Friday, January 28, 2011

My family

The front area of my host familys fale.

My host mom!

Vi, Moseki, and Siave my host brother's and sister

The most simple and perfect toy.


Teine (woman on left), Li'i (in far back) Mika (boy with cheesy smile) Siave, Vi, and Moseki
Just part of my wonderful host family!

English Camp

This past week me and several other volunteers participated in an English camp put on for kids. The English camp was held at a fellow volunteer’s village. The whole premise of the camp was to help the new group (my group) receive more practice working and teaching Samoan children. There were 12 of us total. 8 people from group 83 and 4 people from group 82. (83 is my group) The 82’ers were the ones kind of in charge of the whole operation. We were to stay in a church hall for the week. We arrived this past Saturday, and like most cases there was major miscommunication when we got to where we were staying. The church congregation thought we were arriving earlier then we did, and because all of the volunteers were coming from different parts of the island we all arrived at different times. However, we didn’t know that the congregation was waiting for us all to arrive because they wanted to have an ava ceremony. Let’s just say we didn’t make a good first impression. However, I think we redeemed ourselves the next day at church. We sang a song during church, and each gave a quick introduction of who we were. That seemed to ease things a lot. Monday was the start of English Camp and I must say I was a bit nervous. I had only had two prior weeks in a Samoan school. Therefore its was all pretty new to me. It was nice though because all of us got together and kind of planned our lessons together. The start of camp was a bit chaotic, and uncertain. I didn’t know my kids and I had no idea what kind of English background they have had in school. Because the camp was only a week long I had to do a quick evaluation of each child. However, I realized that it wasn’t going to be thorough as if I was in my own classroom. The days consisted of two parts: a morning class and an afternoon class. The morning class was the actual lesson, and the afternoon class was mostly games that somehow related to the lesson we had just done. Throughout the days I taught things like: verbs, body parts, and directions.  We played games like: Simon Says, Hangman, and several other games.  I had a lot of fun.  My first day I had 12 students by the end of the week I had 22. Same goes for the other volunteers. I found this to be a good thing because it meant that kids were going home and telling their siblings and friends how much fun camp was, and then they wanted to come too. Thursday after school we let the kids watch Aladdin. Friday being the last day was a big day. We had the English Camp Olympics! The 8 teachers were grouped into two’s. So there were 4 teams: America, Samoa, New Zealand, and Australia. My team was team America. We had relay races all afternoon. We did the crab walk race, the wheel barrow race, the 3-legged race, human knot, and dragon tails. The kids had an awesome time. My team came in last, but for the record the teams were stacked! My class had the smallest and youngest kids compared to Rachael’s team who had kids who were bigger than me! Nevertheless my kids were awesome, and did great. J After the races were done we gave out certificates to each child, and then of course…handed out ice cream cones. Other than the actual teaching of the lessons I have to say my favorite part was saying goodbye to the children. I know that sounds weird, but its true. I had student after student coming up to me giving me hugs and thanking me for teaching them during English camp. My favorite was when a student who was so shy during class walked with me all the way home and then repeatedly thanked me, hugged me, and waved goodbye until I was out of sight. It was those moments that made truly made me feel good. You can just hear the sincerity in their voices, and see it in their eyes. I absolutely love it, and them.
Assembly before English Camp

Peace Corps teachers!!

English Camp 2011!!!!

 My team, Team America!!! For the English Camp Field Day.
Doing the crab walk at field day

Getting their certificates at the end of camp.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Barefoot in a hospital

