Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Lawrence, 23 months, and Nicholas, 6 months, are the two grandchildren of my host family. Mary tried unsuccessfully to cure chronic skin infections on Lawrence. He still has them. Nicholas, my namesake, has chronic boils on his scalp. Parents are here for an undetermined period of time. Everyone is happy being together. Such is a Samoan family.
Rosie (Roselinda) Wong is a Peace Corps teacher at the nearby village of Fusi. Bridgett is a newly graduated veterinarian from England currently neutering dogs with the Animal Protection Society in Apia. Bridget is in Samoa for three months before venturing on to New Zealand.
Please note Rosie’s bandaged leg from a vicious attack by a “friendly” pet dog.
New Primary School
Suddenly out of nowhere I am told by the mayor on a Friday to write a proposal for a new primary school which needs to be submitted to the Japanese Funding Agency, JICA, by the following Tuesday. He says this proposal is the reason why the village requested a Peace Corps Volunteer. I can’t go into details as to what transpired before or after the proposal was submitted, since I am writing a screenplay for what is sure to be a smash comedy hit.
A second round of testing for my village of Iva and the adjacent village of Vaisaulu scheduled for the Diabetes Association postponed October 30th due to lack of funds. It should be rescheduled for November. The staggering results of the first round were submitted to the Ministry of Health. I posted the results on my wall for passers by to see in hopes of raising awareness.
I am happy that there is some interest by the Women’s Committees of both villages to work on a program for interested people to lose 10 pounds in 20 weeks. A loss of only 10 pounds can dramatically lower blood sugar and blood pressure. However, seemingly easy lifestyle changes are difficult wherever.
The satisfaction of growing your own food, introducing new vegetables, selling produce is worth all the time and effort. Just what long lasting effects this has on the village seems bleak. Other Peace Corps Volunteers have started their own gardens. It is hard to tell what may happen.
The single mother with whom I am consulting is making deposits for herself in the bank. Her mother seems very happy with the progress so far. I got some cheese while in Apia as pizza may become a new offering to go along with DVD rentals and commodity sales.
The Women’s Committee has assured me that they are preparing for a fashion show for the around New Years.
No new developments.
No new developments.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Your impression of a place is sometimes shaped by little events. Here are two that happened to me.
While sitting in a waiting bus to the ferry at the Apia market, a man next to me eating a bowl of soup asked about my wife, Mary. I said she had returned home because of illness. Startled, I pressed on to learn who is this person. He turned out to be the bus driver. He went to describe the number of times Mary was alone and when we rode the bus together. He finished his soup, got in the driver’s seat, as the bus gathered more passengers for the trip to the ferry wharf 45 minutes away.
On the phone to the European Union, a man told about seeing Mary and I at a large conference last February. He knew that Mary had returned home. Although he lives and works in Apia, he has family in our village of Iva and often visits. I have no idea who he is.
These are not isolated events, just the most recent this past week. When they happen I begin to realize the impact Peace Corps must have on others, where even the inconsequential has consequences.
There is something special about learning you have mail. You wonder with excitement and anticipation as to who has taken the time and effort to communicate in this most personal way. The words may not be current, or even well chosen, but that really doesn’t matter. It is the feel of touching what the other person has touched, that matters a lot.
What do you do with lots of tomatoes, hot chilies, lemons, spring onions, and sunflower seeds? Why of course, you make salsa and dry salted sunflower seeds for sale. Do Samoans like them? You betcha. Will they buy them? Yet to be determined.
Sunflower seeds drying in the sun.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Paulo is a five year old who had his front teeth knocked out before Mary and I arrived in the village. Paulo can appear at anytime or anyplace. Yesterday during the three-hour children’s program at the church, Paulo inserts himself into and in front of almost every well-rehearsed act. He is a little elfin figure gyrating in an attempt to be part of the act.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors may have terms to describe his “condition”. I shall call him a "loose cannon". It is not Paulo’s behavior, which intrigues me, but the Samoan’s tolerance, need I say "acceptance", of his behavior. While I want to inject him with 1,000 cc of behavioral altering drugs, Samoans laugh as he get more daring. The performers never miss a beat. Paulo somehow becomes part of the act. Thus I sit on one rim of this cultural chasm, looking across; both sides normal in their own milieu.
White Sunday or Children’s Sunday is Samoa’s biggest holiday. Children are honored (ala Father’s and Mother’s Day) and for one day they are partially awarded adult positions. The day is part of the missionaries’ legacy, probably to recognize children as human beings. It has since morphed into Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, church recital, and eighth grade graduation.
Young and old children return to their home, making White Sunday weekend a traveler’s nightmare. For Savaii, it is as if all of Samoa originated on this island. They all take the ferry and buses at the same time. Monday is a national holiday, probably an effort to get everyone back in one day.
For the children, the traditional gift is clothing, usually a white outfit to be worn at church. They are served first at mealtime and are not required to serve the adults. They also perform songs and skits at church, which they have been rehearsing for weeks. The time is a chaotic frantic bedlam as brothers, sisters, cousins once twice thrice removed share stories.
Like similar family oriented holidays worldwide, White Sunday is steeped in tradition and expectations. As such the time can be a sad one as black sheep don’t return home and the day doesn’t go quite as well as it should. At the end everyone is exhausted wanting to make next year’s White Sunday even better.
One of the many groups performing during the afternoon church service.
What happens when you realize that tomorrow is today? You are convinced of the day because most of the reference points reinforce what day it is. Those few exceptions are rationalized away as some unknown aberration. Such happened to me. You begin to question your own sanity and puzzle why you can be so convinced of one thing when in fact you are totally wrong.
