Saturday, March 10, 2007

From a PC Volunteer in Samoa

Below is from David Gertan, Seattle, who currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, He was kind to comment on our blog and to answer some questions we had. With his permission, I thought you might be interested in what he has to say:

Comment on blog 2/25/07
"Malo Soifua Lau Susuga,

You'll understand that soon enough. You'll probably understand it better than me because you're going to be VBDers. VBD is tough work, so pack a lot of patients and tenacity in that 80 lbs. (Actually, NZ Air lets you take a hundred). No matter how hard it gets, you just step back and remember you're just a little left of Paradise.

Like you, I traded in a job and house for that illusive "something more". Smart move. :)

Congratulations and welcome!"

Response to our questions on 3/7/07
"We're looking forward to you coming. There is already a couple here and they are doing smashingly well as VBDers like you. However, if your pictures are recent, they are a few years older than you. This is their second tour in the PC -- the first was in Morocco in the '80's I think. Age is revered here and you'll likely get preferential treatment, whether you want it or not.I'm not the one from St Paul, that's Arona/Aaron. He's a good friend of mine, though. I'm the one from Seattle (there are actually four of us).

Okay, to answer your questions....It took about two weeks for me to get used to the heat. We started training in the hottest part of the year and it's been getting easier ever since. I have a lot of desert camping experience (yeah, Burning Man, I'm such a statistic!) so I drank from 2 up to 3 ltrs of water a day, more than most I think. I'm acclimated now, it's cooler this time of year and I work in an air-conditioned room so I drink about half that now. Our training started in a hotel and most rooms had AC. That eased us into the heat. In our village, we had a nice breeze off the ocean and some of us went swimming after classes to cool down. The women swam less. It's "fa sa" (forbidden) for women to bare shoulders and for either sex to bare legs above the knee, so I think it wasn't all that fun for them to wear all that cladding while going into the water.

The beds varied from fala (mats on the floor) to full-on beds. No one I know of slept on a fala during training although some do now by choice and I'm considering it. The mattresses aren't as good as at home. Usually they are like a hospital mattress with no box spring. I had a thermarest before I left and miss it immensely but conversely I sleep just fine on my mattress that feels like wadded up newspaper in a trash bag -- I'm healthier now than before so I sleep better.

Internet access for me has been through primarily three internet cafes and the two Peace Corps offices. The Apia office has internet with very limited access hours and usually a list of people waiting to get on -- fast dial-up speeds. The Savai'i office has open access 24hrs -- slow dial-up speeds, and like the Apia office, no laptop hook-ups. Downloading music, software and large files is prohibited. The internet cafes are in Apia. CSL, the cheapest if you have a laptop, is the source for the other internet cafes so it can bog down sometimes and has regular business hours -- DSL speed. Green Turtle is near the PC office and expensive if you have a laptop (.50 a minute) but it has hours from 7AM to 10PM, which is unheard of for most businesses in the country. It's also the fastest in my experience. There is another place near CSL and "Koffee Haus" (a nice little restaurant for breakfast you should try) but I only went there once.

I don't use calling cards. Two of the internet cafes have Skype and that is the cheapest way to call. I bought my own headset for that. I use my Digicel cellphone which is about 1.10 USD per minute to call home ($2 in WST, the Samoan currency). I think that's good for the occasional call home. SamoaTel's cellular service "GoMobile" also has cheap rates to the states, a little cheaper than DigiCel but the coverage is more limited. Both cell companies are promising broadband internet access over cell this year -- but that might not happen on time. I used the same system (called EDGE) in Seattle before I left and it was very fast and reliable, DSL speeds. All but two of us have cellphones we bought here.

Yes, I've been sick. I just got used to having something or 'nother. Then it sort of trailed off after a while. The two biggest illnesses I have had, both during training, were giardia and a combo viral/ strep infection in my Eustachian tubes. I didn't even know I had any Eustachians before I came here. Neither came even close to life threatening and I haven't been sick since training. I've also had several skin infections. We were hyper-trained on dealing with all of these illnesses. Our RPN and medical officer is about as competent as they come. She's the greatest! Right now there are two serious illnesses to be careful about and you'll be briefed on how to identify and avoid them when you get to LA and then again several times during training. Being a couple will help, if you can take turns being healthy. It's rare to hear anyone complain about an illness, like having to pay taxes.

We were asked to put together packing lists for the next group. This is what *I* would do, take it with a grain of salt: http://davey- Also has some advice on shipping, flights and making phone calls. It's not too active right now because there are more people reading than contributing.

Let me suggest one thing. Take care of business at home and concern yourself about Samoa later. You really need to bring almost nothing from home, and especially not your worries. I think I could have easily survived arriving with a camping chamois, a Nalgene bottle and the clothes on my back, buying everything else here. There are people who will shop and ship things I can't find here.

I'm not really in Samoa for self-denial or maudlin sacrifice. It's not one of the three goals of the PC. Getting that box of chocolate, coffee, and music makes me happy and I can approach my job with a positive attitude. A healthy psyche does wonders for the job. I think my friends and family get something too from sending a care package.

The anxiety is a kind of good one, huh? A little exciting? Feel free to get cold feet from time to time. We all did. It'll go away.Looking forward to meeting you too."

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