 My first hospital experience started in the evening when my little sister was complaining of a tooth ache. She had been complaining of this tooth ache for a couple days now, and I guess at this point it was pretty bad. She had been crying and crying and no one in the family knew what to do. They all were looking at me for help. Asking me if there was anything I could do, wanting my advice remedies, etc. I didn’t know what to do if this was back home I would have said, “go to Walgreens and buy some tooth ache numbing gel.” But the nearest Walgreen is hundreds of thousands miles away so we were out of luck. I gave my sister some Tylenol, had them heat up a wet towel for a compress. However, nothing was working. My sister wouldn’t stop crying, which in turn, gave her a headache. Finally my host mom said they were taking her to the hospital and they wanted me to come. At this point in time it was about 10pm. In my head I just kept thinking why are we going to the hospital she just has a toothache? But I didn’t say anything because I could see the worried look on my families faces. My host mom, dad, sister, and brother loaded into the car and headed to the hospital. Now I have never been to a hospital overseas before let alone a developing country at that. I knew that my family was expected to bring their own sheets and pillows because the hospital did not provide any for the beds. When we finally arrived at the hospital it was about 10:30 and the hospital was pretty full. The hospital was one giant room, with self standing walls as dividers. The place was as bare as could be. There were some wooden benches that were used as a waiting area. My brother and I took my little sister and took a seat. As I looked at my brother I noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes! I looked at the other people in the waiting area and many of them weren’t wearing shoes either. That’s when it hit me how things really are. My mom went to check her in. In return she got a ticket with a number on it. This reminded me of going to the deli at the grocery store and pulling a ticket number and waiting to be helped. Our number was 35, they were on 20…great, it was going to be a long night. As hours went by it was finally our turn my mom and sister went in to see the doctor and while I waited back I heard this screaming like none other coming from a nearby room. I went to see what was going on, and saw these doctors putting this toddler in an ice bucket. I’m assuming the child had a fever. I felt so sorry for the baby.  10 minutes later my sister came out. “Really that’s it!? We waited 3 hours for 10 minutes!?” No, I followed my family outside and next door to a nearby building. The sign said, dentist. At this point it was one in the morning. My mom was knocking on the locked door. The lights turned on inside and a man who had looked like he had been sleeping came and let us in. The man was the dentist that was going to take away my sisters toothache. I couldn’t believe it! A dentist at one in the morning!? I would have never believed it. I must say I was quite impressed. Apparently she had a cavity in the root of her tooth. The dentist filled the cavity and we went home.
I have to say that the overall experience made me appreciate the healthcare back in the States, and realize how lucky we are. Also, that I never want to get sick here.

What I Love

Now that I have vented out all the pesky frustrations I want to counter it by expressing the things that I love and appreciate. In all honesty, looking at the positive side has never been strength of mine. I’ve always felt that if you just assume the worst, and don’t get your hopes up, you can’t be let down. Very cynical I know, but hey I’m not perfect. My mom is the complete opposite. She has a way of finding positive things in everything something that I always admired about her. She always told me that I needed to stop being such a pessimist. And now that I am in the Peace Corps it’s a vital coping mechanism that a person needs to have. Focusing on the positives and not dwelling on the negatives. One of my fellow PC friends is a prime example of this. She has this fascinating way of finding the littlest things and appreciating it. So, I am trying to follow the example of my friend, mom, and the PC’s advice by thinking and taking note of all the positive aspects of my crazy life. Here is what I’ve come up with that I love and appreciate:
·         When it rains and cools the hot weather down
·         My Samoan family
·         My peace corps friends
·         Driving around the island (Probably my favorite thing to do here)
·         The fact that there are no snakes here
·         Coconut trees
·         I love that no matter where I go; a view of the ocean is always nearby.
·         Receiving mail and emails from friends and family back home
·         Samoan ice cream
·         Samoan coffee
·         A killer view of the stars at night
·         Long walks in the evening
·         Samoan music
·         Being able to go into town when I need a “break”
·         snorkeling
·         Cheap taxis
·         Walking around my village and people calling my name to say hello

