Tuesday, June 28, 2011
There is a reason why the program "Survivor" has filmed so many episodes here. Surviving is not easy. I don't mean the climate, food, or pestilence, but arranging to get anything done.
The people where I work want me to write down a weekly schedule. This is just a meaningless exercise in giving the appearance of organization, since this is a minute-to-minute place. Nothing is fixed in time except eating and praying.
The odds are better at a Las Vegas craps table than of honoring a confirmed appointment. Just today a friend told me that the person I had a confirmed appointment just last Friday is off to another island for a three day conference. There is a reason why this country has the reputation among consultants as the worst place to get anything done. It just goes on and on like this.
All this wouldn't be bad if it was only between Samoans. It is when you come from a place where a confirmed appointment means confirmed, or a cancellation is confirmed that drives you crazy.
As you can see, this is not a good day for me.
Monday, June 27, 2011
The bus is one of the best ways to get a glimpse into Samoan life.
There are no bus stops. The bus stops in front of where a person stands. It is not unusual for people to be only a few yards away from each other. The bus stops for each. Same applies to getting off the bus. You give your signal of either rapping on the glass with a coin or some have a buzzer cord. Again, people get off exactly in front of their house, so it stops only a few more yards down the road for the next passenger.
There is no running to the bus. It waits for you as you slowly walk to it. If you are behind the bus, the bus backs up.
There is no such thing as a full bus. There is always room for one more. Older people and women with children occupy the front seats while young boys and young men the rear seats. School children usually sit on the laps of their friends or if really full on the any spare lap.
Bus drivers are careful not to start up until everyone is seated in a seat or on someone. Since the seats are often wooden, it helps reduce injuries. Generally they are a nice group, captains of their vehicle and proud of their bus. Interior decorations and music reflect individual tastes.
June 23, 2011
June 23, 2011
Every day there is a stream of people coming through the diabetes association to be tested, visit the doctors, and try to carry on their lives. I was elated when the association decided to use the Challenge as another way to try and slow the degradation of their patients.
How nice to see people signing “the Pledge” and getting pink wristbands.
June 22, 2011
Somehow I got roped into buying pizza for the women who work in the office and can make my life there better or worse. I tied buying pizza with my Samoa Challenge of which they all have pledged to “try” to lose weight. It had been one month since the start with them weighing themselves almost daily.
Results at weigh-in for pizza qualification were mixed. Although most had lost or maintained, others gained which they attributed to their time of month, couldn’t argue about over that. All qualified for pizza.
The average weight of those women in their 20’s was 208 pounds. The older women were by far the most health conscious and of normal weight. A few of the younger women joined the older women on their nightly walks. Now, they have to realize that the word “organic” doesn’t mean squat when you consume bags of fried chips every day.
The initiative they have taken on their own was encouraging. Some said they weighed less the day after the pizza. Hard to figure if their time of month was over or the pizza eaten, the more weight lost.
An official “team building” office pizza party is scheduled for next week. Even more weight loss.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
June 17, 2011
It is hard to believe there is a Jamaican who lives in Apia, let alone a Jamaican restaurant. It is even harder to believe that there is a Jamaican restaurant serving healthy food. But there is and he prepared a Jamaican meal for those of us who knew where Jamaica is.
In Jamaican fashion, the meal starts at five o’clock, but food is not served until about eight o’clock. By that time the guests are ready to eat anything presented to them. The wait is worth it, for the dinner consisted of jerk chicken (with or without skin), fish I could not get enough, rice and beans, a peppery salad. For desert, there is fried ice cream. I continued to eat more fish.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
June 16, 2011
Across the street from my office in Apia “The Divas of Samoa” perform every Thursday night. The audience is almost entirely tourists (note young girl in front row) and the performers Samoan. In fact one of the performers I knew from when he/she made a move on the youngest Peace Corps in our training group.
June 11, 2011
After two months I feel real good about the progress of the Samoan Challenge. The reason I am here is to implement the program with the Peace Corps teachers. As of last week all, but one, of the Peace Corps Volunteers have received program packets involving 1,300 rural villagers. It is now up to them as to how successful the program is in their villages. Many are off to a fine start and I expect to vastly exceed the initial number.