Saturday is a day many Savaii Peace Corps meet at Lucia’s Café to just be together and swap stories. It is a day when we come into the Savaii office to check email. It is the busiest market day. All that is happening. It must be Saturday. But why then are the children marching on Saturday down the street carrying signs and singing songs for “Teacher Appreciation Day”? Why are the markets open after noon when they are normally closed? Of course I say to myself, this is White Sunday weekend. The children are marching on Saturday, since Monday they have no school. As to the markets, well this is the biggest holiday of the year. Why wouldn’t they stay open longer?
It is when your notions are ripped back you begin to realize just how fragile reality can be. What is, what isn’t, is there anything one can be sure of? Fortunately, my fellow Peace Corps laugh at my absentmindedness. It is old age. However, they don’t have an extra day.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
$400/month (USD) is my Peace Corps salary. Some may think it too much, others too little, and for others amazed that we are paid at all. In perspective my salary is about what schoolteachers with seniority and many nationals working as Peace Corps staff earn. It is equivalent to being paid minimum wage at a 40-hour/week job. Our salary puts us at about the same level as middle class Samoans.
Out of this money, the Peace Corps expects you to pay for all your living expenses and expenses relating to your Peace Corps assignment. Those volunteers living in Apia are faced with all the temptations of the modern world, such as cheese, movies, restaurants, and stores with merchandize. We who are based in rural villages are in turn faced with higher travel expenses and the needs of those living amongst us. Just who is farther ahead financially depends on what level of living standard you set for yourself and your level of generosity for others.
As time rolls along, the Samoan world is becoming my world and my world fading from memory. It is hard to be critical of either world, but to try and fathom the gulf between them; the apparent gluttony of the one, the serenity of the other, each desirous of what the other possesses and the difficulty to cross the chasm.
While the outside world is in financial panic caused in part by its gluttony, my life seems pretty good. The birds are singing, my garden growing, and hopefully my $400/month remittance keeps coming.
No general attempts an attack on a defensive position without at least a 3 to 1 advantage nor reveal battle plans, yet this is what I am about to do. It is to put in writing before I chicken out the suicidal sortie against the 50% rate of diabetes and/or hypertension for all village males and 40% rate for all females. It is to attack the very thing I have warned kills volunteers and not to touch, Fa’asamoa (Samoan Culture). Whatever… I have less than a year left. What the hell, why else am I here!
The easy part of the battle has already started, about two hundred village residents have already been tested. I seem to have an ally in the Diabetes Association. I have recruited the neighboring village of Vaisaulu to be tested and for retesting of Iva residents at the end of this month. I have made contact with the Head Nurse at the local hospital who happens to be a resident of Iva and who saw me at her church last Sunday, to provide me with information and hopefully nurse power. I feel confident that we shall test many more, probably with the same or worse results. Then what?
For anyone else the high incidence of DAH is as obvious as one Samoan occupying two seats. To get Samoans to lose just 10 pounds is the real battle. For that fight I need God himself whom I fully intend to bring into the fray.
Friday, October 3, 2008
The percentage of Peace Corps Volunteers in Samoa leaving before their designated time far exceeds the worldwide average. This has attracted the attention of Washington and is reflected in the efforts of the new Peace Corps Country Director to institute changes in the program. When talking to others outside of Peace Corps, I have come to realize that attrition rates are also high for volunteers of other organizations in Samoa. Even paid foreign consultants and employees of companies and NGO’s have a difficult time in this island paradise.
Foreigners come to Samoa to institute some kind of change. They come either at the request of the Samoan government, like Peace Corps, or have their own agenda. Frustration comes quickly as they soon realize Samoans are quite content with who and how they are. Even those conditions that foreigners or even some Samoans may find appalling or disagreeable are accepted as being part of life or Samoan culture. If there is to be change, it is done the Samoan way, which is usually at odds with outsiders.
The question for volunteers then becomes, “If Samoans don’t want change or can’t accept the changes suggested, what am I doing here? If it is just stuff, they don’t need me to get it.” Yet Samoans want and like Peace Corps and seemingly other such organizations, even if they don’t know or understand why we are here in the first place.
Coming to Samoa from a world of ratios and indices where change and “only if” are mantras for all that are good can push one to the limit. Ultimately one has to face the question of “why”. The answer may be as convoluted as Samoa itself. Maybe it is in the lyrics of the old campfire song, “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…”
It is the being here that is important. I think Samoans want a contact with the world outside of their island nation. Americans especially are held in high esteem. They want to touch you, hear you speak, watch your ways, and measure their own way of life against what they perceive to be yours. It is a reaffirmation of who they are. Of course, they accept stuff. Who wouldn’t?
We must recognize that change is in our nature but expect causalities along the way.
The Holy Bible states that on the Seventh day God rested. For most following the teachings of the Bible, this day is Sunday, unless you are Seventh Day Adventist, which puts it on Saturday or Jewish which is from dusk on Friday to sundown on Saturday. This is why European calendars put Sunday as the last day of the week while Jews and Americans put Sunday as the first day of the week. It also explains why automobile dealerships, mostly owned by Christians, are closed on Sundays and why Jews, most of whom own retail stores or are TV producers or movie moguls, have Sunday sales or air “Sunday Night at the Movies” and “Sunday Night Football”.
Many states prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sunday, some altogether, others only by the bottle. States permit the drinking of Jesus’ blood or facsimile thereof on any day of the week. All this confusion about resting, drinking, and commerce can be a nightmare and explains why some rest, drink, and work all the time while others do the opposite.
Least I digress too far; in Samoa Sunday is a day of rest, except for Seventh Day Adventists who get to rest on two days, one by choice and the other by law. Doing nothing is hard work. Resting all day is tiresome. You find yourself going to bed earlier than normal because sleeping gets you to tomorrow faster than staring at the ceiling. Come Monday you can’t wait to get going.