Small Annoyances

I know that it is important to focus on the positive things in life. However, I also feel that it is important to air out frustrations, and the negative aspects as well. Therefore, I’ve decided to kill two birds with one stone. I figure I will talk about the small annoyances that are going on in my life right now, followed by the things that I currently love about my life. These small annoyances are not anything major. There just the little things that seem to get under a person’s skin. I’m thankful for there not being any huge problems going on in my life. In retrospect I think of myself as pretty lucky. I have my health, great friends and a great family. But living in a different country with no familiarities whatsoever can be trying more than anyone could know.
Lost in translation- I have to say probably one of the biggest annoyances for me is being in a room filled with people and not understanding a single thing that is being said. A constant conversation that you are never clued in on. When the only words you know are palagi, Peace Corps, and your name, followed by a roar of laughter. This happens to me everyday twice a day. I don’t know how many times I’ll be sitting around with people and they’re talking in Samoan, and I constantly hear them referring to me. I have no idea what they are saying about me, and they never feel the need to tell me.
Waiting- I think I spend more time waiting around for people, things, and or events. I’ve done more waiting around here then I have in my entire lifetime. Heading to church and waiting two hours for it to start. And don’t even get me started on waiting for buses. Since there is no bus schedule, and no bus stops you basically have to just show up at a random place on the road at a time you think there might be a bus and pray that it didn’t just leave 5 minutes before you arrived. 
Loss of my independence- living with a Samoan family I seem to have lost 90 percent of my independence. I eat when they tell me, what they tell me, I wear what they tell me, and I go where they tell me I have even slept when they have told me to. I lived on my own for 4 years, and loved every minute of it. I ate, showered, went out, and basically did whatever I wanted when I wanted. So the fact that has take a complete 180 degree turn has taken some major getting used to.
Body taken a turn for the worst- I have gained weight since being here and exercising is not the most convenient thing. Running, which I try to do, is a lot harder because of the heat. Half the time I have no idea what I am eating, so the idea of nutritional facts is completely irrelevant.
Time??? What’s that???- Exactly what Samoans would say. Time, a concept that means nothing here. I don’t know when I am going to learn to stop asking when things are, or what time to be somewhere. Because its never at the time people say it will be. If someone says church is 8, expect it to start at 10. If they say a bus comes at 9 in the morning, it probably comes at 7:30 in the morning. If they say to be ready by 6 pm, expect to be sitting around for another hour and a half while everyone else is just then starting to get ready.
Like I said, all things that don’t hold a great deal, but when its happening everyday multiple times a day it really starts to weigh on you. Nagging and nagging at you like a small rock in your shoe that you can’t get out, or a fly that won’t seem to leave you alone. I try hard to see these things for what they are…small annoyances and appreciate the fact that, that’s all I’m dealing with right now.
A Wedding and Funeral in the Same Week
This past week I attended both my first wedding and funeral in Samoa. Each with their own set of traditions. The wedding was first, and the youth dance group for the church that my family attends was going to perform several dances. They had dance practice every night the week prior to perfect their dances. The group mixed traditional Samoan dances to traditional songs, and added a few pop culture songs in there as well.  They performed their dances at the reception and it everyone seemed to enjoy the show. However, backing up to the actual wedding I was quite impressed. The church was packed, and everyone showed up in their best dress. For the most part some traditions I saw performed during the wedding were the same of weddings I’ve gone to back home. The bride wore a beautiful white dress, her bridesmaids all wore the same outfit, there were ushers, and the father gave the bride away. The reception had a lot of similarities as well. The bridal party entered the reception room in the same manner as done back home. Each groomsmen and bridesmaid were called out by their names and took a seat at the bridal party table. The bride and groom were the last to enter and everyone stood up when they came in. Before dinner was served the father of the bride gave a speech, as well as the pastor. Some dancing went on and everyone was having a good time. Dinner was served in the culturally appropriate way; first, the bridal party, then all the pastors, then the matais (chiefs), then the rest of the tables. Each person was given a huge platter of assorted foods. (The food was amazing by the way) While everyone was eating the dance performances began. The youth dance group danced first, afterwards a few people from the bridal party performed some dance routines, and at the end the bride even performed a traditional Samoan dance. After the food and entertainment was done it was now time for the speeches. This lasted for awhile, and afterwards the gift giving began. It’s a very important tradition in Samoa that gifts are given. Tons of fine mats are given, boxes and boxes of fish, fabrics, etc.  The gifts are from guests and are given to the members of the wedding party. In America we do this as well, however here it’s on a more extravagant level. Probably one of the most interesting things about the wedding for me was the cake. Instead of their only be one cake at the wedding there were about 20-30 tiers of cake. Each tier was given to the pastors, matais, or highly respected person. The bride and groom still cut the cake, and fed it to each other, but that was it. The cake was mostly meant for the respected people. After the traditional ceremonies were through, everyone danced. The party ended in the evening. It was a great thing to experience and I really enjoyed myself. 
Part 2-the funeral
A respected chief in my village died the other day. Therefore it was expected that the four church’s choirs in my village sing a few hymns to the mourning family. I was told to where a black skirt, and a white top as that, (or all white) is the common dress for a funeral.  My host father, mother, and brother are all a part of their church’s choir. The choir met at the pastor’s house to practice the songs before going to the funeral. Now, I had every intention of observing from a nearby seat on the account of I’m probably the worst singer ever, and my Samoan is…well… let’s just say not up to par. However they were not going to have that they made sure I was sitting front and center singing with the rest of them. Afterwards, around 10pm, the church choir and I headed over to the house where the funeral was taking place. When we got there another church was singing to the family. While we were waiting to sing, I was able to check out what exactly we were supposed to be doing when performing for this family. I was really nervous because I didn’t want to mess up in anyway and somehow disrespect the family. When it came time for us to sing I was immediately grabbed and told to hold on to this extremely long veil of lace that all the females were supposed to carry into the house. Wait, no one told me about this!? I had no idea what was going on. Next thing I know I’m carrying this long lace fabric into the house with 20 other women. I was so worried about messing up, and sure enough when I was stepping into the house I realized I was wearing shoes with straps on them and I could slip them off before entering the house! (In Samoa it’s a must that you take off your shoes before entering a house.) So there I was holding up this line of women carrying lace because I couldn’t get my shoes off. Mistake number 1. After that whole ordeal was over it was time for us to sing. The church choir sat in front of the family, the pastor said a few words and then we started to sing. Luckily I had one of the older ladies in the group sitting next to me who shared her song book with me and kind of pointed to the words we were supposed to be singing. However, Samoan hymns are different and complex. Sometimes only the guys sing a section, and then only the girls will sing a section. Sometimes it will be where the guys sing the first two words and the women sing the last two words. Needless to say, I had no idea what part I was supposed to sing and caught myself on several occasions singing right along with the guys. Mistake number 2. Then at one point, I was singing the completely wrong song. Mistake number 3. Normally these mistakes would go unnoticed, but because I’m the Peace Corps and basically the only white person around. I tend to be watched like a hawk. So I’m positive my mistakes were not going unnoticed. After we were done singing it was now time for the gift giving. (Remember when I said gift giving is a big deal here?) The family of the deceased was now required to give their thanks to the church choir. They gave us 25 loafs of bread, 8 boxes of fish, a fine mat, and some miscellaneous things. So when all said and done this went on for about 45 minutes. 45 minutes of sitting cross legged on the ground. Now I don’t know how many of you have literally sat crossed legged for 45 minutes but after about 20 your legs go numb. When it was time to get up and leave I couldn’t get up. So as everyone is walking out the door there is the palagi stumbling, staggering, and struggling to get herself up and out in a somewhat graceful way. (Didn’t happen) Not a mistake, but definitely awkward. We went back to the pastor’s house to distribute the food that had been given by the family. The pastor, and more respected members of the group were given their gifts first and then down the line. Each person in the choir was given an equal cut of the gifts, even me! Honestly, I find this to be one of my favorite things about Samoa; the ceremonious gift giving and the sharing of it all. The phrase, “what goes around comes around,” truly applies here. Sharing is like second nature here, and I find that very comforting as well as humbling.
So there you have it, my two very important experiences of the week. Both very different, and both important parts of the culture; I enjoyed being a part of these events, even if I was trying like hell to make sure to follow in suit.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Samoan Children