The staffs of Peace Corps and Women in Business Development are in the program. There still are support issues to assist village Peace Corps, but the first big hurdle is passed. The total number of all participants so far is 1,660, each getting a wristband and informational packet.
It is a pleasure to be out among the Peace Corps Volunteers. They are a bright and dedicated group coping with an educational system strange and baffling. What gives me particular please is turning them on not only to the Challenge, but to hands-on side activities such as gardening, and making jam where they can see the more immediate efforts of their labor.
My target now is the big numbers of participants to reach my personal goal of 5,000. Several large organizations are asking for materials to work into their own health programs. The ready-made program that quickly fits into their own health projects with simple goals and easy administration has an appeal for them. It is time to reach out to the media and crank up the program a notch.
For my personal life, swinging a 7 pound pick in my garden, walking around town, printing and collating packets, taking the bus, travel to rural villages, and riding my bike leaves me very tired at night. By eight o’clock I force myself to stay up till 9:00. Then it is up a 5:00 am. Joining fellow Peace Corps from when I was here for a beer helps to maintain sanity.
There is a price to pay undertaking a project like this and it is being away from my family. My wife, Mary, is saddled with redecorating and moving into a new townhouse while trying to rent our unsold condo in Minneapolis. Sometimes I think that part of being away may be good. There is my daughter, Kim, who is expecting her first child, a boy, at the end of this month. She is constantly on my mind. My son, Nicholas, has his career and girlfriend, but not being able to do things with both of them leaves a big hole. My oldest daughter, Teri, and my grandson, Sam, are coping with divorce and trying to stay financially afloat. The best antidote for me seems to be to stay active and challenged.
June 10, 2011
I have mentioned before the biggest obstacle in doing any kind of aid work is trying to grasp of the culture, be it the poor, Blacks, Iraqis, or Samoans, in which you find yourself and determining what the needs really are. The chances of being misread and doing the exact opposite of what you want to do are great, even among those experienced in such matters. One example is waterless toilets.
Several areas of Samoa are in the rain shadow of the mountains and suffer from acute water shortages, especially now during the “dry season” when the trade winds blow from the southeast. Mountain water sources dry up and water tanks empty.
The biggest user of water in residences is the modern flush toilet. When a grant became available to install waterless toilets in these villages, the dried waste of which could also be used as fertilizer, it seemed like a win-win situation. Village meetings were held and the proposal accepted to build a test toilet next to a public meeting house.
Now the toilet is branded as a hand of the devil. I guess there is a biblical reference although no one really knows what it is, against spreading human waste upon the land. The toilet sits in its new building, a pristine example of both sides not understanding the other, or maybe those accepting the grant did not consult with the “Men of God”. After all you should never look a gift horse in the mouth.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Kapeli Family who were at home during my surprise visit.
With a little extra time on Savaii, I made a surprise visit to Mary’s and my host family, the Kapeli’s. Much had changed, and hadn’t.
The big excitement was a small Boa Constrictor snake that was in a bunch of bananas. Usually these poor creatures imported from abroad to eat rats are quickly hacked into hundreds of pieces. I picked it up and gently but it in a tree where it later moved into the thatch roof and devour the rodents living there.
June 8, 2011
My driver from the Women in Business Development (WIBD) organization made several stops as we circled the island of Savaii. He visited farmers for the WIBD while I delivered Samoa Challenge materials to the Peace Corps Volunteers.
I sat in on one of his stops. This farmer, who has been the showcase for the WIBD’s project to sell Number 1 Certified Organic Extra Virgin Coconut oil to the Body Shop in England to make soaps and lotion, illustrated the problems he and others face.
To produce several pails of oil, he must first get his land certified as an organic farm. This meant leaving his coconut groves chemical free for a few years. He then had to get machines to ream out the coconut pulp, a large evaporating vat to render the oil from the pulp, then a press to squeeze out the oil. The process takes eight men one week, plus the expenses of food and fuel. For this he got about $2,000 (USD). He actually lost quite a bit of money on the oil produced.
