Thursday, March 26, 2009
There are times when “The End” means more than words on celluloid. They are the moments when reality overwhelms the romantic notions of evermore. The inevitability of change, the cycle, the alpha-omegas are abstractions until the sense of finality grips you.
In this convoluted world, called Samoa, you need a sense of humor and lots of patience.
A couple of examples:
A second measuring tape from the same store has red numbers rather than black numbers. It is 45 inches long and covers the same length as black tape, which measures 60 inches. Just why red inches are longer than black inches, I really don’t understand. The metric scale on the reverse side of both tapes is the same, 150 cm. The costs are the same.
The tines of a faux-chrome plated garden fork bought in New Zealand and made in India break off after one use by fat old women. Tines of garden forks purchased at Samoa’s largest hardware store, guaranteed for three years, and made in China, look like British actors after one use by the same women. The hardware states it has a no return, no refund policy. It is the manufacture’s guarantee, not the stores. After only two days of negotiations, the hardware store does exchange them for garden forks made in Brazil. The Brazilian fork bends too. I guess my only redress is to go to Rio.
A nut fell off the bolt holding by bike horn. I have been to hardware stores throughout Samoa, repair shops, and people’s homes trying to find a nut or nut and bolt to fasten my horn. No luck. A bike horn is a must here. It is the only thing protecting you from the combination of right and left hand drive vehicles.
The six-furlong pole is behind me with the home stretch in view. It is all out to the finish line, ego whipping my flanks.
New Primary School
The contract between the Japanese and the Iva School Committee is signed. Materials soon should be appearing after the village did its share of clearing and leveling the ten-acre school site. My being on television during the ceremony confirms sometime (I don’t know what yet).
Still to be done by me are proposals to find funds to fence in the school grounds and make a rugby field in front of he school.
Testing villagers continues with me riding around trying to find groups of people to test. I have contacted all the churches with four of the six being active supporters. The “Healing Church” somewhat reluctant; even though the hospital head nurse is a member.
Samoans are well aware of diabetes and hypertension. It is actually their number one concern. My results show 30% of adults, 20+, have either diabetes or hypertension. However, over 50% are obese and they make no connection between weight and their health. Neither the Health Department nor the Diabetes Association tell people that they are fat and need to lose weight. Several people have lost weight with remarkable results.
I have submitted a proposal for 12 bathroom scales in hopes of starting a mini weight-watchers program with a component on diet.
I am actively working with another village that received a grant for home gardens to improve health and also with another Peace Corps whose Women’s Committee is doing a community garden to raise money. Four other Peace Corps on Savaii are actively doing gardens in their villages. I help when asked.
My own garden is now planted with a lot of okra. I plan to raise enough to sell it at the local market, hopefully demonstrating that it is easy to grow, easy to sell, and good to eat.
Peanuts and sunflowers are also good cash crops I have planted along with stable crops of Bok Choy and tomatoes. My main objective is to raise seeds for other village gardens.
This is my big problem. How can I get them out of their locked location behind the President of the Women’s Committee house where they have been unused for almost a year? The pastor’s wife of the President’s church wants to teach young girls sewing and was shocked to learn that Mary and I are the ones responsible for the machines. I am trying to recruit an army.
The proposal for fabric is considered an extension of the sewing machine grant and is not being awarded. I am actually happy about it. The fabric would probably end up in the same place as the machines.
New Zealand Aid does not want to fund this project.
I am now conducting classes on bread baking at the pastor’s house for a group of young girls and the pastor’s wife. I promised a bakeshop at the main market bread baking lessons. I should keep my mouth shut about my bread baking past.
Friday, March 20, 2009
English is the big educational divider in Samoa; those who master it, move on, those who don’t’ remain behind. Rural educators on Savaii wrestle against standardized national testing, pitting their students who hear English spoken only in the schools (poorly at that) against students living in Apia where English is the spoken language on the streets and often in the home. Those bright, highly motivated rural students find themselves omitted from the opportunities presented to their more fortunate brethren, but then again what’s new?
Tafa Sa, High Chief and President of Iva School Committee at signing
This morning Japanese officials from their embassy in Wellington, New Zealand had an official signing of “Grant Contracts” under their Grassroots Grant Aid Program with five Samoan school committees. With newspaper cameras flashing and television recorders blinking the signing took place before crossed Japanese and Samoan flags. It was all very formal, punctual, and Japanese for no food was served, which put a damper on the entire affair.
Schools awarded grants were: Fasitoouta, Vailoa, Matatalufu, Faletolu, and Iva.