Everyone has their role, and everyone does their part. From this, I have noticed that samoan children are the most diligent, resourceful, and obedient children I have ever encountered in my life. I have to say that in my own opinion they are very different form American children. Sure their still kids who run in the house after you tell them not to, fight with their brothers/sisters, and hate doing homework. Yet, their overall behavior is nothing like I’ve seen back home. In the states we say, “kids will be kids” but here in Samoa, “kids will be adults.” I have had a front row seat to observing this. In my host family’s house I have three younger sibilings; a 13 year old boy, a 10 year old boy, and a 7 year old girl. They each have their role to play throughout the day, but their purpose is still the same- help their family in the daily tasks. The 13 year old usually wakes up early in the morning (way before I do) goes to the plantation and collects food.  He starts cooking soon after. Cooking here usually takes hours because they have to make a fire outside and then put coconut leaves on top of the food to keep the heat in. Essentially it’s like an oven. While the food is cooking he is cleaning, taking care of the animals, and also helping other nearby families if they need help. The 12 year deals with the rubbish, takes care of the yard, washes the clothes by hand, washes the dishes, and much much more. The little girl basically acts as a runner. Anything people need (especially her parents) she gets for them. Any miscellaneous chores are also done by her. They all wake up at sunrise, and go to bed late into the night. They are constantly doing things without being asked. If an adult has an empty cup of tea they will take that cup and fill it up for them. Sometimes I’ll lie on the floor to watch TV with the kids. Immediately one of them will get up and bring me a pillow. If their parents call for them they come running. They do whatever is asked of them, and believe me they are asked to do a lot! To someone who is not familiar with the Samoan culture, they might see how the children are treated similar to workers or even maids. I must admit, first coming here I thought the same thing. I was shocked to find out that every few weeks the students are obligated to clean up the school compound: doing yard work, painting, etc. However, after living here for several months I now know why things are the way they are.   
It’s pure respect. Samoan children are taught at a very young age to respect anyone older them, never talk back, and do what they are told. These are aspects that we try to teach our children back home as well, but here its on a whole different level. Parents do things for themselves; older siblings do things for themselves. Here the children do everything. For example every morning when my host mom wakes up (they sleep on mats on the floor) she will call one of her children to pick up her blanket/pillow and roll up her mat and put it away. Every night they lay their parents bedding out for them, and every morning they put it away. In the States it’s hard enough to get a kid to make their own bed, let alone their parents bed! I started thinking about this custom and this is what I figured out. Back home the parents take care of their children, and then when the children are older they take care of their parents. Here in Samoa, it’s the other way around. The children take care of their parents, and then when those children become parents their children take care of them. It’s a never ending cycle.
I have a great appreciation for my younger siblings and Samoan children in general. They do way more at their age then I ever did. My American background and bring-up still gives me a feeling of guilt when a 13 year old is cooking my dinner. Nevertheless, I just try and remember where I am, and the grand scheme of things. Everyone has their role, and everyone does their part.