However, he can make four times as much with eight men in two days gathering and heating the same amount of coconuts to make copra, the oil of which is also used to make soap and other products. Although this man wants to work with WIBD and believes in their work, economics dictated otherwise.
WIBD promised him the receipt to make his own soap from the coconut oil, but they have yet to give it to him. Of course, this would reduce the amount of oil exported, but greatly benefit the farmer and local village. It might also put into question the entire coconut oil program currently funded by foreign doners.
He also baked bread which he sells commercially. I told him I also bake bread, but suggested he make fruit jam which he can easily do and sell it along with his bread. What a great idea! I promised to return to show him how to make fruit jam and critique his bread.
The conundrums are great between donor agencies, NGOs, and the people they are designed to benefit. There is always some report that needs to be written about the successes of a particular program and another trip to some conference. Like NGOs anywhere in the world, including the U.S., the first people at the trough are the NGO directors and employees.
June 8, 2011
Va-i-Moana is a restaurant and resort at the far Western end of Savaii in the Village of Asau. There is a reason why the slogan of Samoa is, “The Jewel of the Pacific”. Va-i-Moana is just one reason why this is a close to paradise as you can get.
Robert Gonzales is a first year Peace Corps Volunteer primary school English teacher at the village of Tafua-Tai on the island of Savaii. I had a chance to stay the night with him and to briefly sit in his classroom.
In many ways Robert typifies Peace Corps English teachers. His primary school is grossly understaffed with three teachers, including him, handling eight grades. While he teaches one class, another class sits, theoretically doing assignments. He spends his evenings holding tutoring sessions for any student who shows up.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
June 6, 2011
Today marks the beginning of distributing printed materials, scales, and inspiration to 35 out of the 36 Peace Corps Volunteers in Samoa. It takes four days to reach them at their homes all over this country. I find it rewarding to visit them where they live and work. It gives me a better understanding of what they have to deal with and their teaching responsibilities.
Here are a few I have visited during their first day back at school after a three week recess:
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Umuafu’s English is greatly improved. She says Ben’s family is very nice and friendly towards her. She likes America, especially video arcades where she can drive race cars. The stores, the mall, the supermarket also rank near the top. She is happy to be back with her family.
Now Ben and Umuafu need to find a way to make a living her in Samoa as they live with her parents. She is getting a job in Apia working for a car dealer while Ben experiments with different agricultural ideas.
June 3, 2011
I was so happy to be given use of part of another person’s garden. It is behind the rugby field ½ mile from where I live. About every evening after returning home, I don my garden sandals, grab my garden tools, and walk to my little Eden. I am feverishly planting whatever seeds I can find in hopes of tasting some of my own veggies before I have to leave or they are stolen.
Just like my garden of before, young Samoans unaccustomed to the feel of soft, cultivated earth beneath their bare feet, like to walk across my beds, and knowing only those veggies locally grown.
Honor Guard Before Reviewing Stand
Independence Day is a two day holiday with the first day the official one complete with a parade. Well you need to understand what a Samoan Parade is like to get the full appreciation of Fa’asamoa.
To me it reminded me of waiting to get into a University of Iowa football game. There are lots of people milling about with food stands surrounding the periphery. Since this is Samoa and it is still early in the day, there is no tailgating, so comparison to a football game is quite a stretch of the imagination. However, Iowa football fans don’t have to stand in the hot sun either.
The participants, such as Peace Corps, we stand in the sun for two hours waiting our turn to walk 1/10 of a mile past the reviewing stand where the Samoan “Head of State” and his wife sit. We stop, turn, and do two “Hip, hip, hoorays”. Walk another 100 feet and we are finished. There was not even any food for us after our long march. At least we were there.
I have a feeling there is lots of food waiting for those seated in the reviewing stand.
June 1, 2011
After a full morning of Samoan Independence Day, I rode my bike back the hill to my house to call it a day. I got a text from Supy Tauthang (a 3rd year Peace Corps extender) say to come back down to town for a surprise. What the hell, I love surprises. Who should pop out from behind the curtain, none other than a fellow ex-Savaii Peace Corps Volunteer than Max Lapushin.
Max got a job with a consulting firm to help revive the Ministry of Education’s languishing School Net System for the next year. Welcome back.