foreigner like me!  Another fascinating thing about riding the buses is that nowhere is it written how much it costs to get from point A to point B. its all just kind of known by the locals. You would think that a person could lie to the driver and pay less than you really owe, but somehow the driver is all knowing and he knows exactly how much each passenger should be paying. I have yet to figure out how they do this. Basically riding the buses here is an adventure all in its own. It can be an enjoyable, or it can leave you with sore legs, bruises, and a headache. Nevertheless I have come to realize that the bus system in Samoa is as much a part of the culture as the food, language, and music.

Samoa’s Dual Lives

There are two ways of living in Samoa. There is Apia life, and village life. I have  experienced both. Apia life is as close as anyone is going to get to an American life. Apia is Samoa’s capital as well as the only big town on the island of Upolu. When living in Apia people tend to dress more western. Women wear tank tops, shorter dresses, and shorts that show their knees. Men are wearing sunglasses, listening to American music, and wearing the latest clothes. English is also a lot more common in Apia. Anything that a person might need that can’t be made or grown is bought in Apia. The night life is similar to that of the States. There are a couple dance bars, your local lounges for casual drinks, one movie theatre, and a variety of restaraunts. Also, another aspect of Apia is the fact that it is a common port for cruise ships to stop at. Therefore, “pulangi’s” or “white people,” are common to see in  Apia.
Then there is village life. Basically you take Apia, think of the complete opposite and there you have it. Village life comes with waking up to the old fashion clock…roosters. When the roosters start crowing the day has officially started. I keep trying to explain to my host family that 4 a.m. is not the day its still night, but they don’t quite agree. Nevertheless, people wake. Your gender, age, and role in the family tells the person what their duties are everyday. Some men wake up and go straight to work at the plantation. The younger men might tend to the pigs, horses and cows. The women usually look after the house, the younger girls usually do the cooking and cleaning, and the children usually pick up the rubbish around the house and help with miscellaneous chores. No matter what, each person has their role to play and each aspect is vital for daily life and the family to function properly. Villagers are not accustomed to pulangis and are fascinated when they do see one that’s outside of Apia. If you were to take a walk around a village you would mostly see pigs roaming around freely, horses on the side of the road, chickens everywhere, and people working and walking around their fales.  You will probably be asked about 20 different times where you are going and about 100 hellos and goodbyes. Most people who live in the rural villages get their food from their plantation, or trees (breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, mangos etc.) They get their eggs from their chickens and most times the chickens will become their dinner. Women dress very modestly while living in the village; nothing past the knees, no tank tops, and no midriff showing. Its very common for people to shower outside or even bathe in the ocean. The word ta’ele means to shower, bath and swim in the ocean because essentially it’s all the same to the Samoan people. Sunday is a very important day in the village. Life stops during this day. No working, no cleaning, no nothing. Sunday is meant for church, prayer, eating, and sleeping. Some Samoans do each of these things twice over. There is no night life in the village except for…Bingo. Yes, Bingo it’s a huge hit here in Samoa and is taken very seriously. Some Peace Corps volunteers have gone to practice their numbers in Samoan and said it was very tense and stressful because they go so fast and people get frustrated if you go to slow.  Like I said, it is taken very seriously. I haven’t gone yet, but I’m sure I will go at some point. So basically after experiencing both aspects of Samoan life I have likes and dislikes to each. I myself live in a rural village and will live there for the next two years. But when I need to get away, relax whatever Apia is only a bus ride away. ( a perk with living on an island… you can only go so far) Whichever Samoan life I’m in at the time, one thing is for sure my life now, is nothing like my life back home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

busy busy bee

Posts are coming, but here are some random pics! Enjoy!
 My friend Jenny and I at the hotel in Apia. One of the last nights in Apia before we were heading out to our villages. Love this girl.
My host family. There are two more kids but they weren't there at the time.

Just one of the many views from where I live. :)
My bedroom for the past 7 weeks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Low point

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
So today was a rough day as well as an okay day. I’m still not fully comfortable with my host family and I really struggle with trying to find a happy medium between hanging out with them, having alone time, and hanging out with other PCV’s. Hopefully as time goes by I will be able to find that medium. Furthermore, another issued I’m having is with the food. The food is good…there’s just sooo much of it! It’s life a 4 course meal for every meal! I just can’t eat all that. My running is definitely going to be on an increase. Language class is going okay for the most part. The hard part is it being for 8 hours a day. I find that during class I am able to follow well, but retaining it and applying it is a whole different story. I would have to say my background in Spanish is helping. I miss a lot of people from my group, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them on Thursday and Friday. Also I talked to Natalie and Rachael today and they helped break down the schedule for me to help me not feel so overwhelmed. It def gave me things to look forward to so that seven weeks doesn’t feel like an eternity.

Living with a host family

Sunday, October 24, 2010
Day 1 with my host family, also Sunday in the village. Sunday’s in Samoa are spent eating, sleeping, and resting. All of which are unfamiliar territory for me when that’s all you do. I went to church with my family. We went to a Methodist church which was all in Samoan…interesting. My family woke me up bright and early for breakfast and services. This was tough within itself because the night before I didn’t sleep a wink. There was a horrible thunderstorm that woke me up. On top of that, the wild dogs were fighting, the pigs were screaming, and the roosters were crowing. I’m hoping tonight is a different story. I sleep under a mosquito net which is great because when the sun goes down, the creatures come out. I’m trying so hard to get used to the lizards, and bugs all over my walls. Living with a host family has always been my greatest fear of the whole Peace Corps experience, so now that it is here, I am struggling. I’m trying hard, but sometimes I just want to lock myself in my room, and not come out. Maybe that will change as time goes on, and maybe it won’t…who knows. During the weekdays I am in class from 8-430. I’m grateful for this because it allows me to be with people in my group and out of my house. I don’t mean that to sound bad, its just how I’m feeling at the moment. I was looking for comfort today and sought for it in a Cosmo magazine that I’ve been saving. Man, have I never felt farther away from America and its luxuries. I looked at the ads and models, and suddenly realized I haven’t seen what I look like in days-no mirrors. Which is probably a blessing disguise considering the following: The heat and humidity have me sweating more then I knew I could, the water I shower with has made my skin break out in rashes, I have bug bites all over, and my face probably looks like that of a middle schooler going through puberty. So seeing all those models in the magazine, and all the perfume/makeup ads made me realize what and where my life really is. Now don’t get me wrong, I realize I got myself here, and I am happy I did. But for now I feel like sulking. So I’m going to continue sulking, then when I’m done and over this emotion, I will move on.