New Year's Questions and Answers (better late than never)

Because 2010 was a huge year for me, and I have a feeling 2011 will be the same here are some questions and answers I felt like doing for fun....enjoy!
What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
-Snorkeling, taught class all day every day, killed and cooked my own chicken for dinner, Seen the Pacific Ocean

-- Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t think I’ve ever kept a New Year’s resolution, and I don’t really plan on making any for this year.

-- Did anyone close to you give birth?

-- Did anyone close to you die?
Luckily no. something I am very very thankful for.

-- What countries did you visit?

-- What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
1) My own classroom

-- What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
* The day of my college graduation
* October 5th-saying goodbye to my family before leaving for two years
-- What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Making the huge leap to fulfill my dream and teach abroad!

-- What was your biggest failure?
Allowing certain people to have way to much control over me.

-- Did you suffer illness or injury?
Besides the occasional sinus infections, this past year has been a pretty healthy year.
-- What was the best thing you bought?
An electric fan for my room in Samoa…. Its EXTREMELY hot here.

-- Whose behavior merited celebration?
My friends and family who pushed me to apply for the Peace Corps when I was having doubts about going through with it

-- Where did most all of your money go?
College, and Samoa

-- Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter?
c) richer or poorer?
Happier, the same, poorer

-- What do you wish you'd done more of?
Exercise, spent more time with my family
What do you wish you'd done less of?
Spending money, stressing

-- How will you be spending Christmas?
I spent my Christmas opening a box of Christmas presents my mom sent me while talking to them on the phone. The rest of the day was spent with my new host family.

-- Did you fall in love in 2010?
No, but I see that as a good thing because if I did, I might not be where I am now.

-- What was your favorite TV program?
Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice

-- Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Hate is a strong word, dislike is probably more like it

-- What was the best book you read?
The Devil To Pay-Harold Robbins

-- What did you want and get?
To be teaching abroad by 2011, CHECK!