Obese is an ugly word. No one wants to be obese, especially an entire country. The easiest way to reduce obesity in a population is to redefine it. Presto, it is an easy, and cheap method to a nasty problem.
The Samoan definition for obesity is a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 32; the rest of the world uses 30. Samoans can now be 7% heavier before being considered obese. This is really all academic for Samoans have little or no knowledge of BMI, nor access to scales. For me, it means changing all my calculations about obese people. Fortunately there is enough Samoan obesity to go around.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The pastor of Iva’s largest church lamented about the bread on Savaii. I said I knew how to bake bread. Soon thereafter in his house he showed me his electric stove/oven and insisted I make him some bread before I left. I did. He really liked it. He wanted me to return tomorrow to bake even more bread. I politely refused.
I can only say that the Holy Spirit must have been guiding my hand in making the bread without recipe or what I used to consider essential tools. Now I wish the Holy Spirit would teach his wife how to bake bread, so I can once again live in peace.
Hannah, March 2009
Another member of our Group 78 returned home early. Hannah’s mother was in a bad automobile accident. Hannah returned to help with her recovery. Hannah started doing environmental work with an NGO, but switched to teaching at an Apia high school.
Hannah was the smiling happy member of our group, always upbeat. Unlike other members of our group who returned with stuff, Hannah took back her significant other, Leleiga, a Samoan whom she met in our training village.
Her hugs still linger on my back.
Here are some of the guests who have stopped or stayed with me this past week.
Hannah and Chris
Hannah is a Peace Corps Volunteer who is veterinarian working at the Animal Protection Society in Apia castrating dogs. Chris is her visiting son.
Dave and Judy ??
Dave, a retired dentist, and his wife, Judy, a potter, are from some small town north of Doylestown, Pa. They are true Globe Trekkers, riding their bikes around parts of the world on seemingly no time schedule. While staying with me, they participated in the Catholic Church’s fundraiser dance. Judy has an infection similar to the one of Mary and is being treated at the hospital. They may stop again.
I found them riding the streets of Salelologa, seemingly without a destination. I provided them with one.
Ben and Emelia Wilcox
Ben and his Polish wife, Emelia, are on their way for a nine-month visit with Emilia’s parents in Lodz, Poland, via Australia, Bali, and a possible train ride from Singapore to Poland This last leg more Ben’s idea, than Emelia’s. They are former workmates of a current Peace Corps Volunteer, Lisa, in the Washington, DC area.
These twelve Iva Primary School teachers weigh 1 ¼ tons (avg. 230). All but one has diabetes, hypertension, or both. They eat two huge meals a day at school, each meal supplied by a student’s family. The shocked principle wants to start a health program. She weighs 340 pounds
Excited about introducing a can’t miss veggie to Samoans, I planted my zucchini seeds from the U.S. Just thinking about it in a stir-fry, bread, pasta, or selling it resorts produced a state of euphoria.
When an agricultural expert said zucchini suggested that zucchini was subject to aphids, I was convinced she didn’t know what zucchini was. Alas, not only was zucchini the delight of aphids, but also ants quickly ate the sweet flowers. Mark down another grand idea turned over with the soil into compost.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The flow of your own blood is frightening and the flow of someone else’s fascinating. To watch winching as the thumb is stuck with a lancet, the blood squeezed out, the meter as it calculates the contents of the miraculous red liquid brings out a part of human nature often suppressed, but real nevertheless.
Blood pressure, that hidden force, also plays it own mysterious role in our psyche. We pray for the meter to read “normal”, fear when it does not, and for most grown men, deny anything could be amiss is our stuffed, bloated bodies.
The mayor of another large village was so excited about having his village tested; he wanted to introduce me to village leaders, including the visiting Minister of Health (M.O.H.). I expectantly sat under a breadfruit tree outside the meeting hall awaiting my call.
Loud voices from inside the hall about the testing program gave me something to dread. The Minister had poured cold water on the subject reciting various rules, procedures, agreements, protocols, blah…blah, which first needed to be followed. I asked if I could at least meet with her.
The M.O.H. was a elegant white-haired lady, quite stylish and obviously educated overseas. As she repeated the various rules, blah…blah to me, she asked what else I was doing. I mentioned about helping get the new Iva Primary School. She interrupted me to say that she was the one who made it happen. Yes, I recognized she did play some part in getting the school, but the new school was mine! When she refused to have a picture taken with her, I knew the M.O.H. and I should continue our relationship as far apart as possible.
As for testing the mayor’s village, I was planned for next month.
Much of the commerce done in the village is done by selling house to house selling everything from banana chips, vegetables, and various prepared foods. Here are some children selling the fish their parents caught the previous night.