-- What did you want and not get?
I can’t think of anything

-- What was your favorite film of this year?
Inception, Eat Pray Love

-- What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 23 and went down to Indianapolis. Had an amazing birthday weekend with my great friends!

-- What's one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Moving to Samoa was a major thing, but I there were some people I would have like to have been able to spend more time with before I left.

-- How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Teacher style

-- What kept you sane?
Reading other people’s blogs about being abroad

-- Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Eh, celebrities.

-- What political issue stirred you the most?
Eh, politics.

-- Who did you miss?
My mom!!!

-- Who was the best new person you met?
Jenny and Rachael- my two closest friends in the Peace Corps. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them here!
-- Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:
Have a goal/dream and then fight like hell to fulfill it.

-- Quote a song that sums up your year:
“Go for your dream, no matter how far it takes you.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Celebrating New Years somewhere in the world on a secluded sandy white beach…

Yes, that’s right I celebrated my New Years in probably one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to. Clear skies, sandy white beach, and turquoise blue water. My group and I decided to spend our New Years together. We all rented these beach fales for the weekend and had a great time together. The day was bittersweet for me. It was one of my close friends birthday that day, and up until this year I usually celebrated her birthday with her. My last year’s New Years was spend with all my college friends in my college town. This year I was clear across the world, somewhere where it’s the last place in the world for the sun to set. I celebrated it with people I just met a few months ago although I feel like I’ve known them forever. We spent the weekend laying out on the beach, snorkeling, listening to music, playing baseball on the beach, eating, and even going on a canopy walk. There’s not really to much more to say about this weekend. I feel that pictures could justify this great time, more than my words can. So enjoy!!
My fale for the weekend.

Yea, its as nice as it looks.

The staircase up to the canaopy walk.

Living on top of a pedestal

Lately, I’ve been struggling with topics to write about. My life isn’t very exciting considering school is on break, and I’m living in the village again. With me being a palagi, on top of being a Peace Corps people in the village look at me with a different standard. I am given the utmost respect as well as held to a different standard. This has its definite pros and cons. I am always served food first, I am always given a seat on the bus or car, sometimes my family has done my laundry.  These are all well good, and at first I really enjoyed it. However, when you are trying to become equals with the people in your family as well as village it can make things a bit difficult. For one, you have no say in what you eat, and when people are constantly doing everything for you, you are left with nothing to do, and complete boredom tends to set in. When I walk around the village, and observe the people in my family their daily lives involve cooking for hours, doing the wash by hand, cutting the grass by hand, sweeping the house, feeding the animals etc. With me being palagi, and Peace Corps Samoans don’t want me doing any of these things. To them, I am showing them disrespect by attempting to do the chores with them. I am also making them look bad. Lately, it’s been a huge accomplishment for me that my family has started to allow me to make my own coffee, instead of them making it for me. Another hurtle that stands in the way is the issue of contributing food. In Samoa its customary for individuals and families to contribute food to other families or individuals. So common in fact that this act has its own word, “oso.” For example, any time a person goes into town they are expected to bring back a small oso, for their family or at the very least the children of the family. Whether it be, tea, sugar, lollies, pastries, etc. You are expected to bring something back. The problem I face is every time I try and give my family an oso they tell me not to. Now I know from living here for several months that what I am doing is the customary way, but because I am who I am they don’t want me to. To them, I am telling them they don’t have enough food. These little obstacles are making it difficult for me to find my way.  In the past, it’s been easier but because me finding my way relies on other people in my village, and how they perceive me, I’m having trouble.  I’m never going to be able to fully integrate if they keep putting me on this pedestal. I’ve been racking my brain for ideas on how to integrate better and here is what I’ve come up with. 1.) I officially now go to church (anyone who knows me, knows this is sooo out of my character) 2. Not only am I going to church, but I also joined the church choir. (Even MORE out of character, considering I can’t carry a tune to save my life) 3. Going to watch and play volleyball with people in the village. 4. Attending and participating in Sivas (dances) 5. Having others help me with my Samoan. With these acts I’m hoping to meet more people, and overtime become just another person living in the village.